Teaser Chapter: Blood Moon – Chapter Two!

Blood Moon – Chapter Two

        “Are you sure you haven’t simply misplaced it? It wouldn’t be the first time…”
        “Sidonie, that only happened once and I said I was sorry.”
        Dagan had already apologized for losing her amulet at least a half dozen times. He shouldn’t have suggested she take it off in Odustis as it had probably been stolen while they were gone from their room at the inn. The likelihood that they would return to that wretched island was close to none. He felt terrible about it because she had become very fond of the amulet, even overlooking the fact that it had come from his ex-lover, Cassandra.
        “I remember where I left it,” he continued, “and now it’s gone. He took the amulet when he snuck out during the Winter Ball. I just know he did.”
        “I thought you didn’t want the amulet, anyway? When Edmund gave it back to you, you refused to take it at first.”
        “Yes, but why would he need to take it? When he has his magic now? Why does he need an amulet that can change his appearance when he can do that on his own?”
        “I don’t understand the logic, either. But it was his amulet—”
        “That he gave to me. I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. He gave me something and then he stole it. I would have given it back to him if he had asked for it.”
        “I know you would have.” Sidonie frowned at him. She had spoken to Dagan’s father, Edmund, before their trip to Odustis. Edmund mentioned that he was going to leave and Dagan would never have to see him again, so his absence wasn’t a surprise. But it still hurt Dagan because he thought the two of them were finally working to mend their relationship.
        Dagan sighed and crossed his arms. His bowl of pork and cabbage was already cold and he didn’t feel like eating anyway, so he pushed it away.
        “You need to eat,” Sidonie said. She pulled her long brown hair behind her and tied it with a piece of ribbon. “That’s only your second bowl. You usually have at least three of them.”
        “It’s cold.”
        Sidonie reached her arm down onto the table. Then she summoned fire magic inside her palm and held it close to the bowl until the soup was steaming again.
        “There. Now you have no excuse,” she said.
        Dagan scowled at her. He could have done the same thing to heat his soup, but she had done it for him, which irritated him and he had no idea why.
        “Stop acting like a child and eat it,” she said. Annoyance spread across her face, as well. Neither of them wanted to let the other win the argument, which was a foolish argument to begin with.
        Rowan approached their table in the middle of the soup standoff. He glanced back and forth at the two of them, then turned and walked back to Bree’s table. He knew better than to get into the middle of a lover’s spat, especially between a wizard and a sorceress.
        Dagan knew she was right and he was acting like a child, but he didn’t care to admit it. He just wanted to sulk and Sidonie’s positive attitude was making it hard for him to do so. He grunted, stood up, and started to leave. Immediately, he felt terrible for walking away from her. So he returned to the table. Then he bent over and kissed her on the head before turning and walking away, again.
        Sidonie glanced over at Bree, who gave a sympathetic smile, then came over to join her.
        “His father leaving has really upset him, hasn’t it?” Bree asked, taking Dagan’s empty seat. It was a redundant question as they both knew the answer. Edmund had missed most of Dagan’s life and until a few months ago, Dagan thought his father was dead.
        “He’s pretending that the real reason he’s angry is because Edmund stole the amulet. I wish he would talk to me about it, but he feels guilty. My father wants nothing to do with me, either, but I’ve come to terms with it. He feels like he has no right to be angry when I’m in the same situation.”
        “If I let someone into my life and they left me, I would feel the same way. Actually… I did feel the same way.” Bree tried to avoid thinking about what happened nine years ago when she and Rowan were separated. Now that they were engaged to be married, she tried not to dwell on the past. Rowan hadn’t left on his own accord, however. It had been at the command of her father, the late King Frederick. Dagan’s father choosing to leave of his own free will was harder to understand or accept, especially since he snuck out in the middle of the night.
        Sarita wandered over and climbed onto Sidonie’s lap, out of habit, straightening her ivory colored gown after she got situated. She was growing too large to sit comfortably now, at eight years old, but Sidonie didn’t complain.
