Zaria awoke to the sound of fighting outside of her window. She rushed over in her nightgown to see that they were just practicing in the courtyard. The soldiers from the groups took turns fighting in the protective bubbles in the morning and into the afternoon. The late afternoon and evening was Zaria’s turn with Thirsten and today she had a renewed purpose. She had just woken up late and wasn’t used to still being in her room when the fighting started. She chose an outfit for the day, a light pink long-sleeved dress. She would change later when it was time to train. Her skin was buzzing, ready for the chance to get into the sphere with him. She stood under the fresh mountain water, trying to calm herself as she washed her hair. When she was finished, she braided her long hair then wound it up with some tendrils escaping.
She padded down to the kitchen and grabbed a plateful of eggs, bacon, and an avocado with a mug of steaming hot tea. No one else that she knew was there so she sat alone, brimming with energy. Energy work took a lot out of her, so she always ate a lot, going back for a second plate. When she sat back down, a soldier sat across from her, with black hair and green eyes.
“Hello there, little lady. That’s a mighty fine dress you got there. You must be from this compound,” he said, staring at her breasts. She blushed from the attention and started saying she wasn’t from here at all, but a different soldier butted in, this one with blonde hair and brown eyes.
“You idiot!” He clapped the first soldier on the back. “That’s the princess you’re talking to!”
Zaria blushed even harder. It embarrassed her to be called out as the princess.
The black haired fairy choked on his tea. “Pardon me, Your Majesty. I meant no harm.” He started getting up from the table but Zaria held out her hand.
“It’s fine. You can stay. I’m finished anyway,” she gave him a small smile as she got up from the table and disposed of her dishes. She could hear the guffaw of the second fairy and she sighed. Was it going to be this way from then on? How had her father handled the fame of being a king? Had he liked it? She didn’t want to think about what her mother thought of being royalty. She still couldn’t forgive her. She didn’t know if she would ever get used to the fame of being a princess. Zaria rushed from the dining room, finding her way to the library. She immersed herself in a book about the history of this area. There had already been some fairies living here when Thirsten found the place, and they had elected him as a leader because of his background. The compound had been built into the side of the mountain 600 years ago by a group seeking refuge from a tyrannical king in a kingdom different from the one she was from.
Thirsten found her there, curled up in a chair reading the heavy leather bound book. He tapped her lightly on the shoulder and even so, she started. “I’m sorry,” he said in a rumbling laugh. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s okay. I was just very involved in reading this. Did you know it took them 20 years of magical work just to carve out the mountain?” She placed a bookmark at her stopping page and set it down on the oak table in front of her. She yawned and stretched her arms.
“Yes, I did. I’ve read that book too. I’ve had a lot of time to read the books in this room. Even started writing one of my own,” he mused.
“Is it about our war with Awen?”
“It is,” his deep voice said, smiling sadly at her. “Are you ready to train?”
“It’s past lunch?” She frowned, only now realizing that her stomach rumbled.
“We can grab a snack before we start if you like.”
Zaria nodded. “Yes, please.” They made their way to the dining room and grabbed some snacks of just dried up beef and some cheese. The protein would be good before the workout. They got to the empty courtyard but Zaria could hear the soldiers outside of the walls. It sounded like several groups were singing, and probably enjoying some mead for their noon meal. She stretched her arms and rolled her shoulders and her head along her neck, from one side to the other and back again. She loosened the tension she felt and stretched her back. Thirsten put up the shield and she pulled an enormous amount of energy. She felt it from the snow, from the trees, from the dark matter in the sky above her head. She concentrated on it, on the atoms and what each one felt like. She threw a huge attack at Thirsten’s bubble, knowing that the energy would go back to the places she got it from. Just a few atoms from each place so nothing died.
“Good work,” he grunted as he felt the attack. “That’s your best yet. I knew last night would make you feel better.”
Zaria pulled more and more energy with a ferocity that she had never felt before. Energy was constantly being pulled into and through and out of her body and she collapsed to her knees. “Maybe that was a little too much,” she gasped. She held up her palm, stopping him from helping her up. “I’m fine, we can continue. I just need a moment.” This was double what she had been doing with Gareth. Her heart hurt all of a sudden, but she used that to increase the intensity of her attacks. She wanted him back and she used that emotion to continuously attack Thirsten’s impenetrable bubble. Once he saw that she was fine, he pushed her harder and kept her going longer than the night before. He was seeing the impact that their nature adventure had had on her. He kept her going long after the last meal had been served to the soldiers, but knew they would still have a hot meal.
She was feeling weak and he helped her hobble to the kitchen. He lowered her to a chair and hollered for Mindy, his head chef. She came bustling in from the pantry, muttering first to herself, then to him.
“You worked her nearly to death,” the fiery old fairy said to him, her hands on her hips and Zaria let out a weak laugh.
“Give him hell,” she said, grinning tiredly.
Mindy shook her head and went off to get Zaria some meat and potatoes. This time it was ham with sweet potatoes. It was a heaping plateful, and a large glass of water. Zaria’s hand shook as she drank her water, then dug into the food. She moaned with a mouthful of potatoes and told Mindy that it was all delicious. Thirsten’s plate was just as full of hers, but he ate his faster, shoveling food into his mouth. Zaria only shook her head.
“Feeling any better?” He asked after sipping some mead.
“Yes, much. Thank you. I’m energized now,” she laughed, amazed at how good she felt. It must have been her renewed conviction at what they were doing and what they were trying to accomplish. After such a workout she should have been decimated. She didn’t know if she would be able to sleep and was talking to Thirsten when Hans ran in, breathless.
“Yes Hans?” Thirsten answered, rising from the table, ready for action.
