Once upon a time in the land of Hithis Feanhia during the Blissful Era of Prosperity there lived a young princess called Esiley. Many young princes desired her hand in marriage… but she refused them all. So they had to be content with gazing upon her beauty from afar. However, one of these princes, Elriand, was more determined than the others. He would call upon her everyday to try and convince her of his sincerity. Instead, the only thing he had convinced her of was his ability to drive people completely insane.
Though one day when Elriand called upon her Esiley received him. Bowing low, he kissed her hand. He looked up at her with dark blue eyes reminiscent of the twilight from summers long past. His hair, the color of deepest night, She breathed in, thinking, he may be uncommonly handsome, but he was just like all the others: selfish, shallow, and arrogant.
She composed herself and said, with just the faintest hint of sarcasm, “Prince Elriand, what a… pleasure to see you.”
“No, the pleasure is all mine, Princess,” he replied with a smile worthy of any more important prince.
Did he really think that she was that naïve? She knew not one of them really cared for her, but for her beauty, money and title, for she was the sole heir to her kingdom. He wasn’t even creative. ‘The pleasure is all mine’ was a thoroughly overused phrase. Feeling her momentary captivation with his looks slip away, she continued,
“Your determination to win my hand and my heart shows that you will persevere in any cause, even if it seems impossible. I am in need of a man such as you,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes, “or at least the man that you appear to be. I offer you this chance to prove yourself: Do you recall the tale of The Assassin’s Crown?”
“It is familiar to me, Princess, but please refresh my memory. I would like to hear the tale from your beautiful lips.” Ignoring the flattery, she began her tale.
“Long ago before our time there lived a king of Men, Neddan, who was trapped in a war he could not win against the evil Keldrauk, Lord of Shadows. Keldrauk led an army of creatures bound with dark magic to do his bidding. King Neddan was good, but weak, and, fearful of the fate awaited him and his kingdom if Keldrauk prevailed, he killed himself, forcing his daughter to the throne. Karandia was a much more practical leader than her father, and she knew that if she were to engage Keldrauk’s army in battle then her forces would be crushed. Instead, deep in debt, she traded the only thing of value left, the royal crown, to the best assassins who could be found in exchange for the service of eliminating Keldrauk. The assassins accepted the payment, and sent out the elite of their force to accomplish the task. They succeeded, and peace and prosperity were restored to the land. However, in a bloody and unexpected turn of events, the assassins killed Queen Karandia and crowned the best of them, Serthin, as King. The people hated Serthin passionately, because they had loved their Queen deeply. Having him as king was intolerable to them, and to make matters worse he was not even a good king. He was cruel, cold, and ruthless. But fortunately, he was also arrogant and over-confident, so he was not expecting the uprising that ultimately ended in his death. Uprooted from their positions of power, the other assassins fled to the deepest part of the woods, protected by ancient magic anyone who wished them harm. Their new home was named the Glade of Emerald Eyes. The name stemmed from the fact that all of the assassins shared the same startling emerald eyes. Yet, besides the emerald eyes and the ancient tale almost nothing was known about the group. Their proficiency in their area of expertise was legendary, but no one knew more, because part of the ancient magic that protected them was a binding on anyone who engaged their services, forcing them to be unable to reveal the whereabouts of the Glade or any information about it. Several people attempted to break this binding, but no one succeeded. Indeed, most of the people who require the services of the Emerald Eyes are not the kind of people who had any interest in revealing the whereabouts of the Glade.”
At this Esiley paused, remembering. Then, shaking her head as if to clear it of unwanted thoughts, she continued. “Ever since the Glade has remained hidden and legends are woven around it, legends of the crown’s powers, although no one is quite sure what these are, only that they are amazing and may not be used for ill purposes. So the Glade of the Emerald Eyes and its inhabitants remain cloaked in ancient magic and people wonder.”
Esiley finished her story and studied the prince closely, watching. She did not know how he would react, but it would speak silent words about his character. She knew how most of the other princes would react: with flowery responses ill-concealing the fact that they were reluctant to actually face danger.
Then, her green eyes boring into his blue ones, she smiled charmingly.
