In the previous installment, Rian told Kaya about her true identity and the mystery behind her birthday present. Kaya decided to confront Neera and Aranyak to try and talk some sense into them. After she narrowly escaped death, Rian finally confessed his love to her.
Kaya danced through the night. In fact, it was not dancing; she jumped and hopped up and down with sheer, irrepressible delight. Her life had completely turned on its head within a few hours. Rian had a smile across his lips, too. The way he was spinning her around made her feel slightly dizzy. Queen Neera, Rian’s mother, had warmly accepted Kaya, but King Aranyak would need some getting used to her.
Having introduced Kaya to the people who constituted his world, Rian now wanted to show her every nook and corner of the palace. He persuaded and begged Deleena to let Kaya stay in the water kingdom for a while. Deleena agreed, albeit reluctantly, on the condition that Rian would behave. This had made Rian blush as he began blabbering something to Taraksh, making as if he had not understood what Deleena meant.
Queen Neera gleefully showed Kaya around the SapphireWaves palace. It was located in the heart of the river. The palace rose up to the surface on the Queen’s command, splashing cold water everywhere. The majestic structure gleamed and shimmered under the resplendent moonlight. The Queen guided Kaya into the private room she was supposed to stay in. The word luxurious did not quite do justice to that little abode. The beds were draped in watery silk cushions, and the walls glowed with a luminescent light at night, like the twinkling stars. During the day, it turned into a transparent chamber surrounded by blue waters and jaw-dropping river life.
Neera stopped at the door of Kaya’s room, hovering around like a fluttering bird until Kaya sensed that Neera wanted to say something. Unsure of what to do to break that awkward silence, Kaya blurted out, ‘The palace and the room are majestic, my Queen. Thank you for letting me stay here’
Neera hesitated, before saying with a sigh, ‘Rian has suffered a lot due to the mounting tensions between the two kingdoms. He has been a favorite among subjects. He was even instrumental in helping the two courts strike a peace treaty. No doubt, he was Deleena’s favorite too. However, when Deleena learned of Rian’s commitment to harm you, she just wouldn’t talk to him. He was in a self-imposed exile and worked hard to gain her trust back.’
Kaya recalled what Rian had mentioned just the day before. ‘It was hard for her to trust me for a while, but slowly and steadily, I won her trust.‘ That conversation now seemed like a long time ago.
Neera carried on, ‘Aranyak was growing all restless and demanded that Rian be sent after the next peacekeeper, as a sign of good faith. Rian had to put with the hatred, doubt, and mockery of the courtiers for failing as a mercenary. To add to that, he was on a self-imposed exile. However, Rian grew fond of you and was torn between his oath and his concerns about your safety. He is the crown prince, and there’s no scope for weakness or second thoughts in the discharge of his duties. I wish you’ll be anything but his weakness,’ Neera uttered the last two words rather delicately.
With that, the Queen left for her chamber. Kaya reeled back from the Queen’s words. Notwithstanding Neera’s soft-spoken nature, her words had all but wiped off Kaya’s happiness. It took her a long time to reconcile sleep. The words his weakness kept ringing in her ears, while her eyes were glued to the water splashing on the walls over and over.
In the morning, Kaya got ready rather quickly. She opened the large wardrobe in her room to reveal beautiful dresses, exquisite ornaments, and footwear that she had never seen before. She could have easily counted on her fingers the number of clothes she had. Faced with such overwhelming collection of outfits, she went for the simplest of the lot.
She hurried out as soon as she was done dressing up. The SapphireWaves’ palace was mammoth. In fact, she needed the help of several assistants to be able to locate the palace hall. Queen Neera, Rian and Taraksh were already seated the breakfast table when she walked in. The Queen and Taraksh welcomed her with a smile, even as Rian sat brooding over Deleena’s words. He was not sure how he was supposed to greet his beloved.
