That night after Henry’s parents had retired to their room, Henry started tiptoeing down the hallway from his room to the grand staircase. He had made it down the hallway and past the stairs and was halfway through the foyer before he suddenly froze.
Except, it wasn’t on purpose.
He tried and tried to take a step forward, but it was as if his boots were glued to the floor. Before he had time to panic, he heard a familiar voice approach him from behind.
“Well, well, well. Look what we have here,” the voice said in a sinister tone. Henry let out a deep sigh as he rolled his eyes.
“Piper, what have I told you about using your magic on me?”
Piper ignored her older brother as she circled around to face him.
“And where do you think you’re going?” she asked. Henry plastered on his best fake smile as he tried to erase any hint of annoyance in his voice hoping that if he was nice enough, his sister would let him go. (Although, he knew deep down that that would never be the case.)
“Nowhere,” he replied. Piper raised one eyebrow as she stared down her sibling, obviously unconvinced. “Just thought I would take a little stroll around the yard. Get some fresh air. That’s all,” Henry continued, feigning innocence. A malevolent smile spread across Piper’s lips.
“C’mon, Henry. Do you really expect me to buy that? You’re sneaking out to meet that boy again, aren’t you? That...that commoner ?” Piper interrogated, a hint of disgust in her voice at the word commoner.
“Don’t talk about him like that!” Henry spat. Piper furrowed her eyebrows a little at her brother’s sudden defensiveness. She knew he was getting close to this boy, but his attitude led her to believe that he might be getting a little closer than she originally suspected.
“So? Is that where you’re going?” Piper questioned. Henry exhaled sharply.
“Yes,” he answered through gritted teeth. Piper’s wicked smile immediately returned. She raised a hand and started inspecting her nails as she circled around Henry who was still frozen in place.
“How do you think Mom and Dad would feel about you sneaking out to meet some commoner you barely know at this hour?”
Henry pursed his lips a little as he shot daggers at his sister when she had finally circled around to face him again.
“What do you want?” he asked begrudgingly. It was Piper’s turn to feign innocence. She put on her sweetest smile as she met Henry’s gaze.
“Oh, nothing much. It’s just...you’ll be king soon,” she started. Henry felt a knot begin to form in his stomach. “Why don’t we just say for now that you owe me a favor?”
“Oh, no way! Why can’t I just do your chores or something?” Henry countered. Piper clicked her tongue as she shook her head.
“Favor or it’s no deal. I’ll just have to go tell Mom and Dad.”
“Piper, there is no way I’m agreeing to this.”
“Fine by me. MOM!” Piper started screaming but Henry cut her off, quickly shushing her.
As uneasy as it made Henry feel, the only thing that made Henry feel more anxious was having to face a furious Siren. Although, judging by the devious and satisfied look that was now plastered on Piper’s face made Henry second guess that.
“Excellent,” Piper replied. She started back towards the stairs.
“Uh, Piper? Aren’t you forgetting something?” Henry said as he still tried to pry his boots off the floor, knowing it was no use. Piper had already made it to the second step and she let out a groan and rolled her eyes as she turned around to face Henry again.
“Ugh! Fine,” she said, and with a wave of her hand, pink sparkling smoke swirled around Henry’s feet, dissipating after only a few seconds. To Henry’s relief, he had full control of his legs again, and with that, he snuck out the front door and on to meet Jasper at the Pixie Crystal River.
The Pixie Crystal River was situated in the forest right in between the kingdom of Astoria and the kingdom of Swellville. It was a quaint little place where most of the pixies in the land resided. Lush green grass and dense trees covered the area, with a few mushrooms sprouting up here and there. Instead of water running through the riverbed, multi-colored pixie crystals wove through the ground much like a river would, glowing in beautiful hues of blue, purple, and pink. Jasper was in awe when he first laid eyes on it.
“This place is amazing! It’s so beautiful,” he said as he looked around in wide-eyed wonderment. Jasper wasn’t sure he had ever seen a place so wonderful before. But, then again, he never got out of the shop much.
Henry’s lips curled into a smile. He found Jasper’s amazement somewhat endearing, and he couldn’t help but feel a little excited and happy that he had been the one to introduce this place to him.
“Isn’t it? Charlotte and I discovered it once when we were playing out here as kids,” Henry explained. Jasper felt a twinge of sadness at the mention of Charlotte.
“Charlotte? As in, Princess Charlotte of Borderith?” Jasper asked, half hoping Henry had actually been talking about some other Charlotte.
“Yeah, that’s right. She’s one of my oldest friends,” Henry responded, smiling at the memory. Jasper felt another twinge as he tried to conceal his sudden heartache. Everyone in the kingdom knew of Prince Henry and Princess Charlotte’s impending nuptials once the pair both turned twenty-one.
Little did Jasper know, neither one of them really wanted it. It was true that Charlotte was Henry’s oldest friend, and he loved her an awful lot, but it wasn’t the kind of love where you’d want to get married to the person. They’d both describe it as more like a platonic love or a sibling love. Besides that, Charlotte had a secret long-term girlfriend nobody knew about but Henry: Duchess Anais from another neighboring kingdom. Henry and Charlotte had both tried to talk their parents out of the arranged marriage, but their parents felt that it would be a good way to unify both kingdoms and merge them into one. So, the duo had made a pact; Henry would keep Charlotte’s girlfriend a secret even after they were married and she would do the same, given he ever found someone.
