White roses often represent purity, innocence and youthfulness. White roses are sometimes referred to as bridal roses because of their association with young love and eternal loyalty. White roses can also symbolize a new beginning and everlasting love.
Prince Kurth of Belhalla looked over his newborn daughter’s cradle. There she lay, sleeping. The definition of innocence. Her mother would have loved to see her like this, but fate was cruel and took Cigyun away before she could even lay an eye on her daughter.
This wasn’t the time to grieve, however. Partygoers from all walks of life danced in the great hall. Savory scents filled the air, and a crowd huddled around the banquet table. The musicians blared their instruments in an attempt to overpower all the laughter and talking. How his daughter slept through the noise was beyond Kurth.
It wasn’t long before a visitor came up to wish blessings upon the princess. Kurth recognized him at first sight. Tall and well-built, Gray streaks peppering his blue hair, a small child resembling him at his side. It was Lord Byron, head of the house of Chalphy, and a dear old friend since the days of his youth.
“Ah! Kurth! It’s so good to see you!”
“You as well, Byron.” Kurth glanced at the child. “I presume that’s Sigurd?”
“Yes! Isn’t he just the cutest?” Byron gleamed. “He’s a spitting image of me!”
Kurth nodded. He then realized someone was missing from the equation. “Where’s Lady Margrete?”
Byron raised his eyebrows, his mouth forming into a soft o shape. “Well, I was going to keep it a surprise and have her tell you herself, but she came down with morning sickness and stayed behind.”
Kurth blinked. “You mean she’s pregnant?’
“Yes! Sigurd is going to have a younger sibling to play with!” Byron said, rustling his son’s hair. “Isn’t that right?”
Sigurd squeezed his eyebrows shut at his father’s touch. He squirmed out from under his father’s grasp and toddled over to the cradle. Grasping the side with his tiny hands, he peeked in, eyes full of curiosity and wonder.
“Ah, seems he’s curious about his new friend,” Byron said. “Though in the future, it’s possible the two might--”
Before Byron could finish, Sigurd reached one of his hands in and poked the baby’s cheek. The princess still slept, even after being poked in the face. Byron promptly pulled him away. “Oh, no! Don’t do that!”
Kurth laughed. “He’s just a child. He doesn’t know any better. It’s alright.”
“Well, your daughter sure is a sound sleeper.” Byron said. “What I was going to say was that these two may court each other someday.”
“It’s possible. As long as the two consent to it. I don’t want to force anything on them, lest they end up like Cigyun and Victor.”
Silence. That was a sore spot for the nobles of Grannvale, especially Kurth himself. He coughed. “I’ll make a deal. The two shall meet over the years, and if they fall in love, I give my blessing.”
“Sounds good,” Byron said. “At the very least, I hope they become good friends.”
With one last exchange, Byron took Sigurd to go to the dessert table. It was time for Kurth to make his announcement: the official reveal of the princess’s name. He stood up from his throne and raised his arms. At seeing this, the conductor paused, and the musicians stopped mid-song. All eyes fell to the prince.
“Citizens of Grannvale,” Kurth said, his voice booming across the room. “The time has come for me to reveal the name of your princess.”
The crowd cheered. Kurth wondered yet again if anything in this world truly could wake his daughter up. “It is with great joy that I thank you all for coming to this wondrous occasion. Cigyun would have felt the same.”
A chill went up Kurth’s spine. Something felt wrong about this situation. Nerves, maybe? No, that couldn’t be. He’d made plenty of speeches in his life. “As you know, it is tradition to reveal the name of newborn children at a party. With that, I give you--”
The door to the hall burst open with a violent gust of wind. Every single candle in the room snuffed out, and the sky outside turned a pitch black. A figure cloaked in a purple aura stood in the doorway, the only source of light in the room.
"Ah, was I not invited to this gathering?” It said, a voice of poison and ooze.
“It’s the archbishop of the Loptyrian Cult!” Screamed a partygoer. Before any of the soldiers could intervene, Manfroy raised his staff. The orb glowed a deep mauve before sending a burst of energy through the room. The soldiers and partygoers all found themselves unable to speak or move, Kurth being the one exception.
“Leave at once,” commanded Kurth. “I have no interest in any pacts with you.”
Manfroy crept up the hall, a smirk on his face. “Oh? I’m not here to negotiate. I’m here to see the child, that is all.”
Kurth felt his stomach churn at the archbishop’s words. His words seemingly rang true, but something sinister lurked underneath. The prince was unarmed, and fighting back could cause grave injury. All he could do was watch for the time being.
Manfroy stepped up onto the dais and peered down into the cradle. “What a precious little thing.” He brushed away the child’s lavender bangs with his bony fingers, revealing the divine mark on her forehead. The child squirmed and mewled at his touch. “Naga’s chosen.”
There it was. His real reason. Kurth shot up from his throne. Without even looking in his direction, Manfroy waved his other hand at the king. Two tendrils of dark magic slithered around Kurth’s wrists, chaining him to the ground. He cursed as he struggled to break free from his bindings. “You devil!”
The archbishop cackled. “Would a devil come to bestow a gift upon such a precious babe?”
Kurth grunted. Every struggle made the restraints on his wrists tighter. “Don’t you dare lay a curse on my daughter!”
“A curse? You are mistaken, my good sir. This is a blessing-- A blessing for all humanity!”
Gasps came from the crowd as a dark substance seeped from the floor, surrounding the archbishop and the cradle. Manfroy’s haunting laughter echoed throughout the hall.
