Eryn stared at the Katolis flag that was displayed next to the Xadia and Moonshadow ones. She and her family were staying at the Banther Lodge, her siblings laughing as they played with magic while her parents, all five of her grandparents, and uncle were discussing politics, probably. There were rumors that the flag of Duren was going to be placed next to the Katolis flag soon. Her Uncle Ezran had been courting the Queen of Duren for months at this point.
“Eryn,” Aisling whispered from behind her. Eryn almost jumped out of her skin. She stared at her oldest sibling, her regal face holding an amused grin. “What’cha doing?”
“At the flags?”
“Why are they here? We’re not in Xadia right now. And no matter where we go, Dad and Mom have all three of those flags up. Back in Silvergrove, our cottage next to the Spire, in the castle…”
Aisling shook her head. “Talk to Dad. It’s him that does it. These flags represent something to him that you don’t get yet.”
Eryn rolled her eyes. “Then you tell me.”
“Dad’s better at explaining it.”
Eryn pouted as Aisling walked back to their brothers to help their perfect whatever spell they were working on. Much like their father, the four of them had a high affinity for magic and the different arcana. The whole world had their eyes on their family, not only because they were the children of the half-brother of the future king of Katolis. Since her parents were the ones to destroy Viren and Aaravos and they both brought to light the reality that most people in the world, human and elf, were decedents of mixed marriages, they were forever regarded as heroes who changed the world in an irrevocable way.
Eryn looked back up at the flags. She couldn’t go anywhere without people knowing her name. She couldn’t count how many times she had seen people cry and thank her parents when they met her father and mother for the first time. The symbols of a new age…. Why did these flags matter so much to her father if he himself was a figure of hope in the world? He was always telling her that borders were an illusion created by people. Why hang something that represented an illusion he didn’t believe in?
Eryn startled when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up into her father’s green eyes; eyes she and her siblings all shared. “What’s going on? You look really confused.”
“Why do we keep these flags up everywhere we go? We’re in Katolis right now.”
Callum smiled sadly. “You have no idea how lucky you are to live in the world you do. When your mother and I were growing up-”
“We were in a cold war. Xadia and the Pentarchy viewed each other with hatred. I know.”
“You know intellectually. But it’s different to live in that kind of world. Your mother and I had to fight to be together. So much life was lost to make you a reality, Eryn.” Callum looked up at the three flags. “Do you want to know why I hang these flags on display everywhere we go? Because it reminds me that we have all come miles away from where we were. Even now, every day is full of patience and faith that everything that our family has fought for will continue to make the world something better than what it once was.”
“But your work is done. The world is already better.”
“That kind of work is never done. The moment you forget where you came from is the moment you lose sight of WHY you wanted the life you have. I don’t want any of you to forget that you are not only children of Katolis or Silvergrove. You are not just members of the royal family of Katolis or grandchildren of the Dragon Guard. You are not simply children of the first human mage trained in the six primal sources or of a traditionally trained Moonshadow elf assassin. You are all of that and so much more. People call your mother and I symbols of peace and hope, of a new, connected world. But believe you four are the representatives of just how beautiful this new world could be.”
“That’s a lot of pressure, Dad.”
Callum smiled. “Sorry. You know, my biological father had nothing in this world. He was invisible until he married my mother, the General of Katolis. He’s the one that pushed her, me, our family to pursue peace, even in death.” Callum ran a hand through Eryn’s light brown hair, keeping clear of her horns. “The pressure will be coming at you from all sides. People will expect you to be like me or your mother. You are your own person and you are the only person who can decide what’s best for you. Ignore anyone who doubts you.”
“Anyone and everyone. I can’t protect you from the world, but I can tell you that the people who want you to fail and prove that all the effort our family has made was all for naught will speak the loudest. They will scream and demand every last piece of you. You don’t owe them anything. But, there aren’t any shortcuts to change. It will take generations before all the prejudice is gone and even then, maybe there will still be inklings.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Eryn sighed. “Guess I just have to be ready for people to want to tear me down.” Eryn watched as her father lightly touched the tower on the Katolis flag. “Dad?”
Callum smiled down at her. “As rough as life can be, it’s worth it. I promise. I wouldn’t trade you or your siblings for the all the secrets in the universe. And your mother is the single greatest thing to happen to me. More than my magic, more than people actually listening to me and realizing I had something to say. You are blessed, Eryn, in ways you can’t even imagine. These flags may mean nothing to you now, but they will one day. I promise.”
Eryn smiled as she looked at Aisling. At the age of 22, her sister had been officially recognized as one of the most talented mages of their generation and her knowledge was being vied for by everyone in the Pentarchy and Xadia. There was arguing and agreements that whoever didn’t get Aisling would get Eryn or her brothers. Since Katolis and the Moonshadow elves had long claimed Callum as their mage (as well as him unofficially being in the Dragon King’s retinue), they were not the loudest in their demands.