        “The wizard is mad again, isn’t he?” Sarita asked, scrunching up her nose. Before Sidonie could answer, Sarita continued, “He is making it rain and I wanted to ride Dragonfly today.”
        It was true, Dagan’s foul mood had changed the weather above the castle. Sarita was one of the few people who knew that the sudden downpour was caused by the wizard. She had spent a lot of time with Dagan’s grandfather, Elric, who had been the Royal Mage of Junacave before his passing. So she was more experienced with magic than most young girls in the kingdom.
        “You’ve ridden Dragonfly every day this week,” Bree said. “Maybe the rain will give her a chance to rest.”
        Sarita wasn’t convinced and didn’t bother trying to hide it.
        “Horses love to run,” she replied, “and Rowan says Dragonfly needs a lot of exercise to keep her healthy.” She turned and whispered to Sidonie, “I promised her I would bring her some treats, too.” As stealthy as Sarita was trying to be, Bree could still hear her.
        “Well,” Sidonie said, “the wizard is really sad because his father left.”
        “I know…” Sarita hung her head. She felt guilty for being selfish, but she also didn’t want to change her plans. “Sissy told me. But his father might come back one day, right?”
        “Perhaps…” Sidonie wasn’t sure if Edmund would ever return. Once Dagan came to terms with the situation, it would be for the best that his father didn’t return. “I might be able to create a dry path to the stables, so you can feed Dragonfly. Would that work?”
        “Sure.” Sarita agreed even though it was obvious from her tone that she wasn’t thrilled. She hopped down from Sidonie’s lap and ran over to the table where Gabrielle was sitting.
        “I told Rowan the horse was too extravagant of a gift,” Bree said, “but he insisted. And she really loves it.”
        “She does,” Sidonie agreed, looking over her shoulder at Sarita, who was gushing about how her horse was gray, the same color as Gabby’s horse, Starlight.
        Rowan’s birthday gift to Sarita was mostly inspired by her love for Dragon, Rowan’s own horse. And Sarita had named her Dragonfly, because of it. It was likely his attempt to make up for the six years of her life that he had missed while acting as a spy for the crown. But even though Rowan now knew that Sarita was his daughter, she had no idea that her father was really a spy and not the late King Frederick.
        Bree and Sidonie sat quietly, for a moment, watching the people going about their day in the great hall. Servants and kitchen maids were floating around, removing empty dishes and refilling goblets. The Queen Mother, Cicilly, and her sister, Celeste, were sitting at the high table, a long table placed at the foot of the throne. Sir Nicholas was beside Cicilly, which is where he preferred to be when he wasn’t busy with his duties as First Knight.
        Sidonie and Bree’s table was in the center of the hall. Two tables away from Sid was the knight’s table, which was already looking sparse since mealtime was mostly over. The only two left were Rowan and his brother, Reeve, sitting across from each other with Gabby and Sarita, gossiping beside them.
        “So… has he asked you to do it, yet?” Sidonie asked, nodding her head toward where Reeve was sitting behind her.
        Bree frowned and started toying with her long auburn hair which was braided to the side today.
        “Just this morning, actually,” she replied, then leaned in closer to keep their conversation private. “Is it wrong that I told Reeve I would send for the mysta, but didn’t? Just to give it more time?”
        “I am heartbroken, too. For the both of them. They look miserable. I really hoped the situation would work itself out, but you can’t force it, Bree. No one can. If Reeve and Rhea want to absolve the marriage, who are we to interfere?”
        Even though Sidonie said the words, she didn’t entirely mean them. If she could find a way to fix things, herself, she probably would. So Bree’s notion to delay the mysta wasn’t a terrible idea.
        “I’ve interfered plenty,” Bree said, smiling slightly. “Why stop now?”
        “Tsk, tsk, Your Majesty,” Sidonie said, shaking her head and grinning. “So mischievous… What would Rowan say if he overheard your plan?”
        “He would lecture me and I would ignore him.”
