Tame Amongst Flowers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Young Kydari, a privileged elf of noble society, struggles to be the person her parents expect of her.

Whomever decided that lace was a wearable material should be drawn and quartered, Kydari thought to herself as she tugged grumpily at the uncomfortable collar around her neck. Her mother would kill her if she saw her pawing at the expensive dress that had taken her over an hour to wrestle her young daughter into, especially since it had come all the way from Wyntaer, a journey that cost almost as much as the clothes themselves. Despite Kydari’s best efforts to hide in the sycamore tree all morning to avoid the torture of being dressed up like a doll, Miss Oprey had found her within just a few short hours of hunting and had the grounds keeper drag her out kicking and screaming. She had put up quite a fight as they wrangled the irate elfling into the bathtub so that they could do their best in extracting the thick layer of dirt from her skin, getting more water on the stone floor and the maids then on Kydari, and even now she still smirked at the bite mark she had left on Miss Oprey while she had attempted a brush through the wild bramble that was her hair. They may have succeeded in locking her up in this silly outfit, but not without a few scars to remember her by. It was the little things that gave the young heiress great pride.

Kydari gave up on trying to rip the lace apart and huffed her way to the large floor-to-ceiling window that took up most of the western wall of her bedroom. The sun glittered in a dazzling display through the stained glass scene that decorated the top of the window, a depiction of a young maiden taming a unicorn. She had always hated that picture, though she did enjoy the way the colors turned her room into a rainbow of fire when the sun rose and set each day, hitting each fractal just right. She imagined her parents had envisioned their little one to be like the girl next to the ethereal creature, soft and kind enough to have one of the most elusive beasts in Varlath approach her with ease. But no matter how many etiquette tutors and courtly scholars they brought in, their unicorn-taming maiden turned out to be an ember-haired hellion.. She blamed the stained glass for setting a standard from the beginning that she would never live up to, even if she tried.

As she crawled up onto the bench set before the window, she took joy in knowing she was wrinkling the fine satin of the dress. The dress may be her prison, but she'd nick the bars before the day was out. Kydari stared out to the courtyard below, her apple green eyes flashing angrily with each carriage that arrived through the intricate gate, the only way in or out of the walled-in estate. And it was most certainly the only way in or out: the walls were impeccably-kept and encircled the estate to an inch, and they always seemed too slick to scale. And she could not neglect to mention the regular guard patrols, many of whom she was on a first-name basis with.

A particularly posh carriage with shining black wood and gold filigree drawn by four white chargers sauntered into the cobblestone roundabout. It circled the massive fountain used as a centerpiece as they halted before the front doors. The guardsmen that manned the gate shut it behind the carriage and Kydari knew that her time was up. The festivities were to begin now and there was no more time to hide. She should have been curious as to who would step out of such a grand carriage but instead she turned away from the window and sighed.

Even now, she heard footsteps rapidly making their way down the hall, the clicking of heels stopping just before her bedroom door. Kydari considered if she could be strong enough to push her armoire in front of the door, or perhaps taking the plush armchair that sat beside her vanity and heaving in through the window in a last ditch effort to free herself while she could, but the jingling of keys being inserted into the lock told her it was too late. She put on her best grimace, a face she learned from the many gargoyle statues that decorated the gardens, and directed it at Miss Oprey as she entered the room. The woman was old enough to be her grandmother, but she was still healthy and spry enough to chase the girl down when necessary. Her silver hair was always swept up into a perfect bun on the top of her head, held in place with a golden pin that had a white oleander charm dangling from a small chain. She didn’t bother to rouge her lips and cheeks like so many high class Trali elves did, but her clothes were kept in immaculate order, often with high collars that would reach to her chin and long sleeves that draped past her thin waist. As long as she could remember, the woman never wore anything other than gray, and today was no different, although the mauve sash tied around her hips was a new touch.

Of course the stiff line her lips made told Kydari exactly what the old woman was about to say.

“I am in no mood for any more of your antics today, child.” Miss Oprey tucked her armory of keys into her coat pocket with a loud clunk, then folded her long, slender hands in front of her. She gave Kydari a once-over, displeased with what she saw.

“Are we ready to act like a civilized woman of high society today?”

Kydari screwed her face into a sneer, “Actually-”

“Good. I expect nothing less than pure perfection while you grace us with your presence downstairs. Any shame brought to this household today will be unacceptable.”

The woman had been with the
Divaen family for decades, even before Kydari had been born. The Oprey family had worked in the estate for generations, watching each lineage of Divaen grow up to create the next heir to the bloodline - always ensuring its purity and standing in their privileged society. Miss Oprey, whose first name Kydari was forbidden to ask about (it was impolite, for reasons she had never been told), had been at her mother’s side when she gave birth, helping to raise the elfling from the very beginning like a second mother. And when her Ladyship was declared barren after years of trying to bear another child, it became Miss Oprey’s personal mission to ensure that Kydari would continue the legacy of their house and blossom into a dignified woman of stature. She was well aware that the child took pride in making sure that would be as difficult as possible.

