She does not want to be alone
She hated the feeling of solitude, of isolation, that she often sought the warmth and companionship of the crowd no matter who they were or how horrid they smelled. She didn’t care about these things; only that she could still see someone breathing nearby.
The seven bell rings of The Academy of Sidus in a normal night announced the student’s dinner time. All at once, the students reading in the Great Library stood up and hastily gathered their books, including her. Afraid to be the last one to leave, she used her magic. Calling forth a small amount of breeze accompanied by snow, she stacked the books in a neat pile that sparkled with snow in an instant. Proud of her work, she smiled and joined the crowd.
A decent amount of students and scholars were already milling about the corridor when she got out of the library. She knew no one of the people walking beside her but they knew her. Some gave a brief nod in her direction and some even bowed. The others just watched her with cautious eyes and others just flat-out ignored her. She couldn’t care less; she was contented with whatever attention they give her. Craning her neck to get a better look at the people ahead of her, she spotted an auburn hair that belonged to her roommate. Reaching down, she ran a finger vertically across the center of her flat shoe that produced a trail of ice. She did the same with her other one and stood, a slight gleam in her green eyes as she proudly looked at her ice skating shoes.
“Make way!” she shouted as she created her own ice path and skated. Only she would dare make her own ice path in a crowded hallway. Several gasps and cheers and curses escaped from the mouths of the students she passed. Her short black hair whipped backwards as she maneuvered her way to her roommate, her laughter echoing through the walls. She came to a sudden stop beside said roommate who expressionlessly looked at her with rich hazel eyes and started to bow down.
“Oh no, no you don’t,” she said as she grabbed her roommate by the shoulder and lifted her up. “How many times do I have to remind you that you don’t have to bow down to me?” She crossed her arms.
“At least one more time, Princess Noelle,” answered Audrei, an autumn mage. Where Princess Noelle’s black hair was cut short, barely passing her shoulders, Audrei’s auburn hair flowed and covered her whole back, her voice absent of strong emotions to Noelle’s lively one.
“And stop calling me ‘princess’,” Noelle ordered, hooked her arm with the other girl’s, and said, “C’mon! Let’s get some dinner.”
The ice on the princess’s shoes vanished along with the path she made as both of the girls went to fill in their empty stomach.
Princess Noelle slowly opened her eyes just as the last echoes of the gongs that marked the early dawn reached her room. After her dinner with Audrei that later on turned to a full-blown lecture by one of her professors regarding skiing in the hallway, she quickly retreated to her room and slept like the dead. It was only now that she regretted that decision, having woken up when the sun won’t rise till another couple of hours. Slowly lifting her head, the princess looked upon her roommate’s bed and found it…empty.
Her heart skipped a beat then her hands started shaking uncontrollably that later on she was clutching her shoulders, her whole being to stop from shaking. Her magic rose, cold mist flowed on the floor.
“Aud…rei?” she called, her voice barely escaping her mouth. “Audrei…?” she called again, louder this time, but there was still no answer. Her heart hammered in her chest that her ears rang with the sound of her blood traveling through her body. The walls of her room seemed to press in on her that she couldn’t take another breath. And so the princess bolted out from her bed, opened the door and ran on the hallway, grasping for breath in time with her steps. She didn’t know where she was heading; just that she longed for a place with people in it. She didn’t know where this dark hallway might take her; just that she yearned for a place filled with light. She didn’t know what the other end of this long descending staircase was; just that she hoped it wasn’t a shortcut to the fiery pits. She didn’t know what might lurk behind the massive double doors before her, but she opened it nonetheless.
First thing the princess saw was the light that for a moment she thought what lies beyond was the fiery pits indeed. But no, it wasn’t, and it lifted some of her worries. The room was massive and her curious eyes roamed every shelf that overflowed with different kinds of books despite the fact that only her head had crossed the threshold, her body remained outside the door. And just when she was about to enter the room, her eyes found an ice cage with splendid detail she couldn’t take her eyes away from it as she was not done admiring the piece of art. The cage was shaped like that of a bird’s cage and inside, seated on the floor with an arm propped on one knee, was a person. The mere fact that she’d found a well-lit room with a person in it that wasn’t the fiery pits with the devil relaxed her nerves—her shaking gone—and the princess flashed her best smile of relief to the boy who watched her with surprised yet hopeful eyes.
