When Awen awoke Gabriella was curled up into her side, with her leg curled around and twisted with her own. Her face rested on Awen’s collarbone. She didn’t want to wake her, but she didn’t want to be in this position when Gabriella awoke. She didn’t want to be in this bed. Tears fell from her eyes and she felt like she was being ripped open for a second time. Should she just allow herself to feel? To say goodbye to the darkness? It had been her friend for so long, the only friend she’d had. But now that she had Gabriella again, maybe things could be different. She wiped the tears away.
Gabriella stirred in her sleep and softly sighed, moving closer to Awen. She kissed the top of her head, which woke her up. Gabriella opened her eyes and stared sleepily up at her.
“Good morning,” Gabriella said, her voice low and thick with sleep. She stretched, closing her eyes and smiling.
Awen couldn’t help but smile down at her, her body warming with happiness. When reactions like this just happened, Awen thought that maybe things could be different. She lightly traced patterns on Gabriella’s back as she snuggled closer after her stretch. She didn’t want to say anything but she thought she would scream if she didn’t let it out.
“Do you think—things could be different? That I could let go of this darkness?” The last part was asked at barely a whisper, showing her confusion, her fear, and her lack of confidence.
Zaria awoke to the sun streaming in. Apprehension twisted her stomach into knots and she just lay in the bed, staring up at the ceiling. She was nervous about this battle. There were so many unknowns, even though they had tried to account for as much as possible. It wasn’t known entirely where the prisoners would be kept, since there was more than one place for them at the castle. Thirsten said there was a good chance he knew where they would be, but it was not certain. She tried to breathe deeply in and out, slowly, to calm her nerves.
She got out of bed to the sound of silence. Everyone had decided to take the day off from training. The day before they set out for battle was to be a day of relaxing and morale boosting. There was to be a great feast that night in the dining hall. Not everyone would fit in there at once, but afterwards she would give a rallying speech on the steps outside of the main entrance to the compound. She wasn’t sure what she was going to say, but she would figure it out. Thirsten would be there for her, she knew, and Rishtah.
Zaria was worried about Manuel, though. She had approached him several times and tried to offer comfort, but he remained distant. Thirsten told her that he trained the hardest out of anyone he observed. Zaria had hoped they could comfort each other since they were both missing someone they loved, but Manuel wasn’t having any of it. She sighed and swung her legs over the edge of the bed, figuring she might as well get out of bed and get some food. Her rumbling stomach won over her desire to stay in it.
She pinned up her long tresses and donned a mint green dress with shimmery diamonds sewn in, her bust moderately peeping out. The middle had a corset worked in, and the skirt was made of a light material that swished around. If she could dress like this every day, maybe she wouldn’t mind being the queen. She groaned at her own thoughts. Being the queen had nothing to do with fashion, no matter how much she appreciated the beautiful dresses people were giving her as gifts.
Before she reached the dining hall, she ran into Manuel. “Hey!” She smiled at him, getting his attention. “How are you doing? Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“You shouldn’t be smiling,” he growled at her, narrowing his eyes. She saw his muscles tense.
“I’m just trying to stay positive,” she started to say, the smile fading from her face.
“You have no idea what that woman does to the ones she captures,” he said angrily. “They are not treated well! If they are alive at all! She tortures them in such horrific ways.” His voice trailed off after yelling, his eyes distant, as though remembering.
Zaria stayed silent, his words hitting her like the force of a million planets. She had known this, but had tried forgetting about it. She didn’t want to think about it. She didn’t want to think about Gareth being tortured, or her sister. She swallowed hard, trying to think of what to say.
“I’ve done it, I’ve tortured for her before,” he said, turning back to her, his eyes full of anguish.
She knew then that he was remembering the fairies he had tortured for Awen. He probably remembered every single one, every single thing he had done. She was speechless. She hadn’t even thought about that, what that must feel like. Her heart hurt for him then, and she took a step towards him. He saw her intentions and backed away, holding up a hand to try and force her to stay at a distance. But she continued forward anyway, her eyes shimmering with tears. She embraced him in a hug and at first he resisted. He was tense, but he finally accepted it and relaxed, returning her hug. Her tears wet his tunic, and she told him that she was sorry.
“We will get them back. We will defeat her,” Zaria said to him. She sniffled back her tears and released him from the hug, glad that he had finally opened up to her and that she could connect with him. He still looked sad, but she hoped he was on his way to healing. She needed to reunite him with her sister. It would happen. She gave him a small smile before resuming her trek to the dining hall. She ate eggs and ham in solitude, since more and more people were starting to know who she was. They gave her a wide berth, glancing in her direction every once in a while.
She sighed as she stood, leaving to find a place where she could truly be alone, where she wouldn’t be stared at and whispered about. She went to the library. Thankfully it was empty. Everyone was outdoors, enjoying the warm day and interacting with others. She sat on a window seat in front of a stained glass window. It was a scene of a fairy wielding the power of the universe, Zaria could tell. She liked to stare at the window, wondering if that’s what she looked like. It was kind of a frightening sight, but beautiful at the same time. This fairy had blonde hair that was floating out around her, her eyes closed and her palms open towards sky, arms stretched over her head. An azure haze enveloped her and the air around her. It glittered from the sunlight hitting it. Micro diamonds were infused in the azure parts of the painting.
This side of the library faced outside of the small town instead of towards the courtyard in the center. Fairies were walking around, some staying in small or large groups. There were so many of them. She felt their energy. They were in high spirits. Her own doubt was so great that their energy had a minimal effect on her. They all believed in her, that much was true. She believed in herself, but she wondered what kind of affect her decision would have on everyone else. Would they still support her? She was nervous about it. The bigger question was, did she actually care if they would still support her if she felt like she was doing the right thing? Only time would tell.
