Yasmina silently scolded herself for allowing these feelings to develop. She reasoned that her loneliness and isolation made her vulnerable, and, naturally, she would fall for the first man who was nice to her. Still, she felt like a fool for even thinking about loving Aidan. He was the prince and future king, and while it may not have been totally unheard of for a royal to wed a peasant, it was unheard of for a witch to take the throne! When the kingdom learned the truth about Daeva’s control over the current ruler, the mistrust of a witch in power would only heighten! She decided not to encourage herself to allow these notions to manifest anymore. She wanted to believe that Aidan would still maintain a friendship with her after they succeeded in their quest, but she had gotten so used to people hiring her for a short time only to boot her out as soon as they could get by without her. She didnt’ want to get heartbroken at the end of this, so she reminded herself to be more careful from now on.
Avoiding these feelings suddenly seemed difficult as Aidan let out a contented sigh. She wanted to fancy that their closeness brought about that response, but her mind alerted her to what she just promised herself, so she quickly looked for a distraction. She found herself absentmindedly petting Ardeshir, so she shifted her attention to him. “So, Ardeshir, you have the essence of a warlock, how come you cant’ release magic through your paws or something?”
“I’ve been asking myself that for the last hundred years!” Ardeshir replied. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and what I came up with was that it was a design of nature to only have magic be honed by human beings in order to protect and preserve the planet. If you could switch bodies with a Comas or some other large monster and you could do magic, can you imagine the chaos?”
To Yasmina’s relief, Aidan did not revert back to the sentimental conversation they had before and stayed on the current subject. “Why did you pick a cat? I mean, if you could become any animal, wouldn’t you pick something more powerful?”
“My house-cat was already around, it was convenient. If I had to do it all over again, I would pick a more impressive animal!” When he heard his thought out loud, he quickly changed his mind. “No, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have done that spell at all! If I ever get another human body again, I’ll be a little less reckless. I realize there’s a line that the magi were not meant to cross! There are dire consequences for those who do so!”
“What about Daeva?” Yasmina asked somewhat bitterly. “She seems to have faced no punishment for her wicked deeds! And you know she has probably broken all kinds of rules of the natural world!”
“There’s still time,” Aidan pointed out. “Maybe we’re the repercussion for of the evil she has done.” Ardeshir and Yasmina hadn’t thought of that before and seemed to enjoy the idea. Aidan looked to the ceiling and called out, “Do you hear that, Daeva? We will get to Duanolc and you face justice soon!”
Ardeshir informed him, “She can’t hear you. The potion allows you to spy on someone visually but nothing beyond that.”
“You don’t know that,” Aidan retorted.
“Fair enough,” Ardeshir agreed.
Yasmina mused, “If she can’t hear you, I wonder what she thinks you’re doing by yelling at the top of this tree!” The three of them laughed.
When the rain stopped, the sun began to rise. Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir had fallen asleep but got woken up when they heard something land on a nearby branch. They woke up startled, then they ducked down to assess the situation. They were ready to attack whatever creature knew that they were cornered in that tree hollow, but then it hopped onto a branch that they could see. The three of them felt incredibly silly to have gotten scared by a robin! Out of a mix of relief and foolish feelings, they breathily chuckled. Ardeshir joked, “Who wants breakfast?”
Yasmina and Aidan made disgusted faces, and Yasmina responded, “Not that I’m tempted, but I don’t think that bird would have enough meat for all three of us!”
Ardeshir wondered, “What if it’s not actually a bird? What if it’s a shape-shifting monster?”
“Time to go!” Aidan responded immediately, and they all left as rapidly as possible.
As they walked down the sunlit road, Yasmina brought up, “When you hunted food in these woods, did you ever go after a shape-shifting monster?”
Ardeshir replied, “A couple of times. You can usually tell when they’re a real bird versus a shape-shifter, the latter behave differently than the creature they’re pretending to be.”
Aidan noted, “Daeva watched us get scared by a bird! She probably thinks we’re going to be easy to defeat!”
“I don’t know about that,” Yasmina differed, “She deliberately spied one of us. If she didn’t view us as a threat, she wouldn’t have done that.”
