Alone in the woods at night, Tel’Annas shoots an arrow designed with a special arrangement of feathers into the sky. It whistles fiercely in the wind, and before the noise dies down, Zill shows up in front of her. Under the moonlight, she can see that he is no longer the little boy that she used to know; he has grown into a young man. Faint lines tracing the muscles on his chest are beginning to appear, and the innocence on his face has been replaced by aloofness and sternness, like the wind itself, not bound by anything.
“You haven’t come for a while,” he says, though no trace of anger or disappointment can be detected on his face; he is happy enough that she is here this moment.
“I’m sorry,” Tel’Annas sighs. “Preparing for the initiation ceremony is draining the life out of me.”
“Not excited to be an adult?”
Before today, Tel’Annas would have laughed over Zill’s tease, yet right now all she can think about is how all this might end soon. When she was a little girl, there was not much meaning behind this so-called “duty” and “responsibility” to her. She could get away from problems as easy as she got away from the guards that tried to stop her from escaping the palace.
But now Tel’Annas looks away from Zill. There might be something much bigger to care for.
“I’m just tired, that’s all.” She reveals an apologetic smile.
“I know just the place to go.”
Zill lets Tel’Annas hop onto his back and, for the hundredth time, carries her through the wind and across the forest. They arrive at a creek. The sound of water flowing through the rocks gradually calms Tel’Annas down. She takes off her boots and treads silently, enjoying the pale light of the moon on her skin, the touch of the damp grass beneath her feet, and the company of Zill by her side.
“Is something on your mind?” They grew up together; if Tel’Annas is troubled, Zill’s the first to notice.
“I’m…just thinking that from now on I might visit you less,” she answers honestly. “I will have a ton of things to learn after the ceremony.”
“Like managing the country—preparing for the day when I take it over for my father.”
“Is that what you want to do?” He tilts his head towards her.
“It is my duty,” she says while staring straight ahead.
“So you are not happy with it.”
“That’s not what I said,” she grumbles. “It has nothing to do with whether I’m happy or not, it’s a responsibility that I have to fulfill as a princess, and one day, a queen.”
“I know you, Tel. You have the brightest smile, but only when you are here in the forest, relaxing, having fun.” Zill sounds confused and does not notice the subtle twist of Tel’Annas’s eyebrows. “Why should you sacrifice yourself for the sake of others?”
She looks at him as if she cannot believe what he has said. “Because no one is alone in the world, Zill. We are all born with responsibility of some sort, some heavier, some lighter. Sure, you might be able to roam freely in the sky because you are born of wind. But I am born destined to be the leader of this country one day.”
“You are chained by your blood.”
“My people depend on me. And yes, this burden might be hard to bear, but once I see them living a good life, I will be more than grateful and honored to be their queen.”
They both stop at the same time and turn to face each other.
“So you take care of them, and what about yourself?” There is frustration in Zill’s voice. “When you have lost your freedom, your happiness, even your life at your own discretion, who will be there to take care of you?”
Tel’Annas feels the dampness gradually soak into her socks. She is getting tired of trying to make Zill understand her difficulties.
“It’s your decision. Don’t live your own life for them, Tel, live it for you.”
“You don’t understand. I have to.”
As if struck by a final blow, Zill raises his arms in the air to show that he has given up. “You’re right, I don’t. I don’t understand your duty at all, and I don’t understand why you have to be responsible for others when you can’t even be responsible for yourself in the first place.”
If she had had her bow and arrow, she might have shot Zill then. Tel’Annas senses her face reddening in fury; yet at the same time, the anger burns her so hard that it makes her want to cry.
He is such a fool.
“I won’t try to change your mind, Zill, but I hope one day you’ll come to see things my way.” She bents to pull on her boots. “And there’s one thing you’re absolutely wrong about: I was never happy because I was spending time resting in the forest.
“I was happy because I was spending time with you,” Tel’Annas says before she stomps away in the direction of her home.