Carefully closing the door, she let herself in. Rows of book shelves were shoved to the walls to make way for the furniture to fit, books were scattered everywhere in different positions. She made her way towards the boy who got up to his feet in an elegant motion; her eyes met his as if entranced. When the princess reached the frozen cage, she placed a hand on its surface tentatively and felt…something. She could feel a hum of its own power and got the sense that somehow, the cage was aware. The princess looked at the boy with curious eyes when he just stood there, waiting, making no move to approach or retreat.
Princess Noelle cleared her throat then said with a small smile, “Hello.”The boy merely regarded her with a curious expression, his head tilted to the side.
She tried again. “Um, hi. What’s your name? And why are you in a cage?”
Still no answer.
The boy’s lack of response didn’t shatter her confidence though, or her curiosity. The princess walked around the frozen cage, poking at this and that. The boy’s cerulean eyes followed her every move and she was aware of it, but didn’t mind. When she finished looking at every spot, she grabbed a leather chair and pulled it close to the cage and sat on it, facing the boy. The princess was determined to make the boy talk and so she bombarded him with words.
“My name is Noelle. I’m a Winter mage. How about you? Summer, perhaps. Why else is an ice cage used on you then? Anyway. I didn’t know this room exists. Have you always been here?” The boy only regarded her with solemn eyes. She sighed dramatically. Sitting sideways on the chair, her feet propped on the chair’s arm and her head on the other, she continued speaking.
“I only found this room by chance. I…I was running from something.” When she noticed him tilt his head to the side, she added, “From loneliness, I guess. My mother, you see—” Noelle didn’t know why she was telling him her life drama but she proceeded anyway “—she left me when I was just a child. I never knew her, I mean, I know who she is but not as my mother but as someone else. I hate it when I’m alone. Earlier, I found Audrei’s bed empty and it scared me, so I ran.” The princess chewed on her lower lip as she observed the boy take a seat, his head tipped backwards, facing the roof.
“Are you not afraid of being alone?” she asked, her eyes growing heavy with each word that escapes her mouth. “If it were me, I…would be…terrified.” The princess looked at the boy once more and closed her eyes. Her last memory of their encounter was the boy’s parted lips and words that were lost as the princess succumbed to sleep.
“Wake up, girl. Wake up.”
The princess made an impatient sound and struggled to find a more comfortable position in the chair where she slept.
Her eyes snapped open. What she saw first was the bright traces of light reflected by the frozen cage. Right, I discovered a hidden room, she remembered. Behind the clear ice, a figure stood with hands on its back, weight on right foot, head tilted to the side. She noticed now what she hadn’t noticed the night before. The boy wore an elegant black uniform with blue highlights that complemented his dark hair and blue eyes. He was tall but slender and his face gave off the essence of youth though a terrible one at that—having spent it trapped in this cage.
The princess sucked her breath. “You—,” she stood up, struggling, her eyes wide and her hair a mess, “you talk!”
The boy smiled at that and said, “I do.”
His voice was deep and cool with the slightest hint of amusement. He regarded her with solemn eyes as his gaze traveled the length of her body and it was only then that the princess realized her clothing was only made up of her faded blue nightgown, its hem raised up to her thighs, exposing the pale skin underneath. She hastily straightened it, her cheeks turning pink, her eyes begging his not to laugh or have any indecent thoughts.
“You better hurry, your classes are starting,” he said.
“But—,” for a tinniest moment she cared what her professors would think of her skipping classes but then she thought of her excellent record (10 absences, 3 times suspended and 8 skips, all on this month and still counting) and nonchalantly dismissed her concern for her professors. “But you finally talk! To me! I want to know everything there is to know about you, this frozen prison you’re in, this whole place!” The princess was practically bouncing on the balls of her feet, her enthusiasm unmatched by anyone else and her thirst for information showed in her too wide eyes as she tried to take everything in all at once.
“You will. But not this time,” explained the boy.
“I don’t exactly see why now couldn’t be the perfect time.”
“Someone will be worried if they realize you’re missing,” he amended.
“Oh, who cares,” she waved her hand in the air, “let them worry,” she answered in return.
“Even Audrei? She would’ve found your bed empty by now and realize you were gone since dawn. Do you like making her worry?”
She crossed her arms, pouted and said, “No.”
“Then you have to go.” The boy offered an encouraging smile and added, “For now.”
“But then you’ll be alone!” alarm flooded her thoughts and panic started to creep in, “And, and—”
“I will be fine,” he said in a soft voice. “I have been for the past few years.”
She gasped. Alone for a few years – she could hardly survive solitude for a few minutes and for him to suffer like this for years; she could hardly imagine what her state of mind would be after an hour.
“I’ll definitely be back.” She assured him. “On every free time I get, I’ll come back.”