“I want you to retrieve the Assassin’s Crown and bring it back here, for only when it is restored and crowns the head of the ruling monarch can we have true peace and prosperity.”
Prince Elriand looked at her with an unreadable expression and then replied, “but princess, we already have peace.”
She laughed, then and said, “Really, are you so unaware of the political struggles? Everyone is hungry for power, and some will do anything to get it. Only when the Assassin’s Crown is returned to the ruling monarch will all have to accept the fact that he or she is the true ruler, for the crown will only acknowledge the one meant to rule. Even after Serthin killed Queen Karandia, he could never wear the Crown that she had given him as payment, for he was an unjust tyrant and not suited to rule a kingdom.”
She expected Elriand to argue, but all he said was, “I will be honored to undertake a quest for the good of the kingdom. Hopefully it will convince you that I am honest and my motives are not related to money or titles.”
Esiley lay in bed, her eyes open. She slowly pulled her silk covers back and delicately set her feet upon the cold floor. Holding her hand to her forehead, she stood and stepped into the washroom. Filling her hands with cool water from the basin, she splashed it on her face. She gazed at herself in the mirror. Her stomach writhed. What had she done? She hadn’t thought the stupid prince would accept the quest…. It was just to discourage him! Everyone knew it was imaginary. But then her eyes narrowed and she smiled grimly. Well maybe he would just have to discover that himself. He’ll be back within the week when he finds no leads and he realizes I’ve fooled him, she thought to herself. And maybe, thinking her cruel to send him on such a quest, he would leave her alone.
Storming the castle halls, Elriand fumed. He despised that… princess. She did not deserve the title! She might act courtly and generous, but he saw the deceit in her lovely green eyes that went unnoticed by so many. He smirked. She was like those assassins… stunning emerald eyes, but underneath a rotting heart. Sending people on imaginary quests just to amuse herself. But he would not let her get the better of him.
He wrenched the intricate front doors open and strode out onto the lawn. Elriand slowed down and slowly turned to head into the gardens. Gardens calmed him. The moonlight shone soft light onto the petals of a rose. Elriand sighed and perched himself on a stone bench. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out his ring and traced its outlines. Two silver strands coiled around each other and met in the middle where an emerald shone. His father had given it to him before he died. It was their heirloom, one of the only things of value left of the royal family. Elriand’s thoughts turned back to the meeting with Esiley.
Maybe it wasn’t right to pursue a princess for money… but his family’s was slowly running out and his father was dead… there would soon not be enough to keep rule over their small kingdom. The people loved his mother and well, him, but without money the monarchy could weaken and succumb to barbaric attacks and the kingdom would crumble. It left him without any choices. His mother would not approve of marrying for money and would stubbornly continue trying to rule her crumbling kingdom. So, without telling his mother the real reason Elriand chose Princess Esiley to court. She was the right age, her parents would not protest such a marriage, she definitely had enough money in her dowry to support the realm and its subjects, and well, he had wanted to prove to his friends that the lovely Princess Esiley could be courted. He wasn’t so sure anymore.
An idea pushed its way to the front of his mind. He grinned roguishly. That would teach her a lesson and give him a chance to put his charms to a test.
Esiley was in a carriage riding to Geâdia, Elriand’s home country. She looked out the window to gaze at the palace. It was not a fancy castle; that was undeniable. But it had a simple elegance to it that even Esiley, who prized style, appreciated. The crisp grass sloped up to the palace on a hill, where it seemed to lovingly overlook the land and its people. Esiley smiled up at it and, as the carriage stopped, she daintily stepped out of the carriage holding up her beautiful blue gown. Holding her head up regally she began the walk up to the castle gates with her royal entourage trailing behind. Esiley stopped in front of the gigantic door and knocked.
Stepping back from the entrance she looked up and heard a voice echo boomingly out from behind the gate, “Who calls upon the royal family of Geâdia?”
“Princess Esiley of Hithis Feanhia. I am calling upon Elriand of Geâdia.”
“Let them in!” shouted a voice behind the castle walls.
