Episode 52 – Clipshow

FADE IN:

EXT. KING’S CASTLE – NIGHT

In the center of the kingdom stands the castle, where King Dormal rules with a fair hand. The castle and the land around is covered in a blanket of snow, bathing the land in a quiet softness. It is the last winter holiday before the new year.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

The royal family is gathered in the main room, settled on various couches and chairs. They are dressed in casual attire, no need for formality around each other. A fire burns in the hearth. Bottles of wine and mulled cider are laid out on a table nearby. A clock on the wall reads 10:30 P.M.

CRESCENT, blonde and mischievous, partner to Domerin, sits on the couch. He rests against Domerin, and he speaks animatedly.

CRESCENT

“…and I told him he wasn’t allowed to leave bodies in the kitchen anymore.”

Crescent pauses dramatically, drawing laughs from the rest.

VALERIAN, Crescent’s son, young and tanned, looking happy and full of life, holds a half-empty wine glass.

VALERIAN

(laughing)

“I don’t care how many times you tell that story, Crescent, it never stops being funny. I wish you’d tell us more about when you worked as a mercenary. There’s so much we don’t know.”

CRESCENT

“A lot of what I did back then wasn’t exactly family friendly.”

VALERIAN

“Oh come on, dad. We’re all adults now.”

CRESCENT

(grinning)

“Maybe someday, but it probably isn’t all that appropriate tonight, of all nights.”

ROSE, former Queen, still regal of bearing, has her own wine glass. Her eyes sparkle with mirth.

ROSE

“I hardly thought we’d be talking about dead bodies during the holiday.”

CRESCENT

“I’m sorry. That story is probably better in very different company.”

ROSE

(laughing)

“Oh, I know the sort of people. I’m sure they tend to have several pints in them by that point too.”

SILVERBELL, princess and only daughter of Rose. Her face is framed with curls, and she is outgoing and vivacious. She stands nearby, looking out the window.

SILVERBELL

(glancing over)

“Given how many people are drinking tonight, maybe we should have broadcast your story on the news.”

DORMAL, young king, and son of Rose and Domerin. He sits near his brother, glass of wine in hand. He has a strong, kind face, and a welcoming smile.

DORMAL

(laughing)

“And send people running out of their houses into the snow?”

SILVERBELL

“I suppose your right. And we don’t exactly want drunk people running around in the snow. It’s not coming down, but it’s pretty deep out there.”

CRESCENT

“Reminds me of that time we found that elemental. You remember, Domerin? In the middle of winter. I thought our fingers were going to fall off from frostbite.”

DOMERIN, strong elven warrior, father to Dormal, and partner to Crescent. He is relaxed and open in his family’s company, and has his arm around Crescent.

DOMERIN

“I remember that one well. It wasn’t quite frostbite levels, but it was pretty bad.”

DORMAL

“I don’t think I’ve heard that one before, father.”

DOMERIN

 “Oh, well, this was a long time ago now, back before Crescent even worked in the capital. He was still working as a mercenary and we’d contracted him to work with us on a job because he had some knowledge of the location.

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. VILLAGE OF ASTIL – DAY

The village stands at the foot of a grand mountain range. A thick layer of snow covers the ground, bathing the dark wooden buildings in a crusting of white.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“We had gone to this little town called Astil, near the Ramtops. They made an appeal for help, and we went in hearing stories of strange things happening in the area.”

Villagers stand outside in the snow, in front of a large wooden building, dressed in thick winter clothing. Many shift, looking nervous. The mayor addresses Domerin, Crescent, Rilan, Valia, and other members of their team.

CRESCENT (V.O.)

“They told us people had started going missing in the snow. These were people used to the area, mind. They would hear voices on the wind. Laughter rumbling down from the mountain.It was eerie.The locals said they thought had to do with this old ritual site outside town, though it hadn’t been used for centuries.”

CUT TO:

EXT. OUTSIDE VILLAGE OF ASTIL – DAY

Domerin and his group make their way up into the foothills, riding snowmobiles borrowed from the village. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, despite the chill, but the group keeps a sharp lookout for danger. They arrive in a circle of trees, and approach something dark.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“When we went to investigate we found this mound of stones, just under the snow, not even up to my knees. It was covered in frozen flowers. The villagers told us they put them there every year. Some sort of a tradition from long ago. The place reeked of magic. We hardly probed when all hell broke loose.”

Valia kneels in front of the mound, magic light pulsing in her hands.Everything goes still, then there is a rumble, and a shake. Air and snow begin to rush down the mountain, and swirl madly at the group. It forms into a large ice elemental.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“Valia told us later the creature had been stirring, pulling people into the snow. She felt awful for waking it up, but everyone knew it wasn’t her fault. At the moment all we could do was fight it. We couldn’t let it run rampant. It was one hell of a fight, though. Everything was blurry with the snow, and you could smell the storm in the air.”

The elemental attacks, and the group fights back with weapon and spell. The battle is fierce, and at one point Rilan is injured. Eventually, after a long and grueling fight, the elemental dissolves into snow.

FADE IN:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DOMERIN

“That thing was a nightmare to take down. One of the hardest elementals I think I’ve ever fought. We’re lucky we didn’t lose anyone.”

