A Touch of Gold by Jada Dean

The wooden paintbrush is rough on my fingers as I add more red paint to the flames on my canvas. Gently, I make strokes that give the fire more personality. I slowly move across my canvas as I give the fires more red. Once I realize I’ve reached every flame, I hold the paintbrush to my side as I take steps back. I’m making great time for this commission! My eyes follow the details of the wrecked kingdom, now with flames adorning the buildings within the stone walls. Closer to the viewer, on a hill, sits a girl. She’s on her knees and she faces the destroyed kingdom. From the canvas’ perspective, we cannot see her face, but it’s obvious she’s upset. Well, I’ll make it obvious. She’s only a light sketch right now, but I’ll make her full of color and emotion. 

I’ll start with her now. The poor girl. Her kingdom was invaded by vikings in the dead of night. She was probably fast asleep when they started the attack. My mind starts to think about the colors I’ll need to mix to put ruffles and shadows into her gown.

My hands work the red out of the brush as my eyes suddenly shift to a nice, gold paint. That’s right! A new paint shop opened up right near my house a few days ago. The nice old lady behind the counter saw me eying up the gold paint. I still don’t know why she let me take one for free. I would’ve paid for it. Ah, but there’s no reason to complain, now. 

The gold perfectly matched the color needed for the princess’s hair. I lean over and grab the golden paint. I open it and squeeze some out on a clean spot on my palette. This paint may not compare to her hair’s actual beauty, but it will suffice. I lift my cleaned paintbrush to the gold. I get the paint right on the point of the brush. I need to make light, delicate strokes to replicate the texture of hair. 

Einin Daidre, the princess of the kingdom of Daidre. She is the only survivor of the Daidre Kingdom invasion. No one else is said to have gotten away. Historians were clueless on how she was able to get out. She escaped and then seeked asylum in the surrounding kingdoms. She was given shelter and taken care of. She’s widely acknowledged to be the greatest alchemist of all time. She founded many schools on alchemy and helped with the normalization of magic users. It makes sense for a painting of her to be commissioned by a school of alchemy. The paint slips from the brush, laying on the canvas as I make more strokes. The touch of gold is a beautiful contrast to the dark background of night. 

Suddenly, the canvas stretches in front of me and wraps around my hand. “Ahh!” I shriek. I stare in disbelief and terror as the canvas takes more of my arm. I feel pressure for a moment, and then the canvas pulls in my arm with great force. My whole body is sucked into the painting. 

I feel weightless, but cold. My eyes are closed, but I can tell where I am is bright. Very bright. I don’t want to blind myself, so I opt to not open my eyes. What’s happening? Where am I? Why did the painting want me? The bright light turns darker, and suddenly, I can feel the ground under my side. I open my eyes. I see grass. I sit up and look around. I’m greeted by wide, curious green eyes. “Are you alright?” I heard from the woman. 

“Ah, yes,” I responded. My eyes focus and I can see the yellow tones of her golden hair. I look down and notice the outfit on her figure. “Princess Einin Daidre?” I ask. 

“It seems I’m at a disadvantage. You know my name, yet I don’t know yours,” she says. What? Is this real? My stomach drops. Did I really just time travel to the 800’s? Is this before or after the invasion? My head starts hurting. “Well? Can you tell me your name?” she asks. 

“Yes, sorry. My name is Leia White,” I responded. She eyes me up and down. 

“Your attire is funny. Women don’t wear pants. And is that paint?” she asks. She leans down and shows her hand to me, awaiting a response and for me to take her hand. 

“Yes. I’m a painter,” I say, thinking about what I should and shouldn’t tell her. I grab her hand and she helps me onto my feet. 

“Usually people don’t just fall out of the sky. What happened to you?”

“Ah, exactly that, it seems,” I pause at her confused face, “Well, what are you doing here, Princess?” 

“I shouldn’t be out here, I know. My father always gets angry when I leave the stone walls. As a child, they seemed so protective, but lately, it feels like a prison. It’s been a few years since I’ve come of age, but my family was comfortable when that happened, so they allowed me more time for myself before marrying me. They plan to do that soon, but I do not want to be taken to a different kingdom. I don’t feel a want to marry or to bare children,” she rants. She takes a deep breath. 

