Rising Darkness: Chapter One
Bright sunlight shone through the forest, illuminating the trees.
The shrieks of two young girls pierced the air, but they weren’t shrieks of fear or sorrow. They were cries of joy.
“Come on, Asha! Hurry up!” Obsidia laughed, her long, raven-colored hair blowing in the wind. Asha followed behind, tripping over the long roots woven into the ground.
“My dress keeps tripping me!” Asha complained, still stumbling. The two girls splashed through a pond, getting their shoes wet as well as the bottoms of their dresses, but they didn’t pay any attention to it. Asha picked up the hem of her dress and ran after Obsidia. “Hey, wait for me!” She called as her friend ran ahead. Finally, laughing, Asha and Obsidia reached their destination: A clearing in which a tall, thick tree stood; their favorite place in the forest.
“Race you to the top!” Obsidia said, already making her way up the hundreds of branches that were so familiar. Asha grasped the first branch, which was no taller than her, and pulled herself up. She looked down at her hands. They were strong, strong from all the times they had climbed the tree, their tree, strong from sneaking out of the palace every day to run into the forest, away from her father’s careful watch, and away from the stuffy life they should have been accustomed to. Instead, she found herself longing for freedom and to be rid of the laws, plans, and lessons that were created. Asha didn’t want anything to do with royalty, but of course she never told that to her father, the King.
Stepping onto another branch, she climbed higher until she was halfway up the tree. “Obsidia,” she thought out loud, “how come our fathers have to involve us in all this royalty stuff? Palace life is much too dignified.”
Obsidia sighed. “Because it’s in our blood,” she said, restating her father’s favorite line. “As I’ve told you before, the kingdoms need rulers. After the king marries and the queen is coronated, a prince or princess is born. The new member of the royal tree, once he or she turns twelve, is then trained to rule over the kingdom. Finally, once that person reaches the age of twenty, they are required to marry a man of their father’s choosing.” She recited the rules word-for-word, in a rather irritated tone.
“I know all that,” Asha replied impatiently, “but why can’t we choose our own path?”
A branch snapped under her feet. Thinking quickly, Asha jumped up from the branch now falling to the ground and gripped another. As she struggled, Obsidia grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the branch adjacent to her.
“The world doesn’t want us to choose our own path, Asha. That’s why we have to look out for each other and be wary. The longer we resist the throne, the harder it will be to do so later on.”
Asha’s eyes widened. “You mean you want to rule the kingdom?”
Obsidia hesitated. “I didn’t say that exactly,” she said cautiously. “I just don’t know if we should keep hiding. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to carry on our fathers’ legacy.” She glanced over at Asha, who was staring at her. “Look, I’m sorry, ok? I don’t find running away every chance we get, to be logical anymore. I’m fourteen now, and you’re twelve. I have to start thinking about this at some point.”
Sighing, Asha kicked the tree’s old trunk. She stood up on the branch and continued to climb the tree. When she reached the top, she looked out at the horizon, which was beginning to turn a bright coral color. Down below, trickles of water cut through a large valley. Small wildflowers dotted the grass. In the distance, two castles stood side by side. A light breeze tousled her brown hair gently.
Obsidia joined her, and the two gazed down at the scenery.
“I don’t want you to change,” said Asha softly. Obsidia put her arm around her friend.
“I know,” she said, “but sometimes we have to.”
Asha sat in the palace’s dining hall. Three chandeliers towered above her, stretching out over the vast room. Asha picked at her dinner, a roasted goose. The well-lit hall seemed to feel more depressing tonight. Asha slumped against the back of her hard chair as her father stared at her disapprovingly.
“Asha,” the king began in his deep voice, “I can’t have you running off every day. You have duties here that you owe to your future subjects.”
Asha slid down further into her chair, avoiding his gaze. “I’m sorry, Father,” she mumbled.
“Please, Asha. Don’t slouch and speak up. You’re twelve now, and I expect you to start acting like it.” He sighed. “You’re just like your mother used to be.”
Asha looked up at him. “Really?” She asked.
“Yes.. She was a wonderful lady, always seeing the best in everyone, and not afraid to stand out, but she never wanted to accept royalty. She said it was.. How did she word it? Palace life was “a long way from freedom and from the rest of the world.” He chuckled softly, and a small smile peeked out from the corner of his mouth. “Oh, Asha.. How can I possibly stay mad at you? Just promise me you will not run off again so I do not lose you, too.”
Asha traced her finger across the curved pattern on the table.
“Alright, Father.” She rested her chin on her fist.
“Thank you, my little princess.” The king patted his daughter’s head affectionately.
“Tell me again about Mother.”
The king stared at her once more.
“Please?” Asha pleaded.
“What do you want to know?”
“I don’t know… Just tell me the story of how you met her and everything.”
Her father took a shaky breath.
“Well, I suppose I could tell you…” He began the story.
“When I first met Lea, she was a young, carefree firebrand. She had beautiful wavy brown hair, much like yours. Her eyes… They were a lovely bright blue, and they seemed to sparkle whenever I looked at her.” He paused, lost in the memory of his wife. Asha looked at him expectantly and he continued.
“Lea was a very determined girl, and she cared very deeply about the world around her. Especially the dragons,” he added thoughtfully. “She said she always felt a connection with them. Sometimes, when she would visit me, her hair was windblown and her dress soiled. She never said why, but I could tell Lea had been riding one.” Asha’s jaw dropped.
“Mom rode a dragon?”
“Yes, and her parents weren’t very pleased, to say the least. I suppose you can imagine their disbelief when she landed on the ground on top of a dragon. But Lea convinced them that the mythological creatures were only harmful in the hands of an incapable human.”
“Is that why keeping them in captive is against the kingdom rules?” Asha guessed.
“Yes. Your grandparents decided that Lea was right, and because they didn’t want any harm to come to the dragons they now saw as gentle inhabitants, they made capturing any mythological creature strictly forbidden. Since I married her and our kingdoms joined together, your friend Obsidia’s kingdom is the only other.” The king’s brow creased, seeming to age him within a second. “Obsidia’s kingdom does not prevent keeping dragons in captive, which has made it politically difficult between her parents and I. Half of this country is for it; the other against it.” At this point he had Asha’s full attention.
“So Obsidia and I are enemies?” She asked, eyes wide with concern.
The king’s gaze softened.
“Don’t worry about that. Obsidia is not old enough to begin making decisions for her kingdom. Besides, I want you to be happy, and that means having friends.”
With that, he kissed Asha on the top of the head.
“It’s getting late, my princess. You should get to bed.”
“Alright, Father,” Asha said, and she slipped out of her chair. Asha ran up the stairs to the second floor of the palace and, reaching her room, closed the door. She dressed quickly and finished getting ready for bed. Finally, after a long day, Asha laid down on her four-poster and snuggled into the covers. Asha closed her eyes, then slowly drifted off to sleep.