At night, he dreams of her. Even after centuries have passed, he can still see her when he closes his eyes: her face white with shock; her graceful fingers reaching for her prince, begging safety… life… love… before being lost, forever frozen beneath the crystal ice, her own glass coffin.
Róisín was the princess, the rightful heir to two kingdoms, Liam’s and hers. In ancient centuries prior, there would have been no separation. The ainsai were once revered amongst the people of the isle, recognized as spirit guides and protectors, the humans’ link to the gods. But in the generations leading up to the story of Róisín and Liam, the influence of the spreading empire of the southern lands overrode the old beliefs, and the ainsai were declared to be heretics under the new god and order, and were banished to live in the woods as nomads. And so, Róisín and Liam grew and matured entirely separate from the other.
Róisín was the only child of the King and Queen, who had died in childbirth. Although the King married a second time a year later, the new Queen remained childless, making Róisín the heir to the crown. But she was also the first daughter of the third consecutive King of the isle, making her the next high Priestess, the coming leader of the ainsai, and the chosen mate of the Priestess and her guardian’s son and heir, Liam. For, as was told to the first leaders, the Priestess will always be born of the tri-generation of human royalty, to ensure a strong and true connection to the people they were meant to protect. As the sole heir of both crowns, Róisín stood to fulfill the prophesy of the reunion of the ainsai and their people under a single rule in a time of great unrest: as Róisín and Liam grew, the people were faced with the threat of the rising enemy, and their new god seemed to do nothing to protect them, and soon, they would look for answers and turn to the past.
In the camp in the forest, Liam reached his maturity when Róisín was but fourteen, and began his training as heir and guardian and in his gifted element, water, as determined by the gods. In order to preserve and ensure the future, the ainsaian leaders sent an un-mated member to serve as protector of Róisín until she reached maturity and the time came for her to join them. They chose Ryder, a young fire-wielder who had proven himself to be a loyal and great warrior against the rising enemy.
Ryder gained a position in the palace’s hunters and kept watch of the princess from afar. Róisín was a fair beauty, with dark hair that shone under both sun and moon, skin like fresh snow, and eyes a clear dark blue to envy the sky at dusk. Her tower window viewed the forest, and when he was not gazing upon her during her time pent out of doors, he would listen to her light songs wafting from the high tower. His protective watch grew into an obsession as the princess grew from a girl to a young woman. Soon, Ryder began to believe that the obsession he felt for Róisín was love and that she must be meant for him, regardless of the traditions and prophesies that the ainsai lived by.
The second Queen of the isle had been born in the small village bordering the ainsai’s former sacred grounds, and the legends were still strongly held by the villagers. It was believed that the village was the birthplace of most human born ainsai members, and village children still grew up waiting for the day when their maturity set in and they cold join the ranks, regardless of the views of the ainsai by the people at large. The Queen was no different, but despite her hopes, she too grew into a healthy but normal human woman. She, however, remembered the legends, and when Róisín began to show signs of her maturity, the Queen drew her under her influence, hoping to gain control of the ainsai through the princess. As Róisín approached her seventeenth year, the Queen told her the stories of the ainsai; of the powers, the legends, the coming prophecy. The princess began to dream of the day when she would know both her powers and her prince.
Days short of the princess’s seventeenth year, the King was killed in battle against the rising enemy and the Queen took power. When Róisín learnt of this, she approached the Queen. “Tomorrow, I am of age,” she said, “and what was my father’s now is mine. You have no right to take it from me.”
“You are young,” replied the Queen. “You can not handle the ruling and running of the kingdom. Bring the ainsai under the control of the kingdom and we can rule them together. When you are ready, I will hand all power over to you.”
Róisín refused. Young as she was, she knew that the Queen would never abdicate the throne once having a taste to ignite her lust for power. She demanded that the Queen step down immediately and return to her family home, far away from the seat of power, leaving Róisín what was rightfully hers.
The Queen was enraged. “If you do not, I will send my huntsmen for the ainsai. For every day you refuse me, I shall have a member killed before your eyes until there are none. Will you know your heart’s mate before I have him killed? Will you have his blood on your hands?”
Róisín had no way of knowing whether this was possible or not, and in her panic and fury, the churning she felt within her heart spread out through her limbs and beyond, causing the very air around her to churn uncontrollably. What resulted was a great wind funnel, which destroyed the western and northern wings of the castle and caused countless injuries and deaths. The Queen, seeing this as the perfect way to keep the princess from ever gaining power through the trust of the people, publicly charged Róisín with murder and treason. She made it known that the incident had been the first of many planned attacks in an uprising of the ainsai, led by the princess. As a display of her power, the Queen ordered Róisín’s execution, but the people protested, not believing that their young princess could be part of such horrible an offense.
The Queen, still determined to be rid of the girl, sought to have Róisín assassinated. Ryder heard of the plot and approached the Queen to ask that he be allowed to carry out the task himself, citing a death of a loved one as his motivation for revenge. The Queen accepted. “Take her to the forest,” she instructed. “Make it look like she was running away to those magic freaks. I don’t care what you do with her, but in the end, it must be done. Bring me back the heart as proof.”
That night, by the light of a cloudless sky, Ryder dragged a sleeping Róisín from her bed in her tower, which now served as her prison cell, leading her into the woods. Unaware of his role, Róisín begged in fear to be let go, offering him anything if only he wouldn’t kill her. “Peace, princess,” he whispered. “I am ainsai, same as you. I will not hurt you.”
