The latest installment, sorry for the wait. I've been crammed with papers and such, so it has taken me forever to get this out. Spring Break is a joy!
Chapter Seventeen: Into the Ice
It was a moment before Alaina regained her consciousness, she couldn't remember when she'd been knocked out, though she figured that it was when Andrew had pulled her between the worlds. She rubbed her eyes to rid them of sleep, and slowly stretched out her legs, and smacked her arm into something beside her in the process. She was covered by a thick woven blanket, her hands and face, which had fallen out of the blanket's protection, were on the verge of being frozen. She yawned and found that her breath came in thick white puffs. She saw Andrew out of the corner of her eye, he was leaning against the wall, with his hand placed protectively on her calve.
She knew from the rhythms and sounds that they were moving in a horse-drawn carriage, a very fine one at that. She sat up, and righted her posture, stretching to get the creaks out of her stiff joints. As she moved, she startled Andrew out of his reverie.
"Morning, Princess." His hand moved from her leg, and reached up to pull the dark blue, velvet curtains across the small window.
She glanced at him, "Where are we going?" She questioned, as she'd never experienced such cold, and couldn't place where they could possibly be.
"We are headed Northeast to the peninsula, where the castle is."
"Oh, we're in Edalin then?"
"Yes, home, sweet home." He reached over to the plush bench on the other side of the carriage and grabbed a pillow off of the seat. He shoved the pillow behind his head as he raised his booted feet to the bench.
"Why, may I ask, is it so cold?"
"Cold?" He scoffed, "It's summer." He pulled her towards him and looped his arm around her shoulders, so she was leaning against his chest. Lightly, he began to twirl one of her curls around his finger.
They traveled the rest of the way in silence, as masked outrage and fear tore through Alaina's mind. She couldn't help but worry what had happened in Hillian if she couldn't contact them. She began to fidget as her thoughts and fears developed. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that whatever it was that attacked Hillian that night must have been aimed specifically at the palace, considering Andrew hadn't said anything about any other problems or destruction. Just that Aleck and her family were gone. Yet, Aleck hadn't been at the palace, he'd been at Clearwater's Bay, so had the entire country been massacred? Was anything left?
Andrew pulled her hand into his to stop her from picking at the bodice of her dress. She couldn't stop fidgeting because of her close proximity to the enemy as she was trying to figure out what he'd done to Aleck, and plot his impending doom in revenge.
The carriage jolted to a halt and Andrew gave what seemed to be his first genuine half-smile, as he waited for the footman to open the door, and hopped out.
Alaina stepped carefully from the carriage, but despite her care, her feet tangled in her long skirts, and caused her to fall into the powdery snow. She cringed as the icy winds of Edalin's summer stung her face unbearably, and the wet snow froze her lips and hair. Andrew made no move to help her from her position, buried in the snow. He just stared blankly out into the distance, he didn't seem to notice her scathing glances at his face. He never once seemed cold despite the sub-zero temperatures and the icy storm that was tearing the sky down around them.
She stood up next to him, and tried to shake the moisture from the extensive layers of petticoats and rich velvet, but it was to no avail, her skirts froze beneath her stiff hands. She brought her hands away from her knees and held them close to her chest, gently rubbing them, causing them to swirl with shades of purple, white and red.
A pair of soft suede riding gloves were past to silently to her, and she received them gratefully. Her hands were past being cold, and she was beginning to worry about frostbite, and losing feeling in her hands. She hadn't the strength, nor the coordination to pull on the gloves with her joints being so stiff, so she breathed upon her palms and felt the warm air lightly burn her skin. She clasped her hands together, desperate to retain some semblance of the warmth that had lasted momentarily. Out of nowhere, two warm, pink hands took hold of her own, immediately giving her a sense of comfort.
It felt odd to Alaina, feeling comfort and warmth radiate from one she hated, his gentle hands helped pull the gloves over her frozen skin. When the gloves were on her hands, he didn't drop her wrists.
His ice blue eyes burned into her skin as he searched her for a response.
"Thank you, highness."
He kissed the back of her hands and replied. "Not to worry, I'm to take care of you now." He smiled and returned to gazing at the scenery of his homeland.
Alaina shivered as another harsh gust of freezing air ripped through her velvet skirts, which allowed stray pieces of ice hit her shins and leaving them feeling bloody and cut up. As she made her way into the Castle of Edalin, she took a step back and took in her surroundings. The castle itself appeared to have been built with opaque blocks of ice that were piled on top of each other, which created both a majestic and a foreboding outlook. Icicles that were about three feet in length, hung precariously from the fortress. Gazing out at the scenery, Ali thought she had never seen anything like it before, sure, it snowed in Hillian occasionally, but it was nothing compared to this. Vast, white stretches of land expanded as far as the eye could see; grayish-white skies blocked out the sun and all of its welcoming warmth.
