She hummed softly as she skipped up the stairs, her bare feet pattering on the steps. The sun had set less than an hour ago and the sky had become incredibly dark. Yet, against the blackness high above, thousands upon thousands of glimmering stars were speckled across the sky. They lit up the night. She could see the twinkling sight clearly within view through her transparent glass ceiling.
As she gazed up at the familiar sky, a smile blossomed across her face.
She stepped onto the top floor. There was little furniture in the room, just a couch pushed off to the side. Along the walls were lanterns, but they remained unlit and she instead depended on the luminous glow of the moonlight for her to see. At the very top of the stairs was a portrait of two people, a man with his arm around a woman who had glowing blue eyes. She reached out and touched the frame in passing.
“Hello Mom, Dad,” she said cheerfully. “Lovely night, isn’t it?”
At the very center of the room, taking up most of the space, was a flat, round platform. It was covered with colorful, glossy tiles that felt cold underneath her bare feet.
She rubbed her hands together, causing friction to warm her palms.
“Now it’s time to get to business,” she murmured.
Sparks burst from her fingertips, casting spurts of light to spray across her face. She separated her hands and a small orb of blindingly bright light hovered in the air between her palms. It breathed with life. The light pulsed like a live entity—like it had a beating heart of its own. As she wound her hands around the fragile light, more flickering streams were compiled onto the orb, causing it to grow remarkably large. And as it grew, images started to appear within the brilliant light, images of a young girl having a picnic with her older sister, images of the younger girl several years later holding hands with a boy, images of a wedding, images of a new born baby. The light transformed from gold to pink to green with each passing picture. It sparkled and glimmered brighter with each precious memory that was added.
That beaming light she created was a star.
She worked tirelessly crafting the star. Time seemed to fly by in mere minutes. The star continued to grow, nearly consuming every inch of the room with its immense size. She added strips of sparking light along the surface until a face appeared among the numerous images. It was the face of an old woman, stunning despite her wrinkles and gray hair. Finally, after several hours, she took a step back and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.
It was done.
The astonishing sight of the star brought a smile back to her face. Its pure beauty caused a lightness, a happiness, to expand inside her chest.
She carefully made her way around the glittering star. On the wall, not far from the painting of her parents, was a lever. Its antique metal was twisted in elegant curls. She gripped tightly to the handle and, using the weight of her body, she tugged the lever down. There was creaking and clacking as hidden cogs and gears spun into motion. And then the glass ceiling opened up, letting nothing stand in between the star and the sky.
A soft wind ruffled her brown curls. The smell of the night air, much like the sweet smell of the world just after it rained, filled the room.
“All right you,” she spoke out, as if the star would answer her. “It’s time for you to join the others.” She walked back over to the gigantic orb. The star was warm under her touch, but its colorful flames didn’t harm her. “I know it’s a long way, but relax. Don’t worry. You’re finally going home.”
Despite its size, the star was weightless. It took only a small nudge to send the star drifting upwards. At first it moved slowly, almost as if it was hesitant to leave the sanctuary of her home. But once it lifted itself through the roof, it gained speed. It gained courage. She watched from below, with her hands clasped to her chest, as the star climbed further and further away until it shot up in the sky, leaving a glimmering trail in its wake.
The soldier kicked his heels into the flanks of his horse, urging it to run faster. Night had fallen more quickly than he had wanted and, with the growing number of bandits lurking in the dark, the soldier wanted nothing more than to get a room at the first inn he could find. Eerie trees from the forest surrounded him. Their branches looked like sinister claws reaching out. He knew the nearest village wasn’t far, five or ten minutes at most, which only heightened his anticipation. Sleep threatened to consume him. He felt himself begin to drift off. His eyelids were becoming too heavy for him to keep open. He had spent the whole day riding atop his horse, speeding toward the Capital to report to the king and he knew that tomorrow would be the same.
But suddenly, there was a flash of light that pierced through the darkness, awakening him in an instant. The soldier let out a shout of surprise as he yanked the reins, causing the horse to rear up on its back legs. The light was enormous and so strikingly bright it was painful for him to look at. It was coming from a cottage the soldier hadn’t noticed earlier. The massive light floated through the roof and illuminated the house. The cottage wasn’t small, though it was tucked inside the forest so that it was hidden from view of the trail. The building had, he couldn’t believe it, a glass-domed roof that could apparently part in half and open up to the sky.
What is this place? His thoughts kept asking as he gazed up at the bright light in sheer shock. What is that thing?
