Three Months Later
At the edges of the Salvia kingdom, nestled between the sprawling Crocus forest to the east, and at the base of the Fuchsia mountain range to the west, was the small rural farming town of Zinnia.
In the warm afternoon of summer, the town was buzzing with gentle life. All shops were open during this time of day, and patrons could be seen traveling in and out of them.
A woman and a man walk on the dirt path sloppily labeled main street, and a few heads turn as they pass by.
Zinnia was the type of settlement where everyone knew each other and were wayward travelers only passed through.
New faces that lingered were always noted. Especially since the town has been recently chosen as a dropping place for the unwanted and the condemned. While the folk of Zinnia was mostly welcoming to these outcasts, they were wary of those who caused trouble and were quick to chase these fools out.
The woman had a very worn pale blue parasol that blocked out the heated rays of the sun and hid her face from view. Of what little could be seen of her, was her dull brown hair which was braided and fell over one shoulder, a muted green dress that easily blends with all the other clothes the woman of the town wore, though the obvious swell of her pregnant belly stood out. Beside her, the man wasn’t any more distinct. His stature was of one similar to the woman, and his features, while modestly handsome, was easily forgettable.
The townsfolk easily dismissed them as a traveling husband and wife and continued on with their life. Some recognize the two from previous visits, while others stare openly, and curiously at them.
“Who are they? I’ve never seen them before,” A blond girl says to her mom as she cranes her neck to watch them.
“Ashely, it is rude to stare!” Her mom admonishes her.
“Oh, you weren’t here when they came last time, were you? You were still at that fancy magic school,” A girl pipes up in front of the flower shop.
Ashely grins and quickly runs over, “You know them, Sally?”
Sally nods her head, “Yeah I do! I gather that they are husband and wife. I mean, they must be since the girl is pregnant! And you know that midwife? The one who came along with those other outcasts?”
Ashely nods eagerly.
“I think that girl is her daughter.”
Ashely gasps, “Really? She can’t be any older than me!”
Sally nods, “Right? And I heard that the midwife once came from a prestigious family up in the capital of Wisteria.”
Ashely looks back at the couple. The woman and man have stopped at a stall selling fruit. The merchant, an old woman with a crying babe wrapped around her back, perks up and shuffles closer to them. Unknown to the two girls, the woman tilts her head so she could hear them better.
“Do you think she had her daughter out of wedlock? She can’t be a noble with those clothes she is wearing.” Ashely eyes suddenly light up in excitement, “Maybe she got disowned? Her husband looks like us, maybe her folks didn’t like him and-”
Sally laughs, “You sure got a big imagination, Ashely.” She tilts her head, “Don’t you know some of the nobles now? Does she look familiar?”
Ashely laughs, “Yeah right. I never talk to those folks, plus there is a lot of them. How would I know who is who?”
“What about that Baron girl?”
“Miss Amelia? She isn’t really one of them...”
“Miss Amelia...wait, you mean that Miss Amelia?” Sally asks, looking surprised.
Ashely shrugs casually, “By that Miss Amelia, you mean the one who is friends with Crown Prince Rodale and Second Prince Orin? Yeah, I do!”
“Why are we talking about some travelers when we can be talking about her!” Sally says, “Is it true what they said? Is Miss Amelia really going to be the next Crown Princess?”
Ashely stands up straighter, looking happy, “Well it is certainly a possibility. The Crown Prince has been rather taken with Miss Amelia for a while now.”
“Wow. It's like one of those fairytale stories my mom used to tell me about! She used to be a commoner like us, right? To think that one day she would wake up and be the daughter of a Baron,” Sally says with a look of wonder.
Ashely bobs her head in agreement, “Isn’t it? And Miss Amelia is so nice! She and the Crown Prince are perfect together.”
Sally blinks, “But wait. What of the current Crown Princess? What will happen to her?”
Ashely freezes, “What?”
Sally waves her hand, “You know the one? Uh, what was her name again? Lidia? Linia? I know it started with a L.”
“Livia,” Ashely says, the excitement bleeding from her voice.