CRESCENT

“It was lucky, though poor Rilan was sick for weeks after that. He got hit pretty bad by that thing. We all took turns going to help take care of him.”

DOMERIN

“He did, but the work got done. I haven’t heard any trouble from there since then.”

DORMAL

(leaning forward in his chair, wine forgotten)

“Sounds like it was terrifying. Part of me wishes I could have been there to see it, but I’m grateful to be where it’s nice and warm.”

VALERIAN

“Maybe I could steal you away this coming year and we could go visit.”

DORMAL

(smiling)

“That would be nice, but maybe we could aim for summertime”

VALERIAN

(grinning)

“Don’t have to tell me twice. You really should try to take some time away this year, Dormal. You deserve it.”

ROSE

(lifts her glass, eyes sparkling)

“Maybe you could even come and visit me.”

VALERIAN

(perks up)

“You should! It’s warm there, and peaceful. I could fall asleep in front of Mother’s fireplace. The nights are dark and it’s so quiet. You wake up, birds are singing. No traffic, or people pounding on your door all the time.”

ROSE

“Not usually anyway. I get callers, sometimes. I like my privacy, but I don’t mind seeing a friendly face every now and again.”

DORMAL

(wistful)

“It sounds wonderful. Maybe I will plan to come visit you later this year. It would be nice to get away from the castle for awhile, and all the things that are hard to escape. I’d love to take a walk in the woods around there.”

VALERIAN

“It’s not a crime to take a break, Dormal. Let me know when, I’ll meet you there. I can show you all around. It’s really lovely. (pauses, grinning) Well, as long as you stay away from the caves.”

DORMAL

(arching an eyebrow)

“What’s wrong with the caves?”

ROSE

“Your brother’s just winding you up, dear. There’s nothing wrong with the caves. (grins playfully) Not anymore, anyway.”

DORMAL

“You too, Mother?! Now I’ve got to know! You never told me about this one, Val.”

VAL

(laughing, holding his hands up in defeat)

“Sorry, sorry! One of the times I visited I decided to explore a bit through the woods, and  found a cave opening some ways away from her place. You know me and caves, I just can’t resist going inside.”

SILVERBELL

(tilts her wine glass toward Valerian’s face)

“Given that, and all the other things you’ve told us I would have thought you’d have had your fill of caves. Am I going to have to put a leash on you, brother?”

VALERIAN

(lightly rubs a hand over his one covered eye, though he laughs)

“As if that would work on me, Belle. Caves are a bit of an obsession of mine. Like climbing the highest tree for you. I can’t resist. Besides, I didn’t go far in alone.”

CUT TO:

EXT. OVERGROWN FOREST – CAVE MOUTH – DAY

Valerian stands just inside the mouth of a cave, daylight streaming in behind. The cave walls are covered in white chalk markings of all sorts.

VALERIAN (V.O.)

“The cave had been used for something, but I couldn’t tell what. So, for once, I did the smart thing and went to get mother.

CUT TO:

EXT. OVERGROWN FOREST – CAVE MOUTH – DAY

Rose and Valerian stand at the mouth of a cave. The light outside is brighter, indicating the time has changed. They examine the markings, Rose interested and pensive. They speak, and head deeper into the cave.

ROSE (V.O.)

“We went quite deep. I had explored the area when I chose to settle there, of course, but this I must have missed. It didn’t give off any sort of magical aura, and I didn’t get an ill feeling, so I thought there was no harm.”

Rose and Valerian walk the hallways of the cave, with a magic light to illuminate. Rose stops every now and then to leave a magical marking of light on the wall, to help guide them back out. The cave is beautiful.

ROSE (V.O.)

“We found more markings, though I couldn’t find any special meaning in them. I didn’t really expect to find much more than that. But, there was this massive underground lake. It was beautiful, perfectly placid. Like some sort of a forgotten shore.”

They stand looking at the lake. It extends away into the darkness.

VALERIAN (V.O.)

“The lake was; the shore wasn’t. There were these bones all over the ground, all old and brittle. They made the worst crunching, snapping noise you could imagine when we stepped on them. They were everywhere. I thought someone had been using the place to summon up ghosts with old tomes, or something of the like.”

Rose kneels down at the edge of the water, letting her hand hover over it, but not touching. Her face is reflected in the water, and she studies it, as if looking into a mirror. The water remains still and Rose stands smiling.

FADE TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

ROSE

“It used to be a place where people took the dead. I didn’t feel any ill presence, but performed a cleansing spell just to be safe. Still, I think that was the last time I’ll ever enter there.”

VALERIAN

“Same here, though I sometimes still see it in my dreams.”

A comfortable silence rests for a time. The family is relaxed with each other, having their shared lives in common.

DORMAL

“I suppose I shouldn’t pretend that Silverbell and I had a particularly eventful year. Dealing with nobles and ambassadors isn’t exactly the most exciting of things. They all think an overheard remark is cause for a gossip party.”

SILVERBELL

(waves her hand)

“It wasn’t all that bad. Actually… (she grins playfully) we did have one particularly memorable day.”

DORMAL

(thinks, then his brows raise in understanding)

“I don’t want to tell anyone about that. There’s hardly any time left before midnight. You really went to spend the rest of it embarrassing me?”

