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Author's note: This piece is about love. And love, though it's corny, makes the world go round. Hope you enjoy it too.
I strolled through the castle hallways like I owned the place- which I did. Or at least I would once I was married. Ugh, that word again. Marriage. It had haunted me in my sleep for many months, ever since I learned of my betrothed- Prince Marcus. He was quite dashing, I had to admit. But he was also pompous, arrogant, and a royal pain in my behind.
I smirked as I made my way to my mother’s bedchamber. Gathia, my maid, would never have let me make “un-princess-like” references to body parts.
Slowing my pace, I studied my home. The large, elaborate columns that rose to the decorative ceiling were all painted a striking color of white, just the same as dress I was wearing. The columns were the doorways to the outside. It was a gorgeous day; the grass was a healthy, dark green and the sky was as blue as my eyes. The sun was shining and it made my gloomy situation feel a fraction of a bit lighter.
Much like the ceilings, I was decorated head to toe in the most expensive gold jewelry. My long black hair swayed against my back as I walked and was embellished in pins made of sapphire to bring out my sky blue eyes.
I was the pride and joy of my father. All of his other daughters paled in comparison to my beauty, especially the one’s borne of Castalia, my father’s fifth wife. All six of her daughters had plain brown hair and pale blue eyes and didn’t have the vivacious figure that I possessed. But they were, without exception, closer to me than any of my other sisters- especially my pure blood ones. Gardenia and Amalia were quite jealous of my beauty, and tried to make life miserable for me.
Thankfully, I was blessed with a quick mind and a rebellious spirit.
I wanted nothing to do with palace life. Being a princess had its perks: the clothing, the attention, the wealth, but I knew that there was a different life than this. And I witnessed it in the lives of peasants.
One day, on the way back to my bedchambers after riding my horse, Anastasia, I witnessed something I’d never imagined existing. A man, one of our own people, had passionately kissed a woman and looked at her with such love I knew it would burn the sun with its passion. I had never seen my father kissing my mother or any of his other wives like that. I’d never seen anything like it in my entire life.
And I wanted it more than anything.
That was why I couldn’t marry Marcus. He would never give me that kind of love. I’d be just another possession, another play toy for him.
That was why I was now entering my mother’s bedchamber.
Her beautiful face that seemed to only get better with age greeted me from the door. Unfortunately, that face was spoiled by a disappointed scowl that, when I was young, shook my very core. Now, however, I wasn’t fazed by it and instead, met it with my own scowl.
She began to speak with a voice that could shatter glass. “Rachelle. Why did the king ask me why you didn’t attend the engagement dinner last night?”
I rolled my eyes. “Because I wasn’t there and he probably thought you would know why. But you don’t.” I knew my sass would further stoke my mother’s anger, but that was exactly what I wanted.
She sighed. “Well then why don’t you tell me yourself?”
My mother’s response disappointed me, but I answered truthfully. “I was riding Anastasia.”
She gasped. “At night? You know how dangerous that is.”
I shrugged. “It was either that or attend a dinner I want nothing to do with.”
Mother sagged into a big red chair as if the short conversation had taken everything out of her. “Why don’t you like Marcus? He’s a fine young man and he thinks you’re the most beautiful girl in all of the Empire of Casamarina.”
I sighed. “Mother, everyone thinks that. This beauty is a curse. I spit on it.” I said, pretending to spit in on my sandals. The shiny marble floor only furthered my disgust by reflecting my appearance back to me, laughing at me.
The doting mother came out of her and she stood up and embraced me. I tried to struggle free, even though her cradle was something I wanted more than anything. “Rachelle, the gods blessed you with beauty.” This wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I glared at her. “But, what is inside of you is more beautiful than the gold of Mt. Symon.” She cradled my face in her hands and smiled at me with a proud look. “Even though you can be quite ornery, I love you.”
I finally melted my teenage rebellion walls and hugged my mother tightly around the waist. “I love you too, mother.”
“I just want you to be happy.” She said. I could feel her tears in my hair so I held her tighter.
“I can never be happy with Marcus. He’s arrogant. And he cares nothing for me, only my body, my money, and my status.”