The boy nodded and the princess made her way to the door. She looked back, once, and met the boy’s eyes that resembled the deepest part of the ocean—an ocean where she’d gladly drown.
Princess Noelle hurriedly stalked the halls to her room, relieved that it was now packed with late students hurrying for their own classes. She quickly changed into her uniform and put on her favorite robe—a frost blue tunic that faded into pure white at the top, its back bearing her symbol; an eight-pointed snowflake that resembled the sun, if it weren’t for its color.
By the time she arrived at her class, she was already late, but the professor never paid her much attention than a quick glance and a minute swish of the pen on the professor’s notes that marked her tardiness. The princess sat on her chair beside her roommate and pretended to listen on the professor’s lecture about the proficiency of using relics to strengthen their magic. When they were given time to discuss within themselves their thoughts on which relic is the most valuable, Audrei turned to the princess and spoke of a different matter.
“Where did you sleep last night, princess?” she asked.
The princess merely shrugged and said, “Our room, of course.”
Audrei merely gave her a pointed look and added, “You know that’s not what I meant.”
Princess Noelle flicked her roommate with a withering glare, annoyance coating the words that left her mouth, “You left me alone.” She contemplated on telling her about the secret room she’d found but as it is secret, the princess took great pride of its discovery and selfishly thought of keeping the boy confined in that cage as her own, Princess Noelle lied to her friend for the first time. “I stumbled upon the servant’s quarters and slept there like the dead.”
“My greatest apologies, princess. You were so soundly asleep that I did not think you would wake during those few minutes when I left you. But there will not be any excuses enough to revoke what the princess went through. I shall tell Professor Garnet of my inexcusable actions and let her decide my fate if—”
“Now, now. There’s no reason to go that far,” the princess said with a light voice and smiled. “Next time you decide to have some late-night expeditions, let me know so I can tag along.”
The autumn mage bowed her head and sighed with relief at the princess’s forgiveness. Together they spent the day; they laughed and talked though it was Princess Noelle that did most of it and when dinner was finished, the princess excused herself, telling Audrei not to fuss or wait for her return, that she would be safe. Her roommate made no objection except to inquire where and with whom the princess would sleep. The princess’s answer was just a smile before she slipped out of the great double doors.
To say that the princess hurried down the hallway would possibly be the understatement of the year. Stormed was more like it. She pushed strength on her legs so they would run faster and carry her to her room then back again towards the long, long stairs that would lead her to the boy. She almost wished she could fly, or perform the spell for teleportation. She was still panting and gasping for breath when she entered the room with the frozen cage and the boy who stood up and greeted her with a smile that reached his turquoise eyes.
“I said I would,” she said and sat on the chair which she’d slept on. “Now tell me about yourself.”
The boy mirrored her position on the chair, with legs folded beneath and told her that his name was Wynter Avheim and that once, there was a ‘Prince’ attached to his name just like Noelle who currently bears the title ‘Princess’. She stifled a gasp at the surprise of seeing a Winter mage on such terrible circumstance and demanded who the insolent people were to put a prized Winter mage in a cage. The former prince merely shook his head with downcast eyes.
“Why won’t you tell me? Whoever they were, they deserve to pay. Tell me,” she pleaded, “please.”
A long pause, then—
It was barely a whisper but the words that escaped his lips took the efforts of a shout. Noelle, dumb folded, could only stare. “Did…did someone force you? Controlled you?” she managed to ask. When Wynter met Noelle’s eyes with his own, she saw turquoise ocean with waves of sadness, of hurt, of longing and coming from a distance, a tsunami of regret. “Why…?” she asked.
As if he can no longer bear sitting still, Wynter stood up and the princess followed his graceful motion with her gaze as he turned his back on her and looked up—his face deep in thought, remembering the moments that resulted in his current state—and said, “I was saving someone.” At having mentioned of this certain “someone”, the former prince smiled, but the princess saw that it was a sad smile and his expression said that he wished he hadn’t.
“I…”—his voice hitched so he took a deep breath and said with furrowed brows— “I loved her, you see.” She did see—how his voice echoed the years of unspoken feelings he once had, how his gaze unfocused from time to time, how his fists clenched as he suppressed the tearing of scabbed wounds over his heart for one more time. Unknowingly, Noelle reached for him, her arm extending until it came to rest on the cold surface of Wynter’s cage. She ached for him, to feel his warmth spread over her palm, for her arms to wrap around this boy that’s been deprived of comfort for so long, to run her fingers on that raven-black hair and tell him that it’s okay—it’s okay to love even if he was hurt, even if the one he loved was the wrong one and that he should love still, because the next one might already be the right one for him.