        “I can appreciate your honesty,” Sidonie said, laughing. “But I don’t think delaying the inevitable is going to help in this case. Rhea won’t even talk to me about it, anymore. I mention his name and she finds a reason to change the conversation or leave the room. I don’t understand it, myself. She was practically swooning the day that the other fairies were here. You should have seen it, Bree. I thought Raven and Twila were going to faint!”
        “I wish I had seen it. Rhea does talk to Gabby, though. And Gabby shares with Sarita. It’s sad that we have to get our gossip from children.”
        Sidonie laughed. “And what is the tale being told, today?”
        “Gabby said that Rhea cried in her sleep, last night.”
        “Again? That’s the third time since the ball.”
        “Yes, and she said his name again, too.”
        “Oh, Bree.” Sidonie shook her head and crossed her arms. “Perhaps, you should put them out of their misery. Let them end the marriage so they can move on and make peace with it.”
        “I know I should, Sid. I really do. And I will, just not yet. I want to try something, anything, just once more. If they would only talk to each other, maybe they could fix whatever suddenly went wrong. I mean, one day they had sparkles in their eyes and the next they won’t even look at each other. It’s ridiculous, really.”
        “I know, but what can you do, aside from locking them inside of a room together…”
        Bree didn’t reply. Sidonie shot her eyes up at the queen.
        “Bree… No.”
        “I’ll leave food in the room, of course. I won’t let them starve—“
        “No!” Sidonie realized she was being loud and drawing attention to them, so she lowered her voice to a harsh whisper. “You can’t do that. Well, I guess you really can since you’re the queen. But you shouldn’t…” Just to make her point clearer, she wagged her finger at Bree, who paid little attention because she was staring at the large opened doorway to the hall.
        Rhea was standing there. It had become her routine to wait until mealtime was over to come to the hall to eat. Bree gathered it was the fairy’s attempt to avoid seeing Reeve. And when Reeve noticed her in the doorway, he immediately stood and walked out, through the kitchens. Once he was gone, Rhea joined Gabby and Rowan.
        “Sarita,” Bree said, stopping her as she passed by. “I think it would be a great idea for Gabby to spend the evening with you, tonight. In your chambers, perhaps? I could have a tray of sweets sent up if you’d like. Oh, and Sidonie would be happy to stop by and braid your hair for a bit. Yours and Gabby’s. Wouldn’t you, Sid?” Bree raised her eyebrows and glanced across the table.
        Sidonie shook her head and smiled. She knew full well what the queen was planning and as much as she should probably intervene, she was more curious about whether it may work. Reeve and Rhea were already married, after all. They owed it to themselves to see if it was meant to be. When did I become such a romantic? She bit her lip and turned to Sarita.
        “It would be my pleasure.”
~*~
        Cicilly had just reached the top of the stairs when she spotted Rhea standing in the hallway.
        “If you’re looking for Breestlin, dear, she’s still down in the hall.”
        Rhea smiled, faintly. “No, actually. I was waiting for you, Queen Mother.”
        “Oh? Whatever for?”
        “I was wondering…” Rhea stopped and pursed her lips together, unsure if she wanted to continue. Cicilly could sense her uneasiness, and gestured the fairy into her chambers, for privacy.         She led Rhea to a settee in the far corner of the room and sat down beside her.
        “Go on,” Cicilly said, nodding.
        “It’s only that I’ve heard a bit of gossip… And I wondered if it might be true?”
        “This place is full of gossip, dear,” Cicilly waved her hand and chuckled. “Be more specific.”
        Rhea looked down and focused her eyes on the brown stone floor.
        “I heard that the man who haunts your dreams has returned.”
        “Oh.” Cicilly could feel her face becoming flushed. “It is true. It seems King Silas has survived, after all. But you shouldn’t worry about that, Rhea. We’ve dealt with him before. We will manage, again. I hope you don’t feel unsafe in the castle?”
