Jasmine really couldn’t believe her eyes. But what was her name? Zaria? She had no idea what was going on, but she had tears in her eyes, making it hard to see. They flowed down her cheeks, and the world was suddenly watery as she leapt from her chair to hug her mom. How could this be? She had seen the destruction on her village. How could her mother and sister gotten out alive? And her mother was the queen? So many questions, but she couldn’t speak. She could only cry as she clung to her mom, and putting an arm around her sister, drawing her in. They were all crying. Jasmine shook, overwhelmed. So many emotions swirled around inside her, and she felt them mingling with her magic.
Her mom broke away to hug Gareth. “Thank you so much for bringing my little girl back to me, safe,” she whispered brokenly to him. Jasmine was furious at him for keeping this from her. She was certain that he had known. He kissed the top of her mother’s head, and gently broke away, using his large hands to push her back towards Jasmine and her sister. Jasmine looked upon him with anger in her teary eyes. He looked sad and regretful, but she didn’t care. She never wanted to speak to him again. He was going to take her to the evil halfling queen when her family was here, safe and sound? She didn’t care what they had shared in that meadow. This wasn’t forgivable. But she turned back to her mother and held on. She never wanted to let go again.
“You are all dismissed,” Eldrich said, waving his hands at them as though shooing a fly.
“We have much to discuss, dear daughter,” her mother said, kissing the top of her head. Jasmine smiled. She could talk to her mother all day. They walked out of the building and into the sunshine, laughing and crying at the same time. They walked down the main road of the town, once again passing by the bazaar that Jasmine wanted to shop at. She knew she would get the chance, so she barely glanced at it, instead giving attention to her sister talking about her wedding plans. The girl was excited, skipping and hopping up and down as they walked. They turned down a little street, and approached a house at the edge of the little bubble they lived in.
It was the nicest house that Jasmine had seen so far, with a wraparound porch that was painted stormy grey to match the rest of the house. Vines wound their way from the ground to the top of the house, plump leaves full. Flowers lined the walkway and around the house, purples, pinks, and reds making their presence known with heady fragrance. The roof had peaks and valleys, and was thatched with dark grey tiles.
“Welcome home, Zaria,” her mother said warmly. Jasmine rolled the name mentally from her tongue, as the word was foreign to her. She would have to get used to it, and was still looking for an explanation as to how and why she didn’t know her own birth name. Her mother led her up the stairs of the porch, her hand clasped firmly. Zaria’s heart beat with excitement as they opened the door to wooden oak floors, colorful paintings lining the walls, and vases filled with flowers. A staircase in the entryway led to the second level, and Zaria peeked around corners to see other rooms, like the living room with a piano, and the dining room with a large, polished oak table and chairs.
“We can have the tour later, dear. I think it’s important we talk,” her mom said gently. Zaria squeezed her hand, and nodded her acquiescence. Gabriella led her to the living room, where they sat in matching plush armchairs, so comfortable Zaria could fall asleep there.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” Gabriella said softly. “I suppose I should start when the queen started her rebellion against us. It was a dark time in the kingdom. Some of the fae couldn’t be trusted, and fed information to Awen and her halflings. Your father and I had you, and your name was Zaria. You were a beautiful baby, with red hair and green eyes. Much like my own. Sometimes it was like looking in a mirror,” she said wistfully, smiling.
“When you were a toddler, things really started getting bad. We got word that Awen was going to march against the castle. I fled with you and some others. Ruth was your nurse and nanny. She came along with her family. We found a safe place in the woods, and set up a village. It was terrifying, scarcely hearing a word about the fight your father had stayed behind to fight. Him and his men held the castle for a long time. It was a couple of years. Finally, Awen cracked the shield, and your father barely escaped with his life. Most of our army was destroyed. Wives and children left without fathers.
“We all scattered to form small camps, and we had to change our names so Awen couldn’t find us, and figure out who we were. We started an underground resistance, that has been growing steadily. We have some halflings that we trust, like Gareth, but for the most part, it’s just fae.”
Zaria ground her teeth at the mention of Gareth. She shook with rage, and saw red. Her mother felt her tension, and asked what’s wrong, stroking her cheek with the back of her hand.
“He never told me that you and Aria were still alive. He was also planning on taking me to the queen. He claimed that there was a plan to get me out, but he had to prove loyalty to Awen. I can’t believe he kept this from me. I thought—“ Zaria stopped talking and choked back tears. She thought she had fallen in love with him, but her mother didn’t need to know that.
