If she had her way, she would slaughter every one of them.
"Look at her hair! What a horrendous color! Do you even brush it? I bet the King pays him to look at you."
"You can tell her father has no money, that dress would be a rag in my house!" The tallest one grabbed the end of Morgana's sash and she heard the thin fabric tear as she pulled away.
"Pity your mother died so young. I am sure even with her base manners she would've made you into something like a lady."
Children are keen to the weakness of their peers and their precise attacks can be brutal on the psyche. At seven, Morgana was privy to the daily taunts and leers by jealous daughters of dukes and marquises. When their beloved fathers were diligent in their noble work, they relished in the embittered tears flowing down Morgana's cheeks. Her fists remained ivory weights at the end of her arms, clenched quivering with the preservation of her reputation. She would never take the bait of their indignity. She would never dishonor her Prince by giving into that temptation.
She did not figure herself ugly, but she also could not deny the effect of sparkling gems and expensive fabric to enhance a girl's allure. Though by no means poor, her father's wealth was pennies compared to the most elite in the kingdom. They could insult her late mother all they wanted. She knew her mother had been one of the most beautiful and respected women in the city, even if she barely remembered her.
"It's not really your fault, Morgana." This last voice was different from the others, it was sweet and endearing without the subtlest hint of malice. "We just don't want to see you get hurt, you see? I know you're not familiar with every little rule of etiquette, and after all, why should you be? Most of it is very burdensome. The Prince is an honorable man in an honorable kingdom. It's just good manners to be polite to you, especially given your circumstances. It's just how men of his stature are supposed to treat people, and you shouldn't take it for more than that. Don't you see? You'll only get hurt."
The other girls had stopped laughing and stood solemnly beside their leader. Morgana could feel the choking ball of pain in her throat and hated the way it sat there, burning and constricting. She hated the way she could not control it, the way her tears came even when she swore they would not. They watched as she struggled, and then there was payoff. Morgana's rage burst forth in one high, frustrated scream that shook her face as she pressed her fists to her temples. She turned from them and ran away as fast as she could, her bawling drowned by the laughter of her adversaries.
He found her sobbing in the palace garden with her dress torn, the loose fabric balled up in her hands.
"It's not true!" she said. The young Prince Endymion sat beside her and put an arm around her, drawing her near. She fell into him. They had been inseparable friends from their youngest days. Her social status as the daughter of a nobleman was effectually lower than the girls who regularly courted the Prince's affection. Due to their father's fraternal bond, she was privy to closeness with the royal family that embittered her foes.
In truth, she was mournfully in love with him. Her affection for him brought pain past that which her tormentors imagined. What if their words were true? Though cruel, the other girls were richer, prettier, and by all accounts of the times, much more likely to be his Princess. She knew they could be right, but in moments like this, she could pretend she was not so plain. In his arms, she could imagine she was his one true love, forever.
As they grew older, his time with her became sparse. He managed to meet her occasionally for walks in the garden to lament his schooling and the pressures of being a royal heir. Her cheeks always flushed when he offered his arm but he never seemed to notice. She usually remained silent while he spoke, taking in each word like a sweet sip of joy as it fell from his lips. His lips were a fine place to focus, as she could not bear to look for long into his cobalt eyes.
It was on her sixteenth birthday that he gave her a most unexpected gift. She had never been accustomed to receiving anything from Endymion and was always content in the time she could spend near to him. He gave her a golden locket, shaped like a star with a delicate rounded latch on top. Under the cover, a golden heart circled a brilliant pink gem on an ocean blue background. It played a magical melody.
"It's a pink beryl," he told her. "I learned about them. It's called Morganite, almost like you."
Her heart wavered for a moment and then she knew: it was time.
She launched herself into an embrace. Instead of resting her left cheek on his shoulder as she ordinarily would, she lifted her chin to his face and looked straight into his eyes. Her face turned crimson as she thrust her lips to his. She felt faint as his hand wrapped around her lower back to pull her closer.
At last, she mused, he is mine.
Their sporadic days together were blissful. Occasionally, she would attend formal events by his side. Now respectful women of the court, her childhood foes could only seethe with envy if their paths happen to cross. She indulged herself in their polite manners and cold, forced smiles but stopped short of thanking them for their advice those many years ago. When she could not be with him, she spent her time making things for him. The Prince had more scarves and mittens than any respectful man should own. Per their own tradition, they usually met in the garden where they would find the most privacy.
