Written by
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke



The next morning, I found Shane in the Great Hall, at a secluded corner table, eating his breakfast. As I approached he did not look up from his food and indeed did not acknowledge my presence until I had sat down across from him. At that time, he looked at me with expressionless eyes and asked if I had made my decision.

“I have.”

“And have you decided to return to him? Or to stay and accept your destiny?”

“I’m still here aren’t I?”

He smiled and melted his cold manner of a moment ago. “You’ve made the right choice, Dri.”

I merely nodded.

I had accepted my destiny. I recognized my fate. But I felt not the obligation I should. Shane sensed this and one day, took me for a walk down to the forest floor. I clung close to him, flinching at every noise until I realized that he had led me to the Oracle’s waterfall. But instead of urging me on behind it, he pulled me to the edge of the stream and commanded I gaze into the silver waters.

I obeyed and looked in time to see Shane’s hand float over the water and a picture form in its trail. “Look at what you will be fighting for,” he said softly.

I watched as hideous events played across the water. Groithian soldiers marched into and burned down Danubaen villages. Gardens were trampled. Livestock was slaughtered. Women and children fled in fear, their faces streaked with tears and blood. There were long chains of newly captured slaves and then longer rows of corpses laid out in shallow graves. It was a familiar sight to me. I had lived this, though I’d allowed myself to forget.

Watching the scenes, I suddenly felt all the guilt of the last six years I’d spent in such willingly blissful captivity. I recognized the neglect I’d shown my people by remaining so impartial to my situation. I recognized the shame I’d brought to Uncle’s memory by not honoring his teachings and all but rejecting my duty. What had I allowed myself to become?

With a quivering voice, I commanded Shane, “Show me no more.”

Once again his hand floated over the water and the pictures vanished. We sat for a few moments in silence- I staring at the empty stream and he staring at the tears flowing down my cheeks.

“Do you understand now?” he asked softly.

I nodded. “I do.”

From that day on, I was entirely focused on honing my skills. But now I had purpose behind my relentless training. I was going to save my people. More importantly, I wanted to save my people.

Shane was awed at my tireless efforts at progressing my Power and combat skills. I rose with the dawn to train, often times being up for hours before Shane joined me. With the passage of each day, I grew more Powerful. I burned with a desire to be the best and that burning turned into an uncontrollable fire that raged within me. I would become the most Powerful. I would be the fastest and the strongest and the smartest. I was determined.

Another birthday came and went and I was seventeen. I barely noticed its passing. In fact, I would not have noticed it at all if it were not for Shane’s reminding me. Early that morning I was meditating in my chambers when he entered and broke my concentration with a resounding “Happy Seventeenth!”

I regarded him for a few moments with confusion before it dawned on me that I was another year older. It amused Shane that I had forgotten my own birthday and he proceeded to tease me relentlessly about it the rest of the day. I frowned at his jokes but only with much effort because in truth I wanted to smile at them.

It was rare that he was in so jovial a mood, which was regrettable considering his mirth was most infectious when he showed it. He was his familiar self at those times and when I’d look at him- a strong, grown man- I’d see the scrawny boy I’d once known. I missed that boy and sometimes despised the man he’d become.

He was so very condescending at times. His methods of training were harsh and serious. And despite all my efforts to surpass him, he always remained more Powerful than I. In most other things I could outdo him. With daggers I could defeat him by the sheer grace and speed of my movements; where mine were fluid and lithe his were wide and raw. With the longsword he was more adept. The weapon fit him well and most often when we dueled he overpowered me, though it was a fair fight. My skill with the bow had exceeded his soon after we began training, but only because I’d been trained in it so extensively before.

But when it came to the Power, he won over me every time. Until one day, we were in a field just outside Elphame, dueling. The rules set were that we could call upon any resource in our Power and so the earth shook and the sky rumbled and turned black. For almost two hours we had been attacking each other and each of us was drenched in sweat but neither side showed signs yet of weakening.

