The evil Queen had been captured! She would face justice for the countless sins she had brought on the people! The disbelief with tentative excitement could be heard in the air from the voices of the peasants, the commoners, the servants, and the soldiers.
I took a slow breath and closed my eyes in a strained attempt to steel my nerves. I gripped the tattered blanket that draped my shoulders to hide my trembling.
I did not care what these people thought. The Vortice knows the truth and will ensure cosmic justice will right this injustice in time.
The Gelo Alliance could not stand without Cosa’s monarch. Calere had already fallen, Cadere needed Cosa for its agricultural strength.
Thinking about how this had been Cadere’s ploy to take over the entire Gelo valley to force it under one flag made my stomach knot. Of course they would have done such a thing. I didn’t trust Adamo, I shouldn’t have trusted him!
The memories of him capturing and arresting me as I exited a room with his Magician made my blood boil. He claimed I was a demon, a curse upon the Alliance, and retribution for my crimes must be had.
The cold breeze picked up outside, gusting into the cell and sent a shiver down my spine. All the same, it relaxed me as it felt like a loving embrace, eagerly welcoming me to a place I could yet reach.
I took a deep breath of that refreshing air and finally let the tears flow.
I wasn’t sad about where I was, nor was I afraid for myself; I would face this challenge head-on. They will know a level of resolve they had never seen before. My heart ached instead for another.
My dear, sweet cousin. I hope you had the sense to flee as I told you to. There is no need for you to die with me.
“Powerful Vortice, please guide my cousin safely from harm to live a peaceful life until we can be reunited in your grace.”
The wind picked up briefly and it helped calm me.
It was believed our ancestors could wield the wind. Some of the family legends included how we put the Vortice in place to counter the Gale, but I knew it was just a fairy tale. But right now it was the only friendly force I could speak to and I could only pray the Vortice would heed my call.
The sound of armor echoing through the hall pulled me out of my thoughts. The footsteps stopped outside my door.
“Queen Livia, the Delegation has decided you will face the gallows this afternoon at the third bell.”
I didn’t care why they had to delegate it. I’d have preferred that they’d killed me when they had captured me. Of course, it was a political dance; a show of power to earn the trust and incite the fear of the people. Our people.
I did not respond. The messenger finally accepted the silence and walked away. Knowing a time made it easier on my heart, and I could not help but smile.
It was almost over with.
[7 years ago - Livia]
“Did you know each kingdom represents all of nature when put together?” Livio had squirmed his way into my seat and held up a large book that belonged to his mom.
“No way!” I pressed myself into his side as I tried to look over the many letters on the pages. “How come?”
“See?” He pointed at the triangle in the middle of the Gelo’s crest. “Cadere represents the life of the earth and plants, Calere the fire of our world, and Cosa represents the air we breathe!”
That didn’t sound right, and Livio must have spotted my skeptical look.
“I didn’t say anything!”
“It’s why the Gale responds to us! And why we are the most important of the Three Kingdoms!” Livio shut the book, puffing out his cheeks. “ We also put the Vortice in place, to create a cooler area and to stop the Gale from pushing the deadly heat over all the land!”
I suddenly pinched his cheeks. His enthusiasm was so contagious! He responded by hitting me with a throw pillow. Soon we were shrieking in laughter and running around the room, engaged in a pillow war. I especially wanted to hit him every time he whistled that three-note whistle of his since he was only doing it because I couldn’t.
“Livia! Livio! What are you doing?!”
I glanced at the two identical women who stood in the door.
“Sorry, Momma,” Livio responded, and I took the chance to hit Livio with my pillow.
“Livia!” My mom snapped before she walked over with hand extended. I huffed and surrendered my weapon.
“Sorry,” I grumbled, bowing my head.
I peeked up to see my mom’s expression soften before looking to her sister, Livio’s mom. Her expression became pained and it was shared in her twin.
Mom cleared her throat before smiling at us. It was a forced one, one she used when she didn't want to tell me something. Her delaying tactics of straightening my hair and dress made me anxious.
“So, today is a big day!” She chimed, her voice ringing hollow. “It is a sign you two are growing up!”
“It’s not our birthdays,” Livio was suspicious as he took my hand.
“No, it’s not,” His mom agreed, her expression colder than my mom’s. “But it is a tradition in Cosa when you are six to take on individual studies suited for your ranks.”
“Livio likes studying,” I teased, sticking my tongue out to my cousin, who returned the gesture as we both began giggling.
“Momma, is what Livio said about the kingdoms ruling over nature true?” I shifted, my free hand gripping my mother’s fancy skirts.
My aunt cut her off. “There’s no time for that, the carriage is waiting.”
“Oh?” I bounced on my feet a bit.
“Where are we going?” Livio finished what I was about to say.
“Only Livio will be leaving,” His mother answered.
