My eyes opened to find that I was in . . . my room? I was resting on my bed facing the opened the glass windows that captured the lovely night sky. There were stars glistening over the mountains and forests. Had I been dreaming again? Didn’t I face Thayne though? Why was my head burning yet my body was shivering? I tried to move my arm to feel my forehead, but one shift brought on splintering pain.
          “Ah!” I winced to the point where my eyes dampened.
          A young, petite girl had leapt to my side, wiping the dripping sweat off of my face. She was screaming in a foreign language reminding me of a blend of French and Latin.
          I had almost croaked Adelaide’s name, but once I saw a darkened birthmark to the side of her cheek and her blueberry eyes, I could only ask, “Wh-who are you?” 

          There were puzzled wrinkles ruffling the shape of her eyebrows and her head had bobbed to the side. So, I repeated with a gasp, “Who are you?”
           Every word that I uttered caused pangs to my chest as if an anvil had crushed my lungs. The girl continued to sputter rather quickly this time in her language. She was shrugging her shoulders and then staring at me, waiting for my response. Once I returned a confused look to her, she ran away, bolting through the doors.
          I didn’t understand what was happening. Why was I still in my own room? What about those dreams? What happened to me? Why were my muscles aching so much?
          Maybe, this was a dream, I said to myself before closing my eyes again. Maybe, if I just slept, then I would return to where I belonged. Maybe, just maybe . . .
          The next day, the little girl had shaken me so hard that the pain spread along my body, forcing me to awaken. This time, there was a man beside her. The tall, lanky man who sported a long, white beard seemed to have asked me a question for he was in awe once I only gawked at him. Then, he muttered a few sentences to the girl and simply left.
          No matter how much I wanted to ask what had happened, I knew that questions were futile. How would I understand anything if I didn’t even know their language? Mastering their language would be my second goal. First, I needed to recover from this accident.
          I didn’t know how many days or months had passed until I could walk properly. The first time I set my feet on the ground, I couldn’t believe another fact that I had learned. The world had seemed bigger, much too large-scaled to what I had been accustomed. Even that little girl who had helped me had proved to be at least a quarter times taller than me. That definitely ruled out the guess that this world was made for giants. No, it was made for humans. It just so happened that I was a stunted girl.
          Waddling like a penguin, I had explored my bedroom. Everything was essentially like before from the placement of the furniture to the paintings hanging on the walls. The only difference was that everything seemed so new and more extravagant. I would have ventured further, but the birthmark girl had pulled me back to bed while frowning at me.
          “You must not run, Your Highness!” she had scolded. “You’ve just gotten better.”
          During my time of recovery, I had mastered the language with the help of Marie, this girl. Actually, I really had to thank her. Without her, I would not even have known my name.
          “Your Highness, did you really forget everything?” she had asked one day. When I nodded, she uttered, “Maybe, it’s best for you to have forgotten everything. Your Highness has endured so much.”
          “What do you mean?”
          “Do you not remember anything?”
          Soon, I had learned that I was Princess Jiyuna. Princess Jiyuna had always been ill, like all of the Queen’s deceased daughters. According to the Sorcerer, who from Marie’s description, was the King’s prophet, all of the Queen’s daughters would die before the age of ten. He said that the Queen had committed a crime in her former life, and so this was the curse she had to undergo. Of course, the Queen had not believed him at first, but after one tragedy after another, she had begged the Sorcerer to aid her. The Sorcerer, thus, had instructed her to give him the next princess she bore.
          “What did he do then?” I had questioned Marie.
          “He had to find the right soul for the princess, so he was rebelling with the laws of nature.” Marie had explained. “He found you, but you were far, far away. Do you really not remember me? I was there with you.” She pointed at her birthmark, and then stretched out her pale hand. I had stared at her for a moment before I realized what she had meant.
          “A-Adelaide!” I proclaimed and attacked her with a hug. “Y-y-you’re alive!”
          Finally, there was someone familiar here. Finally, there was something relevant in my life, a sign that I had not become insane.
          “I am glad you still remember your past.” She had hugged me back and said, “The Sorcerer was right then. He said you would slowly remember everything.”