Wynter cleared his throat and that broke her reverie. Noelle lowered her hand as he spoke, “In the end it was my own lack of knowledge that condemned me.” He turned to her then and his expression changed to a playful one as he jokingly forewarned her that she should read each spell with careful understanding. She nodded and smiled back.
“Enough of all this depressing talk,” the former prince said as he squatted in front of her. “Your eyes are so green. So beautiful.”
Blink. Blink, blink. He said that one out of nowhere that it caught her by surprise. Did he think I was batting my eyes just now on purpose? Suddenly, butterflies came to life from within her and their wings flapped in rhythm with the fast beating of her heart. She was blushing and she knew it. “Tha—thank you,” she managed to croak.
The seconds and minutes and hours poured unnoticed while the two of them talked—now with lighter subject—about the things Wynter usually does to entertain himself during the times he was alone; that he would sometimes run around the cage to remind his legs what it was like to be free, that he would go over all his training figures to keep himself in shape—to “be ready when time comes” he said. Sometimes he would sit still and perform mhiadre—a form of meditation. Noelle was always amazed at the former prince’s tolerance for isolation and had wondered how he was doing it.
“That’s your blemish, isn’t it? Your fear for isolation?” he asked.
Noelle nodded, “Yours? Every Winter mage has them, don’t they? It’s a sort of payment in exchange for power, isn’t it? I don’t want it, power that is.”
“That remains to be seen,” he quietly said. “Noelle,” he called and the mention of her name sent shivers down her spine. You give my name a whole new meaning when you say it, she’d wanted to say but bit down her tongue. “Perform some spells for me? I miss it, you see. Being in this cage prevents me from using my magic.”
“Of course I will. But, do you remember the spell you used that got you into…this?”
“No. The spell vanished from my memory the moment I was imprisoned.”
“But,” the princess thought thoroughly, “there must be something you remember, anything that could give me a clue on where to start. I want to free you from this, Wynter.” The former prince closed his eyes as if to savor what he’d heard. “Ah, Noelle. I like it when you say my name,” he found her eyes and gazed back with mischief, “especially on a same sentence with the word ‘free’. Are you sure you want to help me?”
“I am,” she answered with confidence. Noelle placed her hand on the frozen cage and again, she felt it, that sense of awareness, of evil. She knew it deep in her bones that this is some dark and ancient spell, one that shouldn’t be used with empty mind and fragile body.
“And for that, you need to train, Noelle. You need to master spells that are not yet meant for you. You need to strengthen your body so it won’t break when spells are stronger than you. You have to be ready,” he said, “because from my memory, I was holding a relic—the last remaining relic of the Winter mages. And we both know how powerful it is.”
And train she did. The professors were wide-eyed to see the princess Noelle raising her hand and asking them about things like relic and magic enhancement during class when normally she would just stare blankly at a distance, her mind elsewhere. Sometimes the professors would take a step back as princess Noelle would approach them for advice about which ancient book is still available for usage. None of them knew what’s going on with the princess’s mind and not a single one of them wanted to understand her. Little did they know that behind the princess’s efforts, she wasn’t doing it for herself or them for that matter; it was for him.It was always him. Ever since the princess discovered that room, she had been faithful to her word. She was always there for every break time she has. When the books from the room’s collection finished helping her with all the knowledge it could offer regarding the frozen cage, or the Winter’s relic, books from the Great Library were hauled and added to the piles on books on the room’s floor and tables. There the princess would practice, with Wynter helping her on some incantations, and there she grew stronger. She grew stronger not only on her physical and magical aspect but also on emotional and psychological ones. And it was all because of him.
Noelle was happier, day by day, especially when all she does was talk with Wynter. They grew closer every second like the sun with the horizon. Only she could make Wynter laugh like a retarded seal—mouth opened but no noise coming out with a hand to his stomach and the other slapping the floor. Only she made the look of longing for freedom leave Wynter’s eyes. Of course she noticed this and asked for the reason.
