Ocendra could have been mistaken as a water nymph judging by how she so easily floated in the dark waters of the small river. Her radiant skin was illuminated in the unclouded glow of the setting western sun. Her rich, raven locks were splayed out behind her, giving her a more magical appearance. She always spoke of how she could almost taste the healing powers that the waters possessed. She believed that they called out to her. I watched as her nimble fingers trailed across the smooth surface the water provided her with. A small, sultry smile made its way onto her lips, but she didn't bother glancing at me as she whispered, "Casper, I believe that you are staring."
When she finally opened her eyes, I could see the surprise swirling within them. The sun had just risen when we had gotten to our hiding place among the trees, but I didn't have the heart to disturb her. We weren't far from the all shack that had become the heart of the rebellion, but tonight, we'd be late- perhaps because of my foolishness.
"Casper, you know the rules. No looking." I could hear the playfulness in her voice, but I turned around anyways. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the silhouette of her small frame as she sat up, ringing out her hair over the banks of the river. In the ambiguous form of a silhouette, I could vaguely see her fingers picking up her grandmother's necklace, wrapping the cord around her neck. It was simple, almost like a vine, but it proved she was a healer. Her grandfather had told us how all born with magic were connected to the forest, along with the rivers and creeks that flowed through them. Before the banishment of magic, the cord had been a symbol of her people, the healers of the kingdom. By wearing the cord, it showed her commitment to her powers and heritage, but for her and I, it symbolized defiance- a strong upsurge that had been brewing within us for years.
I remembered the first time her and I crossed paths. She'd been out here, wrapping the cord around her neck just as she was doing so now, when I stumbled upon her. Contrary to what I'd initially expected, she was more concerned than embarrassed about the fact that I was a member of the royal family or a knight, but I was ashamed to say that night I was both. The moment she saw I was hurt, she didn't even hesitate before helping me, might I add scolding me in the process. She ushered me towards the water as she began her process of healing, my first experience with real magic. She could easily heal without the water, which I eventually learned from experience, but it gave her more power and strength, something she wasn't going to let it slip through her fingers so easily.
When she finished the final tie around her neck, she pulled on the silky blue dress I had given her when she turned sixteen. It was surely the nicest dress she'd ever known. The silks were from the finest makers in all the lands and much to my enjoyment, it fit her perfectly. With our meeting tonight, I figured that she should wear it. Without any visible difficulty, she tied her knives against her waist, then the leather belt that hid them, something she had added after I have her the dress. I glanced back as she made sure they were still accessible before pulling on her brown leather boots. With one boot half way on, she said, "You can turn around now you little cheat."
"I would never cheat, my lady," I laughed softly as my sheathed sword hit my chest, "Well, well, well someone's a little feisty tonight."
"I wouldn't be so feisty if someone wouldn't be such a cheat." Ocendra stuck her tongue out at me as we began walking in the direction of the small shack that held together the small remains of our rebellion. The magic wielders of the kingdom had once been a proud and noble group of people, now they were living in hiding because of my bloodline. I only wish I could see my father's face now; he would die before seeing his eldest son and heir fraternizing with the forgotten race. But tonight, I would relish in the moment when I would get to see his face as I took back her kingdom.
"Presenting Prince of Adraelith, Casper Athelstan Escott and Duchess Richessa Isabell Aedrandora of Otharia."
I couldn't help but to let out a breathy laugh as I heard the announcer suck in a deep breath after our lengthy names, even if one of them didn't belong to us at all. I could only imagine how Ocendra felt when she heard a fake, rather than her true, name called. I glanced down at her, figuring she was nervous, but I saw the opposite. She had her chin raised high, just as a noblewoman would have normally had. To say she didn't look beautiful would have been an utter lie. Even if she wasn't truly born of noble blood or status, she appeared to play the part tonight.
"I believe you're staring, Casper." A smile found its way upon my lips as I heard her repeat the words she had so boldly told me earlier. I raised her hand to my lips, softly kissing the top of her fingers before saying, "I'm only admiring the most beautiful woman in the room."