My mother nodded understandingly. She led me to the couch she was previously sitting on. “That’s how I felt when my father arranged my marriage. I was afraid and very alone. But the king is a good man, and I’m proud to be one of his wives.”
I sighed and leaned my head on her shoulder. “That’s what I mean. Don’t you wish you were the only wife father has? Don’t you want him to love you?”
My mother seemed embarrassed by the question. “A lot of men have multiple wives. I’m not the jealous type. And he provides a home for me. He buys me gifts. He gave me three gorgeous daughters. What more could I need?”
I knew she would never understand my longing for a true love. She had developed the simpleton mind every other woman in the kingdom had. A woman was a possession to men, just another medal of honor to show off to their friends; something to polish and hang on the shelf; something to bring down and use whenever he wanted to. I didn’t want to be a trophy.
But that seemed to be the only option in a man’s world.
My mother finally released me and wiped away her tears. She seemed to be very emotional lately, but I faulted myself for that. “The king wishes to see you in the throne room when we’re done.” I cringed. “I have nothing more to say; except I hope you will think about what you’ve done and why it was wrong. The next gathering we have with Marcus and his family, I expect you to be there.”
I nodded in defeat. Leaving my mother’s chamber, I knew there was no getting out of this one. I was stuck. No pleading, no bribing, no appealing would do me any good. I would marry Prince Marcus of Pastelone or else.
I entered my father’s throne room sheepishly and approached him. He was quite tall, even sitting down, and his black hair and beard made him look very dignified. He was very large from so much eating and so little doing anything else. I’d always found comfort in his arms when I was sad or lonely. He would stroke my hair and whisper that everything would be alright.
But now, I found no comfort in his posture or furious expression.
I bowed low to the ground and choked out, “Good day, your Majesty.”
“Rise, daughter. Your pleasantries will not get you out of this one.” His frown was so deep I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to move it. “I don’t know why you would disgrace me. I don’t know what I did wrong!” He said, lifting his arms in the air in exasperation. “You have always been the rebellious one, the one to bend the rules. But this time-” he seemed at a loss for words at the moment. “This time you went too far.”
I bowed my head in shame. No one could ever have this affect on me but him. “I’m sorry, father. I have disgraced you.” I knelt on my knees and folded my hands. Looking up at him with pleading eyes, I asked in a quiet voice, “Will you please forgive me? I will try hard to do better. I will be amiable and attend the next dinner. I will be courteous and charming and I will win back your affections with King Mazaketh and Prince Marcus.”
I could see he was pleased with what I said, but the frown never left. He crossed his arms and took a deep breath. “I suppose I can forgive you. But don’t let it happen again. I will not be embarrassed by you one more time.”
I nodded vigorously.
He finally smiled, revealing a set of perfectly white teeth. “Come.”
I smiled and ran up the steps to sit on my father’s lap. He laughed heartily, making his belly shake. He had forgiven me and I was truly grateful.
An hour later, I left the king’s throne room and began wandering the halls, my heart a thousand times lighter. Then I saw Amalia and Gardenia and I immediately fell into a sour mood. They approached me with spite in their eyes.
Gardenia smiled viciously. “So we heard you skipped your engagement party. What happened? Did you get cold feet?” she said with a snorting laugh.
I smiled sweetly. “Dear sister, my feet are positively warm, thank you for asking though.”
Amalia rolled her eyes. “Oh please, stop with the pleasantries- it makes me gag.”
I lifted an eyebrow and smirked. I can play this game too. “Somewhat like the way I gag when I get close enough to smell your breath.”
Gardenia, the younger of the two, opened her mouth in shock. “That was not princess-like at all. Gathia would be ashamed.”
“Like she was when you passed gas in front of the entire kingdom at the spring gala?” I asked.
She blushed and ran away in the other direction. Amalia was the tougher one to get rid of.
“What’s the real reason, sister? Why did you skip the party?” She asked, crossing her too thin arms. The dress that I’d grown out of fit her poorly, especially around the bosom. I tried to keep from laughing.
“What makes you think it’s any of your business? Really, Amalia, this concerns you not.”
