Princess of the Spring Festival

Submitted into Contest #89 in response to: Write a story that spans a month during which everything changes.... view prompt

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Drama Fantasy Romance

“What is all the noise? It sounds like a celebration going on at the park,” Artemisia asked as Jeremiah walked into the cabin.

“We have a festival to celebrate the arrival of spring. Women bring their crafts and make food. Some of the men play songs, and we hold dances.”

Artemisia’s heavy heart lifted. “We celebrate spring in my homeland in a similar way, with music, feasting, and dancing. Vendors and musicians come from all the neighboring kingdoms…” She trailed off, tears coming to her eyes, which she brushed away impatiently.

“Come and see, Princess,” Jeremiah said, lifting Artemesia to her feet without waiting for an answer. “The fresh air will speed your recovery.”

The park was actually a meadow surrounded by a grove of trees. The villagers had set out long wooden tables laden with food and handmade crafts. The air smelled fresh and green, and the meadow was ablaze with colorful flowers of all varieties.

Clumps of butter-yellow daffodils with spiky leaves and cups turned toward the sky. Conical lilacs showed off in pink and purple. Tiny yellow flowers that grew close to the ground.

Ringing the meadow, the trees were putting forth tiny green buds. Other trees were heavily adorned with lush white or pink blossoms.

Their heady scent mingled with the food smells to intoxicate the celebrants with the joy of spring. They smiled at Artemisia, and even the ordinarily stoic Jeremiah was smiling and seemed less burdened than usual.

“How long does the festival last?”

“For the entire month of April,” Jeremiah replied.

Even amid the tough lives, they are forced to lead, these people find reasons to celebrate.

“I’d like to stay and join the festivities until the end of the month.”

“You are welcome to, Princess.”

“I’m not a Princess here. Just Mecia.”

Jeremiah smiled at her. “Mecia, then.”

He has an appealing smile. I wish he would smile more often. I understand the burden he feels as chief of his people. We have that in common; the duty that keeps us from doing what we want to do.

Artemisia watched Jeremiah walk around and greet people, the sun glinting off his black hair, which hung loose and carefree on his shoulders. The fluttering in her stomach grew more vigorous. She hadn’t been in love before, not even with the man her father the king had chosen for her to marry, King Balthazar of Kridderen.

The day before their wedding, Artemisia had taken a ride with her brother Prince Cassius and his vampire wife and Artemisia’s best friend, Princess Chioni.

***

Cassius and Chioni had been riding a few paces ahead of her, chatting. Artemisia had tuned them out and looked around at the light filtering through the leaves, dark green with the onset of summer.

A trio of bunnies rolled and played in the underbrush. Artemesia felt her birthmark burn and looked around for the source. A flash of pure white vanished behind a tree.

She instantly knew it had been no animal, and she snatched her sword from the sheath on her back. “Strigoi!” She shouted over her shoulder to Cassius and Chioni and turned her horse, Verona, off the path to where she had seen. The Strigoi must have heard the thundering approach of her horse because he broke from his hiding place and streaked away, deeper into the woods, zigzagging erratically among the trees.

Artemisia knew the woods well, and she guessed the creature would head to the caves to attempt to hide and wait her out. Artemisia found the trail that led to the cave system entrance and urged Verona to get her there ahead of the Strigoi. The forest flew past, a green blur on each side.

The creature was faster than she anticipated, and he managed to get there first. Artemisia quickly reigned in Verona and jumped to the ground. “Stay, Verona,” Artemisia ordered her, knowing it wouldn’t be necessary to tie her; Verona was an intelligent and obedient companion.

Artemisia sprinted into the cave only seconds behind the Strigoi. She could see him just ahead of her as she followed him around corner after corner. The phosphorescent moss on the walls and roof gave off a weak green light, but it was enough for her to see her quarry.

She saw daylight around the next corner and slowed her pace, uncertain. She pressed her back to the cave wall, and she crept around the corner. There was an opening to the outside.

What is this? Artemisia wondered. There is not supposed to be an exit there. Is this some new Strigoi magic?

There was no sign of the Vampire she had been chasing, so Artemesia assumed he must have exited the cave, so she followed. Snow. Artemisia frowned as she scuffed her feet in loose, freshly fallen snow. She raised her eyes to look out over an alien landscape. She stood on top of a mountain. 

It’s summer, why is it snowing?

Artemisia shook her head and returned to the cave, sheathing her sword as she retraced her steps back around the corner, only to be met by a smooth blank wall and no sign of the tunnel she had just run through.

This has to be a Strigoi trick. I have to find and kill that Vampire to break whatever spell this is.

She walked out to the snowy mountaintop, scanning for signs of the Strigoi’s path. The only footprints in the snow were her own. She cautiously walked the edge of the cliff and peered out at the landscape. In front of her was a vast forest, and tendrils of smoke rising here and there, through the treetops. 

“Gaa!” Artemisia shouted as the ground shifted and gave way underneath her riding boots.

She rolled and slid down the mountain, scrabbling for something to halt her wild descent, but her hands only found loose snow that tumbled her with it down, down down. Something hard struck the back of her head, stars exploded in her eyes. Now a streak of blood marked her path. 

She slid to a stop and struggled to stay conscious. She heard a man’s voice say something in a language she didn’t understand. A pair of strong arms slid under her shoulders and behind her knees and began to lift her. Oh no, you don’t, Vampire! Artemisia fired a punch at his face, which landed square on his nose, breaking it. The Strigoi howled and clutched its nose as scarlet blood dripped onto the snow.

Artemesia glared at it as she tried to stagger to her feet. Her vision was still blurry, but she realized that the person she just struck was no Strigoi. He had shoulder-length black hair, dusky skin, and light brown eyes, which were currently glaring at her. 

