“Did you enjoy the feast, princess?” Mirie asked while brushing Elenaril’s waist-length golden locks.
“Yes. The decorations were so lovely.” Elenaril smiled at the maid’s reflection in the mirror. “Those tiny pinecones were most adorable.”
Mirie set the brush down on the vanity and dipped her fingers in lavender oil. “And what did you think of Lord Omarion?”
Elenaril blushed. “I haven’t yet decided. A lady needs more time to invest her heart in these matters.”
“Of course. Forgive my prying.”
The oil felt warm and smooth as Mirie massaged it into the back of Elenaril’s neck, her fingers inching and squeezing out the stress tucked away in tight muscles. Lanterns swayed from the roots composing the hut’s ceiling, providing an aura of soft tranquility. Sheer curtains wrapped around a circular bed hung from twines hooked to the roots, the bedsheets and pillows silk with threaded gold. There were no windows in this particular structure, an unfortunate side effect of living inside of trees. But ventilation made its way through the root system, forced in by magical air tended to by servants around the clock.
Elenaril closed her eyes and imagined her bedchamber in the Crystal Palace. It was magnificent by memory, having given her many years of refuge away from Elu and his controlling ways. She recalled numerous occasions when she’d run into the chamber and lock the door with a key she kept tucked in her corset. The walls were wooden panes in a lavender color with golden borders. Velvet drapes in luxurious purple kept out the sun at the height of summer when the sun would set well after midnight. Her bed could sleep five of her maidens, plus herself, and it was then that she recalled her favorite maid was due to arrive in Rivenfell the day before the wedding.
So, tomorrow. Linelle, having been assigned as Elenaril’s personal handmaiden far back as she could remember, had gone to visit her ailing mother in Lieu. A flesh and blood friend from home would serve Elenaril far better than mere memories.
She leaned her head to the side so Mirie could finish braiding her hair. “May I ask you a question?”
“Most certainly, Your Highness. Anything.”
“What was Lord Omarion’s previous wife like?”
Mirie’s breath wavered. Her eyes narrowed in the mirror. “Why ask?”
“It’s best to leave the subject alone.”
“I assume it’s a rather sensitive one.”
“You assume correctly.”
Elenaril adjusted her position on the creaky wooden chair. She simply wanted to know what challenges she faced. Truthfully, she’d been concerned to learn Lord Omarion was a widower. Any man who’d lost as much as he wouldn’t want to love again. Of this she was certain.
Oh, but who did she think to fool? The only objective of her life was to be sold to the proper buyer. Elu didn’t so much care who that buyer was so long as the move was strategic. Her happiness, unfortunately, was of no grave concern to him.
And did she think to someday love Lord Omarion? Not in all the many ages of her life yet to come. He was attractive, yes, but attraction and love were two entirely different things.
Uneasy in her chair, she shifted again but this time the chair shook unnaturally. She glanced up at the lanterns swaying violently. The mirror on the vanity shook and pulsed, coming to a stop with a crash outside so loud it nearly made her jump out of her skin.
Elenaril screamed and threw her arms around Mirie.
“What in the world was that rackett?” Mirie’s voice trembled.
“Go see what it was,” Elenaril responded, her voice hoarse from fright.
Mirie cautiously approached the door. She opened it slow, methodical, shaky. Panic-stricken voices filled the night, flooding the room and alarming Elenaril. Something wasn’t right, and this she confirmed upon tasting the grittiness of dirt crunching between her teeth.
An older male servant ran up to the door. “A treehouse has fallen nearby. I’ve been instructed to escort you and the princess to Lord Omarion’s den for safety.”
“Oh, dear.” Mirie clutched the neckline of her tunic. “Is...is everyone all right?”
The servant shook his head. “A family was inside that house.”
* * *
Lord Omarion’s den more resembled a gigantic treehouse on the exterior. Under the starlight struggling to break through the forest canopy and the light of the lanterns positioned on the trail, a marvelous fir covered in moss stood out as the finest of all the trees in the vicinity. A cobblestone staircase led the way to the wooden door, illuminated by the orange glow of magical orbs suspended in midair.
Elenaril, holding Mirie’s hand, awed silently at the marvel before her. The fir stretched far above what her eyes could see. What was inside? How many floors were in the tree? Excitement stirred within her chest.
The servant led them up to the door and knocked. “His Lordship has the others preparing your quarters, princess. He requests that you sleep here tonight for safety’s sake.”
“And is he not in?” Elenaril inquired.
“He’s helping to dig out the family from the rubble,” he answered.
“Then it’s a grave situation.” Mirie wiped away a tear.
The door opened and an elven woman with thick auburn hair in a bun beckoned them inside. “I’m Sybil, Your Highness. It is an honor to serve you this evening.”
Elenaril glanced over her shoulder as she was pulled inside the treehouse. “What of my brother?”
