Monday, September 1, 2014

A PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS: Hannah Carter




     The carriage bumped the whole way down the road, jostling and jarring its passengers at every turn.
     “This is boring,” a little boy complained. He was sitting upside down with his head down on the floor and his feet sticking straight up. Every time the carriage hit a bump (which was quite often), his sister--one of the two other passengers--would steady him so he wouldn’t hit his head.
     “Let’s play a game then,” his sister suggested.
     “Let’s not, Corianna,” the little brother whined. “Let’s just be at this dumb wedding already.”
     “Dumb?” Corianna gasped. “Prince Felix’s wedding isn’t dumb, Leandros! It’s romantic! Why, someday, Bard Eanrin will write love tales about Felix and his lady love--”
     “Stop!” the third passenger exclaimed, rubbing his temple. “We all know how enamored you are with the prince, Cori. But you’re only ten. You won’t be his bride.”
     Corianna lifted an eyebrow. “Hmph! Well, we all know why you want to go to the wedding! You just want to see K--”
     “Stop!” the eldest sibling yelled again, blushing a fierce red.
     Corianna giggled. “And you make fun of me for being in love, Admon.”
     “I’m not in love!” Admon protested. Corianna rolled her eyes but said nothing, but the blush overwhelming his tan skin spoke otherwise.
     The carriage hit another bump then, and Corianna grabbed onto Leandros’s legs. As she did, she caught the first glimpse of Castle Imraldera over the hillside. She gasped, everything else quickly forgotten as she scooted over to the window and plastered her nose against it.
     “Look!” she exclaimed, her breath making the glass foggy. “Oh, I just knew Felix’s castle was as marvelous as him!”
     Admon snorted, but he joined his siblings at the window anyway. Castle Imraldera was a bright white color, and seemed to reflect the sun like twinkling stars. Carefully trimmed ivy reached upward towards the sky, with tiny starflowers blooming on it. The legend went that Bard Eanrin himself had selected the starflowers for the garden. However, since that detail could only be found in one of Eanrin’s own poems, no one could know for sure if it was the truth or not. Since Bard Eanrin was also rumored to be a guest at the wedding, Corianna hoped to find him and see if the legend was true.
     The carriage pulled to a stop in front of the castle. Luckily, there was no wait, as the children had arrived a week before the wedding (due to some kind of royal planning that their parents were attending to)--and the three siblings nearly fell on top of each other in their haste to get inside.
     A shrill whistle pierced the air, and the three culprits stood still to face their parents getting out of their own carriage. The whistle had come from none other than their mother, who was now staring at them, tapping her foot. “How about we not rush in there like the Dragon is on our tail?”
     Corianna smoothed out her pink dress and tucked a stray brown curl behind her ear. “There! I’m ready! Can we go in now?”
     A smile formed on their mother’s lips. “Oh, why not? You might die of excitement if I say no, anyway.”
     The two youngest children let out yips of excitement, but Admon--very mature (in his own mind) at the age of fourteen--walked in with his back rigidly straight, trying to look as dignified as possible. Corianna and Leandros, though, cared nothing about dignity, and ran into the palace.
    “Hen’s teeth!” Corianna exclaimed when she saw the interior. Pictures filled the first room, all marvelous paintings filled with history. In one of them, there was a picture of the dwarf king, his sword raised in the air. The next one was a picture of Felix’s sister, Una, and her husband, Prince Aethelbald. The next one was Prince Felix himself (looking very majestic and brave, Corianna thought), holding what seemed to be a unicorn horn.
     Corianna didn’t have a chance to study any more of the pictures, though, because at that moment, someone called her name. She glanced up to see a boy a little older than herself rush down the stairs, a grin on his face. “Hullo, Cori! Hullo, Leandros!”
     “Donothan!” the siblings called, rushing to meet their friend, whose parents were also attending the council meeting throughout the week. After quick hugs and greetings were exchanged, Admon approached, looking flustered.
     “So, Donothan…where’s Katalin?” The younger boys--being very clueless in romance--didn’t see the faint tinge of red in Admon’s cheeks as he mentioned Donothan’s older sister. They didn’t pay any attention to the way his voice squeaked when he said “sister,” or how nervously he shuffled his feet. Corianna did, though, and chuckled to herself. And Admon thought he was good at keeping secrets--it was more like everyone around didn’t notice the obvious!