They were very happy and often chatted about their future. It was during of these conversations that Morgana felt most fortunate, knowing that her Prince was also planning their days together. To remind her of their bond, she usually carried the star locket, taking comfort in its promising melody. She hummed it while they walked together.
"Who's there?" he said, halting their steps and her song. Someone else was in the garden with them; he had heard their footsteps. "Stay here," he told her. Morgana clutched her hands at her chest as she watched Endymion turn the corner. She waited for only a few seconds before she could no longer bear the silence. She peered around the corner.
Endymion was crouched at the bottom of a rising set of stairs. On the rise ahead, a marble fountain shaped like an angel with four wings poured the clear water over a replica of the palace, a symbolic blessing of the kingdom. At first, she did not see why he had paused. Then she saw a set of wings move as a girl stepped out from behind the fountain. As quickly as she had noticed them, the wings vanished. The girl was very fair skinned with pale blond hair in two long, spiraling tresses. They flowed from a knot of a bun on either side of her head. Her crystal blue eyes were otherworldly.
Morgana had not realized those eyes were looking into her own until she spoke.
"Hello," the girl said in a silvery voice, "My name is Princess Serenity."
Endymion turned to see Morgana standing in shock at the edge of the clearing. He soared from his position and ran back to her, placing his body in front of her while he drew his sword. "Trespasser!" he called out in his strongest voice. He heard a response to his call from a guard and the echoes of soldiers mobilizing. Serenity looked into his face and blushed, and then as if the breeze took her, she vanished. The guards arrived and surrounded the Prince and Morgana.
"She's gone," he said as he lowered his sword and spun to his love. "Are you all right?" he asked. "She didn't do anything to you, did she?"
Morgana shook her head. How could she have done anything when she had only spoken?
"I think it was one of them," Endymion said to the guards. "I will go tell my father. Come, Morgana." One of them, Morgana repeated to herself as she took quick steps by his side. That could only mean one thing: the people from the Moon. She had heard the fearful rumors of the Moon Kingdom. From what she knew, they were a threat to her planet as they tried to exert their own power on the people of Earth. Endymion will defeat any threat, she thought. She ran to keep up with him.
In the days after this strange event, the security around the castle increased exponentially. Fearing an invasion, the King had ordered all able-bodied men to arm themselves. The Prince was reluctant to walk in the gardens with Morgana. He begged her to stay in her quarters fearing she would be in harm's way if anything happened. For the same reason she wanted him to remain in the palace, but he was the captain of his company and she knew his place was defending his home. Patrols never ceased, day or night, and the tension was tangible for weeks.
There was no further sign of an invasion and the King began to call back some regiments. Endymion was convinced at what he had seen, but rumors began to circulate that something must have fooled the Prince. People suggested in quiet tones that it had been a trick of the light, someone playing a prank, or just the Prince's desire to show off his skills of command in an emergency. Morgana knew what she had seen. Serenity, whoever she was, had not been of this world. She comforted him, reaffirming his actions but the rumors persisted. He went from her room one night with a focused look on his face.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I have to see something," he replied. She watched his navy cape trail out her chamber door.
He was cautious as he approached the fountain in the garden. He was alone. The water flowed freely over the fountain and pooled into the deep marble basin. The light from the moon bounced off the rippling water and sent reflections across his face. Endymion's sword was drawn. "Show yourself," he said. "I know you are here, Princess Serenity." In the silence, the night's chill seemed to subside for a moment as a wave warm filled the clearing. She materialized right in front of him. Her wings of light were only visible for an instant before they faded again into glittering dust.
He took a step back and brought his sword in front of him. "Why are you here?"
"I like your flowers," she professed. Endymion was not certain of her intentions. Was she trying to change the subject or was that her real reason for being here in the middle of the night? "I haven't seen anything so beautiful," she said. "They are more fantastic than I had ever imagined they would be." She took a few steps to the left and Endymion moved back quickly. Her slender, pale hand reached out and cupped the bottom of a crimson blossom and she bent slightly to inhale its scent. "What do you call it?" she asked.
Endymion was uncertain as to why he had even come to the garden. He had not actually expected to see her again. He was stunned when he heard himself say, "That is a rose."
She repeated the name to commit it to memory. Then she pointed to another, "And this one?"
"A jasmine," he replied.
