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Both Sides of the Mirror MAG
Prince Liam, son of Liac, son of Lian, Prince and Heir of Caellis, was confused. And more than a little drunk, which did not help his sense of direction as he wandered through the darkened hallway. The candles should have been lit for another hour at least, he thought, bumping into a tapestry and wincing as it clattered to the floor. Really, how was a person to find their bedchamber in the dark? Shouldering a door open, he stumbled through it.
A sudden force slammed into his side, and he yelled in surprise as he struggled with the shadow in the darkness. Finally, he was knocked onto his back, staring at the slender silhouette of a girl framed by the dim light. The cold steel of a knife was pressed against his throat, and one knee was shoved into his stomach.
He stared stupidly into the face, obscured by darkness. “Why, you’re drunk!” a girl’s voice snapped.
“Who’re you?” he slurred.
“Does it matter? Get up, you stupid drunkard.” The knee was removed, but the knife remained.
“Hey,” he muttered.
“Get up, you great lump of jelly.” He hesitated and flinched as the knife was shoved closer. “Up. Now.”
“I’m up, I’m up,” he said, and stumbled against the girl. His reflexes awoke from lethargy and caught them both as they fell.
“Well, you’re quick enough,” she muttered. “How are you at stealing horses?”
An hour of brutal, jolting riding soon returned Liam to soberness. “Who are you?” he yelled at the dark figure on the chestnut in front of him. The girl reined in her horse and watched, smiling, as he galloped ahead, unable to control his horse.
“Using the reins helps!” she called. She ran to him and dragged at the bridle of his rearing horse.
“Thanks,” he said, falling off the horse’s back.
She gave a curt nod. “I am Twilight, daughter of Lunaris, daughter of Solara, Princess of Hesper and Commander of the Palladines.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of you. You’re that raving mad princess who once burned every bit of embroidery in the castle.”
“Precisely,” she said, and bowed. “Though you have to admit, the embroidery thing was a stroke of genius. I believe all the needles in the castle were later melted down into sword iron, which was a much better use.”
Liam stared at her, for the first time taking in her tanned skin, midnight-blue eyes, wry mouth, and sleek blue-black hair braided down her back. His eyes swept over her small form; she was shorter than him by half a foot, and small-boned. But her every inch was lean, wiry and muscled beneath her blue wool dress, leggings and leather boots. A sword hung at her waist, a bow stuck out of the rather large pack slung over her cloak, and the outline of a dagger showed clearly through her boots. Still, he couldn’t deny that she was pretty - no, beautiful - despite the long scar curving across one cheek.
“What?” she said, noticing his stare.
“I’ve just never seen a princess who goes around kidnapping princes and stealing horses.”
“Live with it. Now, if you’re satisfied, we might as well get some sleep. It’s a good day’s ride to the tower.”
“What tower? And, by the way, I wouldn’t mind knowing what you want with me.”
“It’s just a tower. By the sea. Surrounded by a forest and guarded by a dragon.”
“Don’t worry, she’s quite friendly. Only burned me in six places when I escaped.”
“Six ... wait. Why do I have to get past this dragon?”
“In short, to kiss my sister. And why do you think you’ll be the one to get past the dragon? You look like the useless scholar-type to me.”
“We scholars have our uses!” said Liam, suddenly conscious of his golden silk shirt, velvet breeches and ornamental sword encrusted with jewels. His fair hair, carefully arranged beneath a golden cap, felt ridiculous, as did his thin, gold-stamped shoes.
“Like getting drunk at parties?”
He blushed and chose not to dignify that with a response. “Your sister?”
“I’ll tell you later. Help me make a fire, master drunkard. We’ve quite a ways to go, my princely idiot, and I’m not sleeping cold.”
Liam, deciding that Twilight would hunt him down if he tried to escape, meekly obeyed, gathering firewood and making their dinner after she admitted having no skills at cooking. Roasting pork was tricky, as he discovered, particularly when his backside ached from their ride and his head throbbed from the fire’s smoke.
“Even I cook better than this,” she muttered, sniffing at her portion and making a face.
“Well, you seem to have no trouble eating it,” snapped Liam.
“I’m hungry. You ever tried sneaking into a prince’s bedchamber without being noticed?”
Liam snorted. “You could have just pretended to be going to the ball.”