“King Elu has been moved to a safer dormitory,” Sybil said. “Not to worry. He is in good hands.”
The den’s interior was cozy. Bark walls enclosed a narrow passageway in the foyer, where a wooden plank stood in the center of the floor. It glowed an off-white color and was surrounded by a thin curtain of magic. A wooden railing above the foyer closed off the rest of the house from below, leaving one way to enter and exit from this side of the tree.
“Come.” Sybil motioned Elenaril on to the plank. “You might feel a bit sick at first as we lift off the ground.”
Elenaril held on to Mirie’s arm for support as the plank lifted them up to the second story. The translucent magic tickled her cheeks and she felt a bit nauseous by looking below. She shut her eyes until the plank came to a halt.
The upstairs part of the den smelled like cinnamon and candied cherries. In the main sitting area, leather couches in a navy blue tone stood elegantly against the white pelt of a giant Frost Bear. Tapestries in rich color like ocean waves lined the bark walls with the Sylmaril House crest embroidered in gold thread. A large, fancy bookshelf housed a multitude of books on the eastern wall and silver braziers bathed the room in golden-orange light.
Sybil turned to the male servant accompanying them. “We shan’t need you again. Attend to the master. And thank you.”
“It’s been an honor to escort you, Your Highness.” The servant bowed graciously in front of Elenaril and descended to the bottom floor via the magical plank.
Mirie squeezed Elenaril’s hand. “The master has a spare room we’ll set you up in. You’ll be most comfortable and if you have any need there’s an apothecary with teas just across the way.”
“And where will Lord Omarion sleep?” Elenaril stretched her neck to study every inch, nook, and cranny of the hallway.
Sybil smiled back at her. “He’ll sleep in his chambers, of course. Not to worry. Mirie and I will be here to uphold your honor, dearest princess.”
“But this is improper.” Elenaril came to a stop. “I can’t sleep in the same house as him. I demand to be taken elsewhere at once.”
The maids froze, their golden eyes wide and mouths unresponsive.
Elenaril, having known from a young age her power over others, did not enjoy displaying her rank unless she deemed it absolutely necessary. However, the preservation of her purity was of utmost importance, even if she was guarding it against her future husband. “Find other accommodations for me and I’ll wait here until you’ve accomplished the task.”
Sybil’s words came out in a stutter. “But my lady, the master has ordered you be kept safe here. The tree fell on another house near the guest quarters and he’s afraid of having Your Highness be exposed to any more dangers.”
“I will stand pure before the Almighty Styr on my wedding day,” Elenaril said. “Do as I command at once or I’ll have you flogged for disobedience.”
“But there is nowhere else,” Sybil rebutted.
Mirie remained silent and stared down at the floor.
Elenaril crossed her arms. “Then go get the Forest Lord. I’ll wait patiently for him here.”
“Right away, Your Highness.” Sybil bowed and rushed out of sight.
“Would you like me to prepare you some tea?” Mirie asked while leading Elenaril into the study.
“No. I do not wish to be alone when he arrives.”
* * *
Omarion held out a lantern and climbed up the side of the collapsed tree. Rubble, leaves and wooden splinters threatened to foil his steps but he persevered into the depths of the unknown. Behind him, a handful of servants with axes and shovels called out the names of the trapped family members.
A child’s cry sounded nearby.
“There.” Omarion pointed the lantern to his left. “Hurry.”
He knelt beside a collapsed wall, digging his arm deep into the cool darkness. His fingers touched silky hair and the child’s screams intensified.
“We’ll get her out yet, master.” One of the servants beckoned his group forward.
Omarion assisted in the digging efforts. Through the tense moments of a child’s tender life hanging in the balance, he was able to pull her small frame out once the men lifted a wooden beam. Miraculously, the very beam had saved her from being crushed.
She cried in his arms, her face dirty and nightrobe torn to shreds. He held her close.
“There, there, little one. You’re safe now.” Omarion carried the frightened child outside and handed her to a maid. “See that she’s well cared for while we look for the rest.”
“Most certainly.” The maiden hustled away with the child, passing Inuril on the way out.
Omarion’s muscles tensed at the sight of his steward. “What is it?”
Inuril cleared his throat. “The princess wishes to see you.”
“Was she not moved?”
“She simply refuses to sleep in your den. I was told she’s hysterical.”
Because she’s a Caramil princess.
Inuril shrugged. “I’m simply passing the message along.”
Omarion frowned. “Can’t you be trusted to take care of these matters on your own? I’m tending to a very sensitive situation here and do not desire to take care of simple princess affairs. It’s what I have you for.”
“There’s nowhere else to move her to, my lord. What will you have me do?”
“Tell her she’s to stay put where she is.”
“Would you like me to speak with her, then?” Inuril’s face remained frigid like frost.