“But I want to go, I enjoy carriage rides,” I protested. I didn’t understand. We were never separated before. As far as I could remember, the two of us had always been together in everything we did. We both looked so much like our mothers, born days apart, that we had been treated as if we were twins ourselves.
“Darling,” Mom stopped me and encouraged us to break our grip on one another. “It is a tradition for the Noble and Magician to part ways for a few years so you may learn your skills effectively. Your fathers did it when they were your age, and their parents, all the way to the firsts who settled here!”
She tried to make it sound like an honor but my mind hyper-focused on Livio. He was leaving and that wasn't okay. “Will he come back tonight?”
“No, he will not be back for six years,” My aunt’s words were so cold.
I tried to grab for Livio but our twin mothers were quick at separating us by scooping us up.
“Momma no! Livia! Let go, I don’t want to go!” Livio shrieked, struggling with his mom as she carried him from the room.
“Livio!” I screamed, throat locking as I began to sob. “Livio! Momma, please! This isn’t fair!”
I could hear Livio screaming up the hall as he left while I pleaded desperately with my mom. I couldn’t hear her words over my wailing. It was so unfair! It took a while for me to calm down. I was crushed, and sought comfort in my mom’s embrace.
The next day I wasn’t much happier. I was miserable without Livio. My heart ached and I couldn’t sleep.
I stood before my dad, the King of Cosa, with his head bowed looking over that horrible green rug. I hated that rug.
“Livia, today, you will be presented as my heir,” Dad explained. “And you will take on the full lessons of a princess in preparation for your coronation when you are older.”
I nodded numbly, fingers digging into my skirts as I tried to hold back my tears.
I hadn’t noticed the silence that fell for the longest time.
“You know, it was very hard when I was separated from Ettore.”
I hesitated before looking up to my dad - my King. He was quite old, older than my mom, with a white beard and sunken face. He always wore such impressive attire, and was draped in rich fabrics and jewels that always seemed to capture the light perfectly.
“I remember how furious I was with my mother. She was Queen before me, if you remember,” He sighed, smiling fondly. “She would have loved you.”
“Was Ettore your cousin?” I asked, unable to resist rubbing at one of my eyes.
Dad chuckled softly. “No. But it is a tradition to arrange for your Court Magician and yourself to have children as closely as possible so that they may be raised together. It is rare for twins to be born, but I felt that perhaps this would strengthen the bond between you and your Magician.” He sighed, sinking in his chair. “It seems I was correct in that assessment.”
“But why do the Magicians have to go away?” I protested, stamping my foot angrily on that ugly rug.
“Because of the power you both have. You have always loved Ettore’s magic, correct?”
I nodded, smoothing out the plush carpet with the toe of my shoe.
“He cannot do it without me telling him so. It is how our magic works. And it will be how your and Livio’s magic will work. But you both must learn the magic first or you risk harming one another.” His head tilted sympathetically. “The pain will leave in time, and soon enough he will be back, and you will have your futures to live together. But for now, you must attend your studies and show you can be responsible alongside a Magician.”
I perked. “I-If I am really good, can he come home early?”
My dad smiled warmly. “Yes, if you can learn everything quickly enough, and he can learn quickly enough, he can return early.”
I had never wanted to learn something so eagerly before! “Okay! It’s a promise! I’ll do it!” And I ran for the door.
“Livia,” I stopped with my hands on the handle, looking back to my King. He gestured for me to return. Reluctantly I obeyed, head bowed as I worried that I had already made a mistake. “I have a gift for you. Consider it a promise of our arrangement.”
He took a plain box off the table next to his seat and opened it. He pulled out a gorgeous necklace, made of the brightest, glimmering silver I had ever seen. The necklace had coins attached to a very intricate collar.
I hesitated to approach, eyes locked on the silver. It rested a little big on me but my Dad adjusted the clasp to tighten it. The metal was cool where it touched my skin. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever owned.
“Now, your mother should be in the hall ready to take you to your first classes.”
I lifted my eyes reluctantly, fingers gliding over the coins. “Oh, right. Okay. I will complete my lessons so Livio can come back as soon as possible!” I swore, before running out to get started.
[4 Years ago - Livio]
The last six years had been a blur. I had been so furious when I was taken from Livia, but I consumed myself with my studies. I would practice my magic, study the motions, and learn everything about being a Court Magician as my father and his family before me had. I was going to return as soon as possible. The knowledge of my family had been passed down in a grand tome that I cherished. To have so much history in one spot was wonderful.
Unfortunately, old age took my father a few years after I began my lessons, but my mother did what she could to make up for it. She trusted I had learned everything I could from him and instead focused on my political duties. I was to serve the royal family, especially Livia, without question. My role would be to serve as her right hand, to enforce her will, whatever she deemed.
The lessons were long, and consisted of a lot of precision work. I took everything to heart and pushed myself to exhaustion. I would be Livia’s Magician, as my father had been for Livia’s father. It was an honor to uphold this time-honored tradition for the kingdom, and I was determined to do my job to the best of my abilities.
