Zaria had spent the last several weeks recovering, and slowly training until she was fully healed. Her alone time had been spent practicing the work outs that her and Gareth had worked on together. It seemed like such a long time ago now that she had discovered her love for him, and accepted it. She constantly felt the sting of her mother’s betrayal, no matter how much she tried to get past it. She moved to do some yoga, to hopefully clear her mind. The fighting poses were making her angry. Maybe she needed the anger to be able to beat Awen. But she didn’t want to use anger. She didn’t want to end up like the evil fae that had destroyed so many lives.
She was in downward dog pose on the mat with her eyes closed, breathing into the pose when she heard footsteps enter the courtyard she was in. She opened her eyes and saw Thirsten from in between her legs, walking up to her. She took a breath and eased out of the pose, turning to look at him. She took a sip of water and smiled at him.
“How are you doing?” His deep timbre reminded her of her father. Once she met him, she had a slight recollection of him from her childhood. His hair was more grey now, his black beard peppered with it. His eyes were still the same greyish blue, but with more wrinkles around them. Thirsten had been her father’s chief of war when Brock had been king and Zaria was training with him now. He didn’t know how to pull from the universe like she did, but he had valuable advice on fighting that she had needed. With his guidance, she was holding more power than she ever had before, and channeling it more effectively. Gareth had taught her a lot, but Thirsten’s training was honing in, like a finely tuned instrument.
“Good. Stretching out with some yoga. I feel amazing and strong,” she replied as she took another swig of water. It was dehydrating and demanding work and she needed to replenish frequently.
“But you aren’t impenetrable. Never forget that. No one is infallible. Once you start thinking you are, you will fail in the worst sort of way,” he said as lightly as he could, given that his words were heavy with dangerous implications.
Zaria nodded, a hand on her hip. “I understand.”
“Good. Let’s get to work.”
He created a giant protective bubble that encompassed nearly the entire courtyard, which was large, several hundred yards. The bubble’s purpose was to absorb shocks and attacks. It was a method of training that had been used for millennia. Thirsten would feel the power and force behind the attacks but they wouldn’t hurt him. The bubble shimmered an aqua color as Zaria pulled more and more atoms into her chi. She held herself loosely with her eyes closed, concentrating on how the power was rushing into her. She stopped when she thought she was going to break apart, and opened her eyes.
Thirsten took the cue that she was ready and commanded, “Show me what you’ve got,” with his arms crossed.
She nodded once and with control flung her arm upwards, sending everything she had at the bubble, hitting with a show of purple. As she sent the attack, she pulled in new power. She attacked over and over again in quick succession as she released power and pulled it in. This was something she hadn’t done before, and it was draining. He kept her going for three hours without a break. “You don’t get a break on the battlefield,” were his favorite words to her, even when she could barely stand anymore from exhaustion. It was hard, preparing for war. She didn’t know if she was going to make it. He let her take a short break before getting her going again.
He finally called it quits a little before dinner. She was shaking and weak, and greatly needed the sustenance. He helped her get back to her room in the compound, and she promptly collapsed on the bed. Her sweat was starting to dry and she knew she had to take a shower before eating. She lay there for a few minutes and then moved off the bed with a grunt. She drank more water and grabbed some clothes and a towel and headed to one of the more private bathrooms used by the leaders of the community and resistance. The compound was chock full as groups had been flocking from all over to join the war. They were all agreeable once they found out that the princess lived and wanted to take back the throne. There were so many fairies that they had started setting up camp outside the small compound.
Zaria closed the door to the simple but gorgeous bathroom and started removing her sticky tunic and pants, gathering her hair up in a clip. The bathroom was white and silver, with ribbons of black. The white tiles had thin black swirls painted upon them and the taps were silver. She ran the water and stepped under, sighing in relief as the hot water splashed on her skin. She slowly washed the sweat off with a honey and oatmeal bar of soap, a gift from one of the fairies here. She had received many gifts, having been discovered as the long lost princess. She still had trouble with the title, and didn’t know if she wanted it. She was only doing this because evil like Awen couldn’t be allowed to exist, and she wanted the people she loved to be safe.
She washed her hair with a similar honey shampoo and conditioner before turning the tap off and drying her body. She donned a silken jade colored dress with a moderate neckline and long sleeves that got wider towards her hands. The skirt swirled around her legs and she put on a pair of matching slippers, her hair entwined in the bath towel to dry. She went back to her room and flopped back on the bed as she waited for dinner time. She hated being alone. It was in times like these she missed Gareth so much her heart hurt, and wondered how he was. If he was here with her, they would have been cuddling and talking until they ate, their fingers locked together and bodies pressed as close as possible. They would talk about the training they had just done, how they could improve and what they had done well. She tried socializing with the other people here and had grown close to Rishtah and Thirsten, but it wasn’t the same.
