HRH Prince Torin, Duke of Yllowfort
Amaltea walks into what used to be the nursery. The room is empty now but the memories of her children playing in the room are still fresh in her mind. She walks to the window to look at the garden. Her thoughts are of her first born, Torin. Her beautiful boy now grown into a handsome young man. He has learned from the best tutors and grown up in two worlds. He will be the next Sovran of Barsi. He will be leaving for Yllowfort soon, where he will be Duke. There he will learn the day-to-day duties of governing a realm and, eventually, he will marry and have children of his own.
Amaltea sits on the windowsill. She feels sad and happy at the same time. Her son is a man and she has to let him go. In two days he will leave for Yllowfort with a small entourage of soldiers, servants, and half a dozen elves sent by his “grandmother” to protect and serve him. Tonight is the great ball. Everybody will be here to say their farewells to the young Prince and wish him luck on his new position. Every noble with a girl of marrying age will be here, too. He has the whole kingdom to choose from. Amaltea has seen how girls stare at Torin. Maybe he will pick a girl from Yllowfort; it would not hurt with his new position, in fact.
With a sigh, she stands and walks out of the room to make sure everything is ready for tonight’s celebration. Among other things, she must make sure that Amanda and Urrograg are presentable. Even though Amanda is much older than Urrograg she still does not behave like a lady—and probably never will. The thought of seeing Amanda in a fancy gown makes Amaltea smile.
Torin is in his room getting ready for tonight’s ball. Amanda has been spending as much time as she can with her older brother. She wants to go to Yllowfort; she has never been there and has heard that the town is quite lovely, especially this time of the year.
“Do you think you can convince father?” she asks.
“I’m sure you can take a break from your lessons to spend some time with your big brother,” Torin says with a wink. The door opens and Ephraim walks in.
“Did you call for me, Sir?” Torin’s face brightens and he quickly closes the distance between them.
“Did you deliver the message? Did you get a reply?”
“Yes, Sir,” is Ephraim’s answer, delivered with a straight face. Torin gets impatient.
“Well?! Which is it?!”
“The reply is ‘Yes.'” Ephraim smiles. Torin looks from Ephraim to Amanda and with a big smile on his face.
“You are so busted,” says Amanda. “When mother finds out, you are going to be in so much trouble.”
“I’m not a child anymore!”
“Oh, no, of course not. Only the Crown Prince and Duke of Yllowfort. Mother’s first born and Grandmother’s favorite. Shall I keep going?” Amanda says casually enjoying this moment. She leans back on the pillows with a mischievous smile on her face.
“Brat,” is all Torin can say.
“I won’t mind wearing that gown tonight…just the thought of tonight’s little surprise. You are still gonna be in trouble. This is gonna be fun!” Amanda sits up straight with a wide smile, she enjoys teasing her brother. Torin squints; he has to come back with something.
“Don’t you start with me! Or…or I will tell father about Gri—”
“No! You wouldn’t!” Amanda interrupts him before he can even speak the name out loud.
“Who’s gonna be in trouble now? Maybe I should go say hello to father, see how things are going.” Torin makes a big show as he walks towards the door, Amanda sprints from the bed to try to stop him.
“Stop right there!” Torin quickly opens the door and runs out, Amanda chasing after him. Ephraim watches them as they leave and smiling shakes his head.
“Children,” he chuckles and mutters to himself.
Carriages begin arriving at the palace. Amaltea and Xenograg are walking amongst the guests, greeting them and making polite conversation.
“You look stunning,” he tells Amaltea.
“Thank you,” she smiles at him.
“Would you dance with me?” he asks.
“What would my husband say?”
“I am not afraid of him.” He takes her hand and leads her to the dance floor. Urrograg watches his parents as they walk to the dance floor and decides it is time to look for other boys his age. Amanda has been having a great time—her dance card has been full all night. She sees Torin surrounded by several young ladies and he gives her a pleading look.
“Would you excuse me?” she tells her partner and makes her way to her brother.
“Torin, would you dance with me?” she says, interrupting Lady Christa of Kingsbridge. She does not feel sorry one bit about it. She does not like her much, anyway.
“Thanks, sis. They are driving me crazy,” he says with a heavy sigh.
“You looked like you needed a break, and stop staring at the door!”
“I cannot help it, I…we have been waiting for this for so long.”
“I know, but try to enjoy yourself until then.”
Amaltea, who has noticed her son’s roving attention, summons Ephraim.
“What is wrong with Torin? I thought you said he was prepared for all this,” she asks.
“He is, Your Highness. I believe he is just—” Ephraim begins but is interrupted by the crowd’s murmur. Amaltea and Ephraim look to the door—where the rest of the crowd is looking. A beautiful maiden with golden hair, dressed in a flowing silk gown, is standing at the entrance waiting to be announced.