She smiled. “Well, I do envy you. You get the most devilishly handsome man I’ve ever seen. I just don’t understand why you would pass up such an opportunity.”
“Look, I’ve already gotten the lecture from mother and father. Marcus and I are getting married, end of story. Goodbye.” And with that I walked away.
Riding my horse was something I did to be free. In a world where I must always be proper, must always be poised, it was nice to just let go and feel the wind blow threw my hair and use my adrenaline, especially when I went alone- which I wasn’t allowed to do.
Anastasia was the best horse in our entire kingdom. She was tame when it was time to be tame, and she was wild and free when I pushed her to run. She enjoyed our times together as much as I did.
I flew down the green pastures on the back of my black spotted mare, through the apple orchids, and to the top of my secret hill. I was aware that it probably wasn’t secret, but ever since I’d found it, I claimed it as my own.
The reason I loved my hill so much, was because the view was most spectacular. I could see my large white castle, the pastures and stable, the whole village, and the peak of Mt. Symon. Everything was green and flourishing. The sky was bright blue and there was hardly a cloud in sight.
I sighed and dismounted. Stroking Anastasia’s mane, I tried to sort out how crazy my life had become. Throughout my childhood, I was spoiled and everyone loved me. They praised my angelic features and brought me all sorts of gifts. During my early teen years, I adjusted well to the new experiences of womanhood. I enjoyed the way it felt to stand next to an attractive young man and know he is thinking about me. I reveled in the thought of being able to be married and be more spoiled like my mother. I never thought in all that time that I would realize that being given silly gifts isn’t what love is about. And the love I wanted was so impeccably out of my reach, it was silly to even sit and daydream about what the possibilities of Marcus actually loving me would be like.
Though I’d only caught a glimpse of it, I think I had a pretty good grasp on true love. It’s about not caring about a person’s looks or status or money situation. It’s about sacrificing time and energy into making a person feel good. It’s about not wanting to leave that person’s side, though sometimes it’s necessary. And that’s the biggest reason of all- someone actually working hard like a normal person to provide for their wife and children. I was sick of things just being given to me without me having to work for them.
I laughed out loud. Like that would ever happen to me. I sighed and mounted my horse again and rode her back to the stables.
I sat on my horse in the stable for five minutes and began to feel extremely impatient for a stable boy to help me down and put Anastasia in her stall.
“Excuse me!” I called.
“Coming.” A male voice came from behind the wall. I was surprised at the tone of the voice. Not only was it deeper than most of the boys- for he was probably older than them- but it sounded almost irritated.
A very attractive, familiar-looking young man finally appeared and he didn’t seem very happy at all to take my hand and help me dismount.
“Are you new?” I asked, though I knew I wasn’t supposed to converse with servants.
He nodded once, but said nothing. I felt my anger bubble up to the surface, ready to explode. How dare he be so insubordinate! I kept my patience in check and decided to further continue the conversation as he led Anastasia to her stall.
“What’s your name?” I asked
He turned to look at me with bright- and very irritated- gold eyes. “Damien. Anything else, my Lady?” he asked, somewhat sarcastically.
I’d had enough. “How dare you? Do you even know who I am? Apparently not or you wouldn’t be using this tone of voice with me. I’m Princess Rachelle. You work for me, and you will show me respect.” I said with practiced ease. Demanding respect from servants wasn’t usually something I had to do, but when I did, I knew how to sound scornful.
This seemed not to faze him, however. All he said was, “Scuse me.” and walked away.
I was fuming with anger and I was about to turn around and go rat him out to my father, but then I realized why he looked familiar.
“Damien?” I choked out. “You said your name is… Damien?”
He nodded once.
I gasped. “What are you doing here? Why are you working in my stable? I haven’t seen you in seven years!”
He frowned. “I can’t believe you remember me.”
“Of course I do! We were best friends!”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, because your father hired me. He paid good money too.”
“Are you still mad about that?” The day that he quit was a devastating one for me. Whether he was hired or not, he was my best friend. I hadn’t realized it until one day he got very angry with me and told me he was leaving and taking my father’s money with him.
He looked at me as though I were daft. “I never wanted to come and entertain some rich little princess for money.”