          Pulling away, I pondered, “Remember what? And . . . what of Princess Jiyuna? What happened to her . . . soul?”
          “Like the other princesses, they were sacrificed, so . . . you would return,” her voice had turned to a whisper. “She was lucky she isn’t in eternal slumber. Your soul must have been suitable with her body.”
          “Why?” I had continually pressed for an answer, yet she had nothing more to say.
          “Your Highness?”
          Marie now pulled the blankets to my shoulders, making sure that I was warm enough.
          “Are you feeling ill?”
          “No,” I mumbled, “I was just thinking.”
          “Thinking about?”
          “The past.”
          “There’s no need to try to remember anything. Just try to rest some more. You’ll need the energy for the start of lessons.”
          Marie patted my head before blowing out the candles.
          “The Queen says she will have to prepare you for your meeting with the King.”
          Meeting? King? I hugged myself, trying to ease my anxiety. The idea of encountering a King was daunting, but the thought of learning with the Queen was even more nerve wracking. Not once had she visited me. Not once had she sent her regards. Just like my own mother . . .
          Herself before myself.
          I still remembered my first impression of her; indeed, one word had surfaced in my mind: beautiful. She was strikingly beautiful, yet seemingly remarkably intelligent. Sitting in a garden surrounded by varying hues of roses, she had smiled at me. That slightly crooked smile was doused with wisdom and a hint of arrogance. Soon, she had returned to sip her tea, not even regarding my existence until I had formally greeted her.
          I tried my best to curtsey.
          “Your Highness—“
          “There is no time for formalities.”
          She heaved a hefty sigh and pointed to a cream, wooden chair across from her.
          “Sit, and Marie, fetch the books.”
          “Yes, Your Highness.”
          My eyes had followed Marie’s disappearance into a set of opened French doors with flowing, silk curtains to stir my curiosity.
          The Queen slammed her cup on top of her plate before demanding, “A princess does not involve herself in a maid’s matters. I see you have much to learn.”
          “I know.” I straightened my back and focused my attention again at her. Examining closely, I realized how different she was from all the other women that I had encountered so far. Was it her unapproachable aura or her regal status? Maybe, it was the drastic contrast between her dark, curly hair and her pale skin. Maybe, it was the ornate diamond necklace she wore on her neck.
          “However, what we learn here must not be discussed elsewhere.”
          The Queen’s large, hazel eyes stared at me, giving me the answer to my question.
          “Urcis does not believe that women should be educated, but I follow the beliefs of Kosei.”
          Urcis? What was that? Kosei? Where was that?
           The Queen had gently covered her small lips with her hand as an attempt to muffle her laughter.
          “Indeed, there is much to learn,” she repeated.
          Once Marie had arrived with the necessary books, my education had officially started. I was tutored all of the subjects a civilized man knew: geography, history, mathematics, medicine, languages, the arts, and war. Surprisingly, one teacher taught me everything and that happened to be the Queen. She told me that her mother, a sister of the Emperor of Kosei, had been her teacher, and now it was time for her to educate her daughter. This, she said, was tradition and this tradition was reasonable for once.
          Lesson one was learning languages. I had to become fluent in Urcisilian with grammar, reading, writing, and speaking. Then, there was my mother’s home country’s language, Koseian, the northern country’s language, Slianvish, and the southern country’s language, Aquille.
          Lesson two became geography.
          “There are four kingdoms,” I remembered her telling me.
          That was the first time I had left my chamber for the palace’s library. The library had large marble tiles, stained glass windows, and a high, domed ceiling. Instead of marble walls, there were soaring wooden bookshelves incased in the walls with wooden ladders placed to the right of each bookcase. Candlelit chandeliers hung from the ceiling and were carefully placed below reading areas, which was filled with rows of long wooden tables. In the centre of the library was a rounded counter serving as a reception desk. At that desk, there were two men clad in long, black robes that greeted the two of us. They bowed, whereas we merely nodded our heads and carried forth.
          We walked towards the area under the domed ceiling until we reached a grand map pinned on the wall of the library. Her finger outlined the biggest piece of land to the North and uttered, “This is Slianvwi, the largest, but the poorest kingdom of the four.”
          “Why?” I recalled asking.
