A fog rose heavy over the autumn morning, breaking only a sliver for the first light of the still-hidden sun. Each blade of meadow grass had been frozen in its place with an early frost which now glistened as it melted and slid down to water the fields of New Praet. Two statues had been erected in honor of the slain royals, giving the people of Komae a place to grieve the tragic loss. Here they gathered, clustered around now-smoldering campfires with friends and family and sometimes complete strangers. From the South, they came. From the East, they came. Even the North was represented. None came from the West. Those who gathered came with one common purpose: To mourn with their fellow Komaens. The Grief, it had been dubbed years ago. When a Lord or Lady of Komae died, the community came together to share their sorrow and pay honor to those they loved dearly.
When Lady Aeryl and her infant son had died, Komaens had stayed for an entire week. Now, with the tragic end to the lives of the King and his youngest daughter, Komaens remained there on the grass for two weeks with no plan to go home. Days were spent mourning. Nights were spent storytelling around campfires, retelling each night the fond memories of a most beloved royal family. No one seemed ready to return to their homes. No one seemed ready to admit they were truly gone. No one seemed ready to go on with their normal lives.
The monument to King Alaen stood twice as tall as the man it honored, the smooth white marble carved into a likeness of the man the people so dearly loved. At his marbled feet lay hundreds of deep blue Trillae flowers –the three-petaled flower of his home in Kaldem. Beside this, with his arm outstretched to rest upon the shoulder of the smaller monument, a similar marbled likeness stood—but only half the height—bearing the likeness of Komae’s younger princess, Maella. Her bare feet were adorned in white and pink blossoms no bigger than her marble toes. These were native to New Praet and Maella had, since her earliest years, taken to weaving them together to form a flowering circlet to wear upon her head. She wore two now, one etched for eternity into marble, the other twisted together the previous day by the girl Jayla, who had been Maella’s friend.
Jayla lived with her parents just outside of New Praet, and still they camped here in the field with the rest of the nation. Four of her five brothers had come home with their wives and children, and they all shared a fire. Every night, Jayla sat silent as her family told stories of the old days. She listened eagerly, especially the stories about Lady Aeryl. Maella had never truly stopped grieving her mother’s death, or the loss of her baby brother, and Jayla felt she was honoring her friend’s grief by soaking up every detail she could learn about the Queen. Long after her family fell asleep, Jayla would study the stars, remembering everything she could about her dearest friend. Her gaze would land upon a star, and Jayla would study it as she remembered, as if she could etch the memory into the face of the star to be looked upon some other night when she most missed her friend.
To each star, she assigned a memory, repeating them night after night. Pillire, the first star to appear each night, held the memory of the friends playing in the river in Rhileon near the Tree of Mukahryl. Kidget, the red star that was only visible in late summer and autumn, was given the memory of the girls practicing their bows until they were able to best Lord Dahve’s sons at archery. Pitti, the Ohr Star, kept the memory of their teasing Kharana. All of Jayla’s favorite moments with the princess were committed to a star, and each night she recounted them until she drifted to sleep where she lived them again in her dreams. Each morning, she woke at daybreak, thinking she had heard Maella’s voice.
On this morning, Jayla had been dreaming once again. Her heart remembered an occasion the previous spring, when the Lords and Ladies were preparing for the Festival of Blooms. Maella brought Jayla to her chamber, bathed her, and draped her in a sage chiffon dress. The girls giggled and spoke of whether Davon or Donahl was the handsomer of Lord Dahve’s sons, and Maella even braided her blonde locks to rest on Jayla’s shoulder. Then, dressed in their fine gowns, they ran to the Great Hall, where Maella sang a boisterous tune as she taught the younger girl to dance.
Somewhere in the distant trees, the melody of a Yellow Dara lifted to greet daybreak. Jayla woke to the sound, thinking it was the Princess and they were still in the Great Hall. She shivered against the blanket wrapped tightly around her body. The bird continued its song until the child rose. The rest of the field lay motionless, but she stood. There before the statues stood a young woman, her head tilted up so she could look upon the likeness of the King. Her form and height were so similar to Jayla’s dear friend that even in the shadows of predawn, Jayla knew – she could only have been the Princess.
Or her ghost.
Was it the Princess? Or her ghost? Or was Jayla merely lost in a dream?
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From the shores of Wicket Lake,