Chapter 2

My mother once told me that it was just as important for a queen to know how to kill than to rule. I never complained about my training over the years, as long as I was at the top, there was no protest from me.

The morning breeze tugs at my baby hairs, promising a warm day, the dew already fading on the lush green grass.

The training ground on the castle plain is mostly quiet since the rest are still sleeping at this time of the morning. The men who are indeed early birds are already starting their day bulking and sculpting their muscles.

I eye the men as I warm up.

Sometimes I want to look as intimidating and strong as them but I can't be swift nor fast with big muscles slowing me down. If my opponent thinks I'm a helpless damsel, then I already have the upper hand. Strong and lean is better than bulky and slow; so says my mother.

I give them a smile and a wave, knowing it feeds their anger. The men here think it's bad luck to have a woman on the plain – they say it makes their arrows fly off target and their swords blunt. Superstitions or not, it gave me the upper hand.

The men notice my stare and give me a disdained look. I try to throw them off with a friendly wave.

Surprisingly they wave back.

With the sound of footsteps, I turn around and find my eldest brother stepping onto the plain.

No wonder the men are so friendly; the caption is here.

"Good morning Brigitte." Liam Deswart stands beside me as I continue to stretch my legs. You could tell he has just woken up by the way his voice seems to rumble. He clears his throat before speaking again. "Fine day for battle don't you think?"

"Every day is a fine day for battle, no matter the weather," I reply. Liam is only a year younger than me, but still, he towers over me and sometimes I find myself looking up to him when he stands too close to me. So I take a step back when I speak, "Good morning to you to little brother."

Liam and I share a lot of the same feathers – white freckles, light brown hair, smouldering blue eyes – but he shares a lot of the same features as our father as we do. His chin, his lips, his moon-shaped eyes, all belong to our father.

Liam wiggles my little stag horns, knowing I hate it. "You're too hungry for violence to let a few raindrops nor heat stop you." He laughs as I swat his hand away from my horns.

Before I could stab him with a witty reply, Kardama silently approaches us.

"You're late," I told my trainer and shoed Liam away.

He tossed me the sword from the rack and I caught it with a sigh. "I hope you used that time wisely and warmed up."

Like the rest of the royal army, Kardama had two little stumps where beautiful stag horns should have been. The two stumps are barely visible under his ink-black hair, but he makes work of them and sometimes ties blades to the stumps in battle – making him much more intimidating than he should be.

"Should I expect to get my ego bruised?" I asked as he grabbed himself a sword.

He held it so effortlessly like it weighed nothing to him. I on the other hand could feel the muscles in my arms and shoulders strain under the steel.

The art swordplay was never my strong point and I came to accept that. Although I came to terms with the one thing I couldn't stand to understand, Kardama never let me go.

"I'll let you train with the men later to make you feel better about yourself."

Kardama and his wife were strange things. They were deep in their age but don't have a single grey hair in sight on their raven heads, nor did their faces show wrinkles. They moved through this world like shadows, their eyes almost the colour of ash.

I never asked him about it, but I knew they were not from Esma.

Without warning, he lunged at me.

I struggled to move my sword as he does and focused on defending myself. He seemed to be everywhere at once, disappearing out of my sight and reappearing at the most likely of places. He was playing me tired, I knew that. But I had to spare my energy for the next round.

Concentrating on every muscle and movement made breathing a waste of time. I had to remind myself to take deep breaths before I turned blue.

The sound of steel on steel echoed throughout the morning till brunch.

I swatted his sword away leaving my side open. I regretted it as he kicked my side and I flew to the ground.

The men on the plain laughed at my clumsiness but Liam quickly silenced them.

Although Liam was much younger than a few of the men, he certainly made up for it by earning their respect and fear.

"You cheated." I spat. "The goal of the exercise is to use your weapon." I thought if I can convince him that he used an indolent strategy he won't think of this as a win.

He helped me up. "A win is a win Brigitte, plain and simple. It doesn't matter how you win as long as you're the only one left standing."

Even though Kardama was a funny character, we thought alike.

He added, "Again."

The plain grew busy as the time passed, but he and I never stopped. I lost most of the time and he corrected me after every fall. Sometimes with good advice and some with things he has told me in the past. It was hard to think of everything at once, and the soft laughter of the men made it harder.

Suddenly the plain grew quiet and the soldiers fell into neat lines. Kardama let down his sword and I sent a prayer of thanks to the Lords.

The prince of the Earth Lands strode onto the training grounds with his personal guard at his feet.

Liam and I quickly and wordlessly stood side by side at the front of the lines to greet him.

The prince of the Earth Lands sure held the fear of the men and anyone he met – and I aimed to be that powerful one day.

The wait will be no longer, I told myself.

Once I was queen, everything will change to my liking. The drops of power will no longer slip through my fingers. With that title, everything would be mine.

Since the prince was the only immortal, I would never catch up with the years of experience he has, yet I ask him for every word of knowledge he can spear. He fought in the great war hundreds of years ago before the wall was created by his kind - the Nymphs.

I always grew green that he was immortal… but not invincible. In war, they say he was kidnapped by the people of the Air Lands and they cut off his hands for their own safety. He escaped and killed his kidnappers shortly after. He now wears prosthetic blades on his hands in battel and cold cuffs around the stumps wherever he goes.

My brother and I bowed low and echoed. "Good morning father."