SILVERBELL

“Oh come on, Dormal. You’re only human.”

DORMAL

(draws a shallow breath)

“Fine. But when Mother demands her throne back, don’t blame it on me.”

ROSE

(laughs, looking curious)

“I don’t think you need to worry about that, darling, but this I have to hear.”

DORMAL

“It was one of those days where I didn’t have court and I was aching to get out of the palace for a bit. I told Silverbell, and she decided to do something about it. She couldn’t take me to distant lands, but she does know all the best ways to sneak out of the castle.”

SILVERBELL

“I thought an afternoon wouldn’t hurt.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – SERVANT’S HALLWAYS – DAY

Dormal and Silverbell are dressed somewhat down from their usual attire. They wait near an exit that will take them out into the city. Dormal casts a spell over the both of them that will disguise their appearance. Despite this, they must be careful, and wait many tense moments, before they can go. They head into the city.

DORMAL (V.O)

“I told the guards I was not to be bothered for the day, unless I called. I used that disguise magic that Valerian taught me, so no one would know who we were, and we just went out with no real plan.”

FADE TO:

The royal siblings walking the streets. They laugh, talk, and take in the sights, not in any rush. It’s a nice day, and Dormal looks relaxed as the walk, and aren’t bothered by anyone. They make their way to a store with a simple, unobtrusive exterior.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“Everything was fine, until I thought we should stop in this little store I’d heard some of the guards talking about, that sold this amazing tea. They sold all sorts of weird little things. I actually think you’d like that store a lot Valerian. It also turns out it’s a tea shop, of sorts.”

INT. ODD SHOP – DAY

The inside of the store sells all sorts of things, knick-knacks, historical items, things from different lands. It’s full of tables, shelves, and displays full of items. Despite the strange air, and the cluttering, it doesn’t appear menacing. Along with the clutter, there is also a section devoted to all sorts of teas and tinctures the woman happily shows some.

DORMAL (V.O.)

“Let’s just say we decided to try some of the tea. It was… an experience. “

Dormal and Silverbell buy a cup each, and take a seat in the shop to drink it.As the minutes go on they start to stare around the shop with wide eyes, and every now and again they would break into giggles.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“Let’s just say I think the guards were trying this tea on on their days off. You’d think it was our first time drinking, or something. I think we were giggling by the time we left the store.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DOMERIN

(arching a brow)

“Wait, so this store was selling drugged tea?”

DORMAL

“Yes? Though I don’t think it was anything dangerous. Imagine someone wrapping you up in a fluffy rainbow and pushing you out the door. I could hear music in my head, and there were so many colors in front of my eyes. It was actually quite relaxing, in a way.”

Domerin looks torn between displeasure and amusement. Next to him Crescent’s shoulders shake with laughter, and even Rose has a twinkle in her eyes.

ROSE

“I sneaked out of the palace plenty of times, but I can’t say I ever got myself in a situation like that. You’re lucky you didn’t get yourself hurt. How did you get home?”

CUT TO:

EXT. CITY PARK – CENTRAL LAKE – DAY

Dormal and Silverbell, still disguised by magic, sit on a park bench near a small lake. There are people all around having fun, playing, reading, riding paddleboats in the lake. The royal siblings giggle and point out different things to each other. Dormal becomes concerned and hurries over to talk to some people near a group of ducks, waving his arms a bit.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“We walked back, eventually. I’m not even sure how long we were gone. I think we even went to the park and just sat there starting at the ducks for an hour. It felt like the right thing to do.”

DORMAL (V.O.)

“I kept telling people not to pet them, over and over. I think they thought I was crazy. I remember smiling at them, thinking I now had a duck smile to add to my repertoire.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DORMAL

(smiles, though he looks momentarily sad)

“Looking back it’s funny, but we’re really lucky my spell didn’t wear off before the tea did. It would have been a scandal if the king and princess were found walking the streets under the influence. I don’t think I should do it again.”

DOMERIN

“It was dangerous, and it probably shouldn’t have happened. But, I think a little extra caution would have been fine.”

Rose stands and crosses the space, sitting by her son. She lays a hand on his arm.

ROSE

“Your father is right, dear. You shouldn’t change who you are, or suppress those desires. You know how to handle yourself, just be a little more cautious next time. And, perhaps, don’t let your sister choose the tea.”

SILVERBELL

(laughing)

“Hey! Well, I guess that’s fair enough.”

DORMAL

(smiles)

“Thank you mother. I’m always grateful for your advice.”

The family settles back in, enjoying their wine, and chatting.

The clock strikes the hour, letting off a cheerful chime.

DOMERIN

(hugs Crescent close, and kisses him lightly)

“Happy new year everyone. I can’t think of anyone better to pass the night with.”

Everyone toasts to that, rising and exchanges hugs and kind words for the year to come. Silverbell moves to the window, peering out. The midnight air is dancing.

SILVERBELL

“It’s snowing! The first snowfall of the year.”

The rest of the family rises and joins her, and they watch the snow falling on the courtyard, as distant fireworks sound the arrival of the new year.

CRESCENT

“Let’s make it a good one.”