        “Oh, no, Queen Mother!” Rhea looked up. “I didn’t mean to suggest that the castle is unsafe. Not at all. I really love it here.”
        “Then, what is your concern?”
        “I… I wanted to know how you stopped them. The dreams?”
        Cicilly sat back a bit, considering Rhea’s question.
        “I use medicine. A very specific blend of herbs that allows me to have a dreamless sleep. He cannot enter my dreams if I have none.”
        “This medicine? Does it work for everyone?”
        “By everyone, you mean, does it work for fairies?” Cicilly was beginning to understand.
        “Yes.”
        “Rhea, my dear,” Cicilly took the fairy’s hand and held it. “What kind of dreams are you having? That you want to put a stop to?”
        “They aren’t like yours. They’re… happy.”
        “Well, why in the realm would you want to stop having happy dreams?”
        “Because they’re lies!” Rhea was immediately embarrassed to have shouted. But Cicilly hardly seemed to take notice. “Every night I dream of a wonderful life, here in Junacave, with Reeve and Gabrielle. I’ve had visions of waking up beside him. Brushing Gabby’s hair before bedtime…” Rhea looked away, remembering the very dream she had last night. “I’ve even seen myself carrying his child, walking through the gardens.”
        Cicilly heard Rhea’s voice cracking. Clearly, the dreams were indeed haunting, just in a different way.
        “And you want the dreams to stop?” Cicilly asked.
        “Yes.”
        “And you’re sure that once the dreams stop, everything will be fine?”
        “I… yes.”
        “Rhea, I’m not sure if that will work.” When the fairy didn’t reply, Cicilly continued, “Did you ever stop and consider why you are envisioning your future?”
        “It isn’t my future.”
        “But it could be, couldn’t it? Perhaps, the brave thing to do is not to put an end to the dreams, but to embrace them.”
        “Brave, ha!” That’s what Reeve had called her. She certainly didn’t feel brave. She felt foolish. And tired. So very tired.
        “I can’t stop you if you want to take the medicine. I will send word to the village and have a bottle brought here, just for you. But I must stress to you, Rhea, that sometimes running away from your problems will only make them worse in the end.”
        Rhea wiped a tear from her cheek and stood.
        “Thank you for your time, Queen Mother,” she said. And before Cicilly could reply, Rhea quickly left the room.
~*~
        Rowan picked up a small piece of white lace and looked at it. Then he placed it back on the table and picked up another piece of lace from beside it.
        “This is ridiculous. Why are you spending so much time looking at lace?”
        “Because I need to choose one, of course, for the tabletops” Bree replied, walking around to the opposite side of the table.
        “But they are all the same…”
        “No, they aren’t.”
        Rowan picked up a second piece and held it beside the other in his hand.
        “They look identical.”
        Finn leaned over the table and pointed to the first lace. “The flowers are the same, but the border is different,” he said.
        Rowan shook his head. “Why don’t you just close your eyes and pick one?” He was met with widened eyes and looks of disgust on Bree and Finn’s faces. “Or not.”
        “Each piece of silkwork requires a skilled hand and many days’ time,” Bree said. “To just pick one would be incredibly rude. You must admire each design, then carefully choose a pattern that will mirror the elegance of the ceremony.”
        Rowan heard her speak, but he didn’t understand a word that she said. It sounded like rubbish created to pass the time. He knew that men typically left wedding ceremony planning to women, so he still didn’t understand why Bree insisted he be there. He doubted she cared for his opinion, anyway. “Perhaps, I should leave the two of you to this matter…”
        “No!” Bree said, reaching across the table to grab Rowan’s arm before he could turn away. “We don’t need to choose lace at this very moment, but we do still need to… discuss the guests.”
        “We already did that, yesterday. And it’s nearly bedtime now.”
        “I meant to say the food. We need to discuss the food.”
        Rowan narrowed his eyes. “Breestlin…”
        Bree let go of his arm and straightened up. She tried to keep her face calm but hearing him say her name that way was a clear sign that he suspected something. If she didn’t convince him otherwise, she might as well kiss her plan goodbye.