With arched eyebrows, Miss Oprey clicked her way across the tile floor and leaned in to inspect the state of Kydari’s hair. She tsked scornfully while she attempted to fix the damage the child managed to accomplish in the short time she had been left alone in her room. “Honestly, child. You were put on this world to give me heartburn.” She pretended not to notice Kydari’s satisfied grin as she tucked and pulled at the red locks, pushing the gilded pins back into place so that the tangles could be contained. She was going to have to look into a craftsman that could create hairpins of stronger quality at this rate. When at last she felt that she could present the heiress without cowering in humiliation, she stepped back and gave her another quick examination.

“I don’t want to go.” Kydari pushed out her bottom lip and scowled, crossing her arms as best she could within the restrictive gown. She considered trying to force out a tear or two, but remembered that crying had never worked on the old bat before, so it wasn’t worth the effort.

Miss Oprey didn’t so much as blink as she stared down her nose at Kydari. “And I don’t want my family name being besmirched by the knowledge that I cannot tame an imp in a dress, yet here we are.”

The woman took Kydari by the wrist and pulled her off of the window seat, making her stand still as she crouched down to smooth out the wrinkles she had created in the dress. She hoped that the pleats would help to conceal some of the more difficult lines, if her ward didn’t move around too much. With a knowing sigh, she realized the futility of that hope. “Life for a woman in your position is never going to be about what you want, Kydari. You have obligations much bigger than you and the sooner you learn that, the happier you will be.”

“But I’m not a woman. I’m only twelve.” Kydari argued, trying fruitlessly to pull away from Miss Oprey’s grasp, but the woman had her skirts in a firm grip and refused to let go. She instead gave up and returned to pouting with crossed arms.

When she saw that she could do nothing more to smooth out the dress, Miss Oprey stood back up into her usual stiff stance, back straight and chin held high. She grabbed Kydari’s hand and started walking her out the door. “Tonight is the first step in becoming a woman. Soon enough you will have to leave all of these childish games behind and be the lady your parents expect of you. This is no different than any other girl your age. It is time to accept it.”

they left the room, the sound of her skirts swishing across the polished tile loud in her ears. She shot one last glance over her shoulder, taking in the familiar sight of her bedroom. The vanity that had drawings of monsters scribbled around the mirror, the burn spot on the rug that had gotten her grounded for a week when she had attempted to teach herself magic last summer, the teddy bear missing a button eye from being thrown into a tree; these were the reflections of who she really was. The last thing she saw before the two of them turned down the hallway was a flash of the iridescent glass mural above her window, of the maiden taming the unicorn amongst a backdrop of flowers. She stuck out her tongue with defiance, letting the unicorn know that if they should ever meet in real life, it should turn tail and run. She would never be a gentle maiden.

 

 

****

 

The raucous roar of aristocrats swirling about the grand hall pressed against Kydari’s long ears like the irritating buzz of an insect. All around her the lords and ladies of Ishana laughed merrily with their flowing gowns, delicately tousled hairstyles, glittering jewels, and upturned noses. Her mother and father had spared no expense making the party an event of grandeur that would be talked about for months. The marble floors had been buffed to sparkle enchantingly in the candlelight, something Kydari had witnessed several of the housemaids working tirelessly for the past week to accomplish. Ivy boughs with pear blossoms woven throughout dangled from the chandelier above them. With each swell of music, a small shower of petals would rain down on the guests, drawing gasps of delight. An orchestra of at least a dozen musicians kept the momentum of the party flowing as they played from song to song, inciting the latest dances to the delight of the guests.

Kydari watched the carefree display from her mother’s side at the front of the hall, where she was supposed to stand very still and never stop smiling. Already her cheeks were beginning to tire but when she looked up to ask her mother if she could take a break, she knew it was a futile question. Lady Sianna Divaen, of the house of Uluri, sole heiress of the Uluri vineyards, was the picture of elation as she politely applauded her guests when the last dance ended. She had chosen an exquisite gown with starch white lace sleeves and folds of sapphire blue silk that only enhanced her natural beauty. Her chestnut locks had been pinned into a loose updo that left a few of her curls to dangle around her long, dainty neck. Lady Sianna was the envy of the room, as Kydari could see from the jealous glances many of the women would throw her way behind ornate fans. Her smile was radiant, her green eyes like dancing emeralds. If Kydari were to say anything about how much she wanted to leave, that smile would twist so quickly into a scowl it would send shivers down her spine. So she remained silent and gritted her teeth.

The party was supposed to be some sort of celebration in honor of Kydari’s recent twelfth birthday, a long-standing tradition amongst the community where the families would proudly present their daughters to society like some sort of prized vintage wine. She had no idea why this was so important, nor did she have any say in the matter. The elfling was told that she would have to hold herself in a manner of grace and poise so that she would not shame the Divaen name. Everyone who meant something in Ishana were to be at this party, and they would all be watching very closely to size her up. It was humiliating.

