Flowers in the Storm
“Ava Amaryllis, what are you doing?” I stopped dead in my tracks.
“Nothing Eli,” I said hiding the toads I held in my hands. He stepped forward, his palms extended. I bowed my head in defeat; handing over the toads and wiped my dirty hands on the hem of the lousy dress I was wearing. I didn’t understand how my siblings could stand the corsets.
“I really don’t want to know where you got these.” Eli said walking towards the garden, releasing the toads. He was tall and handsome with brawny arms. His almond eyes sparkled with amusement at my failed prank. I had always admired my brother; he was confident, intelligent, and very quick to find words.
“Are you ever going to grow up?” He asked in a light tone, while taking my arm.
“There was a time when it was you getting caught with toads in your hands.” I said smiling.
“Well that was then.” He responded softly, my smile faded. When did Eli grow up?
He led me around the garden, which looked lovely this spring. “Do you remember when we were younger, no one could keep you out of the dirt.” He knelt down to the ground and took a handful of soil in his hand. “It looks like they still are unable to keep you clean.” He threw his head back and laughed, gesturing at my dress, immediately I slapped his hands making the soil fall onto his clothes.
“So much for being adults.” I laughed and within minutes we were covered in the dirt. A loud cough interrupted us and we stood slowly. Eli tried to cover a grin and muffle his laughter, to no effect.
“Princess, it is time for your edict lessons.” I groaned, and stood up from the ground. I brushed myself off as best I could.
“Yes sir,” I said politely as I turned to see Sir Harold, my teacher. I turned back to Eli making a face.
* * *
“Today we will be going over proper seating of the royals for a feast. But first you must change, a princess should never look this way.” Harold said stiffly. I walked to my room and my servant helped me dress. During the lesson, I tried to pay some attention as Harold explained why the Bishop was never to be seated next to the Duke, but it was grueling. This was the beginning of my day. By lunch hour I was worn out.
“Ava, sit straight. As a princess you must show regal command at all times, even when eating.” I sighed as I straightened my shoulders. Normally I would have objected but it is never wise to cross the Queen.
“Yes mother,” I whispered.
“This afternoon you have a fitting for the gown you will wear to your sister’s wedding. “ Danica smiled widely when I turned to her.
“My seamstress will be working on your dress.” She sipped her tea. I envied her to an extent, she was a plain girl, but she had a sparkling personality. She and the Duke fell in love by accident it seemed, a lucky accident.
“Speaking of marriages, you are coming of age this summer.” My father said. “There are plenty of men who are eligible.” I set my glass down.
“Father, I do not wish to choose a suitor at this time.” I whipped my mouth with the corner of my napkin. “May I be excused? I need to continue with my studies.”
My mother sighed but gave a short nod. From the hall I heard their small banter.
“I don’t know why you pressure her so much. You never did this with the others; Kaleena doesn’t even have a suitor, she is twenty years of age Jairo.”
“Times are changing my dear. Wars are becoming more frequent. We must make alliances with powerful kingdoms.”
I walked away folding my hands as I tried to walk as my mother did. I wondered until I reached the library. Pacing between aisles; I searched for a book I had not yet read.
“Princess, may I fit you for your dress now?” A small dark skinned woman said softly from behind me. I closed the history book I held and walked forward.
“Yes,” I made my way gracefully to the doors and let the seamstress lead me to my bed chamber. As she undressed me I listened to her humming. She had a lovely voice.
“Princess Danica suggests a pink gown. But I think with your eyes, lavender is more appropriate.”
Everyone in my family has blue or brown eyes. I was considered an anomaly. I had fine dark hair and vibrant violet eyes. I smiled at the woman and nodded my agreement. The woman sang softly to herself as she began to size the gown.
Before I knew it, the dress was finished and it was beautiful. The neckline was fairly low and the sleeves drooped past my shoulders. They were rimmed with a ruffled material. The hem was designed to be fitted but comfortably so. I felt the intricate designs; the skirt was a see-through glittery material with a lavender under skirt. “Milady,” The woman said tentatively. “Will it do?”
“Yes,” I sighed.
“You look lovely Ava,” Eli said from the doorway. I blushed at his praise.
“Thank you,” I whispered. He waited outside the room as I changed and then walked with me to supper.
A week passed, and we were miles away meeting with Duke Laurence. Their wedding was lovely. Danica’s chocolate brown hair was braided with a synthetic shimmery extension pinned up in a bun to show off her heart shaped face. Her gown had a long train, it was marvelous. My family sat to the left. As the vows were given, the small territory was united with our kingdom. As Duke Laurence escorted Danica away she smiled brilliantly and bowed her head. We left Danica in the hands of her husband and returned home. News rang out between the two lands, people rejoiced everywhere. In the Duke’s land, Laurence introduced Danica, and the crowds roared in happiness. Everyone adored her. She spoke to them with ease and was simply herself, lovable.