        “What? Why are you looking at me that way?” she asked.
        “What did you do?”
        “I haven’t done anything and I am insulted that you would even suggest it.” Her attempt at denial was useless. He could read her like a book.
        “What did she do?” Rowan asked, turning to Finn.
        “Don’t look at me. If she is scheming, it doesn’t involve me this time.”
        “Sidonie,” Rowan said, looking at Bree, again. “Where is she?”
        “Upstairs, I believe,” Bree replied. “With Sarita.” That much was true.
        Rowan stared at her but didn’t say a word.
        “Stop staring. It’s incredibly annoying, Rowan. Stop.”
        “I know you’re up to something.”
        “I am not. And even if I were, it is none of your concern.” She looked down and pretended to brush something off of her skirts.
        “Ha! I knew it. Don’t you remember what happened the last time you interfered in matters that didn’t involve you?
        “How was I to know that the fairy queen would force them to marry!” Immediately, Bree knew that she had told him exactly what he wanted to hear. The smirk he was now giving her was proof. Damn.
~*~
        Reeve looked up just in time to see Rhea close the door to their suite behind her. She knew he was there, but she didn’t acknowledge him. Instead, she turned to the right and took a few steps to the door of the room she shared with Gabby. But when she reached the door, she found that it wouldn’t open. She gave it a hard pull, but it stayed shut.
        “This isn’t funny!” Rhea said, rounding on Reeve. “Open the door.”
        “I didn’t lock it, Rhea,” he replied.
        It was the first time she had heard him say her name in months. It almost sounded as sweet as when he said it in her dreams. She wished she hadn’t heard it. Turning back to the door, she started banging on it and yelling Gabby’s name.
        “She isn’t here. She’s staying with the princess, tonight. I thought she would have told you.”
        “She didn’t. But you expect me to believe that she decided to sleep elsewhere and suddenly my door is locked, forcing me to stay out here, with you? And you had nothing to do with it?”
        “I do expect you to believe it because it’s the truth,” he replied. “But if it would please you better, you may have my room for the night. I will stay out here and sleep on the floor.”
Rhea was surprised by his offer. She didn’t want to appear rude, so she thanked him. Then she walked across the room to his door. To her surprise, it was also locked. Irritated now, she started yanking on the door and stomped her feet when it did no good.
        Reeve stood up and walked over. “Let me do it. It must be stuck,” he said. But even his strength wasn’t enough to open it. “That is incredibly strange…”
        “Strange? No. Rude and uncalled for? Yes.”
        “I already told you. I didn’t lock your door. Or mine, for that matter.”
        “I don’t believe you.”
        “Suit yourself, but stop accusing me of something I didn’t do. I promised myself I wouldn’t force you to talk to me, and I haven’t.” It wasn’t entirely true as he did force her to speak with him once, at the Winter Ball. But he had been pressured by Gabby to dance with Rhea, so he didn’t feel completely responsible for it.
        “Promised yourself you wouldn’t… What?” All of this time she thought she was the one avoiding him. But he was avoiding her, too?
        “It doesn’t matter,” Reeve said, and quickly brushed past Rhea and toward the door leading out to the hallway. The moment he touched the door, a feeling of dread came over him. That door was also locked. He knew Rhea would be mad before he even turned around to face her.
        “No. I just came through that door. It can’t be locked,” she said. And just to prove her point, she walked over and tried to open it. “Damn it all to hell!” she screamed and banged on the door. Then she reared back and started to kick the door with her foot.
        Reeve grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back. He was surprised to hear her swearing. He couldn’t remember if he ever had, before, and he couldn’t help but smile.
        “Let go of me!” she said, pulling away. The feel of his hands on her made her heart jump.
        He put his arms up to show her he meant no harm.
        “That door is made of Viridian wood,” he said. “It’s as solid as they come. You’re going to hurt yourself.”
