Luella was bored. According to her father, she was now old enough to be present for some of the audiences people had with the king.
She was excited when he first told her… until she discovered that most of the court business was dreadfully dull.
There was that one time one of the elves in the village made someone look so repulsive it made everybody around them vomit at the sight of them, but for the most part, the quarrels the king had to settle were silly grown-up nonsense like disputes over flower fields.
But today turned out to be different.
To Luella’s surprise, the first person to get an audience with her father this morning was a babbling toddler.
She examined the boy’s face, intrigued. He was clearly not even ten years old. Five, perhaps?
“His Royal Highness, Prince Denillian.” One of the frilly people announced.
The man kneeling next to the toddler handed Faerandil a letter and some kind of necklace.
Prince Denillian… That had to mean he was uncle Silveril’s and aunt Cedmé’s son. Now this was exciting. Luella didn’t have many children to play with.
Her father did not share her enthusiasm. His brows furrowed as he read the letter. He looked concerned. Luella wasn’t sure she’d ever seen her father concerned, not like this. He even cancelled the rest of the audiences for the day. Something terrible must have happened.
Her parents were speaking in hushed voices. What was going on?
She tried to get some information out of her father, but he was not sharing any of it. So much for being old enough.
“I do have an important task for you, Luella.” Her father told her. “You need to entertain your cousin for the afternoon. I am counting on you.”
Luella grinned. That she could do.
She took the boy out to the gardens. Surely he’d find that more interesting than a stiff throne room.
“They’d have me curtsy to you, I bet. Your highness, prince Denillian… Grown-ups are odd like that sometimes. Like you care about etiquette…”
She looked at her cousin for confirmation. He was drooling. As much of a confirmation as she needed.
“What kind of a name is Denillian anyway? I’m going to call you Dandelion. Like the flowers.”
“G.” The toddler said.
Did that mean he liked the name? Luella hoped so. He had to like the flowers, at the very least.
“Guess I’ll have to do the talking for both of us, huh, little sprout?” She went on. Entertain your cousin. An important task. She was determined not to disappoint her father.
“I’m Luella. Well, princess Luella, but you know what those titles are? My teacher just taught me this silly prissy word, um… fab… fabricuted. I think.”
“Fa ba.” The boy mimicked her words.
“Close enough. It is just a fancy way of saying made up.” Luella explained. “Father’s people love to speak like that. It’s all nonsense though. Anyway, you can just call me Luella.”
“Fa ba.” He repeated.
“Faba’s not a name, silly… You can’t pronounce Luella yet, can you, little sprout? Just call me Lulu.” She told him with an encouraging smile.
The boy didn’t really respond, but was beaming up at her. He was funny, Luella thought.
“You’ll get there. Don’t worry, I’ll look out for you. It’s got to be tough to be somewhere strange and new all on your own, especially when you’re this teeny.”
The princess grew more serious. “I know that something bad happened to your family. That’s why you’re here with us, right? Father won’t tell me anything…”
“Well, whatever happened, I’m sorry. I always liked uncle Silveril. Maybe one day you can go back home, wherever that is.”
Come to think of it, she had no idea where her aunt and uncle lived. They sailed somewhere far away when she was only twenty-eight years old. She hadn’t seen them again since, eight whole years. Judging by her father’s expression when he read the letter, perhaps she never would. But that wasn’t something to bring up with the little one.
“Father said you didn’t live in a tree castle like we do. What is it like where you came from?”
“Fa ba.” He babbled on.
Luella sighed. He was cute, but this whole conversation was very one-sided, wasn’t it?
“Lulu.” The toddler exclaimed and threw his hands in the air, just as she was about to give up.
Luella beamed back at him.
“Hey, well done, Dandelion! You’ll be talking in no time. And then you can tell me all about your old home. Or just tell me whatever you like. We’re going to be the best of friends, you and I.”
The few weeks following Dandelion’s arrival to Syeldell were some of the best Luella had ever experienced. She doted on her little cousin. He made everything fun, and she got to be a role model.
She barely noticed how serious and preoccupied her father had become until he summoned her to the throne room one day.
He was holding another letter. That on its own was nothing unusual, her father received many letters every day. Faerandil had never deemed it worth sharing the contents of any of them with her, though. What was going on? And what else was he holding?
“Dark times are ahead, Luella.” He got straight to the point. “It is important that you listen to me very closely.”
“Of course, father.” She nodded eagerly. She didn’t have the slightest idea what he could be on about, but she hoped her upbeat attitude would cheer him up. It did not.
“I want you to hold on to these two items, and guard them as if your life depended on it. Because there may come a time that it will.”
He crouched down, placing a necklace around her neck. A metal key hung from the chain.
“What is the key for?” The princess asked her father.
“A key to my heart.” He trailed off, his voice barely a whisper. What was that supposed to mean?
Faerandil cleared his throat. “It doesn’t matter. The key is a sign. A sign that marks our foes. A woman bearing a necklace just like this will make her way to Syeldell soon, I am sure of it. She will seek our destruction. Should the worst happen… Well, that’s where the second item comes in.”
He handed her a fragment with a strange sign engraved into it.
“This is a Glimmerstone.” He explained. “Keep it on you, always, in case… Keep it on you. If Syeldell falls in danger, don’t look for me. Don’t look for your mother. Find Denillian, hold on to him as tightly as you can, and squeeze the Glimmerstone in your hand. It will take you to the magic realm.”
“The magic realm?”
It was all too much to take in. Glimmerstone, key to my heart, magic realm… Luella didn’t understand any of it, other than that this was serious. What was this danger her father was talking about?
“Yes. An ancient realm where all magic was born. It is presided over by three sages. The one you are looking for is Simeon Silversweater. He is part elf. You can trust him. But don’t trust anyone apart from Simeon. Especially not anyone with a necklace like yours. If she is successful in making Syeldell fall, she will come looking for you. You must make sure she does not get the key. You must-“
Faerandil did not finish his sentence. Luella did not realise why straight away, not until she heard a scream coming from the outside. It was only then when she noticed the smoke creeping into the throne room.
“Now!” Her father ordered her. “Get Denillian! Remember what I told you. Find Simeon Silversweater.”
He started conjuring some kind of cooling magic, not paying any more attention to her.
“Go!” Her father yelled, though he did not look away from the orb he was conjuring. He never raised his voice, not before today.
Luella nodded and ran towards the door. She was not prepared for what awaited outside. The flames below the walkways. The smell of burning trees.
Focus, Luella, she scolded herself. Father gave you a task. Just do what he says, and it will all be fine again. Get Denillian. Use the Glimmerstone. Find Simeon Silversweater. The girl sprinted across the walkway. Dandelion’s nursery is not far. Focus.
The little prince had managed to get out of his cot somehow. He was crying. Luella could not blame him, she wanted to cry too. She looked out of the window behind him, but all she could see was flames.
Her father’s magic was not going to stop this, the princess realised. If she is successful in making Syeldell fall, she will come looking for you. Making Syeldell fall… Syeldell would fall. Luella had never thought it possible…
Her cousin’s crying brought her back to the present. She let out a cough. The smoke was getting into room. They had to get out of there.
“Shh, little sprout. Everything will be just fine.” She whispered to the toddler, hugging him. She closed her eyes. Take us away from here, Glimmerstone.