     “She’s around the corner with our parents. They’re talking to Princess Una and Prince Aethelbald, and you know how curious my sister is.” Donothan rolled his eyes, and Admon nodded and headed off in the direction Donothan had directed. He started walking slowly at first, but before too long he was darting down the hallway. Corianna snickered, but was soon distracted by a story Donothan was telling.
     “So there I was--minding my own business...sort of-- and all of the sudden, here comes my father, triggering the half-completed trap! It dumped a whole bucket of water on him, and you should have seen how furious he was!” Donothan laughed, his hands moving in exaggerated motions as he weaved his tale. “Just imagine how well it would have turned out if it hadn’t been triggered early!”
     “You certainly have a gift for jokes, Donny,” Corianna commented with a giggle.
     Donny beamed. “Don’t I? It’s just tragic that more people haven’t witnessed them yet. But I’ve got something planned that will change all that!”
     “What is it?” Leandros asked, his gray eyes wide.
     Donny looked around, and then leaned in closer, his voice barely a whisper. “This place needs a little excitement! I’m going to set up a prank that will go off sometime this week--you know, sometime before the wedding so it won’t really matter. I’m sure Prince Felix will have a great sense of humor about the whole thing, and it’ll help lighten up all the boring meetings!”
     “Can we help?” Leandros begged.
     Donny shrugged, a grin on his face. “Why not? With all three of us--led by me, of course-- we’ll pull off something that’ll be more famous than Eanrin’s poetry!”
 *****
     The trio scoured the castle--careful to avoid any prying parental eyes, of course--in search of anything they could use. The prank was made a bit harder, of course, because they had to worry about if anything they took would be missed. Sheets and blankets were argued against by Corianna, because most of the rooms would be in use by the wedding guests. Food was agreed upon as being inconspicuous enough, but after two failed entries into the kitchen by Donny, they agreed that it would be best to wait until mealtimes and squirrel away some ammunition. By that time, they were on the third floor, right near a door that led to the top of a tower, as Donny had informed them (and the younger children didn’t bother to ask how he knew that).
     So they sat outside this door, throwing around ideas of what else to do. Donny hadn’t come up with what prank they were going to do yet, and his mood was quickly turning sour by being pestered by Corianna and Leandros.
     “What do we need food for, though, if we don’t know what to do with it?” Corianna quizzed.
     “What if I get hungry and want to eat my food?” Leandros complained.
     “Dragon’s teeth, I don’t know!” Donny snapped.
     “Our mother says we’re supposed to say ‘hen’s teeth,’“ Leandros scolded.
     Donny grumbled something under his breath, but the trio was forced into silence as they heard footsteps approaching.
     “I’ll find what made that noise, old girl,” the approaching voice called. “I’m sure it’s just your overactive imagination again.”
     The figure came into sight at the end of the hall, wearing a dazzling red coat and a matching hat upon his golden head. Two eye-patches were covering the man’s eyes, and the children gasped in tandem.
     “It’s Sir Eanrin!” Corianna hissed, her eyes wide.
     “Oh, Dragon’s teeth!” Donny exclaimed. “Hide!”
     “Where?” Leandros said.
     “In plain sight! He’s blind!” Donny pushed them up against a corner, squashing them all three together. They waited in silence as Sir Eanrin approached, switching between his cat and man forms every few seconds.
     As he neared them, the cat Eanrin sniffed the air, and before the children could blink, a bard kneeled before them, staring right at them--or at least, he would be staring, if it was possible.
     “You know, my boy, I may be blind, but my ears work perfectly fine.” He sniffed, as if insulted. “Along with my nose. I could smell the fear on you children all the way down the hall.”
     “I--um...sorry, sir,” Leandros squeaked. Donny, who had recovered from his momentary shock at being caught, was creeping closer to the tower door, silent as a mouse.
     “Oh, I’m not particularly the one that needs apologizing too...of course I WAS the one that was insulted, but I suppose that’s a different matter entirely.” Sir Eanrin paused, still looking very offended. He tilted his head, as if listening for something. Donny also stopped, his foot in mid-air and clinging to the wall for support.
     When Eanrin couldn’t hear anything, he continued. “I would, though, suggest that you abandon whatever game you’re playing and apologize to your parents. Imraldera, too, since she was sure there were murderers up here, intent on bringing down Prince Felix.
     “What mischief were you making, anyway?”
     Eanrin never got a proper answer, for at that moment Donny threw open the tower door, yelling, “In here!”