According to Ali it seemed she'd just stepped into an icebox, her skin was chafed and sore, and her skirts, which had been dampened from the snow, had quickly frozen solid-ruining the fine fabric. "May we go in now, Your Highness?" She spoke carefully, not wanting to offend him on his homelands. As she voiced her question, her breath came in sharp gasps and small white clouds emerged to form before her eyes, obscuring her view of the vast snow and random patches of evergreen trees.
Andrew nodded, "Sure," he replied softly. Try as he might to hide it, Alaina could tell he was glad to be home. And try as she might to understand, she couldn't figure out how he could call a frozen domain such as this 'home sweet home.' The place was barren and bleak, and as far as she could see it was devoid of any inhabitants.
When they made their way into the castle, she realized that the fortress wasn't as she first suspected. It was not made entirely of opaque ice—well, maybe the outside was, but on the inside they had taken large planks of oak and attached them to the walls, to keep out the cold. Servants rushed to their aid, their wet gloves were replaced with warm blankets, and they were pushed into a room with a grand fireplace.
Andrew nodded to a frail man who was lingering in the corner. The man opened a hidden door, and signaled for a moment. After a slight pause, a young woman appeared from the darkness and in her hands she held a large box. She beckoned for Ali to follow her. After Andrew nodded his consent, Alaina made her way out the room, and followed her into the hall. The hall was dark, but oddly comforting. On the walls hung exquisite oil paintings of past monarchs and regal knights adorned in silver armor. The soft glow from torches and candles lit the hallways with warm light but left room for mystery in the depths of every shadow.
After taking enough halls and turning enough corners to make Ali become thoroughly lost, the young woman finally stopped before a large mahogany door. She urged Alaina through and shut the door behind them.
The room was fairly large, and was filled with rows upon rows of garments. Dresses, gowns, underclothes, were all present. Alaina turned to the servant, "Where are we, if you don't mind me asking?"
"No need to be formal with me, Your Highness. His Highness just wanted to have you change into more appropriate attire." She curtsied swiftly, and then disappeared into the massive amounts of cloth.
"And what sort of attire, may I ask, would that pertain to?" Alaina scrunched her skirts up in her fist nervously as she began to pace down the rows. "Surely, all of the garments here are much to fanciful for a simple evening alone with one's fiancé?"
"Oh, no, Highness, a princess of Edalin is never to be found in any attire that is below her stature… that is, not unless the prince requests it—for his own reasons of course."
"How then, is such a princess to relax?"
The servant popped up before Alaina, seemingly out of nowhere, and gave her a bright smile. "There, now you've got it."
"Pardon? I don't think I understand what you're saying."
"A princess, your highness, is not supposed to relax… just be the epitome of perfection, and everyone will love you." She pulled some undergarments out from under a large pile of velvet. "Now, let's get you out of these wet clothes."
Alaina was poked, prodded, and pinned until she was done up in one of the most elaborate gowns she'd ever worn. The deep crimson velvet hung around her with gold trimmings, and she was wearing at least six under layers of fabric and corsets. The woman pushed her before a mirror, and Alaina saw how regal and intimidating she looked. Her light auburn hair took upon a deep red hue in the warm light, and matched the flowing yards of fabric that adorned her body. Her hair had been magically brought to the top of her head, and was high at the top before curls plunged down her back to mid-shoulder.
"One last touch, your highness." The servant, spoke softly, and pulled open a locked drawer. Inside, on a black cloth, laid an exquisitely delicate gold and ruby tiara. It was no more than two and a half centimeters at its highest point, but it was embedded with numerous diamonds and elegantly carved rubies. It was one of the finest pieces Alaina had ever seen in her life.
As the servant placed it on Alaina's head, she spoke. "He had this specially made, did you know that, your highness?"
"What do you mean?" Alaina brought her hand to the tiara, and touched it gently where it lay upon her head. "Who had it specially made? Andrew?"
The lady shook her head and clicked her tongue. "What I mean, your highness, is that he wanted you to stand out. His highness, notified the jeweler about a week ago, that he was to create a flame among all of the icicles. A light, amongst all the dark. He was very specific that you deserved better than anything Edalin has to offer. He wanted to give you the world."
Breathless with shock, Alaina stared at herself in the mirror. Certainly she stood out, the country was encompassed with creams, blues and silvers, no warm colors were in sight aside from the hall she'd been dragged through and her own outfit.
"He was right, you know." The servant commented, and Ali nodded for her to continue. "You will be the one to turn this country around. You're what we've all been waiting for. He's found it, and we all will find it… in you. Now, just don't go and break his heart. He wouldn't have done this for anyone he didn't deem worthy."
Alaina only had the sense to nod absently, her thoughts were now circling around the prospect that Andrew had somehow become an entirely different person within the past twenty-five minutes.
"Now, let's return you to his highness. I am quite sure he's starting to become antsy about your whereabouts." The servant bustled over towards the door, and held it open for Alaina.
"Why would he be concerned about where I am? It surely is too cold for me to leave the castle—I'd certainly freeze to death—and I'm quite sure a number of people would be willing to help me out if I got lost in passageways." Alaina stated, her curiosity getting the better of her as she waited for the servant to answer.