FADE TO BLACK

Crescent & Silverbell – Everbody Knows

Everybody knows…

“We appreciate your interest, Princess Silverbell, but in the interest of assuring this agreement with Salira goes as quickly and smoothly as possible, we feel it’s best to limit this committee to those who have long term experience with the situation.”

In short, not her.

Silverbell’s jaw clenched, almost imperceptibly. Crescent was sitting across from her. His eyes automatically searched out tell-tale signs like that, and he caught it before the princess drew in a breath, no doubt trying to calm herself. He could imagine what was likely going through her mind at the moment, and it included some hair curling words. He couldn’t blame her, he wanted wipe that smug little grin off the minister’s face too.

His daughter’s eyes flicked in his direction, a moment of silent pleading in them. That pleading turned to a flash of anger as he firmly remained silent.

“Very well,” she said, her voice cutting, after several long, uncomfortable seconds of tense silence. She stood and made her way to the door with nary a sound. It closed with a soft click, giving no clue as to how angry she must be.

Silverbell was not going to be happy with him. He weathered the rest of the meeting with a patience born of experience, then went to go find her.

Despite getting older there were some things about his daughter that would never change. That was why he found himself climbing the great oak in one of the back gardens of the palace. It had always been her place to get away from the world. It was harder for her to hide now, and he made no attempt to hide his approach.

“Go away!” Her voice shot down from one of the higher branches.

He ignored her and kept climbing. She  might be angry at him but she’d never try to make him fall, and she was too high to safely jump.

She was nestled in the crook of a branch, her face wet with angry tears.

Silverbell shot him a nasty look as he took a branch near her. “I don’t want to talk to you, Crescent. The ministers made me look like a fool and you didn’t say anything to defend me!”

“That’s not my job, Silverbell. You’re old enough now to defend yourself.”

She shot him a look that would have burned the fur off another man. He weathered it with patience.

“Listen to me,” he said, a bit of hardness in his voice. It was rare he used this tone with the children, but he wanted to impress upon her the importance of what he was about to say. “If I’d spoken up they would never have taken you seriously. If I defend you in a meeting like that, to them, you will always be the princess who needs her father to step in and ‘save’ her. You’re better than that.”

A shock of surprise broke through Silverbell’s anger. She knew the ministers and nobles were an oily lot, but she clearly hadn’t thought of that.

“But how do I make them take me seriously when they talk me out of a meeting? If I ask mother to force them they’ll feel the same way. They’ll just ignore me.”

“You need to stop being the princess, and become a force in your own right. That’s the only way get around their damn foolishness.”

“But Crescent, everybody knows who I am. Val and I were playing pranks on the ministers from the time we could walk. Most of them have seen me running and climbing all over the place, being a goofball. They know what I’m like. They know I’m a kid.”

She wasn’t quite that young anymore, but that wouldn’t stop the ministers from seeing her that way. Both her brothers were settling into their roles and interests, but Silverbell had been something of a late bloomer in that respect.

“They know what they’ve seen,” Crescent corrected, his tone sympathetic, while trying to guide her to understanding. “You can use that to your advantage, twist the narrative to your liking.”

“But how? I can’t deny who I am.”

“Of course not, and you shouldn’t have to. No cat denies who they are.” He thought he saw a flash of pride in his daughter’s eyes, and he couldn’t help a little smile.

“You know that when I was younger, before you were born, I was a courtesan. Nothing but hired entertainment among the nobles. Now I’m an ambassador. What I was isn’t something that typically leads to where I am now, and there are plenty of ministers, and people in the court, who remember me from those days. Hell, some of them hired me regularly. There was scandal when I was appointed, and it took some of them years to stop trying to dismiss me because of my old profession. The key is to change what they see.”

“Change what they see?”

“Create a persona, a sort of character you play. I wear a mask in those meetings. I show the ministers the face I want them to see. I’ve been doing it since I started out. Your mother does the same thing. To be honest I think she might be better at it than I am.” He paused a moment, chuckling.

“The point is to only show them the mask you craft. It lets you strike out from behind when they least expect it, even if they’ve known you.”

Silverbell was silent, seeming to be thinking on that. In many ways she’d always been the boldest out of the three siblings, the most frank. She had never been one for real subterfuge, outside of all her harmless childhood pranks and games.

“You had it easier,” she said, still sounding dour.

“In some ways, yes. I came from nowhere, and no one knew me when I started. Most of the ministers and nobles saw you grow up. They will always have a picture in their head of you as a child. They think that gives them power. Just like they think remembering me as an escort gives them power over me.”

“It’s impossible to change that!”

“It’s not,” he said, fixing her with a look. It wasn’t like his daughter to give up. “The key is to let them believe they have that power, that they’re winning. I give them what they want. Until I suddenly don’t. You can do this. Watch how your mother works in court. Really watch her. As her daughter you know her true face, which gives you a unique advantage to be able to see the masks she wears. Challenge yourself to see how she plays others. Do the same with me. We’re your parents, you’ll be able to see our masks”

“I guess I can try.” Silverbell seemed a bit more unsure than she usually did, but there was something solidifying in her.