Sally snaps her fingers, “Yeah, that’s the one.”
Ashely looks away, mumbling, “Livia is gone, Sally. She has been for some time.”
Sally's eyes widen, “Gone!? What do you mean gone? What happened to her?”
Ashely tugs on the sleeve of her dress, and shrugs, “I-I don’t know all the details but out of the blue, it was announced that Livia was stripped of all her titles and exiled by the Crown Prince. It happened so long ago, and when I tried to ask Miss Amelia, she never said anything but always looked so troubled. I can’t believe you don’t know this. It was such a huge scandal back in Wisteria.”
Sally's mouth falls open, “Oh my gosh, are you serious!? Wow, I didn’t know the Crown Prince of Wisteria could just do something like that on the fly. And no one knows why?”
Ashely shakes her head, “Nope. The details were never made public, but there were rumors that Miss Amelia was poisoned by Miss Livia or that Miss Livia tried to have Miss Amelia killed.”
“B-but if it was something so serious, shouldn’t she have been trialed? I thought that was what Wisteria was all about? Innocent until proven guilty?” Sally asks, obviously shocked.
Ashely looks faintly troubled, “Yeah. I think that’s why it was such a huge deal.” Her expression clears, “But it isn’t like Livia didn’t deserve it! She was always horrible to Miss Amelia and bullied her relentlessly. I’m sure the Crown Prince knew what he was doing...”
“But did she actually try to kill Amelia?” Sally says in a clear voice.
Ashely looks unsure, “Well, I wouldn’t put it past her....”
“But do you know it was something she would do for sure? Why risk herself like that? She was already the Crown Princess...I don’t know. It doesn’t make much sense.” Sallys says, thinking out loud.
“I’m sure she did. And even if she hadn’t, the way she treated Miss Amelia was surely enough reason to-”
“But Miss Amelia was only a Baron daughter while Miss Liva was the daughter of the Duke. Plus, Miss Amelia was a commoner before. I just don’t see many nobles agreeing to such a harsh punishment over bullying. They don’t seem like the type to take such things seriously,” Sally says.
Ashely frowns, “Are you seriously defending Miss Livia? She was a horrible person!”
Sally blinks, “What? Oh, I guess I kind of was? Though not really? Look, I just think it all seems a bit fishy, you know? Especially since it is Wisteria. I always thought that place was for the fair treatment of all, no matter the status. I thought they took pride in that. But then the Crown Prince exiles his own fiancé with no explanation. It seems like Wisteria isn’t that different from all the other Kingdoms.”
Ashely slumps, “Yeah. All my friends back there thought the same way. But it's been over a year since it happened. Its isn’t like the Crown Prince sentenced her to death. I just want everyone to stop talking about it.”
“Well, you said that Miss Amelia was going to be the Crown Princess?” Sally says, bringing up the topics in hopes of cheering up her friend.
Ashely brightens then frowns, “Well...maybe not.”
“Why not? Wasn’t she the only person the Crown Prince was interested in?”
“She is but recently, another noble girl has been gaining interest. It's only a rumor, but I noticed it with my own eyes.”
Sally leans in with rapt attention, “Does Miss Amelia have another rival in love? Who is she?”
“Ashely! Come along, it is time to be on our way,” Ashely mother calls to her while standing in front of a carriage.
Sally sags, “Oh come on!”
Ashely just laughs, “Well, I guess I will have to tell you the next time I visit. We will be heading through this town on our way back to Wisteria. The school year will be starting soon.”
Sally pouts, “I can’t believe you stayed there through summer break. You crazy girl.”
Ashely looks a bit embarrassed, “I had to take extra classes, so there was no helping it. Maybe I will ask mom if when can leave early? Well, until next time!”
The two girls wave goodbye to one another and separate.
“That will be ten copper coins, sir,” The merchant says to the man and he hands over the money. Behind them, Ashely steps into the carriage with her mother. He turns to his female companion with a single raised eyebrow.
“Is there anything else you would like?” He asks her.
She turns to him with a bland smile, “No. I believe I’m good.”
