Queen Elarin sat on a small, elaborately carved, wooden throne with a weary smile. Her golden eyes were dark and tired. Ignoring any sense of decorum, Seres ran into her mother’s arms and cried. Not sure of how she was supposed to act, Rowan just stood there awkwardly by Dralik’s side.
After a moment, Queen Elarin turned her attention to Dralik and Rowan, though she still held Seres in a fierce embrace, as if she never intended to let her go ever again. “Thank you for bringing my daughter home, Captain Dralik,” she said with a gratitude that knew no bounds.
“I was just doing my duty, Your Majesty.”
“Come now, Dralik. There’s no need to be so formal.”
“Of course, Your Majesty. Though I must say that your thanks are largely misplaced in me. While it is true that my crew and I were able to bring Seres back, it is this young lass here that made it possible.”
Queen Elarin looked towards Rowan with a note of surprise. “And who is this?”
Bowing awkwardly, Rowan answered, “My name is Rowan, Your Majesty. Rowan’efrii Alyris Naliir.”
“She’s kept me safe this whole time. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Rowan.”
“If the information I have gathered on the voyage here is anything to go by, she has done much more than that,” Dralik answered.
“In which case, I wish to formally extend an invitation to stay in the palace, Miss Naliir. You will be our honoured guest. In return, I only ask for an honest account of the past five years.”
“I can do that, Your Majesty,” replied Rowan with a slight blush.
“Queen Elarin is fine. Tell me, Miss Naliir, your name is familiar. Are you perhaps related to Rear Admiral Naliir and Hlii’hæra, the Heartborne Songstress of the Crescent Isles?”
Rowan recognised her mother’s name, but not the title associated with it. She tried to answer, only for the tears to start flowing. “Tyris is my brother and H-hæra is m-my mother. Was my mother.”
“News of her passing reached the capital. We were devastated by her loss. You have my condolences. As for your brother, I will have word of your return sent to him.”
“Thank you, Queen Elarin.”
“With that said, you must be tired. You can give me your account later. Until then, you will be treated as a guest of the crown. I’ll have someone from my serving staff to assist you during your stay. If you need anything, feel free to ask them. As for your brother, I shall have word sent to him with due haste.”
Shortly after meeting the Queen, Rowan was being escorted to her new temporary quarters in the dusk wing of the palace by a human maid, roughly forty years of age. Her name was Avra and she was in charge of the serving staff that attended to guests in the palace, meaning she was giving Rowan her full attention.
“I have sent for a tailor and a dressmaker so that we can have some suitable attire made for you. Those rags simply will not do. They’ll see you after you have bathed.”
“Thank you. Um, would you be able to send for a healer as well? I think I might need it.”
“Right away, Miss Rowan. I shall see about slotting that in between your bath and your appointment with the tailor.”
The maid was extremely taciturn in the way she acted and the way she talked. It was rather fitting considering her position, but Rowan wasn’t sure how to process it. She was reminded of Fein and the wardens, but in a non-threatening way. That’s isn’t to say that it was a comforting feeling, either. More accurately, she felt a weird limbo between unease and comfort. At the same time, she was scared that such feelings were driven by paranoia, whilst also knowing that such fear was paranoia in and of itself.
“Are you well, Miss Rowan?” asked Avra.
“Sorry,” Rowan replied, realising that she was staring into space, “it’s nothing.”
“Very well. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. We are at your beck and call for the duration of your visit.”
“Now, your quarters in the Sunfall Apartments are just up ahead. I am sure they will be to your liking.”
When they arrived, Rowan’s jaw dropped. The rooms were lavish beyond belief, filled with sofas and divans covered in deep purple velvet which balanced nicely with the bright ambience of the room, painted by the gentle light of an evening sun. The decor spoke of the transition of day to night in a way that was striking, but not overbearing.
“Wow!” Rowan said simply.
Avra gave her a satisfied smile. “This is merely the parlour. Or should I say lounge? That is the more colloquial term, is it not?”
“Maybe?” Rowan answered, having not really heard the term before. “I know a solar, living room, drawing room, and parlour mean, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say lounge before.”
“Strange. It is quite a common prase here in the capital if the other staff are to be believed.”
“I’m not exactly from the capital,” Rowan stated.
“Yes, of course,” Avra apologised. “Well your chambers are right though here.”
Rowan had been provided with four well sized rooms and access to a garden. As with the parlour, the rest of the Sunfall Apartments were decorated with the theme of evening in mind. Even the garden complimented the theme nicely with the vibrancy of evening roses, pansies, and dusk lilies.