     Corianna and Leandros raced from their corner spot, and Eanrin (now a cat) let out a hiss.
     “Dragons blast it! Come back!”
     “Shut the door; shut the door!” Donny called from his position at point, but Corianna was already halfway up the winding steps, and Leandros was too petrified by the warrior cat on their trail to follow orders.
     “He’s going to eat us!” Leandros cried.
     “He won’t eat you!” Donny yelled back. “Well...at least, he won’t if he can’t catch you!”
    Leandros let out a high-pitched squeal and glanced back to see how far Eanrin had fallen behind. As he did, though, he ran into Corianna, who in turn had smashed into Donny not but a few seconds before.
     “Iubdan’s Beard!” Donny exclaimed. “She’s beautiful!”
     The lady he had declared beautiful was not a flesh and blood woman, but instead a portrait of one. Corianna narrowed her eyes and put her hands on her hips. “She’s not that beautiful, Donny.”
     In Donny’s wonder and Corianna’s jealousy, the two had momentarily forgotten that they were being pursued. In that brief moment, though, they allowed Eanrin to catch up to them, and as a man again he swiftly snatched Donny and Leandros’s shirt collars in one hand and grabbed Corianna’s wrist with the other.
     “Now see here, you mongrels--” Eanrin growled, but was interrupted my Donny.
     “Who is she?”
     “Who is who? As you so delicately pointed out earlier, I can’t see.” Eanrin’s reply dripped sarcasm.
     “The brown-haired girl in the picture.”
     Eanrin stilled, and seemed to be contemplating something. “Does the woman in question have a ring on her finger? An opal one, by any chance?”
     “Yes,” Corianna replied.
     “Then I’m afraid I can’t tell you.” The sharpness returned to Eanrin’s voice. “Out, out, out! If you leave without a fight, I shan’t tell anyone else what you’ve been up to.” Eanrin began to tug them down the steps, but Donny was still awestruck by the painting, and was struggling against the poet.
     “Can’t you at least give us a hint at who she is?” Donny questioned.
     “No,” Eanrin replied flatly. “Now, come along--”
     Donny heaved a melodramatic sigh and winked at Corianna, the latter which Eanrin missed. “Oh, too bad. I only wanted to hear what happened from the great Bard Eanrin. Your stories are always the best...but if we must go...”
     “Now, hold on.” Eanrin had stopped, contemplating this. “I suppose I can tell you just a little...after all, it would be unfair to rob you of one my stories that you so desperately want.” Eanrin guided them back up the steps and set them on the floor in front of the painting. “However, you mustn’t breathe a word of this to anyone. There are reasons why not all adventures have marvelous stories written about them.”
     The children murmured promises of silence, their anticipation increasing.
     “The person, little mongrels, is Una and Felix’s mother. Queen Estara.”
*****
     Every summer, Estara’s parents went on a boat trip, sailing from Parumvir to Lunthea Muly and their summer house. The year that Estara turned six, she was finally allowed to go with them. But just a few days into the journey, Estara grew quite bored with the monotony of sea life.
     So that was why, when she found herself sitting by the railing one day, looking over at the sea, that she got the idea to jump over. She was a very good swimmer--in her own six year old mind--and a swim would help her to cool down on this extraordinarily hot day. Estara took a quick look around and then slipped off her shoes, pulling herself onto the railing one foot at a time. She had hoped to do a dive in, but ocean waves can be very unpredictable. She lost her footing as the boat rolled over one, and she tumbled overboard.
     At first, that wasn’t a tragedy at all. After all, Estara had intended to take a swim anyway, no matter if her entry was less than graceful. But her adventure quickly turned sour, as she realized she didn’t have a way to get back up on to the boat, and the waves were much rougher than she had expected. This realization caused her to begin to cry, and being six, she considered this an excellent way to solve her problem. After a moment, Estara saw a rope being tied to the railing of the boat, and a young lad scurrying down it.
     The boy reached out to Estara and wrapped his arms around her, and held her above the water.
     Her teeth chattering, Estara clung to the stranger’s neck, and saw that her rescuer was no more than ten, maybe eleven years old. “You’re just a boy!”
     “And you’re a very silly girl for jumping overboard,” the boy replied.
     “You saw?” Estara asked meekly.
     “Yes. But I am the only one who did.”
     “Will you tell?”
     “I won’t tell if you don’t.” The boy grinned at her, and then began to climb back up the rope.
     In that moment, Estara was sure she was in love. “I’m Estara. What’s your name?”
     “Sunan.”