Aisling smiled at the cameras in the conference room on the border, reporters eager to here where she was headed post-graduation from the Border University. The flags of the Pentarchy and the six elven regions were behind her. “I know you all want to know just where will I be going? I’m going to give all of you an answer you’ll hate. My loyalty is not to any one kingdom nor is it to any one group. I plan to continue my studies at the Border University until there is confidence in me becoming a professor. And I plan to stay there. The border is my home. I was born on the border. It’s where my parents fell in love and it’s where I’ve always felt most understood. My father has always told me and my siblings that we are lucky to have grown up in the world we did. But, I remember how it used to be. I remember the hatred and anger at just my existence. I’ve read the reports and the books about how people like my parents and myself were treated. I know my history and how families were torn apart during the Expulsion. I’ve heard the things some of you call me behind my back. And now, that I have something to offer, you all want me for yourselves. No.” Aisling sighed, rubbing her eyes a bit.
“I will never forget that generations of my family came from miles away to get to where we are. These flags behind me remind me of that. I’m going to quote my father: there are no shortcuts. Dark magic was a shortcut and we’ve banned it everywhere. I will not be used as a shortcut to fame and I’ve heard the way some of you speak about how having me in your schools will make your lives easier. After all, I’m the oldest child of the Great Mage of Katolis and the Blade of Xadia. My name alone is going to be a huge draw for many students. The border is where people who want to learn magic belong. It’s a microcosm of the world we live in and is the biggest melting pot of all these rich cultures and magic that have started to meld in ways no one believed possible thirty years ago. My decision is final. I’m a child of Katolis and Silvergrove, of a human mage and a Moonshadow elf assassin, and I will live and teach where that is most respected.”
As Aisling walked off the stage, there was outrage. Eryn could hear the naysayers calling her selfish and that she wanted to keep all the knowledge their father willingly shared to herself. Aisling kept her head high, her long dark brown hair with her purple horns protruding, floating behind her as those bright green eyes stared straight ahead. The confidence that everyone admired in Rayla was shining bright in Aisling. When Aisling started to walk past her, Eryn stepped in line to move beside her along with their brothers. “Really, Aisling?”
“Ignore them. They have nothing interesting to offer. They’re just pissed they got called out.”
“You don’t think they aren’t interested in your knowledge, your talents?”
“I know they are. But I am not a commodity. I have free will and will continue to exercise it. The three of you can do what you want. Growing up, we’ve moved around so much that I’m not worried about dying and saying I never saw the world. The border is home. It’s imperfect and full of tension, but I don’t wonder where I stand there.”
Eryn looked back at the flags as they walked out of the conference room. The fact that her sister even had a choice between Xadia and the Pentarchy was a sign that things had changed. The fact that her sister still chose the border, an in-between area was proof that there was still a lot of work to be done. Their dad had been right; they couldn’t forget where they came from. It was just as much a piece of them as their present and their future.
Eryn laughed as she watched her mother doing a complicated shimmy while her father tripped on his own feet. Callum was dressed in traditional Moonshadow clothes in Katolian red and gold while Rayla was in a Moonshadow purple and green Katolian-style dress. Callum chuckled at himself as he put a hand on Rayla’s waist and took her hand with his other. They fell into a quick step that displayed just how connected they were, anticipating each other’s moves at every dip and turn. The jewels on Callum’s ear cuff, meant to be representative of traditional Xadian horn cuffs, shined while light bounced off the same ones on Rayla’s ring.
Eryn had heard Rayla call Callum ‘My Heart’ her whole life and, now, Eryn felt like she understood. They moved like one heart, one soul, in two bodies. Even born miles and miles apart, with a border and a war between them, they had still found each other; the other half to their souls. Even with cultural differences and vastly different ways of life, they still chose to make it work instead of giving up.
When the music ended, Callum and Rayla went over to the microphone by the orchestra. It was their 25th wedding anniversary and it seemed like the whole world was there. Eryn saw the flags on display all over the room while people from every corner of the Pentarchy and Xadia were there to celebrate with the happy couple.
Rayla smiled as she spoke first. “Thank you, everyone, for coming. I wish all of you were back home and this was just a family event, but since when do I get that wish? I married a prince, what can I expect?” The light-heartedness in her tone and the well-known fact that Rayla was a private person had everyone chuckling with her instead of upset at her. “I plan on being married to this dork until the day I die. And since Moonshadow elves tend to live about twenty years longer than humans, you will all watch as I try my best to keep Callum going until my dying breath. I’m bad at emotional speeches, so, please, bear with me.”