Omarion grew impatient. “Yes, yes. Tend to her every little fancy. Send her cakes if need be and more lavender perfume. Tell her I’m too busy handling the loss of life in this town to personally attend to her whims.”
Inuril cast his gaze down. “Very well.”
He spun around and hurried down the trail, his cloak billowing behind him.
Omarion brushed aside a strand of his ebony locks, letting out a frustrated grunt. Either he was in for it or he needed a new steward. Yet he could hardly stand to think of the wedding now. The gravity of two families buried under the trees already weighed heavy on his soul.
He returned to the tragic scene, every moment a tense and fearful one. Out of the rubble, one of the fathers was found dead. A mother had a broken leg but was otherwise going to live. The others had not yet been found.
But not even a short time after Omarion had banished Inuril the steward once again appeared with news of the princess.
“She demands you go to her,” Inuril said, his eyes pinched together in deep annoyance. “I dare not go against her command for she is—”
“Enough.” Omarion raised his voice. “Stay here and keep guard over the others. Or is that too hard of a task for you?”
Inuril quietly shook his head. “I’m sorry. Forgive my mediocrity.”
Omarion shoved past him.
On the way to his den, he cursed out loud at the thought of the princess being more trouble than her brother the king. Elu had fallen asleep next to a naked wench and all was well in his world. He’d been much too drunk to resist being moved to a lesser status house and that had worked to everyone’s favor. The unfortunate thing about living in such a place as Rivenfell was its isolated location, which meant less inhabitants, fewer houses, minimal space.
It had not been his first choice to live here. However, Rivenfell had provided a space for his healing after Nala’s death that could not be found elsewhere in the province. These forests lined the northern edge of the valley, pressed against untouched mountainous wilderness. He needed these woods, this nature. Styr nourished him through the land, helping to restore his broken, wounded heart. Yet he’d lived far too long in isolation and felt the call to mate thumping in his veins once more. The task of a royal to breed and continue the lineage was strong in the elven, manifesting as more of a need than a desire. In the case of King Elu, desire went unchecked. But to Omarion, pairing with a mate possessed its advantages. Elves with pairs lived longer and he wished to see his offspring make something great of House Sylmaril yet.
Upon entering his den, he detected the floral scent of the princess’s perfume. It stirred an uneasiness inside of him, not one ridden with anxiety, but of mere curiosity. He hadn’t given himself much of an opportunity to speak with her, learn about her, or think about what all of this truly meant.
And once he gazed upon her face, the anger of being ripped away from his task subsided.
He found her in the study with Mirie, sitting daintily by the hearth fire warming her feet. They were small feet pale ivory in color, toenails painted a soft tone of pink. There was a fragility to them, an entrancing femininity; and he was slightly disappointed when she slipped them back into her satin slippers.
Princess Elenaril stood when he entered the room, hands cupped above her abdomen, face serene yet proud. She was remarkably beautiful, even more so than he recalled, with prominent ethereal features and cat-like green eyes. Her lips were the same shade of rose as her nail polish, silky and perhaps soft to the touch. A slender gold crown lined the top of her head standing in contrast against the pale blonde of her hair.
He acknowledged her with a deep nod. “Inuril tells me you are displeased with your sleeping arrangement this evening.”
She did not shift. Nor blink. “I am.”
“The inconvenience must distress Your Highness.”
“It is purity which concerns me.”
He should’ve known. “There will be guards. And I shan’t be entering your room this night. At least, not yet.”
Her lips parted just a little. A small reaction, but one still the same.
“Leave us,” she said to Mirie.
Mirie curtsied and rushed out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Omarion approached her slowly, every stride he took towards her drawing him closer to her beauty. He stood close enough to notice the flinch in her throat. “What does it matter if we sleep in the same house when soon we’ll share a bed?”
Elenaril’s lip twitched. “I am not concerned with whatever happens after our wedding. Merely tonight.”
His eyes trailed the slender line of her neck, down to her bony collarbone and exposed milky shoulders. Her perfume intoxicated him, flooding his nostrils with jasper and lavender. In her scent, he detected a familiar odor, one of fear.
“Your purity will be safe with me this night,” he said gently. “Of that I give you my word.”
“And what of the others? What will they think?”
“That you are a noble lady who respects her commitment to Styr.”
A sample. He wished for...
Omarion rubbed the soft tuft of her braid between his fingers. “Do not fear me.”
She stared up at him, her breathing loud enough for him to hear. Instead of answering, or nodding, she remained still, watching him with keen, studious eyes.
He stepped back and bowed his head. “Goodnight.”
She bade him the same and he left her alone in the study.
His back leaned against the door, Omarion bit his lip. He’d have Inuril stand guard outside of her door. Even though he disliked the steward, he trusted him to tell the truth and stand on the side of proper behavior. If anyone would be vigilant over the princess’s virginity, it would be him.