*****

     Every summer, Estara and Sunan’s friendship grew. Estara’s parents always rented the same ship, and Sunan was moving his way up the ranks on the same ship as well. For seven years, they each counted on their annual visit. It was no different the summer Estara turned thirteen--that is, it wasn’t different until the third night.
     Estara had heard the whispers. A storm was brewing, they said--maybe Risafeth was angry, or maybe the ship was cursed with bad luck. Whatever the reason, the sailors scurried about with a wary eye on the sky and frowns on their faces.
     “What is everyone so worried about?” Estara asked Sunan.
     “The storm.”
     “Are you worried?”
     Sunan had stopped tying his knot and glanced at her, smiling a bit. “Not much scares me.”
     Estara stuck out her chin. “Then not much scares me, either.”
     That night, though, both discovered that the “not much” that scared them was quite ferocious. Waves, rain, and wind battered the ship, and the mast splintered in half, crashing down. A horrible roar came up from the depths, the source of which no one wanted to imagine.
     Estara, ignoring the warnings of her parents, rushed up on the deck. Rain pelted her, soaking her to the core. She shivered, her brown curls sticking to her wet cheeks. “Sunan!” When her friend didn’t answer, she yelled again, her voice thick with tears. “Sunan!”
     She saw him, then, but only for a moment. A wave crashed into the port side, knocking Estara off her feet--and washing Sunan overboard.
     Estara struggled to rush over to her friend, but slipped on her first try. Her momentum from the slip, though, carried her across the slick wood. She slammed into the railing, and was just able to make out Sunan’s dark head, bobbing in the water below.
     Petrified, Estara leapt into the water, landing by Sunan. She managed to wrap her arms around him, and whispered, “You’ll be okay, Sunan...” He made no reply, though, for he was unconscious, a bleeding gash on his head.
     For the rest of their lives, neither friend could recall how they had reached the shores of Farthestshore. Estara only recalled waves; Sunan, never ending blackness. Somehow, though, they both remembered a faint tune...
     Beyond the Final Water falling
     The Song of Spheres recalling
     Though others deem it folly
     Won’t you return to me?”

     The morning they woke up on the shores of Farthestshore, Estara opened her eyes to find Sunan already sitting up, eyeing the trees. She opened her mouth to ask what he was staring at, but he silenced her by putting his hand over her mouth and pointing to a tree branch. A wood thrush sang merrily, his song almost sounding like the tune from their dream.
     Slowly, Sunan stood up, and helped Estara to her feet. The wood thrush soared from its perch and away from the shore. It landed on another branch, where it began to sing again.
     “Won’t you follow me?”
     “Sunan, am I going crazy, or is that thrush wanting us to follow it?” Estara asked.
     Sunan closed his eyes, letting the words bolster his spirits. Strength seemed to overflow with every note the wood thrush sang. With a smile, Sunan said, “I think it does. Are you scared?”
     Estara returned his grin, boldly meshing their fingers together. “Not much scares me.”
     “Not much scares me, either.” With that Sunan lifted Estara onto his back, and they chased after the wood thrush, singing,
     Beyond the Final Waters falling
     The Song of Spheres recalling
     Though others deem it folly
     We will follow thee
.”
     Though they didn’t know it, the wood thrush led them away from the shores of Farthestshore, for it was not their time to cross yet. Their adventures were just beginning, much more dangerous than either could have imagined at that moment.

