Chapter 1: Prince Aridor
It was dawn, the first light of my predestined time to come. In the distance, the orange rays were peeking over the pine top mountains and gleaming through the thin cotton clouds. With the glass paneled window open, I placed my elbows onto the stone cold surface while my head rested in my hands. It was this morning that I had wished to not greet like I had previously done everyday. It was the morning that I wished to never wake up, in hopes that I can deny my future.
The heavy footsteps of hooves from afar told me that I could never escape this fate. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, nor could I even take my life with my own hands. Not even the window would allow me to fall to my death. The steel black bars caged me in, they contained like a delicate bird in her birdcage.
The sun had rose higher, coming from behind the mountains, shining down upon the thousands of men that rode our way. The metal of their freshly polished armor glimmered as the sun beat down on them. The blue flags that were tied to a silver pole swayed and danced in the slight breeze while they continued to push forward.
The carriage being pulled at the front had heavily armed guards surrounding it, protecting it’s Prince inside. The carriage itself was coated with the finest royal blue color as the trim was made of pure gold.
“My lady, it is time we bathe you before presenting you to the Prince,” my handmaid, Serena, spoke out behind me. Letting out a frustrated sigh, I drew my eyes away from the carriage that was nearing the castle.
Serena was wearing her normal pale green dress, the old fabric was worn and had dirt stains along the bottom from where it would drag along the floor. My frown became deeper on my face and Serena’s head snapped down embarrassed.
“Serena, look at me.” I ordered her and she delicately lifted her head. Her light brown curls dropped against her shoulders as her dull blue eyes looked up at me.
“I apologize my lady, it is very difficult to find time to wash my own clothes. Please forgive me. Please.” Serena pleaded with me like I was going to smack her across her cheeks for the poor appearance.
“Take one of my old gowns and get changed quickly.” I told her and headed towards my private bath in my chambers.
“My lady, I could never do such a thing!” Serena said, frantically chasing after me which caused me to stop in my tracks and stare down at her. She quickly stopped in place and looked down once again not meeting my gaze.
“I insist, it would sadden me if you were punished. Besides, your sister asked me to keep an eye over you and protect you.” My arms wrap around her small frail body, holding her close to me. “Do not bow your head in my presence, ever. You are as human as me, we are all equal.” I lifted her chin to find tears welling up in her eyes. With a swift motion, I brushed away the tears that fell upon her reddened cheeks.
“My lady, you are too kind to me... too kind to all of us. Thank you!” Serena mumbled out between sobs and sniffles.
For once a smile grew on my face, it was a blessing to see my people happy. That was what brought a warmth in my heart and I cherished each and every smile from my people as they thanked me.
Turning away from Serena, I continued to my private bath and pushed the heavy wooden door open to see my other handmaids waiting for me with tired smiles. The three of them had been working the entire week without any breaks with a couple hours of sleep. Preparing for another kingdom to visit was a lot of work, especially when it’s the Prince from Aridor.
“My lady, we are behind schedule.” Aya informed me, her golden blonde hair was pulled back in a tight bun as usual. Her brown dress was flawless compared to the other maids, it had no trace of a single wrinkle or spot of dirt. Aya smiled, she had creases at the corners of her gray eyes and there were fine wrinkles about her mouth.
Ignoring her prolonged stares, I lifted the edges of the white satin fabric and slowly slipped it from my body. The robe softly ran along my skin then landed onto the floor lightly.
The pink water before me was steaming with natural scents of what smelt like roses, lilac, and peppermint. My feet dipped into the entrance of bath, slowly taking steps down into the fairly large tub. Surrounding me were the torn petals of the roses and the picked peppermint leaves floating and swirling around me as I moved deeper into the water.
The stinging hot water comforted me in a warm embrace and the peppermint smell drifting up with the steam soothed me. It was pure relaxation until the hot water was dumped over my head and the maids began doing their work by scrubbing my hair clean. Then, they moved on to exfoliating my skin and getting rid of any hair that didn’t belong.
Once the process of cleansing was done, they moved me to my room to dress me. On a regular day, I would stand against the bedpost while they tightened my corset, but today, it was different. On the bed was a thin light pink dress laid out for me.
They avoided giving me any undergarments with this particular dress, and I had no idea to why they would leave me bare underneath. Panic began to rise in me, it was unfair with what they were doing with me. Sending me off with a man that I didn’t even know and might never come to love.
It was a situation that would always be inescapable. A part of me hoped and dreamed for this man to be a gentlemen, at least, just someone who would recognize me for who I am rather than what I am. All I could do was pray to the heavens, for anyone to hear, to answer or to even just listen.
The dress hung lightly over my body until they tied the ribbons, tightening it to take form to my slim figure. The fabric was made of the most expensive silk, flowing all the way down to my ankles. The top was very low cut exposing the cleavage of my breasts as they are unpleasantly supported by the thin material.
