I entered the palace garden. I always loved it there. The hydra flowers especially. When they bloomed you could have anywhere from three to seven violet flowers in a cluster with their petals quickly scattering in the wind. I arrived near the white lilies, they were in full bloom. Callie was standing near them. She had changed into crimson robes. She nodded curtly when I approached, her fangs stuck out over her lips when she did.
“You accepted my invitation.”
I nodded. I didn’t get any closer.
“I heard that you had attempted to escape this event. Would you care to share your reasons?” Callie asked.
I could feel my face grow pale. “How did you hear about that?”
Callie wagged her finger. “I will answer your question, after you answer mine.”
I hesitated for a moment. This line of questioning was completely unexpected. “I want the freedom to choose my own mate. Not as a political ploy, but because I meet someone who I love.” I looked directly at Callie. Challenging her to call it impossible or otherwise mock my determination in the matter. She just smiled, understandingly.
“I suppose it’s my turn,” she said. “There was an unusual and abrupt closing of communications from Het Wald a week ago. I was curious, so I sent a friend to figure out why.”
“You mean a spy,” I said.
Callie laughed. It was a vibrant and heart warming sound. “Not at all.” She held out her hand. A small ferret emerged from her sleeve and looked up at me. “This is who I sent.”
“A familiar. Then you’re a mage?”
Callie lightly shrugged her shoulders. “Not quite, although I do have some magic training.”
“I always wanted to formally train in magic,” I confessed. “But my father wouldn’t let me.”
“Since you’ve answered my question nicely, I’ll be blunt with you,” Callie said. “I am here on behalf of my people. They desire an alliance. I, however, do not wish to have my mate chosen for me either. Grandfather has said that you would be my type, but I am uncertain.”Callie reached out and took a hold of my chin. Her hand was surprisingly warm. She gently directed my head upward until our eyes met.
“W… what are you doing?” I stammered. I considered pushing her away, but decided to let her explain herself first.
“My people believe that the eyes can be read to tell the very essence of a person,” Callie said. “Please, permit me to read you. If you are not my type, then I will ask that you not choose me. Choose my grandfather. He is nearly five centuries old at this point. He could not touch you even if he wanted to. You’d have a decade at most and only have to stand by his side at formal events.”
“If you want to look into my eyes, go for it,” I said. “But I don’t need your advice.”
We stared into each other’s eyes. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be seeing. Were you supposed to read the irises, the pupils or the entire thing? What told you what about a person? When Callie let go of my chin all I knew about her was that her eyes were really pretty, like dew when the sun is shining on it and making it look brighter.
“That was certainly informative,” Callie said.
“Why? What did you see?”
She looked directly at me. She was smiling. “I saw enough.” I felt her hand on my shoulder. I allowed her to guide me to a bench. We sat together. “This isn’t good,” she muttered. “I didn’t expect grandfather to be so… observant at his age.” She looked at me, rubbing her fingers together demurely.
“I couldn’t tell anything about you,” I confessed.
Callie smiled. “It takes practice to read someone’s eyes. Let us talk. I’ll teach you all about me.”
Larick sent his familiar through the window. The falcon carried a message and a parcel, for the Royal One. Larick jumped when he noticed someone standing behind him. He composed himself quickly.
“I didn’t expect to see you again.”
His visitor appeared to be an elf. He had fiery red hair and eyes that were a brighter blue than was natural, for mortals at least. The visitor had a strong aura. Larick could see it without even looking closely.
The figure spoke, “You have just set your own future. There remains but one path for you.”
Larick sat down on a stool. “I’m aware of that.”
“Most mortals would never leave themselves without options. Not deliberately. I’m curious, why have you?”
“If anyone should know it’s you,” Larick put his hands together. “This is the only way to ensure a bright future for my people.”
“The future is not always bright for any species.”
“That’s true, but I can make our future better. Was there anything else you wanted?” Larick looked around but his visitor had vanished.
The moon slowly moved across the sky. “When my grandfather asked me to serve as a second suitor I wasn’t certain but I was curious about the headstrong and beautiful royal daughter who I had heard about. So, I decided to come along. Is that your last question?”
I thought for a moment. “My mind is still racing. There’s so much I still want to know.” Oddly enough, it was true. I wanted to dislike her like I did all my other suitors, but there was something about her regal bearing, confidence, smile and composure that drew me to her.
Callie put an arm around my shoulder. “Take all the time you need. I enjoy talking to you.”
I pulled away from her arm. “I wish you would stop doing that.” It wasn’t that I disliked her touch, kind of the opposite. Things were moving too fast. It was more than a little concerning.
Callie smirked, like she knew exactly what I was thinking. “You need to be more honest with yourself.”
I felt my cheeks burn.