THE GIFT

THE VILLAGERS STILL HADN'T RECEIVED their princess, but unfortunately they were blessed with more than enough high-energy, rowdy princes. Three of them to be exact. And many eclipses had passed since the Queen dared to try again. That was because the last two attempts had resulted in misfortune, misery, and miscarriages. But worst of all, with a heart torn to pieces, she believed that wanting a princess had been a terrible mistake.

The Queen's home had sunk into a hole of depression despite standing atop a sandy hill overlooking the village. The normally brown bark that formed the foundation had turned gray, some of its windows boarded with strings of ivy, leaves missing from its roof, and thorns spreading unchecked over the walkways. Once a welcoming space, where all the kids would play, the shrine was now dilapidated and drained of its life.

A few years later, something unexpected had happened, she was pregnant again, except this time she was expecting twins.

One of the village's elders had ran faster than anyone could have expected, screaming down the hill and alerted as many people as she could.

"There will be two! There will be two! A prince and a... princess!"

The news was heard, and the entire village had emerged from their straw huts and sand domes. Nobody could contain their excitement, for they had waited just as long as the Queen for a princess. Hidden in the creased pages of their most ancient books were legends that mentioned the nurturing powers of a girl that could not be found in a boy. The birth of a princess would bring a better harvest and an end to the drought that had appeared out of nowhere. 

All the villagers wished for an answer that could explain the different weather—for it was strange that a beautiful summer's morning could turn into the harshest winter's night on the same day.

But a princess was to finally be born, the whole village came together at the temple to discuss the potential names for the prince and princess.

"Amyr!" shouted many people.

"But what of the princess?" shouted the ladies wrapped completely in a white cloth.

They were the healers, the ones who pressed their palms to the Queen's stomach and told her the splendid news. They lived alone in the inner sand domes, practicing rituals to bring about a better harvest than the last.

There was a frenzy to know more about the princess.

"What did she feel like? Will she be a healer or a warrior?"

"She will be as great and as beautiful as our Queen," the elder told the eager villagers, after drawing a relic in the sand. "She is exactly what we had been waiting for. The Queen will finally be the happy leader we remembered her to be. Oh, Divine, it is time, it is time!"

"But what if... it were to happen again," said a male by the high-snapping fire, "she has been through enough. Was it wise to try again?"

The villagers exchanged worried looks.

"Oh, Sual, that is nothing to worry about, the princess is as healthy as Gaia and as strong as the sun."

"To the Divine, I pray that you are right," Sual said, scratching his beard. "I remember when I was a child hearing her cries..."

As months followed, excitement had increased throughout the land. The village created vibrant veils of the most beautiful flowers they could find. The drought had made it very difficult, but they traveled far and wide to make sure the new prince and princess slept in a bed of nature's finest.

But over in the Queen's shrine, in the dark and boarded up home, the Queen was rocking back and forth on her branch, praying to every Divine that had ever existed in story. 

The King emerged with a glazed look that spoke of his worry, not for the children, but of his wife that had seemed to have withered away.

She was consumed with fear. The joy that was supposed to be attached to birth had turned to dread. The day was coming. While the Village rejoiced and celebrated and partied until the morning, the Queen wept, unable to sleep.

By the following morning, everyone in the village had surrounded the shrine. They wore white veils and lush vines wrapped around their necks and limbs, symbolizing their connection with nature.

As the healers entered the shrine, the first screams were heard. And many had followed.

Then, just when the shrieks were sounding horrific, they stopped and a pleasant cry was heard that changed everything.

The village erupted in an uproar.

"It is... the prince!" a voice shouted from inside.

"Our prince!" The village howled, lifting their staffs before slamming them into the sand.

The village awaited for the next set of screams.

Seconds passed.

Then minutes...

Then an hour...

And once the silence had reached its third hour, that was when they heard a strained voice say: "It was... the princess."

Gasps spread throughout the crowd, immediately followed by hiccups of tears and sobs. The healers had no report as to what happened to their princess, but they commented on how black the Queen's eyes were, as if it was like looking into a well with a void of nothing on the other end. This time there was no emotion from her, neither sadness nor anger. 

The villagers wanted answers but none were found. Before they could find the cause, the princess was buried in the garden, and her flower remained an object of curiosity for a while.

After a few days of silence, the villagers came together again to discuss their future with a King who was always gone hunting and a Queen who remained an uninhabited shell. There were talks of a mutiny, of new leadership, not for any reason other than survival. They loved their King and Queen, they truly did but there was no guidance, no plan for their future. The drought had become worse, crops were more difficult to harvest, and the King had to venture miles away to find the first sign of fresh meat. 

It was then when the talks had become most serious, a most curious bundle of leaves and ivy was found at the Queen's door. It was as if this was the village's last chance to save the Queen, their village. No one dared touch it until the King had arrived from the hunt. Never had they seen a gift wrapped with such care, as if every vine was hand-stitched. 

The King lifted it in his hand. "Who gave us this gift?" he said to a subdued crowd. Murmurs and whispers hissed their way through the village like snakes. The King looked around once more before summoning his Queen.

Several moments passed before she came to the entrance. There was a slow clunk followed by a shuffle from cloth being dragged through sand. In her hand she held her staff carved from the strongest oak in all of Gaia. This type of wood could only be held by the most powerful warriors. One would never guess, but there was a time when she could take on an entire village with one swing. But some said she was still just as lethal. 

"What is this?" she said with a strained voice. It seemed to have taken all of her energy. 

"A gift... from the village."

And when they pulled the golden leaves to the side, anticipation grew with each layer revealed.

"What could it be?" she said as her frail fingers peeled off one last leaf.

Their eyes widened, almost as wide as their smiles. A tear fell from the Queen's eyes, forming a stream that poured down into the gift in her arms. In that moment when the tears splashed, a shriek resonated from within.

The village gasped.

"What do we name her?" the Queen said, her brown eyes glowing.

"She is a gift from the village... from the Divine..." the King said as he painted two brown bars on the baby's cheeks, mirroring his own face paint. The clay absorbed into her skin as if they became birthmarks. "Her name is... S'rae."

Though hundreds of miles apart, S'rae and Vayp woke up at the very same moment. They gasped as if they had shared the same dream and stared ahead as if looking directly at one another. 

Somehow... and someway their eyes narrowed in unison.

 

"I will find you!" they growled through clenched teeth.

© 2016 by LOE.