“Sweetheart. Obviously you care about him, but you must realize that what he did was for the good of our kind. For the fae. We needed Awen to believe that he was working for her. It was the plan. If he had told you that we were alive and well, you would have been even more uncooperative with him. You would have wanted to come here right away. We had a good plan for getting you out, but that matters not now. It’s okay, we will just have to adjust our strategy. Awen must know by now that Gareth does not side with her. She will be furious. We are sending reinforcements to help the smaller villages fight. Please, do not be angry with him.”
As her mother spoke, Zaria contemplated the words. She was still upset and angry, but it was no longer blinding. The red receded from her vision, and the world was once again bright with sunshine upon the immaculate home that her mother had. Even ousted from her throne, her queen mother lived like royalty here. While Zaria had built a roughshod house and lived like a wild animal. She tried to not think of that, but why hadn’t they come for her sooner? Was she just a pawn in their game? She needed more information, and to think. She sat back in the chair, looking out the window at a willow tree with its sad branches hanging low. Her sister was sitting under the tree with a book, a mug of tea in her other hand. It was a lazily cloudy day, with wisps passing over every once in a while. Zaria suddenly felt the need to spell some magic. She felt it in her bones, and became aware of the power she was spindling inside. She was surprised that she could carry this much. The energy inside her was just too much to bear, and she bounced up from the chair.
“Honey, try not to bring too much attention with your magic. Release it in small steps. The shield here is strong, but I fear your magic is stronger. Gareth will be working with you on controlling what you have. We’ve always known you were special, that you would have this wonderful gift. Please let him show you how you can use this for good, no matter how angry and upset with him you are. He’s the only one who can show you.” Her mother looked at her and pleaded with her eyes. Zaria felt her resolve against Gareth weakening. Looking at her mother was almost like looking into a mirror. Her eyes were replicas of her own, and she could see the same expressions carried within. Zaria was still suspicious of her mother’s intent, as well as Gareth’s, and felt she had to be cautious.
She put a smile on that warmed her eyes and softened her heart shaped face. “Of course. I’ll work with him, but that doesn’t mean I forgive him anytime soon.” She hugged her mother and went to find Gareth. She wasn’t sure where she would find him, and thought wandering the vendors would be a good place to start. Then she could do something she actually wanted to do at the same time.
From memory, Zaria moseyed to the market. She looked at the houses she passed, and they were nice but not as grand as her mother’s house. None had wraparound porches, but most had smaller front porches, and were only one level. There were no columns here, but there were some vines here and there. Some had lovely landscaping, and some had lawns that were unkempt and ratty. They all had their own beauty and mystique, and Zaria wondered at who lived in these homes, what their stories were. The sun beat down on her, and she was reminded that a bath or shower would be nice. She hadn’t taken any time to rest, and it was odd that she didn’t feel weary, but instead felt boundless energy. Maybe it was the universe.
The sun was getting lower by the time she reached the market. She stopped at one booth that displayed gorgeous metal jewelry. Silver and gold pieces magnificently shaped, with jewels laid in. Garnets and diamonds glittered at her. She saw a necklace that took her breath away. The garnets shone a dark red and seemed to have black swirling inside the gems. The center piece was silver with a heart shaped garnet and small diamonds surrounding it on the edges. A small, square diamond piece sat on either side with even smaller garnets surrounding them.
“It’s a necklace fit for a princess, dontcha think Braun?” A deep voice behind her said. She would know that voice anywhere. She straightened her back and her muscles stiffened.
“I’m not one for diamonds,” Zaria sniffed, turning away, her eyes hard. She knew she had told her mother she would work with Gareth and indeed had come to find him, but now faced with him; her emotions got the best of her.
“Nonsense,” Gareth said quietly. “I know you’re angry with me, and you have every right to be. Please, let me make it up to you.” His beautiful eyes pleaded with her, and she felt her insides quiver. Curse her body for betraying her. Butterflies knocked around inside her stomach, and she looked away from him.
“Fine,” she said just as quietly. “But I’m not going to make it easy on you.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to,” he said, his eyes still serious, and took her hand to kiss it. “Braun,” he said a bit more loudly to be heard over market chatter, “I’ll take this one! Fit for a princess, I say!” Gareth handed over some coin and took the necklace. Zaria turned around and he clasped the necklace around her neck. She turned back around and fingered the garnet heart, wondering why she had let him buy this for her. She looked up into his eyes and did a double take. He was looking at her like she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and it made her blush. She needed to steel herself to punish him for her anger that was quickly dissipating. He took her hand and led her away from the booth, just as the sun was setting and set her hair afire.