The couple continues to walk down the main street and stop short of the town center. In front of them was a small little stone structure with a washed-out red roof. The woman steps forward and knocks once.
There is the sound of feet hitting the wooden board and the door is opened a second later. In the doorframe stood Beth Gilbert. No longer was she dressed in the rags of a prisoner. She wore a simple pink dress, with a brown corset and a long white apron tied in front. Her light brown hair was pulled up in a surprisingly elegant bun, with only a few wavy strands falling into her hazel eyes.
Before the woman can speak a greeting, Beth pulls her into a warm hug.
A small grunt is heard, and small hands awkwardly pat Beth's back.
“I’m fine, everything is fine. I told you we would be back,” A young exasperated voice says into a shoulder.
Beth pulls back, and the woman is surprised to see tears in her eyes.
“What...why are you crying?” The woman asks, looking a bit panicked.
Beth wipes her eyes and shakes her head, “I had thought...It doesn’t matter anymore. You are here now.” Beth steps aside and the man and the woman enter her home.
When Beth turns to them after locking the door, she isn’t surprised to see two distinctly different people from the ones that had walked in.
Livia closes her parasol and Sen puts down his bag of fruit.
“You two can tell me everything while I check on Miss Livia,” Beth says as she pulls out a chair and gestures for Livia to sit down. Livia walks over to the chair and does just that. She doesn’t stop herself from sighing in relief. She was happy to finally be off her aching feet.
“Please tell me I don’t have to lift up my dress this time,” Livia says while she gets comfortable.
Beth smiles, “No, that will not be necessary. I do need you to take down all those protections spell though so I can get a look at the little one.”
Livia waves her hand flippantly, “They are down.”
“Good,” Beth says, as she scoots closer to Livia on a small wooden stool. Her hands hover over the young woman's stomach, glowing faintly blue.
“So, how did it go?” Beth asks while she works.
“As expected,” Sen answers simply while taking a seat by the window.
Beth brows furrow, “There was no trouble at all? You two took longer then you said you would.”
Livia squirms, “No, it was nothing that we couldn’t handle...”
“I’m telling the truth, Beth. It was mostly covert work, so we avoided most trouble. The guards knew little to nothing, which meant we had to dig deeper. As we suspected, it was an inside job. Just knowing this is useless. We need more proof,” Livia says, balling up her fist.
Sen nods, “She is right. We managed to track down the slave traders and questioned them, but it was obvious that whoever hired them knew how to cover their tracks.”
Beth's mouth presses into a thin line, “So the information I gave you was useless. I’m so sorry, Miss Livia. I really had hoped that would be the lead that you needed.”
Livia’s expression softens, “Miss Beth, it was more help then you could ever know. It was like the blind leading the blind until you grace me with permission to use your memories. I know it could not have been an easy thing, and I am grateful and thankful even now.”
Beth still looked troubled, “But those memories aren’t enough to incarcerate the Crown Prince for what he has done to you! As you said, you need hard proof.”
“We still don’t know if it was even the Crown Prince. The Second Prince is just as likely of a suspect,” Sen says firmly.
“Or it could be a third unknown suspect,” Livia says, though she highly doubted it.
“Unlikely,” Sen says, voicing her thoughts, “The mastermind could only be one of the princes. Only they have enough motive to wish you gone...for good.”
Beth's hands shake though she keeps her spell steady, “This is all so horrible. To think that either of them could be capable of such things is just...” Beth shivers.
“To be a prince of a kingdom is a lot of pressure,” Livia says to no one in particular, “There is a lot of weight on their shoulders and not everyone knows how to deal with it properly. The power of their position gets to them and then they realize they can do and say things without any consequences. If they wish someone to disappear, they just make it happen.”
Beth shakes her head slowly, “That doesn’t make it right. It's just wrong what they did. The kingdom of Wisteria was supposed to be different; it was supposed to be above selfish greed.”
“No one is above greed,” Livia and Sen say at the same time. Their eyes meet across the room before they look away with clouded thoughts.
Silence threatens to fall over the room, and Livia shifts, “How is the baby? Is everything looking alright?”