I picked up my archery lessons on our return and was rewarded with improvement, despite the unbearable heat of summer. My instructor gave me high praise. Though my skills had improved, I could only match my brother’s skill. I had yet to best him. When I was younger I would sneak into the training fields and listen to the instructor teach strategy and proper fighting form. It was really scary, but I liked to listen to it. Besides, the boys were cute. My brother had been able to convince mother that some knowledge of weaponry and military would come in handy as queen. I picked up my first bow when I was seven. I knew the thought simply terrified mother, but it felt natural to me. Secretly, my father ordered the instructor to teach me some swordsmanship, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. The blade was so heavy, instead the battle master taught me to throw knives, and how to use them in close combat. It wasn’t my strong suit, but I could handle it. Once I began reaching a proper age, my mother made sure I was in the library to study, working with a tutor. She thought it was absolutely absurd for a young lady to fight. She could allow archery, because she was a fair shot herself. But she always claimed it was for show, not for military use. Regardless, I had spent more time at the range in the past week than with my tutor. I couldn't stand being inside.
Summer was my favorite time of year, despite the heat, I was outside constantly. I spent my time between the training field, the stables, and the garden. Sir Harold had to battle me to go inside and study. Eventually he learned that during the summer it would be most beneficial to hold classes outside.
“Milady, please pay attention.” He would urge during our lessons.
“I’m sorry.” I would respond, only paying attention partly.
Another thing about summer was my birthday. It was a grand celebration, as it was every year. This was the second year that I had been able to plan my own party. The ballroom was decorated with huge plants, capturing the feeling of the forest. When I stepped in, I was honestly blown away. It looked like I had just stepped into the enchanted forests from my fairytales. Guests flooded the room wearing colorful gowns and robes. We danced merrily the entire night.
“Happy birthday Ava Amaryllis.” Eli said, as did everyone else. That night was wonderful. People had talked about it for weeks.
After my birthday, things calmed down and my routine returned to normal. If I wasn’t at the archery range, I was in the garden. I often read in the glass house so when my guard, Gregory, came searching for me in the garden it was no surprise I had been there.
“Ava,” he said in a soft tone. I had convinced him to be informal with me because we were very close together. He was only a year older than I.
“What is it?” I asked closing the book of poems I was reading.
“Your father sent for me, he wants to see you immediately.” He bowed his head before taking my hand and dragging me with him. Under the armor he wore, he had dark eyes and sandy hair. We reached my father’s private office and I stepped inside alone, nodding my head elegantly to Gregory. I could feel his eyes watching me as I walked past.
“You called for me father?” My sister was already present, as was Eli.
“I have received a message from the kingdom of Zyder. The king is proposing a marriage to unite our kingdoms.” My heart sank; an arranged marriage. “Eli, because you are the oldest you will be arranged to marry the daughter of Stephan.”
“Yes father,” Eli said with confidence. “May I ask of the woman?”
“She is of Ava’s age; very intelligent, kind, and a proper young lady.” I saw Eli’s brow furrow at the mention of her age, but he said nothing. Of course it wasn’t unheard of for a man to marry a woman so young. Eli thought of it as marrying his own sister, also not unheard of in some countries. The thought made my skin crawl.
“That is all, I trust?” Eli said. “I wish to visit the Duke and Danica in the coming week.” He was speaking in an even tone. “I wish to pack today.”
My father nodded dismissing the three of us. Eli took me to the stables; he had the horses dressed for a ride. I smiled at him. Together, we rode out in open and raced through the woods. I may not have been better at my brother at many things, but I was the better and faster rider. I broke out into the clearing long before he did. Once he brought his horse to a stop I circled him with mine. He laughed and slapped the reins, sending his horse into a canter. I followed him. He stopped at a creek and dismounted. When I was younger this is where Eli and I would come to play pretend. He would be the dashing knight saving the girl, who never wanted to stay put. Or we would be great adventurers on a journey facing giant monsters. Now however, we stood at the water’s edge and skipped rocks. I looked at Eli as he threw them mindlessly not caring if they skipped or not.
“Eli,” I called grabbing my skirt, stepping into the water. “Can I go with you?” he stared down at me.
“Not this time.” I frowned in astonishment. I was too stubborn to take no for an answer. Knowing I wouldn’t back down he took my chin in his hand.
“Why can I not go with you?” I demanded; imitating mother so perfectly I had to force myself not to smile.
“Laurence believes that some people are planning a revolt in his area. He wants to stop it before it gets out of hand.” He held my shoulders so he could look me in the eye. I knew he could see right through my mask; I was worried for him.
Eli planned to leave at the end of the week, and I was dreading that day. In the mean time, he made sure to spend time with me. Of course while I had lessons, Eli was training… for anything. As the week past, I noticed that he was becoming nervous. I hoped things weren’t bad where Danica was, I hoped everything would be just fine. On the last morning with Eli, everyone ate quietly. I stabbed at my oatmeal with my elbows on the table, my mother didn’t have the heart to tell me to straighten up and be polite. Afterward Eli said his goodbyes to everyone; Kaleena smiled and sent her wishes to Danica. Eli turned to me.
“See me off.” He whispered. I took a deep breath and kept a straight face.
