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“Have you noticed anything different or unusual about the princella since our last conference?” asked Chronicler Sewel.
“Not really,” Queen Cressa had to admit with a sidelong glance at her daughter, who was perched—with a sullen mouth—on the chair beside her in the chronicler’s private office. His desk, bookshelves, and stiff-backed chairs made the modest room cramped, or perhaps the queen’s physical discomfort arose from the subject at hand. This was the fourth time she had brought Princella Cerúlia for her Definition, and again the visit boded to be a failure.
“She hasn’t shown extraordinary perception or navigational ability or skill at archery?”
“No,” Cerúlia spoke for herself. “I haven’t.”
Sewel nodded. His quill scratched against a piece of paper, his hand shielding his words.
“Princella, do you know what I’ve written?”
“Now, how could I know that?” she answered, the front of her shoe just reaching the floor, which allowed her to scuff her toes.
“How would we recognize, Sewel, if she manifested as a puppeteer?” asked the queen.
“That’s easy enough. Princella, use your mind to make me clap my hands.”
Sewel’s hands didn’t move. Cerúlia made a sound of disgust.
“What about a far-viewer?” Queen Cressa suggested. “Cerúlia, can you see your father?”
“Mamma, I would have told you if I could.” Although she didn’t move her feet, her mother heard the tiny snort through her nose and saw the way her upper lashes slammed against her lower.
“Indeed,” said Sewel, rubbing his sparse goatee. “I imagine that you’ve become acutely aware of past queens’ Talents.”
“Grand-mamma was Defined at four summers, and Mamma at six, and here I am at eight, and I can’t do anything.”
“I highly doubt, my princella, that after having endowed all the queens of Weirandale with a special Talent, Nargis would abruptly discontinue the practice with you.” Sewel gestured toward the indicia of Nargis in the room: a waist-high, white marble column that broadened at the top into a bowl shape. Water continually overflowed the bowl, falling into a ribbonlike trough that circled back down around the base. “We must just not have recognized your ability.”
Cressa found Sewel’s surety comforting. “We keep expecting that you will be an Enchanter like me,” she said. “We may be overlooking something obvious or something rare.”
“Mamma, can’t you use your Enchanter’s Talent to figure it out?” Cerúlia asked. Her face looked drawn in the pale light of a winter morning.
“I wish I could. My own Talent is so limited.”
“If you’d read more in The Queens’ Chronicles, Your Majesty, you would realize that all Talents grow over time. They typically start quite narrow, and then as the queen matures and faces challenges, she discovers that her Talent spreads into adjacent areas. Nargis does not want to overwhelm her queens with Powers they are not yet ready to wield.” Sewel’s gaze grew distant and he rubbed his chin again. “Though no Talent is limitless. Each queen inevitably discovers blockages and exclusions. I’ve often wondered if Nargis places these there with some kind of design.…”
“Yes, yes. I know I must make the time to look at the books on other Enchanters,” the queen acknowledged with a touch of frustration. “At any rate, I take it we can make no further progress today toward Defining the princella?”
“Princella,” Sewel addressed her directly and leaned forward, “is there anything you can do that other people can’t?”
“Last time I told you I like to make up stories—but lots of people can do that. And nothing happens when I tell tales; I mean, the giants don’t become real or anything like that.”
“She’s got a good ear for music,” said Cressa. “But, we discussed this last year and I’ve paid close attention ever since; music may be a comfort in her life, but not a magical Talent.”
“I can talk to my horse?” Cerúlia offered hesitantly.
Sewel leaned back, his head—because he was so slight of stature—not even reaching the top of the chair back. A smile reached his gray eyes. “Ah, that childish fancy.”
“It’s not a ‘childish fancy,’” said Cerúlia, with an extra swing of her foot.
“Oh, I didn’t mean on the part of Your Highness; I was referring to my own fancy, when I was young, that I could talk to my pony.” Sewel’s neat-featured face lost its habitual shrewd expression. “I used to whisper in his ears by the hour and imagine he understood me. I think such a belief is quite common among children.”
“And he talks back to me,” Cerúlia said.
“Out loud?” asked the chronicler, sitting up straighter.
“No. In my head.”
“Does he speak the Common Tongue?”
“No, not really,” her daughter faltered a little. “He just … well, thinks at me.”
“Hm-mm,” Sewel shook his head. “My pony conveyed that he wanted a treat, or he wanted his neck scratched. Animals are remarkably good at communicating their desires nonverbally, aren’t they?” The royal chronicler brightened. “But this may show that you are on the way toward developing a branch of Intuition—which is a subset of Enchantment. Your Majesties, I’d suggest you stay alert for any more definitive manifestation. In the meantime, I will do a little research.” He waved his hand at the arched doorway behind his desk that led from his office into the Royal Library.
“Very well, Sewel.” Cressa rose, Cerúlia followed suit, and Sewel jumped to his feet. “Cerúlia, run along to your lesson chamber—Tutor Ryton will be waiting.”
Once her daughter had left them alone, the queen, standing with her hands on her chair back, addressed her chronicler. “Sewel, tell me, should I be worried? Has this ever happened before?”
“We must have faith. The Waters flow on the path they choose,” he replied. However, under her continued intense gaze, he withered. “Ah, no. Not to my knowledge. Usually a princella’s Talent is marked by five, or six at the latest.”