“A ball? How do you think I would have looked in a party dress?” Twilight said, then seemed to think better of it. “On second thought, don’t. But let me guess: you’re old enough to be married, so your father threw you a party so you could pick the prettiest girl and be done with it. And you had one too many drinks.”
Liam smiled, trying to imagine Twilight in a ball gown, carrying her sword, then nodded. “And let me guess. Your sister Aurore was cursed at her christening to sleep for 100 years -”
“Until some schmoe kisses her. Which would be you.”
“What I can’t understand is why you’ve kidnapped me. So she’s asleep; so what?”
“Can’t you see that I love my sister so much that I can’t stand to see her snooze away her life?” Twilight made a simpering smile and fluttered her eyelashes. Liam choked. “Didn’t think so. Anyway, the fairy who cursed her came back for my christening. I was cursed to take care of Aurore while she slept, and get older all the time. I was supposed to just croak when she woke up.”
“Ah. And the dragon?”
“Idiot fairy got one all the way from Bern, the dragon country. She was supposed to keep me from escaping, but
do you really think I was going to let some hunk of scales and flesh keep me cooped up in that stupid tower? I mean, it had ivy growing up the sides. Could it have been any easier to escape?” She sighed and tore into her food, managing somehow to make fake gagging noises.
“And you? What made you so unhappy you let me kidnap you?”
“Nothing,” he muttered, not wanting to admit that he had just been tipsy and frightened.
But he needn’t have denied anything. “Don’t worry about it,” said Twilight, smiling at him. “I used to scare my sister half to death, too.”
“Your sister,” Liam said, glad for the change of topic. “What’s she like?”
Twilight’s smile disappeared. “She’s beautiful, and she needs a husband. Isn’t that enough for you?”
“No. I mean, what’s she like?”
“Put it this way. She’s just the same as I am, only completely different.” Seeing Liam’s confusion, she added, “Aurore’s perfect. She didn’t even mind when I burned her embroidery. Now get to sleep. Talking never slayed a dragon.”
“And how, precisely, are we going to get past this dragon?” asked Liam, lying on his belly in a pile of leaves. The towers stood before them, and it looked fairly typical: crumbling stone, ivy growing up the sides, a single high window, the whole bit. There was even an enormous dragon curled around the base.
“Easy. She’ll let us in.” Liam turned and gaped at her. “She’s rather bored, you know. She wants to go back to her country. I made rather good friends with her before I escaped. Her name’s Eygan. A knight skewered her once. You might want to watch your step; she isn’t too fond of men.” Eyes suddenly serious, she pulled the knife from her belt and handed it to Liam. “It’s not much, but maybe it’ll keep you from frying.”
Liam gulped as Twilight pulled him from the leaves. “You stay here,” she said. “Wait for the dragon to be distracted enough to unwrap her tail from the tower. Then run as quickly as you can for the gate. Eygan can’t fit inside. And take the twigs out of your hair, for heaven’s sake.”
“I will, as soon as you take the twigs from yours.”
“Aw, shut up.” Calm and cocky, she walked toward the tower.
“Twilight. Welcome back. Had enough adventuring for one lifetime?”
“I didn’t have enough for half an hour. I’m just back to check on Aurore.”
“Ah, I miss the adventuring, you know? I wish I could go back to Bern.”
“Yeah, well. Can’t much help curses. Can you lift me up to Aurore’s window?”
Eygan uncurled her glistening tail, scales clacking as she did. Twilight held her breath; from the corner of her eye, she could see Liam running for the gate. Eygan wrapped her tail around Twilight’s waist and lifted her toward the window.
Seeing Twilight in the dragon’s hold, Liam screamed. The dragon turned, and he clapped a hand over his mouth, realizing what he had done. One golden blazing eye fixed him to the spot.
“Twilight, what is this?” the dragon snarled and started to squeeze the breath from her.
“Run, Liam!” she screamed. The spell broken, Liam raced for the gate. “I’m getting you back to Bern,” Twilight gasped, fumbling for her sword as the dragon pushed the air from her lungs.
“Wait a minute. He has to kiss Aurore!” With a screech of metal on scales, the sword came free, and she hacked at the dragon’s tail. Metal met flesh and the dragon shrieked in pain. Her tail convulsed and unclenched from Twilight’s waist, sending her tumbling.
