* * *
The three of us had been inseparable–Elias, Kellis, and I–even if we fought, we came back around to one another, with our own secret language of loyalty and trust. If anyone bullied Elias, they found both Kellis and I at their throats. If anyone sneered at Kellis’s parentage, they found Elias and I standing behind him, vouching for his worth, his blood. If anyone questioned my talents in tactics or strength, both Kellis and Elias were there to help me hide the bodies.
We had lifetimes together; we grew up together, and it was beautiful.
It all changed when the Autumn Queen visited the city; the local nobles and generals would vie to host her — she had rarely left her own court, and so few had ever been admitted there, and none had spoken about it on their return, no matter how they were questioned — it was a great honor.
The three of us wore such pride when my mother announced our house would host Her Majesty, and when she, Herself, graced us with her presence in the receiving hall, we bowed low, as was our place, as was her due, and she was both radiant and terrible. We could feel her presence, and it both inspired elation, and yet when she passed, and her gaze was no longer on us, it felt like a weight that would pull us into some cold, dark forgetting place, where we would drown.
I could see, from the very first moment, that both Kellis and Elias were hopelessly in love. I could see, from the very first moment, that I might be, as well. Her beauty was incomparable; one smile from her could topple mountains, inspire insurrection or command ultimate peace in her name.
At the first dinner, and every engagement thereafter, she praised the service, the staff, our parents, and us, and made no secret of her joy in our skills and abilities.
At the coldest night of winter, as her time with us was coming to an end, she announced that she would be returning to her own keep, and bringing with her her three newest attendants — Kellis, Elias, and myself.
like so few others, we would venture to the Court of the Autumn Queen.
The only question I had: Would we ever return?
* * *