Kaya barely smiled as she bowed to the Queen. The Queen asked her to take a seat beside her at the table. Kaya felt so nervous sitting beside her that she could barely eat anything. Neera, ‘I hope you had a good night’s sleep. I wasn’t able to offer my apologies for my earlier mistake. I hope we’re good.’
Kaya stared at her in disbelief. What was the Queen apologizing for? For what she had said the night before? Neera seemed to sense Kaya’s dilemma and added, ‘Well, I was the one who sent Rian to kill you.’
As much as she tried, Kaya could not understand why the Queen was bringing this up again. That is when it finally dawned on her. Neera did not want the boys to know of the conversation they had had the previous night.
Kaya could not think of anything to say, so she kept silent. An awkward silence ensued, which was punctuated with Taraksh clanging his spoon on the plate. He cleared his throat to say something, but Kaya robbed him of the opportunity, ‘You have been nothing but kind to me, Your Majesty. Let bygones be bygones. We need not discuss what’s behind us now.’
Neera and Kaya reached an unspoken agreement through their eyes. The Queen then left for the court as the three of them headed outside.
Rian and Taraksh decided to indulge in a race. Kaya tried to keep up with them as the water parted sideways for them to run on land. Little fish, crabs and several other marine creatures that Kaya did not even know waved at them gleefully. The two boys appeared to be heading toward a large stone structure and were scrambling to touch the wall first. Taraksh winked at Kaya as he transformed into a werewolf, gaining massive speed to outrun Rian. The wolf covered a lot of ground with each stride, its silky white mane coming across as a streak of white.
Rian sneered as he dived into the water, abandoning the land. He let Taraksh gain some speed before zooming toward the stone structure with the speed of a missile. He then proceeded to sprawl on the lowest of the numerous steps, waiting for his friends to catch up with him.
‘Show off,’ muttered Taraksh as he got to the structure with Kaya on his back. The water continued to part beneath his feet. Both of them reached a large square complex. If one gazed at the structure from its lowest step, its tip appeared to reach the sun.
‘I’m a water prince, and the least I could do is swim like a shark. Being a prince has its perks, after all,’ He said, glancing at Kaya. However, Rian was disappointed to see that his beloved did not look as happy as he had expected her to.
Kaya asked Taraksh, ‘What is this place exactly?’
‘This, my lady, is the ancient library of scrolls,’ he replied.
Kaya looked up at to gaze at its marvelous architecture. As they went up the steps, a giant structure of white and gray cobblestones stood before them. Its pillars were covered by dense freshwater plant vines. The entrance was flanked by two giant statues of beautiful mermaids, one holding a scroll and the other holding a quill. The majestic steps were lined by a soft moss that covered them in lush green blankets. Kaya was surprised to note that they were not slippery.
‘Do mermaids exist?’ Kaya inquired.
‘Yeah, they do. But they generally prefer to reside in the deepest waters. They seldom come to the surface,’ Rian replied. Kaya did not acknowledge him.
As they walked in, she noticed the stone walls that went up to the ceiling. Every inch of the inner walls was covered in awe-inspiring marine flora and fauna. With pillars on either side, the corridor led to a circular chamber at the center. Rows upon rows of scrolls and books lined the walls. Their browned edges resembled the battered copies of ancient texts. Two people appeared to be sitting at a large desk, perusing a voluminous book. The approaching footsteps made them look up and take notice of the visitors.
One of the readers was an old man, with a gray beard and long hair that reached his waist. He was dressed in a long robe, which was draped elegantly around his torso. He wore several beaded necklaces and came across as friendly yet intimidating.
With him sat a young girl, almost the same age as Kaya, though extremely pretty. The girl had large, round eyes and jet-black hair, which highly contrasted with her pearly skin. She wore an elegant dress that rustled with the sound of swooshing leaves. She had her hair tied in a loose bun over her head.
Taraksh and Rian bowed to the old man and chorused, ‘Good morning, Guru Rishi’. Taraksh signaled for Kaya to follow suit.
Guru Rishi replied, ‘Good morning, children.’ Then his gaze drifted to Kaya, and he asked, ‘Who is this girl? A new student, maybe?’