Rayla sighed and rolled her shoulders. “There are days that I can’t believe how different everything is since we were born. I remember being raised to believe that the war between Xadia and Katolis would never end. How afraid I was to admit that a human had stolen my heart and I was never going to get it back. How terrified I was to be pregnant in a world that still didn’t fully accept what I knew in my soul was right. My husband, this awkward man who makes doe eyes at me all day long while you all worship the ground he walks on,” another chuckle ripped through the room, “told me to keep the faith and to be patient. The world needed time to heal and it has. I’m not so arrogant to believe that our marriage was a catalyst for change, but I’m also not a fool. I know that people still look to us as positive representation, of how an elf-human relationship can work and be happy. I’ve been blessed with four beautiful children, in-laws who love me as much as I love them, and a man who loves me with all my flaws and issues. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Well, except for you all to leave me alone.”
Callum chuckled next to her, taking over the mic before she actually did insult someone. “Thank you for coming, everyone. It means a lot to us that the world has changed enough where we can be in a room of elves and humans from all walks of life and regions. But, as much as I thank you, I would like to address my wife.”
Callum turned to Rayla, a smile on his face as he got down on one knee. Eryn’s eyes went wide as a gasp went through the room. “Ray, I didn’t propose to you the proper way. And while I know it doesn’t bother you, I want to do it right this time. I talked to Tiadrin, Lain, Runaan, Ethari, and Ez because he insisted,” a sharp ‘hey’ was heard coming from Ezran to Eryn’s right, “and they all gave me their permission.” Callum took out a small box, opening it to present a silver ring to Rayla. Rayla’s face was frozen in shock as a hand had made it’s way to her mouth. “There is no doubt in my mind that you are the love of my life. If soulmates exist, you are mine. You said I stole your heart, but I don’t think I ever had mine for anyone else to take. It belonged to you long before I even met you. You’ve given me the best 25 years of my life. Will you marry me again and give me a million more?”
Rayla laughed a bit, a few tears leaking out. “Of course, My Heart.” Rayla leaned down to kiss Callum deeply, causing Eryn to look away. She was 90% positive her mom had stuck her tongue down her dad’s throat and she didn’t really want to see that. The applause that erupted around the room made her smile. She turned back to see her parents had separated, Callum sliding the engagement ring on Rayla’s finger.
Ezran stood up, a glowing smile on his face. “I don’t think I need to tell any of you how happy I am that these two willing be staying together. Rayla’s basically been my sister since she and Callum started dating. Frankly, bringing her and my nieces and nephews into my life is the greatest gift Callum ever gave me. I look at these two, and I am reminded of how far we’ve all come. Callum and I lost our mother, Queen Sarai, to something that, maybe if we had already had peace, would never have had to come to pass. My wife, Aanya, lost both of her mothers to that same unfortunate event. I almost lost Callum and Rayla in the war and I’m thankful that they are still here. Everywhere Callum goes, he hangs the flags of Katolis, Moonshadow elves, and Xadia. He refuses to forget where we’ve come from and so do I.
“So, it is with great joy, that I officially can say that the Border University no long belongs to Katolis, but belongs to the whole of the Pentarchy and Xadia. It’s always been a harbor for everyone to come and learn, but, by pure technicality, was under Katolian rule. A representative from each human kingdom and each elf region as well as a representative of the border will be in charge from now on. And, I am proud to announce that, unanimously, my niece, Aisling, has been chosen as the first border representative of not only the University, but also of the Border in meetings between the Pentarchy and Xadia. People are now coming from somewhere in-between and yet completely outside of what the rest of us grew up with, and they need to be heard. 1600 years ago, during the Expulsion, those voices were ignored. Never again. Aisling.”
Aisling came out with a cloth over her arm. She smiled as she slowly unfurled it to reveal a bright white cloth with different colored threads intersecting to represent the colors of the human kingdoms and elf regions. The threads were woven together to create a complicated knot. The longer Eryn looked, the more she noticed that no color was more presented than another, but that the knot was asymmetrical. A perfect balance of the symmetry and perfection valued in Xadia and the asymmetry and imperfection admired in the human kingdoms. Aisling handed the flag to Callum and Rayla, who held it close. “This is the first Border flag, and it’s your’s. It should probably go into a museum, but Aunt Amaya and Aunt Janai insisted you two have it when I brought it up.”
Callum teared up and pulled Ezran into a big bear hug. Aisling had avoided the hug until Rayla had wrapped her up into one of her own. Eryn smiled as she watched her father then move to embrace Aisling. While Eryn never doubted her parents loved all four of them equally, Aisling had always had a special relationship with their parents that no one else could touch. She was their first born and her birth had been used by the media to say that a new era was being ushered in. And, like Callum and Rayla, she would never let anyone forget how far they had all travelled to finally regain the peace that had eluded the world for so long. None of them could take that peace for granted.