“Come in,” I called, I sat up on the bed since I was starting to slouch while reading a book. I closed the book and placed it on the nightstand before facing the door. Dem stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.
“Good evening, is this a bad time?” he asked.
“No, not at all,” I said. “Is something wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Dem said as he approached my bedside. “I wanted to inform you that Lord Caius and his family heard that you’re here and want to invite you to the audience tomorrow.”
“Oh, that’s very kind of them to invite me,” I said with some surprise. “Is there anything specific I should wear?”
“Yes, everyone wears ceremonial robes. I’ve just told Sybil to make one for you.”
“Would she be able to make it in time? I asked.
“Yes, she’s very skillful at the craft.”
Dem scratched the back of his head. “I apologize for the short notice.”
“No don’t, I’m grateful for the invitation,” I stated. “I’m looking forward to the audience and meeting Lord Caius and his family.”
“They look forward to meeting you too.”
I smiled, but before Dem left, he became aware that I had pinned up my hair in a more suitable style then at practice. I had found a pearl hairpin and decided to wear it.
“Your hair’s lovely,” Dem commented. “You’re not going to fight some monsters, are you?”
I chuckled. “Perhaps.”
“I should come along with you.”
“Oh, you don’t think I can handle myself?” I asked humorously.
“No, I wouldn’t want you to have all the fun,” Dem pointed out. He came over again to closely inspect the hairpin. “You really don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to.”
“No, no, I really like this style,” I said. “It’s much less of a hassle if I keep my hair up.”
“I see, well, it makes your eyes stand out more.”
“Thank you,” I said, clearly flustered. “Fighting monsters will be much easier now.”
This time Dem chuckled and he returned to the doorway. “The audience will be in the throne room tomorrow afternoon, Sybil will escort you there. Do you have any questions?”
“Well. . . I’ve never been to an audience before so I’m not sure if I’ll have to say or do anything specific, or—”
“You don’t need to do anything,” Dem said. “It’s usually my father and the guest that does all the talking. All you have to do is sit at the table and be presentable.”
“That won’t be hard.”
“Yes, audiences are usually boring, but it’s mandatory for the families to be present in case someone else in the party has an opinion that would benefit the discussion.”
“I see,” I said. “Well, I suppose tomorrow shall be interesting then.”
“Quite so, well, good evening.” Dem smiled and left.
The next morning, I awoke to find a small box sitting on my nightstand. A thin red ribbon was tied neatly around the box, and a note was tagged along with it. I reached for the note and it read:
I thought this would be more fitting for you.
A blush snuck up to warm my cheeks. I sat up on the bed, replacing the note with the box and stared at it with admiration. I twisted the box around, wondering what could be inside before finally opening it. A rose gold hair clip sat upon a piece of cotton. I picked it up and examined it with a small smile crossing my lips.
Sybil entered the room carrying the ceremonial robes in her arms.
“Good morning, Suzette, did you sleep well?”
“I did, thank you,” I said as I got myself out of bed. “How about you? You must be exhausted from sewing.”
“Oh, I am quite alright, thank you for asking.” Sybil placed the robes on the bed and I gasped inaudibly as I observed the intricate patterns of cardinals soaring across the white wool, and the gold trimmings running along the droopy sleeves, opening, and train.
“It’s lovely,” I commented.
“It’ll look good with the hairpin you’re holding,” Sybil suggested.
I smiled lightly. “I guess it would.”
The throne room appeared to be the largest chamber in the castle. An arcade supported by piers branched to the barrel ceiling, and lancet windows lined the polished walls. Long tables were situated at each side of the chamber, alongside dozens of gilded chairs.
At the far end of the chamber, situated under a canopy of gold and crimson curtains, were two ornamented thrones. King Simon was already sitting in one throne when I was escorted in. He wore the same kind of robes, but the main difference was the gold-plated medallion hanging from his neck.
His family and I sat down on the west side of the room and waited quietly for Lord Caius to arrive. I was seated at the farthest end next to Dem, who acknowledged me with another of his kind smiles.
“I see you’re wearing the hairpin,” Dem said. “I was right; it does suit you better.”
“Thank you, but you did not need to give me anything,” I said in a quiet voice, I didn’t want anyone to hear our conversation, but Dem talked normally.
“Why not?” he asked with a shrug. “It’s a little token to help you fight the monsters. Though I’m afraid that there are no monsters here right now.”