        Her cheeks were red and she was visibly angry, but all he could think about was how beautiful she looked, flushed and furious. He glanced down and noticed that she was wearing the locket he had given her. The green stone in the center stood out against her blue gown which looked a shade darker in the candlelit room.
        “Fine,” he said, shrugging. “Stub your toe or splint your shins. See if I care.”
        Rhea narrowed her eyes at him. He obviously did care, or he wouldn’t have tried to stop her.
        “Why don’t you just use your magic?” he asked. “Open the door, that way?”
        She continued to study him. She couldn’t understand how he was speaking so calmly. His relaxed demeanor was making her feel foolish for being so agitated.
        “I can’t. My magic doesn’t work that way. I can’t help you to escape,” she huffed.
        Reeve wasn’t sure if he wanted anyone to help him escape. This was the most that she had spoken to him in months.
         “I don’t understand. Your magic is more powerful than a wizard’s. But you can’t unlock a door?”
        “No,” she replied. “I can’t. My magic is more powerful, but it is used in different ways. I can curse you or heal you, and a few other things. But I’m not Dagan or Sidonie. I can’t just lock or unlo—“ Rhea stopped short and shook her head. “No. She wouldn’t have…”
        “You think Sidonie did this?” he asked. “She locked us in here? She wouldn’t do that.”
        “She would if the queen requested it.” Rhea suddenly felt her anger shift from Reeve to Breestlin.
        “I’m not sure you should be accusing anyone,” Reeve said. Especially, the queen. “Maybe the door is just… stuck.”
        “Oh, really?” Rhea said, patronizing him. “And my chamber door? And yours? Are those two doors also just stuck?”
        Even with her hateful tone, he was happy to hear her voice. And he had never heard her speak so passionately. It wasn’t as if they had been lucky enough to enjoy a lot of conversation with each other, though. In fact, Reeve couldn’t understand exactly what it was that drew him to the fairy. Most of what he knew about her was from observing her and small pieces of information that his sister revealed to him. But still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that fate had brought them together in Anestas. And that he was meant to see this through.
        It could have been his mother, speaking to him from the grave. His mother had been a gypsy and believed, heavily, in fate and the power of the three moons of Everealm. Reeve considered most of it to be hogwash, yet here he was married to a fairy that he barely knew. And for some unknown reason, he felt as if it was meant to be. Or at least he had thought that way. Now, he mostly just wanted the marriage to be over. Looking at her every day, even in passing, was painful and depressing. Failing to fulfill your fate was a curse, in itself.
        Speaking of curses… “Why haven’t you?” he asked, thinking aloud.
        “Why haven’t I, what?” she replied, crossing her arms.
        “Cursed me.
        Rhea just stared at him for a moment. “Curse you? Why haven’t I cursed you?”
        “Yes. I said something to you that I shouldn’t have, in the stables, that night. I’ve heard the tales. My mother used to tell me stories about fairies. Men have done much simpler and less egregious things to fairies and been cursed for it. So why haven’t you cursed me?”
        “Yes, men have been cursed by fairies for a variety of reasons, but we don’t just walk around and trick or curse people all of the time. We aren’t monsters. We aren’t imps.” Just saying the name of those terrible creatures was enough to make her skin crawl.
        “I apologize, Rhea. I didn’t mean to offend you. Again…”
        “You didn’t offend me, Reeve. But, perhaps, you don’t know as much about us fae as you think you do.”
        “Then, tell me,” he said, gesturing toward the large chairs in the center of the room. When she hesitated, he added, “It seems we may be stuck in this room for a while. Until someone opens that door.”
        Rhea followed him over and took a seat in one of the two chairs. Reeve sat in the other and leaned back, propping his elbow up on the arm of the chair. Rhea felt her shoulders loosen when she noticed how relaxed he was. How his temperament seemed to calm hers was a mystery to her.
        “What do you want to know?” she asked, unsure of where the conversation should go from there.