The woman stopped walking and turned to Ali with narrowed eyes. "The castle is a great labyrinth of halls and many lead to places you, with your untouched hands, should not be willing to touch. It'd do great mind for you to remember that next time you get an inkling to go off roaming." She shook her head almost as if she were trying to shake the weight of her last comment out of the air and smiled at Alaina. "But that's of no matter, remember, it is perfectly normal for a man to fret over the woman who's stolen his heart."
Without further word, the woman turned away from Ali and continued to scuttle down the hallway, which left Ali to wonder momentarily what could be hidden within the castles icy depths.
Ali came out of her thoughts as they came up to the doorway. The servant motioned to the doorman, and he entered the room to announce their presence. "Her royal highness, Alaina Cassara Avariella Schaverell, the Princess of Hillian, and the betrothed of His Royal Highness, Prince Andrew Christopher the Third of Edalin." The tone, muffled through the door, came to a long-winded halt as Alaina was pushed through the door.
After such a formal announcement, Alaina figured that she'd probably be meeting some people, possibly the King or Queen, or a few high-ranking nobles, but there was no one in the room excepting Andrew, who now approached her.
He dismissed the servants and kissed her hand appropriately to satisfy their curious gazes. Turning to Alaina he smiled and fingered the tiara that sat upon her head. "Beautiful…" He murmured softly, and then he began leading her down a new hallway. As they walked, he began to speak to her.
"So, my princess, welcome to your new home. Here you will live a life of grace and beauty. You will be the portrait of elegance. I hope you remembered to say goodbye to your friends and family, because you shall not be seeing them for a while."
Curious at his sudden change of demeanor, Ali pursued the topic. "And why may I ask is that? Surely the mountain passes will be cleared of snow by the spring, and they would sail here, and vise versa. We wouldn't take a carriage."
"No, that's not what I meant. Well, to answer your first question, I highly doubt the mountain passes will be open by the spring—they rarely are. And to answer your second, unspoken question, the reason you probably won't be able to, milady, is because you aren't allowed to leave the castle grounds." He stated simply, lacing his arm around her waist.
Alaina shook her head confused and pushed away to put a bit of space between them. "What do you mean, I'm not allowed to leave? As your betrothed, and soon to be the princess, and one-day queen of this country, I believe I have just as much right as you do to leave the grounds, and see the kingdom that I shall once be ruling. 'Tis only fair." She demanded, and motioned with her arms while she stepped away from him and stopped him from walking.
Andrew smirked as he grabbed her hand and held it down at her side. "Oh, you have no idea, my sweet. Let me guess, you are probably wondering why it is so blasted cold out there, when according to Edalin's location in the seas, it should be like taking a vacation in the Carrico Islands." He watched her nod calmly, although he could tell that her temper was about to get the better of her once again.
"Well, the reasons for both, are connected you see. My great-great-great-great grandfather—or something like that-King Murron the fifth, got married to a princess from Hillian. I believe she was somewhat distantly related to you… Anyway, they had an arranged marriage, and she gave him one child, who died later—at the age of six—in a pirate attack on the palace. Well, after the child was born, and she'd finally gained the trust of the royal family, meaning she was allowed to make decisions involving the kingdom and such. They figured she wouldn't betray them because she was now connected to the land though a child she loved dearly.
"Anyway, after a while… I believe it was a few months after her child died, she went mad and ran away. She sold all of Edalin's secrets to the Northern and Southern Kingdom—when they were still as one, that is. One day after she left, Murron went outside, to view his kingdom, and right before his eyes, rolls of storm clouds flowed in, bringing with them this unnatural cold. It has been frozen here since.
"Many say that it was she who sent the curse of ice to Edalin as revenge to the country that took her son's life… a few groups of some religion fled the country shortly after the ice and snow began, declaring that it was the gods way of saying that they weren't happy with the country and it's rulers. It is then said King Murron tried to get the country under control. He remarried, and his wife gave birth to two sons. The eldest of which took over the kingdom…we think… Yet, as of today, no one knows the exact truth. It's all speculation. It is also the reason that you aren't allowed to leave the palace grounds… so, now as of royal decree, any person who is brought into the Edalin royal family by means of arranged marriage is not allowed to leave the palace grounds. I guess it was their way of keeping the event from happening again… But yet, you know what they say, 'History repeats itself.'" He then smiled and kissed her hand. "Good night, my princess, I shall wake you in the morning."
As soon as Andrew finished the speech, he removed himself from her presence, leaving her alone to notice that they had reached her new quarters. As she stared at the closed door, she quietly mused to herself, "but still, why would they place so much faith in an old history that has become no more than a legend?"
Her rooms were open and spacious, but Alaina couldn't erase the thought that she was now trapped in her own ice prison. Sitting down on a high-backed chair that was facing the windows, Ali gazed out at the eternal frozen expanse, mentally praying that things would work out.