Part 5

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He looked nothing like he did when they first met. His clothes were beautifully designed, all fur and silk. The crown he wore was thick and royal, embedded with various precious jewels. On his belt hung a dagger with a diamond-studded hilt. He looked handsome before, but he looked majestic now. He made his way to his chair and looked at Cricket with a tiny smile on his face.

Silver stood and began to introduce them. Cricket stood up also, and Airik took her hand.

“It is a pleasure, again,” he said.

Silver looked startled. “You met before?”

Cricket stammered. “He came in earlier—”

“I was hardly myself,” Airik said. He released Cricket’s hand. She looked down, and they all sat.

Airik could not take his eyes off her. He seemed to be under a spell. Cricket, on the other hand, felt she could not look at him. She feared that if she did she wouldn’t be able to withstand the hold of his glance.

Silver made a mental note of this and ate as if nothing was happening.

For Airik, dinner went by too quickly.

For Cricket, it went slowly. She didn’t know how much longer she would have to keep up this barrier between them. All she knew was that she dared not look at him. Dinner was eventually cleared and wine cakes were distributed equally among the tables. Cricket slowly sipped the deep red wine. It had a strong, odd taste, but good nevertheless.

Silver was tired of the silence. “Airik, Cricket wants to know why she’s here.”

Cricket had been watching various people wander out onto the deck to stargaze or chat.

“Let’s go outside,” he suggested.

Silver nodded and excused herself.

Cricket and Airik were alone. They went onto his private balcony that overlooked the Great Sea.

Cricket sat down on one of the fur-covered chairs and listened to the waves crash below. She looked into the sky and gasped.

“Seven moons!” she cried. “You have seven moons?”

“No,” he answered. “Nine.”

Cricket looked at him in amazement. “Nine moons?”

“And how many do you have?”

“One,” she said quietly. “Only one.”

Airik considered this thoughtfully. “I can’t imagine living in a world with only one moon. Night must be very dark.”

Silence came again.

“You know, I lied. I really am not this way at all. I detest dressing up in silly garments. I like much better to work in the fields with everyone else. The way you met me first was more me. This is the High Lord’s mask.”

Cricket said nothing. There was only the sound of the waves and the wailing of gulls. Airik sat down beside her. The feeling of his warm body next to her made her shiver.

“Are you cold?”

“No, I’m fine. About why I’m here…?”

“Yes, I’ll explain. But where should I begin? The beginning of the Night Years is a strange place to start, yet a good one. When the last king and queen dies, the world split itself in two. No one knows exactly why. On this side, Golendria, good people dwell and flowers are abundant. On the other side, Miremar, evil rules and deserts stretch on for miles. Dividing the sides is a strip called The Golden Band. It runs on for miles.

“The real reason you are here is because of the evil on the other side. Queen Avelin, or so she calls herself, reigns in this terrible place. Ever since the formation of the band, each side has minded its own business. All until this year.

“At the turn of the season, Avelin sent her warriors up here. Stars know why, but she did. She carried off Raff, Kurt, Ennex, Nym and Devin—some of my best warriors. Her trolls and cave bogs now raid our storehouses and terrorize our forests.”

“How do I fit into all this?”

“There is a prophecy that has predicted these exact events. The Ledians believe it to be true. It said that an ‘ouside of the green eyes is the Chosen One’, and only this person held the power to break the band. It left instructions that led right to you. You are the Chosen One.”

“Me?” Cricket yelled. “Chosen One? Not remotely! I’m not special; I’m like everyone else. I’m not blessed, nor will I ever be! You can believe this ‘green eyes’ garbage all you want, but I say it’s silly. Do you really think that I have the power to fix everything?” She waited for his answer.

“Yes,” he said.

She laughed. “Then you must be as touched as the drunken spirit who scribbled down your ‘prophecy.’” Cricket couldn’t control her anger.

Airik jumped up and grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling her toward him. “You mock my ancestors,” he cried through his teeth. “Never do it again.”

“I say ‘posh’ to your crazed ancestors.”

Airik squeezed her shoulders tighter, his anger making him a madman. He felt as though he could have crushed her. She had no right to say such things.

“Ow!” Cricket cried. “Hey, I bruise easily! Temper, temper!”

He did not stop.

“You are hurting me,” she calmly forced out the words. “Let. Me. Go. Get your hands off me.”

He finally let go of her and looked at her. She glared at him, her eyes filled with pain and ferocity. She turned and ran out of the great hall, leaving the ashamed High Lord alone on his private balcony.

What had made him do such a thing? Slosly, he put his head in his hands and felt a feeling he hadn’t felt in a long time: regret.

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