        “To be honest, I don’t know what to ask. What I know about fairies is mostly from my mother’s stories and they now seem more like fairy tales than truth.”
        “Fairy tales often stem from truth.”
        “Why don’t we just start with one of those stories, then? How did Anestas come to be closed off from the rest of the realm? My story says that men mistreating fairies is the reason.”
        “Actually… That story may be true. I’m not entirely sure. I’m younger than the rest of my sisters, so I wouldn’t really know. My mother closed off the trails to our home when I was a baby. I’m the last child she had before she shut us away.”
        “Exactly, how long ago was that?” He had never asked her what her age was. Because of her youthful beauty, he never had reason to. But he knew that fairies often live a long time, longer than wizards, even. She could be twice his age, or older, and he would never know unless he asked.
        “I have lived for thirty-nine years, so far,” she said.
        “Really?” That made her twelve years older than him. It could be worse…
        “Yes. I assume, from your reaction, that you were expecting me to be younger?”
        “Well, actually, I was afraid that you might be twice my age. I’m more relieved to know you aren’t.”
        “Living longer gives you no advantage when you’re imprisoned in a valley.”
        “I’m sorry,” he said, softly.
Rhea glanced up and met his eyes. He really did seem sympathetic. In a way, she was glad her mother exiled her from Anestas. Even though it had been her home, she was much happier to be living freely, out in the realm.
        “So you must be the youngest of all of the fae, then?” he asked.
        “No, of course not.
        “If your mother closed off the valley when you were a baby, how else would you be able to have more children? Carry on the fairy bloodline?”
        “Well…” She almost didn’t want to answer, fearing he may judge her, cruelly. But from what she knew about him, so far, he seemed to be understanding and somewhat open-minded.
        “You don’t have to tell me,” he said, sensing her hesitation. He could tell her mood was changing. She was becoming more relaxed, but also sad when she spoke about her old home.
        “No, it’s fine. Fairies are always born female, as you probably know. We cannot mate amongst ourselves, of course, and we are required to have many daughters. A few of my sisters have even said that they feel a calling to have another daughter if it’s been many years since the last. So we do leave the valley, a few at a time, to find a suitable mate and… mate.” It was awkward to speak of and she had never shared this with anyone. “I made my first trip out of the valley a few years ago. And… that’s when I was kidnapped.” She glanced down at the floor.
        Reeve knew a little bit about the time that Rhea was with the thieves. And about the iron collar they had placed around her neck, which had only been removed a few months ago, by Sidonie. He still didn’t understand how the collar worked or why it took the Elder Mage’s magic to remove it, but sensing Rhea’s sullen mood, he decided not to ask at the moment.
        “So fairies go into the realm and… lay with a man? Then, what? They just return to the valley and hope the time was well spent?”
        “More or less,” she chuckled. “I’ve never realized how ridiculous it has become. It hasn’t always been this way, I’m told. According to my sisters, before I was born, we often married and lived around the realm. Roaming freely, mostly. The fairy queen, whoever she was at the time, would perform the unions. In fact, some refused to return and still do live outside of the valley, but they hide their fairy heritage.”
        “For safety?” Reeve wasn’t sure how any fairy could hide the fact that she was one. Then again, in common clothing, Rhea didn’t look much like a fairy, either. Just a very beautiful, blonde goddess. 
        “Yes, from fairy poachers.” Rhea considered the poachers to be the scum of the realm, even worse than the band of thieves that had kidnapped and assaulted her. Poachers would drain fairies of their magic and sell it. The fairies would either die or become so outraged that they turned into imps. Death was a better fate than becoming an imp.
        “I didn’t know that,” he said, intrigued. “That there were other fairies still living in the realm.”
        “Oh, sure. We aren’t the only sisterhood, either. There are fairies in North Everealm and a small sisterhood in the Blackfoot Mountains. We rarely engage with them, anymore. But Anestas does contain the only royal fairies in the realm.”
        “I sometimes forget that you are a princess.”
