Dragon Day

A princess that's not a lady. A king that's not a gentleman. And a wedding that does not go according to plan.

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21. Proposal

Proposal

 

            Melaina didn’t emerge from her room the next morning. Alex saw the difference as soon as he stepped out onto the deck. The sailors were doing their jobs, joking around, but it wasn’t the same. The crow’s nest was empty. He wondered what Dain had said to her.

            Darya was on the deck with Gia. She had let Gia free, and the dragonling was jumping up and down, trying to catch the seagulls that flew dangerously close above their heads. It was a game for everyone. Alex walked up to Darya and stood next to her. The woman was a few years older than him, but knew so little about the world. He saw the way that she looked in wonder at everything around her, the pale-skinned people and the daily din of The Beast.

            “I’ve been alone for a long time,” she said suddenly. “It’s not that the color of their skin or this ship that surprises me. It’s that so many people can be together and be happy. I’ve forgotten that people can be this way. Little Marsh is nothing like this.”

            Alex knew that anyone who visited Little Marsh automatically hated the place. It was a beautiful town, small and rustic, bordered by a beautiful forest and mountain range on one side and a white sand beach on the other. But the beauty of the town did not nearly make up for the ugliness of the people.

            “Well, it seems it’s difficult for even two people to be happy together nowadays,” he thought out loud. He looked at the empty crow’s nest. It was impossible for them to be together, especially when she loved someone else.

            “Especially when they love someone else,” Darya whispered out loud.

            They both looked at each other once and smiled. Alex knew that the person she was in love with loved her back. It was just a matter of time before she got her happy ending. His story would just have an ending. It would end with her standing on the port of Murdock, waving goodbye to Dain, while he stood to the side on the ship, like the well-trained soldier that he was.

            “It’ll work out for you,” Alex said. “I promise.”

            “Who is that you love?” Darya asked.

            “A girl that I could never get, a girl that loves someone else,” Alex answered.

            “It’s not Melaina, is it?”

            Of course. He was so smitten it was obvious even to a woman he had met a day before. But Melaina remained clueless. She was in her room, probably dreaming about her love, while he cursed his bad luck in front of a woman who thought she was in the same boat.

            “She’s obviously in love,” Darya said weakly.

            “Yes, I know,” Alex said. “Don’t worry, I don’t plan on ruining anything for her. I want the best for her.”

            “You seem like a good person. I keep wishing for something to happen, something to change,” Darya admitted. “I want him happy, but I would much prefer that he be happy with me rather than someone else. Although I don’t deserve him at all.”

            “Good morning Darya,” Dain called out as he walked on to the deck. “Good morning, brother.”

            Darya quieted down immediately, wondering if he had heard her. He had. He leaned against the railing and took a deep breath of the salty air.

            “I love this smell, don’t you?” he asked. “Brings such character to the air.”

            Alex had no idea what he was talking about. It seemed that a little bit of the old Dain was back, bringing back with him all his nonsense and eccentricity. Character to the air, his foot. He knew that Dain rambled when he was nervous. He had rambled often in the previous years, at meetings and councils, at balls when he was in the presence of beautiful women. He rambled so much that people often thought him to be an idiot. He was smart, just nervous.

            He realized that Dain was about to tell her the truth, that he wasn’t getting married to Melaina. He smiled at the thought. Darya was getting her happy ending, or at least part of it. Melaina walked out of her room as he stepped down the stairs.

            “Your highness,” he said with a stiff bow. Melaina started at the sudden gesture. He was getting more distant by the day. He didn’t look her in the eyes and passed her by. She missed seeing his eyes, the impish twinkle in them that sometimes stood out even when he had a perfectly serious face. It was torture, she decided. It was cruel of him to cut off all ties of their friendship and become a stranger again.

            He saw the shock in her face as he passed her by. It felt horrible to not speak to her, but there was a small satisfaction in knowing that she cared for him in some small way, if not in the way that he wanted. He bounded down the corridor, eager to get back to his room.

            She finally snapped. She couldn’t believe that he was being so rude. If he would break the rules of decorum and etiquette, she would break those rules for him. She ran after him, just as he was passing by Dain’s room. Taking his arm, she led him into the room and closed the door.

            “What do you think of yourself?” she asked him.

            He balked at her, and then at the closed door, “Your highne-”

            “No, none of that ‘your highness’ nonsense, tell me. What is wrong?”

            “Dain,” he whispered.

            “Dain’s not a proble-”

            He covered her hand before she could say more. He heard the heavy footfalls and the ones that followed them. Dain was bringing Darya into the room. It wouldn’t be good if he found his room already occupied. Spying the closet he led her into it, and closed the door just as Dain entered.

            “What are you doing?” she hissed at him. He placed his hand tightly over her mouth again, signaling with his finger to be silent.

            Dain took a seat on the chaise and offered Darya a seat.

            “You don’t know how grateful I am,” she said. “I didn’t expect that you would let me come with you after I told you the truth.”

            “You helped me, Darya. I was just returning the favor. It’s thanks to you that I’m alive today.”

            “Well, I wouldn’t say that. Melaina probably would’ve found you.”

            “It’s good that she didn’t,” he stated. “Living in Marsh, it did me good. I am telling the truth when I tell you that before I came to you, I was a horrible man, a worse king.”