Along the left side of the room were four long tables draped in silk cloth that were piled high with more food than Kydari had ever seen. She could smell roast duck tempting her from where she stood. When Miss Oprey had handed her over to her mother, the girl was given a warning that was more like a loosely-veiled threat that if she were to misbehave in any way during the course of the party, this would be the last time she would see the light of day. It wasn’t the first time she had heard this, and it certainly wasn’t going to be the last. Her mouth watered ravenously as she eyed the tables, but she had been forbidden from moving a single inch. She instinctively reached up to scratch at the lace collar and felt a hand grab her by her wrist.

“Ladies do not scratch themselves in public.” Her mother hissed at her, never breaking her smile. She quickly released Kydari and laced her fingers in front of her with the grace of a statue. A portly lord with a mustache that twirled up to his nostrils waltzed a woman half his age past the dais where the Divaen family stood, giving Lady Sianna a cheeky wink when she bowed her head in greeting.

“But mother, this wretched thing is so uncomfortable. Can I eat now?” Kydari fidgeted against the confines of her dress, rolling her shoulders to try and itch her herself without her hands. She heard a curt harumph of someone clearing their throat beside her.

“Honestly, girl. Do you ever stop moving? You’re like a guppy in a fisherman’s net.” Lord Viktor Divaen frowned disapprovingly at her as he stepped up to stand on her other side. He had adorned himself in matching colors of sapphire and white to compliment his wife, with sharp lines of black stitching to give him more masculinity. His dark hair had been swept back so that the gray at his temples stood out. Though he was still a fairly young man, he had started to gray early, making him look older and more refined.

If there were anyone that could keep Kydari in line, it was her father. He had married into the Uluri family to strengthen the bloodline between the two houses, earning the right to take ownership of the flourishing vineyards, but even the young girl knew that there was scarce any love in their relationship. Lord Viktor was seldom at home, often on lengthy trips across the kingdom for weeks at a time to ensure the longevity of their business, leaving his wife to run the estate on her own. When he was home, he would usually barricade himself in his study, only to emerge for dinner and to retire to his bedchambers. Conversations between her parents were polite but cold, and he expected nothing but excellence from his only child. He was not afraid to dole out the punishments if he heard about her devilish antics around the estate. Many nights of being sent to bed without supper could attest to that fact

“Sorry, father.” Kydari mumbled a quick apology and tried her best to stand straight. She forced herself to watch their guests enjoy the frivolity of the evening but it wasn’t long before her eyes roved back over to the banquet tables. Her stomach let out a loud gurgle as she imagined what kind of desserts the kitchen had created for the occasion.

Her father sighed and glanced over to his wife. Lady Sianna bristled with annoyance and leaned over to her daughter, “Fine. You may grab a small hors d'oeuvre from the tables, but make it quick. And don’t you dare chew with your mouth open, or get a single stain on that dress!” She straightened back up and continued bobbing her head along with the music, being careful as to not crease her gown. Kydari didn’t wait for her father’s approval before she scrambled off of the dais and made a beeline for the banquet tables. She could already taste the roast duck.

Though there was enough food to feed the entire room and their extended families, hardly any of the highbrow guests had touched any of it. Another one of the ridiculous standards expected from anyone with class dictated that letting themselves be seen stuffing their face was in poor form, especially for the women. It made no difference to Kydari as she shoved her way past the increasingly intoxicated dancers and reached for the first plate she saw: pickled onions with goat cheese and fennel. She wretched at the tiny dish and put it back on the table before searching for something more appetizing. She skipped past the bowl of olives and stuffed mushrooms, making sure to pull a rude gesture at the roasted brussel sprouts. At last she sighed with relief when she spotted the platter of duck, its browned skin glistening with juices and spices that had been rubbed beneath. The smell of rosemary and oranges beckoned to her.

Kydari snatched the closest utensil she could find, a cheese knife, and stabbed into one of its drumsticks. She hacked savagely at the leg until she was able to pull away a good piece of white meat. The little knife wasn’t much for cutting into meat but it served its purpose as she shoved the bite into her mouth, not caring how badly she had maimed the beautiful duck. The young girl savored the juicy bite, her eyes rolling into the back of her head as it practically melted on her tongue. The cooks usually reserved roast duck for their annual yule supper, so this was a treat that she was going to savor. When she finally swallowed her portion, she reached out to grab another piece.

“You’re doing that all wrong, you know.” A small voice chided from behind her and she stopped in her tracks. Kydari twirled around, guiltily tucking the cheese knife behind her. What she was expecting was an adult that had caught her in the act, most likely to turn her in to her parents and get her punished yet again. Instead, she found a boy about her age standing with his arms crossed.

He had a shock of white blond hair that had been wrestled into staying flat on his round head which made his ears stand out even more, with watery blue eyes that made him look like he was on the verge of tears. His round cheeks were flushed like two ripe apples, his thin lips turned down into a frown. The boy wore a crushed red velvet ensemble with almost as much lace as Kydari’s dress, right down to his shiny black shoes. He tilted his head at her and smirked.

“I know what I’m doing.” She retorted, returning his smirk with a sneer. The boy was a few inches shorter than her and it made her happy to feel tall for once. She went to turn back to her precious duck but the elfling cleared his throat in expectation.

That is a cheese knife and you are supposed to use a carving knife to cut duck. Everyone knows that.” He jutted his chin out in triumph as he pointed at the utensil in her hand.