“You seem to have a lot on your mind. Do you usually come out here when you feel overwhelmed?” I ask. My eyes travel around her face. Her cheekbones are prominent, but her face isn’t thin. Her eyes are a beautiful almond shape and her eyebrows perfectly match her facial structure. Her lips are full and curved with a light pink hue. She’s light skinned, the color is close to a warm ivory shade. She’s… beautiful. I feel my cheeks start to flush. 

“Yes. All the time. I apologize. I shouldn’t have said so much to a stranger. I’m sure you have difficulties with your own life to worry about. It feels nice to just… talk,” she says. 

“I agree,” I say. My eyes start to wander our surroundings. That’s when I notice where we are. The hill I painted on the canvas is behind us, the stone walls of the kingdom are spread in front of us. 

“My family is always telling me to make new relationships. They say it’ll help get my name around to available men. Since we’re a vassal kingdom, I’m not required to marry a prince, but they would like me to marry a rich merchant or artisan,” she pauses, “Say, how about you come back with me and have supper with us? I can get you into proper attire as well. I have a few dresses that might fit you,” She says. 

“If your father doesn’t mind, I don’t mind,” I responded. 

“As long as you talk about all the available men you know, I’m sure he won’t,” she says. We start to walk towards the open gate of the kingdom. Anxiety still grips at me, but it feels better now that I’ve made a friend. She puts her hood up as we enter the stone walls, hiding her golden locks. I don’t think that matters, though. People might not stare because she just covered herself up, but they will stare because of a woman in pants. Eyes follow us as we make our way through the townspeople and their buildings. I loved learning about feudal times, but seeing it is so different. 

“I know a shortcut to the castle. Come with me, Leia,” she says as she nods towards a path between two stone buildings. The stone clicks under my worn work boots. Surely, it isn’t a good idea to show so many people such modern clothing. I’m weirdly looking forward to being in something time-accurate. 

We cut through a worn path, away from the buildings, but still in the walls. “So, you’re a painter. There aren’t too many women artisans in the village. I have particular tastes in what decorations are in my room. I pick on my father. He doesn’t enjoy paintings like mom did. Ever since she passed, it seems he’s actually grown a distaste for paintings. Her passing makes me love them even more,” she says. 

“Your mother passed? How so?” I ask. I’ve always been taught that Einin lost both parents in the invasion. I guess history class isn’t always accurate. 

“We’re not quite sure. She died in her sleep two years ago. I still visit her memorial every so often. I miss her,” her voice is soft, and holds sadness. 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say. We start to climb the last few steps up to the castle. It’s beautiful. Flags and torches adorn the entrance. The princess puts down her hood and the guards open the door. I follow her lead as we go through stunning medieval architecture. I try to match her pace as I stare at every wall and furniture. I don’t wish to be a woman of this time period for obvious reasons, but damn is this architecture delightful!

We reach another, smaller door. A knight stands near us. Einin smiles at me as she opens the door and invites me inside. Her room is cozy. A nice breeze comes through her open window. She opens a big dresser. It’s taller than both of us. She pulls out a light blue colored dress that looks similar to hers. “I think this color will do you justice,” she says as she hands me the outfit. She takes a few steps back and sits on a chair in front of her window. 

The warm rays of the setting sun fall on her golden hair. Her shadow is casted from the window towards me and the rest of the room. Her figure is outlined by light. Again, I feel mesmerized by how beautiful she is. I have to keep reminding myself that the invasion is still something that has to happen. What day is it? What day will it happen? How long will I be here until I’m able to return? I audibly sigh at my situation. 

“Are you alright?” she asks, looking at me. 

“Yes,” I responded. 

“So… tell me the truth, you’re not from around here, are you?” she asks. My heart stops. I pause before responding. 

“No, I’m not,” I say. 

“Where are you from, then? I saw you fall and I know that smell that lingered on you when I helped you up. Are you a magic user?”