The gate rumbled and dropped open at Esiley’s feet. Esiley glided in and stood in the lovely entrance hall. Footsteps echoed from a hall to her right. She looked to see Elriand enter and bow.
“How lovely to see you again, princess.”
She smiled and held out her hand. Elriand stepped forward to kiss it.
“So… Elriand, why did you call to see me?”
Elriand straightened up. “Well, it is usually traditional for a princess to see a prince that is courting her off when he goes on a quest,” he said cocking his head.
“Courting? Prince Elriand… I would hardly say…”
“Well I would. You made it clear that this quest was to test my perseverance and so forth, for you said, quote ‘I am in need of a man such as you.’ Unquote.”
Esiley smiled with pursed lips, “Well, so it would seem.”
“Yes, well, I was also thinking, now that we have come to an agreement that I am courting you,” Elriand said with a grin, “that you should come along on this quest.”
Esiley’s smile dropped off her face. “What?”
“It makes sense. You are so well informed of the quest we are going on. You could be our guide. I don’t know where I’m going and neither does my crew. You might be able to recall something from the story and figure out where we’re going. And besides, this quest is to save your kingdom. Surely you want to supervise this expedition.”
“Well…um…” Esiley fumbled with words as she looked for a way to escape her predicament. This wasn’t supposed to happen!
Elriand smiled. “Great! We’re leaving Monday. You can stay here in Geâdia if you like, though I believe you’ll need to pack.” Elriand bowed and left.
“So where are we going, princess?” said Elriand smiling at her from atop a horse beside her.
“How should I know?” Esiley snapped.
“Why princess! I thought you were going to lead us on this expedition!” Elriand exclaimed with a straight face. However, he was laughing inside.
“Well I’m not. I have no idea where we’re going. This was supposed to be your quest.” A knight from Geâdia rode up beside them.
“There’s a town up ahead, sir. It is said to be the village that houses one who has seen the Emerald Glade,” the young knight said with wide eyes.
“Thank you, Peter. Would you like to lead the rest of the way?”
“Yes, sir!” The knight rode away up to the front, with a proud smile on his face.
“I can’t believe so many believe that mock tale is true,” said Elriand.
“WHAT?” said Esiley jerking around in her saddle to stare at Elriand. “You knew?”
“Yes. Did you actually think I was that stupid? Really. Pathetic.”
“Then why are we on this ridiculous quest anyway? I can’t believe you tricked me!”
“We owe it to the people on this quest you sent us on.”
“I sent you on this quest! They needn’t have gone and I needn't have either!”
“Besides, we may be really on to something. That man who has supposedly seen the Emerald Glade… maybe he really has!” said Elriand with a raised eyebrow and a grin.
Esiley gave Elriand a dirty look. “Well as soon as these people discover this tale is made up, I am going home.”
“You mean when they discover this princess is a fake? That wasn’t a bright move. They will think of you as a liar for the rest of your life!” Elriand smirked, and reached out to touch her arm. “But don’t worry, princess, I’ll save you from your destitution. Marry me and you’ll be fine.”
“Oh, charming! First insult me and then propose! I knew what I was doing. All they will think is how their prince could believe such a lie! Or maybe I’ll just let it slip that you knew all along and left them in the dark!” She wrenched her arm from his grasp. “We’re here.” She said, riding to the front of the group with Peter.
The company rode into town drawing looks from peasants as they looked through the crowds. Esiley called out to a man walking on the street. “Please, sir, could you tell me where I might find the man here who claims to have seen the Emerald Glade?”
The man pointed to a small cottage with a disgruntled look upon his face.
“I thought you didn’t believe it either.” Said Elriand riding up next to her.
“Anything to get this quest over with,” she said, dismounting smoothly. She strode into the run-down cottage with her train trailing behind and her long, curly black hair flowing around her shoulders.
“I must be crazy,” Elriand muttered and followed after her. The knights followed behind.
“What? The Emerald Glade? Never heard of it,” the old man said with a crazed look in his eye.
Elriand’s eyes narrowed. “Fine. We’re obviously in the wrong place. If you’ll excuse us, we'll be on our way."