all dreams are pleasant when they begin
Shall I describe it to you? It was a summer of vines
the mead flowed like the clouds over summer air
and we danced to the steady breath of the sea...
Her father owned a boat. He always scowled when she called Fair Myha
a boat, and reprimanded her with his own thoughts. It was a repurposed galley, given to him after years in service to the royalty of Lyones. Totara was the name of the wood used to build it, supposedly hailing for the lands of the Fels, somewhere deep south, and her father proudly stated that it couldn't rot, probably due to some magic she couldn't recall. Either way, she did admit it was quite grand: its sails caught the wind like the moon catches the tides, and the oars swept powerfully through the waves like the Lions that stalked through the menagerie. Inside, a myriad of treasures lay hidden inside countless drab crates, waiting for a curious hand to reveal them. The boat slowly meandered to and from the Ports of Athelion like how her mother used to wander through the gardens, praying for her husband's safe return. Poor Myha, they used to say. Her wrinkles make her look like a woman twice her age.
Dahlia had only been on it a handful of times, for every time he came home he would be off sooner or later. He attested that he went on grand adventures full of peril and heroics: to where, he never had the time to tell. But other gifts she got, the finest silk from Hainan, a heavy fur cloak from Winterhaven and once even some sweet Felian perfume, which they stole from pirates who had first stolen them from the Shadow Fleet. She had only learnt this after questioning the sailors, who doted on her ceaselessly. They too had children, scattered in ports around Gaia, who were also waiting for their return.
Her family was close to the royalty, and she had served as a lady-in-waiting to the Princesses, whom she loved as her own sisters. They were confidants, for both their mothers were always off to some place or another on duty. Many adventures were had, sometimes crawling onto the ramparts to get a closer look at the sea, or running through the kitchens cooking up mischief. Her own mother couldn't care less, spending her time earning more of those wrinkles, and the Queen thought that such behaviour was charming, as long as they didn't do anything too severe.
The Crown Prince was another matter, dark and moody, permanently painted with knitted brows. As much as the Princesses were younger than she, the Crown Prince was as much older, although it didn't make much difference. They all agreed that he was too broody to ever love someone, and that the future of the kingdom was in peril. Ah, if only someone could love them as much as Dahlia's mother loved her husband! It was well known that the Queen did not love the King even half as much as Dahlia's mother loved her husband, and the Princesses lived sourly for this fact. Whether this was reciprocated, the answer was well known, but it did make for a good story nevertheless.
At some point, she realised that her father would be home for longer than a week, and asked to have tea with him. He declined, mentioning that they should drink something stronger, and they had a lovely evening with mother, drinking until the sun yawned below the sea, and cast shadows on Fair Myha's furled sails, having their portrait painted.
Tomorrow would be a court ball, and as always, they had been invited. Invitations to the merchant class were rare, but due to her father's former status as Captain of the Fleet, they were always cordially invited. The King and he had a close companionship, with the former feeling enough strength in their bond to gift her father the finest of his fleet when after receiving a grievous injury. On the recent trip her father had neglected to bring back a new gown, so while her mother fretted, Dahlia was dressed in a gown borrowed from the Princesses. The ball was eventless, and she was forced to endure the company of the Crown Prince (who, it seems, had not improved in the years gone by). He had mentioned that they should go to a walk to see the new portraits: The new Tyrian purple highlights your eyes quite well, and so Dahlia was dragged across the palace to inspect them.
Dahlia herself didn't find anything eye-catching about them, other than that the Tyrian purple must have cost a small fortune, imported from Hainan, far across the seas. However, the Crown Prince was disdainful and had complaints. The dye is fake. Really, Your Royal Highness? She wondered, reaching out to inspect the painting. How can you tell, may I ask? The Prince was rumoured to be experimenting with magical family heirlooms, but she didn't think he had learnt so much. There is magic in the paint. Tainted by the Shadow Fleet, no doubt, the cheapskates they are. He paused for a second, and looked at her thoughtfully. In fact, would you like to have a look at this magic yourself?
It's only now that she truly sees the painting, as before she had only given it a passing glance, an introductory sweep for the benefit of the Crown Prince. The prince was right: The Tyrian purple was beautiful at accentuating the purples of her eyes and dress, and it effortlessly disguised her discomfort in that scratchy dress, when she had sitted for it. Her features were still fine and pale, flaxen hair sweeping down to her waist, fine lips, button nose, and dimples in her smile. They had been very careful to flatter her, and while she could not possess such beauty as the painting, she was still grateful for the exaggeration.