“A magic user? No, no. I think magic was used on me, though. I’m actually from the future, you see. The time we know you from is called the 9th century. I’m from the 21st century,” I pause, “How do you know the smell of magic?” She blushes and looks down. 

“I’m a magic user,” she confesses. 

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” I say. 

“My dad is ashamed of it. Magic users are outcasts and are abandoned. Both of my parents don’t understand how two non-magic users created one,” she says. “Well, I have a secret. I’ve been practicing on my own since I was smaller. I steal bottles and ingredients from the kitchen to help. I seem to be more of an alchemy-attuned magic user. I don’t get along well with wands and spoken spells.”

Suddenly, we hear commotion coming from the window. Yelling, screaming. We both rush to the window. Down below in the village we see fire and smoke. Something slithers between two buildings. The princess gasps. “A beast,” she says. The creature comes more into view. No wings adorn its body. 

“Vikings,” I say. That’s a viking dragon. A modern take on dragon’s gave it wings and legs. Vikings saw dragons as very, very large snakes. Einin shifts her body and peers down from her window. The front entrance of the castle has been blown open. They’re already inside. 

“They have magic users on their side. It seems many of them used polymorph to band together to make that beast,” I feel her start to shake. “I knew I’d see her again, but not this soon,” she says. She’s talking about her mother. Didn’t she get out of this? She already lived through this. She seems to be freezing up. I need her to help us escape, but how? We can’t leave through the entrance. Any other exit would be on the first floor, which is covered with vikings. Think! Think! I look around the room. No cloth is long enough to help us down, no window is low enough for a safe jumping distance, and there’s no weapons. 

I look at her. An idea clicks. “You said you’ve been practicing? Is there a potion that can teleport us out of here? Is there a spell?” I shake her when she doesn’t respond. 

“Y-Yes, of course, but it’s a spoken spell. I don’t have the ingredients for the potion equivalent. Spoken spells don’t usually work for me,” she says with a sad tone. 

“It’s okay. Tell me. I might not be magic, but I’m sure it’ll help if we say it together,” I say. 

“Okay… it’s worth a try. The spoken spell is chanting a phrase over and over again. You can’t just say it. You need to feel it. Put your soul into the words and the magic will do everything else. We need to think of a place while we chant. How about the hill where we met?” she says, “Are you ready?”

“Sure,” I say. 

“I’ll start,” she says. She grabs both of my hands and closes her eyes. I close mine. “I’m where I wish to be. To the Mother, I plead. Guide me to being free.” She repeats herself again. I listen closely to every word. On the third time, I joined in. We say the chant a few times. Suddenly, a cold wind sweeps at us. Einin hugs me. I open my eyes. A familiar sight reaches me. 

“Princess,” I say. She unlinks herself and looks where I’m looking. She lets out a harrowing scream. I move to comfort her, but my foot doesn’t budge. I look down. The grass has morphed to take my foot. “Princess!” I yell. She turns to me with teary eyes as the grass pulls my lower half into itself. 

“Leia!” she gets on her knees, “You’re going back home!”

“Not yet…” I struggle, my hands pulling at the surrounding grass. Einin is still in danger. I want to see her safe. 

“It’s okay. Return to your home,” she says, solemnly. She puts a strand of hair behind my ear. I feel pressure on my legs and I get sucked into the ground. It’s bright and cold again. Soon enough, I’m back in my painting room. My eyes reach the familiar canvas. 

I stare at the painting. My mind thinks back on what happened before it took me back in time. I was finishing the red of the flames when… the paint. The gold paint. My face turns to the golden paint in the bottle. That paint… the old lady. I sprint away from the painting, make my way downstairs and out the front door of my apartment. My legs follow the way down to the paint shop. I burst open the door and make my way to the counter. The old lady is behind the counter, turned around, looking at paint supplies. 

“Ma’am,” I say, hoping to get her attention. The lady jumps, startled. She slowly turns around. “Ma’am, I don’t know if you rem–” my heart stops. Those eyes. Those green eyes. I’d recognize them anywhere. 

“Are you alright?” Einin echos her younger self.

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