Beth closes her eyes, gets her thoughts in order, before opening them, and smiling tentatively as she ends her spell, “Yes dear, it seems the baby as healthy as can be. They grew a lot since the last time I saw them. In your last letter, you said that you wished to know the gender? Is that still true?”
Livia straightens up as best she could with a large watermelon like weight at her front, “Yes, I still wish to know. You never told me how you can tell the gender. Is it some kind of spell? I would love to learn it myself.”
Beth smile widens, “Well, it certainly uses a bit of magic. I’ll be right back. I just need to get a few things.” She gets up and heads to her kitchen.
Sen stares at her from his place by the window. His gaze was weighted.
“What?” Livia snaps, glaring at him. Sen knew she hated it when he got all silent and broody. For some reason, he seemed to think she could read his thoughts if he stared at her hard enough.
“You need to tell her,” Sen says.
Livia sinks into her seat, “I don’t see why that need to happen now.”
“If you don’t say anything now, you never will.”
“I will. Just...maybe right before we leave...”
Sens scowl of disapproval was all too familiar.
“We are not leaving anytime soon, so that conversation can wait,” Livia huffs, “Meanwhile if we are going to do this, we need to be careful and have a foolproof plan.”
“What’s our time slot?” Sen asks after staring at her a moment longer, crossing his arms.
There was always a schedule. A certain time that things need to be done. Livia knows things no other did, in a way, she had insight on the near and distant future.
“What month is it?” Livia asks.
“The Eighth month.”
Livia curse, “Already? We really did take longer then we should have.”
“We are still going off the school year?”
“It will be opening soon,” Sen comments.
“Correct. It will open in the fourth week of this month.”
“We have less than two weeks,” Sen says, not sounding at all happy about it.
“We got what we need,” Livia says, and her hand comes up to clasp at the necklace hanging around her neck. She toys with the circular stone that reminded her heavily of a crystal ball that was often depicted with a gypsy woman who could foretell your future.
“Yes. We are only missing the plan that won’t get us killed on the spot.”
Livia smirks, “I already know of two.”
“Let me repeat myself; one that won’t get us killed on the spot.”
Livia sticks her tongue out at him, “Hush, you.”
“Here we are,” Beth says as she walks back into the room. In her hand were a small glass bowl, a jug of water, and a pure white daisy.
Livia looks curiously as Beth sets down the glass bowl in front of her and pours water into it. After, she cuts the stem of the daisy, before letting it gently float in the water.
Livia scoots forward, “What is all this?”
Beth smiles warmly, “This is how we will tell the gender of your baby, dear. It’s a bit outdated, but works just as well as other means.” She calls the gentle blue magic to one of her hands, and traces one finger around the rim of the bowl, causing the water in it to start swirling, and the daisy slowly begins to rotate.
“Now, all you need to do is drop a bit of your blood on the daisy. If it turns dark pink, it’s a girl. If it turns a dark blue, it’s a boy,” She pushes the bowl gently towards Livia and hands her a small sharp knife.
“You don’t need to cut too deep. Just a small drop will do the trick,” Beth says as Livia presses the tip of the knife to one of her fingers. Blood swells up, and she turns her hand so a single drop of her blood falls over the daisy. Instantly, the whole flower is engulfed until its white petals become a bright cherry red.
Livia leans forward the same time Beth does, not realizing she was holding her breath until red starts to darken and deepen into a rich, royal blue, and she lets it out.
“Oh...” Livia says, her voice soft, “Then that means...”
“Its’ a boy,” Beth declares proudly. She gently removes the now blue daisy and uses a spell to dry it. She hands the flower over to Livia, who takes it gently.
“Some mothers like to keep it,” Beth explains.
Livia nods absently before turning to show Sen. She waves the little flower in the air, “It’s a boy.”
Sen nods once and says nothing but his expression is kind and open.
Livia tucks the flower away for safekeeping, her mind swirling with thoughts.
It won’t be long now, she thinks, and Livia isn’t sure if she is referring to the impending birth of her baby boy or her inevitable return to the Kingdom of Wisteria.