        “I’m no longer a princess. And I could care less about my royal lineage. With thirteen older sisters, I would never be expected to rule. Being banished, now, only makes that more true.”
         “You said you have how many sisters?” he asked. He really was curious and found the entire thing to be fascinating.
        “Thirteen.”
        “Wow. I only have the one and it’s exhausting enough.”
        “Yes, but Gabrielle is lovely. My sisters… are not.”
        “So do you have any daughters?” he asked, jokingly.
        “What?” Rhea looked up at him.
        “You said you have to have many daughters. I was just wondering if you’ve had any already.”
        It was a fair question, considering she would probably have at least two by now, had she not been kidnapped. After Rowan rescued her and returned her to Anestas, it took her months to get over her fear of leaving her hollow. Even then, she didn’t dare step foot outside of the valley. At least, not until Rowan returned, last year. Somehow, she had worked up enough courage to leave then. It may have been more from desperation than courage, however.
        “No. I’ve never had the chance,” she replied.
        “Would you like to?” Oh, no. Immediately, he wished he had worded that differently. She probably thought he was propositioning her. Trying to recover, he added, “I mean, do you want children? Or daughters, I guess.”
        “I… I do, yes.” Without warning, one of her dreams flashed into her mind. She was standing in the courtyard, waving at Reeve as he rode his horse toward her. She felt a small jab and reached down to rub the side of her swollen stomach. The memory of her dream felt so real. Then, as quickly as the memory came, it vanished and left her sitting with her hand on her stomach and a silly grin on her face.
        Reeve had no idea what just happened, but it was the first time he had seen her genuinely smile in months. When she saw he was watching her, she quickly stood and turned away from him. Even if she was able to make new dreams stop happening, she couldn’t make the memories of her old dreams disappear.
        Embarrassment washed over her. She could still feel his eyes on her and she shuddered, knowing how foolish she must appear to him. She wanted to get away, but she couldn’t. Suddenly, the locked room felt like a prison cell. Like a cage. And she had spent enough time trapped in a cage.
        She began to panic and ran over to the door, pulling it, hoping it would magically open. She could sense Reeve coming toward her and she lost all ability to focus. His face was blurry. He said something to her that she couldn’t understand because she was too distracted by the room beginning to shrink around her.
        “I need to get out of here,” she said, panting. “Can’t… breathe.”
        “Rhea. Are you alright? Can you hear me?” Reeve had seen his mother acting this way once when the two of them found themselves trapped at the end of a ravine while traveling. His mother had panicked inside of the small space.
        He grabbed her arms, to stop her from banging on the door. Keeping hold of them, he wrapped his own arms around her, hugging her from behind.
        “Shh…,” he said, softly into her ear. “Breathe. Focus on my voice.” She tried to fight him, but he held her tight. “Close your eyes. If you feel like something is squeezing you, it’s only my arms.” Rhea’s shaking eased up, but her breathing was still heavy so Reeve started to rock from side to side. Hugging his mother had worked in the ravine, except he had been a child then. He wasn’t sure if it would work this time, but Rhea seemed to be calming down, slowing her breathing to match the steady rhythm of their rocking.
        She did as he said and kept her eyes closed. The room stopped shrinking when she was no longer looking at it and her head began to clear. The warmth of his arms around her was comforting. The gentle swaying soothed her nerves.
        They remained this way for several moments until they heard a clicking sound coming from the door in front of them. The instant that the door started to move, Rhea broke away and flung it open, rushing out. Rowan jumped back to avoid being run over as the fairy brushed past him and took off down the hallway, disappearing around the corner.
        “What happened?” Rowan said, stepping into the room.
        “Was this your idea?” Reeve asked, taking the key that Rowan held out to him..
        “No, of course not.”
        “Good,” Reeve spat. He turned and started walking toward his room. “Tell your fiancé to stop attempting to fix everything. It’s only making things worse.” He stopped at his door and turned his head back to look at Rowan. “Respectfully, of course.” Then he stepped inside and slammed the door to his chambers behind him.