“It’ll take time,” he said, reaching across the space to lay his hand on her knee, “but I know you can do it. If I thought otherwise I would have spoken up today. You’re going to be great. Maybe even better than me.”

That finally broke the tension and his daughter snorted a laugh.

“Is that a challenge?”

“If you want it to be.” He winked at her, and she smiled.

“Just don’t complain when I beat the pants off you.”

There was her old bravado. He couldn’t help but laugh.

“I look forward to it.”

Crescent, Valerian, Silverbell – The Cycle of Years

They came back every year to lay flowers at the spot

It was a beautiful day. Three figures walked up the small, grassy hill that was part of the palace’s garden. There was a small mound of dirt, almost invisible from afar. It was covered in grass but easy to find, as it was marked by a little grey stone. The royal twins, Silverbell and Valerian, walked with a measured step unusual to them. Crescent trailed close behind, their guardian for the day. Silverbell clutched a daisy in one hand. Valerian carried a black lily in his left hand hand, and a blue dahlia in his right, for his brother. Crescent carried a golden chrysanthemum.

They came here every year to lay flowers at the spot where their first pet goldfish was buried. It might have been silly, but it was important to all three of the royal children, and so it was something of a tradition now. This year things were a little different. Dormal was with their mother on a diplomatic trip, and Domerin was with them, so it left only Crescent to take the twins. They’d promised to bring a flower for their brother. He’d been surprised Dormal had been willing to miss it, but he’d taken it well.

They reached the mound, and they each stood on either side, with Crescent at the head.

“We are here, like every year, to remember Bubbles,” Valerian began, his voice serious. “He left us four years ago, but we do not forget him. The way he would swim, and eat, and curl his pretty tail around always brought us joy.” There wasn’t much else to say about a fish. He laid his black lily down atop the mound.

“Dormal couldn’t be here, Bubbles, but he says hello to you. He said he remembers sprinkling the food in your water and loving to watch you dart around to eat it up. And he said he remembers the time he forgot to feed you, and now bad he felt. He said sorry.” He finished, and set the blue dahlia down.

“He was the best fish,” his sister continued, “even if he had that bad fin. And even if me and Valerian wanted to eat him sometimes, at first.” She looked down at the mound. “Sorry. You looked very tasty.” A hint of mirth flash in her eyes, which was matched a moment later in Valerian’s before they both quickly tried to stifle it. “We miss you Bubbles.” She laid her daisy down next to her brother’s flowers.

Crescent only just managed not to laugh. He was surprised to see that mirth. There had been tears from all three children the first few years they’d done this, but he got the feeling they were starting to grow out of it, each in their own way.

His children looked at him expectantly and he cleared his throat. “Bubbles was a fine fish, even if he did look tasty. Watching him swim was relaxing, and I sometimes sat by his tank while I did my work. I was grateful for the company. Thank you Bubbles.” His twins seemed satisfied and he laid his yellow flower down, signaling an end to the proceedings.

It didn’t take long for the mood to break and Silverbell moved to bump her brother’s shoulder before shooting away, becoming a yellow-furred streak across the grass. Her brother soon followed, shouting as he tried to catch her. It was good to see it. They’d been inconsolable the day that fish had died.

Crescent followed along after them at a slower pace, padding along in his half-feline form. He still wore his court clothes. The weight of responsibility was never far off these days.

Soon enough the twins fell in a heap of limbs down on the grass of another small hill. Untangling themselves, Silverbell rolled onto her back, while Valerian took a bit more of a dignified position while they caught their breath. Crescent caught up and joined them. No cat could resist such springy grass. His son seemed to be lost in thought, though that wasn’t unusual. He was growing increasingly thoughtful as he got older.

“You’re going to die some day, aren’t you?” His son’s voice cut through the warm spring air. Both children were suddenly looking at him, and he felt oddly pinned to the spot.

The question caught him up. He wasn’t quite sure what to say. It was one of those natural questions, but it could be upsetting to children. He wished Rose were here, but he wouldn’t deny them an answer. He’d long since learned being a parent wasn’t easy.

“Yes, someday.” Silverbell turned over, both of them staring. “Even with extending our lives, it happens to everyone, in time. We’re lucky. Cats don’t generally live all that long, naturally, but we get to now, if we want. I would have been gone long before you were born, if I’d lived my natural span of time.” Two sets of eyes, one green and one blue, widened.

“So we might not have been born at all.” Valerian’s brows furrowed. It might have been the first time he’d contemplated that they might not have existed. “Dormal could have been by himself.”

“Or Dormal might not have been either.” Silverbell wasn’t the sort who spent much time contemplating things like this, and she looked a bit upset, her ears rotating back to lay atop her mane of golden hair.

“It’s a hard thing to think about, but just remember that all three of you are here, and all three of you are loved. That will never change. I am very glad you were born.” He added quickly, trying to soothe them. “You are the finest kits a cat could ask for.” His words seemed to lighten the mood a bit.

Valerian still looked a bit pensive, and would no doubt spend much time thinking about it. Silverbell seemed more eager to move on, and her ears perked up once again.

“I bet you like me better, don’t you Crescent?” Silverbell’s brags were common, even if her voice sounded slightly more brittle than usual. She no doubt wanted to change the subject and it worked, for the moment. Valerian was already pouting, never able to resist.