It was our 12th birthday and never had anything felt like time was crawling as that carriage ride. The castle seemed grander than what I last remembered, even just in the distance. It was gloriously set at the top of the largest hill in the area, with every guard in polished armor standing at their stations as we passed by.
Once we were out of the carriage, my mom barked orders for the servants to carry our things and I was swept inside to be shown to my aunt and uncle. They were going to call for Livia but I quickly offered to find her myself. They agreed, so that they may have time to discuss more adult topics without the emotional reunion we cousins were bound to have.
The halls felt larger than he remembered as well, with more luxurious items adorning walls and windows floor to ceiling looking out to the courthouse. It felt so foreign after spending years in the countryside.
Once I found her, I had to pause, to control the surge of emotions inside. She was beautiful, adorned in such a way that I could not help but stare. From her meticulously placed jewelry, elegant dress, and her hair pinned back with an equally beautiful hairpin she looked like a proper princess should.
“My Princess, shouldn’t you be having a party to celebrate your birthday?”
She spun on her heel, a dark look briefly in her eyes until she froze. I froze as well, startled by how much alike we had grown to be. It was like looking in a mirror. Quickly I caught myself and smiled, bowing to her appropriately now that I had her attention.
Livia finally broke through her shock and abandoned all grace and demeanor. “Livio!”
I expected she would run to me, but I didn’t expect she’d bowl me over, taking me to the ground. I tried to catch myself so she at least would not touch the ground, my arm around her middle in a tight embrace. Her arms were around my shoulders, hands digging into my overcoat.
She was crying.
I stayed there, rubbing her back to offer her what comfort I could. I wanted to rejoice and smile and cry myself, but I couldn’t bring myself to in front of her.
“I missed you,” she finally whispered.
“I missed you, too,” I whispered back, and gently encouraged her to sit up. She was quick to brush away her tears and smile sweetly. As she moved to rise, I adjusted to kneel before her. “My Lady, you have learned of the Liegeoath, correct?”
Livia hesitated before she nodded, smiling. “I have. Are you asking for a command?”
“It is what I was born for, and even without it I will serve you loyally regardless, to do you and our family no harm, directly or indirectly.”
Her smile softened before she cleared her throat to begin the Liegeoath proper, issuing it as clearly and precisely as many years of practice would have taught. Feeling the command seep into my bones gave me purpose and I gave her an appreciative smile.
[2 Years ago - Livia]
It felt like everything fell back into place after Livio’s return. I happily spent weeks showing him everything he missed, and how much I changed the castle with the magnificent things my dad received from tithings.
He was always so awestruck, and I wanted to impress him more. I had to be sure our lives would be perfect, so that we never needed to be apart again.
One day, the king died suddenly in his sleep. The doctor said it was old age, or at least that was what Livio told me. Losing my dad was pretty hard. He had led with a strong hand and gave me anything I wanted. I was able to grieve for a few weeks, and his funeral was beautiful, but after that I was expected to hold the station only those of my birth allowed.
It was the first time I learned about the unrest in our people. So many families were suffering, even dying, because of the tithings. It was hard to believe my dad’s choices had led to the death of others, especially the people who served us so well.
It was all still weighing on my mind during my coronation. I had a custom crown made of the same shining silver that my dad had my necklace made of. It was a beautiful ceremony, but I did not care for it. Here I was, sitting in front of my subjects, fiddling at my necklace to feel the coolness between my fingers, as a Queen I wasn’t sure I wanted to be.
As the ceremony drew to a close, an idea came to mind. I was rich; blessed with an immeasurable amount of wealth. I only cared for these specific pieces of magical silver. I knew how I could help the people!
I stood up from my throne, quickly checking my crown was in the proper place, before I gestured out. “I have a decree to make!”
The music stopped and all fell silent to look upon me, their radiant Queen.
I removed my necklace and held it aloft.
“This is known as Stella D’argento. I wear all that my father, our late king, owned. I will pay a hefty reward for all that bring this metal to me, no matter who they are.”
Murmurs began across the room of disbelief, and I smiled, replacing my necklace.
“I want notices posted around the kingdom and read to everyone. All will benefit from this!”
With that, I gestured for the musicians to continue playing, and the whole room erupted into gossip. Some were skeptical, some were hopeful. The pride made me smile, and I looked to my right where Livio stood.
He caught my gaze and bowed. “Shall I have your order sent through the proper channels?”
I clapped my hands together excitedly, “Oh, would you? That would be so helpful!”
He bowed deeper and turned to leave, and once the ceremony was done I would retire to my bedroom so I could finally properly review my new crown. It sat on my head perfectly and made my eyes dazzle, just like my necklace.
If I could get more that would be wonderful. I would be the most beautiful Queen this country has ever seen, and I would lead them to an era of true prosperity!