An excerpt from the upcoming novella Princess of Terra. This is a Dark Fantasy with WLW romance, this excerpt may contain massive amounts of angst and mature themes such as discussing death.
I have always admired my ability to swiftly change from gown to riding pants, just because I’m on an adventure doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice style.
My crown is hidden in the bag upon my back, wild coils of hazel ride the wind as I canter down the familiar trail through the backwoods of Terra. The strongest rays of the mid morning sun bounce off my toned jade arms and I throw my head back, reveling in the warmth of freedom and the smooth gait of the mare between my legs.
It’s not often I’m relieved of my royal duties, but holidays prove excellent to escape the stifling life of Princess. I spend every one I can at Panrauth and Weylin’s place, but I wasn’t able to visit during Ostara. The twin’s presents keep my crown company, along with a note for Pan.
Maybe he’ll listen this time, he’s had enough time to play house.
I can’t do this anymore.
We weave between trees and giant mushrooms, Fiona’s strong back end launches us over a felled tree eaten away by termites. I’ve raised this mare since she left her mother, and I’m not sure if there’s anyone else who knows me like she does. As we approach the end of our unmarked path I gently tug on Fiona’s reins, bringing her to a trot, then eager walk. Despite running on and off for miles, she shows no signs of slowing. I pat her muscled neck, my hand comes away with sweat and horse dander. “Easy girl, we’re almost there.”
Foglehollow is a mediocre village of cottages and small-time farmers who specialize in fiber animals. Most of the thread, yarn and other textile goods in Terra come right here, from the High Fae hiding away in the deep forest. Wild Fae live here as well, but that’s as diverse as it gets. Nothing like the melting pot of Beakglen I sneak away to every once in a while. I debate on visiting there today, but my gut tells me not to stray too far from home, not today.
Sometimes when I lay in bed at night, hypothesizing the possible day I will have to rule in my brother’s place, I think about all the things I would do differently from my father.
Females are treated better in Terra than Sylvan, we have autonomy and freedom, but we’re still caged. Expected to bear children and keep our mouths shut, allow the males to make all the decisions for us. Be a good wife. A good girl. To this day, my father will not allow me in a council meeting. My education is not something he cared for, but he also didn’t stop me from hiring my own tutors and learning everything I could about our world, our people.
There are many gaps in the history books, and I want to know why.
I dismount Fiona at the hitching post outside of the gathering hall centered in the village, leaving her reins loose as I know she won’t go anywhere. Fiona drinks from the clean trough and I wipe my dirty hands on my breeches, then adjust my pack. Dirt paths, wildflowers and busy villagers greet me as I make my way through town. I dutifully visit the spinnery and check on the progress for tonight’s tapestry, then check in with the greenhouses at the edge of town, ensuring their flower crowns are weaved expertly. A hollow excuse to visit Foglehollow, wagons full of goods are already loading up in preparation to make this afternoon’s trip to the Great Tree. If anything’s gone wrong at this point, there’s nothing that can be done about it now.
But, I need something. I can’t just go where I please without an excuse.
Sometimes, when I lay in bed at night, hypothesizing the possible day I won’t have to rule in my brother’s place, I think about all the places I would go.
I shove my hands in my pockets and wander into the woods past the greenhouses, admiring the change in foliage as I travel deeper into the forest. A nasty feeling tugs my heart and I look around, ears perked, but find nothing. I debate on turning around, but instead I stand there for a good while, face turned to the sky and eyes closed. When I decide I’m alone, I start walking again.
The ground beneath me changes to thick moss and I take my boots off, practically falling over in my hurry to kick them off. I sigh as the pillow of green welcomes my tired soles, then giggle when the moss grows beneath my feet. I take a few steps, looking over for my shoulder to watch the moss I stepped on grow to twice the size of the rest. When I see that small violets sprout as well, I continue on my journey with a soft smile.
My toes dig into the earth and time slows as my ears twitch, full of bird song and frogs calling. Before slowing down I casually look around once more, then my journey halts before an enormous Blackwood tree. Not as tall as my Tree, but just as wide. Smooth charcoal black bark covers the trunk and its fat branches laden with round, serrated blue leaves the size of my head. There is no tunnel in the ripples of black and gray, nor is the tree hollowed out for a town like how Arca Navi resides inside the Great Tree.