“I told you, I’m fond of this hair style,” I said. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to wear this while fighting, I’ll be concerned about it getting ruined.”
“I appreciate that you care for my gift.”
“Of course I do, it was very thoughtful.”
“Hey,” Dem’s youngest sibling peered over her brother’s shoulder, “can you two stop flirting? It’s gross.” She stuck out her tongue in disgust while her other siblings snickered except for Prince Adrian, who simply raised his eyebrows. His mouth twitched as if he were going to join his younger brothers and sisters, but he reserved himself. I was ready to disappear from embarrassment but that would only make matters worse. Dem too was flustered but he mustered composure as he held his head high and turned to his sister.
“Our apologizes, Grace, but you shouldn’t be eavesdropping.”
Princess Grace puffed up her cheeks in retaliation. Her other brothers and sisters aside from Prince Adrian snickered at her this time. Prince Adrian rolled his eyes and spoke up,
“Alright, alright, settle down now. The guests are about to arrive.” He passed Dem a look before facing away. Dem excused the look and leaned to me, whispering, “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to make a scene.”
“It’s alright,” I whispered back. I was still somewhat embarrassed about the ordeal, though it was best to forget it.
We waited a few minutes in silence until the double doors opened and Sir Jarrick marched in. He bowed his head to King Simon before rising again and said, “Your Majesty, Lord Caius and his family have arrived.”
“Very good, send them in,” King Simon instructed.
In a few moments, the noble family of Caius marched in, donning robes of blue and bronze with their family symbol of an owl stitched all over the fabric. Lord Caius was a short, elderly man with beads tied in his gray beard. He possessed such a sunken face that it looked like his skin could melt right off. Shortly behind him was his wife—a lean woman with vibrant rings adorning every digit, and a hairpiece in the shape of an owl. Next in line were their four children, including Lady Faye who had twin braids of ashen hair, and a beauty mark under her right eye.
The family collectively sat down on the east side of the hall. They held grace in their stature with an apparent air of sternness too, especially Lady Faye who cast me a look but quickly averted her gaze when our eyes met.
“Thank you all for joining us today,” King Simon announced, commanding everyone’s attention. His voice echoed clearly throughout the hall.
Lord Caius stood up from his chair. He smiled a broad smile and, despite his shortness, he spoke in a voice that could shake the hall, “Thank you for inviting us to your home to discuss this important matter. And I thank Princess Suzette for joining us today.”
Lord Caius gestured a hand to my direction and all eyes were on me. I sunk a bit in the chair. Dem urged me to get up with a quick gesture of his hand and so I rose to acknowledge the audience.
“Th—thank you,” I attempted to speak as diligently as the leaders had, but my nerves reduced my voice to a stammer. “It’s an honor to meet you too, Lord Caius.”
“Princess Suzette,” Lord Caius raised his arms hospitably, “I welcome you to sit at my table if you wish.”
“Oh.” I glanced briefly to Dem who mouthed ‘go on’ to me, but there was unease in his eyes. I wanted to stay, but I didn’t want to be rude to the guests. I turned back to Lord Caius and smiled. “It would be an honor, sir.” I bowed and headed to the table. The walk across the chamber felt longer than it should’ve been. Lord Caius and his family were all stern but provided smiles to ease the tension. The family collectively stood up, bowed to me and I bowed back before Lord Caius allowed me to sit next to him. Lord Caius took my hand and planted a kiss.
“It’s truly a privilege to be sitting with you, Princess Suzette,” Lord Caius said.
“Thank you,” I said. I turned to Dem and he was staring right back at me, but turned to his father.
“Shall we start the meeting?” King Simon asked.
“Yes.” Lord Caius rose again. “Your Majesty, you’ve been a great leader for all these years and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. However, your failing health has caused a great disturbance to the land and I only fear it’ll become worse. I suggest, as your loyal friend, that you hand me the ring for the time being, so that the land can be what it once was.”
Inaudible gasps spread from Dem’s side at the statement. Dem’s eyes flared with anger but he remained bound to the chair. His head swerved quickly to his father, who too remained seated with a downcast expression.
“I’m sorry, my dear friend,” King Simon said, “I am aware that you’re upset, however, I cannot pass the ring to you. Only when I die, the ring will be given to my son. It is the law and it cannot be broken. You and everyone else will have to endure the cold a little while longer. I’m sorry.”