For three days, Ryder led the still fearful Róisín through the forest. For three nights, he slept at her side amongst the roots and dirt and moss, keeping watch for any signs of danger or threat, and of her soft feminine form. For three days and night, he believed she was his. With the sunlight streaming through the trees directly overhead, on the fourth day, Róisín’s tired feet stumbled to a stop at the outskirts of a thriving village within the blanket of trees. “Go on,” Ryder urged. “This is your kingdom now. I’ll return for you soon, princess.” Róisín took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and pushed onwards, entering the village where her future awaited her, while Ryder turned and disappeared into the woods, making his way to the Queen with a wild boar’s heart for her proof.
Tired and thirsty, she stumbled on until she found a small well at the center of the wooded hamlet. Her eyes finally lifted from the uneven path and her sight set on the prince, who was effortlessly drawing water through the air into his bucket on the well’s wall edge. Her gasp caught Liam’s attention and as her turned, her heart leapt as the air around them stirred, lifting spray to mix their powers for the first time, water and air intermingling as hands and hearts silently joined. For, amongst the ainsaian people, a matured heart knows its mate at first sight and no words can begin to describe it.
Immediately, Liam led Róisín to his home, where he introduced her to his parents.
“I’ll love you forever as I love you now, more than anything in the world, my sweet Róisín,” he whispered to her when he noticed her nerves.
“As will I,” she replied. Together, they expressed their wish to be joined as soon as possible. Fearing the risk that the unpledged Róisín would be unprotected by the gods, leaders felt that it would be best to gain her pledge to the gods and to her mate immediately to insure her safety whilst training in her powers and new role as future Priestess.
The night before the pledging and joining ceremonies, Ryder returned, unbeknownst and unknowing. As he was seeking his leaders to let them know the task was complete, Róisín and her prince were joyously joining in the festive dance around the bonfire, hands clasped and faces glowing in the firelight, exchanging soft kisses and softer sweet whispers between movements. Ryder saw it all and knew only fury. When Róisín stepped away for a moment for refreshment, Ryder grabbed her arm and pulled her off into the shadows, which danced atop the rippling surface of the lake’s shore.
“What is this? You find another the moment I leave?”
“Another?” Róisín replied, not understanding his anger.
“We mate for life, princess. There’s never anyone else but our heart’s mate.”
“Yes, I know. And Liam is mine, as I am his.”
Ryder let out a roar as the air around began to flicker to life. “You’re mine, princess.”
“The protector of the Priestess is always her mate. Why do you think I have been with you for so long, unless it is that you are mine.” He drew her into her arms and made to kiss her lips as she struggled to pull away.
“Unhand her!” Liam had noticed Róisín’s absence and come looking for her. As he pulled her from Ryder’s clutches and into him, the already trembling air was interrupted by flickers of flame, taking breath and sparking away from the party’s fire in the distance. “She’s not yours to hold, nor command.”
Ryder’s anger had reached its summit as he silently drew the flames under his command. “Then neither will she be yours.”
Liam called upon the sleeping nature of the lake at his back as he pulled Róisín behind his form, and Ryder’s first attack of streams of flaming blue was met with a wall of water, surrounding the prince and princess. Attack after attack was met and countered on either side as the air churned and trembled with an equally trembling Róisín. As flame and fire mixed and sputtered, Liam saw a chance to take on his opponent physically, without elemental aid or influence. Hoping to rush Ryder and take him down, the prince sealed the water’s wall around Róisín. Panicked and alone, Róisín’s powers took control and the churning air fluctuated continually between hot to frigid, as if on a moment’s notice, as the fire-wielder’s offenses brought her guardian’s shield to a boil, and the growing of her uncontrolled winds caused the barrier to spray and waver. Sensing the weakness, Ryder summoned his power to its greatest height, and just as Liam reached him to attack, he turned to see the princess’s final moments:
… the air around rushing at Róisín all at once, crushing her breast with is force…
… the shards of ice raining down from the shattering wall, cutting into her scalp…
… the ball of red, sparking flames spiraling into her breast…
as she fell back into the drying bottom of the emptied lake and the wall of rapidly cooling water came crashing down over her form. Without air, without breath, she reached blindly for her prince, the only thing she had left, as the frigid water froze, solidifying, crystallizing.
Liam stood helpless as the final outburst of her powers created a force so strong that both he and Ryder were rendered unable to move, forced to watch his princess as she was trapped forever in her watery grave.
Ryder soon disappeared into the forest, but Liam stayed at the lake shore for hours, keeping watch over the spot where Róisín lay frozen beneath the clear, starlit sky. As silence fell over even the nightingales, a soft breeze stirred his hair. He looked up and saw the high goddess watching him from the middle of the lake. “I am sorry for your loss and for our oversight in your world,” she whispered, her voice quiet yet clear. “What has happened could have been prevented had we but stepped in, and for that, we are greatly sorry.”
“Can you fix this?” Liam asked hoarsely.
“We can not bring her back, my son. We can give you the chance to do so, but it comes at a price. Seven times shall sweet Róisín be reborn, seven chances to gain her pledge to both your love and our mission.” Liam rose to thank her but she held out her hand to bid him wait. “Your mission still holds. Protecting your world from the rising enemy must still be your concern, regardless of where the search may take you. We can offer no more. You must not fail.” And then, Liam but blinked, and she was gone.