Chapter 1 Birthday Nerves
It should have been an ordinary day just like any other, the sky was a beautiful blue and the sun was shining down with a warm and pleasant glow. The sound of children’s laughter could be heard above the sound of the birds singing in the trees, as they played in the palace garden. The adults clustered around drinking, chatting and taking in the familiar scene slowly being acted out in front of them...
Young Oswald Zarrock, Lord Zarrock oldest and most favored child sat in one of the high back chairs, placed on a raised dais, in the middle of the lawn and Princess Mistral sat in the other. This was his favorite game where he got to play the king of the realm. A position his father had constantly reminded him would be his one day. Although he would only attain it by marriage, his father had told him many times of how it rightfully belonged to their family and was stolen from them many years earlier by the House of Vorrenge. He hated having to wait patiently for his time and during these games liked to lose himself to his imagination of what would one day be his.
He sat posing and preening, running his fingers through his mass of long black curls, while flashing smiles at the young girls and ladies of the household. He had inherited his father’s good looks and stature. Getting his own way was also what he was used to, after being spoiled by his father and a series of nannies. He enjoyed making the younger members of the group run around, as he barked orders at them. Mistral looked at him out of the corner of her beautiful violet eyes, flicked her long silver blonde hair back from her face to ensure Oswald didn’t miss her expression of boredom, as she gave out an exaggerated yawn to emphasize her point.
Rising to her feet she and turned to look at the crowd rather than Oswald. “This game bores me! I’m going to my room to read my book.”
Quick as a flash Oswald grabbed the Princess by the wrist as she went to move past him. “Sit down queen... This game is not over till I say it is!” The crowd gasped as audibly.
“I beg your pardon!” Mistral was forced to turn and look at him, and her expression was of total disbelief.
Oswald looked at Mistral and pointed to the chair next to him which she had just vacated and spoke in what he thought was a gruff manly voice. “Sit woman! I command you as your husband and your king.”
There was a ripple of nervous giggles from a few people standing close enough to tune into the conversation and the scene taking place in front of them.
“Really... You command me do you?” Mistral’s voice had taken on an icy edge not many people had heard before, but those who had became alarmed for what might happen next.
Oswald was acutely aware of the audience watching him... feeling conscious of his family rank and status, pulled Mistral towards him in a clumsy attempt to make her sit back down. In a whisper he was sure no one else could hear, he hissed at her, “one day when we marry you will do as I tell you in all aspects of your life...” People stopped talking and a hush fell over the crowd as they strained to catch the words Oswald was taking great care to keep between themselves. He started to loosen his grip on the Princess’ wrist. Before he had time to realize what was happening Mistral had swung back around and caught him full in the face with a right hook.
“Yowouch! You evil, spiteful, scobbit.” He screamed out in pain and fell back in his chair with his hands covering his face, as a titter went around the crowd. They may not have caught what he said, but they certainly registered Mistral’s reaction.
Mistral now stood up to her full height, which although not tall towered over him as he sat on his makeshift throne. She looked down at him clutching his eye, which was already starting to swell, and said loudly for everyone to hear... “Let me tell you sir, when I say I am bored and wish to leave, you would do well to take note. It is not something I said to invite conversation, or opinion. And as for you commanding me as my husband and my king,” she gave a loud dry theatrical laugh, “that sir is something, you may rest assured, you will never be!”
Although thrown initially by her comments, stinging with the pain in his face, and aware of the swelling in his eye, he tried to rise above it. Attempting to make a quick recovery, turned on what he felt sure was his best smile, to accompany the charm which he hoped would sooth the ruffled Princess. “Come now Princess there is no need to over react, I was merely referring to the prophecy,” he paused for a second or two, “after all is it not written that our two houses will be joined as one by the unity of the two eldest children.”
“It may be written sir, but does it say which generation? Because I can tell you in front of witnesses, it won’t be this one!” Leaving those words hanging in the air she turned her back on the red faced Oswald, bowed to her audience and flounced across the lawn with her small group of loyal followers and friends swarming around her. She left a bewildered Oswald looking around for his father to seek guidance on his next move. This unfortunately was as it had always been, and would prove to always be in times to come.
Mistral sat at her dressing table and brushed her long, thick, silky hair, whilst looking out of the window, the morning sun making it appear more like polished silver than ever. Brushing her hair normally calmed her, but not today. It was her sixteenth birthday and she knew pressure would be put on her parents to find her a husband. Although there would be no wedding bells expected till she was at least eighteen, as Princess of the realm and heir to the throne there were certain responsibilities and expectations and one of those expectations was a good marriage; one which would strengthen and secure the crown. Then of course there was the need to bear children to protect the line of succession...
She groaned inwardly. Today the hair brushing wasn’t working and her head was whirling. She knew behind everyone’s birthday wish would be a hidden question. ‘Would today be the day of announcement? Who would be chosen?’ She couldn’t avoid her parents for the whole day, so she might as well get it over with and have ‘the talk’. She put the hair brush down and looked at herself in the mirror. Although she had showered and put on fresh clean clothes, she was still in her usual jeans and vest top. No doubt some people will be expecting something a little more formal for today...
