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The Brightest Thread – by Tracey
Not in centuries had the mountains rung with such gladness.
Aleida peeked out into the courtyard choked with bodies. Nobles and countryfolk alike spilled through the gates, almost obscuring the view of sunlit slopes beyond. She smiled. Good thing I arrived early.
Behind her, the Great Hall hummed with last-minute preparations. She turned from the doorway and strolled across the wide room, feet whispering against stone as if greeting old friends. The times she’d walked this castle were uncountable: first as a wide-eyed child, now as the world’s youngest fairy steward. The wand strapped to her thigh still felt unfamiliar.
“Aleida!” Queen Riar rose from the head table to embrace her. “Welcome here.”
Aleida returned the hug. “How is the baby?”
Tears shone in the red-haired queen’s eyes. “She couldn’t be more beautiful.”
“We’ll see about that. The other stewards may wish to grant her even more beauty tonight.”
“It hardly matters what you give her,” King Cedric rumbled next to his wife. His craggy face split in a wide smile. “We’re just overjoyed to have a daughter.”
As Aleida slid into place on Riar’s other side, a head of golden curls bobbed up. “Aleida, my sweet!”
“Reverie!” Aleida exclaimed. “You must’ve left days ago to arrive on time.”
Giggling, Reverie plopped barefoot into a chair. “Mere hours ago.” She set a pair of heavy boots on the floor. “Seven league boots, m’dear. Aren’t they grand?”
Aleida smirked. Not as grand as my dragons. Too bad my pets are shedding their skins.
The next hour dissolved in a flurry of voices as the Great Hall filled with guests, including the five other fairy stewards from neighboring kingdoms.
At last, when every table was packed tight, King Cedric stood and shouted, “People of Iror!” The long room hushed as if his booming mountain voice had flattened all other sound. “My queen and I take great delight in presenting our new child—Princess Alucinora.”
Two nurses bustled through a side entrance, carrying a cradle between them, and set it between Cedric’s and Riar’s chairs. At the sight of the swaddled bundle within and the tiny hands waving, the assembly burst into cheers.
Aleida grinned and swallowed her own whoop of excitement.
“Today we hold a feast in the princess’s honor,” Cedric continued. “Each fairy steward will pay their tributes at the christening to follow.” He waved a hand. “Let the feast begin!”
As servers marched out to load every plate, Aleida smiled over at Alucinora cooing in her cradle. The princess’s eyes looked her way—wide pools of rainwater staring so intently it seemed she was reading Aleida’s thoughts. What a large name for such a small lass. Shall I call you Luci instead? Luci’s hands stilled. She giggled, then turned away.
Aleida picked up her golden fork. Watching Luci grow up would be a pleasure indeed, and who better to look after her as a sister than Iror’s steward? Imagine taking her for a dragon ride one day…flying over Iror and watching the woolens graze. I can teach her much.
“Aleida, have you heard a word I’ve said?”
She jerked to attention. Reverie was staring, head cocked. “Sorry,” Aleida murmured. “What was that?”
“I was telling you how I came about my seven-league boots!” Reverie shook her head, curls bouncing. “Listen this time, dearie—the dwarf I traded with was such an interesting fellow.” She prattled on through the second and third courses, by which time the conversation had veered from dwarves to rumblings from the ogre colonies, to the princess’s wrappings spun by Iror’s best spinners.
Aleida nodded along and inserted an “Oh my” or “Indeed” when appropriate.
When the meal concluded, the monarchs and stewards stood, and servers moved the royal table aside. The Hall’s roar of conversation quieted to a hum.
King Cedric’s voice rolled out over the assembly once more. “It has long been the custom of all seven kingdoms to bless each heir upon their birth.” He smoothed his doublet, though it had not a wrinkle. “Today the custom is multiplied in the presence of not only our steward, but the stewards of the other six nations.”
Aleida stood straighter. Cedric and Riar had no kinsfolk yet living. If they were to pass on without an heir, Iror may very well fall into chaos—civil war or vulnerability to outside foes. But now they had a daughter, and all was well. The kingdoms desired to express their relief and felicitations through their stewards’ magical blessings.
Aleida ran her fingers down her wand. Spanning hip to knee, it tingled at her touch as if the dragonfire once used to shape the metal still burned within.
“I thank you, fairy stewards,” Cedric was saying, “for joining us. It is with—”
The Great Hall’s twin doors flew open. “Wands and windstorms!” a husky female voice cried out. “What a celebration!” The voice’s owner stood in the open doorway, a black silhouette against the sunny courtyard.
A chill washed down Aleida’s spine. Beside her, Reverie swayed. “No…”
The silhouette stepped forward, and the doors whispered shut behind her. Robed in glowing silver matched by loose silver hair, like a star fallen from the heavens, she surveyed the assembly with chin tilted high. “My, so many guests here today. King Cedric, surely your table held room for one more?”
Cedric wiped a hand over his face. “Vyntyri.”
Riar pressed closer to the cradle. “We thought you—”
“Dead?” Vyntyri wove between tables toward the front. Commoners and nobles shrank back on all sides.
“Or locked in enchantment,” Riar replied. “You’ve not been seen in fifty years.”
Vyntyri laughed, a smile on her pale lips. “How happy for you, then—to discover neither tale is true. Still, was it not…rude of you, Riar, neglecting to invite me to your daughter’s christening?”
Riar’s face tightened. “Forgive me. I am not in the habit of inviting dead people to parties.”
Vyntyri bowed, the gesture mocking rather than reverent. “A simple envoy to Contalabutte Island could’ve revealed that the eighth steward is indeed alive and well, and eager to bestow a blessing on your infant.”
Categories: Critique Group