The problems all started back when I was barely seven years old.
That was when Mother and Father began to speak only in whispers, and their grown-up friend, Nodah, stopped coming to play with my brother, Elion, and me. I was much too young to understand why everything had suddenly changed; all I knew was that I hated the sick feeling that sat in my stomach whenever I was inside the castle. The few times I asked why everything was so strange, Mother shushed me with her usual, “Not now, Kylanore,” and sent me outside.
As King and Queen of the Northwest Kingdom of Tykra, Mother and Father had always kept to themselves and out of the critical eye of the public, primarily the ever-watchful Council of Four who maintained balance between the Four Kingdoms. I never would’ve noticed things had actually changed, except Eli began to copy their reclusive behaviors.
Before my injury, we were almost inseparable. Even though he was four years older, he was my best friend. He was my only friend. Mother and Father were always busy with the matters of the Kingdom, and that didn’t include much time for their children. That left Crown Prince Elion with no distractions except a little sister. As soon as I could walk, he’d lead me like a shepherd with the gentle prod of his words, “Come along, Kyla!” Due to our closeness, we knew everything about each other. On Eli’s eighth birthday, I was the only one there with him when his powers came. We were not expecting them to come, but he was so excited. He was so proud of the fact that his powers came two years early, and Mother and Father were more excited than I had ever seen them before.
After that, our relationship deepened as I would spend hours watching him moving earth and air, creating water and fire. It was mesmerizing. He had such skill for it. I could only hope I could be like him when I got old enough. He promised to teach me everything he knew when I got my powers, but after my injury he retreated to his room to practice and we didn’t really talk anymore.
It was the month before my seventh birthday. Eli was outside practicing, and I snuck out to watch. I don’t really remember what happened. A blast of light. Searing heat. Intense numbness. Eli screaming. Then I was awake and Eli was there, squeezing my left hand so hard it hurt and promising to protect me from anything like that happening again.
All the wraps and salves came off my right hand on my birthday, revealing a splotchy pink and white scar from my fingers to my shoulder. It didn’t hurt anymore, really. The hardest part was relearning how to write and draw using my left hand, but that was the least of my worries.
At the innocent age of barely seven and with a fresh, life-altering injury, I assumed the world revolved around me. Until Eli vanished. That morning, I walked out of my bedroom to see my parents sitting at the breakfast table like any other morning, except Father was reading and Mother was crying. Eli’s chair was empty. I sat on Mother’s lap for the first time since I was a toddler, and we wept together over the disappearance of Crown Prince Elion. After that first day, I just felt hollow. His absence became like my scar; it was there and it sometimes throbbed emptily, but I learned to live with it. I think the reason it didn’t hurt when they took Mother and Father away was because by that point I couldn’t feel anything anymore.
I don’t really think about the day the soldiers stormed in and dragged off King Zael and Queen Rona, scaring off all the servants and leaving me alone in the castle. I was hiding in the corner of Eli’s bedroom when Captain Gavick of the Council Guard returned and gently picked me up and carried me out. He took me to a big room with a bed, table, and a warm fireplace. He wrapped me in a blanket and brought me paper to draw on. He also made sure I had food and clean clothes, and plaited my long blonde hair so it stayed out of my face while I drew. At the end of the second day, Mother and Father came in to see me. They kissed me more times than I could remember being kissed before. Father held me on his lap while Mother sang until I fell asleep. The next morning they were gone.
Captain Gavick was still there, and he asked me a lot of questions about Mother and Father. I answered what I could, but the questions were very confusing. He also asked when I saw Nodah for the last time, but I couldn’t remember. I interrupted him and asked him where Eli was because I missed him. Captain Gavick explained that Mother and Father had done some very bad things, and when people do bad things they need to be punished so they learn to do good things. He added that Eli had done some bad things too, and if I ever saw my brother again, I needed to tell the guards. Then he asked if I had done any bad things with Mother and Father. I said I couldn’t remember.
Then I was taken into another large room and placed in a too big chair in front of the Council. They asked me a lot of the same questions that Captain Gavick asked earlier. They were very angry and they yelled at each other a lot. Eventually Captain Gavick came and took me back to the room with the fireplace where I was left alone for three days except when I was brought food and clean clothes.
On the third day, I heard shouting outside the door. Uncle Xy, Father’s only brother, stormed in and took me away in a carriage. As we traveled, he explained that Father was no longer allowed to be King, and since I was too young to take the throne, he would rule until I came of age. Confused, I asked why I would be Queen when Eli was the Crown Prince. Aunt Liah smoothed back my hair and told me not to think about Elion anymore, but instead I got to live with my cousins and it would be lots of fun.
I did not like my cousins. They were loud and mean. Tenio was almost as big as Eli was, but Eli never purposefully hurt me. Nio would wrap one arm around my neck and pull me down to the ground where he’d sit on my chest until I promised he could be King Nio of Tykra, or until one of the servants shooed him away, telling him to be more careful with the delicate Crown Princess Kylanore.
Jadie was too little and no fun at all. She just screamed and took whatever I was holding. I couldn’t go anywhere near her or she’d pull my hair or pinch any skin she could grasp. Because of her young age, she was constantly surrounded by a swarm of nursemaids who cooed over her to keep her happy. For some reason they never scolded her when she did something wrong.
