Heinrich and Magdalena had officially announced their adoption of Mara. The people knew that Kanmira was her mother, but not that her father was Arlesian. Mara was to receive the second name of Honoria, which had been Heinrich’s mother’s name. Kanmira had not been seen again.
It was a festive day in Llira. The houses were decorated with flowers, and people sang in the streets. The sun was shining, and there was not a cloud in the sky. There was finally an heiress in Llira.
“I wonder why Kanmira isn’t here. She said she’d be around,” Magdalena glanced around, holding Mara in her arms.
“Maybe she doesn’t want to watch,” Heinrich laid a hand on her shoulder.
At the very moment Mara was proclaimed Mara Honoria Vasara, Princess of Llira, the walls shook and the windows darkened. A pale figure stepped out from the shadows, eyes alight with triumph.
Her tread was soundless, and a long silvery dress swept the floor behind her as she came forward. Everyone in the hall froze as if turned to stone.
“I can see you weren’t expecting me,” Lemaria cast a scornful glance at the terrified crowd. “My sister has obviously failed to warn you that I am more powerful than she. It has always been her weakness. She thinks to hide her pathetic mortal child here? In a city of cringing moneychangers? There’s not a warrior here who would stand a chance.”
Lemaria made her way towards Magdalena, who clutched Mara to her chest. Heinrich stepped in front of them, sword drawn.
“Leave this place. Leave my daughter in peace. Take your quarrel with your sister elsewhere, it is no concern of mine. But you can’t work your magic on this.” He raised his blade.
“That child isn’t yours. No Lliran looks like that,” Lemaria took another step forward. “Move aside. Why should you be this desperate? Do you think the Llirans would really accept her? See how you stand alone.”
The crowd edged back from Lemaria, but one man rushed forward, taking his place by Heinrich’s side. Heinrich nodded and whispered “Thank you, Vantari.” They stood in front of Magdalena and Mara, who let out a shrill wail. Heinrich spoke again, hiding the fear in his voice.
“By the laws of Llira, Mara is my daughter. I’m ordering you, leave this place. Leave my city and never return.” He and Vantari lowered their blades. Lemaria flinched.
“Do you know who you stand against?” Lemaria shook her head, a strange smile playing across her features. Then she drew a concealed sword, which glittered like opaque ice. “I don’t think so. But if you wish to meet me in combat, I am prepared.” She swung the strange blade towards Heinrich and Vantari.
Their swords were torn from their grip, and quivered in the wall behind them. Lemaria’s blade had not even touched them. Heinrich stared at her, eyes wide. She stood watching them a moment, rainbow flames running up and down the sword.
“You can’t come any closer.” She smiled again. “Not with that armor.”
“What? You can’t—” Heinrich stammered. “This is—” He took a step forward. Vantari whispered something he couldn’t make out. Lemaria swung the sword, and Heinrich was flung backward. He and Vantari slammed into the wall. Lemaria gave a slight chuckle, then turned to the people, sword still pointed at Heinrich. Mara continued crying.
“Unless you want to follow those two, stay back!” Lemaria spun in a circle, turning on Magdalena, who still clutched Mara in her arms. The child wouldn’t stop wailing. Magdalena backed away, not meeting Lemaria’s gaze. The crowd stayed back, not daring to come near.
“Pathetic cowards!” Lemaria looked disgusted. “Stand still and answer me, woman. Do you spin?”
“Yes. We all do,” Magdalena’s voice trembled, as if she was about to cry. Mara fell silent, as if transfixed. “But I don’t understand what this has to do with—”
“You weren’t asked to,” Lemaria put her hand on Mara’s forehead, and turned to the people. “Your princess will never inherit Llira. On her eighteenth birthday, she will touch a spindle. And when she does, she will die. Such is my curse, and it cannot be broken. Farewell.”
As she strode to the doors, a wind swept in, and a weary-looking woman came through.
“You overstep your bounds, sister.” She pushed back her hood. It was Kanmira.
“Do you challenge me?” demanded Lemaria, raising her hand. “You are too late to save your mortal child.”
“I alter your curse,” said Kanmira. “Since I cannot break it. Mara will fall into an enchanted sleep, and all of Llira with her. When the man comes who is worthy of her, his kiss will break the spell.”
“It would take a hundred years of sleep to give these cowards courage,” Lemaria glanced scornfully at the crowd. “Do you think this island will last that long?”
“I will make sure that it does. The city of Llira will be safe, for as long as it takes for such a hero to come.” Said Kanmira. “And that is a promise.”
“How long must they sleep? How few heroes are there in these degenerate days?” Lemaria shook her head in mockery. “I give you a time limit, sister. Say, a hundred years? Not until then may you search. And if you don’t—my curse strikes as I planned. On Mara and all of Llira with her. That is all the alteration I need.” Lemaria swung the doors open with a bang. “But Llira might be a little hard to find, after a hundred years. Good day!”
The doors shut with a crash. Heinrich dragged himself up from the floor, blood trickling from his brow. Magdalena hurried to him, cradling Mara. Kanmira gave them one sad glance, and went out the way she had come. The people of Llira left the hall, hoping that the past few minutes had been a dream.
No one in Llira spun after that.
They had to import all their yarn and thread, which was a major burden. Some people grumbled about this, yet no one questioned it.
Mara grew up to be a lovely child, if somewhat pensive and with a fondness for strange fancies. No one ever told her about the curse.
“Are you sure that is the best idea?” asked Magdalena. “Shouldn’t she be warned?”
“It wouldn’t do any good,” answered Heinrich bitterly. “Haven’t you read the stories? Curses always come back to bite.”
When Mara was eleven, Llira went to war.
Arlese had begun attacking the ships that brought yarn and other goods to Lliran ports. However, whenever Llira demanded they stop, they denied it. Soon they declared war to avenge the slight on their honor, and, as Heinrich put it, “make a nice profit.”
Llira lost two battles with Arlese. By the winter, they had reached an uneasy peace. Fighting continued, on and off, for seven years.
Heinrich never left the city. Magdalena watched from the windows, and Mara rarely left her room. Everyone seemed tense and on edge. Mara watched for Kanmira, but she did not come.
A week before Mara’s eighteenth birthday, Magdalena fell ill.
Heinrich never left her. Mara stood in the doorway, unwilling to move further. This pale, coughing woman seemed so different from her mother.
Heinrich turned to speak to her, but by then Mara had fled.
Mara locked herself in her room. Her tiny elephants ran after her, but she ignored them. She sat on her bed, her face in her hands, weeping.
She looked up to see Kanmira.
“Go away,” she whispered.
“But I see you’re upset. I’m so sorry.” Kanmira sat down beside her. “I want to—”
“I don’t want you here right now,” Mara got up and backed away, her fists clenched. “You’ll never know this! How could you ever understand? This—this isn’t your place.”
“I have known loss,” said Kanmira, speaking quietly. “When your father—“
“But for you . . .” Mara trailed off, as if lost for words. “It is . . . different. I know you still mourn my father, but . . . this isn’t the same.” She paced over to the window, leaning her elbows on the sill. Turning, she cast one last glance at Kanmira. “This is for mortals. Please, leave me.” She added bitterly.
With one last look, Kanmira withdrew.