Eversea Palace stood at the top of a green hill splattered with yellow dandelions and pink tulips. Down the hill, cobblestone paths led to Eversea village, winding past cottages and streets of flower shops and food markets.
Eversea held the magic of nature in its borders; vines of roses twirled their way around the palace turrets and the canopy of trees provided shade on sunny days.
Most everyone in Eversea had a little bit of magic running through them; mostly the ability to accelerate the growth of a plant or to color flowers. Some were stronger. The royal family had stronger magics in their veins: Queen Helianthus could craft potions of healing or grow a large oak with the magic of her hand. The young princess of Eversea had nature's glimmer in her eyes. She could grow grass with her footsteps, soften the rain with her laugh.
At the border of Eversea, where the grass turned gold, was the kingdom of Rhehsia: ruled by practicality, science, and the certain magic of technology.
Perhaps from genuine curiosity, but more likely greed, the Rhehsians pleaded for a share of magic. The queen, who ruled with the princess by her side and the king bed-ridden with sickness, firmly denied their plead but gifted Rhehsia a bush of red roses and an oak tree seed.
The queen taught her young daughter, the heir to the throne, all of her values: kindness and poetry, art and magic, emotional reasoning. The crown princess Idelle sang songs to her ill father, captured lost insects and brought them to the garden, and cartwheeled through dewey grass, oblivious to the plotting of the Rhehsian king.
She giggled with Juni, her deepest friend and lady-in-waiting, while her mother sat at her throne with her brows stitched together in worry and contemplation.
It was one unexpected night, just past Princess Idelle's eighth birthday, that the fires came. What saved Idelle that night was her dear and loyal friend Juni.
Idelle and Juni sat in their treehouse in a thick canopy of trees, giggling like normal, when they noticed smoke billowing from the top of the castle. Flames crawled their way up the sides of the palace, turning vines to flying embers.
Their giggling quieted, and they heard the distant screams of someone. Juni, without pause, clambered out of the tree house and sprinted to the castle. Idelle burst into tears, crying out for her to wait, and ran after her.
Idelle caught up to Juni, and they hid behind a bush, watching as several men with swords attached to their hips walked out with the beautiful Queen Helianthus, tied together.
“No,” Idelle said breathlessly. She didn’t know who these people were and why they were taking her mother away. Juni, in her leaf coated dress, burst out from the bush they were hiding from.
“Take me! Take me, please. I have magic too,” Juni said, opening her palm, where a flower shakily grew out.
“You’re not as valuable as the queen,” one of the men said. Another pulled his bow from his back and nocked an arrow.
“I’m the princess!” Juni spluttered.
Idelle’s heart hammered. Her little mind was trying to put the pieces together, but she was so terribly confused. The men threw her mother to the ground and yanked her friend, tying her in rope. In a horrible blink, the man with the bow pulled back and released it, sending it right through the queen’s heart.
The men didn’t say anything and in what seemed like mere seconds, the men and Juni were gone; riding off on a fancy mechanism that sputtered smoke from behind.
Idelle, still behind the bush, collapsed to her knees and wept, her sobs coming out in ugly breaths. A shield of briar rose plants grew around her, and she stayed there, crying and crying until her princess dress was soaked through.
TEN YEARS LATER.
“Ow,” said Rune, crinkling his nose. He delicately pulled the twisted rose vine off of his arm, launching it back at the princess. She dodged it with an easy smile on her face and grew large mushroom caps underneath his bare feet with the flick of her finger, sending him slipping.
Princess Idelle, now at eighteen, was known in Eversea as the Flower Princess. She was, in all the technicalities of Eversea, the queen. But she still felt very much like a princess, and so that was what she went by. She grew flowers along the cobblestone streets for the villagers, braided little girls’ hair with daisies, and hosted the Rose Festival once a year. But beneath her flowery exterior, her heart hurt; the guilt that she lived with wore her down. She could have saved her mother, she had no idea what Rhehsia was doing with Juni. It should’ve been her. It shouldn’t have happened.
Ever since the night with the fire, Idelle swore she was going to get Juni back and avenge her mother. She was raised on kindness, but along with the castle that burned that night, her kindness was burned and she was left with the aftertaste of bitterness. Bitterness for Rhehsia, bitterness for the man who killed her mother, bitterness for the men who tied her friend in rope and hauled her away.
Rune, her partner in crime, trained with her in the fields behind the castle. He was the one who taught Idelle all her moves - how to creatively use her magic, how to be quiet and sneaky. She met him the night of the fire: a local boy stumbling upon the princess hidden under a thorn bush, crying her heart out. They worked together as a team and they were going to Rhehsia as a team.
Rune and Idelle arrived at the center of the Rhehsian city in two days’ time. The city was so much different than Eversea; there were long streets, loud noises, and the smoke of the city seemed to linger in their lungs.
The Rhehsian palace was made of red brick stone, and the black tiled roof matched the smokiness of the sky perfectly. Idelle coughed. She wished for some grass. It loomed in front of Idelle and Rune, where a long stone staircase led to the big entrance doors. It was then that Idelle noticed something that made her heart skip a beat: to the right of the doors sat a baby tree, growing out of a terracotta pot. Juni.