Brinlea was probably the worst. At the age of almost eight, she was much older than me and therefore claimed authority. She was so bossy. Only once I tried to argue with her and I quickly learned not to. After I told her to shut her mouth by order of the Future Queen, Aunt Liah slapped me across the mouth and sent me to my room. That was when I started to keep to my room, where I could be alone.
It was around that time that Nio began to show off his powers, and I realized how truly astounding Eli’s powers were. Nio was very good with water, and when I dared to ask why he couldn’t control fire, my cousins all laughed at me. Aunt Liah laughed airily with a hand on my shoulder and explained that Tykrans couldn’t control fire because that element belonged to the Laetons of the Southeast Kingdom, and it was silly to think someone could have more than one power. All thoughts of any powers but water should be banished from my head. After that conversation, I began to wear long sleeves at all times.
On my ninth birthday, my powers came. I could control the water around me. Aunt Liah and Uncle Xy were surprised and relieved. Not wanting to get taken away like Mother and Father, I hid my powers over fire, earth, and air. I would practice with water, usually in my room, and I ignored the urge to use my other powers. The scariest thing was how sick my powers made me. Eli never got sick when he used his powers. I ignored it for a little while, but after a few months it got much worse. I was bouncing a water ball, a very simple trick, when nausea overcame me and I vomited very un-Crown Princess like all over my dress and the floor. After changing, I snuck to the east wing of the Castle where the Castle nurses resided. I found the nurse who helped with my arm and asked why this was happening. She just brushed it off as a psychological condition from my injury and told me not to think about it anymore, so I didn’t.
Six years passed without thoughts of Eli, my parents, or my other powers. I still hadn’t fully adjusted to life with my cousins, and I definitely wasn’t used to my powers. I was avoiding Brinlea’s obnoxious demands to go through my closet because she would look much better in my dresses than I did, and I had to go the long way around to get to my bedroom. As I was walking through the back hall, I overheard Aunt Liah and Uncle Xy arguing about my parents. Aunt Liah insisted I needed to know the truth, just in case the worst happened. I didn’t know what the worst that could happen was. Uncle Xy claimed the truth would create more problems than my ignorance.
I hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but I was so confused so I paused against the stone wall across from the slightly ajar door. Feeling guilty about listening in, I crept away, but not without creaking the floor. Uncle Xy spotted me through the crack and called me inside with a sigh. I sat in one of the large, plush chairs, while my aunt and uncle remained standing. Despite the fact that my feet rested solidly on the floor, I felt like the tiny child riding in a carriage back to the Castle without my parents because of the way they looked down on me. The same concern was written on their faces as the day they took me.
Uncle Xy left the explanation to Aunt Liah. Apparently Nodah Doil was an evil and powerful alchemist who worked with Zael and Rona to change the way things had always been. Wanting to upset the balance between the four kingdoms, they hired Nodah to concoct some sort of potion that Rona took while pregnant with Elion. That was how he came to possess power over fire, earth, and air in addition to water. It was kept a secret until rumors of my injuries brought around the scrutinous eyes of the Council and Eli’s powers were uncovered. Fearful of my potential, I was put on trial but was cleared to be placed back in line for the throne. Mother, Father, and Nodah were arrested.
Unsure how to respond, I asked about Eli for the first time since that carriage ride. Aunt Liah confirmed that Elion remained a fugitive, but added that he had been missing for far too long so it was unlikely he was still alive.
Uncle Xy then added that an opportunity had been presented to them to help me as Crown Princess of Tykra. The Council extended an invitation for me to attend Floures, the elite school for the royal and wealthy of all Four Kingdoms. In the very heart of Central City, the only place where any of the Four Kingdoms interacted, the school was where you went to learn how to mix magic with economics, politics, religion, law, and other administrative positions that kept each Kingdom together. As Crown Princess, I would attend classes on each major topic for each of the Kingdoms with the other potential political leaders of the other Kingdoms, to ensure an educated leadership when I would be crowned at the age of twenty. My education would take three years, so I would enter the school at the age of seventeen. Unfortunately, as they were also in line for the throne, Nio and Brinlea would accompany me.
The time passed quickly and without incident, and the three of us set off to Central City. It was my first time outside of the Castle since Captain Gavick carried me out, and it was my first time back in Central City since my parents were hauled away ten years ago. I had no desire to ever come back here, but this was where everyone insisted I needed to be.
We were each assigned rooming, a strict schedule, and I was charged with a handmaid who kept silent as she helped me move into my new room. While she unpacked my luggage, I stared out the window at the moonlight reflecting off the silver walls of the Council Chamber Building. I was sure this room had been set aside just for me. They were watching. This “opportunity” did not come by chance. It was an order to ensure I was not like Eli.
How very strange it was to be here, around all these people who avoided eye contact and conversation with me rather than those who sat on me or demanded things from me. Apparently this was how a future Queen was to be treated. It made my scars throb.
I knew a little about the politics of Tykra, and I had never attended class on magic before. In fact, I rarely used my powers anymore because they made me sick. I knew how to control water, but only weakly because I stopped practicing. It had been years since I had attempted fire, earth, or air. I had never been around so many people before; I could only hope that my inexperience would keep the secrets hidden.
For the first time since Eli left, I felt something. I felt fear.