I looked through the single window, high in the tower wall. It was round, small, barely bigger than my face, so elevated I stood tiptoe on a chair and still strained to see. With my palm I cleared the glass, expecting little, the tops of trees, the soot-black roof slates. Instead there was the entire kingdom of Abberton, stretching away in curving hills, up and down into valleys, slithering with rivers that looked like snakes in the darkness. It caught my breath. . . and I realized, almost without thinking, that this land. . .was mine. Mine though I'd never seen it before. Mine, though I didn't know how. And here I was, one small, shivering girl, alone in a tower room. Above the city--caught in a prison of shadow, dust, buried in clouds. Away from humanity. At the top of the world. Utterly helpless. Somehow I must rely on Jaden--Jaden with his quick wit and flying tongue, his roguish charm and snap of good ideas. A young boy turned monarch, all in one night. Closing my eyes I could see the ceremony--the upright, boyish form, the chest strong and proud; my brother was born to be king. If only I knew he were here now. . .if only I knew he were alive.
Darkness came over the sea like a hand snuffing a candle, slowly, starting from the farthest tip where I strained my sight toward the hills. Shapes without form, like the images in my mind--the flee from Kitterkeg, the ambush in the mountains. My brothers war-cry as he fought single-handedly a troop of fifteen men. I played them over and over until they were nothing but one blurred scene, smudged together and confused. It was three days ago, that much I knew for sure. Three days since I'd been imprisoned. Three days since I became slave to rats and the wrinkled, stinking keeper with his hair uncombed, his teeth broken and yellowed. Three days since I'd seen Jaden. Jaden with his sword held high, beautiful in his anger, protecting the baby sister that followed, though he tried to leave me behind. But I wouldn't stay. Not at the palace where I was treated like one of the children, like Lisel and Talia who still begged nana for bedtime stories. Where I was expected to learn ladylike ways while keeping out of fathers way. Father, the High King. Father, who hated me because I wasn't a boy. Because I was the cause of his wife's death. If only my sisters, much as I loved them, knew the sacrifice I made in my heart when each were born--to adore and cherish them. Because though they were petted and I scorned, Jaden asked me to. He said it was how a good princess would act. For after all, wouldn't I be queen someday? Wouldn't I marry a prince from a far off land and rule at his side? Small and mouse-haired as I was. Not ugly, but so thin. So unlike rosy Lisel who promised beauty with her ringlets and laugh that rang like the bells at chapel. Not like Talia with her dimples. Not like Jaden.
There was another, once. Before mother died. Not the queen. My mother--my real mother. The one I remembered and loved. . .before the impostor took her throne. Wore her crown. Called me her "poor, dear girl", and treated me like a charity ward. No. The mother with her hands so soft, coddling my face, singing in a voice that some said belonged to the gods. But of course Jaden and I knew her secret. The secret of the fairies. . .and the blood that ran through our veins and made my nose turn up--just the slightest at its very tip. . .and Jaden's face glow when he felt things. Something like words without words, like the wind speaking, like a song without music so light, so still, that only a master could catch it.