The room is spinning, or perhaps it’s the force of my mind trying to catch up with what the Symvoulos just said. Let’s start with what I know, I killed a Wannapaign, I’ve been brought on this magnificent ship by a less than terrifying fairytale assassin, who just laid out the revelation that my killing the Wannapaign is the beginning to an ancient trial that to most has been long forgotten. I suppose that settles it, I’ve gone insane. To further confirm my insanity, I begin to speak my thoughts aloud,
“What will this mean? For me?” I cradle my head in my hands as I work through all the information trying to answer the question, ‘what next?’. I need answers, not more stories. I look up to see the Symvoulos’ face looks almost irritated that we’re still having this conversation. Too bad he can’t read my mind because then he’d know the feeling was mutual.
“By killing a Wannapaign you have set in motion the ancient Trials which, according to royal law can only end with a crowned victor. You are now qualified to compete in the remaining trials, and should you succeed in completing them you will be named Princess of North Atlantikos to rule with Prince Alcides.” I feel nauseated, I might vomit. I swallow down the feeling and try to stay composed.
“But, Master Symvoulos.” He raises his hand.
“Please, call me Kaius.” I steel myself, attempting to control my frustration with the sheer madness of the situation. I take a deep breath.
“Kaius, how am I supposed to compete in the Trials? You yourself said that the most skilled people found the tasks daunting. Even the young nobles train for the much less strenuous lottery, from birth. I have no training, no knowledge, no skills.”
“Yes I said those things however, I must disagree with you. You do have skills. You killed a Wannapaign, something that hasn’t been done in centuries. And when it was accomplished it was no easy feat.”
“That was pure luck! There is no way I could do it again.”
“Well you’re fortunate. You only have to kill one Wannapaign to in order to enter the trials, so you won’t have to do it again.” Why is he trying to make light of this? I don’t think he grasps how inept I am for the fate he says belongs to me. He reclines back in his chair, relaxing now.
“I understand you are still in shock from your ordeal with the beast and the truth of what the encounter now means. You say that killing the beast was luck but I don’t believe that’s the case. Do you think that blind luck is what allowed most of our Princesses and Princes the opportunity to rule? King Mare may have enjoyed the sport and results of having combatants hunting down Wannapaigns however it served another purpose, and that was to weed out the strong and resourceful from the weak and greedy.” He spoke with such conviction I felt almost speechless, however the feeling didn’t last long.
“I still feel like you are overestimating my abilities. We have quite obviously established that my knowledge is limited and I still have no training.”
“Those are the things I am less worried about.” I raised a questioning eyebrow as the corner of his mouth shot up into that knowing smirk again.
“And why are those the things you aren’t worried about? Are you about to tell me you really do have Symvoulos Magic?” I can tell he likes the banter.
“No, unfortunately I still do not have magic. What I do have is two of the best people in all of North Atlantikos , well perhaps all of Atlantis to train you in both physical prowess and intellectual fortitude.” He released his gleaming white teeth in an all too confident smile. For all I know he is referring to himself as one of the ‘Best People’ in this fantasy of his. He is entirely too sure of someone he knows so little about. Granted, I am a survivor and I will do what needs to be done when my life depends on it but, what he is asking me to do seems impossible.
“Suppose I believe you and your ‘Miracle’ trainers, what comes next? I am launched into a set of impossible trials only to fail, or better yet, get myself killed in the hopes that your prince will accept me as his new princess?” My cynicism is slowly escaping my hold. I should probably do a better job at speaking with respect to someone with a higher title than me yet considering my future it doesn’t seem like it matters much.
He screws his mouth up to the side, like he’s hiding a grin. Maybe he enjoys my impetuousness. He wipes at his mouth and holds his chin in his hand. He stares at me, scrutinizing me. I stare back, unyielding. His face relaxes and his olive eyes smile first. I feel hungry again.
“I can see you will be fun to work with. Yes, I suppose that’s the short of it. However as I said you will be trained both for the physical trials and intellectual ones. Although I have a feeling you won’t need as much training as you think.” I try to hide the smirk from my lips. Having been so jolted from the attack, the unexpected arrival of Kaius the Symvoulos and now the realization that I am to take part in some ancient set of tests, I have been less than my normal self. I’m pleased he sees I am not some halfwit stray that can’t make sense of anything.