*****
 
     Sunan and Estara came to the Haven later that year. Imraldera and a wonderfully handsome cat (here, Eanrin added many more adjectives, until the children had moaned so much he returned to the story) welcomed them, and put them to work. Through the next few years, they went on many trips with the Knights of the Farthestshore, in service to the Prince of Farthestshore, the Lumil Eliasul. And Estara grew in grace and even in beauty (although her beauty didn’t even touch Lady Gleamdren’s, Eanrin insisted).
     Imraldera would often tell her cat, as they sat in her library, how it was clear their pupils were falling in love. No--that did not seem right. It was more of their love was growing, as their special bond had been in place for years.
     So it came as no surprise to anyone (except maybe Estara herself), when Sunan proposed on the eve of her eighteenth birthday. The ring he gave her was a beautiful opal ring, one fit for a queen, he had insisted. No one was surprised, either, when she happily accepted.
     It seemed everything was perfect: until Sunan was called away by the Prince of Farthestshore. He was to return to the sea, to chase the Dragon, who had been spotted in Lunthea Muly. The night before he left, he and Estara stood in the library, by a tiny fireplace. Sunan was painting a picture of Estara (“So you’ll always keep me company in my cabin,” he had told her), and she was fiddling with her ring, slipping it on and off again. Sunan smiled to himself, as he managed to capture the nervous gesture with his brush and paint.
     As the fire was dwindling, Sunan finished his portrait, and then showed off his work to Estara.
     “It’s about as beautiful as you can get with a model like me,” she teased, but then turned sober. “I’m just jealous that she’ll get to keep you company on your journey, and I won’t. Please, Sunan…hurry back…and be careful.”
     “I will,” he assured her. “And we can be married the day after I return. I’ll follow my Lord and return to you, always. Besides...” he cupped her chin in his hands, raising her gaze up to meet his. “There’s not much that scares me.” With that, he kissed her, and everything was right in the world.
     Until he left, and never returned.
     For days--then months--then years, Estara waited, helping Imraldera in the Haven. Visitors came, sometimes they stayed, but never did her Sunan return. Even though Imraldera assured her that time passes differently within the Wood, and that Sunan could have only been gone mere moments, Estara couldn’t be cheered. When she turned twenty-one, she feared all was gone.
     “He’s dead!” she sobbed, burying her head in her hands. “He’s dead, and I’ll never see him again...oh, he should have taken me with him, instead of that stupid portrait!”
     Estara was inconsolable, until her Prince came to visit her. He told her of the Dragon, who had returned to Parumvir, intent on overtaking it.
     It was her job, he explained, to make sure that didn’t happen.
     “The Dragon doesn’t fear me nearly as much as he fears you,” Estara said. “I will go, my Lord, but I cannot understand why you will not go in my stead.” Her mind begged her to ask about Sunan, to ask her Prince what had happened. But it fled her mind when her Lord strode up to her, a compassionate look in his eyes. He took her hands in his and gave them a small squeeze.
     “My child, there are many things I will do in your stead. But it is not yet time for the Dragon to face me, but have patience. It is urgent that you go, Beloved. There are still things that have yet to be done, things that you will have an important part in. But be assured...I will always be with you, no matter where you go, or how long your journey is.”
     With those words, Estara set out for Parumvir, with a virile, handsome cat following her. The two arrived in Parumvir, and on the outskirts of the Woods was a palace. It was Castle Oriana, which Estara had never seen, not even in her youth when she still lived in Parumvir.
     “It’s beautiful,” Estara breathed.
     “I smell the Dragon, though,” the cat muttered, twitching his tail back and forth. “He’s close. Be on your guard, Estara.”
      The two roamed the outskirts of the castle, until a figure approached them. It was a man, and a man of regal airs at that. The cat’s whiskers twitched, and he dashed into the surrounding brush, on the scent of the Dragon. For the cat realized now what the Dragon was doing there: he was on a hunt, and had spotted his prey.
     So when the regal man approached, only Estara--looking very nervous--was there to greet him.
     “Hello,” greeted the man in a very princely manner.
     Estara returned the greeting, but her voice was near emotionless. She continued walking, scanning the area for the Dragon.
     “May I help you? You’re very close to the palace, you know--almost trespassing.”
     “I’m here on business. I have no need to be in the palace, so you don’t have to worry.” Estara continued, and the cat noticed how dangerously close they were getting to the Dragon. Somehow, they had to find a way to get the man away from the Dragon, or risk creating another Dragon born.