We rode out to our special place once more and Eli jumped from his horse. I did the same, looking at him closely. I could tell something was on his mind, but I couldn’t imagine what. My brother was the bravest person I knew, so it was unsettling seeing him this way.
“What are we doing here?” I asked.
“I didn’t really want to leave for an hour but, I wanted to be alone for a while, and this was our place. I can only really talk to you about everything on my mind.” He shrugged not looking in my direction. It was odd seeing and hearing Eli like this, he almost seemed unsure of himself. This unease made me more scared. Inhaling deeply, Eli sat on the ground and patted the grass next to him. Sitting beside him we looked at the clouds. For awhile, we talked about many things and it was nice. We laughed and joked around. But as the hour ended our conversation slowed.
“I don’t really know what to expect when I leave. I just know I have to do this because the Duke is family now.” I frowned and picked at the grass. “What is it?”
“I am afraid for you.” I said softly. “What happens if something does happen and you are forced to fight?” We stood and I fought to push negative thoughts aside.
“Don’t fret; I will be home in a month’s time.” He walked away. I followed him silently; suddenly the creek wasn’t a happy place. Eli took my hand and kissed it softly.
“I love you, brother.” I said hugging him tight.
“I don’t want you to worry about me. I will be perfectly fine. You will see; I will send my love.” He said mounting his horse to leave. I watched until he was far beyond the hills. All I could think was don’t leave me.
“Ava,” I heard a voice say. I turned to see Gregory looking at me worried. How he had found me, I do not know. I was sitting in the sill of the tower window, a place no one would have looked. I should have expected that Gregory would find me, he was my personal guard. It was his job to find where I was and make certain nothing happened to me ever.
“Yes,” I said looking to him. He stood before me now. His sandy hair falling to his eyes. He wore casual clothes now, which was odd.
“Are you okay?” He asked leaning against the wall, losing all his professional composer.
“I am fine,” I said softly. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, I know how hard it is to be away from your brother. And you seem very worried.”
I sighed and looked out the window again.
“I have a terrible feeling… I don’t know what it is, but I can’t shake it.” I didn’t tell him anymore than that, and Gregory didn’t ask. He understood everything, even when I said nothing at all.
Weeks began to pass and even though Kaleena had no knowledge of Eli’s true mission she felt my unease. We never saw eye to eye, but I could tell that in our brother’s absence she was attempting to be helpful. We had one common interest, music. During my music lessons she would sit in and play along. She also tried to help me with edict, but became flustered. I was touched that she was trying to connect with me, but I also wanted to be alone. I counted down the day’s until Eli’s return and prayed to the gods everyday.
A month had passed, and Eli had not returned. When I asked my father, he said it was to be expected if an uprising was to take place. It was after two more months when the messenger arrived and it was by accident that I overheard the conversation. A moment I will forever wish to erase from my memory.
“Laurence sent me with his last words. He confirmed a rebellion amongst the people.” There was silence. “Milord,” he asked.
“And what of my son,” My father growled. “What about Eli?” I had never heard my father’s voice shake before, he was scared.
“I am deeply sorry your highness. He fell in attempt to protect the Duke.”
‘No,’ I thought to myself.
“Leave,” I heard my father say. “Take a message to King Stephen and tell him the engagement is off.”
His voice trailed off as I sprinted down the hall searching for something, anything. I was unable to make sense of the words in my head, but my heart had known immediately. I ran outside, avoiding everyone at all costs. Finally, I found myself in the garden, I wondered until I was in the glass house. I sat on a bench and looked at the potted Amaryllises. We had an assortment of colors. They were wilting now, it made me sad to see the life leave these precious flowers.
“Ava,” a soft voice said. I looked up and saw Gregory, his dark eyes were filled with concern.
“Yes?” I said between sobs.
“I’m sorry.” He walked across the glass house silently, and sat beside me running fingers through his sandy blonde hair. “I liked your brother, and I know how you felt about him. We were all informed earlier, it took me awhile to find you. I had to make sure you were okay. The King told your mother and Princess Kaleena, no one could find you. I figured that was because you knew somehow.”
“I heard the messenger.” I inhaled sharply and tried not to cry.
“I’m so sorry.” Gregory said again. Then he sat with me in silence, letting me cry. I heard him move and then felt his hand patting my back softly. If anyone had seen they may have thought it was scandalous, but it was just a friendly gesture. Then he held his other hand out to me and I took it. In another moment, he snatched his hands away and stood quickly, he must have heard something. Gregory walked away to look out the window, someone was calling his name. “I have to go, the battle master is looking for me.”
I said nothing when he left, but I didn’t need to. Alone again, I let myself cry.
“You can’t stay here.” Eli said to me. It sounded so real; but whether it was his spirit speaking to me or my own imagination, it was correct. I stood and walked to his room and fell asleep though it did not last.
The next morning I found my way blindly to my father’s office and knocked on the door. My father called weakly, granting me entrance.
“Father, I wish to speak to you about a marriage proposal.” My father blinked away his tears.
“What are you speaking of child?” He said through a thick voice.