Liam screamed, this time not in fear but in anger. He charged Eygan, hacking at her chest with his golden sword and cursing as it twisted and broke before pulling out Twilight’s tiny dagger. The dragon turned away from Twilight and roared, tossing back her head and preparing to flame.
An arrow sliced into the dragon’s golden eye. Twilight stood, bow in hand, a second arrow already notched.
“Sorry, Eygan,” she said. “See, I don’t have much patience with dragons who fry my friends, especially while they’re trying to help them.” The dragon snarled, tossing back her head, and Twilight pulled back her bowstring. “Let us pass.”
Flames shot from Eygan’s muzzle; Twilight threw herself to the ground, rolled on her back, and shot blindly. Hearing Liam scream, she prayed she hadn’t hit him as fire rolled over her head.
“Twilight?” The girl lay on her back, eyes shut, clutching the bow with a white-knuckled hand.
“Hmm?” She gazed at him through eyes that were watery with heat. Liam closed his eyes and sighed before pulling her to her feet.
“You hit Eygan right between the eyes. I’ve never seen anyone shoot like that.”
“You haven’t had much to compare me with. C’mon, Aurore’s waiting.”
They walked to the gate, carefully avoiding Eygan’s still form, and went up the stairs. Gently, Twilight pushed open a huge door and they entered a sunny room. Light streamed in from the single window and spilled onto a poster bed. Surrounded by silk coverlets, Princess Aurore lay asleep, her golden hair resting in delicate waves around her. A pink silk gown wrapped around her sleeping form, and her skin was pale and smooth. Liam could see the kinship between them, as though they were images from two sides of a mirror, the light reflecting off the dark.
“Well? Get on with it,” Twilight’s brisk voice snapped him out of his trance. Hesitantly, he leaned over and touched his lips to Aurore’s. The cool, porcelain feel of her skin faded, and he felt the lips warm beneath his touch. Eyes, blue and empty as a summer sky, stared up at his, and Aurore gave him an absent smile.
“Why, hello,” she said, sitting up. “Has it been a hundred years already?” Without waiting for an answer, she looked at Liam and said, “Oh, my. Are you my prince?”
“Nah,” said Twilight. “I just had to wake you up somehow.”
“Oh. So I suppose you haven’t quite found him yet?”
“It’s not my job, dear sister.” Something in Twilight twisted at the sight of Liam kissing her sister, and her voice hardened. “Now that you’ve woken up, I’ve no obligation to wait here. You’ll find plenty of food downstairs, and a fresh gown.” She left the chamber, ignoring Aurore’s calls. She was halfway down the hallway before Liam caught her and spun her around.
“What’s your problem?” he said. “She’s your sister.”
“And she’s your wife. I wish you both luck.”
“Wait. Marrying her was not ...” A clatter of hooves interrupted him. Twilight and Liam looked at each other and raced down the stairs and out of the tower. Beyond Eygan’s body, there stood rank upon rank of troops, all wearing the gold-trimmed uniforms of Caellis’ soldiers. Liam groaned.
“Girl!” pronounced a herald. “You are hereby arrested in the name of King Liac of Caellis for kidnapping and attempted murder of Prince Liam -”
“Oh, stow it,” said Liam wearily. “This is Twilight, Princess of Hesper, my bride-to-be.” Ignoring Twilight’s furious sputtering, he pulled her against him, pinning her arms to her sides. “Her sister, Princess Aurore of Hesper, is waiting upstairs and is in need of aid. And a husband.”
A veritable stampede followed as every man in the army rushed up the stairs.
“Your what?” hissed Twilight as soon as they were gone.
“Well, they were going to arrest you,” he said with a helpless shrug. “It was the only thing I could think of.”
“Some scholar,” Twilight pulled away.
“You don’t mind, do you? We’re both near marrying age ...”
“I don’t mind? Oh, go right ahead, take every freedom I’ve got and throw it into the latrine, why don’t you? I won’t mind!” Her shoulders sagged, and she looked up at him through eyelashes that sparkled with tears. “Actually, I don’t. You are by far the least offensive of my choices.”
“So long as I don’t have to do any embroidery.”
Laughing, Liam grabbed her hand, and they raced away into the forest.