Kydari rolled her eyes and let out a puff of air, “So what? No one asked you. Now leave me alone.” The boy was starting to get on her nerves, and what was worse, he was getting in the way of her much-deserved snack.

“But mother says that using the wrong utensils in front of guests is a sign of peasantry. Are you a peasant? This is supposed to be a party for nobels only.” His voice held such arrogance as he spat out the words ‘peasant’, like the very thought of it disgusted him.

“This is my home. I can do whatever I want. Shove off.” Kydari tried to dismiss the boy as she felt her cheeks burn from his insult. She knew that she wasn’t supposed to speak to people with such language but she didn’t care. Who was he to tell her what to do anyways?

on you!” The boy whined, stamping his foot on the marble floor with a smart click. His brow furrowed angrily at her. “You better apologize.”

Kydari snorted, another trait of hers that Miss Oprey disapproved of immensely. She was losing her patience. “You can’t make me, you little toad.”

The boy puffed up with anger, unaccustomed to being treated with such disrespect. He jabbed a finger into Kydari’s chest. “What did you call me?”

Kydari snagged a hunk of havarti off of the table and casually popped it into her mouth, leaning back to stare the boy down. “What, ‘toad’? I can do much better than that. How about…” She thought for a moment, then smiled wickedly. “Festering pile of minotaur dung. Is that better?”

He gasped as she snickered at her own insult, then without warning he shoved her as hard as he could into the table. A glass of red wine that a guest had left near the edge toppled over the side of the table and landed with a loud crash on the floor, the wine splashing across Kydari’s silk slippers. “Hey!” She cried out, knowing that she was going to be in so much trouble for staining her clothes. She searched around the dishes of food before grabbing a cream puff from a pile of desserts nearby. The boy had no time to react as she shoved the pastry right into his face. Cream squished out across his cheeks with a satisfying splat and she stepped back to admire her work.

“Kydari!” Her mother’s voice rang out from across the hall, catching the attention of the guests all around them. They stopped in mid song to turn and stare at the mess the two children had made, taking in the boy crying with a face full of dessert and the girl smiling sheepishly with wine-soaked slippers.

dare you insult our guest in such a deplorable manner?” Even as Lady Sianna stormed towards her, her eyes seething with fury, she still remained a picture of elegance, her silk skirts flaring out behind her like butterfly wings as she glided through the crowd. She stopped just short of the children, carefully avoiding the shattered glass and wine.

“Mother, it wasn’t my fault this time, I swear.” Kydari pleaded, shrinking back from her irate mother as she tried to hide her cream-coated hands behind her back. She jutted her chin towards the boy in accusation. “He started it!”

The boy covered in pastry began to sniffle, balling up his fists to messily rub at his eyes, doing nothing more than to smear bits of food across his face even further. “She...attacked...m-me…” His sniffles turned to sobs as he stammered, tears trickling down his face.

“You attacked me first!” Kydari snapped back, instinctively putting her hands on her hips as she glared at the boy. She quickly realized her mistake and looked down at her now ruined dress, greasy handprints staining the expensive material. The elfling tried to wipe away at her mess, but it was too late.

“You have disgraced yourself in front of all of these fine people, who came here today to honor you. Just look at the state of your beautiful dress.” Her mother gracefully folded her arms over her chest, shaking her head as she looked Kydari over. She turned her head when Lord Viktor joined her at her side and clucked her tongue. “Do you see what your daughter has done?”

“Father, you have to believe me!” Kydari knitted her eyebrows, fighting back angry tears as she begged her father. Perhaps he would see reason, that the boy had clearly started the entire fiasco.

Her father took in the scene before him, his eyes lighting from the snotty boy with a cream puff crammed in his face, the broken wine glass that was slowly spreading its contents across the floor, and then to his daughter. Her fiery hair had begun to unwind itself from the pins containing it, her eyes burned with defiance even as she did her best impression of a naive fawn to suade him. His jaw tightened as he looked down at her gravely.

“You have disappointed the family.”

stared in stunned silence at her parents, her little body deflating with defeat. She dropped her gaze and stared down at the floor, trying to tuck her ruined slippers beneath her skirts. When Miss Oprey learned about this, she was going to be banished to her bedroom for weeks, she just knew it. No dessert, no toys, just books for her studies. It was going to be so miserable.

“Young lady, you will apologize to Galyn this instant.” Her mother ordered, snapping her back to attention. Some of the guests had stepped away from the awkward moment, going back to their drinks and laughter. Others watched on in amusement, taking whatever entertainment they could get in their privileged lives. Kydari could feel their gazes burning into her skin and she hated every last one of them.

“But mother-” Kydari began, her voice not much louder than a whisper. She already knew she had lost.

“And after you apologize, with sincerity, you will leave our presence at once and retire to your room for the rest of the night. You no longer deserve to partake in the festivities.” Lady Sianna arched an eyebrow at her daughter, daring her to object.

sighed dejectedly, nodding her head at her mother’s demands. It was better to comply and hope that the punishment would be lighter if they saw that she was willing to be obedient. She turned to face the boy who she now knew as Galyn, choking back laughter as she took in his sorry state. Once she was sure that she had composed herself, she swallowed her pride. “I’m sorry.” Her father cleared his throat warningly and she pursed her lips. “I am terribly sorry for what I did. I hope that you can forgive me.”