            “You were good enough to earn the love of a girl like Melaina,” Darya intervened. “That’s not a small thing.”

            “Melaina hated me, she doesn’t love me,” he said with a smile. “I’ve promised to speak to her father about breaking off our betrothal.”

            “How could you do that?”

            “She loves her freedom, before, I was trying to take that from her. Now she’ll get her freedom.”

            “No, I don’t believe you,” Darya said. Her voice wasn’t angry, she just couldn’t think of Melaina hating Dain. Perhaps he wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t the kind of person that someone could hate. It was impossible. “She’s going to be heartbroken.”

            “I can assure you, she’ll be perfectly happy, perhaps more. If only she would accept the truth.”

            “She’s a girl in love, Dain, I’m sorry, your highness. I may not be familiar with love, but it’s unmistakable. The girl is in love.”

            “Yes, although she doesn’t want to face it,” Dain muttered.

            “What?”

            “She’s in love with someone else,” Dain said louder. Darya mistook his frustration for anger. He wanted to subtly tell her that he loved her, and she wasn’t taking any hints. She was absolutely clueless. Her mind changed directions, assuming that it wasn’t Melaina who was heartbroken, but Dain.

            “I’m so sorry Dain,” Darya said quietly. “I really thought that you two would be happy together.”

            Dain looked up. He wondered if he was wrong about her having any feelings for him. So far there was nothing but sadness, sympathy in her voice. There wasn’t the slightest inkling of her being happy about him being unattached.

            “You’re sorry?” he asked questioningly.

            She nodded, and added, “But I’m sure you’ll be alright. There will be plenty of girls in Felucca that would be more than happy to marry you.”

            “Apparently there are none in Lor,” he muttered to himself.

            “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you,” she said.

            “I said that there seem to be none willing in Lor, or Collyria, and especially none in Little Marsh!”

           

            Alex smiled at Dain’s aggravation. He peeked through the closet door at Darya’s shocked look. It was funny and he controlled his urge to laugh. Melaina pushed him to the side and took her turn. He hissed as she stepped on his foot.

            “Sorry,” she whispered.

            He just shook his head as she looked away from him and continued to eavesdrop.

            “I love you!” Dain proclaimed loudly. The words sounded forbidden to her, and she stepped back immediately. The closet was dark, small, and cluttered with things that she couldn’t see. She regretted the step immediately as her foot slipped on something and she started to fall back.

            She fell right back onto him, and he slumped down into a sitting position. He wondered if she was really being clumsy, or if she was punishing him in an unusual way. He tried to help her up, but every movement made a sound.

            Dain was singing Darya’s praises from outside. Melaina knew that the woman probably thought it was very romantic, how he compared her eyes to the stars, how he professed that he often dreamt of her. She knew most of it was poetic lies, and she tried to keep her breakfast down as the comparisons got more and more surreal.

            She settled down in the closet, trying not to sit too heavily on Alex’s legs. The words didn’t stop and eventually they both stopped listening. It seemed that Dain wasn’t taking any chances, choosing to drown Darya in praise and pretty words. It was his way of expressing love. Melaina didn’t see how he could do it, say things so frankly. She would die of fear at getting laughed at. But then again, Darya was obviously in love with him, while the boy she loved didn’t even looked her in the eyes anymore.

            “Darya, will you marry me?” Dain finished hesitantly.

            Darya prayed that it wasn’t a dream. She knew it wasn’t, she could’ve never imagined that Dain would see so much in her, see so much beauty in a simple village girl. She nodded silently, letting happy tears roll down her cheeks.

            “I’ll have a ring made once we get to Felucca,” he promised her. “For now, let’s tell the crew and celebrate. Do you know where Alex is?”

            “I saw him on the deck,” Darya said. They exited the room as quickly, and Melaina breathed out a sigh of relief. She scrambled up to her feet and dusted off her pants. She opened the closet door and stepped out, stretching her arms above her head.

            He took in the sight of her stretching, her slender arms. His eyes moved down to her waist as she stretched further. A sliver of skin was visible as her shirt went up. No, he wasn’t supposed to look at her that way, or in any way. He tried to walk past her, but her arm came down in front of him, blocking his path.

            “I need to talk to you,” she said. “It’s important.”

            “Your highness, I’m sure it can wait, my brother is probably searching for me.”

            “I’m sure that your brother will live,” she replied. “Why are you avoiding me?”

            “I’m not avoiding you, your highness,” he lied. “I’ve just been busy.”

            “What have you been busy with in the middle of the ocean?”

            He didn’t have an answer to that, and he stayed silent.

            “You hate me, don’t you?” she asked. “You tolerated me during our travel, because I was a princess. And now that your brother is back and you’re headed back to Felucca, you don’t even want to see my face. Just admit it, Alex.”

            Even in the room he had refused to look at her. She hoped that she was wrong, or at least that he would confirm her suspicions and let her heart die. She looked at him expectantly as he finally looked into her eyes. It had been so long, and she couldn’t understand the emotions that flitted across his face.

            “You think that I hate you?” he asked. It was one thing for her to ignore him, but to actually care about him, a soldier and a nobody. He wouldn’t lie to her. When she didn’t answer, he continued.

            “I don’t hate you, Mel,” he said quietly. “What I feel, it’s the polar opposite of hate.”

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