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I released a deep sigh. This storm couldn’t last forever, I hoped. A faint sound fell to my keen ears. Who would be walking the castle at this time of night? All should be asleep and the guards posted at the main entrances.

I yanked my sword free and spun to face my attacker.

“You know, a healer could make you a potion to cure your jitters.” Standing just outside my doorway unfazed by my brazen attempt to protect myself was my long-time friend, Mecca Begron. He smiled widely quite amused by me aggressively pointing my sword in his direction. I had to look ridiculous. “We don’t want you to go stabbing the maid…accidently of course.”

“Shut up, Mecca,” I barked feeling embarrassed and annoyed. I wished it had been some assailant sent to attack me. I needed the practice. For a moment, I thought about smacking him in the face with the blunt side of my blade just to cure his sarcasm, but it was one of his very few redeeming qualities.

Instead, I stowed my sword at my side and turned back to face the quickly darkening view out my window. Many of the torches around the castle had succumb to the winds and been extinguished.

I rested my thin fingers upon the icy-cold stone window sill. A shiver flowed up my hands, through my arms and into my body. It set in deeply, nearly to the bone. This winter was affecting me more severely than any before.

“Persistent isn’t it?” Mecca groaned as he now stood beside me. His smile was gone. It had been replaced by concern.

I didn’t respond, nor did I need too. Mecca knew what I was thinking. We had been friends since childhood. We had developed a unique sense of one another’s emotions. He was very aware of how restless I had become lately.

“Do you feel that?” I asked.

“Yah, it’s really cold,” Mecca jokingly replied as the wind burst into the room and ruffled his jacket. He pulled it closed again.

I frowned. My white-hair flowed with the stiff breeze catching Mecca’s attention. I normally wore it pulled back and tied away from my face.

He reached out and pushed it away from my shoulder.

I shot him a disapproving glare. Mecca shook his head and gave a half-smile as he scoffed at me.

“You know, this is why you don’t have any friends, Grace.”

“You’re my friend, Mecca.”

“Ah, yes, I am.”

I was confused by his response. He didn’t sound so sure.

“What did that mean?”

“Well, I have known you for a long time. I’ve grown to understand you.”

“Understand me?” I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like the response to my latest question.

“Grace,” Mecca started to become uncomfortable.

“What, Mecca? Understand me how?”

“You’re just not…friendly toward others. You make them all…scared.”

“Scared? But, my job is to protect them! Why would they be scared of me?” I suddenly realized that I was yelling, as Mecca put his hands out in an attempt to defend himself from my verbal attack.

We remained silent for a moment as I stewed in my anger. The wind continued to howl through the open window. My cheeks were now on fire from the burn, and my ears began to ache.

“You did pull a sword on me earlier,” Mecca spoke softly.

A smile crept upon my face. “I’m sorry about that. I have just been on edge lately.”

Mecca began to chuckle. His laughter grew with each second until it had become unruly. It was one of the greatest sounds in Mistasia. His laugh could change the mood of an entire hall. Elves would flock to him when he began to tell stories, because they knew he would start laughing at some point. It was infectious. It was why he had ascended to my second in command. He was a warrior they followed out of respect and admiration. I was the leader they feared, mostly because I had a tendency to pull out weapons for no apparent reason…like tonight.

He placed one arm around my shoulder, then reached out and closed the shutters upon my window. His strong arm pulled me in close. Mecca was like a brother to me.

“Grace, everyone respects you.”

“They love you, Mecca.”

“You are our leader. They don’t have to love you. They must follow you.” Mecca pulled me in as closely as possible. He stood nearly a full head taller than me with thick blonde hair and a strong jaw. He was smiling again. Mecca was never short on smiles.

I, on the other hand, was never short on worry; about the queen, about protecting the castle, about Mistasia, and most recently about my new friend, Michael “Whizzy” Whizzenmog. It had been sometime since he had returned to his world along with his twin sister, Rachel, and best friend Phillip Harper, but suddenly his image haunted me. It was one of the many reasons why I hadn’t been sleeping. I had gladly accepted the queen’s request to monitor them in Greenville last night, but it hadn’t helped my mood any. Only a few hours of sleep a day will do that to you.

“You need some rest, Grace. That is all.” Mecca attempted to comfort me.

I shook free of his grasp. “I’ve tried.” I grumbled after moving to sit atop my bed.

Mecca sat beside me, the look of concern had returned to his face. It was not his best look. I preferred his smile.

“What is keeping you awake? Nightmares?”

I nodded, but felt silly replying.

“It’s the fox again.” Mecca’s voice grew stern.

Mecca disapproved of my friendship with Whizzy. I started to walk away, but he grabbed my arm and pulled me back.

“Stop walking away from me, Grace.”

“I’m not talking to you about it!” I barked.

“Then who will you tell? I’m your only friend!”

He instantly regretted those words. I could see it in his eyes, but my anger flowed too quickly. I shot up from the bed and screamed at him, “GET OUT!” I pointed to the doorway with one hand and grabbed the hilt of my sword with the other. “You know I’ll use it.”

Mecca stopped in the doorway with his back to me, “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what, Mecca? Hurting my feelings?”

Mecca started to speak when I interrupted him.

“You’re not my only friend, Mecca.”

“Whizzy will bring you only pain, Grace.”

“Good night!” I slammed the heavy wooden door.

I began pacing across the floor, fists balled in anger at my side. I had taken my sword off to avoid any unfortunate incidents…actually, I was afraid Mecca would return to apologize, and I would jab him with it.

There was a knock at my door. I stopped pacing and stared at the closed door flabbergasted. Twice in one night he comes to my door. Mecca, so help me. I looked at the sword lying across my bed and thought better of retrieving it. Instead, I opened the door unarmed.

To my surprise, standing there was Queen Merran Cadieux.

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