          “Nothing lives there,” she remarked. “Nothing grows there either.”
          “Then how do they survive?”
          She grimly smiled and proceeded with the lecture by pointing to the area of land to the East of Slianvwi.
          “This is my homeland, Kosei. Kosei is the second largest country with much to offer. We grow an abundance of crops and raise a lot of animals. We also happen to control the Renata Ocean, which is to the east.”
          I confirmed, “Will I ever see Kosei?”  
          She snickered, “Of course, Jiyuna. You would be the laughingstock of Kosei if you were never to return.”
          “And what about that small piece of land?” Feeling rather embarrassed about my silly question, I reached as far as I could to pinpoint an area resembling the body of a fetal pig.
          “That’s Aquilla,” she informed. “It’s rather warm there and houses the most interesting types of food and animals. Because the area is covered in sand though, they don’t have much water.”
          “So, we live here then!” I jumped up to tap the area of land shaped like a rhinoceros’ head.
          She bobbed her head and also chuckled. “Where else would we live?”
          There was no need to explain the kingdom in which I resided. I was bound to have my own experience here, except for now, I was imprisoned in my room or at her quarters. No one could know about our lessons, so the only other place I could visit was the library. I had to, however, become the Queen’s boy servant, clad with a set of khaki trousers, a dirty button-up shirt, and a flimsy flat cap.
          At the library, I endured lesson three: memory training, math and medicine. The Queen dictated words that were spoken to be remembered from the vast collection of books. I solved math problems, and memorized tons of plants and animals that could be used to cure various diseases. From those books, I also learned about lesson four, war. Not only would I would recite rules or strategies that brilliant commanders had devised, I also had to practice physical combat. My training, however, had to be held in the evening and strictly at her chamber. She would demonstrate the moves and I would have to mimic; one wrong move and a wooden rod would slam against my skin. I couldn’t remember how many bruises I had now on my bottom.  
          What eased my pain was lesson five, the arts. I had always been skilled at painting and was thankful that my right hand could still obey my imagination. However, when I first dipped the tip of my brush into a cup of water, I had immediately dropped my tool. Why?
          Because the Queen had requested, “Paint me.”
          I remembered too clearly the last time I had to paint a subject. He too had mustered that phrase in a haughty tone when I was frustrated with my art project in high school.
          “Why isn’t there a model who is willing to keep his clothes on,” I grumbled to myself while resting my chin on the table. “Argh, I just need their face, not their . . . whole body.”
          I saw a large hand placing a glass of water along with a dry, paintbrush in front my blank canvas and then I heard a man’s overconfident voice, “Paint me.”
          “What?” I blurted.
           I finally lifted my strained neck to catch this boy’s devilish grin paired with a set of cobalt eyes that were too slender to be called genuine. His eyes, no, his whole presence, was captivating and I had to restrain myself from snatching the brush. I had to resist the urge to paint him. I had to stop myself from wanting to capture this fox-like creature in my art, and so, I stared at him, wondering where I had seen him. I couldn’t, however, recall anything about this man.
          Bending his back to my height, he leaned too close to me, and whispered right in my face, “I said . . . paint me.”
          I almost fell off my chair, but luckily, he had grabbed my forearm, pulling me towards him. My head now pressed against his firm chest while my body was still limp from sitting the chair for too long.
          “Paint me, and then I’ll paint you,” he explained.
          I glimpsed at him again.
          “But, you’re not even in my class, and I don’t even know you.”
          He laughed before explaining, “But, I know you. I’ve known you for too long.”
          “Jiyuna,” the Queen had repeated, “I thought I told you to paint me.”
          “Yes, Your Highness.”
          I bowed slightly before slanting my body forward to reach for the fallen piece, and when I touched it, I was reminded of what had happened next.
          I had pushed him away from me and was in a hurry to gather all of my supplies that I had unintentionally knocked the glass of water forward and the paintbrush backward. Hearing the wooden piece battering against the floor, I knelt to the ground and extended my hand to reach for it, but instead, my hand had reached for his. Both of us had gazed at each other: he without a smile, and I without a frown. We were simply staring . . . until I felt his hand hover over mine, exerting too much pressure from his clench.