I stared at him in disbelief. “You didn’t want to be my friend? We had so many good times”
He hesitated. “It doesn’t matter. You used me.”
I laughed without humor. “I was ten! I wasn’t manipulating you. I just wanted a friend, and my father brought me you.” I paused. “You didn’t answer my question, how did you get here?”
He finished securing my horse and then turned to me with an impatient expression. “I was looking for a job and your father always liked me so I accepted. I won’t stay long, just long enough to buy my own home in the next village. I’m sick of a servant’s life. I want to be a free man now.”
I smiled fondly. “You always talked of being free. Do you still want to be an architect?” he nodded. I cocked my head. “My, how you’ve grown up.”
He arched an eyebrow. “And you, you’re stunning. You’ve got quite the reputation, don’t you?”
I sighed. “A reputation like mine is hard to live up to.”
He scoffed. “You don’t have to do anything to be beautiful. You’ve always been beautiful.” We were silent for a moment until he stood up a little straighter and lifted his chin, avoiding my eyes. “I have to get back to work, and you shouldn’t be talking to me.”
I nodded slightly. “I guess I’ll see you around then. Goodbye, Damien.”
I hurried from the stables and fled to my bedchamber. Thankfully, Gathia wasn’t anywhere in sight. I sat on my bed and hugged my knees to my chest. My cheeks were burning and I was frightened, not knowing what was happening to me, until I realized I was blushing. Somehow, Damien had gotten straight to the core of my insecurities in just a few seconds. He had a way of doing that and it was unnerving.
I promised myself, though my curiosity burned, I wouldn’t give Damien any attention. He was just a stable boy working for my father, like any other servant.
Even though I said it in my mind, my heart wouldn’t agree.
There was just something about him.
I woke up and was very stiff. I looked around but all I could see was large green hills with flourishing trees and wildflowers. Cows were grazing in the meadow around me. I was lying on soft grass and the stars were shining brightly above me. Then I heard something move behind me and I jumped.
“Rachelle.” He said with surprise, laying his hand on my shoulder. My heart skipped a beat.
I looked into his eyes and calmed down. The events before I lost consciousness came back to me in a whoosh and my head was spinning.
“Where are we?” I asked.
Damien frowned. “Do you remember anything in the cave?” I nodded. “And the man?”
I nodded. “That’s why I fainted, because I was so relieved that we were safe.”
He smiled. “His name is Rabtash. We are traveling with him and his cattle.”
“A cow herder?” I asked in disbelief. It wasn’t exactly princess material, but I was grateful that I wasn’t dead.
He nodded, but I could see something smoldering in his eyes and it looked like anger. I stood up and brushed dirt and grass off my dress. “How long was I out?”
“Just a day, Rabtash wanted to wait to make camp till we got to a meadow where the cows could eat.”
I stretched. “What does he think about us?”
He grimaced. “He assumed we were married.”
I looked at him with wide eyes. “What did you say?”
He shrugged indifferently, but I could see his discomfort. “I let him believe it. But he hasn’t asked why we’re… running.”
I sat down in front of him and placed my finger to my mouth, my habit when I was thinking. “We’re eloping.”
“But he thinks we are already married.”
“Then explain that when he said that you didn’t want to say anything otherwise till I woke up.”
He sighed and pulled his hand through his hair. “We’ll have to act in love, you know.”
I nodded. “I’m a good actress.” And I don’t think acting like I was attracted to him would be too hard, but I didn’t say as much.
The old man sat down. “It’s nice to see you awake, my lady.”
I smiled sweetly. “You must be Rabtash.”
He nodded and kissed my hand. I was touched by his kindness.
Damien cleared his throat. “Rabtash, I have a confession to make. We aren’t married.”
The man seemed a little taken back by this. Damien was quick to explain. “We are eloping. Our parents don’t approve.” That much would be true. My father would have a heart attack if he learned I was marrying a stable boy. The thought of my father squeezed my heart till I could hardly breathe. I focused on their conversation.
Rabtash looked distressed. “You haven’t… been together, have you?”
I understood his meaning and my hands got clammy at the thought. I was a virgin, but I wasn’t naïve. Damien looked uncomfortable. “No sir, we are both pure.” Then he looked at me accusingly and I nodded slightly.