He was quiet for a moment, then— “Before when it was me that’s outside of this cage, I thought I’d gladly be in it if I was with her. I thought that wherever I’d be, if she was by my side, I’d be free. Of course after those tragic events, I began to think of what she must have thought of me, if it ever occurred to her the thoughts I had with her. But, it seems she only saw me as a means of escape, the key to this locked ice prison.” Those turquoise eyes looked at hers with wonder and added, “But now, as it is already the other way around, I admit that when I first laid eyes on you I saw my freedom. The person that finds this room, this cage and the prisoner in it, will soon be the one imprisoned. And now, when I look at you,” he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, “the thoughts that should’ve crossed her mind have lingered in mine. You are my freedom, Noelle. And the idea of you inside this cage is unbearable, of my freedom being locked away while I go to an even bigger prison, because the world outside this room is just another cell with the key that’s always been out of my reach. So the answer to your question is that I have stopped longing for freedom because I have found you.” He smiled.
After hearing that, Noelle suddenly doesn’t know what to do with her hands, or her trembling lips, or her teary eyes and fluttering heart. So she answered with her sweetest smile and nodded, liberated that Wynter has no intention of using her for escape and doom her of his fate. And she loved him for that.
Princess Noelle opened the doors to her room with an elated face—glowing was more like it—and found a huge box on her bed. Audrei was also there, doing something Noelle wouldn’t understand.
“Whatever is this?” she exclaimed. There was a small card attached to it, so she picked it up and read aloud,
“To Princess Noelle FrostFall,
You are expected to attend to the ball in honor of the Queen that will be thrown tonight at the ceremonial grounds. Inside this box is a gift from the Queen herself, befitting of a Princess, who is looking forward to see you wearing it.
P.S. Please do not be late.”
Noelle couldn’t believe what she just read and ran to Audrei’s side, waving the card in front of her fact. “That Queen is coming?! Tonight?!”
“Yes, princess. I believe I have informed you of the event yesterday when we met on the halls of the Great Library.”
But Noelle was in a hurry that moment that whatever Audrei said entered and left her ear at the same time. She remembered answering “Yes! Yes!” but not the matter in which she agreed. She was going to see the Queen tonight. Noelle was excited and anxious, like the kind of excitement one would have before a fireworks show and at the same time afraid of the crackers going straight to you instead of going up to the sky.
The princess opened the box and found a lovely floor-length dress. The dress resembled her robe, but instead of blue, it was on the frozen color of Noelle’s eyes that faded to white at the top. Snowflakes adorned the lower half of the dress that flowed like velvet. She tried it on, with Audrei helping her fix her hair. Later, her roommate attached an accessory in the shape of a snowflake that glowed to the contrast of Noelle’s hair. She was ready for the ball, but she still has enough time to make a little visit. She put on her robe and made her way to the secret room.
Noelle found Wynter practicing with his sword. He has done it over the years so he would not forget what it felt to have his blood boil and sweat. He has done it to kill time and remind himself that he was alive. Even with the sword by his side, and as many times as the thought crossed his mind, he was not able to end his own misery, Wynter told her so. Now Noelle made her way to him, and he stopped and watched as she does.
“Lovely,” he breathed.
“I know! The dress is from the queen. Apparently, there’s a ball tonight and I only just knew. I like how the color matches my eyes. And look at what Audrei gave me! It’s a snowflake!” she exclaimed while showing off.
He laughed softly and said, “I meant you. Not the dress,” then smiled.
She flushed, and because her dress was white and her hair not long enough, she couldn’t hide her burning face from him. His smile turned into a wide grin. He tucked his sword to his side, stepped back, extended Noelle a hand and said, “May I take the pleasure of having your first dance?”
Am I glowing? I think I’m glowing. I put the stars to shame. Shame on you stars, Noelle thought. “But we don’t have music. And we can’t touch each other.” Part of her mind wonders why Noelle was making excuses when all she wanted to do was accept his offer and lay her hand in his.
“That’s alright. Just imagine your favorite song. Whatever it is, I’d dance with you in it for a thousand times.”
She smiled. “Then you may,” she said as she lifted her hand and pretended to place it in his. “Oh! I’ve got an idea.” During her training times, she’d managed to create spells of her own, both for entertainment and for fighting. She’s doing one of the former now. With a clap, snow fell around the room in tiny sparkles that emitted a faint light.
“Better,” he commented.
They started to dance, a slow step from right to left at first, and then once they found their rhythm, the rest of the steps flowed like river to the ocean, once separate bodies of water that gradually became one. It filled her heart; the warmth, the feeling of security, of surety. Noelle realized that if there was ever an antidote to her fear of isolation, it would be Wynter’s love. So she started to hum her favorite song.
Wynter tilted his head and asked, “Falling in Love? That’s your favorite song? I should’ve known,” he raised her hand, Noelle turned and when they faced each other, she answered, “It is. Because I am. Falling in love, that is.”
“And who might be the lucky man?”