“You look beautiful, what a perfect day to bring young ones together for marriage.” The Queen, already dressed in her exceptionally nice dress and jewels of the highest quality, had entered my chamber with an ecstatic attitude.
“Yes, indeed.” My hollow and empty tone caused my mother’s face to scrunch up in disgust.
“You better behave yourself today, young lady. Lord Aridor, will be expecting a refined woman with potential as his future Queen. Make any mistakes and I’ll have all your precious books and paintings cast into the furnace.” My mother threatened, glaring at me to respond with a respectful answer.
“Yes mother dearest, of course. I will not be a failure to our family name.” There was more liveliness in my voice that convinced her, so she smiled.
“Excellent!” She shouted excitedly, practically singing to the heavens. “Now,” she turned to the maids, “her hair needs to be perfect. Get it finished quickly, I do not want to keep his majesty waiting any longer!” She huffed out and began rummaging through my belongings.
Aya and Serena combed through my very light blonde hair, pulling pieces back and twirling them against the back of my head. Again, my hair would normally be put up into a tight bun that laid against my upper back, but today, they let my hair cascade in the front. The thick hair rested on my collarbones, while the other half was pinned back with a silver pin that had white flower on the end of it.
It was a valuable hair piece that my grandmother gave to me on my eighteenth birthday, the only person who held a special place in my heart. My mother knowingly picked it out to encourage me to do my best.
“Your father is already meeting with Lord Aridor now, so hurry along” My mother pressed her fingers into my lower back indicating she wanted me to start moving now and not a second later.
The handmaid’s opened the main door to my chambers and we gracefully stepped out where the guards were waiting. They respectfully took their bow then one moved forward to escort us and the other went to our backside. My mother and I walked arm in arm along the dark red runway that was rolled out over stone flooring.
Each step we took was closer to a man that would be my husband for the rest of my life. It was like moving from one prison to another. Like it was my last day to live, I stared at the large windows as we passed by them slowly. The green mountains that surrounded us were so far up in the sky they practically swam in the clouds above.
I’ve never set foot out of these castle walls, it was such a shame my parents didn’t let me be a child. It was always about studies and lessons to become a fine woman, but I wanted to play. I’ve never asked for much, all I ever wanted was to know what a tree felt like. What it would be like to lay in the grass on a sunny day, and feel the cool breeze blowing right through me.
To run, to swim, and climb to the highest parts of mountains and feel like an actual Queen at the top while touching the clouds with my own hands. It was like a dream, and it would only stay like a dream.
The windows had disappeared from my view and was replaced with the cold dull color of the stone wall again. As if minutes were mere seconds, we were already at the door that my future husband was on the other side of. The heartwarming laughter of a man on the other side was not familiar, it must be him. Maybe, just maybe he was a gentlemen?
My mother was speaking to me, but none of her words had reached me. It was in one ear and out the other. What had my attention was the deep voice speaking just on the other side of this door. He sounded delightful, his voice was relaxed and somewhat alluring to me.
I nodded my head to my mother, whatever she had said was most likely something she wanted me to agree on. Her thin lips turned up in a smile as she stood straighter while fixing her dress. She was clearly satisfied and pleased. She motioned her hand for the guards to open the door and that’s when my heart began hammering against my chest.
The double doors opened to the throne room, it’s massive setting had always made people look smaller compared to the room. The crystal candled chandeliers were lit, and the dark red heavy curtains were pulled back by the gold color braided rope to allow the sun to shine in. The floors were perfectly swept and mopped showing it’s glorious hardwood color.
“Gentlemen, her majesty Laudia Grenefeld Queen of Monnon, and her highness Princess Artemis Grenefeld.” The announcer welcomed us to the throne room.
There was a total of three men standing before us, my father, another older gentleman which I am assuming was the present King of Aridor, and the Prince. The moment my eyes had landed on him my heart stopped beating and my breath caught in my throat. The Prince was just as handsome as he sounded, his dark brown hair was combed perfectly to the back. The sun caused his tan skin to shine and his smile was perfection, his teeth glowing white. His eyes were what really drew me in, they sparkled like the moon shining down on the clearest blue waters.
“What beauty,” he said through his luscious plump lips. “Your majesty, may I take her for a walk through the gardens? It would be a pleasure.”
“Of course, she’s all yours.” My father agreed upon the Prince’s request and he stepped forward reaching his hand out. Gently and hesitantly I placed my hand in his. He lifted my hand up farther to his face and caressed his lips on the tips of my fingers. He then placed a feathery kiss on the top of my hand causing butterflies to erupt in my stomach.
“My lady, will you join me?” He asked while still holding my hand. The answer was clear as day, it wasn’t an option to go along with him. If I were to deny him, my parents would punish me greatly.
“Yes,” I said sweetly, it was an act that I put on just for my mother and father. This man did seem very polite, but it was too early to judge a book by its cover.