“He does not. That’s not what parents do.”

“It is what parents do. They do it all the time. I heard Countess Remy say she likes her younger son better than her older one. They like the one that looks like them best.” Her teasing had gone a bit too far, but before he could step in Valerian spoke.

“That means mother likes me better than you, because I look the most like her.” There was no boasting in his tone, instead sounding as if he were just stating facts out of a book. It was something he’d started doing more, of late, and it always managed to goad Silverbell. She looked as if she were about to pounce, but Crescent got up and quickly inserted himself between them. He wouldn’t have them fighting each other.

“Enough of that, you furballs.” His tone held just enough reproach in it. Before they could start pouting, he reached out, and scooped each of them up in an arm, and with little circumstance, pulled the two of them against his chest. He nuzzled them each thoroughly, mussing up their hair and fur, drawing squeals of both laughter and protest.

“I like both of you the same. And your mother and Domerin love you both the same too, just like I love Dormal. No more of this liking any of you best business, all right?”

“Yes, Crescent.”

“Oh, all right.”

Crescent was satisfied and loosened his hold. Valerian seemed content to stay cuddled up next to him. Silverbell soon wriggled out of his arms to try and hop on a butterfly. His son looked up at him, that serious look having returned. “I don’t like to think that one day Dormal will die, or any of us.”

“I don’t like to think about it, either.” He said, seeing no reason not to be honest. This was no easier for adults to think about. “I love you all, and don’t want you to go away. The thought of my life without any of you makes me very sad. But, you will have plenty of life to live before that happens. Death doesn’t take away the good times shared with someone you love.”

Silverbell had gone still, her butterfly having flitted away, and Valerian was contemplating.

“Crescent, what does happen when we die?” Valerian had never been hesitant to ask difficult questions. He had a scholar’s mind; not at all like his own. When his son looked at him, with surprisingly knowing eyes for his young age, it reminded him a lot of his mother. He was going to grow up to be very wise indeed. Silverbell had a sort of fiery determination in her, that reminded him a lot of himself.

When he’d been younger he never would have imagined he’d one day have children. Yet, here they were and his sense of pride and his care for them could not have been stronger. For a moment he felt the weight of years upon his shoulders, but he would not have traded having his children in his life for anything, not even his youth.

“Are you okay, dad?” Silverbell was suddenly there, gently bumping against his forehead with her own. She looked concerned.

He smiled up at her and nodded. “I’m fine. I was just thinking about how lucky I am. Come,” he said, patting the grass next to him, “sit with me, and I’ll tell you what I know.” Silverbell complied, for once, and settled close, completing the circle of warmth.

“Many things. Our bodies nourish the earth, and our spirits go where they are meant to go. It is said that no two cats believe the same thing where that is concerned. And that’s where things get interesting…” He smiled down at their wide eyes, knowing they would be here for some time. Luckily the day was warm and bright, a perfect day to be alive.

Silverbell & Crescent – Father and Daughter

“Don’t change for me. Don’t change for anyone.”

The sky was blue and clear, dotted here and there with delicate white clouds. The air was warm, and smelled of lovely, carefully cultivated flowers. It was her favorite type of day. A perfect day. Or, it would have been, had she not messed everything up. Princess Silverbell had run away from it all, or more precicely climbed, to the top of the highest tree she’d been able to find, and curled up in a branch to cry.

She was far away from home, having accompanied her father on a diplomatic mission. She’d been so excited to go along, to visit a distant place and see how her father worked. Even away from her brothers she’d been having so much fun up until today. A stiff breeze rocked the branches, but she had no fear of falling. She’d been climbing almost since she’d been able to walk. She really shouldn’t have been up here, in her fancy clothes, but at the moment she didn’t care. No one would follow her up here and she felt safe in the tree, even if she still felt terrible.

All she’d done was tell a little joke. The other adults had laughed, but one of the men had gotten so angry and yelled at her, and said such terrible things. At home people mostly appreciated her humor, she was used to people liking it. Though she didn’t spook easily, the virulence of the man’s reaction had caused her to flee. Was everything he’d shouted at her true?

She was startled out of her thoughts as she heard the sound of branches creaking under the weight of someone ascending underneath her. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and shifted a bit so she could look down. Her father was steadily climbing up after her, still garbed in his fancy clothes.

Part of her panicked. Despite his skill, he’d tear them if he came up, get them all dirty. That would be all her fault too. Her own clothing had fared somewhat badly during the climb, but there was nowhere she could go to get away, or make him stop, and so she curled up into herself again.

Crescent reached her level and stood on a branch just below, able to easily reach up and run a gentle hand through her wild blonde hair. He said nothing right away, just stood there with her, and, despite everything, she felt a tiny bit better at his touch.

“You shouldn’t be up here,” she muttered finally, sounding miserable, turning her head so one green eye was visible through the mass of curls.

“Neither should you.” There was no reproach in his voice, though. He’d never chastised her for climbing. “We can be where we shouldn’t be together.” His tone was reassuring before he settled into silence again. She couldn’t help but sniffle, unable to find the words on her own.

“What happened?” He asked softly, finally. When he did a dam broke inside her.