She opened her mouth but before she could answer, a loud gong and eight bell rings echoed through the walls. It meant that she was already late for the ball. The realization sent her panicking. They stopped dancing.
“I’m sorry, I have to go. I promise I’ll tell you when I get back,” she said by the door. Noelle saw him nod, and she turned to go.
“Princess Noelle Frostfall,” the butler announced. Heads turned and eyes bulged at the sight of the princess in her extravagant dress. Some bowed and some dipped their heads but the princess paid no one her attention for it is focused on the person sitting above the dais. Pale white hair—the complete opposite of Noelle’s black one—flowed from a jewel-adorned head. Dancing stopped, as if the mages were anticipating for the next big moment to happen. Noelle had no other way to go but forward, so she did. The person on the dais straightened her back and slowly rose as the princess got closer. After a few graceful steps, Noelle found herself at the foot of the dais, directly in front of the Queen. She curtsied—this was the only person whom she would offer such submission—and waited for the Queen’s command to rise—which didn’t come for a few heartbeats. When Her Highness did, Noelle rose and looked the Queen in the eye with an unwavering gaze.
“Princess Noelle,” said the Queen with a smile. Her Highness—she was one of those Winter mages who desired to be addressed as such—wasn’t always present at the Academy, or at Sidus, for that matter. She had always something to do and was often away for long periods of time that upon her return, the mages would celebrate. It was not as if the Queen had no contributions to the developments and prosperity of Sidus. In fact, most of the improvements done on towns and the neighboring communities were through the efforts of the Queen. Other than her air of regality that most people interpreted as arrogance which made her less approachable, there weren’t many other flaws of her bearing the title of ‘Queen’. She helped, and the people thanked her for it. But she was also fierce and brutal when it comes to conflicts and punishments and the people feared her for it.
“My Queen,” greeted Noelle.
“Come now, dear,” the Queen opened her arms and continued, “at times like this, you may call me ‘Mother’.”
This was what the mages were anticipating; the reunion of mother and daughter after eleven years of separation. When Noelle broke a smile and stepped into her mother’s arms, the mages cheered and raised their glasses for a toast and some Summer mages brought sparks raining on the embracing beautiful ladies.
“Come with me, I have something I want to give you.” The Queen pulled Noelle aside, leaving the ball—she hasn’t even danced yet! Except with Wynter, of course—and out into the shadows of the halls.
“This has been with me even before you were born, and has been a great help in all these years that I have served Sidus. I want you to treasure it, own it. I want you to understand it, and speak its languages and hear its cries. It is a great responsibility I’m handing you, but I know that if it’s you, everything would be all right. You are my daughter, after all. But there is order that must be upheld, rules to follow, promises to make.” Her Highness held something covered in cloth. From what Noelle could make out, it was most likely a book. Or an illustration memoire, who knows, she thought.
They were inside the Queen’s chambers; a cold room, having been empty for a long time. They sat side by side on the edge of the bed, facing an open window that overlooked the Gardens of the academy and the twinkling houses in the town. The Queen handed Noelle the cloth-bound present. It was quite big and oh no, it is NOT heavy. The princess parted the cloth and found, what she’d expected, a book. But not just any book.
“Mother…” she trailed. She’d know this book anywhere, even with her eyes closed. This has been what she trained herself for, what she had been researching and studying. The last relic of the Winter mages. The one she would need to break the frozen cage’s curse and free Wynter. Her mother stood up and walked slowly towards the balcony, as if in a trance.
“I am leaving it to you, my dear Noelle, for there are still souls to save, spells to conjure and enemies to defeat. I am sorry that I must leave you once again and this time, I’m not sure if I can make it back. But know this, my daughter, that you have made me that the proudest of all mothers.” The Queen now stood at the railings of the balcony, and was about to vanish when Noelle ran to her and grabbed her in a tight embrace.
“Mother, I understand that there are things that you have to do that I have no part of, but I just can’t let you go like this!” Oh no, she can’t. That’s why Noelle made a split-second decision and placed a mark on her mother; a kiss to the cheek. This way, Noelle could track her wherever her mother went—without the Queen’s knowledge—whenever she wants to.
“I am sorry,” the Queen drew away from her. “There are sinners that must be punished, revenges to fulfill and hearts to break. Places to seek, for redemption and salvation, and prices to be paid.” Her mother’s features began to shimmer and like dandelion riding through the wind, the Queen vanished. Silent tears ran down Noelle’s cheeks, and she wiped it furiously as she opened the relic.
