Cool wind wrapped the scratchy robes around Princess Marcelina’s legs. She straightened her spine, spread her arms, and stepped off the cloud.
And plunged downward.
Blue fabric slapped her face and rushing air chilled her legs. With closed eyes, she concentrated, searching her chest for the well of power her siblings described. Nothing swelled to her aid.
Her air kingdom had never known a royal without magic. Until a few weeks ago when Marcelina failed to hover above the assembly at her twenty-fifth birthday celebration. Her heart ached at embarrassing her mother, the queen. Why hadn’t she manifested wind powers in her teens, as her siblings had done?
I am the exception.
If only that made her exceptional. Instead, her inability deemed her worthless to the realm. She would have to abdicate, and her brother would despise her for forcing him to rule.
Wind whistled past her ears and still she found no magic within.
Large paws encircled her waist. Tawny, her griffin guard, clutched Marcelina to his furry chest and beat his wings.
The pair rose through the mist until they burst into the sunny upper skies. Tawny landed on back legs in the monastery’s courtyard, gently releasing Marcelina at the instant her slippered feet touched the bricks. The princess jogged forward, and the griffin’s wingbeats carried the beast airborne. Flying. It should be that simple for the crown princess.
Madam Goyer, arms crossed over her narrow chest, waited beneath the archway leading to the chapel. As always, the expert in all things magic looked like she’d swallowed bitter medicine.
“Did you even try?” The queen wouldn’t have allowed such a haughty address.
But Marcelina would never be queen. And her mother had given this dour woman full authority over the last-ditch effort to awaken Marcelina’s powers.
“There’s no well in me. Or it’s empty.”
The woman huffed. “You’ve missed the start of meditation.”
Marcelina’s heart lifted a fraction at that announcement. Her perfected passive expression hid the reaction. “I’ll mark the time in the Zen Garden.”
They stalked along the pathway outside the stone chapel. A steady thrum reverberated through the walls—the bell that focused the meditation. The walkway ended at a rectangle of greenery. Marcelina continued along a grassy path between shrubs and trees, leaving her grumpy mentor and the pulsing gong behind.
Leaves rustled and whispered. Branches bowed and leaped. Wind stirred the garden, a gentle reminder they lived among the clouds.
At the stone table beside a bonsai tree, Marcelina sank to the spongy ground. Cross-legged, she sat and stared into the shadow beneath the tree’s tightly woven branches. Her eyes drifted closed as her breath calmed. Like a nursemaid soothing an ailing child, the warm breeze swept escaped tendrils from her brown braid off her face.
She’d expected silence. Instead, music swelled from somewhere nearby. Marcelina’s heartbeat matched the tempo. A cello mournfully sang “The Queen’s Processional.” As the song entered the refrain, a bass joined, thrumming out “The Prince’s Parade.”
The melodies rolled through Marcelina, devouring the weighty disappointments of the day.
A pair of violins joined with a rendition of “The Princess Processional,” one an octave above the other, complimentary and harmonic.
The music swelled, repeating and changing. Beneath her, she no longer felt the ground. Electricity sparked with each beat of her heart. Rapture. Glory. Power.
A gasp startled her. Her eyelids flew open, and she plummeted to the ground, bruising her backside.
Madam Goyer stood a few meters away, eyes wide and a hand over her gaping mouth.
Although the music continued, its magical pull dissipated.
“You were floating a meter above the ground. What did you do?”
“I was floating?” Thinking back, Marcelina realized weightlessness had overcome her as the music soothed away her failures.
“It was the music, wasn’t it?” Her mentor tapped her chin. “I read about one queen,” she muttered and rushed away.
Marcelina blinked. If the music caused her to float, then perhaps she could fly. Would royal anthems need to play before she could access the strange current that had raced inside her chest? Or would any music open the floodgates?
She stood with fluid grace and hurried onto the path, rounding to the entrance of the gathering hall. She hadn’t been here since the day of her arrival because a remote monastery rarely hosted events.
When she yanked open the wooden door, the music’s volume tripled. Shocks tickled behind her breastbone. She tiptoed inside, not wanting to stop the musicians from completing the stirring medley, which now included a fourth part—an echo of “The King’s March.”
At the far end of the hall, a dais stretched halfway across the room. On the stage, three large stringed instruments and four small ones, played expertly by bows, burst forth in song. The only person in the room was a man with his back to her, waving his hands to conduct the magical orchestra.
A musical mage. Invisible cords drew her toward him. Something slumbering in her soul stretched, waking.
The music crescendoed, the last chord bellowing before silence swallowed it.
The pulse of magic inside her stuttered to a halt. Marcelina’s knees buckled. She stumbled and fell, palms scraping along the stone floor, and she cried out.
Footsteps hastened toward her. She pushed to her knees as the man whose sweaty pale curls stuck to his forehead approached. His sky-blue eyes pinned her in place before he stopped a few steps away.
“That was amazing,” Marcelina said, breathless from the impact of his gaze and her struggle against the heavy robe. His presence affected her as much as his music.
The mage extended his hand. Her fingers brushed his.
Sizzling strands of power exploded beneath her stomach and rose through her lungs. She gasped and his eyes widened.
When their fingers curled together, their feet left the ground.
At last, she flew.
Sharon writes and coaches writers at her home on the Columbia River in Oregon. In her “free” time, she enjoys playing piano, walking, biking, hiking, crocheting, and traveling with her husband. With two grown sons living nearby, she often spoils her four grandchildren, much to the chagrin of her two entitled cats.
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