Henry noticed Jasper’s sudden mood change despite Jasper doing his best to hide it, and Henry’s smile immediately faded.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” he said softly as he put his hand on Jasper’s shoulder.
“Nothing. Just tired from work, that’s all,” Jasper lied. Henry nodded, seemingly satisfied with that answer. The twosome sat down on the ground side by side with their backs leaning on a log. They remained in comfortable silence for a while, just listening to the crickets chirp and the occasional chatter of pixies returning to their homes for the night.
“Hey, thanks for meeting me tonight,” Henry said after a while. Jasper had been gazing up at the stars, but he turned his head in order to look at Henry.
“Of course,” he said with a genuine smile. Henry smiled back and he could feel the heat rising in his cheeks for a moment as he admired the way Jasper’s eyes were glistening in the moonlight.
“The coronation...my birthday...it’s all just getting to be too much,” Henry continued as he looked down at the ground. Jasper’s smile immediately faded and was replaced with a look of concern. He continued to watch Henry and remained silent, allowing him to continue to vent if need be.
Which is exactly what happened. Henry started another one of his spiels about his anxieties of becoming king, most of it boiling down to him not thinking he’s good enough.
“I don’t know the first thing about leading a kingdom!”
“What if there’s another battle?”
“What if I can’t live up to my mother’s legacy?”
“How will I deal with the day to day problems?”
Jasper had remained silent throughout the whole spiel, allowing Henry to get out what he needed to get out.
Henry took a heavy sigh after finishing as he ran his fingers through his hair.
“I’m sorry. We came here so I could stop thinking about that. Besides, I’ve known you for close to three weeks and I think at least 80% of our time spent together has been me just venting to you like you’re my therapist or something,” Henry said. Jasper chuckled.
“Welllll,” he answered in a high-pitched voice to indicate that Henry wasn’t totally wrong, and it was Henry’s turn to chuckle.
“Let’s talk about you,” Henry suggested. Jasper felt a little uneasy considering he didn’t like to talk about himself too much, but he didn’t protest.
“What about me?”
Henry thought it over for a moment.
“Do you have any siblings?”
“Nope. Just me,” Jasper answered. “Although, that’s probably a good thing,” he added, a hint of an upset in his voice. Henry’s forehead furrowed as he titled his head a little.
“What do you mean?” he questioned. Jasper sighed as he looked down at the ground.
Henry placed a gentle hand on Jasper’s arms as he leaned in a little closer to him.
“Seriously, what is it?” he continued softly. Jasper wasn’t sure what it was about the Prince that made him want to tell him everything; perhaps he felt like he knew him, given that the royal family always tried to make themselves as accessible as possible to the public. Or, maybe it was because Jasper had been infatuated with Henry ever since they were kids, even before he knew him personally. In any case, there was just something about him that made Jasper feel like he could trust him with his best-kept secrets.
“It’s my parents,” Jasper began, “they’re not the best caretakers in the world. To put it lightly. Often times they pretend like I’m not even there. They provide a roof over my head, but that’s about it. I’ve been having to fend for myself from a young age. That’s actually why I got the job at the Blacksmith’s shop. My boss, Ray, caught me stealing food one time right outside his shop, but instead of punishing me, he asked me why I did it. I was honest, and at that point, he offered to show me the tricks of his trade. He really took me in; made sure I was taken care of. He’s been more like a father to me than my actual father ever has.”
The corner of Henry’s mouth turned up slightly.
“That’s really nice. I’m glad he could do that for you. It sucks about your parents, though. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have to find your own food at such a young age.”
Jasper just shrugged.
“I did what I had to.”
Henry felt a twinge of guilt as he thought about Jasper’s story. Henry had been blessed with growing up in a lavish castle with two loving parents, where every meal was like a Thanksgiving feast while Jasper had to steal food just to survive. Just then a thought occurred to him and his eyes widened as he sat up excitedly.
“Jasper, you’re amazing!” he exclaimed. Jasper blinked for a moment and his heart fluttered, a little taken aback by Henry’s sudden outburst.
“Um, thank you?” he replied, confused. Henry grabbed Jasper by the shoulders as he looked into his eyes, his lips curling into an eager smile.
“Seriously, thank you! You just gave me my first official decree as king!”
Meanwhile, deep within the woods...
Deep within the woods in a run down old cabin, sat a balding man at his desk where various beakers and papers were strewn about. He was mulling over his latest plan when a tall woman with short black hair appeared in the doorway.
“You rang?” she said smoothly.
“Yes, Lady Cohort,” he answered. “The time is almost upon us. The boy’s coronation is coming up soon.”
“Yes, sorcerer,” she replied. He stood up from his desk and turned to face her, a mischievous and malevolent smile on his face.
“The minute that boy gets his crown I’m going to take care of him, and finally reclaim what’s rightfully mine. Start getting things ready. It’s time to begin phase one.”