CHAPTER 1 - Of a Prince and his Dragon

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Standing over the tall Western bridge that formed just another path out of many to the faraway Summer Realm, I looked around for any signs of the bandwagons that were scheduled to reach the grounds of Liberan any minute. I laid my sundial on the balustrade, adjusted its rod to point at North and checked the time again, half - out of boredom and half - out of excitement. The shadow cast by its golden rod on the small, intrinsically carved, circular wooden plate indicated that it was over a quarter after midday.

No doubt the sunlight was nearly blinding my eyesight. But then I heard the unmistakable sound of drums and thunderous echoes of distant footsteps. There it was at last.

"Eleni!" shouted Amelia over the ever-nearing rumble. "It's here." I looked sideways where she stood some five feet away with one hand over her hip and the other over her eyebrows, squinting in the direction of the noise.

"Yes. Finally." I grinned at her and slipped my sundial inside the pocket of my coat.

"Do you think Prince Nova would be arriving with them?" She looked giddy with excitement as usual. I rolled my eyes.

"Don't you start again, Amelia. And yes, I think he might be coming. It's about time."

"You think he has grown all tall and muscly after his training?" Amelia, my younger cousin worried me with her fantasies most of the time. Her constant rambling about the gossips of the royals was a topic of great debate at home.

Five years ago, on the day when it had been announced that Prince Nova was of age to go to Terraskee, in order to complete his warrior-training and to serve his Elementeeship oath, Amelia had cried her heart out and begged me to disguise her as a boy and be sent on the ship that was set to take thousands of boys across the Realms. It had been a feat as difficult as taming a wild lion, to make her come back to her senses.

Once she had also managed to sneak into a royal tent that had been a part of the Winter realm's embassy that had made its base in the central part of Caeliskee. She had insisted that she had gone in to grab a peek of the giant ice-makers that Aquaskee, the capital of Winter realm, was well-known to manufacture; but mother and I knew of course it was to get a glimpse of the Prince of Winter Realm.

"You know you are not allowed to roam around alone, when I am in the polling tent tomorrow." I tapped her shoulder reaching over to where she stood. "Did you hear me?"

"Yes, Eleni, yes. Sticking to you, following you, waiting for you in Uncle Barak's shop. I know!" she made me chuckle at that and I realized how much she had changed from the day I had first met her. Though she still kept her wavy golden hair tightly wrapped in braids, she looked quite grown for her age. Her freckles had increased and there was nothing more she hated than that.

I looked away from her mischievous face just in time to see the first flock of eagles' swoop in and form the shape of balanced-scales mid-air, followed by hundreds of young women dressed in rich blue silk carrying ornate vessels of water clutched to their chest. They were walking delicately over the soft grass that had been laid out for the occasion.

The procession was also studded with bright pink-orange flamingos and majestic peacocks; there were also sturdy horses carrying soldiers overlooking the crowd and maintaining a barrier between the civilians and the procession. The stunning waves of blue and white colors floating over the procession that were unmistakably white pigeons and blue jays, were almost stealing the entire show.

And then there were thousands of pairs of men, clearly representing the twins of Gemini House, each person of the pair had opposite behavior that could be spotted even from this high distance. One man showed grace, smiling at the crowd and was dressed in simple but bright peasant attire but his twin had daggers and knives and smirked at the crowd. The duality of Gemini House would never get old.

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