They walked through the garden ten steps apart as Serenity pointed to each flower and Endymion introduced them as if they were dear friends making her acquaintance. Once she even smiled and held a leaf saying, "A pleasure to meet you, Iris!" He laughed, and she laughed. They passed through the local flowers and moved into the more exotic vines and blossoms. She asked questions about everything they passed. He forgot himself in the moment. He became more at ease and placed his sword back in his hilt. As he was standing face to face with her, their faces inches apart above a leopard orchid, he suddenly realized his situation.
"What spell did you cast over me?" he scowled as he stepped away from her. Instinctively, his hand went back to the hilt of his sword.
She was stunned but not slighted. Serenity knew very little about the people of Earth, but this man had a pure heart and she did not fear him. "I am sorry," she confessed. "I did not intend to make you uncomfortable. Your home is so beautiful and you know so much about it. You are very handsome. I like spending time with you."
He blushed deeply, conflicted by his surprise at her open compliments and by his uncertainty of her intent. She did not seem manipulative, only curious and perhaps a bit naive. Did she know that people of Earth would see her as a monster? It was hard to imagine this slender, angelic woman as having much power. Yet something about her beckoned his respect; it was as if he could sense in her a power greater than what appeared on the surface. Like the surface of the fountain reflecting the moonlight, perhaps her beauty masked her power's depth. He laughed a little at the thought.
She smiled and asked the question she had wanted to ask all along, "What is your name?"
"I am Prince Endymion," he said. Instinctively, he released his hand from his hilt and extended it to her, open. He half expected her hand to pass right through his, but she placed it into his palm and bowed her head slightly.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Endymion. That is by far the most beautiful name you've told me tonight." He looked into her eyes and knew he had given up his resolve to oppose her presence. In that moment he felt in his heart that she would do no wrong by him. Her touch was warm even though her skin was so fair. In her eyes, he could see something magical, something surreal. They stood hand in hand for a moment. Then,
"Endymion! Get away from her!"
Morgana had grown restless in her room. Something was terribly wrong. Endymion would never leave like that without an explanation, so she followed him. When she saw him reach out to that demon, she knew: he was possessed. She had to save him! Morgana clutched Endymion's wrist and pulled him away from Princess Serenity. She did not dare touch the girl for fear of the consequences, but she wanted to shove her and push her far away, back to the Moon. "How dare you come here?!" Morgana shouted. "You leave him alone, you witch!"
Princess Serenity's eyes brimmed with tears as she shook her head. Suddenly unsure of herself, she vanished without a word.
"Are you all right Endymion?" Morgana fussed, checking him over from head to toe. "It was her words that entranced you, right? That's what you told me she would do! I am so glad I followed you! Who knows what she might have done!"
"I'm all right," he said as if waking from a dream.
She began to guide him back to the palace, holding his arm tightly. "You should never come back to the garden alone," she said. He nodded, but his eyes were vacant. His mind was lost in the memory of her touch; it was a feeling as if he was on the edge of remembering something truly important that he had forgotten.
"I won't go back," he said, but he did not mean it.
The next night after Morgana was sound asleep, Endymion left the castle with instructions to his guards not to allow her to leave. If Princess Serenity was from the Moon then perhaps the people of Earth had been mistaken. If he could meet with her and talk with her, maybe he could forge a new relationship between the Earth and the Moon that would bring a peaceful future in which the two worked together to prosper. He did not want to go against Morgana's wishes, but he knew as a leader of Earth that he should not pass on an opportunity such as this chance at an alliance.
When he arrived at the fountain, he could not find her. He called to her a few times but did not want to shout or attract the attention of the guards. After a while, he gave up and sat on the edge of the fountain forlorn. Perhaps the other night had been too much for her and she had been scared off for good?
Just as he was considering returning to the castle and give up his democratic hopes, he felt a warm wave of energy wash over him. There beside him, Princess Serenity appeared.
"I'm sorry," she said. Her face was covered with signs of regret and fear. "I'm sorry I can't come here anymore." As she motioned to stand, he placed a hand on hers.
"Wait," he said, "can you tell me more about the Moon? I want to know more about where you are from."
Serenity shook her head. She was forbidden to come to Earth. Just being here now was something for which she knew her guardians would scold her. She also knew deep down that if she wanted to, she could probably get away with it, but that did not make it right. She felt there was too much about the Earth and its people that she did not know, and there was too much danger. This man, Endymion, had a life here on this blue gem of a planet. Who was she to disturb him with her curiosity?