As for her rooms, she had a reading room equipped with several amenities for entertaining one’s self or a guest. The bedroom featured a bed that she swore was at least triple the size of her one back home, and it was unbelievably soft; Rowan practically sank into the mattress when she tried it. Right outside of the bedroom was an attached boudoir with a small circular platform towards one end and considerably more mirrors than Rowan felt was strictly speaking, necessary. Last of all was the equally obnoxious, private bathroom suite which was divided into three sections; a toilet room, a dressing room, and a wet room; all of which had proper plumbing. The bath was particularly impressive, being large enough to swim in. It was also already filled and steaming.
“I’ll have some of my maids assist you with your bathing and grooming. We have medical ointments that will be beneficial to you as you soak so I shall send for those as well. In the mean time, feel free to rest.”
Rowan nodded and sunk into one of the chairs in the reading room and almost fell asleep when the other maids arrived. Their arrival marked the start to a day of grooming. They started by cleaning Rowan to within an inch of her life. By the end of it, she swore that she would still be sparkling after an entire month. Then they trimmed, styled and conditioned her hair before using a razor to remove what little body hair she had, leaving her skin as smooth as silk. At each step they made sure she was happy proceed, and while it might have seemed a little extreme, she was actually enjoying it.
She was given a break from the intense makeover when the healer came to see her. After she gave him the rundown of what she had been through and the injuries she had sustained, the healer gave her a thorough examination.
“I can hardly believe it,” he said at the end of his examination.
“Believe what?” Rowan asked anxiously.
“Other than you being notably underweight, you are surprisingly healthy. Physically speaking that is. I can detect no abnormalities in your bones or musculature past a few signs of prior fractures. There are also no clear hormonal abnormalities, though that is far from my specialty. I must say, I’m quite surprised by these results. Even for an Ardent, this is impressive.”
“Really?” replied Rowan with several notes of surprise, both at the assessment and at the healer’s own wonder.
“Indeed. That isn’t to say there is nothing that needs to be done. You are far too light. Unhealthily so. I can help with that through a selection of medicines that interact with your metabolism to supplement your weight gain at a healthy rate. This isn’t something we can rush, but it is important.”
The healer prescribed Rowan a medicinal cocktail to help with her weight and the issues surrounding it. Then she was onto the tailor and dressmaker where she was made to stand for hours while she was measured and garments were adjusted. The clothes they provided her with were simple in nature. They were, after all, somewhat limited for time and had to make sure she at least had the beginnings of a wardrobe. Furthermore, they were both aware that Rowan would be gaining weight soon, which was rather limiting to them. Even so, they were also cut from incredibly expensive fabric; Rowan could tell just from how it felt on her skin.
By the end of it, Rowan was provided with a light dinner before she collapsed into the bed.
“This is far too soft,” she muttered to herself as she drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, Rowan was woken up by a knock on her bedroom door, only to find herself lying down on the hard floor with a pillow and wrapped in a blanket. She couldn’t remember how she ended up on the floor but it was surprisingly more comfortable than the ridiculously soft bed.
Avra was standing over her with a disapproving expression
“W-w-what!” Rowan stammered. “Aren’t you supposed to wait until I say ‘come in’ or something before you barge in?”
“I gave you a chance to respond. When you did not, I deemed it necessary to wake. you up directly.”
“Because Her Majesty wishes to break fast with you,” Avra answered. “As does the princess.”
“I’ll be there right away. Just let me get dressed first.”
“Of course. I’ll be waiting outside.”
Ten minutes later, Rowan was being escorted to the Royal apartments. In the interest of time and not much choice, she was wearing a long, maroon coloured tunic with a gold trim belted at the waist, forest green leggings and soft leather boots. She had also placed her hair in a loose ponytail after brushing out the kinks from a restless night.
When they arrived, Avra announced Rowan to the Royal family. She saw Seres and Queen Elarin immediately. They weren’t alone, however. Across from Seres, on the Queen’s right hand was an incredibly beautiful woman with brown hair with suntouched ears and piercing blue eyes. She wore a soft expression, but Rowan could see the remnants of grim determination in her face. From context, Rowan could tell that it was Seres’ older sister, Elia. On the other side of Princess Elia sat a much younger boy with fire like hair that seemed to defy gravity. As with Princess Elia, it was obvious that he was Seres’ younger brother, Rikta. Unlike the rest of his family, who were keeping their tails low and out of the way, had his on full display and it was as wild as his hair. It took Rowan by surprise, but his cavalier tail made her realise that all four royals were essentially wearing pajamas.
“Please, take a seat, Miss Rowan,” said Queen Elarin, beckoning her to the seat next to Seres.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Rowan replied, giving the Queen an awkward cross between a bow and a curtsy.
