Part 17: Into the Woods
Hunter couldn’t quell the butterflies that had taken over his stomach. He hadn’t actually expected Emerald to agree to court him, and he had to admit he was overjoyed. As soon as she had left the throne room, he took to pacing up and down the room, every now and then stopping to stare out the windows. It was as though the kingdom had suddenly come into sharp focus. He couldn’t recall a time where he’d felt so…carefree, was it? It was as if he was on top of the world.
A poof of colorful smoke from behind him startled him away from the window. “What in-” He stopped when he noticed the three fairies were suddenly in the throne room with him.
They didn’t look happy.
“Oh! It’s lovely to see you all,” he said, grinning. He started over towards his throne and sat down on it. The fairies watched him the entire way, keeping silent for the time being. He laughed nervously. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was the only one happy about his courtship at the moment.
“King Hunter?” the blue fairy said.
“What is it that you just did?” the green one asked.
“And what is it that has you so happy?” the red one asked.
All three put their hands on their hips, staring at him with a look one would give a child they were scolding.
Hunter raised his eyebrows as he sat back in his throne. “Why, I’ve only asked Emerald if she would court me, and she agreed,” he said simply. “What is so wrong with that?”
The fairies glanced at each other, then shook their heads in unison.
“Hunter,” the red fairy said, pouting like a child who didn’t get her way. “Did we not specifically tell you that Janus is the princess’ True Love? He was the one who broke the spell. Was that not proof enough for you?”
Hunter felt heat rise to his cheeks. “I-I…well…” He stared down at his hands. “You can’t expect the princess to marry a man like him. Besides…she doesn’t love him.”
“You sound so sure about that,” the red fairy said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Did she tell you herself that she didn’t love Janus?”
Hunter pursed his lips, trying to think of something to say. “Well… she said that she could never love him,” he said, remembering the conversation they had had. “And really, you think a sweet girl like her would be a good match for the witch’s own twin brother?”
The green fairy heaved a sigh. “Hunter, the spell has been cast on those two, and it won’t be long before they must face the feelings they have for one another.”
“Feelings?” Hunter said with a nervous laugh. He got up and started to pace around the front of the throne. “What feelings? And what spell are you talking about? Did she not agree just now to court me?”
“She might have agreed with you, but do you think that’s what she really wants to do?” the red fairy asked. “Dear Hunter, you must learn to think of the needs of others rather than that of your own!”
Hunter felt anger bubbling up in his chest. Was it not enough that he sacrificed so much of himself in order to rule over his kingdom? He turned to the fairies, his hands clenching into fists. “You know as well as I do that all I ever do is care about the needs of others!” he snapped. “Please leave me be. I never said you could have an audience with me in the first place!”
The fairies, their faces similarly scrunched up in anger, glanced at each other, and a silent conversation seemed to pass between them. Then, they looked back at Hunter. For a moment, he worried they might punish his outburst with some sort of nasty spell.
“Very well,” the red fairy said, turning her nose up. “Be that way. Don’t be surprised when fate rears its ugly head.” She burst into a puff of red smoke and disappeared.
“What she said,” said the blue fairy, and she too disappeared.
The green fairy lingered a moment, staring at the floor. “Princess Emerald is such a sweet child,” she said, clasping her hands. “Your Majesty, you must think of what would make her most happy.” Without ever looking up, she disappeared like the others.
The silence that remained in their place made Hunter more uneasy than ever.
Janus pulled his helmet off and put it with the rest of his armor that he had piled next to him. He couldn’t understand why they were having a race after they had just done all that training, but he wasn’t one to complain. Not to their faces, anyway.
The knights were starting to line up before the forest, and Janus sighed as he went to join them. He knew he could beat them all, but he just wasn’t in the mood for running. Or doing anything, for that matter. The strange feeling in his chest — the feeling that his soul was somehow tethered to Emerald’s — was leaving him feeling uneasy and confused. Something had been bothering her, and part of him wanted to go find out what and make it right. The other half of him wanted to forget trying to become a Knight of Dusk and run back to his tower and forget all about Emerald.
“All right, men!”
Janus snapped out of his thoughts and turned his attention to Thomas, who had come to watch the men train.
“You all have to go down the path through the woods, and follow it all the way back here. The first five to make it back get to skip out on tomorrow morning’s training!” Thomas continued.
A cheer went through the knights.
“Mister Janus!” a small voice made Janus turn, and he found Augustus standing there.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, tilting his head.
Augustus smiled up at him. “Mister Thomas said it would be a good idea to start practicing to be your squire!”
Janus huffed a sigh. “I haven’t even been knighted yet, and I still have to do well in the trials for that to happen anyway. What if I fail?”
