Happily Never After

Annabelle Hearst is just another person in the Headow kingdom, ruled by the Tomlinson family. Pressured by his father the king, Prince Louis is searching for a bride, a wife to make him a heir. He stumbles into Annabelle, one of the few who doesn't venerate the royal family. Can he convince her to come to the live the royal life with him willingly, or will he have to force her into it?

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14. Colorful Surprises

I expect to see Louis, but the king's scowling face greets me instead.

“Young lady I don't think you realise what you've done,” he spews angrily, grabbing my arm to pull me away from the doors. I grimace, looking around for Louis, only to realise he's still on the balcony, thanking the people. “You've made a fool of me in front of my kingdom-”

“I-”

“DO NOT INTERRUPT! He hollers, his grip tightening. “I don’t even understand why you made my son’s life easier. You don’t even like it here, nor do you belong! You are going to end up very sorry.” I shrug my arm out of his vile hands.

“I'm not afraid of you,” I state firmly. “I said what I had to say.”

“You should be afraid,” he seethes. “I can harm you in more ways than one, and my son certainly won't be the one to protect you. You live under my reign so you do as I say.”

Louis’ thanks come to an end and the king pulls away from me.

“Watch your back little girl, as well as the ones of the people you love,” he threatens, glaring at me one last time before walking away. I watch as he storms in a corridor, calling something out to the guards.

“Annabelle,” Louis stammers, closing the doors behind him. “What was that?” he questions, eyes wide as his hands latch on my arms.

“I-I-I―” I stutter confusedly.

“We can’t talk here,” he shakes his head, his hand grabbing mine as he tugs me away from the door. His pace is hurried. We stride up the staircase rapidly and I lift my dress to avoid stepping on it. I’m urged inside his bedroom and into his walkthrough closet. He shuts the door behind him. “That, love, was bloody brilliant,” Louis breathes out finally, looking at me in awe. “You spoke up like a real queen up there. How did….How did you do that?” he enquires.

“I just…I simply spoke my heart out. People don’t want lies. They want the truth, as harsh as it can be. I would’ve wanted the truth. Not some rehearsed words that are only meant to soothe,” I respond.

“And this is exactly why I chose you to be my princess,” he says, looking down at me in admiration. All of a sudden, I can’t help wondering what would’ve happened if I wouldn’t have been accepted by the people of Headow. Would I have been deemed unworthy of the throne, thrown out of the castle and sent back to my family?

“What would’ve happened if I hadn’t been accepted?” I ask him. “Would I have been sent back home to my family?”

He frowns, opens his mouth and then closes it again, clearly unsure of what to reply.

“Tell me the truth Louis. Please. Did I seal my fate to yours by succeeding the Exhibition?”

“No. No you wouldn’t have been sent back to your family. I’m afraid we’re married Annabelle so I’m considered your family from now on,” he replies, his eyes avoiding mine.

“But what would’ve happened? You said earlier that it would benefit only the king. What did you mean?”

“It wouldn’t do you any good to know. You’re accepted by the people and that’s all that matters love,” he ends the discussion, kissing my forehead as if I was a child. “There’s some fabric that arrived for you today,” he states suddenly, changing the subject. “I took the liberty of telling the guards to put it in the boudoir. You have some leisure time right about now so if you want to make a new dress, you’re more than welcome to do so. Perrie should be over there right now, placing everything in order,” he says, stepping out of his walkthrough closet. “I’ll be joining you for lunch: I have some things to arrange for our honeymoon,” he finishes, helping me out of his closet. His eyes meet mine but he’s gone without another word, fixing his cufflinks as he exits the room.

I stare at the door, lost in my thoughts. Why? What isn’t he telling me? Why all these secrets? How does he expect me to trust him if he’s so secretive about his life? Maybe Perrie will tell me more information.

With that thought in mind, I pick up the bottom of my dress and head for the boudoir.

Minutes later, I’m lost in the soothing process of dress making, the same questions swimming in my mind whilst I toy with the silky purple fabric.

I’d probed Perrie for answers, but she’d refused to say much on the matter, especially since Louis himself hadn’t provided many answers. I wasn’t pleased.

“I want to tell you Miss Annabelle…But if the prince doesn’t want you to know something, I don’t think it be wise for me to disobey him,” she had said before quickly finding something else to do in another room.

My irritation passed quickly though as I’d caught a glimpse at how many different types of fabric Louis had actually ordered for me. I was used to using browns and beiges and whites: things that didn’t stand out and that were slightly scratchy to the touch. But in no way could the material before me be scratchy. And using shades of beige and brown was out of the question: a rainbow of colors I’d never dreamed of using sat before me, waiting to be made into something bold. Something made for me. I couldn’t bear to lose another second on being frustrated over Louis’ secrets so I’d sat down rapidly, knowing what I wanted to create.

My movements are hasty yet precise, the thimble on my index stabbed frequently as the dress takes form before my eyes. Not used to using vivid colors, I sew several random ones to the bust of the dress, creating an unusual intense pattern to contrast with the monochrome purple skirt, before sewing the two pieces together. I add the same pattern to the bottom of the dress, making it climb abstractedly on the sides of the skirt.

Sighing in content, I gaze at the finished masterpiece. It certainly doesn’t look anything like what I’ve worn at the castle so far, yet it still has a rich aspect about it due to the generous amount of purple silk.

“I have to try it on,” I mumble to myself, clenching it between my fingers. Simply the lightness of the gown compared to the one’s I’d worn at the castle so far makes me giddy.