“The babe shall grow to be beautiful and fair,
Rose red lips, lavender hair
All the grace of a white swan,
A voice as fair as birdsong at dawn.
But, a cursed rose will bring deathly sleep
With just one prick, her soul shall be reaped
And by Naga’s blood, drawn by a thorn
The Dark Lord Loptous will be reborn!"
The archbishop vanished in a cloud of smoke. His laugh still rang in the ears of the king alongside his child's cries. The chains around Kurth's wrists dissipated, dropping him to his knees. Had this not been a public gathering, he would have burst out in anger, calling Manfroy names no mother would approve of. Instead, he looked up to his guard.
“The party is over. Send everyone home.”
Kurth’s study was small for a man of his status, yet just the right size for his own comfort. Two massive bookshelves sat on the back wall, the contents strewn all over the room. Between the two bookshelves sat an unlit fireplace. An ornate couch with wooden framing sat in front of the fireplace. On each side was a matching chair, as well as a low table in the center. Sunlight poured upon his desk from the grand window on the right wall.
The prince paced around the room, one hand on his chin and eyes to his feet. He could not let the cult get their way. He could not let the people of his kingdom be ravaged by Loptous. Most importantly, he could not let his precious daughter die a tragic death. There had to be a way to save her from the curse. Anything had to be done to prevent such a future. But what could possibly protect from the darkest magic of all?
A knock at the door awoke Kurth from his trance. “Your majesty, Lord Byron wishes to speak with you.”
Kurth raised his head. “Let him in.”
The door creaked open. In came Byron, as well as a maid holding a tea set. “I figured you would want to talk with me,” Byron said. “It’s not healthy to think about this all alone.”
“Yes, Of course. Come and sit.” Kurth said. He gestured to the sitting area. “You can place the tea on the table there. I apologize for the mess.”
Byron sat down upon the couch, displacing some stray books. The maid sat the tray in front of him and poured the lord a cup. When she offered to pour one for Kurth, he declined. “My stomach is awash with stress. I’ll get some when I feel better.”
Byron raised the teacup to his mouth and took a sip. “It’s chamomile. My wife drinks it to relieve morning sickness.”
To this, Kurth chuckled. “All right. I’ll have a cup, then.” He sat down in the chair to Byron’s left. They sat there sipping their tea, not a single word exchanged. It wasn’t until they heard the door shut behind the maid that Kurth decided to address the elephant in the room.
“I presume the engagement is off.”
“Nonsense. I want to help you protect your daughter.”
Kurth placed his cup down onto the saucer and smiled. “I should have known. You’re always willing to lend a hand.”
Byron smiled back. “Just like the days at the academy.”
“Exactly,” Kurth said. “Remember that time I was ill, and you announced my symptoms in excruciating detail to the entire class because we thought the professor wouldn’t believe us?”
Byron nudged his friend. “Professor Eisner didn’t speak to me for a week.”
“I don’t blame him.” Kurth crossed his legs. “Back on topic. My idea was we hunt down the culprits. There’s just one problem: they hide themselves well. They move at night as well as off the beaten path. No clues as to where their stronghold is have been found in years. It’s a shot in the dark to try and find them.”
“I didn’t even know the cult was still an issue,” said Byron. “There were always a few incidents here and there, but nothing this big.”
Kurth nodded. “I’m surprised they made such a big show out of this. Coming straight to the castle and all. I worry they may return-- Not even our strongest guards can take them down. You saw what happened out there. Petrified. All of them.”
Byron sat there for a moment before looking down into his tea. “In that case, I believe you may have to send the child away.”
Kurth’s face fell. He’d only known his child for one week. Missing out on months, years, maybe even decades of time with her was a blade to the heart-- but if it was what was best for her safety, he would do it.
Byron stroked the stubble on his chin. “Cigyun had a child with Victor of Velthomer, if I am correct. Do you think the house would be willing to take her in?”
“House Velthomer is not fond of me after what happened to Victor and Cigyun,” Kurth replied. “Besides, the cult would know to look there. It’s too obvious.”
“Ah, that is true. Do you know if Cigyun had any other relatives?”
Kurth pondered the thought. Cigyun was a woman of few words. What he did get out of her was that she was initially raised in a secluded part of Verdane. She much enjoyed hearing about the world beyond there and Grannvale. Victor must never have let her travel alongside him, not even back to her home.
“Her mother lives in a place called the Spirit Forest. She pointed it out on the map to me once, but never took me there. Not many people venture to that part of Verdane.”
Byron finished his last sip of tea. “Seems we have our winner, then. I hope Batu is okay with this. The risk of cultists flocking to his kingdom is not a welcome one.”
“It’s our only chance at saving Jugdral. He will understand,” Kurth said, rising out of the chair. “I’ll go ahead and start on the letter.”
“I should go pick up Sigurd, then,” said Byron. “I can imagine he’s driving the nanny crazy. He’s such a fierce little thing.”
“Poking at my daughter’s face? I’ll have him thrown in the cellar for that,” Kurth joked. “The sentence? A timeout there until he says sorry. No sweets for a week.”
Byron tried to contain his laughter, but failed. He stood up and brushed his legs off. “One last thing, though. What name did you decide upon for your daughter? The Archbishop oh-so-rudely interrupted you before you could make it public.”
“Ah, her name. Cigyun actually chose it, not me.” Kurth looked to the tea set, sweet memories of the conversations they’d had flocking into his mind. “Her name is Deirdre.”