Two nobles in matching attire, both equally gaudy with feathered collars and dripping in fake gemstones, had waltzed over to hear Kydari’s apology. The woman with jet black hair had too much rouge on her cheeks, accented further by her wine-induced flush. She linked her arm into the man’s, who was fighting the urge to meet the floor with his body as he wobbled unsteadily in his buckled shoes. She clutched her breast with her free hand and cooed. “How lovely that was! Wasn’t that lovely, Harold?” She batted her false lashes at the man, grinning toothily.

“Fine stuff, that. You have quite the little lady here, Vik.” The drunken man hiccuped, raising the glass of wine in his hand to salute the lord. He waived the glass then put it to his lips to drink fully. It was by sheer luck that none of it made it onto his clothes.

Lord Viktor, none too pleased with the casual nickname, gritted his teeth and gave the man a curt nod. He eyed the glass sloshing dangerously in the drunk’s hand but remained silent. “Yes, well, in good time she will grow to be a young woman more acceptable for society.” He gave Kydari a withering look and she cowered, returning her gaze to the floor.

“Do allow me to apologize to you personally, Anessa. This brings much dishonor to our name. A slight that will not be forgiven anytime soon.” Lady Sianna did not bother herself to look at Kydari, instead dipping down into a deep bow before the nobles.

Anessa gave a wave of her hand, brushing off Lady Sianna’s gesture. “Tut, tut, Sianna. Children will be children. It is better that they get all of this animosity out of the way now.” She giggled and reached down to pinch Kydari’s cheek, who squirmed under her grasp. “It won’t be much longer before the courting can begin. Then, such fun we will have!” The woman gave Kydari a firm pat on her cheek and let out a giddy peal of laughter. Harold, who’s eyes had begun to glaze over as he teetered in place, perked up at her shrill laugh and joined in with an uncertain chortle of his own.

Kydari’s ears perked up at Anessa’s words and she looked over at the boy who had gone to bury his sticky face in his mother’s dress. Did she say...courting?

“Yes, we will be honored to join our two great houses in just a few years time. The bloodlines of Divaen and Kostul will be strong.” Lady Sianna spared a disapproving look for her daughter. “If you shall still have her.”

The couple laughed merrily and politely shook hands with Kydari’s parents, clearly thrilled with the notion. The young elf felt like the room was starting to spin around her, the faces of so many drunk nobles blurring together in a dizzying jumble. Their laughter made her feel sick to her stomach, the roast duck no longer sitting agreeably in her. Miss Oprey had never mentioned anything about courting when she had told her about the party, the one that was supposed to be in her honor. Was it true? Her parents couldn’t possibly be serious. She was too young to think about such things, not that she would ever want to. The idea of marriage made Kydari want to vomit.

“You are joking, right?” Kydari piped up amongst the adult’s cheery banter. Her mother stopped in mid sentence and turned to look at her, her carefully painted mouth turning to a frown. The couple’s laughter died down as they focused on the girl in front of them. “You can’t be talking about me and him.”

“That is not proper grammar, child. And yes, we very much are.” Lady Sianna scolded, grimacing at her daughter’s lack of manners. “I thought I told you to retire to your bed chambers after you apologized, did I not?” She placed a hand on her hip in a stern stance.

“But I hate him! I do not want to marry such a toad.” Kydari whined with wide eyes. She watched as Galyn poked his head out from his mother’s skirts and stuck his tongue at Kydari before retreating back to her safety. She made sure to return the favor, earning a surprised gasp from her mother.

“You will not act so boorishly in front of our guests. And whether you like it or not, you will join together in marriage when you are of proper age. This has been decided long before you were able to talk back with such disrespect.” Her mother snapped angrily, turning to give the Kostul’s an apologetic face. “Please excuse us, my daughter needs to be taught proper manners.”

“Nonsense. I like a girl with spirit. She is destined to bear strong children with that kind of fire. It positively radiates from her, starting with that hair!” Harold laughed at his own joke, giving Kydari a wink. Or, his best attempt at one, which ended up being more of a slow blink.

Lord Viktor winced at such crude conversation, glancing down at the boy covered in tears and cream cowering behind his mother. If he was having hesitations, he kept it to himself. His word was his honor and he had given it to Kostul house in exchange for his daughter’s hand. The benefits of combining their prosperous cheese company with the Divaen vineyards were too rich to pass up, even if his opinion of the family was less than impressed. “Yes, well let us leave that for the future. For now, we shouldn’t waste the evening.” He snapped his fingers for the nearest servant and gestured to the spilled wine left from Kydari’s scuffle with Galyn, watching them hurry to clean away the glass and wine with silent movements.

“Now then, come with me.” Lady Sianna reached to grab Kydari by the ear, a trait that the girl despised. She would often drag her to her room, or to pass her off to Miss Oprey when Kydari had misbehaved in her presence.

