Songfic by Esther Nairn
(music by Sarah Maclachlan)
Click here to listen as you read,
using the Library's MidiBox!
Mornings came to the Kingdom of Saillune bright and refreshing, just the way Ameria Wil Tesla Saillune usually liked them. Rays of sunlight highlighted the pristine, white city, with light reflecting into every corner of every alleyway off of every rooftop. Some said it was that golden light that made the townspeople of Saillune as energetic and as cheerful as they were. Ameria, still in her nightgown, felt none of that energy or cheer, however, as she gazed down on the city from her bedroom window, its French doors thrown back widely. A slight breeze ruffled the lacy curtains that had been pushed back and fastened to either side of the window, but despite the warmth of the mid-spring sun, the air felt cool to Ameria. Rubbing her bare arms, she turned away from the window, somehow unable to enjoy the morning like she usually did. A frown crossed her face, and it only deepened when the door to her chamber opened and one of her handmaidens peeked into the room.
"Your highness?" she said, stepping into the room fully and dipping a curtsey.
Without preface, Ameria looked seriously at the girl and said, "Send word to the stables to ready my horse and riding gear, please, and lay out my traveling outfit."
Surprised by Ameria's uncharacteristic demeanor, the girl blinked and, without thinking, questioned, "Your highness? Is anything--"
Already halfway across the room to the washbasin on a stand against the wall, Ameria waved a hand to interrupt. "I'm just a little restless, that's all. Oh," she stopped before the basin, looking up thoughtfully, "please have someone tell Daddy I won't be late for the meeting this afternoon with the trade delegation from the south. And when you talk to the stable boy, please tell him to use the plain tack on my horse." She was going riding--alone--to have some time to think, and her horse's usual gear, with its royal insignias, would instantly give her identity away to anyone who saw her.
Her handmaiden curtseyed, although her expression remained bewildered. "Yes, your highness. Shall I draw a bath before you leave?"
Ameria splashed some water on her face and scrubbed it clean with a fluffy washcloth and some soap. When she was finished, she flashed the girl a weak smile and said, "Thank you, but don't bother. I'll just smell like horse when I return, anyway. I'll take one when I get back."
Still confused, the handmaiden curtseyed again. "Very good, your highness." While Ameria finished cleaning up, she crossed the room to Ameria's armoire and pulled out her familiar pink-trimmed white tunic and pants. Her boots she retrieved from the bottom of the armoire while Ameria went to her vanity and picked up her bracelet, securing it to her wrist mechanically without even really looking at it. Once her handmaiden was finished laying out her clothes on her bed, she asked, "Will that be all, your highness? Or is there something else I can do for you?"
Ameria turned and shook her head. "I don't think so. Thank you." As her handmaiden left, Ameria quickly shed her nightgown and began to get dressed. Her pants seemed a little short on her, she noticed; she had barely worn them since she returned from the land beyond the barrier. Shrugging that off as inconsequential, she pulled on her tunic, cloak, and boots and went to her open window.
Normally, Ameria didn't shy away from people, but today, she was feeling reserved and withdrawn. Fortunately, she knew a shortcut down to the stables, one that wouldn't involve running into anyone on the way. Shivering slightly in the cool breeze, she stepped up onto her window ledge and muttered, "Levitation," under her breath. Silently, she floated down the side of the castle, landing gently in the middle of one of the outer gardens. There were a few people working on the castle grounds as she walked from the garden toward the stables; she merely waved to them distractedly and continued onward. After a few moments, the smell of horses reached her nose, and a few minutes after that, she arrived at the palace stables.
Immediately, a dark haired boy a few years younger than she rushed up to her and dipped a hasty bow. "Just received word...it'll take a few minutes longer...so sorry, your highness," he panted.
Ameria nodded. "That's all right. Do you have an extra cloak lying around somewhere? It's a little cold this morning," she said.
The stable boy looked at her skeptically but nodded and bowed. "Right this way, your highness. We keep some around for the night guardsmen, even though it's gettin' on toward summer and all." He set off in the direction of one of the stable houses, motioning for her to follow.
By the time the boy had found her a cloak of an appropriate size, her white mare was ready to go. Ameria swung herself up onto the saddle and nudged the animal into a trot, waving her thanks to the stable hands. They waved back, exchanging veiled looks that communicated their bewilderment at Ameria's strangely reserved demeanor. Ameria strategically navigated through the least-traveled parts of the palace grounds until she found a relatively deserted back entrance, and, after what seemed like an interminable chat with the bored guard stationed there, she was free of the palace.