Her attention moves to the background, where the painter had taken liberties with the castle. If she recalled correctly, the painting itself was finished in winter, when the grounds of the castle could not have been in flower. Indeed, the rose bushes were in bloom, and she could see Tekyre's banners being hung from the windows. A soft breeze could almost be felt emanating from the portrait, and Dahlia found herself almost wishing that she could see behind that portrait, to what lied beyond.
The prince extended a hand, and she almost grasped it. What do you mean, have a look at this magic myself? There is simple magic, to enter a painting that has been tainted with it, and enjoy it for a while. She considers his offer, and wonders at the absurdity of it. Such magic has been lost the ages, surely. Your Royal Highness, we must be back soon for the ball, it would do no good for us to be absent for so long. Inexplicably, she feels a certain distaste for the perfect her in the portrait. That's alright, the magic is such that we can spend days in it and no time will pass outside. It will only be a short jaunt, Dahlia. He takes her hand, and makes towards the painting, and mutters a curse from the Felian tongue under his breath.miserere mei, Deus, et salva me.
In a short moment, her skin feels odd, like a thousand birds have landed on her skin and flit around her. Their wings beat her incessantly, and she cannot breathe, and tries to take a breath, but all she hears is wings, wings, wings, everywhere and nowhere all at once they are gone, and she is left standing with the Crown Prince in the painted castle courtyard, the hem of her gown sweeping up painted cobblestones.
Again, he offers his arm to her, and Dahlia takes it so that they can take a stroll in the gardens. She's still slightly shaken by the way they entered into the painting, but her steps don't falter as they make across the cobbled path. Dahlia vaguely recognises the place as the palace, only it is the palace of the painting, with brighter colours and a distinct scent of… paint. Yes, that was the smell: paint in the air. The Crown Prince's grip on her arm is a bit too loose, as if he would rather not be doing this, which is quite absurd because he wanted to do this in the first place didn't he?
Both of them have given up trying to make any polite conversation, and so they proceed along the gardens like ghosts, only making the slight comment here and there: I prefer these roses, they have a much sweeter look to them, almost too perfect.
These banners are very indistinct, they don't look like Tekyre's crest at all! Dahlia eventually stops them both to inspect the banner. Help me get it down, I want to take a closer look! The Crown Prince creases his brows, and a poignant look covers his face.
I think it would be easier if I took it down from the window: See, it's attached there. I'll unclasp it can you can catch it to take a look.
Just like that, he's off towards a set of stairs (that would normally lead to the hall, if this were not the painted palace). She almost makes after him, feeling slightly useless that she can't do anything to help, but remembers that she has to stay here to catch it. To occupy herself, she fiddles with her dress, the one borrowed from the Princesses.
There is a circle of gems stitched into her waist, and she starts picking at the seams, and when she gets bored of it, she smooths down the soft silk of the front, and feels the curls of her hair. They had long since been sunken down by the constant socialising during the ball (she had cringed when she remembered a particularly bold suitor try to touch them, and was promptly shooed away by the princesses). The fine gems were a bit too much for someone common-born like her, but she was not one to complain about the generosity of the princesses.
A soft wind blew by, and that was when she noticed the banner falling, and she caught it, but not before it floated along the cobble floor. Oh no, now it's dirty. Not that it mattered, you couldn't even see this part of the castle from the painting, but Dahlia did have a particular eye for cleanliness. She shouted a thanks to the Crown Prince, and started looking at the banner.
Tekyre's crest was a simple motif from the days of the Fels, consisting of a golden crown of laurel leaves on a purple background. She was a nature goddess, the creator of the Fels and the guardian of the Rainwood, an expanse of wood so unforgiving that even the Hainan Trade route refused to go through it. No one was entirely sure what could had caused such an unforgiving stretch of forest other than Tekyre's hatred for the sun thief, an eternal trap to lure her in and steal back the second sun. Supposedly, in its center was a golden laurel tree large enough to shade a village, and in days long past a shining star had fallen there and given its colors to the tree. The Fels had been created by Tekyre from its magic, and from then on the Emperor of the Fels always wore a crown made from the leaves of the golden laurel from her domain.
In these days, the crown was long lost, from war, magic, or evil doings she did not know, but the Royalty still claimed descent from the Emperors of the Fels. However, while this banner was obviously influenced by Tekyre's Crest, the leaves were smaller, and with sharper edges, and instead of two branches coming together into a crown, it was a circlet of one continuous branch, grown back into itself.