She leaned her head onto the glass and drew her knees up to her chest, just watching them. She was trying not to think anymore. She wanted to be in Gareth’s arms once more, and she closed her eyes, imagining he was there now, holding her to his chest. She imagined his scent around her, the smell of woods and energy.
When she finally opened her eyes the sun was low in the sky and she reluctantly made her way to the dining hall and passed many people on the way. She took a seat in the front of the room in between Thirsten and Rishtah. They were served by the staff before anyone else and Thirsten made a quick speech to the room before telling them to feast on the steaks, ribs, honey glazed carrots, warm breads, potatoes, and a myriad of other foods. The cooks had gone all out for the meal and she was impressed. It was scrumptious and she ate every last bite before leaning back in her chair with a hand on her belly.
Several people came up to their table throughout the next couple of hours as groups came in and out of the room to eat. The group then went to the war room to stitch up the final plans and confirmations and then it was time for Zaria to rally the troops with a speech. She was nervous about speaking to so many people, but it was expected of her.
She walked beside Thirsten and his hand squeezed hers before they walked out onto the steps. The cheers that met them were deafening from all of the fairies there. Her heart beat wildly, crashing against her rib cage. Thirsten stepped out a little and held up his hands, asking for silence. After a few moments everyone was quiet.
“I just want to thank you all so much for coming here for me. Not just me, but yourselves. Us. And not just to help ourselves, but help a great woman. She has overcome so much.” Thirsten paused a moment, shaking his head, looking down. “Like you, I thought the royal line was dead. I thought everything was lost, and that we would all just live our last days as best we could. But the discovery of Princess Zaria has restored hope. She’s the one we’ve all been waiting for, and I know she can do it. But not without your help. There will be fairies out there that will lose their lives in a valiant effort. We need to be prepared for that. But we also need to be prepared for when the princess takes back the royal crown and the royal family once again takes its rightful place! We will have peace! We will have abundance! We will have victory!” Thirsten shouted these last few lines, raising a fist in the air. Cheers resounded, and clapping.
Being just in front of the entire mass of fairies Zaria couldn’t help but be influenced by the energy. It was flowing in and around her and she smiled, glowing from the atoms she was letting coalesce inside of her.
“And now, here’s your princess!” Thirsten had to shout this at the top of his lungs and still he was probably not heard. He bowed to them and stepped back, allowing Zaria to go up to the edge of the steps.
She let them whoop and holler for a few minutes before holding up her hands to the crowd. They silenced immediately. She was quiet for a moment still, gathering her thoughts.
“It seems like such a long journey, from the time I was found and reunited with my family to today. I cannot even express the happiness I felt when I found my sister and my mother.” She paused for a moment, she hadn’t wanted to mention her mother but it had just slipping out. “I was astonished when I discovered that there was a great number of people that were aiming to fight back against Awen. They just lacked the resources. I am that resource.” Zaria paused again, nodding her head.
“I am that resource. There has been so much lost. The lives of our loved ones. Our homes. Our dignity. Our land,” she said, gesturing with her arm towards the trees at the edge of the road leading up to the steps. “I am going to get us everything back. Everything,” she said firmly. “This will be a hard battle, but we can do it. We must. If we fail, everything is gone, for good. There will be nothing after this. So this is it. This is our chance. I’m going after Awen, but I need everyone here to do everything they can against everyone else. This is the fight of a lifetime. We ARE fighting for our lives! If we don’t win, who will for us? WE WILL WIN! WE ARE THE RESISTANCE!” Zaria shouted, pumping her fist in the air to deafening cheering and clapping. It was louder now than ever before. Zaria bowed and turned away, leaving them in high spirits.
Rishtah took her hand in her own and squeezed before letting go and Thirsten hugged her shoulders. They walked back through the hallways in silence before they got back to the sleeping quarters. The three of them stopped, having lost everyone else along the way.
“Are you ready?” Thirsten asked quietly.
“Yes,” Zaria answered, staring straight into his eyes. “I am.”
“I knew you would be. You said some great things tonight. I’m so proud of you. Your family is proud of you too. Everyone is. You’ve come a long way. I know we are going to do this, and you’re our shining star,” he smiled at her.
“Thank you. I feel thankful I’ve had such wonderful trainers,” she smiled back.
He kissed the top of her head and clasped her arm. “I’m getting to bed. It’s going to be a long and early day tomorrow. Good night, Princess.” He used her formal title and bowed, then turned and walked away.
“Good night,” she called after him. She turned to Rishtah and smiled tiredly. “Thank you, for everything you’ve done for me. For us. I won’t forget it, and I wanted to make sure I mentioned my gratitude before we leave. Just in case.”
Rishtah shook her head. “Please don’t talk like that. Tell me when it’s all finished,” she said, putting her hands to Zaria’s cheeks.
Zaria grabbed Rishtah’s hands and brought them down, gently squeezing. “Regardless of how you want me to talk, thank you. You are amazing and I don’t know what I would do with you. We should always acknowledge our appreciation of others, no matter what time it is.”
Rishtah smiled and glanced down, nodding. “Yes,” she said, looking back up at her. “That is true. So thank you for being you, Princess. I know what we’re asking of you isn’t easy, so thank you. We all appreciate it. But we should get to bed. It’s a long and early day tomorrow, like Thirsten says.”
“Indeed it is. Good night, dear friend,” Zaria said, embracing her.
“Good night and sleep well.”
They parted ways and Zaria walked into her bed chamber. She slipped into a silk nightgown that went down to mid-thigh. It’s something Gareth would love to see on her. She sighed and turned over onto her side, an arm under her head. She would not be able to sleep. She thought about her speech and everything she had said. She had said a lot of things, and none of them had been true. There was the plan. And then there was her plan.