“Would it kill you to relax?”
The princess has a problem with quietly sitting in a room. I’ve tried giving her books and scrolls full of vivid pictures for her amusement, but nothing seems to deter the unwavering focus her lavender eyes seem to have on me.
“Probably,” I murmur, my hands busy polishing the knife in my lap. “It would likely get you killed, too. Your parents are paying a hefty sum to keep your head on your shoulders.”
She sticks her tongue at me. I don’t respond. This is our nightly battle. Princess Iryna is a handful during the day, but she’s mostly occupied with her daily duties of patrolling the estate grounds, tasting different sweets from the kitchens, and pestering the few servants that were shipped out here to stay with us while the war wages back home.
At night, she’s locked in a tower with me. No windows. One door that’s barricaded with a magic spell and a bookcase. It’s my duty to make sure she sees the morning sun once again.
Clearing her throat, she slides off of the bed and claps her hands. “Make the music play, Cai.”
Cailleach is my name. Iryna is convinced its far too foreign for her tongue to work. I’ve given up trying to get her to refer to me by anything except that pet name.
Snapping my fingers, the instruments laying on the side of the room jump to life. First, a sweet lilt of violin. A flute pipes in. Some drums are added. The music plays in a circular fashion, the intruments moving in and out of the tune while also spinning off on their own tangents. It’s something otherworldly, something jaunty enough for a tavern, but unheard of by this spoiled woman in silk garbs.
Twirling in a circle, Iryna hums along to the tune and then holds her hand out to me. “Dance with me.”
I shake my head immediately. “You’re doing fine on your own.”
“We’ve been here for over a month, Cai. Nothing has come to gobble me up. Please,” she bats her eyelashes at me as I sheathe the knife at me side. “Please, just dance with me.”
“If I do,” I start, already regretting my decision to give into her sweet demands, “you have to go to bed after. Guests from other continents are arriving tomorrow and they need to see that you are well. It gives them hope.”
“Hope, hope, hope,” she grumbles, her higher pitched voice pulling at the edges of the word. “I’m more than just a symbol of hope, you know? I’m a person.”
I have to clench my teeth and take a slow breath to keep my eyes from rolling. These royals. They never understand how ridiculous they sound to the rest of us. My grandmother would have given her life to be remembered as a symbol of hope and love and goodness rather than burned as a witch in a world that feared dangerous women.
That same world has asked for my forgiveness and given me a bratty princess to look after. It seems witches aren’t the worst thing on this planet. A witch that’s good with both magic and swords is an expensive kind of bodyguard that only the wealthiest clients can use.
Ones that offered to not keep me in the dungeon for the rest of the crimes I committed before settling down with this job.
“You’re thinking too much and dancing too little,” Iryna prompts, wiggling her fingers in my direction.
I suppose there’s no making this go away without actually going through the motions. Uncurling from my chair, I stand and run my hands down my clothes. My red cloak is draped over the back of the chair, so I’m just in my undershirt and form-fitting pants. I’d be wearing my boots, too, but the princess has a rule about shoes in the tower, so they’re at the top of the steps on the other side of the blocked door.
I look frumpy next to the thin woman in pink silk. She seems to float around the middle of the room. If I didn’t know better, I would think she had some magic in her bloodline, too. There’s no other good explanation for how she convinces me to do these things.
Crossing the room, I hold my hand out to meet hers. Electricity singes my fingertips. It does every time we touch and I try my best not to think too much about it.
Likely her parents had some other witch put a spell on her physical form. It’s that or…
Well, I’m very sure she’s not my mate, so we’re going to leave that possibility out of this current equation.
Spinning for me, Iryna lets out a giggle and then puts her other hand on my shoulder. We’re close. There’s mere centimeters between our chests and hips. The princess leads. She’s the only one here classically trained to do these little dances.
I follow her moves and watch as the glow of the lamps catch her features. There. Her eyebrow is in a spotlight. It’s perfectly arched at me.
And then it catches her left cheekbone. I think poets could fill novels with the curve of her cheek and ballads could be written about the flutter of her eyelashes.
Another ray caresses her throat and I forget for a moment that we’re from separate worlds.
For now, we’re two women locked in a room and only a breath apart.
“You look quite pretty tonight, Cai.”
I shake my head. The princess delights in poking fun at my appearance. I always wear the same things. I don’t know how to apply blush with a fuzzy brush. Red lip stain has never blemished my mouth.
“You are the beautiful one, Iryna.”
And, even if I regret those words in the morning, I mean it. She really is pretty. Pretty beautiful.
She’s going to say something else. I can practically see the words spinning to life in her mind. Lips pursed, but not yet parted, she waits a moment too long.
There’s a yell from outside. I drop her hands and step away.
“So much for taking a night off,” I grumble in her direction as I hurry to fling my cloak over my shoulders.
“You can’t go out there,” she calls as I start to push away the bookcase.
There’s a rumble vibrating the stones of this tower. Whatever has arrived is big. Too big to leave this part of the estate unscathed.
“I can’t let it come up here, either.”
Magic skitters just under the surface of my skin. I’m ready. I’ve trained my whole life to do these kinds of things. A knife in one hand, I start to undo the spell blocking this door.
I don’t answer. I have to keep muttering the words or the whole spell will dissolve in a chaotic fashion that’ll put both of us in more danger than we already are.
“Promise you’re going to come back.”
It’s not a question. It’s a demand. I stumble over the end of the spell, orange sparks glittering around the doorframe.
Glancing over my shoulder, I take in her innocent shape now trembling at the foot of the bed. “I haven’t failed you yet, Princess.”
Then, I’m gone. The door is shut and my boots are left behind at the top of the stairs as the stench of malicious magic wafts up towards our spot. It’s time to earn my wage as the princess’ bodyguard.
I was so excited to sit down and write the first short story of 2023! I hope you enjoyed these two and the upcoming troubles in their world. My wonderful editor put a sticky note on this one for a possible future full-length novel, so, if you enjoyed it as well, please say so in the comments below. Your views and words are what keep me coming back to the keyboard every week!
Thanks so much for being here. I’ll definitely be back Wed for our weekly WIP updates. See you then ❤