“Acel,” King Simon continued, “you carry an unhealthy amount of anger and impatience inside you, if you were ever to take possession of my ring, then the mountains would rip open and fire would spill out. I recall a time not too long ago where I had been reckless with my feelings and it stormed for a week. I don’t want such a disaster to happen again—”
“But we’re living in another disaster!” Lord Caius retorted, his voice booming alongside the walls. “Everything has frozen over and we’re running short on resources!”
King Simon closed his eyes, I could see it in his face that he was tired, exceptionally tired. His hands trembled on the throne’s armrests. “My friend. . . I understand your concern, I really do. Unfortunately, nothing can be done until my death which I assure you won’t be very long. Do you want my time to come sooner?”
“No, Your Majesty.” Lord Caius dropped his gaze and I briefly spotted his left hand slipping into his robes, and the glint of a blade flashed before me. At that moment, my heart dropped and before I could make a sound, Lady Faye’s hand shielded the blade and she eyed me coldly before her gaze dashed off.
“Our apologizes, Your Majesty,” Lady Faye said, bowing her head. “Please forgive us, we are simply distressed by the country’s state.”
King Simon held up a hand. “It’s best to be honest with me rather than hide your grievances. I am privileged that you have come here to discuss this matter, but it pains me to know that you’ve forgotten the most important law of this kingdom—that only the ruler shall wear the ring.”
“I didn’t forget,” Lord Caius said, “it was simply a suggestion.”
“Yet you were demanding of the suggestion, therefore you were desperate to take away my power,” King Simon criticized. “I do not wish to argue any longer about this matter in fear it’ll cause more problems. I am tired and I want to spend my remaining days in peace. If there is anything else that you wish for me to do, now is your time.”
The hall fell silent until Lady Faye spoke up, “Would it be possible if the wedding between Prince Adrian and I could arrive sooner, Your Majesty? Weddings are the most wondrous of occasions and it would be upsetting if you weren’t able to attend.”
Lord Caius smiled. “A wise decision. What says you, Your Majesty? Would you want to draw the wedding closer?”
“Yes,” King Simon answered. “I’ve feared that I would never see the wedding of any of my children. . .I believe we should finish preparations and have the ceremony in the next couple of days.”
“That soon?” Prince Adrian asked.
“Son,” King Simon turned to Prince Adrian, offering a hand, “I know that this is short notice, but I am not sure how much time I have left. . .seeing you and your beautiful bride at the altar would make me so content.”
In those few seconds, Prince Adrian’s face slipped from displeasure, to grief and finally acceptance. At last Prince Adrian solemnly bowed his head.
“I understand, father, forgive me for my words earlier.”
“You are excused, Adrian,” King Simon acknowledged. “We’ll have the ceremony in the prayer room in the next few days, giving enough time to provide notice for the guests. Due to the conditions outside, we’ll make sure that they arrive safely and allow them to stay overnight if needed. Lord Caius, you and your family may stay here for the next couple of days if you wish.”
“It would be an honor, Your Majesty,” Lord Caius said.
“Then it’s settled,” King Simon exclaimed, rising from his seat. “If anyone has any oppositions, speak now.”
We turned to one another, but no one had anything to say. With that, King Simon carried himself down the stairs and unraveled the medallion from his neck. “Very well—the audience is dismissed.”
“Now what should you wear for the wedding?” Sybil asked as she rummaged through the wardrobe. She pulled out several dresses; a lovely one with pearls and another with fancy laces.
“Hmmm,” Sybil hummed, “oh, I know!” Before Sybil revealed it to me, there was a knock at the door.
“Come in!” Sybil sung.
Lady Faye stepped in and Sybil gasped, quickly bowing her head in respect. “My lady, it’s an honor.”
“Quite. Could you excuse us, please? It’ll only be a few minutes,” Lady Faye said.
“Certainly.” Sybil bowed once more and scrambled her way out of the room.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, milady,” I said with a small bow. “Congratulations on the engagement, I’m privileged that I’ll be at your wedding.”
“Suzette, was it?” Lady Faye said. She crossed the room and came across my sword that was laying on a stand. Lady Faye picked it up and examined it with a peculiar gaze.
“You use the sword?” she inquired with a sort of mockery on her tongue.
“Cute.” She tossed the sword to me but my reflexes were too slow and the sword clattered to the ground. I hurried to retrieve it.
“How can someone practicing the sword be so sluggish?” Lady Faye inquired.