“You will still need to tell me how you were able to beat the Wannapaign. But we will have plenty of time while we sail for Alcides.” Just when I thought my wits had returned the understanding set in that I would have to leave Sarochori in order to accomplish my new fate. I knew this in the back of my mind, that if I were to embrace this new future for myself, Sarochori wouldn’t be part of it. Although I have always hated this flea-bitten island, I still considered it home since I have never known another. I know I was not born in Sarochori, my coloring and build is very different from those who truly call the island home. The locals have beautiful bronze colored skin that is usually covered in grime, dark piercing eyes that trust no one and thick black curls atop their head, when they are fortunate enough to keep those curls that is. Caplice can be extremely painful where the only relief comes from having no hair at all. I on the other hand have always s stood out as different. My skin, though burned by the sun more often then not, is a pale pink. My hair is crimson as fire and my eyes are grey like the sea before a storm. I have never belonged. The people have always known me but never cared for me, except Kyria. She is the only one I would miss dearly if I should go. If she was here now, she would be telling me to stop being so foolish and take any chance I could to get off this stinking island. That’s easy to say when know where you belong. What if where I am going is worse than here? I look at my hands. I wasn’t able to get all the blood and dirt out from under my nails. Or perhaps the dirt has always been there but my hands have never been this clean for me to notice.
“Do I have a choice?” I ask Kaius, my words saturated in ambivalence.
“Everyone has a choice.” He leaned forward again, his tone was sincere now.
“What everyone doesn’t have, is the opportunities to make a choice. Neri,” I looked into his eyes as he said my name.
“I can appreciate that this is a lot to take in. That you will be leaving the only place you could call home. However, it’s not every day that someone gets to leave a place like Sarochori without having to make some type of life altering sacrifice.”
“That’s just it, I feel like I will be sacrificing my life.”
“Yes, you will be making sacrifices and taking a risk. But, don’t you take risks every time you venture on to the sea? Searching for food. How about when you move from alley to alley trying to find a place to lay your head at night? Wouldn’t you prefer to know where you will sleep this night, and the coming nights for a time?” I could feel my eyebrows furrow together as he revealed things he knew about me, my habits. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised he knew things about me. He did know my name before I could speak it back on the beach. He no doubt has spies everywhere. Knowledge is power, Kyria taught me that.
“Don’t worry, there are somethings I still don’t know about you. However, when word of someone doing what you did spread and my Prince’s future was potentially involved, I take the time to do a little research. It didn’t take long to determine who you were and what kind of life you lead. As I’m sure you guessed, not many in Sarochori would pass up coin for information.” How long had I been on that stupid fish? Kaius catches my attention again,
“Listen, the unknown can be terrifying but you already live in the unknown every day. Choosing this path, at least you will know some things with certainty.”
“Like I will certainly fail?”
“Why do you keep doing that? If you say you will fail then you surely will. You have yet to fail so why think that you will? The only way you can truly fail is to not try at all.” His word weighed on me. What he said was true. If I thought I would fail then I would. And failing to try is worse than failing from trying. I pick at my nails, examining the filth that has built up over the years both real and imagined. To leave would mean to say goodbye to everything I have known. The misery, the orphanage, the village, Kyria. Out of all this, she would be the only one I miss. And out of everyone, she would be the only one telling me to stop whining and go! I firmly put my hands on my knees, straightening my back and looked Kaius in the eyes again.
“Alright, I’ll do it. Better to fail from trying then failing to try.” Kaius clapped his hands together.
“Wonderful! We set sail for Alcides right away. His natantesarche is quite some ways off. It will take a little over a fortnight to reach him. That will give us plenty of time for you to become better educated on the history of Atlantis and the Trials. In the meantime, I will call for Mia. She will show you to your chambers while aboard. She is one of the chambermaids. She isn’t used to taking care of a lady so I am sure she will be thrilled! She will bring you some fresh water and something to wear. Please, stay here I will fetch her.” He stood up to leave and as he reached the door he peered back at me from over his shoulder.
“Also, please feel free to eat all you like however, don’t overdo it. You might make yourself sick if you eat too much too fast and I am sure the richness of this food may not be what your used to.” He gave me a wink and slipped out the door. Ridiculous. I am starving and now that I can eat in peace I will eat whatever I want! And what is a Natantesarche?
Click HERE to continue with Neri in Chapter 5