The mysterious light climbed higher and higher into the sky and then suddenly exploded upwards. As it streaked across the sky, the soldier realized what the mystifying sphere was.
He gasped at this revelation. He heard the stories a long time ago, when he was a child, but now it all came rushing back to him. It caused his heart to hammer inside his chest. The fantasy of a warm bed and a good night’s sleep was gone. He knew that he would ride through the night. He knew he wouldn’t stop until he spoke with the king.
Because he found something truly incredible.
“Come on, Ellis. Are you even trying?”
There was another clash as the swords connected. The prince advanced quickly, swinging the blade with easy expertise as his friend stumbled backward. That morning, the two young men practiced in the castle garden located at the very heart of the palace. The sun overhead beamed proudly above them as it reflected off the blades of their swords. Their boots dug into the grass and scuffed the lawn so much that it would have given the gardener a fit. But neither of them noticed or cared as they focused on the swift motion of their blades.
“I’m doing my best, Your Highness,” Ellis said breathlessly. Each mighty clash of their blades caused the hilt of his sword to vibrate painfully. Sweat dripped down his face while Prince Owen seemed to be completely at ease. As his friend fumbled to defend himself, the prince simply chuckled. His every movement was precise. Each strike he made was powerful.
Under the early sunlight, the prince’s red hair seemed to glow. It seemed to become even more vibrant. But even if his red hair didn’t shine like a beacon, Prince Owen would still be the center of attention. He was handsome. With his broad shoulders, defined muscles, and strong jaw, the very sight of Owen caused women to swoon. And he knew it.
At a young age, Owen trained in the art of battle. And since then he’d became the most skilled warrior in the kingdom. With a sword in his hand, Prince Owen was invincible. No one could beat him, not in a fair fight. Though Ellis was one of the best knights in the kingdom, he struggled to keep up with the prince. Ellis had fought in wars. He had survived ambushes and sieges. Yet, every time he dueled the prince, he realized just how inexperienced he truly was. Owen continued to force Ellis back until he was cornered against a wall sectioning off the garden.
Owen shook his head at his friend. “I thought you were better than this.”
The prince stepped up onto a bench and easily leapt atop the wall. With the wave of his hand, Owen gestured for his friend to follow him. When Ellis finally joined him, Owen spun to face him, holding up his sword. Ellis barely suppressed a groan.
I would rather fight a dragon, Ellis declared silently. Sure, he’d most likely be burned to a crisp, but the dragon wouldn’t taunt him with a constant, cocky grin.
Despite the fact that Ellis was exhausted, he and Owen commenced their duel over the garden. They carefully picked their way along the wall, keeping their balance even as they fought. The palace servants began to take notice to the two men’s precarious swordplay. They paused from their work to watch, opening up the windows. The prince and the knight made their way down the wall as it ran alongside the castle. Even in the midst of his duel, Owen reached out and plucked a flower from a blossoming tree. He took a few steps back, out of reach of Ellis’s sword, before turning to the maids leaning out the window. They blushed and giggled under his gaze. And as he lifted up the flower to them, they nearly fainted.
“It would make me feel better if you could at least pretend to be serious,” Ellis huffed.
Owen’s lips curled into a smile. “If that’s what you want.”
Ellis soon wished he could eat his words. Owen swung his blade with almost inhuman speed and strength. With each blow Ellis narrowly avoided, the next came faster and fiercer. No matter what he tried to do, he continued to stumble backward. When bombarded by one precise strike after the other, Ellis lost his footing. He fell head over heels from the wall and landed in a heap on the ground.
He heard the prince chuckle overhead.
Owen tossed his sword up into the air and then he jumped from the wall. He landed soundly on the ground right beside his fallen friend. And when he held out his hand, he caught his sword with ease and tapped the end to his defenseless friend’s chest.
“All right. You win.” Ellis held up his hands in surrender. Under his breath, he muttered loud enough for Owen to hear, “Showoff.”
Owen’s grin grew larger as he patronized his friend. “You didn’t hurt yourself, did you?”
“I’m fine, Your Highness,” Ellis said, shaking his head.
The prince held out his hand and helped his friend to his feet.
“My apologies,” Owen continued to say as he slid his sword into its sheath. “I meant to take it easy on you, but I suppose I’m just too impressive.”
“And humble,” a feminine voice added.