“Another group has just reached the encampment. They are from two former kingdoms over. They brought men and food.”
Thirsten nodded, motioning to Zaria to follow them. She was glad for something to do and rose from the table as well. Mindy removed their now empty plates and Zaria thanked her. They walked out to see about the new group that came in, weaving their way through tents where fairies were snoring, and some hushed conversations still happening around dying embers. There were nods of respect to Thirsten as he passed through. As experienced earlier, not all of the fairies knew who Zaria was, or what the long lost princess looked like. And that was just fine with her. They got to the new group and the leader got off of his horse, bowing to Thirsten and Zaria. They returned the bow and Thirsten and the newcomer hugged, smiling at each other. It was apparent they knew each other.
Zaria smiled agreeably while they said some general pleasantries, standing off to the background. Thirsten motioned towards her. “This is Princess Zaria, the lady who is going to take back the crown.” Zaria blushed fiercely as the man bowed and at Thirsten’s words, who then turned to her. “This is Nigel. We worked together many years ago, fighting against those bastards. He got that scar on his face by the false queen herself. She wasn’t afraid to pick up a blade and cause bodily harm in addition to magic.” Zaria noticed the man’s scar than went from the edge of his eyebrow, down his cheek, and to his jaw bone. Zaria swallowed, feeling sick.
“Nice to meet you,” she strangled out. Sometimes the gravity of the situation hit her harder than other times. Inevitably, she thought of her mother loving this horrible woman and shuddered. “I’m glad to have you on our team. Thank you so much for coming.” She said what was expected of her, but she didn’t know if she meant it.
“How many men do you bring?” Thirsten asked, hooking his thumbs into his belt loops.
“I bring 20,000. Many were interested in helping liberate our lands from this evil bitch and reclaiming them once again. We also have women in our group. They are good fighters. The women mostly work magic, but not all of them. All of us are trained in hand to hand combat as well as magic. We are happy to help,” Nigel said, his voice deeper than Thirsten’s. He brushed his long white hair back from his face with his chin slightly in the air. It was clear he was proud of the work he had done with his team. Zaria was feeling tired then and bade her goodnight of the men, shaking hands and being polite when she just felt like falling over as the day caught up with her in a rush. She made it back to her bedroom and watched the stars again, hearing the faraway noises of men talking and singing. She fell asleep with her head turned towards them, thankful that yet another caravan had arrived with fairies to help her. They were going to need it, after seeing the power of Awen’s magic.
Thirsten was in the library with Nigel, enjoying a brandy before retreating to his room. “I’m sorry there’s no spare rooms for you here,” he remarked, watching his old friend roll the glass in his large hand.
“It’s okay. I would rather be with my team. I’ll let them rest for a couple of days before we start training again. It was a long journey to this kingdom,” Nigel answered in his deep timbre. His skin was pale as pale was, never tanning or burning from the sunlight. He would almost be albino except for his shocking electric blue eyes.
“I can understand that. It’s a long journey for you and your men and women. We all really appreciate any help that we can get.” Thirsten took a swig of his liquor, feeling the burn all the way down.
“Indeed.” Nigel was quiet for a moment. “So–does she know?”
Thirsten immediately knew what the question entailed. He sighed heavily. He hadn’t wanted to think about this. He feared the reactions that it would give people. “No. I haven’t told her.”
“Are you going to?” Nigel asked, looking at Thirsten although he didn’t look back. He was staring down at the amber colored liquid.
Thirsten didn’t answer for several minutes. With a heavy heart, he replied in the negative. “I don’t think she could handle it. I don’t think anyone could. The world would be devastated if they knew.”
Nigel nodded slowly. “Yeah. I can see that. People are going to find out, though.” He then whispered, “I’m sure she’s kept him alive. Just to torture…everyone. Who knows what kind of state he’s in.” With that, Nigel swallowed back the rest of his brandy, setting the glass tumbler gently back down on the table in front of them.
“I don’t know,” Thirsten replied. He also knocked back the rest of the fiery liquid. “I don’t know how Zaria will react when she learns her father is still alive. Everyone thinks he’s dead.”
“We tried,” Nigel shook his head, as though shaking away memories.
The memories were alive in Thirsten’s head, seared in. He still had dreams about that night sometimes. Awen had sent in her halflings to kill everyone in the village first, with orders to keep the former king alive, as well as his family. Nigel and Thirsten had been the only two fairies left fighting off the halflings when Awen had shown up. She had never been physically present during these raids before. She had been enraged to learn that Gabriella had escaped the village with Aria, and that Zaria was missing. She had nearly exploded with magic, taking her frustrations out on the halflings that had surrounded her, felling them in one fell swoop of an energy blast. Thirsten and Nigel had Brock behind them, protecting him from her. She had picked up a scythe from one of her fallen halfings and slashed at Nigel’s face. She had looked at Thirsten with a deadly look and stated that she was taking the former king with her.
Thirsten had said over his dead body. She told him she could make that happen. Before he had a chance to reply, she removed his power, sucking his chi dry until he couldn’t feel the earth below him. It was the most uncomfortable feeling, not being connected. Tears ran down his face at the loss. Awen had then knocked him out cold. When he awoke, Awen and Brock were long gone. Nigel had stitched up his own face and was burying what was left of the dead. He left the halflings to rot. They mourned, and then each had gone his separate way. Thirsten had ended up in this mountainside town, with Nigel halfway across the continent. They had kept in touch every once in a while. This was the first time they had seen each other since that night. There was a somber silence around the both of them as they remembered. Witnessing Awen’s terror was the thing of nightmares, and it wasn’t a wonder if the former king had lost his mind in all of that time. He undoubtedly had.