Gold etchings of the dead language were on the cover of the relic. On the very first page was a list of names; names that were crossed with angry lines that some of it were difficult to read. The very last was a name she knew too well. Wynter Avheim was written in a neat way. Her eyes began to tear once more when she beheld the name above his. It was the name of her mother, Eira Frostfall. Horror struck her as every pieces of the puzzle found their places and connected with each other. Wynter’s despair for a love that betrayed him, his curse, her mother’s disappearance, her magic. Fate must be very cruel to Noelle for her to find that the two people she loves most are the very reason why she can’t be together with either of them.
After she let her heart cry and her tears flow, she regained her usual self and remembered the words that Wynter himself said; that she should read and understand a spell’s structure and be strong to withstand its power. She trained herself for such purpose and the whole night was spent on such matters. By the time the sun rose from the horizon, illuminating her mother’s room, Noelle closed her eyes as the sunlight kissed her tear streaked face. When she opened them, she knew exactly what she needs to do.
Noelle silently strode the small path to Wynter, who seemed to be sleeping with his back and head against the ice. On her side was the relic she spent the night reading and understanding. She knew what needs to be done.
“Wynter,” she called out softly.
The prince’s eyes fluttered and cleared after a few seconds and immediately fixed on her face. He smiled at the sight of her but the smile on his lips faltered as he beheld the expression she gave. He was instantly up, both hands pressed on the ice, worrying over her.
“What’s wrong?” he sought her face for answers but he found it on her hand. “You…” he backed up a few steps, his eyes wide, with horror or something else—Noelle wouldn’t know. “You have it.”
Noelle nodded and looked at him. His voice shook; his hands too. His body seemed to be raking with spasms as he controlled and fought over whatever emotions he’s experiencing.
“It’s fine, Wynter. It’s okay,” she said in a soothing voice.
“No! No, Noelle. You shouldn’t do this.” His fists were clenched on the ice as he tried to make Noelle see sense in his eyes. “Remember what I told you? You are my freedom. Seeing you outside of this cage is more than enough to make me whole. You made me whole again, Noelle. So please don’t do this. Please,” he begged, “don’t tear me apart.”
“I won’t, Wynter. You need to calm down so I could explain it to you,” she said with a faint smile. Wynter obeyed and they sat; him on the floor of his cage, her on the chair she had always used.
“You might wonder where I got the relic,” she began. He nodded and motioned for her to continue. “It was from my mother.”
Wynter’s brows furrowed with confusion. Then his eyes widened with realization and blurted the name that caused his demise. “Eira?!” He got up and paced the length of his prison and ran a hand on his face. “Oh cruel, cruel fate.” He laughed bitterly.
Cruel, indeed, Noelle thought.
“I’ve spent the night reading the book. I’ve finished it all. And I found that the next master of this relic isn’t me. It’s you, Wynter.” Her voice was faint and strained. Reading the spells on the relic took more of her strength and magic than she anticipated and it was only because of her training that she lasted this long. “The relic knows it’s you because your name was the last thing that’s written on the list. It would know that it isn’t me because I haven’t spent even a second inside that frozen prison. And because its master is not me, the relic would go against me. It would kill me, Wynter.” She pressed her lips in a thin line to keep herself from sobbing right then and there.
“No, no,” was the words that repeatedly came out from Wynter’s mouth. “There’s got to be another way. Give that relic to someone else. Let it drain the magic of another mage. Let it kill someone else, just not you.”
She smiled at that. “If only I could do that.”
“You could! You can!”
She shook her head, “I won’t. I want to free you of this curse, Wynter, and let you experience what it was once like, to be free. I want to do this, Wynter, to atone for my mother’s sin. It was my mother that’s the reason why you’re here and it is only befitting for her daughter to pay for what she’s done.”
“Your blemish, Noelle,” he pointed out. “You wouldn’t survive an hour alone in this place.”
“I’ll ask you this one thing. Trust me,” she said with a smile as she got up and opened the book to the page where the spell was written.
“Noelle!” he was pounding on the ice, his face contorted with pain and hurt and anger. “Don’t do this!”
“Oh, before I forget. The lucky man is you, obviously. I love you, Wynter, and because I love you that I’m doing this. Trust me, Wynter, with all your heart, because I’m placing my whole trust in you.”
The spell was surprisingly simple but simplicity doesn’t measure the magic it required to be performed. She chanted and mist began to swirl around her; her hair lifting and swaying with the wind. She could feel the magic leaving her body and she closed her eyes to focus and concentrate. Then it was finished. She opened her eyes and found herself where she’d expected. Both Noelle and Wynter had exchanged places.