Rabtash exhaled with relief. “Let’s make sure you stay that way while in my company, understand?”
We both nodded. He continued, “And since you’re with us, Rachelle, you will clean our clothes and cook our food when we aren’t staying at an inn. Understood?”
I blanched and looked at Damien, but he seemed to be struggling to not laugh. “Um, I’d be happy to, Rabtash.” How in the world was I going to clean clothes and cook? I’d never done either of those things in my life! I guess it was a good thing I watched Gathia wash clothes when I was younger. It couldn’t be too much different from that, right?
A red headed man and a young boy joined us and the man was staring at me quiet uncomfortably. I assumed it wasn’t too early to be an actress so I scooted closely towards Damien and laid my head on his shoulder, hoping the red headed man would get the picture. He did.
“So,” Rabtash said, “I think we should pray and get a good night sleep. We have plenty to do in the morning.” He took the red headed man’s hand and the boy and the boy reached out to grab mine. I took it hesitantly and watched in surprise as the man tried to take Damien’s hand. His face registered his surprise, but he grabbed the man’s hand anyway.
Rabtash smiled and lowered his head, while the other two echoed his moves.
“Dear Heavenly Father,” he began, “We thank you for this day. We thank you for our new friends who are traveling with us and we pray that you will watch over them and keep them safe. Lord, please be with us in sleep tonight and put your loving hand over us; protect us from Satan’s evil temptations. Bless our road to Bratton. Amen.” The other two echoed.
“Rabtash,” I asked, “which God did you pray to?”
He laughed. “The Only True God, my dear. The idols this world worship are false and man-made, but the God of the Universe, named Yahweh is as real as the tip of my finger.” He said, showing us his finger.
I pursed my lips, but let it go. I lay down next to Damien and he turned his back to me, so I turned mine to him. I had a strange feeling that he was angry with me, but I had no idea why.
I couldn’t keep my thoughts from what Rabtash said about there being only one god, and he controlled everything. How could someone have that kind of power? My country’s gods had their own individual gods and then there was Drente who looked over all the other gods. Maybe the old man was just confused and he really was praying to Drente. Yes, that makes sense; old people get confused a lot.
But somehow, I knew that wasn’t the case
The next day, Rabtash gave me a basket filled with robes to wash in the river before we left.
I begrudgingly walked to the river and stared at it for a moment before I began daintily dipping them in the cold, rushing water. I didn’t want to get my fingers wet, so I tried to keep them out of the water as best as I could.
I had just gotten the first robe wet and was about to get the soap out of the basket, when Damien came galloping through the stream. He didn’t slow down as he neared me, and the horses hooves sent water flying towards me, soaking me to the bone.
I screamed. “Damien!” he continued galloping away, but I saw the smile on his face before he left.
I groaned and shivered. The water was freezing and the air wasn’t much better. Thankfully, Damien’s water splash got all the robes wet to, so all I had to do was scrub them with soap and then rinse them again.
It took another half hour, not because the load was big, but because I had no idea what I was doing.
Finally, when I was finished, I brought the clothes back to Rabtash. He smiled appreciatively at me and helped me hang the wet clothes on a string he’d tied between two trees.
“Where are we, Rabtash?” I asked after a few moments of compatible silence.
“We are a few hours outside Davenport. It’ll probably be a three days ride to Bratton.”
I nodded. A sense of urgency to leave was bottled up inside of me and I mentioned it to Damien when we were eating lunch together that afternoon. “We need to hurry. The palace guards are probably on there way to drag us back to the dungeon by now!”
He hushed me. “I know. I’ve been trying to talk Rabtash into letting us get a head start but he’s convinced that the animals haven’t had enough rest. I think the old man is a little worrisome.”
“Not worrisome,” Rabtash said from behind us, “just cautious. Why are you young people so in a hurry to leave, anyway?” he asked.
I hurried to explain-lie, “We just want to get as far away from our parents as we can.” I took Damien’s hand in my own, “I love Damien and I want to marry him, but we can’t do that if our parents get in the way. They’re probably looking for us right now.