1 The Palace

A young woman walked through the small village of Reigh, which sat on the outskirts from a palace. Her black hood covered her unique features as she passed by the market where merchants were trying to sell their goods, the smell of baked bread wafted in the air making her stomach growl. She left early in the morning without breakfast so that she could make it to and back from the forest in time before her mother would awaken.

As she carried the herbs, she picked up from the forest in a wicker basket, she wandered through the crowded streets, the noises of the hustle and bustle of village life making her smile. She made her way back towards the palace, which was well protected with high walls, a gatehouse, towers that were heavily guarded and behind them a long, beautiful bridge that went across the river Stye.

Just before approaching the guards, an old, tattered piece of paper nailed to a tree stood out to the side, catching the lady's attention, it read:

By orders of the King, the following acts are FORBIDDEN:

- Conjuring magic

- Holding any form of magical instruments and/or books

- Speaking Muranthian (the elvish tongue)

- Holding any books or paintings made by the elves.

- Holding any possessions made by the elves!

It is against the law and anyone found doing any of the above will be punished accordingly.

Next to the notice was another paper with drawings for anyone that could not read. Sighing to herself, she wondered how they were meant to get along with the elves when the people of the kingdom were already petrified of them, petrified of the beings that they were ignorant about. She moved past the tree and towards the guards who stood before the gatehouse, they straightened their backs and moved their spears in front of the entryway, blocking her passage.

"The castle is off limits to peasants" The chubbier out of the two guards spoke.

Without saying a word, she removed the hood from her face, revealing her stunning features, with her bright emerald green eyes layered with thick black eyelashes and her long midnight black hair pinned back in a braided half up hairstyle, held together at the back with a clip sparkling with sapphires. The guard sucked in his breath and immediately pulled back the spear, which was followed by the other guard. Both of them bowed.

"Princess Evanna, I apologise! If we had known it was you we would not have stopped you. Haha" The chubby guard nervously chuckled at the end, still keeping his head and back bowed. Evanna took a step forwards before stopping in her tracks as the guard spoke again,

"If I may be so bold.. Princess. You shouldn't be leaving the palace without any guards. It is not safe, especially for a Lady such as yourself"

He raised his head slightly to see one of her perfectly shaped eyebrows arched up by his assumption, he averted his own eyes quickly after seeing the displeasure on her flawless face.

"Thank you for your concern, but I can take care of myself" She replied and continued on through the gatehouse.

The sun shone brightly, warming up the skin on her face from the chill of the wind that swept across her as she walked over the bridge. After entering the huge wooden doors of the palace, she walked past some maids who were sweeping the floors and started ascending the white marble staircase. Her quick footsteps echoed around the halls.

Following another set of doors, she found herself looking down at the courtyard where the balcony she walked across viewed the servants gardening below. The white walls were carved beautifully to make arched windows so that people could view the glorious gardens and fountains.

Walking around a corner she nearly bumped into Sir Hugh, the Kings second in command. With his weathered appearance and greying hair, he soon looked like he should retire, however she knew the man well, he was still capable of protecting the King and would most likely not retire until he would be forced to.

He was also the last person she wanted to see right now, he was not a horrible man, in fact he had helped her a lot over the years. But his duty was to the King first and if he found out she left the palace again without any escorts, she would be in trouble. Trouble that she did not have time for.

"Princess Evanna" He bowed, as he rose back up his kind eyes glanced at the basket of herbs before looking at her guilty face.

"Sir Hugh" She bowed her head.

"Were you by any chance out at the forest again?" He asked her.

Shaking her head, she replied, "No... oh these?" pointing at the herbs in the basket "I found these in the gardens. I thought a morning stroll would be pleasant".

Hugh peered at her face, his own face sceptical at her reply, he sighed, "You know I have to tell your father about this".

She pouted at his response, lying was never easy around the knight. He bowed his head again and turned around making his way towards the Kings quarters.

She sighed herself and continued walking towards her mother's quarters, side stepping some noble women who were grouped together hushing at her approach. Evanna tilted her chin higher, ignoring their curtsies as she felt their stares on her back. It was always the same, were they never bored of gossiping, or looking at her face? She rolled her eyes internally.

