The Princess' Secret

"She looks so poise and perfect in the moonlight that it makes me almost believe that she's innocent. Until I remember what I saw her do."

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2. SHADE

As a knight of Xsdera, I was, by tradition, supposed to be referred to as "sir" almost everywhere I went in the kingdom.

Nobody referred to me as "Sir Zander Tretch", though. I was known as "Shade". By all. Even the Queen herself.

So, of course, when the hooves of my horse finally stopped at the gate to Xsdera, the guard greeted me with a lazy, "You alone, Shade?"

I looked at him. "Yes," I said.

The guard nodded, then looked straight up and put two fingers in his mouth, whistling loudly with them.

The gate was slowly opened from the inside. Three guards, grunting from the weight of the gate, struggled with it.

As soon as it was just wide enough for me to get in, I nodded to the guard on the outside and rode in.

Evidently, the gate was easier to shut than open, because, just as I turned the first corner, I heard a loud, dull clunk as wood hit wood, then a shink as it was locked.

I soon arrived at the glimmering castle. I was unable to comprehend how they could possibly polish the whole castle-- inside and out-- but they managed to.

I unmounted my beautiful grey horse and led him to the stables, where the stablehand took him without a single word exchanged.

I trudged up to the entrance to the castle, walking awkwardly. I, like the woman at the tavern, had placed the package in my boot. Obviously,  I had done it incorrectly, because it was very uncomfortable to walk with it in there.

The guards at the front examined me carefully, then asked my name possibly a thousand times before finally letting me pass.

I staggered down the long hallway. The halls were made of pearl and marble, which, while being very beautiful, was also very slippery. The maids, servants, and ladies that passed me gave me odd looks, but didn't ask me questions.

I somehow managed to make it to the princess' bedroom. I knocked on the door three times, then hit it lightly with my shoulder, a method of identification that the princess had come up with so that she could tell whether it was me or the maids trying to come in.

"Shade!" said an excited, bubbly, high-pitched voice from inside.

I came in, smiling my lopsided smile as I shut the door. "Ema," I said.

Though she was the Princess, she allowed me-- and only me-- to call her by her first name.

She sat on her satin-sheeted bed, her neat, wavy white-blonde hair tucked perfectly behind her ears, her pale skin contrasting with the deep red of the bedspread. "What brings you here?" she asked with a smile that didn't quite travel all the way to her vibrant blue eyes.

"I must give you your package," I said, walking up to her and yanking my boot off.

I shook my boot over the bed, and a few leaves and twigs came out before the package finally did.

She ignored the twigs and picked up the package, examining it with a strange expression. I could've sworn that there was just a pinch of uneasiness to it. 

"It's ripped," she said in a serious voice. She shifted her sight to me, and she looked slightly scared. "Did you do that?"

I didn't answer. 

"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Well, at least you retrieved it for me," she said, her voice a bit shaky.

She sat it on her bedstand, but she pursed her lips and shifted them against each other. I found that strange, but didn't mention it.

Instead, I shifted the focus to her coronation.

"So, ah, Ema?"

"Hmm?" she said, looking up at me.

"Your coronation's three weeks away. Are you--"

"Urgh. Don't mention it. I don't want to be Queen," she said, but there was something fake in her tone. "I'm not ready..."

"Sure you are," I said, daring to sit beside her and wrap an arm around her shoulder in a friendly way.

Soft tears appeared in her eyes. "But...I'll never be able to replace my mother. Not after...I can't believe someone would do that...i-it's all my fault..." That, at least, had sounded honest.

She sniffled, and her features turned up.

Don't cry. Please, I thought desperately.

"It's not your fault," I said. "I--"

"But it is!" she said, and a single tear escaped her eyes.

"No, it's not. It's not your fault that someone came into her window that night. You couldn't've prevented that, no matter how many times you tell yourself that you could've. And it's not your fault that they stabbed your mother. Because there's no way that you could've prevented that. And it's not your fault that--"

She burst into loud sobs, and my eyes went wide, my voice rising a few pitches.

"Well, the murderer hasn't been found yet. That'll be your first task as queen, though, won't it? To find the murder of your mother?"

She hadn't stopped weeping, but she nodded. "Y-Yeah," she choked out.

I wrapped my arms around her in a hug and pat her back gently until her sobs were reduced to snivels. 

"Now, then, remember that you'll be the best queen in the history of the kingdom," I said, turning my head to say in a whisper in her ear.

She nodded, and I pulled back.

"Well, I must be off," I said, standing up.

She nodded and looked at the package.

Just as I shut the door, though, I heard her emit a low chuckle and say, "Fool."

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