I walk around the tree with reverence, painted fingernails trailing its magical body, then inhale sharply when my hand rests on a subtle scar marring the eastern side of the trunk. After one last glance and shiver down my spine, I mutter the password and open a door into Panrauth’s illusion.
I step into the circle of heaven Panrauth has concealed with the illusion of a dangerous Blackwood, trees deeply rooted in evil superstition. No one dares cut one down, or even get near the things. My lungs relax the moment I cross the invisible threshold separating forest floor from knee high grass. The illusion stitches back together behind me with a familiar hum, the barrier to the outside world appears to be nothing more than unending hay fields on this side.
The girls are old enough to know better, now.
But they also know better than to risk stepping past the white picket fence before me, the decorative barricade encircling their small, circular plot of paradise.
“Auntie! Auntie’s here!” Estienne calls, quickly followed by the smaller twin, Mirah. I open the gate, then latch it behind me and sprint across the hay field littered with coneflowers of the yellow, purple and white varieties. I don’t miss the fact they’ve acquired a few sheep since the last time I was here, and a got.
I meet the twins at the latticed gateway nestled into another fence, but this one is overtaken by ivy and other crawling greenery that only sweeps around the cottage and main yard. I take them both into my arms, squeezing tight which causes them to giggle. Estienne climbs onto my back, pushing my bag up to my shoulders so she can nest into my hair, Mirah makes herself at home on my wide hip.
“My chicks! You’ve grown so tall. Tell me, what mischief have you been causing for Papa?”
“Enough to last me a lifetime.” Panrauth chides with a grin as he stands from the garden beside the cottage’s front door, dirt covering him from fingertip to bare elbow, knees to feet. I smile at him despite myself, he looks happy as ever. His tawny skin is glowing, his emerald eyes are invigorated with the brightest of fires. I worry his constant upkeep of the illusion will be the death of him, but he’s never wary. I suppose since he’s not taking care of the land, he has more power to himself.
I sigh as I set the girls down at his feet, the two sides of myself are at war already.
The moment my arms are free he sweeps me up into a bone crushing hug. I stand on my tip toes and bury my face in his neck, my hair covers his face as tears prick my eyes. Apparently I needed a hug from my brother more than I thought.
“Hey, Vi. What’s wrong?”
“I, I just really missed you.” I admit, unwilling to pull away. Luckily his arms tighten and we stand there for a moment, holding the other like the world is about to fall apart. “I want-”
“Viv! Is that you?” Weylin calls, hurrying out of the cottage with paint on her face and a cloth over her shoulder. I pull away from Pan’s shoulder and wipe my face quickly, then embrace the radiant Weylin. “I’m so glad you’re here! We missed you on Ostara.”
“I know, Mother was,” I pointedly ignore Pan’s suddenly intense gaze, “not well, so I stayed behind and haven’t been able to come since. But, I do come bearing gifts!” I sling my pack off and hold it up triumphantly, causing the girls to squeal with glee.
“Oh my, you didn’t have to do that. Well come in, you picked the perfect time. I was just finishing up and putting on some tea. Layroot, right?”
I nod, unable to contain my admiration for the woman who takes everything in stride, always there with a kind word. Her beautiful ebony skin contrasts the simple cream pinafore she’s wearing, the paint splattered dress is layered neatly over a gray tunic. Her sleek black hair is hidden beneath a dyed bandana, leaving her rounded ears and peppered wisps near her temples exposed.
Mirah and Estienne shadow my steps into their home, followed by their father who takes up the entire doorway when he passes through it. The stucco walls are no longer pure white, vibrant murals cover every inch of vertical space. I gasp, hand to my heart as I walk through the open and airy rooms filled with color and of course, more plants.
The living area is Echo Valley.
The dining room is Foglehollow.
The hallways are filled with giant mushrooms and aryeh, along with other fascinating woodland creatures and the prints they leave behind.
The small library Panrauth has claimed as his own doubles as the girl’s classroom, where their father teaches them the ways of our people, and Weylin’s people. So, it’s only fitting that this room is the most detailed. A map of Iverbourne is vividly splashed across the back wall, the text beautiful but clean, easy to read.
Letters of the alphabet border the upper walls, followed by the first twenty numbers and painted in the same clean, elegant script as the map font.
On the wall behind Panrauth’s desk, opposite the map, is the most beautiful painting of them all. I step around his desk littered with papers, maps and quills paired with messy ink bottles, then place my hand to Panrauth’s family memorialized in paint.