“I wish to marry the son of King Stephen. He does have a son, does he not?” My father could barely nod.
‘Ava no,’ Eli said in my mind. I flinched slightly. ‘You don’t have to do this.’ I tried to ignore his voice.
“He is too old for you darling.” My father whispered. Behind me, I heard the soft footsteps of my mother followed by Kaleena.
“He is younger than Eli was, am I correct?” My mother looked from my father and me in confusion. “Besides, it is not unheard of for a young woman to marry older men. It is most common actually.”
“Jairo, what is she speaking of?” My father sighed and walked to my mother.
He took a breath and said. “Ava is suggesting she marry the eldest of Stephen, in place of Eli.”
My mother held back her tears, I had never seen her more fierce.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” She said addressing me. I hesitated; truthfully I didn’t want to be married to someone I didn’t know. Something inside me told me that this decision was rash, but I didn’t want the kingdom to be in peril.
“I will marry Prince Charles.” Kaleena said confidently. “He is closer to my age, and I should have been married long ago. I understand the circumstances of the situation and I accept them. For my kingdom I will do anything.”
“It is settled then,” my father said. “Call a messenger for me.” He ordered his servant. “Kaleena and Ava, off to your rooms, I trust that neither of you have any will left to continue with daily activities. Patricia, I need a word with you.”
He ushered my sister and I out of the room and we set off for our bed chambers. I cried myself into a fitful sleep and dreamt of a river of blood I knew worse was to come.
Almost immediately after the children had left a young man entered. He held a letter in his hand addressed to the queen.
“Mother, I have never felt so alone. With my husband dead, I am forced to rule this land alone. Hopefully, I will bear a son. Yes, I am pregnant. It is sad that Laurence died… at times I wish I wasn’t expecting, but the child will grow up strong and I will make sure he takes his rightful place. With love, Danica.” The queen read aloud. She covered her mouth to muffle the cries. Jairo sat motionless, too shocked to say anything. The page left the room and once the door closed the King spoke.
“Because Eli was killed in this riot and Danica is left alone expecting a child, we must take action. This is too close to home. We must combine our kingdoms as quickly as possible. We might also have to take military action, as much as it pains me.” Jairo said to his wife, she patted her eyes before speaking.
“Give them time to get acquainted with one another.” She said firmly. His wife was a lovely woman, but now she looked tired beyond her years from grief.
“I will allow two months, but in the safety of either kingdom.” He sighed pulling at his collar. “I would prefer they be courted here.”
A lean man stepped into the room and bowed. The king nodded his head in recognition.
“I have a message to send to King Stephen.” He said to the messenger. After the page had relayed the message twice, Jairo sent him off.
“Jairo, I am worried.” The queen said taking his hands. “Our daughter is going to fall apart. We will lose her, Eli was the only one who connected her to us really. Without him, we won’t know her, if we even do now.”
“Then we must be there for each other as much as we are able, we are all in need my love, especially Ava. Together we will make it through.” The king took his wife’s face and wiped her tears.
“Come to bed with me tonight Patricia.” He took her waist and led her to his quarters where they could rest together, comforted by one another’s presence.
Happiness and festivities were flourishing across the kingdom of Zyder. For a royal wedding was to take place in the kingdom in a matter of months. A month ago, my father, the king, had made the announcement of the engagement between the Kingdom of Isra’s eldest heir and me. I had no say in the matter, I was neither happy nor sad. I’m a Princess and my Kingdom comes before anything else.
I stared out my window looking at the maids as they rushed back and forth across the courtyard. Some carried invitations while others carried plates and decorative flowers. I sighed my life in this castle was slowly coming to a close.
Suddenly my door busted open, my older brother Charles stormed in angrily. He was the only one throughout the land that despised my upcoming marriage. I turned towards him.
“How could he!” he yelled slamming my door shut behind him. “He infuriates me so much!” He started pacing back and forth across my room, running his hands through his dark locks.
“You're not even old enough for marriage!”
“Brother, I am 17. The coming of age for marriage” I spoke up, my soft, quiet voice broke through his thoughts halting him from his pacing. He looked up at me, his light hazel eyes looked into my own green ones.
His demeanor quickly changed. His eyes softened and a small smile graced his face.
“Ah I guess you are, aren’t you?” He sighed. He walked to my bed, sitting upon it. I followed suit sitting right next to him. He wrapped one of his muscular arms around me, pulling me close. I snuggled closer into his side.
“I still see you as a four year old that refused to leave my side” He spoke softly. I looked up at his face noticing the faraway look in his eyes.
“What are you thinking about, brother?” I asked, curiously.
He looked down at me giving me one of his dashing smiles. “Just remembering how much you cried and threw fits whenever I left,” He chuckled. “It took hours for the nannies to calm you down, I truly felt bad for them.”
“It did not,” I retorted.
“Oh and when you had hissy fits, those were the worst! I remember you had one at my 10th birthday party. You were so mad because I was dancing with one of the Duke’s young daughters and not with you. Not even the king himself could calm you down. You just kept screaming and wailing those tiny little lungs of yours.” I giggled when he tickled my neck with his finger tips.