Kydari ducked from her mother’s grasp, backing away from the adults who were planning her future against her will. Fury crossed over Lady Sianna’s pretty features and she took in a sharp intake of breath. “Do not disobey me, girl.”

Kydari’s eyes darted from her enraged mother to her stone-faced father staring down at her with warning, then to the noble couple too drunk to pay attention to what was going on around them, and then at last to Galyn peeking out behind his mother. She took in the snot smeared around his face, mixed with bits of food and drying tears. His watery eyes glared at her viciously, his grubby hands clutching his mother’s dress. Kydari imagined for a fleeting moment what her life would be like married to such a troll, his whiny voice ringing in her ears from when he had tattled to her mother. She would be forced to obey him, bending to the confines of high society and their dated traditions. No matter how much wealth she may accumulate with the joining of her house with his, she would be a gilded slave; trained to smile and host extravagant parties so as to parade her fortune before others. She would never own anything, as only men were allowed to have property and businesses in their name within a Trali marriage. And she would have his children...children that would look just like Galyn.
“No!” Kydari cried out, pushing the image from her mind. Lady Sianna recoiled in surprise at her sudden outburst. Before anyone had time to react, Kydari took off in her soiled slippers and ran away from her mother as fast as she could.

Drunken aristocrats in expensive attire, who danced along to the music that had been drowned out by the thud of her own heartbeat, stumbled over themselves in confusion as Kydari pushed past them, blindly running with tears welling up in her eyes. She thought to make for the grand staircase that led up to her bed chambers, then remembered that Miss Oprey was most likely waiting for her to reprimand her for all the missteps that she was sure to have created throughout the party. She skidded in place, turning instead in the direction of the kitchen where the cooks and scullery maids were hard at work to keep the buffet tables full with hot food. Her slippers squeaked against the marble floor as she skirted around a server coming through the swinging door that led into the kitchen, and she dove inside.

Servants and kitchen staff alike were taken by surprise at the elflings wild entrance, quickly returning to their frantic work of piling tea cakes on tiered stands and refilling pitchers of wine. Kydari slipped through the bustle of workers and headed towards the back of the kitchen where another door waited for her, this time leading outside. She could hear her father’s shouts coming from behind her and she quickened her sprint, pulling open the door and slamming it shut behind her. The door was primarily used by kitchen servants when bringing in food from the market or accepting deliveries. She had used the exit many times in the past to give Miss Oprey the slip when she didn’t want to do her studies, often feigning a need for a glass of water. Now that she was free of the house, she wasn’t sure what to do next.

“Kydari, get back here!” Her father’s words sent a chill down her spine. He was in the kitchen and she didn’t have much time. The outside world had grown dark, with only the lit lanterns of the estate casting enough light to see. She pushed herself into another sprint and started making her way through the shadows of the gardens.

The familiar shrubs and trees that had been systematically planted in an elegant fashion became foreign to Kydari as she tried to navigate the estate grounds with blinded sight. Despite many human myths of the Trali elves, they could not in fact see in the dark like cats, no matter how long their ears were. What she wouldn’t give for that to be true at the moment. Twice her bothersome skirts snagged on hedges, a loud rip echoing in the quiet night air each time. Just as she was beginning to think she had somehow managed to get herself lost in her own home, she felt her shoulder bump into something hard and immoving. She reached out a hand and ran it out in front her, feeling the grooves of the stone wall that surrounded their property.

Many times in the past Kydari attempted to climb the towering walls that held her prisoner within the grounds, each time either foiled by the guards that kept a close eye on her whenever she wandered around outside or by her own failures to scale the smooth masonwork. She stared up the wall, feeling desperate as the voice of her irate father cried out across the garden. He hadn’t spotted her yet but he was bound to find her with the guards joining his search. Then it would all be over for her. She looked around, hoping to find an abandoned ladder perhaps left behind by one of the groundskeepers. Instead, she found the trunk of a cherry tree.

Kydari’s cognitive map flashed in her mind as she realized where in the garden she was. The old cherry tree grew right against the southern wall of the estate, on the opposite end of the entrance gate. She had played underneath its falling blossoms so many times in her childhood. Without hesitation Kydari scrambled up the trunk, digging her slippers into the bark for better footing. She pulled herself up to the tall branches and was delighted to find that a few of them reached out past the top of the wall. Luck was finally on her side. She inched her way along the branch towards the wall, not caring to look down else she might lose her nerve. Once she dangled between the boundary of her home and the world beyond it, she paused.

The only times she had ever been allowed to leave the Divaen estate was the rare occasions that her parents would take her to visit her grandparent’s townhouse located on the other end of Ishana. She would relish in the adventure of getting to see the sprawling metropolis with her own eyes, drinking in the sights of the rich architecture, towering buildings, and delicious smells. But there was no way she would make it all the way into the city, nor would she have a clue as to where she would go were she to make it. Her father frequented the city on business and would easily find her and drag her back home. Kydari instead turned her head to look out in the other direction.

