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THE QUEEN WITH A SHADOW CROWN – 4

January 29, 2019

Miraea had heard stories of this palace a thousand times and one. But, this was the first time she beheld its antique tapestries and majestic hallways and walked its iced marble floor with living red veins and dead purple ones. An array of swords lined the walls. Portraits ruled over those display of steel swords – undying oil paintings of the swords’ dead wielders. She made her way to the armory, scarcely thinking. The turns and twists and flights of stairs that carried her to the armory had all become a part of her, something her feet knew just too well. After all, that was the first place she had learnt to find in the huge palace.

On the way, she peeked down one of the arched windows, down the braids of ivy curling over the jutting window sills of lower levels, down to the golden brown fighting ground roasting in the sun. The snap of wood and clangor of steel met her ears from far beneath where the prince practiced his swordsplay, blindfolded. Every once a while, his trainer – Engry– would throw a metal bullet in his direction, and not one hit the ground without snapping into two. The wooden targets set before him scattered and sprayed splinters in seconds. He uses the scuffle of his trainer’s foot while placing the wooden targets to locate it, she knew. Smiling, she peeled away from the window and reached the armory.

The saber crafted out of an alloy of steel and iron hung in its peg, waiting for her as it did every day since her coming three days ago. She snatched a shield at random to couple with it and headed down the ground.

        The princess approached the prince from behind, her feet as soft as snowfall. Just as she approached near enough, he spun around to face her and slid his own blade through the looped handle of hers, not even grazing her fingers curled around it. He is magic, she thought, his sight more powerful even in blindness than most mens’ in light.

Miraea pulled back her sword and made to bring it down on his left forearm. He parried the attack lazily. Deftly, she spun her sword around and landed on the ground, legs straddling straight in eaither sides and made to grab him from beneath. He hopped away from her blow and brought down his own sword over her navel. She sucked in her legs and rolled away, bringing up her saber to match his next blow.

And then she began to dance: and he fought; and she did both. She dance with her sword, moving in unexpected arcs and spontaneous steps. Blindfolded still, the prince managed to catch all her surprises with a kiss of his blade. She stopped a moment, her eye brows raised in amazment.

“ You are wonderful, I notice. No one has humbled my sword this much before,” the prince noted.

         “ It’s you I must eulogise, prince. There was none in my father’s land who could defeat me in this, save the king himself and his commander” she remarked.

“ But I haven’t defeated you, princess,” he replied, “ not yet.”

Then he yanked his blindfold free and brought the tip of his sword beneath the hem of her gauze veil. She snapped at his sword and threw it off course.

“ Not yet,” she smiled elvishly, “ I won’t be loosing my veil to your skill now. Not here in the open that too.”

Her veil was a symbol of her honor and strength. Back in her own state far south, only women who had lost their hearts to other men were allowed to bring it down to unveil their dreamy eyes. Her veil was the first thing most people asked her of, including the king, and this she always answered them.

The prince grinned, “ Then I must respect that. After all, your loss is mine as well.”

Then his blow came on her, unforeseen, grazing the side of her shoulder. She skipped back to avoid his impending attack and raised her own to answer him. For about an hour they soaked in the sun, Amber droplets winking their way down their faces. In the end, she found herself panting, on the ground.

“ You’ve learnt a lot in a lot less time,” he granted her at last, “ though you fight in a queer fashion, delicately feircefull, each blow seducing my sword to loose itself.”

She smiled, “the art is unique to my land. And yes, I have taken the pain to master it as quick as I could. Still, you remain unwon by any yet.”

He nodded at the ground, so slightly that even his still shadow on the sand didn’t notice it. Then he looked up, hopefully.

“ How about my father Miraea? How far has he been won over?”

Miraea tilted her head, considering. “ He does want me in the court, I believe. And he likes me in his leisure time, especially when I am armed with my eukelele and voice. He says my songs take him back to a distant land where he had met your mother.”

The prince nodded. Then, gathering his sword and shield, left her alone in the ground.

***

To be continued…

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© 2019 Sahana Narendran

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