“But I knew exactly how to calm you down. All I had to do was tickle you.” His hands instantly went for my sides, I shrieked. Laughter filled my room. Charles knew where all my tickle spots were. I quickly pulled myself free from his grip. I ran across the room, my crown falling off my head in the process.
I hadn’t felt this much happiness and carefree since the announcement of the wedding was made, I smiled.
“Theres the smile I love” smiled Charles. He walked towards me, picking up my crown on his way. He gently placed it on my head before giving my forehead a kiss. He grabbed my hand pulling me towards door.
“Come baby sister,”
I looked at him curiously, where was he taking us? Just then the door opened and a tall figure entered the room. I instantly dropped into a curtsy.
“Father” Charles spoke. I straightened up, keeping my back straight and head held high.
“I see we are fooling around rather than preparing for the Royal Wedding” Father’s deep voice bellowed. His piercing brown eyes looked into mine.
“We’re sorry father.” I spoke softly, I bowed once more.
“Speak up Gabrielle. How do you expect to rule beside Prince Eli if you're so damn timid and weak.” I flinched at his words. Tears sprung to my eyes but i held them back. His words struck a chord in my heart, all i ever wanted was for his approval.
I bowed even deeper “I’m sorry father, I will try to be stronger” I noticed Charles’s hand clenched tightly into a fist at his side.
He didn’t bother responding to me, he turned his attention to Charles instead. “Charles you are needed in the war room”
I straightened back up but kept my head bowed.
“And you Gabrielle” I looked up meeting his cold eyes, “are needed in the kitchen for taste testing.”
I nodded my head understanding “For what?” interjected Charles.
“For her wedding cake of course,” spoke Father emotionlessly.
“Father, I still discourage this wedding from happening” spoke Charles stepping forward
“Son, whether you like it or not this wedding will happen” Father straightened his back growing in height.
Charles stood his ground, he looked right back at father. The resemblance between the two was remarkable. Sometimes when Charles had his back turned I would mistake him for our father.
“Father, she is too young to be wedded to Prince Eli.”
“Charles, she is 17 the perfect age to be wedded,” spoke father matter-of-factly.
“Eli is too old for her father!” yelled Charles. “I do not want her bearing children at this age! Her life hasn't even started yet!”
“Her life? Her life! Her life belongs to this kingdom and what it needs! And this kingdom needs this marriage!” roared father angrily.
I grew scared as my father and brother argued. They didn’t always get along but their arguments never got this intense.
“Charles you are not the King or her father! You are the Prince and her brother!”
“Who was the one who taught her everything she knows? Me! Who was the one that stood by her bedside every night when she was struck with disease? Me!” Charles’s voice yelled but then grew low . “Who protected her from her fears? Me. Who consoles her when she’s upset? Me. You say she’s weak and timid but you don’t know her like I do. She’s strong and clever just like mother was.” He strode up to father “You call yourself her father but I was more of a father to her than you ever were!”
Father swiftly punched Charles in the jaw sending him backwards.
“Brother!” I screamed, tears streamed down my face. I rushed to Charles’s side.
“Charles I thought you knew better than to overstep your boundaries” spoke father dangerously, the anger still present in his eyes.
Charles sat up looking at father but said nothing, blood coming from the cut on his lip.
Father turned around heading towards the door. “Meet me in the war room once you’ve cleaned yourself up.” I watched him leave noticing the gray among the dark locks.
“Old bastard!” spoke Charles once the door was closed. I flung myself into his arms.
“Brother don’t ever do that again, please!” I cried, I couldn't stand seeing him get hurt.
He grabbed my hands pushing me back. He kissed both of my knuckles, he looked into my eyes and spoke confidently, “I’ll do it as many time as needed to get you out of this marriage.”
~ ~ ~
“There you are Princess!” called a male voice. I looked up from my book of war stargeries, everyone found it odd that I liked these kinds of books. Sometimes I did too but there was some type of calling when I read those books, like they spoke to me.
I smiled when I noticed it was Henry, my guard who was calling me. His chocolate brown hair blew back as he ran to me. He was the same age as me and also one of my childhood best friends.
“The King requests your attendance in the throne room immediately.” he spoke his dark eyes meeting mine.
I nodded getting up from the chair I had been stationed in for a while.
It was short walk from the library to the Throne room. I questioned Henry to see if he knew anything of this unexpected summoning. He knew nothing. When I entered the Throne room I noticed Charles was already there. I gracefully walked next to Charles, looking at my father as he sat upon his throne, the chair next to him stood empty. It once belonged to the Queen, but sadly her life was taken all too soon.
With the doors closing, Charles and I bowed before the King. The room was quiet as we waited for father to speak.
“I have recieved a message from King Jairo of Isra” He spoke which made Charles’s face turn into a frown. “He is calling off the engagement.”
A smile broke across Charles’s face.
“Now that you are not to be wedded, Gabrielle. We must find you a new suitor.” Charles’s smile dropped from his face.