“I’m not done my training yet.”
“Humph, figures.” Lady Faye wandered around my bed and picked up the book I was reading. She randomly flipped through the pages to see its contents.
“Might I ask, milady, what are you doing in here, exactly?” I asked, trying not to sound cross.
“I was about to say that.” Lady Faye shut the book and tossed it back on my bed. She had extraordinarily dark green eyes that stirred intimidation. “You saw what happened back there—my father about to draw his sword, correct?”
I froze up but gained the strength to say quietly, “Yes, but I wasn’t sure if it was actually a sword. Was your father . . . going to attack His Majesty?”
“Please— in front of everyone to witness?” Lady Faye scoffed. “It was reckless for him to do that, he would’ve caused an uproar and our reputation—specifically my marriage—would be ruined.” At the word of ‘my’ Lady Faye flicked off a strand of her ashen hair. “Don’t be concerned about my father, it’s me you should be worried about.” Lady Faye plucked out a hidden dagger from her sleeve and I gasped. “Don’t be so alarmed, I’m not going to hurt you, well, unless you don’t cooperate that is.”
“Wh—what do you want?” I asked unsteadily, retracting a few steps.
“What I want is the perfect wedding,” Lady Faye expressed through gritted teeth. “I don’t want anything to go wrong, so I advise you to keep your little mouth shut and not tell a soul about what you saw, and this encounter, or there will be consequences. Understood?”
“Y—yes. . .milady.”
“Good, that’s all.” Lady Faye concealed the dagger and made her way out, but stopped to say, “Oh, and do be careful with that sword—wouldn’t want to hurt yourself with it.” Lady Faye gave me a haughty smile before leaving the room. I took back what I said, it wasn’t a pleasure meeting her. Anger boiled up inside me but I kept myself calm as I returned my book and sword to their proper places.
There was another knock at the door, but this time Sybil walked in.
“Did you have a pleasant talk with Lady Faye?” Sybil asked.
“Yes,” I quickly lied and moved to the wardrobe, needing to change the subject. “What was the dress you thought would look good on me?”
“This one.” Sybil brought out the dress and proceeded to talk about how beautiful I’ll be, but I barely paid much attention.
I wandered down the halls to see servants decorating the walls with huge flower wreaths and blush colored ribbons. I curiously watched them work until a voice called for me from behind. I turned to see Dem approaching me looking rather sour as his eyes moved to the decorations.
“The castle is looking like a cake,” Dem commented.
“I think it brightens it,” I said, although I wasn’t as excited about the wedding now knowing that the bride-to-be wasn’t the nicest person. I could definitely see why Dem and Prince Adrian weren’t that fond of her.
“What does Adrian think?”
“He doesn’t have much of an opinion,” Dem said. “He only cares for father’s wellbeing, which is why he agreed for the wedding to come sooner.”
“I see,” I said. “It’s a shame that your brother isn’t marrying someone he truly loves.”
“He’s not interested in marriage or love period,” Dem said. “but since he is the crown prince, he has to have a wife in order to have an heir.”
“Why isn’t he interested?” I asked.
Dem shrugged. “I’m not sure, but don’t tell my father that.”
“Good,” Dem said and started to walk a few feet ahead of me. “I’m heading to the kitchen to get a sample of the wedding cake; would you like to come?”
Dem smiled and led me down the hall before descending a short flight of stairs to the kitchen. Dr. Aves was there licking off some frosting from a cake sitting on a countertop. It was a three-tired cake with cardinals and owls embellished in vanilla icing.
“Ah, Suzette, Prince Demetrius.” Dr. Aves bowed. “Do you two like my work? It’s vanilla hazelnut with butter cream icing.”
“You made this?” I inquired.
“Well, actually I just put the icing on, the chief baked it but he’s on his break now and I decided to finish the work for him.”
“So, you didn’t bake it,” Dem said.
“I helped,” Dr. Aves mumbled. “Anyways, Suzette, I had talked to Aleck earlier and the good news is that he isn’t mad at me anymore, but the bad news is, he’s still not close to being done.”
“Has he contacted Sophie again?”
“Ahh, about that. . .” Dr. Aves faltered. “Aleck tried to get in contact, but wasn’t able to reach her for some reason. It might just be another technical mess up that he also has to fix, but as long as Sophie stays put, everything will be fine.”
“Alright,” I said with some disappointment, but I agreed with his statement nonetheless.