In her mind at sixteen she could dress herself and it was her birthday, so with capability and choice at her finger tips, she would go with her well known casual and comfortable style. Some of the older generation disapproved of a princess appearing in casual clothes at any time, but she found it put other people at ease with her and she had noticed some of the younger ones had started to copy her style. She couldn’t help but feel a little flattered by this, and felt she owed it to them to stick to their preferred dress code today.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud persistent knocking on the door. She wondered if they had been there long. She knew she tended to wander off and get lost deep within her own mind, sometimes blocking everything else out. It was both a gift and a curse.
“Come in,” she called turning to look at the intruder to her thoughts.
“Good morning Miss, I hope you slept well... Their Majesties are in the breakfast room and would like you to join them. Breakfast will be served in thirty minutes Miss, is there anything you would particularly like this morning?” Luna the housemaid smiled at her. “And may I wish you a Happy Birthday from all the staff. We hope you have a wonderful day Miss.”
“Thank you so much Luna, and please convey my thanks to everyone, it is kind of you all to say so. I will come directly. How did you find my mother and father this fine morning?”
Luna smiled at Mistral, she had grown up in the palace and as a child played in the nursery with Mistral, their relationship had gone from strength to strength ever since. Due to their friendship, out of earshot of the other palace staff and any visitors, she was allowed a little leeway with the formalities of status. She looking over her shoulder scanning the corridor to ensure no one was there to listen, she continued.
“The King seems in good spirits and enjoyed his ride this morning. The Queen has been out in the fields with the dogs so both are quite refreshed.” Her eyes held a knowing twinkle, “I don’t think you will have any problem putting your suggestion to them this morning. But I would get in there quickly, because I couldn’t help noticing, whilst dusting his majesty’s desk this morning, he has an appointment with Lord Zarrock at 11:30 today.”
“Oh has he Luna, this morning you say, well we both know what it’s about, don’t we?” Mistral quickened her pace.
“Just stay calm, I’m sure your mum and dad are on your side.”
“Do you think so Luna. I do hope you’re right, but how can you be sure?”
“I just know I am, but politics and other stuff get in the way of good sense and good judgement.” Mistral smiled at Luna, she knew only too well if it wasn’t for ‘politics and stuff’ as Luna put it, she would be able to openly declare Luna as her best friend. They walked the long trek from Mistral’s room at the far end of the landing in the East wing of the palace in companionable silence. Before coming into range of her mother, Mistral quickly connected with Luna through Mind Connection.
‘Have you managed to get tonight off Luna? You will be there won’t you?’
‘You betcha M! Mrs Hargreaves did try and put the mockers on it, by giving me some sewing to do, but Mr Russell stopped her saying it wasn’t my job and I’d booked it off with him ages ago. As Mrs Hargreaves huffed her way back into her office he winked at me.’ Luna couldn’t stop the little giggle escaping.
‘He actually winked at you!’ Mistral gave a low whistle. ‘And had you booked it off with him?’
’No. Well I didn’t think I would have to as I normally finish my duties at eight just before dinner is served. Anyway I thought it would draw too much attention to it if I booked my first day off, ever, on your sixteenth birthday.
‘Surely this isn’t your first day off!’ Even through Mind Connection Luna could sense the shock in Mistral’s reply.
’No of course not, but I don’t normally book anything. I’m told when my days off are, and they’re the same days every month. The only reason they would change is if there was a family event like a wedding or a funeral, or some sort of crisis. Oh well, whether they know or not, there is not much they can do about it is there? I know Mr Russell would be okay. He comes across as a tough nut, but after all he has to, it’s his job! I mean it wouldn’t do for him to come across as a bit of a soft touch. He needs to keep a bit of mystery and distance from the staff. I think it helps him command respect, but he’s a sweetie really!
Now Mrs Hargreaves, well she different altogether. In fact I just don’t know how to take her. She’s sort of secretive... None of the staff can get close to her, so we know nothing about her. I think she’s a bit old fashioned, and doesn’t think it’s right the way we are allowed to talk to you. She certainly wouldn’t have approved of our nursery days, so I don’t know what she would say if she got wind of the fact that I will be sitting down at the same dinner table as you tonight!’
‘You’re probably right. We’ll just have to watch our step with her. I know mum and dad have to follow protocol, but they do try and encourage people from all the different communities to mix freely and hate any form of segregation, especially class distinction. Snobbery at its worst, so they try and be encouraging whenever they can, and remove any barriers.’
As they approached the breakfast room they brought their conversation to a close. Although Mistral’s parents understood her relationship with the housemaid she used to play with as a young child, she didn’t want her mother joining in their conversation or overhearing what they were discussing.
They reached the breakfast room together. As Mistral put her hand on the door handle she smiled at Luna who nodded encouragingly at her. Taking a deep breath she entered the room and smiled at the two people she loved most in the world, her mother and father, Queen Morren and King Darrick, of the House of Vorrenge.