“Then let’s venture through the gardens, it would be a joy to see your beautiful face next to the blooming flowers.”
He wrapped his arm in mine and led me through the castle hallways that would lead out to the gardens that were behind the castle. It had been forever since I was last out in the gardens, I remember that I was seven years old. They never allowed me to go out ever again when I pricked my finger on a rose thorn.
“It’s such beautiful day outside, but it’s not as lovely as you.” He continued the compliments like it had been second nature to him.
“Yes, it would be such a shame to spend our time inside.” I say truthfully, it was amazing to be able to go outside and the fact that my parents let me was a surprise.
“Did you know Artemis, that I have been waiting for what seems like an eternity to claim you? You see, we met when we were much younger, and it was like love at first sight. Your beauty, kindness, and innocence is what made me beg my father to have you as my Queen.
Your beauty is by far more rarer than any other woman I’ve seen. To have you bear my children would be a gift to life. Lucky for me, it has been an honor to be the first man to betroth you. If there had been any others, I would have simply crushed them all for your sake my dear.” He kissed my hand once more as he continued to lead me through the mazes of the evergreen shrub hedges.
“I admire your honesty, my lord-”
“Please, call me Ayden.”
“Ayden, it would be more of an honor for me to be able to marry you.” A complete lie, but I shamefully smiled with my words.
“In a few days you will become my Queen,” Ayden said and stopped us from walking further.
His fingers delicately turned my face to look me directly in my eyes. His once combed hair now had strands hanging in front of his face. His face was so close to me that I could feel his warm breath against my skin.
“If we weren’t being followed I’d capture your lips right here, right now.” He cooed into my ear and I nearly lost my footing from trying to back away from him. He didn’t allow me to fall as he looped his arm around my waist holding me up. His grin almost seemed strange like there had been something off about it, what was it?
“I presume your walk had been quite refreshing?” My mother asked as we entered the dining room where they sat to have tea.
“It was delightful, I’d love to do it again tomorrow.” Ayden told my mother and her eyes lit up happily. My father smiled triumphantly and the King of Aridor looked pleased while placing his tea cup on the mahogany table.
“And so you shall. Please, take a seat!” My father insisted, but something stopped Ayden from sitting. Instead, he gripped my arm that was being held by him, pulling me closer like I would run away at that moment.
“If you don’t mind, I know we had spoken about this before, I’d like to thoroughly take a look at Lady Artemis before we continue,” Ayden said standing tall next to me with a determined expression.
“Of course! It is not a problem at all.” My mother smiled bigger and called for Aya to enter the dining hall. “Please escort Lord Aridor and Artemis to the room I prepared for the inspection.”
Inspection? What inspection?
“Yes, your majesty.” Aya curtsied and asked us to follow her. Did Aya know about this?
“It’s truly amazing that the Lord is a practicing doctor!” My mother gleefully began conversing as I was being led away out of the room. Doctor?
Aya had led us to one of the vacant rooms and opened the door, letting us in. She locked the door behind her and politely asked me to stand still, then stood next to me waiting for a command from none other than Lord Ayden Aridor.
“Remove her clothing.” He demanded and my eyes went wide. Was he serious? No one had mentioned this to me!
“Yes, my lord,” Aya said and silently apologized low enough for only me to hear. Her face was painfully sad, it almost seemed as if she were about to cry.
This struck fear into me, none of this had made sense... how could both my father and mother agree to this?
As Aya untied the back of my dress Ayden began to speak, “You really do know how to capture my heart Artemis, your blatant lie of how honorable it would be to marry me. So pathetic, I bet your mother threatened you to be on your best behavior and it amuses me. I can see in your eyes how strongly you feel about this betrothal, and it touches me deeply that you don’t give two shits about it. In fact, I prefer it that way.
It will be even more thrilling to bend you to my will. You’re a treasure of mine and I will not let another look upon you. Nor will I EVER allow another man lay a hand on you!” Ayden circled me as the top of my dress had loosened. A smirk was prominent on his face as he took in my distraught appearance.
He shoved Aya out of the way and whispered lowly in my ear, “No one has followed us here, Aya’s allegiance lies with me. No one will know what I have planned to do. Now Artemis, allow your dress to fall to the floor, I’d like to take a look at what I’ve been dying to see all these years.”
The dress dropped to floor and my naked body was exposed to a man I just had met. A man that I thought who could be decent, but he was disgusting. There was no way I’d let him get the better of me, instead I stood there like a proud woman. A woman who was strong and defiant against the horrendous man she had been betrothed to.
Even as his hands began to roam my body I didn’t cry, not one tear would be shed. It was Aya who cried for me silently in the corner of the room as Lord Aridor violently ripped my hair piece from my hair and tossed aside as if it were garbage.
It had been my entire life that everyone had made a decision for me, even when it came to my body. Would there be any hope for me in this god forsaken life?
Once again my heart has been split in two.
Next time I’ll dream sweeter🌹
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