My return to the world I knew was not the kind of delightful reprieve that I had hoped it would be. Despite the greater doubts festering inside of me about the reality of my world, the world itself did not change. I was still the princess to a powerful king and queen, and was still set to be given away to a man called Auggy. And, that meant that preparations had to be made. My family spared no expense, but nor did they afford me the time to consider Oliver's words. From the moment I woke up the morning after, I was launched into wedding planning overdrive.
Auggy's parents essentially lived within the castle walls at that point. The only thing worse than having to sleep at their son's side was to have to put up with future in-laws. You will never meet people with their noses in the air higher, nor their dander ruffled worse than Augustus the first and his wife Amethyst. If someone had told me that both their noses were tied with invisible ties to the end of their tailbones, I would probably have believed them.
You'd have thought that they themselves were the king and queen with the way they were acting, and it certainly didn't please my mother in the slightest. I knew this because, with every little jab from Auggy's mother, 'oh, well, I suppose we never thought out Auggy would marry such a homely young girl', and every accidentally rude comment from his father 'I must know the name of the king's wig maker. Oh, he doesn't wear a wig? I could have sworn...', my mother tugged on my corset tighter and tried to cram my feet into smaller and smaller shoes.
I suppose I should have complained. I wanted to complain. I thought of complaining. But, my mind was far too invested in the discussion I'd had the night earlier. For a stranger, Oliver had certainly made an impact, and quickly.
“Now, don't protest, Faeah,” said my mother. But, I had not protested. I had not said a word. “There is simply no getting out of it, girl. You will marry who your father has arranged for you.”
I sighed. “I know.”
“Don't take that tone of voice with me!” she bellowed, her face in a deep frown. “Yes, I know it is a sacrifice but it is one you are going to make!”
“Mum, I'm not even saying anything. I know how this works.”
“Of course your father knows what he is doing, he always knows.”
It didn't seem to matter what I said, she was keeping at me. So, I stayed silent.
“Now you listen here, I will not have you insulting the honor of this family!”
“I didn't insult anything!” I shouted, wondering what on Earth she was going through.
She tutted. “You do look lovely in this gown, you know.”
I glanced at the mirror. I looked more like a cream-colored cloud with a head on it than a bride. The color was alright, but I always pictured myself wearing something warmer. I considered telling her that but decided it was for naught.
“It does not matter if you do not like the color.” she responded to my inner monologue, “You will wear it as you have been instructed.”
Why must I always do as I am told? I thought, but did not say. “You can hear what I'm thinking?” I asked.
“You must do as you are told because you are a princess and your father is the king! A great king! A powerful king!”
A king that has seldom won a war, nor gathered respect from the corners of this kingdom. I shook the thought away, wondering where it came from. “Stop it, Mum. You're scaring me.”
“He has earned our respect, I will have you know,” said Auggy's father. He nodded, his jowls shivering.
Of course you should say that on the week of the wedding. You schmooze for a better life. Simpletons. “I wasn't talking to you, Augustus. I wasn't talking to anybody. How can you hear what's going on in my head?”
“Schmooze! I'll have you know...” He continued, but I didn't hear him. The sound of my own heartbeat was blaring loud. I jumped down from the step stool I was stood upon and ran to the back of the room. I stood by the window and breathed what I hoped was the freshest of air. Something was going wrong with my world and it sent me into full panic.
Imagine how the pangs in my chest worsened when I realized they were still facing the step stool, still talking away.
“Tell Auggy's parents you're sorry, Faeah.” said my mother.
My apologies, it's just that I am so nervous. The thought arose into my mind unsolicited.
“It is alright, of course. I can remember my first wedding...” He laid his hand on the emptiness of where I had been standing.
“Your first wedding?” said his wife.
“Oh, I mean, my only wedding.”
What about your marriage to Ophelia? Where were these thoughts coming from? They weren't coming from me. I was gasping for air by the window, watching them talk to a mirror. I was wondering what in creation was happening to me and my world.
“Ophelia? Oh, Ophelia. Well, she was a girly friend, you see. Not so much a wife.”
But, I thought my father said... Said what? I wondered, not knowing what the other end of the statement would be, even though I could not help starting it.
“Yes, yes, well, your father...”
I did not hear the rest. The surrealism of the moment was too much. Even then, it seems the layers of reality were peeling back before my eyes. I ran out of the room and down the castle steps. I had made a mistake the night before, I realized. I hadn't listened to my heart as Oliver was speaking, because my heart had told me he was right.
Even as I ran away from the castle doors, my thoughts remained strange to me. As if they had been prearranged to arise at certain intervals and there seemed to be nothing I could do to stop them.
The guards were at the drawbridge when I came to it, but they did not notice me. They did not even glance at me. And, when I unleashed the gears for the bridge to fall, they made no attempts at stopping me. I had the strangest sense that I was far out of place, beyond my own space and time. And, yet, I was only one hundred feet from my home.
I did not know what I was doing, my mind was still at war with itself and the world around me seemed to be suddenly stranger than I could imagine even feeling in the farthest recess of space. But, my feet carried me along. They knew where to go, even when I did not. It was not long before the lone ship beyond the rest came into focus, and an orange-haired man was stood watching as I approached.
I tore off the corset suffocating me and I kicked off the shoes slowing me down. It was hard running in a wedding dress, especially one so oversized, but my feet pounded the earth steadily and without a trip-up. As I came closer, I could see Oliver's smiling face. I would be lying if I said the face had comforted me. In that moment of panic, all it did was make the world seem that much more ominous, and strange, and sad.