Rounding a corner, she finally made her way through an arch and arrived at her mother's door. Without knocking she opened the door gently, looking into the dark room with the curtains closed and her mother's figure still in bed, her black hair falling over the pillows. She crept in silently, closing the door behind her. Walking towards the bed, she placed the basket down on the table and took a seat on the chair next to her.

Evanna looked at her closed eyes, if it weren't for the rise and fall of her chest, she would have assumed she were dead. Her once stunning mother was looking thin and frail, her normal youthful face looked almost parched and a lot older. None of the physicians that came to see her could tell what was wrong with her and that she should prepare for the worst. They had given her six months, at this rate though, that number was optimistic. Evanna could feel the heaviness in her chest, she strained her head to think on what she could do for her.

"* Dear child, don't look so glum, *" Her mother uttered breathlessly.

Taken out from her reverie, she looked into her mother's stunningly dark, hazel eyes that held so much wisdom beyond her years.

"* I hope I did not wake you, you need your rest, *" Evanna replied, her eyes becoming tearful.

Her mother shook her head.

"* Read me one of those tales you loved so much as a child, maybe that will settle your nerves and send me back to sleep, *" Her mother asked.

Evanna stood up and collected a book from the bookshelf she adored as a child, sitting back down in her chair, she started to read out the tale of 'Cerin the brave and the magic gem'. Nearing the end of the book, she read out loud how Cerin used the gem on his wounds that had been inflicted on him by the dragon, they closed up, immediately healing him.

She looked over at her mother slowly, an idea forming in her head. Her mother always used to tell her that the elvish tales that were told, were not just legend but always held some form of truth. As a child, this book was her favourite because there was a dragon and she always thought the idea of dragons roaming the lands was fascinating. But realisation dawned on her as the story may hold some truth about a magical gem that could heal; she glanced down at her mother's knowing smile.

"* I would never ask you to do that for me Evanna, the woodland elves, the Flori, they are far too cold and uncaring. People get ill and die all the time, it is natural. I am not their own and even then, that would be a stretch for them to give it to us,*" Her mother's sad response made her heart clench.

"* But mother-*",

"* No Evanna, do not waste your time on this. You are still young and free. Now let that be the last of it.*" And on cue, her mother closed her eyes for rest.

Evanna sighed quietly and stood up to put the book back, before placing it on the shelf she stared at it without truly taking note of it, her mind going into overdrive, clouding with her thoughts. If the gem were real, and if the Flori still had it.. she could use it on her mother who would become well again. Although her mother had dismissed the idea, Evanna was not about to abandon the small hope that started to settle over her. A small amount of hope was better than no hope at all.

Placing the book back onto the bookshelf, her brows furrowed. Her mother kept a secret chest that not even she was meant to know about, but of course being a curious child she had found it when she was younger. But back then she did not find anything in there fascinating, the parchments and scrolls were of no use to a child. Her curiosity was piqued now, she had not checked the chest since she was young. Knowing her mother held many secrets, she knew that there may be something in that chest that could be of some help to her.

Despite there being notices everywhere in the villages and the Kings word was final, this did not stop her or her mother from keeping objects that were made by the elves. They were kept hidden in plain sight or tucked away in the chest that lay underneath the couch in the adjoined living room. She walked across the bedroom and through the arch that led to the open spaced living room. Reaching underneath the couch that was placed in front of a small table and fireplace, she felt her hand grasp the wooden chest. Pulling it out quietly, she brought it over to the small table, before looking behind her to make sure her mother was still asleep.

Loraven lay on her bed with her eyes closed, pretending to be asleep. Her ears twitched at the small sound of something being scraped on the floor. Her eyes flew open as she looked across the room at her daughter, who had sneakily picked up her secret chest. Worry lines formed on her face as she already knew what her daughter would find.

Apprehension built in her chest as she sunk back down into bed to close her eyes when Evanna had looked back at her. She already made peace with the idea of death, the only heartache she felt was for her daughter. She wanted to see her grow up into the woman she was becoming, to see her future grandchildren and great grandchildren as well as making sure that she was safe and secure.

The stares and the whispers she found the nobles giving felt nothing to her as she did not care for such petty things but to see the same stares and whispers held against her daughter, saddened her.

Loraven was not angry with her daughter for trying to find a cure, she would of course be happy if she did live for all of the above to befall on her future. But in getting that gemstone she feared the worst would happen. She would outlive her daughter.

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