Both Owen and Ellis turned to find a young woman coming from the castle. She was stunning with her high cheekbones and flowing blond hair that fell in golden waves down her back. She walked gracefully, seeming to float above the ground, as she crossed the castle’s patio to join them. She rested her forearms on the railing of the patio as she peered down at them. Though she was still young, not a few years older than Owen, she walked with the maturity and confidence of someone twice her age. She had the same brown eyes as the prince, yet hers were darker and didn’t glimmer with reckless youth like his.
“Hello, Aerona,” Owen said as he approached the woman. “It’s good to see you.”
“And you, too, Cousin,” she responded, her words slipping musically from her lips. “I noticed your swordplay and it seemed so interesting that I had to get a closer look.”
Owen joined his cousin, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back against the railing. He raised his eyebrows at her playfully as he said, “Have you become bored of your gossiping and hair brushing and whatever it is you girls do to waste away the day?”
“My, my. Your intuitive sense astounds me. Here I thought you were oblivious to everything that didn’t exclusively include yourself.” Aerona’s voice dripped with sarcasm. She ran her hands through her long blond hair, smoothing any stray strands back into place. “I suppose it’s not true what everyone says. You might actually have a brain.”
Owen shook his head at her. “I don’t know why I put up with you.”
“Trust me, the feeling is mutual,” Aerona said as she looked down her nose at her cousin. “But, please. Don’t stop your swordplay on my behalf.”
“Are you sure?” Owen fingered the hilt of his sword. “My superhuman agility and precision just might damage your fragile feminine mind.”
A coy smile slipped across her lips.
“I’m sure I’ll survive.”
Owen simply shrugged his shoulders. “Very well. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” In one quick movement, like he had done countless times before, Owen tugged his sword free. Its blade seemed to slice through the air as he held it up and turned to Ellis.
However, Ellis was bent with his hands on his knees, still gasping for breath. But when those two pairs of demanding brown eyes turned to him, he wiped the sweat from his brow and reluctantly picked up his own sword. He didn’t hide his lack of enthusiasm as he said, “As you say, Your Highness.”
As the prince and the knight dueled once again with Aerona watching coolly, a servant dressed in the family’s red and gold colors scurried toward them.
“Your Highnesses!” he called as he approached.
Owen easily evaded a swipe of his friend’s sword before he held up his hand for them to stop. There was urgency in the servant’s face that caught the prince’s attention.
“What?” Owen asked in all seriousness. The playful tone he had in his voice just moments ago was gone. “What is it?”
“Your father—the king, he requests your presence and Princess Aerona’s in the throne room. Immediately, Your Highness,” the servant sputtered.
Aerona raised her eyebrows.
“What could possibly be so urgent?” she asked.
The servant shook his head. “I have no idea, Your Highness.”
When the prince arrived at the throne room, with Ellis following closely on his heels, he immediately stalked toward his parents. At the end of the room were four thrones placed upon a raised dais. His father, King Andras, was perched on the largest throne and his mother, Queen Gwendolyn, sat by his side. With one hand, his father clasped hold of his wife’s hand. With the other, he stroked his red beard as he cast his gaze down at the crowd gathered before him. There was only a small congregation of his father’s most loyal knights within the room. This caused Owen’s anxiety to grow. What was so important that only a few ears could hear?
“What’s going on? Is something wrong?” Owen questioned as he approached his parents. As he spoke, Aerona slipped in from the back door of the throne room.
King Andras looked down at his son with a serious expression on his face. “The messenger reporting on the bandit activity to the south just arrived and he brought crucial information you need to hear.”
Owen looked over to the soldier who stood in the center of the room. The man was clothed in a worn, dirt-caked uniform. It was plain to see that the soldier was travel-weary. He wobbled on his legs, but he still stood tall, like a proud soldier of the kingdom.
Aerona sat gracefully in the chair to the queen’s left reserved specifically for her. Her black and gold gown flowed over the jewel encrusted throne before trailing to the floor. Owen, however, chose to remain standing and rested his elbows on the back of his own chair.
King Andras gave his wife’s hand a squeeze before he released it. The mighty king’s voice echoed powerfully through the room, commanding the undivided attention of each person within earshot. “You may speak.”
The soldier humbly stepped forward. He bowed toward the royal family before he began. “Your Majesties, I was returning to the Capital and was about a day’s journey away, approaching a small village when I believe I stumbled onto something . . . well something fantastic.” Though he was no doubt exhausted, the soldier peered up at his king with excitement, more genuine than any gathered in the room had seen before.
“Sire,” the soldier said. “I believe I found the star maker.”