“He yelled at me! That Ambassador Torinth! More like Ambassador Jerkface.” The last came with a growl, though even the insult didn’t make her feel better. At least Crescent didn’t reprimand her for it. She gave a little cry. “All I did was tell a joke and he screamed at me! Told me I’d been acting terrible since we got here. That I was unladylike and that I’d…” She trailed off, fresh tears falling. “That I was a shame to my mother.”

She could see her father’s face through her tears and there was a flash in his eyes, something sharp, that went away after a few moments. Crescent moved, climbing up onto her branch, settling himself with his back against the trunk. He reached out for her then, drawing her carefully into his arms. She didn’t resist, instead burying her face against his chest, letting the sobs come without trying to check them.

He held her close and let her cry, rubbing her back softly with one hand while he cradled her with his other. Moments like these were rare, and she often found herself in her mother’s arms, but she felt safe here too, protected. When her sobs began to ebb a bit, Crescent smoothed back her mop of hair, speaking softly close to her ear. “Silverbell, you’re nothing like he says. You’re still you, no matter what.”

She sudden looked up at him, her eyes a bit pleading. “But what if who I am is wrong? I want to be like you, Crescent! People do what you say, they like you. What do you want me to be? What can I do to be like you?”

Her father looked pained for a moment, and he shook his head. Leaning in he pressed his forehead to her own, a gesture she’d always associated with love and warmth. When he drew back she could see that same love in his eyes. “Oh, my dearest one, all I want you to be is yourself. You, exactly who you are, is more than enough. Do you think for a moment that your mother and I, Domerin, or your brothers love you any less for being who you are? That’s why we love you so much. Don’t change for me. Don’t change for anyone. Being true to yourself is a precious thing.”

His words sunk deep, and she did feel a warmth inside her as she thought of her family. They all loved her, she’d never doubted that. Though she’d gotten in trouble for behavior in the past it had never been because of who she was. Never a random outburst from someone she barely knew. “Mother has never made me feel like I make her ashamed.” She admitted. Her mother had aways encouraged her, and never hesitated to express her love. “I still want other people to like me, though.”

“People love you. The guards at home, the staff, the friends you’ve made. You’re funny, bold, caring. All great things.” He offered her a reassuring little smile. “And here’s a secret. People don’t always like me, or do what I say.” She wasn’t sure if she totally believed him, but he went on before she could protest. “You don’t usually see it, because it happens in the negotiation room, or they’re more subtle about it. But I’ve had lots of disagreements with people. Not everyone is going to like you. That’s how people are. Tornith doesn’t know you, and, even if he didn’t like the way you were acting, he had no right to speak to you that way.  You meet all sorts of people in life, including jerkfaces like him.”

She couldn’t help but giggle softly to his choice of words, but sobered a bit as he went on. “Staying true to yourself is what matters.” It was hard to believe that people didn’t like her father. He was the quickest person she knew, and she hoped to one day learn his same wit. It was a bit of a revelation to think that there were those who didn’t see him in the same light as she did.

His words felt right to her. She liked who she was, and why should someone she hardly knew take that away from her? She gave a little nod. “I’ll remember, Crescent.”

Crescent gave her a little squeeze. “Good. You’re one of the lights in my life. Be who you are, and make no excuses for it. If, one day, you decide you want to change, do it for yourself. But you have plenty of time to get there.”

Silverbell felt better after all of that, somewhat emboldened. Her happy, boisterous energy would return in full soon. Wiping the remnants of her tears away she gently bumped her father’s forehead with her own. He smiled at her and she felt a warmth returning.

“Let’s head down,” he said. “I think there are some tea and cakes waiting for us. Race you down?” He asked, giving her one of his signature grins. They often had climbing races at home.

The prospect of sweets perked her up even more. She shifted out of his arms, grinning right back. For a moment it looked as if she would accept his challenge, but she paused, seeming to be thinking. “We’d better be careful so we don’t rip our clothes up.” With that she started back down, slowly and carefully, feeling warmed by the proud smile she saw on her father’s face.

Silverbell – Prankster’s Mark

“That’s gonna leave a mark.”

<Ow! Get your foot out of my face!> Silverbell growled into her brother’s mind. The pad of his foot had just come in sharp contact with the left side of her face. It hadn’t been sharp enough to daze, which was good, considering where they were, but her left eye stung and she could taste dirt in her mouth.

<Sorry!> Came the reply from above. She knew Valerian hadn’t done it on purpose, and she relented. During a climb wasn’t the time to start a tussle anyway. They weren’t particularly high up, and both of them were natural-born climbers, but this was quite a bit different from the trees and heavily decorated buildings they were used to.

There was also the fact that Valerian had started keeping his feet more on the ground these days, his head buried in books. Silverbell’s mind had begun to turn to the outdoors and physical challenges, so her brother’s blossoming interests sometimes confused her. Age brought change; she at least understood that. They weren’t so different yet that both weren’t looking forward to the fun in store, though.

The royal twins were not a week past their tenth birthday. There had been a grand party, presents, a wonderful day spent with their family. But every year they had a smaller celebration, just between the two of them. They each chose something to do, and they went and did it together. Almost since she could remember, at least one of them had chosen some sort of prank to play. Causing mischief was in their nature and, despite their age, she wasn’t so keen to stop the tradition. This year’s prank had been her idea.

