When Nico summoned her, he gave her no choice but to obey, and she appeared at his side in front of the great hall. The doors were closed, but the sound of revelry still reached them. So many people. From all over the kingdom and beyond.
They had come here tonight to welcome the prince back home, but they would also be there to witness her presentation. Laughter rang clear over the strains of music. The jugglers were performing in the corners, she knew, but the center of the room was for dancing. There would be long tables lining the walls, laden with food and so many torches and candelabras that it would seem like daylight.
Nia knew exactly how it looked. She’d seen the preparations of the great feast.
Movement in the corner of her vision had her spinning to face the tapestries. She just caught sight of something small before it ran off again. Nia followed its mad flight to the main castle door.
There, standing in shadow, was a whole family of them. Wispy creatures, childlike in stature, their overlarge eyes the color of gemstones. They watched her and whispered, and the vines growing out of their heads like hair spread wildly around them as if for cover.
“Seedlings,” Nico said. “They’ve come to see you take the crown.”
“What crown? I’m a wizard, not a queen.”
“To them that is precisely what you are. Their rulers and guardians will look to you when there is need, not Saeran. They will seek your magic. Humans cannot see creatures Other unless they make themselves seen. They have their own kingdoms and lands within Wilderheim and they rarely concern themselves with human affairs unless something we do encroaches on their well being. When it does, we…you will be their intermediary.”
Nia’s eyes widened. “You never told me this!”
“I never expected I would need to,” he said and while she recognized the truth in his word, she also heard there was something he was holding back. “They never appeared to me. Not in all my years. This is a great honor, Nia.”
The seedlings blinked their big eyes and melted into the walls. But they opened Nia’s Sight to all the rest. Everywhere she looked creatures large and small appeared for just a moment and then hid from her once more. Tall, regal Sidhe glided in pools of torchlight, away from the shadows. Winged creatures perched in the rafters, their talons digging grooves into the wood. Animal spirits with wise eyes roamed the hallways, watching her with suspicion. Shadowy forms moved across the floors, horned things with tails like snakes. They hissed words she couldn’t understand, but the sound of it sent chills up her spine.
“There are so many.” There one moment, gone the next. In an instant the hall was empty again, and Nia was so terrified she couldn’t move. “I don’t think I can do this,” she managed to say. “I cannot be the royal wizard. Please don’t make me do this.”
“You can and you must,” Nico insisted. “Now look at me. There’s a lass. Help will never be far for someone like you, Nia. You have friends and allies all around you. All you need to do is call out to them, and they will come to your aid. But you must do this.”
“It is too much.”
“It will never be less. Only more.”