“Father,” Charles spoke lowly.
“This does not concern you.” Father said harshly.
“If you're so concerned about the uniting of the two kingdoms then I will take Gabrielle’s place. I shall marry one of the daughter’s of King Jairo.”
I looked at Charles shocked. Was he really willing to do this for me?
Father looked at Charles, thinking about the option.
“But,” Charles’s voice cut him from his thoughts, “on one condition.”
Father raised a dark eyebrow, saying nothing.
Charles continued. “Gabrielle will be able to marry who she wants and when she wants. No more arranged marriages.”
“Charles that is rid-” started father standing from his throne but Charles cut him off.
“Father promise me this and the wedding between one the princesses and I will go through with my word.”
Father heaved a sigh sitting back down in his throne “I shall ponder about this proposition.”
“Thank you father.” Charles bowed. I looked at my brother amazed. He was willing to give up his bachelor status for me. My brother was truly an amazing person.
“You are dismissed.” father waved us away with his hand. We bowed before leaving the Throne room. I turned to Charles as soon as we left.
“Brother you didn’t have to do that” He smiled at me.
“For you baby sister, I would do anything” He kissed my forehead before leaving with his guard, Nolan.
After the dispute between father and brother I felt the need to go out to the gardens. I stopped at my usual place whenever I need to think. I looked at the big structure before me, reading the inscription:
Beloved Mother and Queen
Long Live Queen Loraline
May She Rest In Eternal Peace
I’ve always wondered what life would have been like if she was still alive. I wondered what type of person she was and who resembled her the most: me or Charles.
Suddenly a pair of arms wrapped around my shoulders pulling me into their chest. I placed my hands on their arms, leaning into the person. The person kissed my head before leaning their head against mine.
“I knew I would find you here.”
I didn’t bother looking back, just stared at the headstone before me. “Do you think father would be different if she was still alive?” I asked.
Charles moved to stand beside me keeping one arm around my shoulders. I looked up to meet his hazel eyes.
“Even when mother was alive father was still the same. Father’s first priority is the Kingdom while mother’s was family.” He smiled down at me, “I can recall times when father would be in the middle of council meetings and mother would barge through the door unannounced and demand that father come down and eat dinner with the family. At that time you were only a small babe. But mother was very stubborn and wouldnt leave until father finally came down.” He chuckled at the memory.
I looked up at him. “It seems you have gained her stubbornness.” I giggled.
“Indeed I have,” he said looking at mother’s tombstone.
I didn’t talked to Charles about mother too often, afraid I would upset him with my questions. He and father were the only ones that could actually remember mother. I was only but a babe when she died.
“Why do you think father resents me so much?” I asked turning back to the grave.
“Its not that he resents you, you just remind him of mother. Your a spitting image of her.”
I turned to him, “Then why don’t you resent me?”
He looked me in the eyes. “I could never resent you, baby sister. When it comes to me and father we both handled our grief differently. For me, I promised to protect the very person mother died trying to protect.” I looked at him confused, “While father decided to block out everything that reminded him of her.”
“Who did she protect?” I asked.
“You,” I looked up at him shocked I had never heard this part of the story before. I had only heard of her death by the hands of an enemy.
“You probably never heard this much of the story for it was a dark time in our kingdom. During that time Zyder wasn’t as big as it is today. Half of Zyder was once known as a the Kingdom of Birwen, which was ruled under a cruel and merciless king. The king wanted to expand his kingdom into our own. War soon broke out. Villagers, commoners even high class citizens of Birwen were coming to father pleading for him to overthrow their king. Mother was the one who convinced father to help those people.
“It was a long and hard war between the two Kingdoms. Both were in devastation and disaster, Zyder the worst. We felt like this war would soon be over and we wouldn’t be victorious. But then you were born, the Kingdom rejoiced for your birth had given the troops new strength and one more reason to win. For they had a little princess to protect.” Charles smiled down at me, I smiled back.
“But one night after a celebration of your birth, disaster struck our family. That night mother had decided to sleep with you since you were running a small fever. Unknown to us, Birwen had hired assassins from a kingdom across the sea to kill father as he slept. They were able to sneak into the castle but had taken a wrong turn and ended up heading into your nursery. I was the one that found mother dead laying in her own pool of blood. There were objects thrown across room, glass scattered across the floor and some blood smeared on the wall. We later deduced that was the blood of one of the assassins. I heard your faint cries and found you hidden in a trunk. We assumed mother heard or saw the assassins and hid you. I alerted the guards and the assassins were stopped before they could kill father also.”
I was speechless. Mother died trying to protect me. If she hadn’t hidden me, my headstone would have been placed right next to hers.
“Mother’s sacrifice never went in vain. Her death enraged our kingdom for not only did they target father but they killed mother and would have killed you too if it wasn’t for mother’s brave act. Our kingdom fought hard. We defeated the king of Birwen and Zyder became what we know today.”