Zaria sighed and got up from the bed, removing the towel and running her fingers through her damp locks. She had been moved from the initial room she had been kept in, which had been in the sick bay in the circular compound with part of a side built into a mountain. Now she was on the upper floor, with a bedroom and closet to herself. Most of the other fairies here were sharing rooms and every room was full. Her room was grey, silver, and jade. The bedspread was the beautiful green with silver painted wood as the bed frame, footboard, and headboard. The room was full of gifts she had been given, cluttered everywhere.
She left the room behind and walked to the large dining hall. It was jam packed almost all of the time and the kitchen help was constantly cooking as fairies moved in and out of the room and consumed a large amount of food every day. Thankfully new groups brought in more food to share. She got to jump in line, and sat at a reserved table with Rishtah, Thirsten, and some others. She didn’t pay much attention to the conversation as she ate the roast beef with cooked carrots, mashed potatoes, and raw bell peppers. It was flavorful and she relished it. Every time she ate a meal here she thought it was the best tasting meal she had ever had. She let the conversation flow around her. They had a meeting later that night anyway. She was more interested in talking about business rather than pleasantries. They politely let her be in her own world rather than a part of theirs for the moment, knowing she had the most on her mind. The people at the table were aware of her mother’s transgression.
After eating, Zaria and the others adjourned to the war room. It was a large room with an oak table at the center. There were spells of protection engraved deep into the wood. The spells made it so that only those sitting at the table could hear the conversation. The repercussions for repeating anything talked about unless there was explicit permission were dangerous and horrible, depending on the severity of the betrayal. Thirsten had told of someone who had starved to death after backstabbing one of his farmers no matter how much he had eaten.
Thirsten was seated at the head of the table, with Rishtah to his left and Zaria to his right. The leaders of the other groups that had come in were around the table as well. Zaria was having trouble remembering their names. She was preoccupied with other thoughts. Thirsten turned to her and said, “I’ve seen a lot of improvement from you in the last couple of weeks. I am so proud of you, and I know your father would be too.”
Zaria blinked back tears at his comment. She missed her father dearly. “Thank you so much for that.” She cleared her throat. “When do you think the other groups are going to be here?”
“We received word that it will be another couple of weeks until they are here from other former kingdoms. We will let them rest after their journey before we leave for the queen’s castle.” Thirsten paused a moment. “Your castle,” he amended, reaching to put his hand over hers, as though that was a comfort. She hadn’t told anyone her thoughts on not wanting to rule. No one other than Gareth.
She nodded. “So I have another couple of weeks to train?” She felt stronger than ever, but wondered if she would ever be ready. She hated fighting and violence.
“Yes. You will be fine. You’re a quick learner and you’ve picked up on what I’ve been showing you exceedingly well. I believe we will win.” Thirsten appeared so confident but all she could think about was how to keep the people she loved safe. That’s all she wanted. She didn’t want to be the princess. She didn’t want to be in the middle of a war.
Zaria tuned in and out for the rest of the meeting. She had heard these plans a million times. They were going to wait for the rest of the fairies to gather from other areas, and then march to the castle. It was about three days from this spot. They were going to tell the new leaders coming in the plan. They were going to surround the queen’s castle and the encampment and attack all at once. They would be about 100,000 strong. It didn’t seem like much, but they would have the element of surprise on their side. Zaria would sneak in throughout all of the confusion and find her family, freeing them, before her and Gareth attacked the queen and took her out once and for all. She was nervous. She didn’t know the castle, but Thirsten would be at her side. In only five weeks she had come to trust him like her own family. He told her stories about her dad, which was bittersweet for her.
Thirsten touched her elbow and she jumped, realizing with a start that the table was empty. “I’m sorry,” she said, with a small, embarrassed smile.
“I understand,” he said gently, laying his hand on hers. It was a fatherly gesture that she appreciated. “I know that you’re distracted by thinking about the safety of your family. You weren’t around when this all started, but we were all effected in similar ways. Families were split up, sometimes permanently. My child died, and I haven’t seen my wife in over 100 years. I still don’t know if she died, or if she’s still alive somewhere. I used to have the same problem you do right now. I couldn’t think straight, I was inconsolable, and I couldn’t pay attention to anyone or anything around me. The good thing is, this is almost over.” Thirsten squeezed her hand, continuing on. “I know you can do this. I’ve seen the strength in you, just like everyone has. Like Gareth has. He’s still alive, and so is your sister, and your mother. Awen won’t kill them right now. She needs them to draw you in.”