     “Excuse me, but what is your business?”
     Estara huffed, obviously growing frustrated with the man’s incessant badgering. “I am a servant of the Prince of Farthestshore, and that should be all the information you need.”
     The man looked shocked for a moment, but then recovered. “And I am Prince Fidel, and I demand to know what you are doing on my property.”
     At that moment, the Dragon strode forward, looking pretentiously caring. “Such nerve, to address the prince that way! Don’t you agree, Prince Fidel? It seems like the Knights of Farthestshore don’t give respect where respect is due.”
     Estara’s eyes narrowed, and she withdrew her sword, pointing it at the Dragon. “What do you know of respect, liar?”
     The Dragon clucked his tongue. “Oh! Harassing an innocent bystander? Prince Fidel, surely you see what an unstable nuisance this supposed Knight is.”
     “I am starting to,” Prince Fidel muttered.
     The Dragon grinned, and the cat prepared to pounce, every hair on his body standing straight up. “Yes, Prince Fidel, in fact, this is what I came to warn you about. I am a traveler, and have heard dreadful stories of these Knights of Farthestshore. If you shall need my protection, I am here.”
     Prince Fidel looked like he was considering it, and took a step forward. The cat took this moment to pounce, landing on the Dragon’s back, and digging his claws in. The brave cat let out a loud hiss as the Dragon roared, groping for the cat.
     “Cursed Knights!” the Dragon bellowed. “Why does my enemy send you instead of himself? Does he tremble in fear at the thought of me?” the Dragon snarled a laugh.
     “Don’t try and intimidate us, Dragon,” the cat-man hissed. “I have faced you before and won. Your sting is lost.”
     Estara grabbed Prince Fidel pushed him backwards, before raising her sword to the Dragon, as if to threaten him.
     However, his sadistic laugh stripped her threat of all its power. “Oh, little morsel! So you wear the ring?”
     Estara’s heart stopped, her thoughts turning to the man who gave her the ring. “What...what do you mean?”
     “The ring…you’re the girl in the picture, aren’t you? Oh, when your Knight found me in Lunthea Muly, I knew his weakness as soon as I saw your picture. One simple declaration of how I’d kill you, and the poor little Knight let his emotions get the better of him.”
     Enraged, Estara shouted, “Where is Sunan?! What did you do to him, Dragon?”
     The Dragon gave a serpentine smile. “He was a Knight of Farthestshore, wasn’t he?” The Dragon’s voice rose no more above a menacing hiss. “I killed him, of course. What were his last words? Oh, yes--that he wasn’t scared of me. Pity...he should have been.”
     A scream ripped out of Estara as she charged at the Dragon. Although she had wept at the possibility of Sunan’s death, she had never considered it true until the Dragon spoke of his fate. Rage and sorrow bubbled over, and Estara raised her sword to take her revenge. Just as she was about to deliver a blow, the Dragon revealed his true self and propelled himself into the air, disappearing into the clouds above.
     “Come back here, coward!” Estara screamed at him, sinking to her knees. She dropped her sword and buried her face in her hands, her sobs the most sorrowful sound known to man.
     The cat-man--once again a man--strode to Estara and sat down next to her. “Pity that, about Sunan. It’s all lies, I’m sure. He will return.”
     “He’s dead…he’s dead…” Estara repeated, not caring what the cat-man said. Though her heart longed for it to be true, that her love might still live, she knew his absence was too long. The Dragon’s words were too similar to Sunan’s actions.
     Sunan, her beloved Sunan, was dead.
     The cat-man cleared his throat, but still Estara did not rise or stop her wailing. Uncertainty, the cat-man stood up. “I’ll see you back at the Haven, then? I’ll run ahead and tell the Prince what happened today.” The cat-man left slowly, keeping a careful watch on Estara as he did.
     After the other knight was gone, Prince Fidel came back around from what felt like a daze. He remembered something about a Dragon—a Knight? Or perhaps he remembered nothing at all, and it had just been a daydream. Whatever it was, he felt pity for the sobbing girl in front of him. “You saved me?”
     “Maybe, but I was not able to save Sunan,” she replied bitterly.
     “I was not feeling myself, and you saved me from…whatever enchantment that was,” Prince Fidel continued, his voice filled with awe. He could not be sure what exactly it was, but he knew he was indebted to Estara for destroying it. “You have to come to the palace so I can repay you.”
     “You owe me no favor,” Estara muttered. “It is our job as Knights of Farthestshore to protect others from the Dragon.”
     “Yes, but I insist on thanking you. You shall eat dinner with my family and me, and then I will see to it that you are richly rewarded.” Estara shook her head and moved to protest, but Prince Fidel hurriedly added, “I insist. Besides...if you’d allow the pleasure, I want to hear more about this Sunan...and try and comfort you.”