“Noelle, what have you done?” Wynter murmured as he rested her forehead on the ice, directed across hers.
“What needs to be done,” she quietly answered. “I placed a mark on my mother. If you want to find her, just use the tracker. It’s in between the pages of the relic.”
“I will come back for you, I promise. And when I do, I will get you out as soon as possible.”
“I trust you.”
“I love you.”
She smiled behind her tears, “And I, you.”
A year has passed and Noelle grew accustomed to her now lazy schedule inside her frozen prison. She would wake up and do the things she has done the day before. Walk, talk, sing, run; you name it, Noelle has probably done it. Probably. After she freed her beloved, he stayed for a while but only until she told him that she used a spell to cure her blemish. Now, isolation doesn’t scare her. She didn’t miss the spasms that came with it either. For a year, Noelle had patiently waited for her beloved’s return. Because it wasn’t only the cure to a Winter mage’s blemish that she discovered on the last relic. It was more than that. There were spells for curses she shuddered to think of and spells for prosperity she tried to remember. She’d also figured out a way to escape this prison.
But no, not by herself. That would be too easy. And the cage also prevented her from wielding magic. It was the third thing that she missed the most. Second was Audrei, and first, well, only an idiot wouldn’t know.
Today, she busied herself by combing her hair with her hand. Keeping track of time was also one of the things she did to keep herself entertained.
A doorknob turned. The hinges of the double doors creaked and drew Noelle’s attention to it. A woman stepped inside. Noelle got up and stared at her. The woman’s hair was white, not with age but because it was its natural color. Her face showed signs of aging but it was her eyes that unnerved Noelle. They were blank and stared at empty space. She realized it was her mother.
“Mothe—” her words were cut off by the next person that followed her mother. Noelle stood there, her chin hanging, dumb folded, as Wynter stepped forward and walked straight to her. Neither of them seemed to find the words that need to be said so it was their eyes that did the talking, if you can imagine that. Their faces glowed as they smiled at each other, a silent celebration of their achievement.
Wynter spoke in the Old language and commanded Eira to stand before the frozen prison. She obeyed. It would seem that Wynter had complete control over Eira now. Noelle watched her mother look at her, or rather, through her. Then, Wynter commanded for Eira to perform the spell for freeing the prisoner of the frozen cage.
Eira chanted and it was like going back in time and seeing themselves—Noelle and Wynter both—perform the same spell for their beloved. Noelle closed her eyes.
When she opened them, she stood only at arm’s length of Wynter who reached for her and grabbed her for a tight embrace. She buried her face on his chest and let out a joyful cry. Wynter’s face was also wet with tears. They stayed like that, locked in each other’s arms, for a few minutes.
“Noelle…?Wynter…?” It was her mother’s voice that made Noelle step outside of Wynter’s warm embrace. Confusion filled Eira’s eyes as she looked around her surroundings. When the place finally clicked into her brain, she let out the most terrified cry Noelle had ever heard.
“Mother, calm down. It’s going to be alright.”
“No! Why did you bring me back here? Why am I inside this cage again? Get me out of here!”
As if by command, the ice on the frozen prison started to crack. The crack spread like spider web and without warning, the whole frozen prison collapsed. Wynter pulled Noelle aside to protect her from the broken shards. Both of them were fine but neither can be said for Eira. It was a risk, Noelle knew that, but upon reading the spell that created the frozen cage a year ago, she found a loophole. She found out that the cage always needed a new Winter mage to replace the older. And when a mage was imprisoned the second time around, the cage loses its hold on the mages’s magic and breaks. Eira passed out on the floor.
“We’ll get somebody to clean up this mess and bring Eira to a healer,” he said quietly. She nodded in response, but her mind was full of sensations she had never felt before. She slid up her hand and placed it in his face. He leaned into her touch.
“I can touch you,” she said, mesmerized.
Wynter mirrored her gesture and answered, “And I, you.” He leaned to her, and touched his forehead to hers, their noses barely making contact. “Do you still love me?” he asked.
As if by answer, she tilted her head and brushed her lips with his. Wynter’s other hand came up and he cupped her face between his hands as he deepened the kiss. His hands were gentle and both their lips were soft. They kissed for a long time. And to think that this was still her first kiss. It was Noelle that broke the kiss first.
“I love you,” she said.
“And I, you.”
Noelle held in her hands the things she had gained from this unexpected discovery; Wynter’s hand and the relic. Together they left the room, joyful and powerful, to a future where both will rule all of Sidus.