Ardeshir debated, “But if she really thought we stood any chance to defeat her, wouldn’t she have come out and destroyed the threat a long time ago?”
Aidan reminded him, “She prefers to let others do the dirty work, like making her puppet take the throne instead of finding a way to call herself queen. Even with my family, she sent other people to do the deed instead of facing us herself. If anything, if she sees us as a threat, she’ll send her servants to get us before we make it to Duanolc.”
Yasmina added, “I’m kind of glad she has that policy! If she had shown up at the onset of our journey, I wouldn’t have been ready! I’m still not, but I have a better shot at surviving than I did before!” They all laughed.
In the dark castle, Duanolc, Daeva sat imperiously on a black, thorny, throne-like chair that overlooked a nearly empty and dark room. A small, skinny, old woman nervously walked in, her footsteps echoing each step she took. Whe nshe came to the dais that Daeva had perched on, she curtsied. “Greetings, Master Daeva!”
“What do you want?” Daeva grumped.
The old woman stammered, “King Dorian cut off trade with-.”
“Yes, I know!” Daeva cut her off. “He did so by my design.”
“Oh!” the woman became somewhat flustered. “It’s just that my village relied on trading with that kingdom! Without their ingredients, we can’t make the potions that people come to our village for!”
“So!” Daeva replied coldly.
“So?” the elderly witch puzzled. “Master, without these potions, we’re nothing! We’re running out of money, which means we’re running out of food too!”
Daeva definitely seemed more annoyed than sympathetic. “Learn a new trade! Grow your own food! Adapt or you will perish!” The old witch looked shocked, which made Daeva yell, “What do you want me to do? Reverse my decision just for you? How can you be so selfish?”
The old woman hung her head low. “I thought you wanted mortals to waste away, not your fellow magi!” She quickly realized what she had said and gasped.
Just as the elderly witch had feared, Daeva exploded, “How dare you! Kadera!” Kadera came limping in, and Daeva told her, “Dispose of her!” The woman begged for her life as Kadera dragged her out of the room.
As Aidan, Yasmina, and Ardeshir walked down the Shadow Path, Aidan excitedly conversed, “Can you believe it? In a few hours, we should arrive at Bothar Ri!”
Ardeshir less enthusiastically noted, “The crossroad to the castles Duanolc and Rogamaith, each only a day’s journey away!”
“Yes, exactly! Aidan chimed. “Sorry, but it’s so close to my home! I’m just excited to get near it!”
Yasmina gingerly asked, “It doesn’t, um, remind you of where your family lost their lives?” Aidan’s face twisted into a bit of a frown, so Yasmina quickly apologized, “I’m sorry if I seemed insensitive! I was just thinking that if it were me, I don’t think I could even lay eyes on the place where my family got massacred!”
Aidan replied, “I will always remember that horrible day! Every detail! But it is also why I must return! Their blood runs in my veins, and I must carry on their legacy! I hate the fact that this spineless, vile, horrible excuse for a king walks where they once did! I have to make it right!”
“You’re fortunate that you have such an honorable lineage!” Yasmina commented. “I come from a line of peasant farmers who turned away their only daughter, not caring if she lived in isolation and misery! That’s nothing to be proud of!”
“That’s not true!” Aidan disagreed. “The fact that you went through all of that and still have the courage to show others kindness and love shows you have a strong heart and a noble spirit! You’ve created a new path to follow and greater ideals for future generations!”
Yasmina found herself flushing furiously! She had no idea anyone let alone a prince thought so highly of her! It was so hard for her to imagine future generations until this moment, and after picturing returning to isolation after this quest, it felt strange to even imagine! Aidan inquired, “Do you want to have kids someday?”
Without thinking, Yasmina joked “Is that an invitation?” She heard herself say it out loud, and gasped, “I’m so sorry! I’m so weary from the journey, it just slipped out!” Ardeshir roared in laughter, and she felt surprised to see it was Aidan’s turn to blush. She cringed and secretly wished for a distraction. She regretted that desire as a large shadow appeared before them…