Augustus shook his head. “No, Mister Thomas said you wouldn’t! Anyway, I’m your squire now!” He grinned, then ran to join the other squires to watch the race.
Janus watched him, feeling more confused then ever. Well, at least he was good enough to be a regular knight…even though it wasn’t what he really wanted.
Someday, he thought. Someday I’ll be a Knight of Dusk. They can just wait and see.
“On your marks!” Thomas yelled, and all the knights got ready to run. “Get set…Go!”
The knights took off, but Janus hesitated a moment before starting as well. He noticed some of the knights were already dashing ahead at full speed. At that rate, they would run out of energy quickly. It was a good three miles to follow the path through the forest and back to where they had begun. Shaking his head at their foolishness, he started off at a slower pace.
The woods were beautiful at that time of day. With winter approaching, the air was cool, but not yet unbearably cold. Sunlight shown down through the branches when it could, and it lit the way. The wildflowers that were clustered around the pathway reminded him of his tower. And thinking of his tower made him begin to daydream…
The next thing he knew, he had run straight of the path and was deep in the forest. The sound of birds singing made brought him back to the present, and he realized how far he had gone off the trail.
“Oh, curses,” he said, turning in a circle. He couldn’t find anything familiar about the place. “It’s like the Wasteland, only with trees!” When he listened, he couldn’t hear the sound of the other knights running.
He was lost.
“Just wonderful. Of course this wood happen to me!” he cried, crossing his arms and plopping down into the grass. He muttered curses, then set to thinking about where he should go to catch up with the other knights. “Well, I can’t have gone that far from the path. I was only thinking for a moment. Perhaps if I just…go back the way I came…wherever…wherever that is, exactly.” He stood and dusted off his pants, but before he could figure out where he had come, puffs of colorful smoke blocked his way. He jumped back with a cry of surprise.
It was the fairies.
“There you are!” the red one cried, crossing her arms. “What on earth are you doing out here?”
Janus put his hand to his heart, feeling it beat rapidly in his chest. “You could give a man a heart attack, you know,” he said, sighing with relief.
“You’re a little frightening yourself,” the blue fairy quipped, smirking.
“Now, girls, don’t tease him,” said the green fairy. She turned to him. “Janus, we are here on important business. We assume you have…felt something different as of late?”
Janus tilted his head. “Um…different?”
The fairies glanced at each other, then nodded in sync. He couldn’t help but think of how incredibly creepy they were, able to read each others’ minds and everything. It was either a magic thing, or a sister thing…maybe it was both. He could do something like it with his sister when they were younger.
“Something different between you and Emerald, is what I mean,” the green fairy said. “Haven’t you felt things change between you two?”
Janus raised his eyebrows, then took a step back away from them. “What makes you think that’s any of your business?”
“She’s your True Love, Janus,” said the red fairy. “You are destined to fall in love with her. True Loves are special things, and they are not to be taken lightly. Your soul has been connected to Emerald’s, and now when she is in pain, you will feel it. When you are suffering, she will suffer, too. It will be the same with any emotion. You will know how the other is feeling, if only a shadow of the emotion.”
“Wonderful,” Janus said, going to sit under a tree. “That’s exactly what I ever wanted out of life, someone to know exactly what I’m feeling.”
The blue fairy furrowed her brows in annoyance. “Oh, but isn’t it?”
Janus rolled his eyes. “O-of course not!” Yet, he couldn’t keep the hesitation out of his voice. “Let me tell you this: I am not in love with Princess Emerald, and I never will be. She could never love me.”
“You are oblivious, then,” said the red fairy. “Haven’t you felt more than a little uneasy today?”
“I don’t like you knowing all these things about me,” Janus said, pouting.
“Well, that’s too bad.”
The green fairy waved a hand at the red to shush her, then came forward. “Janus…you are feeling Emerald’s burden,” she said gently, clasping her hands before her. “It is a heavy burden, trying to please everyone. She is trying so hard…the poor girl.”
Janus paused. She…was burdened? Was that why she looked so upset? He felt his own callousness begin to melt away. “What…is she so burdened about?”
The fairies looked at each other again. “She…hasn’t told you?” asked the blue fairy.
Janus felt his heart beat quicker again. “No. What happened?”
“Hunter, he…” The green fairy sighed. “He has asked to court her, and Emerald — the poor girl — she agreed.”
~ <♥> ~
I have no idea why, but this took me forever to write. Anyway, I’m glad to finally have it published! Things have been a little crazy with school being in-person now, but I really want to try hard to keep up with these short stories! I’m really excited for the next one, so keep a look out for that!
I hope you enjoyed this part! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! As always, God bless y’all and have a wonderful week!