I stared at mother’s grave amazed. My mother was a such strong woman. She gave up her own life so I could continue mine. The headstone before me didn’t seem like just a slab of stone anymore, it held meaning. Maybe one day I could be just as strong as mother was, I smiled. One day
~ ~ ~
After my edict lessons the next day, I found myself absorb in the library, reading. My favorite tales to read were of princes and knights rescuing their beloved princesses from wicked evil princes or monsters and at the end the valiant heroes married the ones they loved. Nowadays that seemed like a rare possibility to happen, arranged marriages were of the norm. If Charles hadn’t done what he did the day before I fear my next suitor could have been someone over the age of 50 and close to their death bed. I sighed.
“Something the matter, my lady?”
I looked up at Henry, who stood right next to my chair, “Just pondering.”
“What is going through that mind of yours, if you don’t mind me asking Princess?” His dark eyes meeting mine. I looked back to the book in my hands.
“How I wish my life was like a fairy tale. Falling in love and actually being able to marry the one I love.”
“But now you can Princess, thanks to the Prince” he smiled at me, I smiled back at him.
“Yes you're right but it isn't fair that Charles has to sacrifice his happiness for my own.” I closed the book shut, setting it down on the small table to my left. I looked at Henry, inquisitively.
“What do you wish for, Henry?” I asked.
He looked at me surprised by my question “Well, princess if I had one wish it would be to marry the woman I love.” He smiled at me, his eyes softening.
I smiled back at him “I hope the woman you love, loves you in return”
“As do I, princess, as do I” His gaze never straying away from my face.
~ ~ ~
At dinner that night, it was quiet as usual. The only sound that was heard was the scraping of silverware against the plates. Father looked to be in deep thought. I tried to make as little noise as I could while eating as to not to disturb him. I looked over at Charles, who was making as much noise as he could while eating not caring if he disturbed him. Father hardly took notice.
“So father what’s your proposition?” asked Charles breaking the silence since the noise wasn't getting father’s attention.
Father looked up at Charles; he stared back refusing to back down.
“I-” father started but was cut off by the door to the hall opening.
We looked to the door noticing a man stepping into the room, looking exhausted.
“Im sorry to interpret your supper, your majesty.” he bowed, “I have an urgent message from King Jairo of Irsa.”
Father’s eyes lit up at the news, “Read the message!” he demanded.
The messenger stood straight, thinking hard to remember the words. “The wedding is still on and King Jairo requests for the bestowed to court in his kingdom.” he spoke loud and clear.
My father nodded his head, waving the messager away with his hand. His eyes were lit and he didn't’ seem as deep in thought as before, he was truly pleased with the news. A deep frown appeared upon Charles’s face. Just as I was finally warming up to the idea of being able to choose who I wanted to marry, it was yanked away from me. All my fantasies of finding my very own knight in shining armor vanished.
“Yes father?” I looked up meet father’s intense brown eyes.
“In a few days time you will set off to meet your future husband-to-be” He spoke “Remember you will be representing this kingdom so hopefully before you leave, you will have gained some sort of confidence.” he said harshly and stood up from his chair “People who are weak are the ones who don’t survive, like peasants. We are royalty, and we will strive.” He stared at me with cold eyes.
I avoided his stare, staring down at my plate instead. His words cut into me, tears formed in my eyes. I held them back as best as I could for I didn’t want father to see me cry it would only prove his point. I heard the door close when I looked up father was gone. Charles jumped out of his chair, angrily. He slammed his fist against table, muttering curses under his breath.
“That bastard! How dare he say such things!”
~ ~ ~
Just as father said I was put in a carriage a few days later to meet Prince Eli. Thankfully, Charles was able to convince father to allow him come along. Charles and I were stationed in the carriage while Henry and Nolan rode horseback beside the carriage along with the rest of the guards surrounding the carriage. Most of the time I solemnly looked out the window watching as the trees passed. The scenery was quite gorgeous. The changing color of the leaves just added to the beauty. Charles barely talked, he was still upset about the wedding being back on. Henry also didn’t speak much either, he had the same facial expression as brother. Charles I understood why he was upset but Henry’s attitude confused me. Did he not want this marriage to happen either? Nolan on the other hand, I’m pretty sure didn’t have an opinion on the matter his only objective was to make sure no harm befell my brother.
Suddenly I turned to Charles, a thought struck me. Charles was leaning against the side of the carriage, his face leaning into his hand while he looked out the window. Aware of my sudden change of behavior, Charles slowly turned to me, a dark eyebrow raised.
“Brother, were mother and father in an arranged marriage?” I asked, curiously.
Charles looked surprised at my question but answered nevertheless. “Yes”
“Really?” I asked, interested. I have never heard anything about how my parents had meet.
I looked at my brother, expectantly. He chuckled knowing I wanted to hear the tale of our parents.
“What mother told me was that before they were to be married, mother and father met by accident. Since then they spent quite a bit together. Once grandfather Joseph heard about their meetings, he instantly arranged a marriage between them. Mother and father had no refusals for they loved each other.”
“So father loved mother very much?”
Charles nodded his head. “He may not have shown it but you could see it in his eyes whenever he looked at her.”