 *****
 

   It seemed that Estara and Fidel were together for every day the next few months. Estara rarely was at the Haven, except to mourn there alone. Neither of the other occupants of the Haven, though, seemed to comfort her like Fidel, her prince, did. He quickly became her sole confidant, and the talks that they had when they were together are lost to time, too secret to tell to others.
     Days grew into months, and slowly Estara recovered from the loss of Sunan. Though she still cried, she knew in her heart that Sunan was still with her, every time she looked at her opal ring. She also knew that Sunan would not want her to be scared and alone forever. His bravery would carry her forward, even if it meant falling in love with her princely friend.
     For it soon become apparent to both Fidel and Estara that they loved each other. Trust came easy between them, and Fidel didn’t insist she forget about Sunan, or remove his ring.
     “He was a part of your past,” Fidel had told her when she inquired if he resented the presence of her ring. “You have loved before, and he was taken from you. He is a part of you, and always will be--and I love every part of you.”
     Estara had fallen deeply and madly in love with Fidel at that.
     And it was on one walk through the palace gardens where the two acknowledged their feelings to each other. They shared a kiss, a kiss that would leave one breathless and ecstatic.
     Breathless and ecstatic, except if one was their unseen onlooker. Fury boiled in this weary traveler, and he stormed up to the couple. “Estara!”
     It was if a ghost had come to shower regret upon Estara for her happiness. Tears filled her eyes, and she pulled away from Fidel, wondering why her subconscious was denying her a glimmer of hope.
     But it was not her subconscious that was reminding her of her former flame. He was standing right in front of her, looking rugged, tired...and betrayed.
     “Sunan?” Estara choked out, the tears spilling over.
     “Imraldera told me you were here,” he snarled. “She didn’t tell me, though, that you’d forgotten me so quickly.”
     “Quickly? It’s been years, Sunan! We...we were all told that you were dead!” Estara sobbed.
     “And I see you wasted no time getting on with your life, as I was fighting and running from the Dragon to get back to you!” he criticized.
     “That’s not fair!” Estara retorted, her anger rising to match that of Sunan’s. “I waited years never came fought the Dragon told me you are dead!” Estara’s sentences mashed together, and she couldn’t even think coherently for a second. Curse my Dragon-eaten tongue!
     “I’m clearly not dead!” Sunan barked. “And you still wear my ring!”
     “Sunan...” Estara began to pace, her arms making frantic gestures as she tried to piece together her thoughts. “Sunan, you...you can’t intend for us to just pick up where we left!”
     “I did, until I saw that you were a traitor.”
     “Sunan, please, believe me...I didn’t fall in love with Fidel until you’d been gone years…”
     “And you know what I did in those years, Estara? I fell asleep every night imagining how it would feel to finally return to you. Remembering how you promised to marry me when I returned!”
     “You can’t expect me to marry you now, Sunan! I’ve changed in your absence, and you have too! We’re strangers, and...” Estara’s voice dropped to a whisper, breaking with emotion. “I love Fidel now, Sunan. I love you, still, but not like I once did...not like I love Fidel now...”
     Sunan didn’t respond with words. Instead, he turned around and raced to the Woods, cursing the day he left. Cursing Estara for her unfaithfulness. But most of all, cursing the Prince of Farthestshore for directing his Path away from Estara.
     “I want nothing to do with you, Aethelbald!” Sunan screamed into the air. “You’ve taken everything I loved from me! Everything! Do you hear, me Lumil Eliasul? I’m through with you!” And in the middle of Goldstone Wood, Sunan wept.
     “Ah, such a pity,” a voice said from behind. He had overheard the last part of Sunan’s story, and wore a deceptively sympathetic smile on his face. “The Lumil Eliasul… is not as good as many claim, is he? He takes everything that His knights want and crushes it...all in His name.” Sunan stilled, the voice washing over him and breaking the final pieces of his heart. “I, on the other hand, realize desires of the heart. I give my children what they want...power. Control. If you were with me, you never would have lost your precious Estara...or your heart.”
     The Dragon smirked as Sunan turned around, a dull, lifeless expression in his eyes. His face was hardened in anger, which made the Dragon feel a sense of accomplishment. That was exactly what he liked to see.
     “I want nothing to do with the Lumil Eliasul,” Sunan repeated.
     “Neither do I,” the Dragon assured him, holding out his hand. “Come, my child. Come to me, and embrace what you were truly meant to be.”
     Sunan gave into the Dragon, surrendering to the lies that told him what he wanted to believe.
     In the next instant, a new dragon flew up into the sky, fire bursting from his mouth. It is often debated upon about whether dragons can cry, but if any a dragon had ever wept before, it was the dragon that had been Sunan.
 