          “You sure you don’t remember?” he asked me, and when I shook my head, he suddenly released me and patted his knees before standing again. Looking down at me, he stated with an expressionless face, “Never mind then. Let’s just get this assignment over with.”
          I remembered nodding my head, and we would meet several times a week in the art room, where I would paint him sitting in a chair. Somehow, though, I decided to paint only his face, and just half of his face. The other half was . . .
          “So I’m like a fox huh?” he had surprised me one day by asking from behind. I was setting my easel in place, and was using the time to contemplate about my choice before he had arrived.
          “I think so?” I murmured, knowing that I had probably made the wrong decision.
          “Don’t worry.” He had patted my shoulder and reassured, “I get that a lot, but you know what you remind me of?”
          “I . . . am not telling you.” He snickered before taking a seat in my chair. “Now, it’s my turn.”
          “Jiyuna,” The Queen had then noted, “I expect this portrait to be completed before we meet the King. We will also be painting your portrait after this.”
          Yes, I had become the painter’s subject again, but this time, it was an old man, who was the artist. He was fairly friendly, allowing me to move freely and even complimented me from time to time, saying that I was an enchanting subject. He, on the other hand, had . . .
          “Stop fidgeting!” he grumbled and almost threw his brush at me. “You’re blurring my painting.”
          “Sorry,” I muttered.
          Again, he laughed in a knowing way with a melodic rhythm. “As expected,” he remarked, “you’d never sit still.”
          “I was never really patient.”
          “I know and you were always hard to capture.”
          “You just have to overcome your painting problems.”
          “Maybe, it’s not me. Maybe, it’s . . . you.”
          “I apologize, Your Highness,” the old man had explained once he had finished, “I am afraid I cannot show you my masterpiece now. The Queen has ordered that your portrait will be unveiled during Lemiscus.”
          Indeed, I had never seen my portraits until much later. After he and I had completed our tasks, we never saw each other again. It wasn’t until that day did I ever see his painting.
          “Here! Here!” Alanna had dragged me to an art exhibition at a renowned university and had now pointed to a canvas found at the centre of the room. “That’s my brother’s painting! Isn’t it . . .”
          I was utterly silent, too mesmerized by his skills. He had painted me using dabs of grey, white, black, and bits of peach blended with rose for my skin. Swift, flowing strokes were for my hair, which was streaming in all directions. My eyes were almost closed, looking downwards at a pair of translucent arms embracing me. Those arms were very clearly drawn at the finger tips, yet slowly as my eyes traced the arms up the canvas, they faded and blended with my hair until I recognized a set of eyes and actually, him. I could see him within the heaps of hair; he had used the texture and the shape of my hair to embody his omniscient presence.
          He was always there, he meant.
          Then, I heard Alanna’s voice again, “You know, I can’t believe, my brother didn’t draw me and decided to draw this lady who . . . looks kind of like you!”
          So, he was her older brother . . . the one that always made Alanna grumble, yet still made her concerned.
          Alanna continued to mope, “He even said this girl matched the girl of his dreams. Honestly, who would actually believe that sort of excuse? But, I have to admit that his painting is beautiful. I mean, even the title is wonderful—“
          Beyond My Reach by Eury Karasuma
          Then, I felt my tears streaming and soon, a warm presence embodied me from behind. “So, who made you cry?” I heard Thayne’s soft voice.
          “No one.” I leaned backwards and grinned. “It’s just . . .”
          “Jiyuna, focus!” A tough, splintering pain slammed against on my hand. “The King will be . . . why are you crying?”
          I didn’t even know I was even crying. Wiping my tears with my sleeve, I tried to voice my opinion, yet my voice was clogged. “I-I-I . . .”
          “Once you calm yourself, I will return. Marie, fetch me once the Princess has finished her sobbing,” the Queen interrupted before storming out from my room.
          I felt Marie’s arms embrace me and in a soothing tone, she explained, “The Queen means well. She is only worried about your first meeting with the King. Receiving a formal name is very important in Urcis, especially when you will be receiving yours at the Lemiscus in spring.”
          I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t even thinking much, or maybe, I was too drowned in my thoughts.
          “It’s just nostalgia.”
Chapter 7                                                                             Chapter 9