The sun rose over the trees and I yawned, stretching then rolling over in my bed. I didn't want to get up yet, but I knew there were chores that needed to be done before the royal family decided to grace us with their presence. I put on a brown dress with my smock and jogged downstairs. When my father passed, he had left us very well taken care of. We were party of the wealthy side and didn't have to do as much as we did when he lived.
I gathered the bucket for water and slipped on my clogs. As I walked out to the well behind our home, I inhaled the cool morning air. Dew drops plopped to my shoulder as I started to pump with difficulty. My limbs were always stiff in the morning but if I waited for them to loosen up before I did my chores, I would just fall back asleep. When I straightened and lugged the bucket off the side of the well, I scowled.
Our backyard faced the castle and I took an extra minute to mentally scream all the things I wished I had the courage to. How much I hated the family, how I hoped they would meet the same end as my father. It was disgraceful but the little amount of consolation they gave us was not enough to cover the loss of my father. And all because the king couldn't fight on his own.
I shook myself out of my thoughts and went back inside. My mother came down the stairs just as I was finishing the tea and working on our breakfast. I mumbled a good morning to her. We had fought the night before again. This was my second least favorite day of the year, the day the royal family does their review of the village.
The reviews weren't necessary; nothing ever changed. I stuck with the belief that they wanted to remind us that they really were still here and ready to punish should the need arise. In the past they hadn't been as bad; at least I had my father to laugh at them after they were gone. This was the first year without him, though.
"Toast?" I offered Mother as she poured herself some tea.
I sighed. I could tell she hadn't slept much last night. I made toast and eggs, putting them in front of her at the table. I busied myself with cleaning, not bothering to eat.
"You need to eat, too," she said.
"I'm not hungry."
"Aviel," she said, her voice warning.
I puffed out my cheeks. "I'm not lying, Ma. I really don't have an appetite. It's too much."
Her eyes, the same green as mine, softened and she hugged me. I squeezed my eyes shut and hugged her back.
"How can they expect-" I stopped and put my head on her shoulder. "I'm sorry I said those things last night. It just hurts."
"I know," she said. "I miss him, too. Now go change. They'll be down soon."
I didn't bother to hide my contempt. I stomped up the stairs and picked the same dress as last year: a long red dress with bell sleeves. It was the last gift my father gave me before he died. I tied my blond hair up in a braid and curled it around itself then pinned it to the back of my head. A few strands had slipped out but I left it alone. I put on the matching slippers and joined Mother downstairs.
"Every year you only get more beautiful," she sighed, tucking the hair behind my ear.
"I get it from you."
"Please behave yourself today," she said.
"I'll do my best."
She looked ready to argue but we heard the trumpets in the distance. She fixed the sash of her wedding dress then led me outside. Everyone was already outside, parents struggling to keep their children in line. They looked as bored as I did. I thought back to when I was their age; my father would put me on his shoulders until the royal family came. I knew it was from him I got my rebellious streak but I didn't bother hiding it. When I saw the familiar silhouettes crest the hilltop, I scowled and my mother pinched my arm. I huffed and put on my best smile. They paused at a few homes as they walked and I prayed they wouldn't do that at ours.
I should've known better.
My feet were starting to hurt as they finally drew level to our home. I curtsied along with my mother but they didn't keep moving.
"It's lovely to see you again, Elizabeth," the king said to my mother and I clenched my jaw. He looked at me. "Aviel, you look like you haven't aged a day." I did my best to keep my smile from changing to a grimace. "I'm glad to see you are faring well." Despite my efforts, I snorted. "I'm sorry?"
"Nothing," I said quickly but the king didn't buy it.
"What's on your mind, Aviel?" he asked.
I glanced to my mother who was pleading with her eyes for me to hold my tongue.
"It's nothing, your highness," I grumbled. "You look well, too."
His eyes went to our home. Beside him, his wife was watching me keenly. Where her husband was tall and dark, she was short and fair. Her red hair was a stark contrast to his black but they both had blue eyes. On his other side, the prince was glaring openly at me. I matched his glare.
I didn't know much about Sorin. I had no desire to, after all. He had his mother's hair but everything else was from his father, including his height. I could tell he was trying to intimidate me, but I wouldn't back down. At this point, I was too invested.
"How has the business been keeping?" the king asked my mother.
She looked cautious. "It's been going well, sire, as you saw last week."
He hummed a bit. "And your daughter? Is she keeping busy?"
"I'm standing right here, you know," I said but he didn't respond.
"Not busy enough," my mother said, glaring at me. I just made a face at her. "Please forgive her mouth. I'm afraid it's something she got from Robert and-"
She stopped and my throat closed. I blinked rapidly but otherwise kept silent. The king didn't respond for a second then whispered something in the queen's ear. Her eyes lit up and she nodded.
"Come to the castle in three hours," he said to me. "Do not be late."
"Sire, please," my mother begged. "I'll talk to her about the way she speaks, but please don't punish her."
His eyes crinkled as he smiled. Letting go of his wife, he took my mother's hands in his.
"Worry not. I will not take another loved one from you."
With that, he kissed her cheeks. When he came to me, all pretense was gone. I just stared back at him, all of my hate evident on my face. He sighed and put a hand on my shoulder.
"I regret it every day that I think about him," he said and I gulped loudly. "But I know that he would be proud of you."
"You didn't even know him," I said, my voice betraying my pain. "Don't speak as if you do."
My mother groaned and covered her face. The king just smiled, patted my shoulder, and left. Once they rounded the corner, my mother grabbed my arm and pushed me into our home.
"I'm sorry," I said right away. "I tried. I really did. But then he started talking about Father and-"
"Enough, Aviel!" she shouted. "Enough! I can't keep going through this with you! I know it hurts but you disgrace his memory acting this way!"
That stung and I took a step back, tears in my eyes.
"Well, if I'm such a mockery to his name, then maybe I should just leave."
She was crying. "You know that's not what I want or mean! Would he want you acting this way!?"
"I don't know because he isn't here!" I argued, pointing at the door. "And it's because of him that he's gone! I'm not going to the palace!"
"Yes you are," she said. "There is no question about it so don't even think about arguing! You will go and accept whatever punishment the king has in plan for you."
My jaw dropped. "Mother, you can't be serious!"
"Go get ready. Three hours will pass quicker than you know."
With that, she left me standing alone.