I saw Ocendra roll her light, amber eyes as she whispered back to me, "Well my prince, flattery will get you no where."
"Well it's surely gotten me somewhere, no?" I raised my eyebrow as I led her to the dance floor, not receiving a reply. I kept my hand in hers, the other on her hip as led us in the official dance of Adraelith. Because it wasn't really that complicated, anyone could learn it within a matter of minutes, but in custom, only members of the royal family and their dates performed the dance when celebrating a peace between two neighboring kingdoms. Adraelith was generally a common ground for warring kings to settle their differences and draw up a treaty. My father had always been a great mediator, overshadowing many of his other faults with our people.
It only seemed like seconds before the dance was over and the surrounding people were swallowing us again. I could see Ocendra's discomfort, but she was playing the part of a noblewoman. She needed to be more confident in herself, just as she had been earlier, so I placed my finger under her chin, raising her eyes to meet mine. I gave her a small smile, knowing her question before it was asked, "Just remember," I said softly, "I will be by your side all night. We will fight side by side, just as we trained. The moment we get the signal, we go and find my father...together." I wasn't truly positive if our plan would work. We were a motley crew at best, but nothing like my father's best men. I had attempted at recruiting some of the knights who didn't agree with my father's ways, but, much to my dismay, many had decided to stay neutral. Now, we could only hope that our king hadn't gotten word of the oncoming slaughter. I knew the blood bath was inevitable, but I still had hope for our side. I knew that by midnight a crimson covering would be found on every wall, floor, and man within the walls of my home. My home, my castle, my friends, my family, my kingdom would bleed tonight, they'd bleed until the first rays of light.
"May I?" A large calloused hand rested on my shoulder, but I already knew who it was. Bjorn, my brother. He was the signal. I didn't know if I could trust him, but I was willing to take the risk. We could very well be walking into a trap.
But, with a strong surge of faith, I leaned forward kissing Ocendra's cheek before placing her hand into Bjorn's. I then moved my hand to Bjorn's shoulder leaning forward to say softly, "Get her out of here, now."
In months, this had been the farthest we had been apart and I chose to leave her in my kid brother's hands.
"Bjorn, you would be a fool to listen to your brother. He promised." I looked passed Bjorn and watched as Casper retreated into the sea of dresses, leading him away to his death. Farther away I could make out the small figure of the king, slipping away into the gardens for his midnight stroll. I knew what Casper was going to do. He was going to face his father alone.
"Ocendra, you would be a fool to go and fight. You are a lady, not-"
"You know that is a lie just as well as I do." I placed a knife against his stomach, watching his reaction. Bjorn didn't bat an eyelash as he pushed the knife away from him. I could tell he was having an inner battle with himself. It wasn't everyday that the crowned prince had a knife pressed against his stomach by a lady as he so boldly called me.
"Think this through, Ocendra. It's going to be a blood bath. They're going to need you afterwards. We're going to need you at your best. Casper isn't sitting you out because you're a woman. I would, but that's besides the point. He's sitting you out so if anyone gets seriously harmed, which they will, you can heal them. Our father will go after you if it means hurting Casper." He ran a hand through his hair, frustrated. "If you go in there, no one's coming out of this alive." By now Bjorn had pulled us off to the side out of the whispers of the crowd. Both his hands were on my shoulders and he leaned down to my eye level trying to get me to agree with him.
I took in a deep breath, making up my mind, "Fine, but I know a way everyone can get out alive. This is something not even Casper knows. I'm trusting you, Bjorn." I had never told Casper about my true heritage and how at one time in our kingdom's long life that my family was truly of noble blood. Before King Zarall's Proclamation of the Steel Forge, we had been close to the royal family. King Zarall had believed that my family was more powerful and in that fear he banished all magic. The Proclamation ordered every person who believed in or practiced magic to be sentenced to death. I was a blood sage as well as a healer. As a blood sage, I had the power to alter the past and future. All it took was a few drops of my blood and a small price. Each family that had the gifts of the blood sage paid a price every time their blood was spilt. My family's curse was an ancient and dangerous one. When we still lived among the royal court and magic wasn't banished among the lands, there were rumors of the Akirea clan. They called us ruthless and savages, because every time our blood was spilt it cost us the life of the one we truly loved most. We lost husbands, wives, children, parents, even members of the royal family, but we still served the king. I had only used my power's once, but many in my family didn't even know what they were capable of. My grandfather had led me in fear for so long, before his death and even after, but tonight I knew what I had to do.