Locking the door of the boudoir, I struggle to undo the laces of my Exhibition dress alone before letting it pool at the bottom of my feet. I step over it and stand in my undergarments in front of the lengthy mirror, holding the soft material against my body. It reaches a the floor.

Taking a deep sigh, I step inside it and pull it over my body.  I struggle to get the single sleeve on my arm, before attempting to lace it behind my back. My face is twisted in concentration as I grab the cords and try again and again to tie it tightly.

“God dammit―”

“Need help?”

I jump as I look up to find the prince of Iregar only inches behind me.

“No don’t scream,” he urges, pressing his palm against my mouth just as I’m about to shriek in fright. “I promise I don’t want to hurt you,” he continues urgently, his blue eyes gazing into mine.

I tear his hand away from my mouth with one hand and keep my dress pressed on my body with the other.

“Niall! What are you doing here?!” I enquire, looking around worriedly whilst hushing my voice. “How did you even manage to get in?”

“I know some secret castle passageways: Louis and I used to play in them when we were kids,” he replies. “And I came here to talk to you. I won’t be here long,” he continues. I flinch as I feel his fingers replacing mine on the back of my dress.

“What are you doing?” I frown, feeling him tighten the lace around my bust.

“Helping you.”

I look at him through the mirror, staring at his concentrated features.

“You shouldn’t be in here,” I say. “If Louis finds out—”

“If you don’t say anything, he won’t know anything. I created a distraction that will last long enough for me to get out without my presence being known.”

He finishes up with the lacing, and takes a step away from me.

“You’re beautiful, you know that?” he states. “Louis should tell you every single day. And that dress is a piece of art. Striking really,” he trails n, his fingers grazing the fabric.

I look down at my fingers, not knowing what to reply.

“Anyways I came here to tell you that I could grant you your freedom.”

My head whips up in shock to meet his gaze.

“You could?” I stammer in disbelief.

“Yes and I could even do it legally.”

“How―?”

“I don’t have the time to go into detail about the specifics of what doing this implies but if you come with me to Iregar-” his hand reaches for mine but I pull away, my mind racing.

“I can’t leave like that. The king is watching me and the people of Headow wouldn’t react positively after today’s events.” And I can’t let Louis suffer my departure through the king’s discipline either.

“You don’t want to leave?” the blonde prince frowns. “I thought this life wasn’t what you wanted—”

“It’s not and I do want to leave…I just—I can’t leave now. It’s too hasty and spontaneous,” I explain, gazing into his eyes.

There’s a short pause his features calculative.

“Fine then,” he sighs. “I can understand that. But whenever you’re ready, simply light a candle beside your bed and let it burn the whole night. I’ve got someone working for me at the castle and he’ll be able to inform me of your will to leave. I’ll take care of getting you out.”

I stare at him in wonder.

“You’re really serious, aren’t you?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Why would you do this?” I counter.

“I hate to see a pretty bird like you caged in this castle.” He grabs my hand and kisses the back of it before advancing to whisper in my ear. “I’ll be waiting for your signal love,” he ends.

I watch him as he walks to a very large curtain at the back of the room, shoots me one last glance and disappears behind it, leaving the curtain to flutter. Curious, I follow behind him, only to discover a large painting of a woman and no trace of the prince of Iregar. My hands grip the side of the painting’s golden frame.

“Annabelle?”

I hurry out of the curtains as I hear Louis call out my name. He pauses in mid-step, eyeing me up and down as I straighten the bottom of my dress.

“Yes?” I respond, breathless.

“What were you doing back there?” he enquires, frowning.

“The painting,” I deflect rapidly. “Who is it?”

My husband walks over to the curtain and pulls it away to reveal the canvas.

“My father’s grand-mother,” he says finally. “A great woman. Great but stupid,” he concludes dryly.

I’m taken aback by his comment. Louis visibly notices because he decides to elaborate.

“Does the name Rosaline Peterson ring any bells?” he begins.

I shake my head no, not recalling any mention of that name at all.

“Guess my father forbade schools to teach about her then…” he mumbles to himself. “Anyways, she got married to the king after her father promised her hand about 150 years ago. The wedding seemed happy at first but then she got secretive and stopped talking to the people at court altogether. Then out of the blue, after a couple of years, she asked for a divorce. Her demand resulted into civil wars between two nations and her own suicide,” he states.

“The Lady Wars…” I realise. He nods. “We did talk about them in our history courses but they had originated from something different. Something about a crazy woman and her desire to rule over everyone. Many women had joined her side and started beating up their husbands...” I continue, in slight awe.

“I think the people are better off knowing this story over the one of a queen with the intention of divorce. They are best left in the dark about some of the monarchy’s secrets,” Louis huffs, very visibly getting lost in a train of thought before his tone changes to something much cheerier. “But you. You need to learn about most of it. And that’s why I came to you: I’ve found two tutors. One for Headow’s history regarding monarchy and politics, and another for the general princess etiquette. You’ll meet them after supper but your actual lessons will take place after the honeymoon,” he concludes.  He sighs deeply before pulling the curtain to hide the painting once more. “Now I need to head back downstairs to finish up the preparations for our trip.”

“Wait!” I stop him just as he’s about to leave the room. “The dress…Do you like it?” I ask him, giving him a quick twirl.

“It’s too bright for the castle love. Too colorful,” he states simply before leaving without another word.

My shoulders slump.

“That’s it? Too colorful?” I mumble, dropping on a chair. “Niall seemed to think otherwise,” I grumble to myself. Shaking my head, I begin to work on another dress, just as lightweight but with a single color instead of twelve.

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