“Lady Lindariel of Verdell and escort,” comes the page’s voice over the noise. Xenograg cannot help but also stare at the door. Amaltea pales and looks at Ephraim. Ephraim has suddenly found the wall opposite so fascinating that he cannot take his eyes from it. Torin and Amanda stop dancing. His face brightens like the sun and he strides towards the Lady of Verdell. Amanda smiles, watching every girl in the room frown and turn green with envy. She then looks at her mother’s face and swallows hard.
The Barsi royal family is among the small group of humans who know that Verdell is a fictitious county traditionally used by elves to hide their true homeland, Shanlar.
Xenograg ushers Amaltea to the side where he stops a serving boy and gets two glasses of champagne. He offers one to Amaltea.
“I am going to kill that boy and there is nothing you can say to stop me,” Amaltea tells Xenograg in a low and dangerous tone after taking a drink from her glass.
“I’m sure there is an explanation for all this,” he tells her. Aware that the guests are paying attention to their reaction to the new guest, Amaltea puts on her best smile and takes Xenograg’s arm. Amaltea watches as her son dances with the fair elven girl. He looks like he will burst from joy and the girl looks just as happy. She has not seen her son this happy about anything or anyone before. The initial shock of her son’s surprise is passed. Now she can actually watch as the young couple move practically alone on the dance floor. It takes more than a few minutes for others to join in; perhaps they, too, had to let the shock of the unexpected guest sink in.
The dance ends and Amanda is the first one to approach the young couple.
“Lindariel, I’m so glad you made it!” They hold hands as they greet each other.
“My parents wanted to make sure I had a proper escort. You know how meticulous they are about details,” she says to Amanda before looking back to Torin. They cannot stop looking at each other. Suddenly the three of them are surrounded: young ladies curious to meet the beguiling Lady Lindariel and young men hoping to dance with her. Ephraim slips in beside Torin.
“Highness, your mother, the Queen, wishes to have a word with you,” he whispers. Torin swallows hard and looks at Amaltea. She is standing next to Xenograg, having what appears to be a pleasant conversation with some guests. She glances at her son but he cannot read her face. Torin nods to Ephraim.
“Ladies, would you please excuse me,” he says—more to his sister and Lindariel than to the rest—and walks towards her mother. Amanda glances quickly from Amaltea to Torin and hopes that everything turns out well for him. Torin approaches his parents feeling more than a little nervous. He stands by his mother waiting for her to notice him. She finishes her small talk with the Lord and Lady of Kingsbridge and turns.
“Torin, dear. Would you take a walk with me?” She takes her son’s arm and excuses herself. Xenograg and Torin exchange glances but Torin cannot get a read out of his father, either. He starts feeling seriously nervous.
Amaltea and Torin end up walking outside in the moonlit gardens. Torin is afraid to say a word so he waits for his mother to speak first. He still does not know what her mood is or what she will say; it is killing him. Amaltea finally speaks.
“When were you going to tell me?” she asks—not angry, just a question.
“I was afraid that if I told you, you would have said no.” Amaltea stops walking and sits on a bench. She looks up at her son standing there afraid of what she will say next. Her boy is no longer a boy but a young man. Her boy is in love with a young girl. He has chosen, and who is she to tell him he cannot. She feels a range of emotions going through her all at once. The ones that remain are simultaneously happiness and sadness. She pats the bench for him to sit with her. He sits and, unable to control himself any longer, sighs.
“Mother, I love her. And she loves me. Please don’t be angry.” His pleading tone almost breaks her heart. Amaltea finally smiles at him.
“How can I be angry at you?” she says, taking his hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze. Torin is confused as this is not what he was expecting. He first looks surprised. He then repeats in his own mind what his mother just said, and he smiles. So relieved that his mother is not angry, he does not know what to say. Amaltea stands again and pulls him up.
“Let’s go back before Xeno thinks I’ve killed you,” she says. Torin, still unable to talk, just laughs nervously; but he feels like a weight just lifted off his shoulders. He smiles brightly and escorts his mother back to the ballroom.
Amaltea stands next to Xenograg as Torin walks back to where Lindariel and Amanda are sitting still surrounded by a small group of young people. They look like they are having the best time of their lives. The music is playing and Torin takes Lindariel’s hand to lead her back to the dance floor. Amaltea watches them dance, their faces are the perfect picture of happiness. She then looks at Amanda, who just accepted to dance with another young man. Her little girl is not a little girl anymore, either, and soon she will choose someone for herself. She then sees Urrograg standing to a side of the room. Trying his best to behave like a grown-up, but she knows he has been playing from the bit of dirt on his knee. Her children are growing up. She feels her throat tighten and her eyes water a bit. Xenograg notices. He takes her hand in his and brings it to his lips.
“Are you alright?” he asks. Amaltea looks at him and nods.
“Yes,” she smiles. “Everything is alright.”