I looked up at Bjorn, saying the words I kept so precious and dear to me, "I am a blood sage."
"I thought my great-great-great grandfather had killed all of them? I know I read that he was certain that the Akirea Clan were dead...unless..." Bjorn looked at me in surprise. He probably had finally taken my middle name into consideration, then how I had mentioned to Casper that every woman and first born son in my family shared the name. He took a step back, rubbing his hand against the growing stuble on his chin in thought. Slowly he nodded, saying, "Whatever the price is."
In agreement, I nodded, "Whatever the price is."
Bjorn handed me the quill as my blood dripped into the glass cup in front of me. There was no going back now, all I had to do was make the precious liquid into words, but I only wondered if Casper were still alive. My hand shook as I placed the tip of the feather into the red ink. I knew the consequence, but I let my words flow elegantly across the paper.
I gritted my teeth together as I slit open my wrist. I had to do this, the knights and the royal family knew. We were all going to be killed. My father wasn't going to do anything. We came from old magic, old money, but that had been taken away when the proclamation was passed so many generations ago. I had to do something. My whole family was powerful, but they acted like death would eventually come. I let the blood drip into the small glass set on the wooden table. I knew what could happen. I could bring a plague upon us, I could kill someone, I could...I was accepting what could happen. My family's curse never crossing my mind. I dipped the quill into my blood, dragging the words slowly across the page.
They crisscrossed in an elegant pattern, identifying that it was written by my hand and no one else's. By the end of it, I felt like I had been writing for hours. I felt like I was throwing so many things away, but it meant saving my family.
"What have you done, child?"
I was too far gone, I couldn't stop the words. They continued flowing out of me. The blood it was all...it was all too fast. I knew what I was writing, but I couldn't take it back. It was in a crimson red ink that was irreversible. I was condemning the kingdom to death, but we had been living in...what was I thinking? I should have never-
"Ocendra, stop! You have to stop! If the rumors are true-" Bjorn cut himself off as he realized there was no stopping me. My demons, the side that controlled my being as blood sage had taken over. It was all over for everyone.
My whole world stopped spinning. The air was sucked cleanly out of the room. Every hair on my arms stood up. I knew exactly who was behind me. I knew who it was and I knew that he was going to be angry with me. My grandpa had pushed me so much in my life, he had stopped me so many times, but I couldn't hide the drying crimson that seemed to fill the room. I couldn't hide that my blood was spilled in my family's name. I couldn't hide any of it. I stood up, my hand covering my wrist, "Grandpa, you know it had to be done."
"You know what is too come, you know what you have done. You asked for this. Don't ask for us to be here when-" But the consequence was already in motion. By the time he had spoken his last word, it had already begun. I watched as my grandpa fell to the ground. I watched in slow motion. His tears were the crimson that was meant to wash away our problems. His normal dark hair was now a bright red. His clothes were stained, but I could only watch as our family's curse took over. The curse I had so foolishly ignored.
"It's done...It's done." The quill fell from my hands, clattering down onto the wooden table. I pushed myself away from the table, tears blurring my vision. I threw myself into Bjorn's arms as I whispered, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Bjorn wrapped his arms around me tightly as guards rushed into the library aiming their dark golden arrows at us.
"By declaration of the Queen..." Their words blurred together, my thoughts only on Casper. After my grandpa's death there was only one person who could help me stand again, and he had lost his life because of me.
The prince was dead, but I might as well be too.