Kaya replied, ‘Guru ji, I’m here to visit the SapphireWaves kingdom on the invitation of Prince Rian.’
Rian could feel that Kaya was deliberately averting his gaze for some reason.
‘I see. So you’re the famous girl who was able to do the two things that I have failed at?’ inquired Guru Rishi, his eyes gleaming. Seeing the amused look on Kaya’s face, he continued, ‘I believe you have the peacekeeper issue settled once and for all.’
Kaya smiled and replied, ‘Actually, it was Ri- I mean, Prince Rian,’ she added rather hastily, glancing at Taraksh’s raised eyebrow, ‘and Taraksh who did everything.’
‘Well, that brings us to my second failure – getting Rian to act as a person first and a prince later. He’s made a lot of sacrifices growing up. He never voiced his desires. I’m given to believe that you changed that.’
Kaya went scarlet with embarrassment and started fidgeting with her hair. She saw a flicker of movement near the young girl’s head; a fluttering of tiny wings. However, there was nothing when Kaya looked back up again.
The other girl, who had been standing at a distance, bowed to Guru Rishi and said, ‘Guru Rishi, I’d like your permission for the day. I will resume the class tomorrow.’ Rishi nodded as the girl rushed to pick up her books, scrolls and quills before walking out of the library. She did not look at the three of them. She must have been in some hurry as a few scrolls tumbled out of her hands, scattering on the floor.
Kaya followed her to help her pick up some items. The girl still did not look at Kaya and muttered what sounded like a ‘thank you’. Guru Rishi came up to them and said to the girl, ‘I hope you’ve said hello to our guest.’
The girl was still making up her mind, probably trying to come up with an appropriate answer to that question, when Kaya sensed her unease and thrust her hand forward, ‘Hi, I’m Kaya! I’m here to see the SapphireWaves kingdom on the request of Prince Rian.’
‘Yes, I’d heard about that,’ said he girl as she glanced at Guru Rishi. She added softly, ‘I’m Myra. I’m here to study the kingdom and understand its customs and traditions.’
Guru Rishi walked down the stairs, leaving the two girls to have a word in private. However, he could sense that only one of them was trying to have a chat.
Kaya spoke with a hopeful look on her face, ‘Oh, that’s great! I wish I could do the same, too. Everything here feels so new and odd. Could you help me, please? How long will you be here?’
Myra was spared the trouble of answering her, as Taraksh showed up just then. He had a similar stack of scrolls and quills in his hands. He muttered, ‘I wasn’t expecting to get so many assignments on the very first day after the revel. This is just ridiculous…’
He stopped dead in his tracks as he saw Myra. From the look on his face, it was clear that he had expected her to leave with Guru Rishi. However, there she was, standing right in front of him.
‘Hi, Myra! How are you doing?’ asked Taraksh, greeting Myra with a skeptical look. She smiled at Taraksh and muttered, ‘I’m doing well’. Strangely, however, her smile did not reflect in her eyes.
Taraksh told Kaya that Myra was King Aranyak’s daughter. She had come to the water kingdom to learn about its customs and traditions. This was in keeping with the last accord – Rian had spent a year at the Greenwoods , and now it was Myra’s turn to do the same at SapphireWaves.
Kaya responded, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Princess Myra. Please pardon my ignorance. I’m so pleased to make your acquaintance.’
Myra nodded as she hurried down the moss steps. Rian rushed out, complaining about the assignments, letting out a sigh of relief to see the back of Myra.
Kaya could not fathom out what was going on. Despite her earlier attempts at keeping her distance from Rian, she blurted out before she could put on the brakes on her curiosity, ‘Why didn’t Myra say hello to you, Rian?’
Taraksh was scuttling after Myra when he overheard Kaya’s question. Rian was still thinking about a prudent response when Taraksh exclaimed, ‘Oh, I almost forgot… Myra is Rian’s betrothed.’
To be continued…
…now that you’re here
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