The cobbled road running alongside the estate led out through the other noble’s lands, snaking past the vineyard and trailing off outside the boundaries of Ishana. Kydari could remember Miss Oprey trying to teach her the geography of the land and she strained to recall what she had told her lay beyond the vineyards and claimed lands. A forest of some sort? She instantly regretted brushing off her studies, but the feeling didn’t last long as the sound of footsteps rapidly approaching caught her attention.

“I think I heard something over here.” A man’s voice informed; one of the guards that kept watch over the estate. He was headed towards Kydari’s tree with two other guards in tow. The time for decision making was over.

Kydari took a deep breath and pushed herself over the wall, toppling down the side to land with a crunch in the hedge waiting below. She refrained from crying out as she pulled herself from the entangling branches, cutting her skin where the dress had ripped in several places. Once she managed to get free, she began running in the opposite direction of the city, making her way towards the unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

****

 

 

The timid rays of the sun shyly creeping over the horizon lit up the sky in a fresh dawn before Kydari’s exhausted eyes. Her body ached from the cold night that seeped into her bones, making every step down the dirt road laborious. Though it was late spring, the nights remained too cold for a child wandering without so much as a coat to warm her. Her feet had developed blisters from the poor protection provided by the slippers meant for ballrooms, not trails. She tucked her fingers into the sleeves of her torn dress in an attempt to bring feeling back into them. As the sun rose higher, lighting up the dewey countryside around her like a bejeweled painting, Kydari closed her eyes and let the warmth fan over her frozen freckled cheeks.

The little elf was lost, having long since wandered down the last of the familiar cobblestone road which had ended abruptly at a dirt trail once she was beyond the perimeters of Ishana. The night’s journey had been eerily quiet, with only the quarter moon’s glow to light her way. Once she had heard what she had feared to be the howl of some fearsome predator, only to discover that she had been walking alongside a farm that contained a rather nocturnal cow that had called out to her in greeting. Her nerves had been on edge ever since, that is until her exhaustion took over and wiped out any energy for fear.

Where am I? Kydari thought to herself, gazing across the rocky hills around her.  How far have I walked? There has to be something close by. I’m so hungry. Her stomach rumbled aggressively at the thought of food, having never truly been fed anything substantial from the night before, all thanks to that brat Galyn. She tried not to think about how juicy the roast duck had tasted, or how she regretted wasting a perfectly good cream puff on his face, as rewarding as it had been in the moment. Her decision had been made and she was going to stick to it, even if she starved to death out in the middle of nowhere. There was no going back.

Kydari trudged on, feeling slightly better with the morning sun thawing out her extremities. There hadn’t been any farms or houses for ages and she started to think that perhaps she should have tried to hide out in the city after all. At least there she might have found a nice, warm bed instead of...nothingness. But the more she considered it, the more she concluded that the only reason that no one had found her yet was because her father had chosen that exact path himself, assuming she would head straight for the city. She had been wise to avoid it, even if she longed for somewhere to sleep. There was some comfort in that, though she still had no plan yet.

A crop of poppies appeared in view to her left and she smiled to herself, taking in the welcome sight of her favorite flowers. They seemed so strange with no other flowers around, a bright pop of color amongst the green and slate background, and as she walked closer, she realized why. The flowers were set around a ring of mushrooms, with the center suspiciously bare. A fairy ring, she concluded. Kydari knew from her books that the inviting portal to the other realm was not meant for her kind. Many travelers, whether by mistake or intentionally, had wandered into rings and found themselves in a world that could grant them riches of their heart, or became their demise. One could never know the price that would be required by the fae and dealings with the mythical creatures must be taken in caution. In no mood to have some nasty trick like getting her toes turned into turnips because she slighted a wee person, she gave the ring a wide berth, staying on the far side of the trail until the crop of flowers was far behind her.

No sooner had she continued on her way then a faint rumbling beneath her feet caught her attention. The sensation took on sound and she froze as she tried to discern what could cause such a commotion, the steady pounding seeming to get louder the longer she listened. With a sudden dawning, she recognized what the sound was and she turned on her heel to see something large coming towards her swiftly in the distance. Someone was riding horseback and it would be only moments before they spotted her, if they hadn’t already. Kydari’s heart leapt in her throat and she quickly scrambled off the road, running off towards the first hill she saw. Sharp, white stones jutted from the hillsides in this part of the world, giving wandering goats an advantage on their hunt for better grazing. To Kydari, it meant a painful climb that resulted in scraped palms and skinned knees, tearing her tattered dress even further. The mysterious rider, who turned out to be a small group of riders clustered tightly amongst themselves, approached dangerously closer just as she managed to pull herself up to the top of the rocky hill. She ducked down below the crest, keeping herself hidden behind a particularly large boulder embedded into the top of the hill.

Kydari held her breath as she waited for the riders to either discover her or pass by. Luck would have it, they chose the latter and continued down the trail, kicking up a cloud of dirt behind them that faded into the distance. Once she was sure the coast was clear, she let out her breath and slumped down with relief. She hadn’t recognized the colors on the rider’s clothes, nor had she spotted a crest or ensignia, but she couldn’t be too careful. There was no telling how far her family would go to find her, even if that meant hiring trackers. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be long before they picked up her trail and found her. Hiding amongst rocks wasn’t going to keep her safe forever. She stood up from her crouch and made to head back down the hill when something caught her attention.