“Viv?” Panrauth asks from the doorway to the study, alone. I startle at his voice, turning on my heel to face him. He steps forward to wipe tears off my cheeks, ones I didn’t know were falling so freely. “You are crying. Talk to me.”
I slam my head onto his chest, taking hold of his dirtied button up shirt and suspenders. “I want you to come home. Please, come home, Pan.”
“Viv … “ Panrauth starts, but I shove him backwards the moment I hear his pity.
“No, you can’t Viv me on this. I need you! Mother is going to die if she doesn’t see you again, and Father, he’s running our court into the ground! If you don’t come home, you won’t have a place to hide at all. I’m telling you, we need you to take your place.”
Panrauth runs both through his beard, agitated but unwavering. “This is why you came?”
“You’re not even listening to me, are you?”
“No, I am not. The girls aren’t ready yet. I told you after the Spark-”
“Oh come on, you don’t even know if that’s going to happen for them, they are only Half-Fae! You can’t even be sure if having magic will protect them, and why does it even matter? If you’re High Lord, you can change the laws.”
“You’re right, but I can’t change people’s hearts, not that quickly. I can make it illegal to discriminate, I can allow marriages, but can you guarantee there won’t be Traditionalists out there who will want to retaliate, hurt my family? Or others who decide to come out? I know this is hard for you, but trust me, Viv. Once they have magic and are able to defend themselves, I’ll come home. But not until then, I won’t risk it.”
“And Weylin? How will you protect her?”
Panrauth sighs, lowering his head. “Weylin has never needed my protection, but she has it until the day I stop breathing. She, believe it or not, agrees with you. She calls me a coward.”
I blink, surprised he’s admitting this to me. I groan, then step closer and take him by the shoulders. “I don’t think coward is the right word for it.”
“Oh? Overprotective asshole better?”
I chuckle darkly. “Perhaps neurotic fits better.”
He presses his forehead to mine and I sigh, the weight of the world temporarily lifting. Before he fell in love with a Human, it was him, Aiden and I against the world. Now, we’re all treading water. “I’m sorry Viv, but I can’t leave, not yet. Not today. Let me talk to Weylin, and … I’ll see what I can do. Maybe you’re right, both of you.”
“Yeah? Don’t say that unless you mean it, Pan.”
“I’m saying it.”
The air in the room inflates to an intolerable pressure, my heart nearly bursts as I attempt to corral my magic. His eyes and my own are full of tears and Aether, our faces are cast in a joined earthly glow. Fae aren’t meant to live alone. Kinship, family, love, we need it just as much as anything else.
“Come on, let’s get some tea and do presents.”
“About that, their birthday isn’t for another month.”
I shrug, shoulders heavy once more. “I may not be here. I’m,” I groan, rubbing my face, “I’m supposed to start looking for suitors. Father wants heirs, yesterday.”
Pan balks. “By the fucking Ancients, I, I won’t let that happen.”
I almost say, ‘Yeah, right, you selfish bastard’, but instead I put distance between us and gave him a sad smile, along with two barely spoken words.
The Firthorn family is nestled underneath a willow tree, accompanied by the herd of sheep and singular got that the girls proudly named Marvin. Marvin has great curling black horns, pure white fur that is long enough to catch wind and hide affectionate hand pats. Whereas most got tend to be solitary beasts, Marvin is clingy and constantly chewing at my hazel curls.
“Here, try these.” Weylin offers me a handful of berries that the girls spared us from their fruitful bounty. The rest of the blackberries and a decent haul of wildflowers are currently being woven into Pan’s great beard by the twins. Weylin and I are sprawled out on one corner of the picnic blanket with Marvin now chewing on berries instead of my hair, delightfully drooling all over my shoulder.
Pan is settled on the opposite end, cross legged with a twin standing on either side of him. I pop a berry into my mouth and listen to him tell a Terra myth I’m sure we’ve all heard a thousand times, but the girls laugh and squeal anyway when he gets to the good part. The heat of the day reflects off their new tiaras and they turn faux serious, sternly instructing him to hold still as the braid more wildflowers into his beard. There are more laugh lines and flowers on Panrauth’s face than anything else, and I look away.
“Vivvus,” Weylin says, and I look up to her.