Ameria secured the heavy cloak around her, trying not to look suspiciously recognizable as she wound through the cobbled streets of Saillune. Once she crossed the city gates, grateful that the guards there hadn't made much of a fuss over her departure, she nudged her horse into a gallop. The peaceful, picturesque rural Saillunian landscape blurred and the wind roared in her ears, but she flicked the reins and her horse galloped even faster. While she rode, Ameria tried not to think of what had caused her to seek solitude that morning. Instead, she concentrated on finding the landmarks that would bring her to her destination. She knew of a place nestled amidst farms and ranches, off the beaten path, where two streams joined to form a larger one in the shape of a 'Y'. It was secluded from the rest of the world, enclosed by trees and foliage--the perfect place for someone who wished to be alone.
Forty-five minutes later, Ameria directed her horse into the shade under a large oak and pulled out an apple one of the stable hands had packed in her saddlebag. Once the animal was secured to the tree and munching on its treat, Ameria retreated to the bank of the stream that formed the stem of the 'Y', looking upstream to study the smaller channels that fed it. The sound of the water was peaceful, relaxing--the closest thing she could come to the ocean on short notice. For a princess of a landlocked kingdom, Ameria realized wryly, she certainly was attached to the sound of running water. "Maybe I should ask Daddy for a fountain in my room," she muttered cynically as she sat down on the grass near the bank of the large stream, gathering her cloak around her. The morning sun had become warmer, but Ameria was still cold. Rubbing her arms under the heavy fabric to warm them, she finally let herself think of the person who had been on her mind so much over the previous few days. She had even dreamt of him making his way across a windswept desert or crawling through a dark, icy cavern. Each dream took him to another distant place, far away from the familiarity of her home. And in each dream, he had forgotten about his promise to return to her completely.
Ameria sighed and gathered her knees up to her chest, arranging her cloak around her to keep out the cool breeze. When she received Zelgadiss's letter, no words were sufficient to describe her happiness. The very thought that he had feelings for her was such heady knowledge that she reveled in it for weeks. But as more weeks passed, her excitement faded a little, and hard reality began to set in. No matter what he had said, the fact remained that, aside from the letter, he had never showed any more concern for her feelings or devotion toward her than a few subtle gestures while traveling together that she could have easily misinterpreted. She was beginning to wonder if his words had been genuine or if he had been drugged or drunk when he wrote it, or if he hadn't actually written it at all, and it was just someone's cruel prank. She sighed as her mind flew through possibilities wildly, each one more preposterous than the last.
Or, perhaps, he had merely become so swept up in the wonders of the land beyond the barrier and the secrets that it held that he had forgotten about her. She could almost forgive him if any of her wild speculations were true, but if that was true, if his own admissions of affection had simply slipped his mind, she didn't know if she could bear it. She wallowed in this thought for a time, until a new idea occurred to her. What if he was hurt or in trouble? What if, in the course of his wanderings, he had fallen into some trap he couldn't get out of? Or been taken captive by some evil fiend who alone held the secret to his cure? Or was he lying in a hospital bed, recovering from injuries he sustained while attempting feverishly to return to Saillune and to her? Ameria indulged those possibilities for a moment, savoring the fairy-tale feel they had to them. But then, Zelgadiss wasn't likely to find a trap he couldn't escape--he was smart and cunning. And he surely would be able to overpower anyone who tried to hold him back from his cure--his magic was too strong and his swordsmanship was too deadly. Furthermore, Zelgadiss was hard to injure--he was made of stone, after all.
Frustrated, Ameria picked up a handful of pebbles from the ground next to her and threw them into the stream as hard as she could. She suddenly shivered and pulled her arm close to her again, but stopped short just as she was about to rearrange her cloak. The sunlight filtered down from between the leafy tree branches above her to glint off the little blue, starred ball strapped to her wrist. Staring at it solemnly, she reflected on its mate, remembering the last time she had seen it at a little seaside festival. After a few moments, she pulled her arm back in under the fabric of her cloak and folded her arms, hugging herself and wondering fiercely if she would ever see it again.
Continue on to Chapter One!
Hmmm...patience is a virtue, isn't it? Ameria will get a pleasant surprise when the stony blue chimera in her life evetually does return to the holy kingdom of Saillune--but surprises abound when he learns that the book he's carrying isn't just a little light reading from the library of good ol' Lei Magnus. Can Zel ever stay in one place? And this time, can Ameria really be expected to watch him walk away from her again, like he did at the festival? I don't know when I'll have these questions answered for you, but check back from time to time, same Slayers time, same Slayers channel for the answers!
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