In ages past, Kelor-dan used to blend in with the Merleinans. But, as his forest expanded, his responsibilities grew and his interest with the people of Merleina became limited to the concerns of his domain.
His kingdom and his subjects always came first that many were surprised when a mortal girl had inadvertently diverted his attentions from those he governed. They finally understood the reason when they saw her in the feast. A Liyanna – or soon to be a real Liyanna after their own heart. To have her in their midst was an added bonus for she breathed and radiated life to every living thing within her aura. Their territory would thrive exceptionally with her prolonged presence.
The forest was abuzz with excitement ever since as the Devatas happily pursued their duties. Their Sight assured them that they would be able to watch over their beloved human, provided that she remained in their woods.
The palace and the forest blended seamlessly. It was hard to determine where it began and ended. It just is, Kelor-dan had said to her. It was useless to overanalyze a place where reality and illusion were interwoven into the very fabric of the universe. Elementals were scattered all over the forest, varying in size and shape. They had a hierarchy among them, but there was also a spirit of camaraderie. They nurtured and celebrated life. Their lives were interconnected to the forest they resided in. They understood that each has a different role to play yet equally important in maintaining the ecological balance.
The tide of energy ebbed and flowed continuously in Kelor-dan’s auric field. The constant change and pulsation made it appear like giant colored wings which extended to the far reaches of his domain. It proved that he and the forest shared a life bond, each dependent of one another’s existence.
In Karina’s world, it was easier for the Devatas to leap at the opportunity of taking on a guise which humans associated with their kind. And it seemed that this fact still applied in the Devarian realm.
The first time Karina met the prince, she had thought he was blonde underneath his hooded cape. It was only when the Devarian women were fawning over him and outdoing each other by spouting outlandish compliments at the prince that Karina realized the truth. He has seen through her thoughts and altered his coloring, sustaining his new appearance for a few minutes.
Kelor-dan changed his long hair back to the dark brown and black of his woods to put a stop to the rivalry that had erupted in his Court. He appeased them further by simply stating that he preferred his original form.
She had never seen a real Devata before and based her perception of them through her readings and the films she watched like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Their outward appearance was similar to hers and the Merleinans save for a few exaggerated features. Their big dark almond eyes; pointed ears; long limbs; and the absence of the philtrum, the cleft found between the nose and the upper lip, distinguished them from the human race.
Kelor-dan took her up the winding staircase, making no mention of the tear tracks and dirt on her face. Along the meandering steps, he pointed out his favorite spots and drew his guest into the tales revolving around his kind. Most of it was exaggerated to create the desired effect on his young human friend.
They had reached the landing with Karina holding on to his arm. Her shoulders shook as she tried to regain her composure.
“Please stop. I can’t – breath – anymore,” she said between gulps of air and mirth.
“As you wish.” As soon as the words were out, the laughter died.
“You weren’t using your Glamour on me, were you?”
“I helped you stop.”
Mentally, Karina kicked herself for being suspicious of the prince’s intentions. He was a perfectly good host and companion.
“You should learn how to ward your thoughts and emotions. It is as clear as the Sinta Lake near your lodgings.” He led her to another flight of steps.
“I suppose I should,” she grimaced.
“I do not wish to interfere with your problems, but I must know why you sought me out. Is it your desire to see the wonders of our world? Or, am I the sole purpose of this unannounced visit?” he teased.
“If I am as transparent as you claim me to be, what do you truly see?”
“Sorrow. Helplessness.” He cupped her face with his hands, his fingers grazing her cheek. “And love.”
Her eyes brimmed with tears. She turned her face away from his unrelenting gaze and fought for composure.
“Can I stay here for a few days?” Karina asked when she was confident her voice wouldn’t break.
“As long as you like.”
“I haven’t spoken to Kala—”
Kelor-dan gently pressed his fingers to her lips and said: “I will make arrangements for a message to be sent to them.”
A weeping willow stood before them. The branches drooped low that its long and narrow leaves touched the floor. The prince swept the leaves aside and gestured to Karina to enter.