"Please, stay and tell me about the Moon," he repeated. "I am sure from the Moon, the Earth must look very strange."
"Oh, it's very beautiful!" she gushed, and for the rest of the evening she talked about her home. It seemed to Endymion that her fickle heart was easily distracted.
They met nearly every night at the same time by the fountain. After talking about the Moon, they talked about Earth's kingdom. Then, they talked about music and art. Endymion asked about breathing on the Moon, but Serenity did not really understand the question. They talked about the phases of the Moon and Serenity was surprised to find the Moon looked slightly different each time they met. She knew the light on the Earth went through phases but she was surprised to see the same was true for her home. It also startled her that sometimes she could not even see the Moon. For her the Earth was always wavering in the sky.
Eventually they talked about their own personal lives. Endymion told her how he had met Morgana and how they were planning to marry. Serenity talked about her four guardians and her mother. Endymion was particularly interested in Queen Serenity. It sounded like she would be the one he would ultimately have to negotiate with should they work out some kind of treaty, but he tried not to talk politics with her. He got the sense that she would not follow him there anyway.
It was a few weeks later when their discussion about animals of Earth ran so long that the faintest hints of sunlight began streaking into the sky. "I better go," she said. He nodded. "I hope to see you again tomorrow. There is something very important I want to talk with you about."
As they rose from the fountain side, she did something she had never done before: she hugged him. At first, he did not return the gesture. Though they had developed a strong friendship, he was loyally in love with Morgana. As a compromise, he placed one hand on her shoulder. From the shadows of the hedge, Morgana's eyes flared. When she woke that morning to find Endymion was gone, she knew in her heart where he would be. She knew why he had been sleeping so late and why he had been so distracted. Worst of all, from the bits of their conversation she had just heard, he was clearly there by his own free will.
She seethed when he smiled and waved as Serenity vanished in the dawning light. She had no words for him. She turned from the sight with that old, burning ache in her throat. All the pain of her childhood came rushing back to her as she ran towards the castle. She was only a commoner, not fit for a Prince. Endymion was not in love with her; he only tolerated her because he was a noble man. She was worthless, ugly, and forgotten.
As she ran through the white palace halls, servants and guards stepped out of her path. She scaled the spiraling marble staircase to her bedroom and flung open the door. She grabbed the golden locket from her bedside and tore the cover off. The music began to play, but she threw it to the ground, jarring the cylinder inside and snapping the pins. She raised her heel and smashed it down on the crystal surface. Unsatisfied when the music continued, she grabbed a heavy book from her nightstand and fell to her knees, bringing the book down again and again on the splintering locket until only fragments of metal remained and the song was silent.
She left the palace immediately. She did not know where she was going and she did not care. She just wanted to be as far away from anything that could remind her of him.
Endymion had not seen her in the shadow of the garden. As he was walking toward the main gates, he saw her running towards him clutching the end of a bag over her shoulder. She was wearing a coat and hat and she was crying. "Morgana! What happened? Where are you going?"
"I hate you!" she screamed at him. "I hate you so much, and I never want to see you again! Ever!"
"Wait," he implored, suddenly understanding what she had seen, "I'm forging an alliance! It's not what it seems Morgana. I truly love you!" He walked towards her, but she pulled away from him with bitterness in her eyes. He had never seen that look on her face; it was like looking at a stranger.
"Don't touch me," she snarled. "I am never coming back!"
Endymion stared after her for a long time until she disappeared into the edge of the forest. Then he snapped out of it. "Morgana!" he cried, as he ran after her. Guards instinctively trailed him as he tracked through the forest but they could not find her. When they reached the main road, he could see a carriage off in the distance and he knew she must be on it. He ordered the carriage to be followed but by the time word was sent back to the castle, the path was untraceable. Endymion ran to her room where he found the locket. He scooped up its fragments into his palm and sobbed on his knees at its destruction. With orders not to disturb him for anything, he retreated to his quarters.
For days, he did not emerge. Servants came with food but he made no response. After two weeks, the King ordered his door to be unlocked. Endymion lay in his bed, unconscious and dehydrated. Doctors came to assess and treat his condition, but none of their methods seemed to help.
Princess Serenity appeared in the garden each night, unaware of what had taken place. At first, she assumed the Prince was otherwise busy with something important. After a few nights, she started to think that maybe he had been caught and that his father might have forbidden him to meet her. After weeks had passed she her concern grew to worry and she knew she had to find out more. Very quietly, in the middle of the night, she snuck out from the garden and made her way closer towards the castle. She had never dared to venture towards it in the past, but she had a foreboding sense that Endymion was in danger. She stood with her back against the palace stairs and listened to the two women that were speaking above.