“You don’t need to be so formal in such settings, Miss Rowan. As I said yesterday, ‘Queen Elarin’ is fine. The same goes for my children. Their names are a suitable mode of address here. If you must use honorifics, lord or lady should suffice.”
“Understood, Queen Elarin.”
Queen Elarin turned to Seres in response. “Dearest Seres, is your friend okay? She is a lot stiffer than you described last night.”
“I’m sure she’s just nervous, mother.”
“Understandable,” sighed Queen Elarin as Rowan took her seat. “Anyway, you already know Seres, but that still leaves my other two children. This is my eldest daughter and heir, Elia. Next to her is my rascal of a son, Rikta. I swear my husband gave more than just his seed when Rikta was conceived.”
“Mother!” Seres exclaimed with a furious blush.
“It’s merely an unfortunate observation, dear.”
Silence followed. Even Rowan could read between those lines. The late king passed away from illness not long after Prince Rikta was born.
“It is a pleasure to meet you both,” said Rowan with a slight bow of the head to Elia and Rikta, hoping to break up the silence.
“If the reports are anything to go by,” Elia responded, ” the pleasure is ours.”
“Elia speaks truly,” Queen Elarin added. “Which brings me to the primary reason I invited you here besides my daughter’s insistence. We received Captain Dralik’s report yesterday and Seres gave me her account of the events last night. All that remains is for you to give your own as best as you can.”
“I’ll try,” Rowan replied hesitantly.
In a comforting gesture that was impossible to miss, Seres placed her hand on Rowan’s. “It’s okay; I’m here for you, Rowan.”
Grateful for Seres’ presence, Rowan took a deep breath and started her account. “It all began on the night of the eclipse five years ago…”
She told the Queen everything. From her Awakening to the torture and branding. From Anri’s death to her bargain with Lord Fein to take on all of Seres’ suffering. From her oath of vengeance to the Goddess and their escape. Everything. And she let her emotions fill her every word, lending the account a visceral weight. Rikta had barely paid attention beyond the action, but Elia was furious and Queen Elarin wore a serious expression that showed her years.
“Thank you, Miss Rowan,” said Queen Elarin graciously. “Your account lines up with everything I was told yesterday and there was no deceit in your emotions.”
“That was never in doubt!” Seres objected.
“It’s okay, Seres,” said Rowan before turning back to the Queen. “How could you tell?”
“Being an Empath is quite useful for a ruler so I trained with my Gift from a young age.”
“That makes sense,” Rowan replied.
“Now let us eat,” Queen Elarin declared before glancing at Elia. “Some food will help with cooling down some of the more heated emotions that your account sparked.”
The gesture was subtle, but it didn’t take a genius to understand it. Whilst Elia had barely spoken the entire time, her emotions were clear as day and Rowan knew she had taken an active role in the crusade against the raiders.
Before Elia could respond, however, Seres interjected, “That would be lovely,” and right on cue, a team of servants entered with breakfast.
The meal was a delicate affair of seasonal fruits and fine meats with freshly baked bread that was surprisingly sweet. It was nothing like what she would have eaten at home but it was still indescribably delicious, with an array of flavours that were undoubtedly enhanced by years of borderline starvation. Even so, it was still missing her mother’s touch. Rowan burst into tears as she was eating.
“I’m sorry,” she cried, “I didn’t mean to, it’s just…”
“We understand,” Queen Elarin replied.
Then in an extremely unexpected gesture, Prince Rikta handed Rowan some of his bread. “You’re supposed to share with people that are crying. That’s what big sister Seres always said.”
In response, Rowan started laughing. She was still crying amongst the laughter, but her emotions were slightly brighter thanks to Prince Rikta’s earnest offering. “Thank you, Prince Rikta.”
The rest of breakfast passed without further incident, but Rowan’s emotions remained heightened for the duration. It wasn’t until later when she and Seres were playing and chatting in the Sunfall Apartments that she started to calm down. At one point they managed to rope some of the guards into a board game when Avra knocked on the parlour door.
“Miss Rowan, your brother is here to see you.”
Author’s Notes: I know it’s late, but part 2 of Chapter 17 is here and I hope you like it. I’m really sorry it’s late but Britain is currently experiencing a heat wave and I basically got cooked alive in my room. Pro tip: heat exhaustion is no joke. Make sure to keep cool and hydrated. At least I wasn’t dealing with the vaccine and heat exhaustion at the same time. Hopefully, I’ll be able to stay cool this next week, but be warned that the heat wave is forecast until next Friday. If you want more status updates you can join my discord. You can also talk with other readers there if you are so inclined. I am also reasonably active on the server.