*****

     “The end.”
     “Wait, what?!” Corianna cried. “That can’t be the end!”
     “But it is!” Eanrin assured her. “Not the happiest conclusion, given, but it’s growing late, and Imraldera will grow worried if I’m gone much longer. If you want to end on a cheerier note, just remember that Estara and Fidel were married!”
     “But what about Sunan? Is he still a dragon? Did he and Estara ever see each other again?” Corianna persisted, sounding desperate.
     Eanrin obviously felt the distress in the children, because he knelt down and smiled comfortingly. “My dear, Sunan was saved, and he did see Estara again—but that story is an entirely different one, and meant for another day.”
     And so Eanrin escorted the children out of the tower, leaving the rest of Queen Estara’s secrets for another day.





VOTING: If you would like to vote on this or any of the other fan fiction submissions, email your top three titles to me at aestengl@gmail.com. Voting is for fans of the Goldstone Wood series only.

9 comments:

Allison Ruvidich said...

Hen's teeth! The little scamps. : ) Great job, Hannah!

ghost ryter said...

I enjoyed this TREMENDOUSLY! Love the dialogue between the siblings (who gave you the right to spy on my sisters and I???), and the thought of Eanrin as storyteller. Interesting concept of Sunan and Una's Mum being knights together and having fallen in love. Now, though, I really, really want to know who Felix was getting married to...Gervais's siter, perhaps? :D

ghost ryter said...

*sister* sorry.

Anonymous said...

that was a great story. I liked the siblings.

Ghost ryter, I have an idea!
maybe it was Imeralda! Or maybe it was an unknown awesome person who will be revealed to us and make us go "Phew" because that would leave Imeralda unmarried
Jemma

ghost ryter said...

@Jemma: "Phew" is right. :)

Hannah said...

Oh, what an interesting idea on Sunan and Estara's story. Very charmingly told! :D

Meredith said...

I enjoyed this story very much and the idea that Sunan and Una's mother served as knights. Very clever idea! Loved the interaction between the siblings. Terrific job.

Sara said...

This was great! I've wondered about that picture...But now I want to hear the rest of the story of Sunan and Estara and what happened when they met again :)

Also, I had to snicker at how Donny was able to manipulate Eanrin into telling the story, just by flattering him! And also Eanrin's descriptions of his own handsomeness and bravery :)

And finally, I can't blame Corianna for having a little crush on Felix!

Melanie J. Morgan said...

I loved this thing. You are so sneaky!!! Enticing us with an interesting premise and interesting characters, then luring us in with the prospect of Felix's mystery bride, then sweeping us off on an epic, sad and beautiful love story, then returning and never telling us the identity of the mystery bride! You tease! You make me want to write absurdly cheesy stories about Felix falling for his mystery lady and muscling up the courage to.marry her and have 30 babies and live happily ever after. :P

This truly was a gorgeous story. I loved the whole thing, and I really loved the theory on the origin of Una's mother's ring. The idea of having a story about her mother as it is was a genius idea, and and setting it within the frame of Felix's wedding was an excellent idea, and you executed it perfectly. And personally, I find the notion of Earning telling stories to children hilarious, adorable, and totally appropriate all at once. So bravo! Excellent job!

Blessings,
Melanie