"I can't believe nothing they have done is working," one woman said.
"It's as if he just doesn't want to be well again," the other replied.
"So sad," the first woman said with a sob, "I can't believe our prince is dying!"
Serenity's heart fell. That's impossible! Endymion could not be dying; he was very strong and healthy. Perhaps there was some evil hand at work. Determined to help, Serenity fled from Earth and returned to the Moon. She would not let whatever darkness was plaguing this castle take Endymion. She knew it was wrong, and she knew it was dangerous. She was very quiet as she tiptoed into her mother's chamber, very careful as she lifted the lid on a small but ornate box by her bedside. As she slipped from the room, a sliver of the light from Earth bounced off the faceted gem of the scepter she carried: the Moon Wand.
Of course, she was forbidden to use it, but Serenity had already made a habit of breaking the rules for him. She returned to the palace directly in his room. When she entered, the walls began to glow with the warm light from the crystal. His pale appearance frightened her and she feared for a moment that she was too late. Then she noticed the slight rise and fall of his chest. She went to his bed and held the wand out over him. Her hands were shaking; she knew the limitless power with which she was toying.
"Just a little," she said, more to the wand than to herself. "Please?"
The crystal's light grew steadily and it washed over Endymion's frail body. The fragments of the shattered locket lay beside him on the bed. Slowly, they also began to glow in the light of the crystal. Endymion's skin became luminescent. As the power of the crystal faded, color filled his cheeks and he began to breathe more deeply. He opened his eyes and saw Serenity's tear-filled eyes above him.
"I'm so glad," she said smiling.
During the next few weeks, Endymion continued to gain strength. His doctors could not explain it, but it seemed to all that a miracle had occurred! Serenity knew she could not appear in front of any of the other people of Earth so she stayed away from Endymion and the palace. However, she returned to the garden every night hoping that he would be strong enough to come.
One night, she sat on the fountain alone for hours. She felt something stirring inside and it told her to stay just a little longer as each hour passed. As the rays of sun began spilling onto the clouds above, she heard footsteps coming down the path. She hid behind the fountain.
"I can see your wings," he lied, smiling. Serenity blushed and stepped out from behind the fountain. Endymion looked strong and whole, handsome and healthy. She ran to him and embraced him tightly. This time, he returned the gesture in full. In his long days of recovery, he had frequently dreamed about Serenity. She was kind, curious and beautiful. He had not considered her to be anything more than a friend, but he felt she had sacrificed something for him. He was alone and she seemed to fill the cavern of that loneliness. Morgana was a painful, aching memory. He still cared deeply for her but she was gone.
The healing power of Serenity's magic had also restored the locket. As he released her from the embrace, he presented it to her. "I want you to have this," he said.
Serenity received the star shaped locket and let it rest in her palm. She lifted the latch and its beautiful melody spilled from its core. Across the face, a crescent moon circled around a light pink gem across a background of starry skies. "A starry sky music box," she said, "I will treasure it."
She stepped forward and lifted herself onto her toes. He touched her chin as they kissed for the first time.
Behind a garden pillar, Morgana blustered with resentment. She had heard that Endymion had fallen ill and immediately regretted having left his side, but to return to this! Her locket, her prince, in the arms of another woman was unforgivable! She shook with rage, clenching her fists as they walked away together. Then she fell to the ground trembling and sobbing uncontrollably. "Unforgivable!" she cried out, "Unforgivable!"
In the cold core of her heart, something was hardening. A voice, smooth and calming was calling out to her. "Morgana," it said, "he is cruel, he is not worthy of your love."
"No!" she shouted.
"Remember, he once truly loved you. Princess Serenity destroyed him. She caused you this pain! She brought you this suffering!" The laughter of the dark voice echoed in her head as she clenched her fists at her temples. "I am Metalia and I can help you serve your revenge! Accept me, Morgana, and you will never be powerless again!"
Morgana stood up slowly, using the pillar to support her. Her eyes flashed red as her lips curled into an unnatural and evil smile. Her face distorted as the power of Metalia flowed into her body, seeping into her soul and filling her with hatred. "Don't call me by that name," she snarled with fangs bared. "I am Beryl, future Queen of the Earth. Endymion is mine."