I nodded my head, processing the information. Would I ever find love in my marriage? I looked out the window, many questions swarming in my head.
As our journey was slowly drawing to close, I started getting restless. What type of person is Prince Eli like? Would he be a good husband? Would we share any hobbies together? Brother had told me all he knew of the family. I wonder how Prince Eli feels about having a wife the same age as his youngest sister.
I couldn’t believe two weeks had already passed, as our carriage headed to the castle that housed the royal family of Irsa. I looked out the window noticing the castle getting closer and closer by the minute. I started getting nervous. I started fidgeting in my seat. I tried to keep my hands neatly in my lap as a princess should but I was becoming restless. Charles grabbed my hands kissing them both.
“Don’t worry Gabrielle.” I nodded my head in reply.
As our carriage pulled in front of the magnificent castle, my heart started beating faster. Our carriage stopped and the door opened. Charles stepped out first, I took a deep breath before placing my small hand in Charles’s larger one letting him help me step down from the carriage. I smoothed the wrinkles from my dress and fixed my crown. I looked at Henry and Charles for reinsurance. Charles stood straighter as an older looking man, with dark hair that had strands of grey streaks and hazel eyes walked down the steps of the castle coming to greet us. I noticed the crown on top his head. Charles, Nolan and Henry bowed, following their lead I bowed my head and dropped into a curtsy.
“King Jairo,” spoke Charles his voice was strong and unwavering.
“Prince Charles, welcome to my home.” The king greeted us graciously.
“Thank you, your majesty” answered Charles.”You are too kind”
I looked up at the King, he seemed friendly. There was warm smile plastered on his face. His whole aura gave off warmth and happiness. I wondered if Prince Eli looked like the king? As I looked at the king realization struck me, this man was to be my future father-in-law.
King Jairo turned to me there was a look of confusion in his eyes but as quickly as I saw it, it vanished “Am I to presume that this young lady is Princess Gabrielle?” he asked.
I bowed deeply, “Yes your majesty. Its an honor to meet you, your grace.”
“Likewise, my dear.” he said. “I welcome all of you to meet my children and my beautiful wife.”
We followed King Jairo into his magnificent home. We followed him down a long hall filled with portraits, I would assume they were portraits of their ancestors. He then lead us into a beautiful garden at the center of the castle. Sitting at a table were 3 women, a graceful older woman, must be the Queen, I thought. Next to the older woman was a young woman that looked to be around Charles’s age and another young lady looking to be my age. As they saw us approaching they stood up from their chairs, walking towards us, the older woman leading. The youngest one seemed to have to force herself to get up and follow her family. King Jairo stopped in front of the younger version of the Queen, who seemed to be the same age as brother. She had startling blue eyes and light brown hair.
“Family, this is Prince Charles and Princess Gabrielle from the Kingdom of Zyder.” he spoke. “Prince Charles, Princess Gabrielle this is one of my daughter’s, Kaleena.” He gestured to the young woman beside him. She bowed to us.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Princess Kaleena.” bowed Charles kissing her hand.
“Very nice to meet you, your highness,” I said curtsying.
“I hope you find your stay here comfortable.” she replied with a sweet smile.
King Jairo then moved onto the older looking women. She too had startling blue eyes and light brown hair.
“And this is my wonderful companion and Queen of Isra, Patricia.”
“Wonderful to meet you, your majesty.” Charles bowed.
“A pleasure your majesty” I curtsied.
The Queen held her hands neatly in front of her, she bowed her head politely to us.
“And my youngest daughter-” King Jairo moved to the now empty spot, he looked around before heaving a sigh while muttering curses under his breath.
He turned to Kaleena ”Would you please go find your sibling.”
“Yes father,” answered Kaleena, she bowed before making her leave.
We were in silence before Charles spoke up “Padron me saying your majesty but I am very displeased with this arranged marriage.”
The king looked confused “What are your reasonings for that?” asked the king.
“I feel my sister is too young to be wedded.” Charles answered.
The king looked even more confused.
“Wedded to whom?” he asked.
“To your eldest son,” Charles simply stated, I was growing confused.
“My brother’s dead.”
We looked to our right, a young lady with dark hair and violet eyes stood beside Princess Kaleena.
“Dead? What do you mean dead?” asked Charles confused “We were informed the wedding was back on after it was canceled.”
“Haven’t you thought of some reason of why he isn’t here!” roared the girl, angrily. Her astounding violet eyes held such sadness and anger.
I was confused beyond belief. If Prince Eli… was really dead then what did they mean by having wedding back on? Charles looked confused as I felt. I looked up at Charles confused and a little worried. What do they mean? Am I to marry someone else? Charles met my gaze, he grabbed one of my hands giving it a squeeze before turning back to the King.
“Then what do you mean by ‘the wedding is still on’?” asked Charles.
The king spoke up,
“It seems that my messenger is insufficient, that was not what I meant, and I do apologize. We would like to arrange a marriage between you and Kaleena and allow you two months of courtship.”
I was shocked. It wasn’t me that was to be married, it was Charles!