Shane had excellent control of fire and flames would burst before me wherever I stood. But I had equal control of the winds and as soon as the fires appeared, a mighty gust would extinguish them.

I stood on shaky legs, my breath coming in labored gasps, struggling to keep my wits about me. I felt drained and I looked such. My hair was loosened from its restraints, blowing wildly about my shoulders and a few wet strands clung to my face. There was mud soaking my gown and shift through to my legs and sweat made my bodice cling uncomfortably to my skin.

“Do you yield?” Shane called, taking in my appearance.

I growled. He was just a wearied as I and looked it. His red curls clung to his face and his trousers were just as mud-soaked as my gown. My panting was nothing in comparison to his. I smiled with the thought that perhaps, today would be the day I beat him. “No! I do not!” I called.

“As you wish, your majesty!” he laughed and with a flick of his wrist, a sudden tide of water fell upon me, knocking me to the ground. As I choked and gasped on the salty seawater, I flung myself up from its depths, emerging a fierce jungle cat that went galloping across the field at Shane. His green eyes grew wide as I pounced and he hit the ground with a force that sent his breath out of him. I growled and then, returning to my human features asked, “Do you yield?”

With awed eyes he nodded and I leapt to my feet with a shout of joy. “Finally!” I exclaimed to the heavens.

Shane rose to his feet, watching me with solemn pride. “Congratulations, your highness. There is only one thing left to do now.”

I stopped my rejoicing and looked at him questioningly. “What could possibly be left?”

“Why, to go home, of course!” Shane’s face broke into a rare smile and I couldn’t contain my happiness as I flung my arms around his neck. For a moment, his muscles tensed and I felt his shock before he cautiously hugged my waist and released me.

“When can we leave?” I asked eagerly.

“Within the week.” I nodded in satisfaction and we began the walk back to Elphame.

It was a long walk, the duration of which was spent in silence. My mind was busy contemplating the prospect of finally going home. I would see my mother for the first time in almost nine years. Would she be much changed? Would she be happy to see me? Would she be disappointed in me for my years of servitude or proud of me for my growing Power?

My thoughts were swarming but not so much that I did not feel Shane’s constant eyes on me as I walked a few steps in front of him.

The next two days were spent preparing for our journey. Shane gathered the goods we needed to survive the month long voyage and I packed them in our saddlebags the night before we were to depart. We said our good-byes to the elfin leaders, thanking them for their hospitality.

/Tis nothing for her majesty, Luna Drianna and the great, Shane Raphen,/ the king said with a humble bow. /Come back to us when you’ve triumphed, great ones. We will bless your land once again./

With a gracious bow we left and returned to our chambers to rest for the coming journey. I fell easily into a peaceful sleep, listening to the steady chirping of crickets and feeling the cool night wind blow through the chateau. My hammock swung gently in the breeze, rocking me smoothly in my slumber.

Unexplainably, I awoke at a point during the night. Immediately I was aware of the presence of another in my chamber. Lying completely still, I peered through narrowed eyes at the room.

A figure sat in the chair beside my hammock and for a moment, I lay debating my course of action. My weapons were already packed for the trip home and if the stranger was elfin, there was no telling what sort of Power they yielded. Lying there I could feel it radiating off them. What was I to do?

Just as I was making my plans, the winds rustled the treetops, allowing a moonbeam to cast itself upon the figure. The shock of red hair and golden skin immediately told me his identity. Shane.

My taut muscles relaxed but I was troubled by his unexplained presence. He made no move, only watched me intently as I feigned sleep. He seemed lost in thought and I remained still, trying to return to my peaceful slumber. The minutes ticked by and I grew accustomed to his strong presence, though unwarranted. My mind grew hazy as sleep began to overtake me once again and vaguely I registered Shane rise to his feet, pull my blankets tighter round me, and leave.

To Be Continued…
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