It was the middle of the night when they’d sneaked out of the palace. It was something they’d done innumerable times, but they’d never come to the pumping station alone. They were currently scaling the side wall, which didn’t offer many easy hand holds. Luckily they didn’t have too far to go before there were plenty of pipes to grab onto. Valerian stopped and Silverbell perched next to him, their furry bodies pressed shoulder to shoulder.

<This is the place.> She could hear the sound of water as it rushed along inside. Perfect. She grinned at her twin and he grinned back, and together they slipped inside through a pipe entrance. There was a protecting grate that would have been too small for a human, but she and her brother were far more flexible than that. She loved everything about being a cat. The thrill of stealing into places, of not getting caught, pleased something deep inside her. She had no desire to steal, she had everything she might have wanted, it was the challenge itself that fulfilled her.

This station provided water to the palace, so it was guarded, but the two of them moved together, like shadows, searching until they found what they were looking for. There was a cistern that provided water to the palace’s fountains and sprinklers, and it was here they would do their work.

Valerian, who was far more magically inclined than she was, had woven a simple working, creating an item infused with a color changing spell. The real kicker was that it would turn all the water it touched into a rainbow of colors when it was dropped in. It was simple, would be striking, and above all it wouldn’t hurt anyone. Silverbell might have enjoyed their pranks, but they’d never set out to do anything malicious.

They climbed up onto the lip of the cistern, each pulling on a single glove. Valerian took a pouch off his belt, and drew out the spelled item. Silverbell couldn’t quite stifle a giggle when she realized it was a rubber duck. Leave it to Valerian to be so clever. Instead of being yellow the duck’s color morphed and changed, rippling over the molded surface. It would transfer that property when it touched the water.

Valerian reached down and set the duck in the water, and in moments the rainbow had rippled out over the clear surface, the water swirling and constantly changing in a myriad of hues. Silverbell let out a soft squeal of delight, and there was a huge, pleased grin on her brother’s face. She reached down to give the duck a push, and the pair of them watched as it bobbed merrily on the surface.

<Brilliant! Oh, this is going to be so wonderful!> She couldn’t wait until everyone saw. She was sure Dormal would be delighted. Her hand still hovered over the water and she couldn’t help but dip her gloved fingers in, before flicking some of the water at Valerian. She watched in surprise as it hit his clothes, and a large color changing patch appeared. <Better be careful,> she sent, her mental tone gleeful, <that’s gonna leave a mark!>

Valerian looked down at his clothes, an obvious sign of what they’d done, and he too reached down, splashing his sister back. <Likewise!> Knowing what was coming, he twisted and bounded away before she could retaliate. Silverbell grinned and launched herself after her brother. She didn’t think he’d planned to make it affect clothes too, but it made it all the funnier. It wasn’t like people at the palace bathed in the fountains. Perhaps it would turn all the grass and flowers into a shifting rainbow too. The thought thrilled her. This prank would be even better than she’d expected!

The two of them often played like this, caring little for where they were. It often caused the palace guards no end of consternation. They were sure of foot, and for the moment didn’t seem to care they were making noise. What Silverbell didn’t notice was that Valerian had dropped the bag from earlier onto the edge of the cistern, and as she chased her brother she slipped on it. There was a long, slow moment while she fell, followed by a great splash as she tumbled into the brightly colored water. Valerian stopped in an instant, eyes wide as he looked for her.

It took only a few seconds for her head to breach the surface. Sputtering, she quickly grabbed onto the side, scrabbling out of the water. Her eyes were wide, breathing quick, but was unhurt. The sudden dunking had been a shock, and she was no more fond of it than any other cat. She was soaked to the skin, her golden fur and clothing plastered to her frame. But there was something else, and she noticed it as her brother burst out laughing.

<Oh, Silverbell!> He pointed and she looked down at herself. The glove, her clothes, her hair, and her fur were all marked with a rainbow of colors. Even as she watched they started to shift and change. Her eyes and mouth went wide, her expression no doubt asking if he could fix it, but Valerian just collapsed into a giggling heap. She jumped at him, preparing to try and haul him into the water too, but before she could manage there was the sound of footfalls, and a rough voice calling out. Their hijinks had no doubt caught the attention of the guard.

As one, they turned and sprinted away, the rubber duck and a trail of rainbow water all that was left to mark their passing. They slipped out the way they’d come, not stopping until they were sure no one was following them. Silverbell was in a mood, but her brother looked as if he were still trying to stifle his laughter.

“You know, Silverbell,” he said, his voice teasing, “that’s definitely gonna leave a mark.” Again he lost himself to his laughter. She bumped up against his shoulder with her own, but she couldn’t stay mad at him. It had been a grand adventure, and she still couldn’t wait to see the looks on everyone’s faces in the morning. Dormal would definitely get a kick out of this, and she loved delighting her older brother.

“I hardly feel like I can keep this to myself,” she said, a wicked grin finally curling her lips. “Come here, brother dear.” She lurched at him comically, trying to put her arms around him. He lept away and she followed, and the two of them chased each other home, laughing at the fun the rest of the way.