Just off in the horizon, like a dark cloud looming against the clear sky, stood a large shape that blocked out her line of sight as far as her eyes could see. She squinted and was able to make out the lines of several trees, an entire forest in fact. Kydari recalled thinking how she swore there was a forest somewhere nearby and she took a small bit of pride in realizing that she had been right. Look at me now, Miss Oprey! She taunted in her head, envisioning herself blowing a raspberry at the stern governess. Without many options left to consider, she decided that a stroll through a forest might be just the ticket to shaking off any trackers who could be looking for her. She was certain that she could defend herself against any woodland creatures that dared to get in her way. The elfling had escaped the clutches of an arranged marriage, after all. She was feeling invincible.

As Kydari crossed through the rocky field that lay between the hills and the forest, picking her way over the footfalls that threatened to sprain an ankle if she wasn’t careful, she began to realize just how big the forest was. The trees grew larger and larger the closer she got, some of them blotting out the sun to cast great shadows amongst the entrance, giving the encroaching forest a less inviting mood than she had first anticipated. It wasn’t long before she stood just at the edge of the treeline, staring hesitantly into the endless depths of thick, overgrown vegetation.

“Maybe...this isn’t a good idea…” Kydari found herself saying aloud, with no one else around to agree with her. It felt strange hearing a voice amongst the silence of the trees, even if it was her own. She involuntarily shivered in the coolness of the shade.

A large, unseen bird chirped loudly within the forest, causing Kydari to jump at the sound. She knew it was only a bird, but her heart raced with a fear she hadn’t realized was boiling just beneath the surface. Alright, that’s enough, she decided to herself and she turned to head back towards the trail, the unknown of the dark forest just too great for a sheltered girl like herself to handle. It was as she began to turn her back on the trees that the sight of something peculiar, something she hadn’t noticed before, dangled into view. It was a totem of some sort, tied to a low hanging branch just out of her reach. Ignoring her previous feelings of wariness, Kydari stepped closer to get a better look.

The totem had been fashioned out of the skull of a small animal, most likely a fox by the canine shape of the snout. Dried flowers were wrapped around the crown of the skull like a tiny wreath, with vines dangling behind it. A pendant hung from the bottom of the skull, a small crystal bound in the center with some sort of symbol cast in metal just beneath it. The sight of a dead animal should have scared her but there was something peaceful about the way it had been displayed, almost like it was being honored.. It was hard for Kydari to make out what the symbol below the crystal was, so she reached out and cupped the pendant in her hand and brought it towards her face to see it.

As soon as she touched the pendant, a strange feeling washed over her like warm honey; a feeling of calm. Her worries seemed to melt away and she no longer feared the endless sea of trees around her. In fact, they were almost calling to her. She looked down at the symbol in her hand and studied its shape, trying to remember if she had seen it in one of her books. A memory of Miss Opry explaining to her the different races and species that roamed Varlath swam into focus and she trained her brain on recalling what she had learned about the people of the forest.

“Woodlings, a rather barbaric race of elves that have chosen to make their homes amongst the trees instead of cities like the Trali. Unsavory sort, running around hunting like heathens, living in huts in the trees. That is no life worth living for dignified citizens such as ourselves.”

Kydari could hear her words ringing out with distaste in every word. Each forest had a singular clan that claimed the boundaries, as they were very territorial people. When she was younger she had fantasised how exciting it would be to live in a tree, often while she hid in one of her own on the estate.  Now she stood outside the forest, its name of Everlight slowly coming back to her. And if this was in fact the Everlight Forest, then that would mean…

“Yithi.” She whispered the woodling clan’s name. She had forgotten all about them.

She realized that she was still holding the pendant in her hand. Carefully so as not to pull the totem down, Kydari let it swing back into place, the empty eyes of the fox skull gently swaying back and forth before coming to a stop. She could still feel the calm cascading over her, the name ‘Yithi’ hovering on her lips. It was insane to think that a city elf could ever make it through woods as intimidating as this, yet she couldn’t pull herself away. Away back to the world that she never really felt a part of. She looked over her shoulder where she could see the rocky hills in the distance, then she looked back to the totem hanging nearby.

If she went home now, she would no doubt receive the biggest punishment of her life from both her parents and Miss Oprey. She would never be allowed to go outside again, not until she was old enough to marry. Then, she would be shipped off to live with Galyn in another cold mansion where she would be a privileged prisoner in uncomfortable dresses. Her life had been planned out for her and the only adventure that would be left to experience would be death itself. She would be safe and rich for the rest of her days. And her soul would die, slowly, each day.

Kydari closed her eyes, breathing in the smells of damp soil and wild things, hearing the calls of free beasts roaming throughout the trees. The little elf girl with ruined slippers and hair like fire pushed out the last thoughts of her cold parents and how much their disappointment in who she was broke her heart.

She stepped into the forest.

 


Submitted: May 29, 2020

© Copyright 2021 K. Glidden. All rights reserved.

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