Editor’s note: Welcome to The Root’s Sunday series highlighting the best in black fiction writers: It’s Lit! Each week we’ll feature a new story across all genres—from Afrofuturism to those stories that will bring a tear to your eye.
Vibrantly glowing inside a dark hall, a small ball of fire burned suspended midair. The flaming orb bounced upward, lingering shortly, before landing in Princess Inara’s palm. Her brown eyes stared intently into the flame as if it were a mystical crystal ball.
Unfortunately, she found no answers to her problems hidden within the circular blaze.
It was the dead of night when the Princess walked the lonely hall. Her flowing chiffon nightgown swept the floor. Jet-black hair dangled below her waist lightly swaying with every step. Lost in thought, Inara tossed the ball into the air once more. It split in half and she easily caught both flaming orbs. A juggling act began.
It was a mindless activity as she effortlessly rotated the flames without looking. Their light cast dancing shadows across the barrel-vaulted ceiling and stained porcelain walls. A decorative blend of painted and digital portraits lined her path. Animated, they came to life as she passed.
Firelight flickered off of golden placards that detailed the royal lineage. The Princess’ ancestry however, held no interest for her. She hadn’t a glance to spare, not even for her mother, Queen Yura.
Perfectly captured, the Queen sat on a garden bench surrounded by lush greenery. Sixty years had done nothing to diminish her beauty. She absolutely radiated elegance.
Her digital image was set in motion and Yura plucked a budding flower. It instantly bloomed inside the Queen’s hand. A soft breeze kissed her cheek and a warm smile graced her lips. The sight normally held the attention of most, but not tonight.
A few steps further Inara completely ignored her brother. Prince Jordan, bordered by an ornate platinum frame, had a permanent smolder as he descended a winding staircase inside the royal banquet hall. Most found the thirty-five-year-old playboy irresistible. Inara didn’t have that problem.
Her pace began to slow as the weight of her thoughts became heavier. She’d always relied on intuition to help guide her actions. Its current message was simple: be afraid.
She was. So much so, that her mind wouldn’t allow her a moment’s peace. Round and round the flames floated above her head when suddenly, one was snatched away.
“Who’s there?” she calmly demanded.
From the darkness at the end of the hall, King Mason appeared, the flame burning brightly in his open hand. Crowned with a full head of white hair, wrinkles crowded the King’s kind eyes. His heavy robe hung open revealing satin pajamas.
“Father,” she smiled warmly greeting him.
Mason made a fist extinguishing the fire. “Another sleepless night?” he worried. “This is becoming a habit.”
Inara snuffed the final flame with her fingertips. Moonlight spilled in from an adjacent window perfectly framing her body. Unlike her brother, the Princess lacked confidence in her looks. Of average height, heels were a staple of her wardrobe. A sharp nose and high cheekbones naturally lent to her royal persona, but kept her from ever being labeled as cute. That is, by everyone except her father.
Though sorry for the worry she saw in his eyes, there was nothing she could offer to ease it. “The winds of change are moving,” she warned him. “Something bad is coming. I can feel it.”
“If it does, we’ll deal with it together,” he assured her. “Until then, stop worrying yourself to death. God help us if your brother is left to inherit the throne. He may be older but hardly wiser.”
The King’s expression soured at the mere thought. Inara however had considered that very scenario many times over. Her brother had his flaws, but growing up she never doubted that he would be heir to the throne.
The entire province had shared her sentiment and was left gaping in disbelief when the King announced his successor. Mason hadn’t felt the need to explain, not even to her, and the Prince became an instant subject of gossip and ridicule. His shaming caused a lasting rift between the siblings.
Two years into serving as part of The Royal Council, Inara had adjusted to her role as a provincial leader. Still, at thirty, she felt far from ready to rule the world.
Mason gently cupped his daughter’s chin. The windows to her soul revealed a heavy heart. “Do the province a favor, stop wandering the halls and get some rest,” he advised.
Though her father’s assurance did nothing to calm her rattled nerves, a soft smile signaled her agreement.
Mason planted a light kiss atop her forehead, “Good night then.” He continued on without her but turned back shortly after. “Oh, and how many times have you been told not to play with fire in the house?” With a twist of his wrist he conjured a powdery snowball, “Much safer.”
Mason blew on the fluffy sphere and a small storm of tiny snowflakes engulfed the princess. Inara spun swatting the snow annoyed, “Father!”
The King’s laughter echoed from around a corner as he departed. Left alone, The Princess neared a tall window. She pensively stared out at her kingdom.
City lights of a thriving metropolis created a picturesque skyline. Azura, capital of the four Celestial Isles of Canaan, was truly magnificent to behold. Home to the province’s elite, the royal mansion was positioned at its core.
Tips of skyscrapers extended high into the heavens. They peeked out from above the clouds. Moonlight reflected off the windows of towering condos and office buildings. Motorways, six hundred feet in the air, weaved through the capital creating a great stone snake in the sky.
Solar powered lunar orbs floated in straight rows lighting every street. The capital’s smooth grounds, paved with gold, glittered in the light of the moon. The air was crisp and immaculately clean—totally free of pollutants. Those who breathed it were privileged, but any dreamland could become a nightmare.
Inara felt the rising dread of such a fate tightly gripping her heart. She clutched her chest from its unrelenting hold.
Something was surely coming.
Tara Knight, author of Beyond the Blue, has created a riveting tale packed with deception, royal corruption, murder, mystery and love. In Book One: A Journey Through the Heavens, a hidden celestial kingdom faces its greatest adversary as a paladin from beyond the blue uncovers a secret that could unravel their very existence. The book is currently available on Amazon.com. Knight is managed by Kailey Marsh Media.