“I don’t care much about my mother at the moment.” Thirsten nodded as she took a deep breath. “But she could harm my sister and Gareth. Bring them to the brink of death, torture them. She’s good at that,” Zaria muttered, tears threatening to spill over.
“I understand about your mother, and that very well could be. We just don’t know right now. I know it’s hard, maybe it seems impossible, but try not to think about that right now.”
Zaria got caught up with the rest of what he said in her mind, and said in a delayed response, “I’m really sorry about your wife and child. I hope your wife is okay, somewhere.”
Thirsten looked at her for a moment. “I tell you what, I want to take you somewhere. I think it will help you get your mind off of everything for a little while. It might put your mind in perspective,” he said, standing, offering his hand.
Zaria took it and they walked in an easy silence, each to their own thoughts. They walked through a little passage that Zaria thought looked like it wasn’t traveled by many people very often. It was just clean enough that someone did come through the passage on occasion. It was lit by softly glowing orbs in a blue hue. “These are interesting. What are they?”
“We used to use these lights in the castle. It’s just a little bit of energy that we put in them and it lasts for a long time. Most people who worked at the castle don’t even remember them. It was special to the castle. Everyone wondered about them, but no one outside knew how they worked or where we got them from,” he answered softly.
They walked for a while longer before they got to a door that led outside. Zaria figured they must have been gone through part of the mountain, and it had felt like they had been walking at a steady but slight incline, and they walked out into a paradise on the side of the mountain. They were high enough and far enough away that the glow from the camps around Thirsten’s home didn’t affect the stars too much. She could see thousands of them. They were standing side by side and she put an arm around him, drawing him close for a moment before letting him go. Tears pricked at her eyes. In addition to the clear night sky, they had gone far enough up that there was snow. It wasn’t too cold, but the air had a chilly bite. There was a waterfall next to them, partially frozen with some water still trickling out in a steady stream.
It was beautiful. She saw a snow fox dashing in and out of the snow, and a little further off in the fir trees there was a doe, its watchful eyes assessing threats, its little tail swishing. She felt the pull of nature all around her, strengthened by the powerful fairy next to her. Thirsten pulled a little magic and shrouded them in a bit of warmth so they could stand there longer. She watched the stars and the nature around her, and she did feel her perspective changing. This is what she was trying to save. Being within the compound directly after trauma had changed her and she had forgotten. Forgotten what it was to be one with nature, one with the magic she used every day.
They stood there silently, just observing. A tiny mouse popped up from under the snow, its whiskers tasting the air, and then was scooped up by a snowy owl. The magic was all around her, the atoms and molecules moving around and she felt it all as she closed her eyes, drawing in more of the energy. She expanded her chi and she could feel it whirling inside of her. “Thank you,” she said quietly.
“You’re welcome. I come here any time I need to clear my head. If I’m thinking too much or something is bothering me. If I need an answer about something I come here. We are connected to nature on a deep level, us fairies. We need it, or else we go mad. Awen-she’s destroying us. Somehow she feeds off of destruction. She didn’t used to be that way. Her father used to be my mentor. He didn’t talk about her very often, but when he did, he talked about what a sweet girl she used to be. But she is who she is now, and if she wins, this will all be gone.”
She didn’t answer immediately, but eventually said, “I know. I just hope that what I have is enough. I don’t want my world to die.” He squeezed her shoulder before leaving her alone in the chilly air, and Zaria pulled some warmth around her. Once Thirsten left, a fluffy white bunny came up to her. She picked him up and he sniffed her face before letting her pet his thick, soft fur. She could feel his rapid heartbeat, and she wondered how she could let all of this beautiful life die. Animals started coming up to her as though sensing her distress. She had forgotten what it was like to have animals being drawn to her when she was in nature, alone. She pet each of them before turning around and going back through the tunnel. She felt grateful to Thirsten for bringing her here.
She got back to the room she was staying in and quietly shut the door. She prepared for bed and climbed in between the sheets, gazing out of the window at the stars she had forgotten about. How senseless was it to take power from them and forget to respect them? Was that the path to becoming like Awen? She fell asleep to their soft glow and dreamed about their power.