“And after the chronicler Defines her,” said Cressa, “he hoists the Queen’s Flag, so that everyone knows that Nargis has again blessed the line with some extraordinary power as a mark of the Spirit’s favor. That the whole palace marks us visiting you and yet the flag is never raised—this is becoming hard for Cerúlia.” She meant to excuse her daughter’s pouts; she didn’t add that the uncertainty also undercut her own rule; Sewel would understand this.
Sewel made a helpless, baffled shrug. “As you said, Your Majesty, we must be overlooking something obvious or something rare. Nargis grants the Talents, but it is up to us to recognize them, and then it is up to you royals to learn how to wield them.”
Two days after her humiliating visit to the chronicler’s office, Cerúlia looked up from her work to gaze at the reflections from Pearl Pond that skittered about on the ceiling. The small lake on the side of the palace had no pearls in it; it just reflected the building’s white stone.
Tutor Ryton coughed deliberately. She shot him a grin and he responded by raising his eyebrows at her. Instead of picking up her quill, Cerúlia crossed to the window and surveyed the scudding clouds.
“Princella!” reprimanded Tutor Ryton.
“I want to see if it’s still fine out, ’cause we talked about going out later.” Really, she wanted to see if the blue bird was perched anywhere in view, but she caught no sight of it.
“Princella, please return to your task.”
Cerúlia sighed dramatically and turned away from the window. She stopped to pet her little greyhound, Zizi, who was toasting herself in a tight circle in front of the fire.
Zizi, do you hear me?
Getting no response, she crossed to the large desk, where Ryton traced another map for her to work on.
“How far do you think I can tip this inkwell before it spills?” she asked, reaching across his work to the filigreed brass pot.
Ryton merely cocked an eyebrow.
Cerúlia tipped it once slightly, then again more vigorously. The third time she cried, “Oops!”
Ryton sprang to his feet to get away from the liquid—but the inkwell still stood upright in her little fingers.
Cerúlia giggled at Ryton’s jump, but her tutor just shook his head with a sorrowful expression. She decided he looked somewhat like a hound, what with his sad round eyes, long nose, and big ears.
“You’re no fun,” she said. Teasing him never made him laugh; it just made him sad. Reluctantly, Cerúlia returned to her stool and began writing in names of the capitals of the duchies on the blank map of Weirandale on her own table. She’d filled in three more when she heard her mother’s quick footsteps approaching down the tiled hall toward her lesson chamber.
Most days, her mother or nursemaid would look in on her—especially since Tutor Ryton had mentioned the princella occasionally behaved impudently with him.
“Your Majesty,” said her tutor, bowing, as her mother walked in.
“How does our pupil today?” asked Mamma, coming to stand behind Cerúlia, with a hand resting on her shoulder.
“She’s been applying herself well enough, Your Majesty,” he answered, though he lifted his brows a bit at Cerúlia again.
“See, I’ve filled in all the Western Duchies—I’ve only got the Eastern ones left.”
Her mother stroked her hair. “After you write in all their names, Tutor Ryton will tell you about the major crops in each. Don’t you think that would be wise, Tutor?”
“Very wise,” he replied.
“But Mamma, I was almost done with this! Why’d you have to make it harder?”
“Hush, Cerúlia, you will study as Ryton and I see fit: you’ll need to know so many, many things someday.”
There was a knock on the door, and then a guard allowed Tiklok, mother’s favorite messenger, to burst in.
“Beg pardon, Your Majesty,” he said as he bowed.
Her mamma took the fat envelope Tiklok offered on a silver tray. She always treated him gently, even if he did have that awful hole in his cheek and whenever he spoke he made an odd noise that sounded half huffing and half whistling.
Cerúlia ran to Tiklok to play their “Giant-Go-A-Walking” game: he held out his hands while she stood on his large boots. She balanced on his feet as he took long steps. It took him only five strides to cover the whole length of the room.
“Faster,” ordered Cerúlia while her mother pulled out several pages of thick vellum. But she found that the game was not as much fun as when she was little, before she was the only Undefined princella in the whole history of the realm. And her mamma looked stricken.
“Mamma. What’s wrong?”
“Hm-mm?” said Mamma, scanning several pages ahead. She turned to Tiklok. “You must find Councilor Belcazar and tell him to meet me in my closet.
“I must attend to this matter,” she continued. “Ryton, I’ve changed my mind. Instead of working on the duchies, have our girl look at larger maps. Teach her to identify the Great Powers and their major cities.”
Her mother swished out, leaving only an overlooked token of her presence, like when the blue bird dropped a feather. Cerúlia picked up the discarded envelope. The sealing wax shone red, and when she folded the flap back in place, she made out an imprint showing many jagged shapes.
“What’s this, Tutor?”
“That’s the signet of Oromondo. Those symbolize the eight flames of their Magi.”
“Flames?” asked Cerúlia.
“Yes, in Oromondo they worship Fire.”
“Not the Waters of Life?”
Ryton shook his head; he was preoccupied with pulling out a giant scroll and laying it out on the big easel table with weights to hold down the corners.
“Come here, Princella; we will study Queen Catreena’s map of the Great Powers,” he said, moving a stool so she could stand on it. “I will show you where your father’s ships are now.”
“Will you show me this country, with the red flames?”
“Of course,” he said, patting the stool.
She didn’t like the way this letter had troubled her mother. “I’m coming,” she said, still staring at the red wax.
On her way she detoured to throw the envelope into the fire. “There,” she said, with satisfaction. “That’s the end of them.”
The fire flamed up so intensely around the envelope that it almost caught the hem of her skirt as she turned away.
Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Kozloff