Rune flicked the black hood of his cloak up, covering his cap of brown curls and covering his eyes. Idelle had had her hood up ever since they stepped out of Eversea in fear of being recognized.
A woman brushed past them, heading towards the busy street shops. “Excuse me!” Idelle called, stopping the lady. “I was wondering if you knew anything about the magic Eversean girl they captured years ago?”
The woman pursed her lips. “Do you mean Princess Juni? She lives in the castle.”
Idelle’s heart dropped to the floor. She choked out a “thank you”, and the second the woman left them she turned to her friend, “They still think she’s the princess.”
“Hey,” Rune said, noticing the fire in Idelle’s eyes. “At least she seems okay.”
Idelle scoffed. She turned around and started marching towards the castle, roses appearing after each violent step. Rune caught up to her, and together they stormed the castle.
It wasn’t really a storm. Idelle flicked rose thorn handcuffs on three guards standing at the entrance of the castle and demanded to be brought to Juni. Rune slashed their swords out of their belts, leaving them clattering on the floor as they entered the castle.
The guards stumbled through the palace, forced to move faster by short gusts of wind from Idelle’s hands. Whenever she saw a guard, she sent rose thorn arrows through their heart.
They finally stopped at a gorgeous, heavy wooden door. Idelle tore it open, and was surprised to see plants filling the entire room, contrasting the darkness and drab of the rest of Rhehsia. But most importantly, sitting on the bed, was a rosy-cheeked, brown haired girl. She wore a crown of leaves on her head. The second she looked up, she burst into tears and rushed to Idelle, crushing her in a hug.
“Juni,” Idelle whispered, squeezing her friend tight.
“How I’ve missed you,” Juni said.
“Come on,” urged Idelle, leading her to the door. “Let’s get out of here.”
Juni yanked her hand back. “Out of here? What do you mean?”
“Out of here! Home!” Idelle said, gesturing wildly behind her.
Juni’s face crumpled, as if she was about to cry. “Idelle… oh, Idelle, I’ve missed you so much. But Rhehsia has become my home.”
Idelle’s mouth went dry. She stared at her friend, who looked so different, but so familiar. Her eyes were the same, as she still had her spattering of deer’s freckles. “What do you mean?” Idelle whispered.
“I mean that I like it here,” Juni said softly, flicking her eyes everywhere but Idelle’s face. Idelle heard a slight deep breath from Rune behind her.
“So what? You’re not coming home? Juni, Eversea is your home.” Idelle’s heart was beating faster and she had to remind herself to breath.
Juni’s eyes lowered. “Idelle, you’re my princess forever. But that was so long ago. It was so hard for me. I… I helped out Rhehsia. Given them a little more light,” she looked up now, smiling slightly. “I’m the princess here. Everyone treats me with kindness - really, everyone is so kind. And I’m in love, too.”
“With whom?” Idelle cried. She could feel the fire of that night in her blood, not believing for a second that there was kindness here. She hardly noticed the rose thorn vines starting to crawl from her grounded feet.
“No, Idelle,” Juni said, shaking her head. “Just go home.”
“With whom?” Idelle said through clenched teeth. The vines spread to Juni’s feet and down the hall behind her, just missing Rune’s boots.
“My goodness, Idelle!” Juni said, and she began to cry. “The prince. The prince. The prince, okay?”
Idelle’s whole body froze. She felt like throwing up. She felt like crumpling in a ball, just like that night. “You disgust me,” Idelle growled, and she stormed out of the room.
The rose vines continued to crawl up the walls of the castle as she raced down the stone stairs. Rune chased after her, knowing exactly where she was going. “Idelle, wait!”
“This is the plan!” she screamed, picking up her pace and running towards the big double doors she recognized in her own castle. She swiped the tears from her cheeks took a deep breath and in mere seconds flat grew a large oak tree from the ground, sending it barreling into the doors. They swung open and she stood facing the prince’s throne.
A boy whipped his head up from the book he was reading. His eyes widened. “Who are you?”
“I do not forgive,” Idelle said, her voice booming off the gray walls. She tried to steady her trembling legs, but her whole body ached with anger and spite.
“Idelle, let’s go. The prince didn’t do it, you know that,” Rune said, grabbing her hand, which was sweaty and pink.
“My mother needs justice,” Idelle said, staring straight ahead at the prince.
“Your mother wouldn’t have wanted this. Idelle, he’s not even the king. Juni’s in love with him.”
The boy, who looked ever so young, stared at them with big eyes. His metal crown was propped lopsided on his golden head. “My father killed himself years ago,” the boy said. His face was blank; emotionless.
There was no point anymore. Idelle crumpled to the floor, as if all the energy left her. The walls of the palace were covered in prickles and thorns and beautiful red flowers, but she wasn’t sure how beautiful they looked right now.
She sobbed, wishing for her mother’s life back. She couldn’t kill the prince; he was but a boy, just her age.
“Mother,” she whispered to herself, cradling a rose in her hands. “Please forgive me for all my anger. I am so sorry,” she cried. “So, so sorry.”
“Let’s go home,” Rune said, giving her his hand.
She clutched it and hoisted herself up, staring ahead at the golden prince through bleary tears. Idelle took a deep breath and turned around to head home to Eversea, the land of kindness and nature and magic.