“I thought you were…” Artemisia collapsed again, darkness enfolding her as the man yelled at her in that language she didn’t understand.

So went her first meeting with Jeremiah Grey-Hunter, chief of the local Seneca Indian tribe.

Artemisia woke on a cot surrounded by rough walls made of logs. She sat up fast, which made her head pound and her stomach roil dangerously. A scratchy woolen blanket covered her, and she pushed it aside and put her feet on the cold, dirt floor. The sooty smell of woodsmoke tickled her nostrils.

She heard a quiet rustle of clothing, and the face of the dark-haired man swam into view.

“Dewagegéja sano’e’geh. Á; sgwëdȅ satőishȅ:h.”

“I don’t understand. What do you want?”

He shook his head and held a tin cup to her lips. “Cehohkw, á: snegéȁ’”

Artemisia sniffed the clear liquid; it appeared to be merely water, so she sipped as he held the cup, realizing that she was pretty thirsty.

After he left, Artemisia took a pinch of powder from the leather pouch tied to her belt. Putting a tiny amount on her tongue and in her ears, she recited the incantation that Chioni had taught her, which would enable her and the stranger to understand each other’s language.

“Sunt un străin aici, permiteți-mi să înțeleg cuvintele prietenilor mei.”

Her mouth and ears burned as if coated with flames. Artemisia closed her eyes and stilled her mind, distancing herself from the pain, as her mentor Captain Balliol had taught her. After a few moments, the searing pain subsided, then vanished.

I would have been hauled before Father and the council if they knew I was a magic user, as such tactics are forbidden to Vampire Hunters. It is a law I have never understood; the Strigoi use magic, why should we deny ourselves an advantage over them? I am forever grateful to Chioni for the risk she took in teaching me her Strigoi magic.

***

I won’t let on to my rescuer that I can do magic, no telling how he reacts. Best to let him assume that my earlier lack of understanding was because of my head injury.

A few days later, Artemisia’s headache was gone, and she was ready to go home.

“I appreciate all that you have done for me, but I have another favor to ask. Will you show me how to get back to the mountain where you found me?”

“Why don’t you wait until the snow melts? It will be a safer journey.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Like last time?”

Artemisia narrowed her eyes at the implication that she was accident-prone, but Jeremiah’s eyes twinkled with mirth, and her wrath abruptly vanished.

“You’ll be with me, Jeremiah, to keep me out of trouble. It’s time for me to go home.”

“Where is home?”

“Through the cave.” Artemisia didn’t want to elaborate. From what she had seen, this was a cold and brutal land, and she didn’t think it would be a good idea for people to find out about the portal to Pheonia.

“There is no way through the cave. It is little more than a hole in the rock; there is only one way in and out. I have questions. There are things about you that don’t make sense; why were you carrying a sword when I found you? Why haven’t your people come looking for you?”

“My people live… far from here, and I carry the sword for protection.”

“White women don’t typically adorn themselves with razor-sharp weaponry, nor do they walk around in leather riding clothes, with no horse in sight. I don’t think it’s safe for you to go wandering about the countryside.”

“It’s not far, once I get through the cave..”

“Wait, before you said it was far, now it’s not. And I already told you, there is no way through the cave! Come, I will show you.”

Jeremiah didn’t say a word the whole way up the mountain. He led them by a path that wound its way up.

Artemisia’s heart sank when she walked into the cave and looked around. “There’s nothing here,” she said as she stared at the smooth wall of rock at the back of the cave; there were no cracks or openings in it.

“I can’t go home.”

She turned, and Jeremiah was gazing at her with his eyes and mouth pulling down at the corners.

“Don’t pity me. I’ll find another way home.”

tAs they walked back down the mountain, Jeremiah asked, “Will you tell me about your home, and your people, and how you got here?”

“I don’t think you’d believe me; I’m not sure I believe it myself.”

“Try me.”

“Do you believe in magic, that there are places in the world where unexplainable things happen?”

“In a way, not the same way that you do, but I believe there are many types of spirits which operate in ways beyond our understanding.”

Artemisia nodded. “When I first came through this cave, it looked very different from the way it looks now, and it was summer in my kingdom.”

Jeremiah stood still and frowned at her.

“When I said it was far away, I meant it. I have been thinking a lot about it, and it seems that I came through a doorway that isn’t there now. I could walk forever and not reach Pheonia; my only way home is through that mysterious portal.”

“I think you are having delusions from your head injury. You must have come from one of the white settlements, they must be looking for you, and I’m afraid there might be trouble if they find you with us.”

“What trouble? What do you mean?”

“How do you not understand? We don’t have contact with white people, except to trade. Don’t you know your own country’s history?”

“I told you, I’m not…” Artemisia threw her hands up. “You commented when we met that you have never seen a woman armed with a sword, and I didn’t understand your language at first.”

“Let’s say I believe you, or at least I believe that you believe what you are saying. What were you doing when you…”

“Chasing a vampire. He vanished through the portal also, so he is likely still in the area.”

“Now there are vampires involved? Artemisia...I…”

“Look,” she said, and she lifted her pant leg to show him a flower-shaped birthmark on her ankle. “All vampire hunters have a fleur-de-lis birthmark. It itches and burns in the presence of any vampire.”

“Lots of people have birthmarks.”

Artemisia sighed. “Have there been any mysterious deaths where the bodies appeared to be drained of blood?”

Jeremiah’s face paled, and he narrowed his eyes. “We assumed they were animal attacks.”

***

Back in the present, it was nearing the end of the Seneca tribe’s month-long festival when Artemesia had planned to try to go home. Everything had changed. Artemisia was no longer sure that Seneca Chief Jeremiah Grey-Hunter would allow her to leave; she had just discovered she was pregnant with his son.

April 14, 2021 16:23

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