Find chapter one here.
“Thank you for coming,” Princess Noemi addressed the last of the day’s line of men. “I hope you find your match.”
“Thank you, Princess, and same for you,” the man replied to her back.
They were all the same, the farmers, nobles, blacksmiths, knights, and even foreign citizens whom her parents brought in for her to look at. Each stranger blurred together, an indistinguishable, monotonous blob. Her cheeks ached from smiling in thanks and apology at them—thanks that they cared for her life enough to venture far distances on the tiny chance that they would spark the color in her eyes and so somehow save her life, apology that their efforts were for naught.
Gratitude toward the men had always been her foremost response, but in the course of the recent days, Noemi found frustration warring with the more pleasant emotion. Today, she could not even make herself linger until the last hopeful left the room.
“You broke his spirit,” Noemi’s friend Garrin drawled. Footsteps echoed in the stone corridor as he, together with Trace and Verrell, fell in behind the princess.
Guilt twinged Noemi’s conscience. “I did?” She hesitated in the hall. Trace barely managed to avoid bumping into her.
“He will languor in the grief of missing your favor until the day he dies,” Trace placed a hand over her heart and pretended to weep. The boys laughed.
Noemi spun half-way around on her slipper-clad heel. “I should go back and apologize,” she told her friends.
She caught the roll of Verrell’s eyes. “They’re just teasing you,” the young man said.
Noemi glanced at Garrin. A smirk hid in the corner of his lips, verifying Verrell’s claim. She gave Garrin a look of indulgent understanding. “I know,” Noemi assured Verrell. “Still, it was rude of me to leave so abruptly.” Finally decided, she looked back down the hall—and saw him for the first time.
He was tall, clad in the mail and cloak of a knight. A sword swung at his left hip, a quiver full of arrows hung on his back, strapped on by a plain belt running diagonally over his chest. The eagle emblazoned on his chest denoted his character and prestige among the dragon slayers—as noteworthy as the Order of the Lion, but known for far less rage and infidelity. Long hair marked his arrival from a recent campaign in the wilderlands. It parted on his forehead, revealing dark-rimmed, light eyes filled with the strongest wonder Noemi had ever seen.
So that was what it looked like when someone received color vision from the first sight of their true love.
Noemi’s heart lurched in decadent hope.
A small hand grabbed her arm with painful force. Noemi flinched. “Ow! Trace, what—” Noemi glanced over her shoulder and saw the stranger’s wonder mirrored on the familiar face of the Chief Advisor’s daughter.
“Noemi,” Trace breathed, scarcely blinking, “it’s real. It’s—it’s like seeing for the first time.”
“Good sir, may I ask who you are?” Garrin asked the knight. His voice lacked the cordiality of his words.
Princess Noemi looked back at the stranger, view now partially blocked by Garrin’s body. She tried to ignore the sinking heaviness in her chest.
“Forgive me,” the man stuttered. He knelt respectfully. “I am Sir Lamar of the Eagle standard. I came to…” His eyes strayed to Trace. Awe replaced respect.
Garrin crossed his arms. “Yes?” he prompted.
Verrell laid a hand on Garrin’s shoulder. “Give him grace, Garrin,” Verrell reprimanded. “He doesn’t even know his newly-found beloved’s name yet. I’m sure gaining multi-chromatic sight must be quite a shock.”
“I don’t care if he is shocked by a bolt of lightning. If he doesn’t explain his business, I’m going to assume he’s a threat to the Princess.”
Noemi brushed her fingers over Garrin’s arm. He turned wary eyes back to her, but relaxed and stepped aside. “Sir Lamar,” Princess Noemi said gently, “may I inquire what brought you here?”
The poor man struggled to speak. “I…I came to warn you, your Majesty. There—there’s a dragon—I’ve been tracking her for months. She’s heading directly toward this castle.”
“I’m sure your comrades and the guard will not let it near me,” she dismissed.
Garrin was not so easily satisfied. “Hadn’t you better have slain than tracked it?”
“She lives not for my lack of effort,” Sir Lamar defended. “This wyrm is not one of the fire-breathing brutes. She is smart. She is cunning. Her voice sends all who listen into unbreakable sleep, and when they have perished from dehydration, she returns to feast on the corpses and burn their bones.”
The chill of fear joined the heaviness of disappointment in Noemi’s chest. So the vagrant seer Luc’s prophesy was almost upon her. Her eighteenth birthday was in two weeks; she had started to doubt the prophecy was real. If Sir Lamar was right…at least, after almost eighteen years, she finally understood what the seer meant by “fall prey to the serpent’s voice.”
For the first time, his prophecy seemed as real as the people next to her, as real as the accelerated beat of her heart.
For the first time, Noemi truly feared for her life.
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