It was brightly lit inside and showcased a suite of rooms. The furnishings were elegant and simple in design.
“I hope it is to your liking. We have endeavored to imitate parts of your human dwellings. Our Merleinan friends do not use beds and chairs. We have installed some pieces in your chambers,” Kelor-dan said.
Karina looked into her quarters. A queen-sized bed in the master’s bedroom, a dressing table with a rich assortment of combs and jewelry, and a wardrobe comprised of clothes of different styles and color, from shirt and pants to ball gowns. The bathroom looked ordinary except for the constant warmth of the pool and the small waterfall on the side. There was also a study room and a receiving area.
She could not contain the smile that tugged at her lips as she returned to the prince’s side.
“I’ve never had so many before. I don’t know what to say.”
“Is everything to your satisfaction?”
“I am pleased to hear it. I will leave you now to rest. No one will disturb you. Should you require anything, you may call on Theona. She is the spirit of your willow tree.”
“Kelor-dan, why did you let the creature come near me?” The beast she had encountered was still fresh in her mind.
“You were in no real danger. The creature is a variant of one of your mythical beasts, a chimera. They are the result of the cloning experiments made by the Atlanteans and a group of beings from another planet. It was an age when they strove to perfect the human body. The chimera will attack only when they have been hurt. Nonetheless, you have gained another friend in Pellinor.”
The prince pulled a leaf that had snagged in her hair.
“There are many things I would like to show you. I hope you will love my home as I do in the next few days.” He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Sweet dreams, my dear Liyanna.”
The Sentries of the forest were always coming and going, weaving through the trees, their destination known only to them. They rode their steed bareback and without bit and bridle. They were so attuned to their mounts that they seemed to be an extension of each other rather than horse-and-master. She had glimpsed Pellinor a few times. Once, he smirked at her when no one was about. The other time she saw him, he frowned, turned his back on her and shook his head. Karina doubted that there was any friendship between them as the prince believed.
Kelor-dan wasn’t always there for her. Theona arranged some of the entertainment to divert her. Despite Karina’s rank in their society, the tree-spirit found her charge amusing and loveable just for being human. The mortal’s inquisitiveness and love for learning were refreshing. She was quick to laugh and her vivid imagination equaled the children of the Devatas. Her appreciation for nature and her warmth towards other creatures won over the tree spirit’s affection. Karina’s strong intuition and open-mindedness enabled Theona to correct some of the former’s misconceptions about their race.
The tree-spirit noted that the light and air within Karina grew stronger by the day and her earth body became weaker. It was certain that Kelor-dan noticed it but never seemed to broach the subject. Worst of all, Karina stubbornly disregarded her condition.
On the fifth day, Theona’s concern grew as she saw their Liyanna still lying in bed with a dark cloth over her eyes and the lights dimmed. She made the exception of abandoning her tree to fetch the prince.
Karina felt and heard Kelor-dan’s presence in her bedroom. A chair was lifted and deposited beside her bed. She keenly heard the wood creak beneath Kelor-dan’s weight, resisting the urge to cover her oversensitive ears.
“Hi,” she said as low as possible. Even the sound of her voice hurt.
“Hello,” he returned.
She had taught him that greeting and was glad he remembered it.
“Why were you crying in the forest?”
She had been expecting the question for a while. Kelor-dan had earned the right to know the real reason that made her flee Merleina. With a shaky breath, she said: “It’s because I couldn’t go home. Knowing that I can never go back, I wanted to run away from reality.”
“Hence, you came here.”
“I remembered the welcome you had for me. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.” Karina smiled.
“Do you know how long you have been here?”
“Days. I don’t quite remember. All I see is light and air and life around me. It’s so beautiful here. The way your people live with a purpose, small and insignificant as it may look. Every passing moment in life is precious and fragile because we never really quite know when it will end. I think I’m beginning to understand what Arty meant when he said I was not alone.”
“You wish to return to Merleina,” Kelor-dan stated, matter-of-factly.
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©MC Babasa 2014
A/N: Feel free to post your feedback as this is the first book. Your comments and suggestions may influence the story as it progresses up to the second book.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.