We stare at each other for what seems to be ages, saying everything and absolutely nothing. We’re sitting side by side, legs stretched out. She’s beautiful, just like the day Panrauth first introduced me to her. There is happiness etched into the edges of her wide eyes and lips, and worry crinkled between her thick brows. The bandana is gone, allowing her peppered locks to catch wind freely.
She takes my hand, her calluses rub against my palm as she leans in to whisper in my ear. “No matter what happens, take care of my girls. Do you understand?”
I startle a little, pulling away enough to get a good look at her stern face. “Nothing is going to happen, I promise I’ll keep you safe, all of you.”
She shakes her head, chastising me in a deathly quiet tone. “You can’t make a promise like that and you know it. I’m not afraid of death, Vivvus, only that my children will have to grow without a mother. Pan will miss me, but he’ll go on. Or maybe he won’t, but the girls, they will, and they’ll need you.”
I don’t know what to say. Lying certainly isn’t fitting.
“You’ve given a lot of thought to this, and you still want to go?”
She exhales heavily, watching the girls tackle Panrauth to the ground. “I can’t live like this anymore. I’d rather die brave, then live as a coward.”
Anger crawls up my spine, finding its way out of my treacherous throat. “You’re pretty convinced of something that may never happen. Have you ever given thought to the fact that everything may be fine? Hard, yes, but there is a place for you in the Great Tree, and it’s by Pan’s side. Help me change their minds, show them Humans belong.”
Weylin doesn’t break her gaze from her oblivious family tussling well into the grass surrounding our picnic spot. A few stray leaves break free from thin weeping branches and dance in the air between Weylin and I. “I’ve seen it. Many times. There’s no way to change it.” She says, and it’s far off, hollow.
I squeeze her hand tight, then bring it to my chest. “What are you saying? You have, magic?”
Weylin shakes her head, blinking out of her trance as she focuses on me. “No. Not like you and Pan, I dream though. Ever since the girls, I’ve had these dreams. Vague, abstract and months later I would say, ‘Oh, that’s what that was about’, but never anything as solid as my own death.”
My heart catches in my throat, my mind is blank and I attempt to process what she’s saying. “Does Panrauth know?” I manage.
“Yes, but he doesn’t believe it to be true. Or so he says, but then again, that’s when he started to build the fences. He used to chance it you know, cast glamours on us all so we could visit the town. Ever since that day we stopped talking about my dreams, and we stopped leaving as a family.”
Everything falls into place and I inhale sharply, guilt washing over me.
“I believe you.” I say, although I hate to do it. Weylin chuckles, tears trailing down her full cheeks. “What?”
She stands and brushes dirt off her pinafore, then extends her hand to me and helps me up. “Nothing, I’m just glad you’re here.”
I nod, then pull her into a tight hug. “I’ll do everything in my power to keep you safe.”
We pull away and words dance on the tip of Weylin’s tongue, but then she smiles softly. “I know.”
Panrauth sweeps me into his arms at the white picket gate and I inhale the crisp coniferous scent rolling off him in waves. “Thanks for the new pipe, not as fancy as a tiara, but I’ll make do.”
Before pulling away, I whisper into his neck and squeeze tight. “Happy Birthday, Pan.”
“Thanks, Vi. I’ll be seeing you.”
That’s how it’s always been. Not Goodbye. See you later.
Panrauth is replaced by Mirah and Estienne, my arms full of bouncing black curls and sparkling emerald eyes. I kiss them both on their foreheads, then straighten each of their golden crowns encrusted with small gemstones of varying colors. “Be good, listen to your Ma and Papa. Don’t forget to pray tonight, eat lots of food, have a big fire and howl at the moons.”
“Howling at the moons is not-” Panrauth starts to cut in, but it’s too late.
“Yes, Auntie! When the moon is at its highest, howl with us!” Mirah exclaims.
I grin and cup her cheek, then Estienne’s, veiling the stab to my heart. “Alright, I will.”
Then it’s Weylin and I, and the mountain of grief between us that her family can’t see. Do I comfort her? Tell her she’s wrong? I know what it feels like to be doubted, told your thoughts are nonsense and that you have no power.
But to believe in her, is to believe in her death.
I hug her, then kiss both her cheeks, and her forehead. I murmur a blessing of goodwill into her ear, unable to shake the feeling this will be the last time I see Weylin.
Alive, that is.
Princess of Terra will release on May 31st, 2022, and the ebook will be sent to all newsletter subscribers. Visit the linktree below to sign up and check out other fun things regarding the World of Iverbourne.