Chapter One - The Cunning Princess
In spring they give thanks,
In summer tears run dry, and slowly, they begin to starve,
In autumn the earth goddess makes them forget,
In winter they pray for warmth and soft soil to bury the dead,
Like before, they do it again.
I could hear them from over the wall, their cries of sadness and shouts of rage. Peasants who had travelled far with just the clothes on their back and the hope in their hearts. That perhaps this time my father would hear their distress. He often did hear them, but all he did was fund more guards to walk the grounds. I was wearing my best dress that had diamonds embroidered into the seams. I wanted to tear it up and throw it over the wall for them to have, let them find joy in my prison that was made of silk and jewels.
I watched my half sister Saffron walk between the rose bushes with her friends giggling away behind silk hand fan. She wore a sky blue dress, with it she wore the most expensive necklace she had. It twinkled as the sun caught it, almost blinding those in close proximity to Saffron. I could see one of her friends cast her eyes on it a few times. They weren't her real friends. Real friends did not exist when you were high born. Those girls only wanted something and even just being seen with Saffron gave them just that.
I continued to watch her from my spot under the cherry tree. Saffron remained in the middle of the two girls as she held her head up in a way that screamed royalty. My eyes find themselves rolling before they turn back on to my book.
I had done a terrible thing, I had removed the pages of the book from their former cover and had spent a whole night gluing them to one of Saffrons romance covers. Now no one would know I was reading about the history of Ivora's wars with the neighbouring Empire Basia. Father would be furious. He had recently had Saffron betrothed to the king of Basia's fifth youngest son. I could not understand my father choice to marry Saffron to a prince fifth in line to the Basia Empire. There was nothing to gain, except perhaps peace and peace was not in my father's nature.
Ivora was shining compared to Basia. Basia was brutal, harsh, and deadly, both in warfare and politics. The emperor of Basia was rumoured to be mad and his people believed it was a curse from the old gods for dismissing them. My father claimed he wanted a stable union and marrying Saffron off was the answer. I prayed this prince was not like his father. I did not want to cause another war due to committing a little bit of homicide.
"A tale of the knight and his sweet rose," A hand prys away my book and they flick through the pages with chuckles of amusement. "This is one of my favourites"
I raise a brow and laugh, turning to face Keon, I yank the book out of his hands and close it on my lap. His red hair sticks to his sweat covered face as he bows forward to look down at me. His guard uniform clinks against his sword and the noise catches the eyes of a few nobles. They eye us suspiciously.
"It caught my eye when I was last sneaking around Saffrons chambers," I explain as I tap my fingers lightly against the book. Saffron is now out of sight and in her place within the rose bushes is a young noble couple who seem to be rather occupied with each other. "I had no idea you were a romantic, Keon."
I hear his chuckle before he drops to the the ground and gracefully sprawls out beside me. The movement causes a few cherry blossoms to fall upon us. Keon looks up with a contented smile as I sigh and attempt to remove the blossoms in my hair.
"I like the part where Ivora stormed Basia's winter palace and decapitated emperor Alfred because he called King Donnics mistress a whore," Keon smirks and shakes his head in amusement "Is there a reason you are reading that?"
I shrug and brush a few persistent blossoms off my book. "I was in need of some conversation starters with the prince of Basia"
"Interesting choice of topic you are choosing. I'm sure the prince will be delighted to talk about how your great grandfather caused a war by sleeping with the empress of Basia and failed to reply her letters afterwards." I look down at Keon and stick out my tongue. He laughs and pushes my arm gently.
"I'm just worried," I shake my head and glue my eyes to the grass. "My sister could suffer from this marriage. The whole kingdom could."
"I have a rumour that might help," Keon picks some blossoms off his armour and looks up at me. I raise a brow waiting to hear this rumour "The fifth youngest price is rumoured to be weak due his disapproval of the king's brutal ways. He also has a thirst for knowledge, which is somewhat taboo in Basia. However, he is also very loved by the woman in Basia due to his handsomeness and that is perhaps the only thing that has kept him from being dishonoured by his father."
"So my sister is only getting to marry him because he is good looking?" I spend a second taking in the information. My laughter then flows around the garden and I have to quiet it with my hand. "I will take note of this for another conversation starter with the prince, and also my sister. She will be delighted."
I continue to laugh behind my hand and Keon shakes his head while sitting up.
"Violet, you are a terrible person. This will have your sister throwing tantrums for weeks on end!" Keon groans and covers his face with both hands, "I don't think I can cope with that. No no no- she nearly broke my foot last time due to stomping on it"
"Her good looking prince can deal with that," I pick up my book and climb to my feet. My free hand brushes my dress and I then offer it to Keon to help pull him to his feet. "Saffron has been very eager to meet the prince, I presume his good looks will only please her further. I have arranged to be out of the castle after the prince arrives so her tantrums will be out of range for us"
"By 'us' do you mean I will be accompanying you?" Nodding my head, I begin walking along the path with Keon in tow. "What have you planned?"
"Clan Titan is rumoured to have a remarkable swordsman. However, this swordsman has lost his glory and spends his days drinking. I say we start a fight and make him find his glory again" Keon nods along as I explain and I can tell by his engrossed expression that he is already planning our trip out.
"Someday will you tell me why you keep going away to gather these common folk to add to my guard? They are a great asset to my soldiers, but it makes me rather suspicious." I stop and turn to face him. It causes Keon to stumble gracefully to a halt.
"It annoys my father that I am somehow finding control under his rule. He allows you to choose the soldiers and through that I have managed to give the poor a place in the castle. That part I love, but you will see one day, why I am doing this." I turn back around and fold my hands behind my back as I stroll down the path and into the castle.
A few maids dart about unnoticed by the nobles swarming the place. They are all here waiting for the prince's arrival in two days time. I maneuver between them, acknowledging them as they each bow towards me. I make my way through the halls and towards the wide staircase in the entrance hall.
The castle is decorated in both gold and green. The gold represents Ivora's wealth and the old gods. The green represents our connection with nature. The stairway banister is wrapped in both green and gold ribbons. Even the windows in most rooms are decorated with green and gold stain glass.
"Who is accompanying the prince here?" Keon asks as we climb the stairs. I pick up bundles of my skirt to keep it from being stepped on.
"I was told that two of his brothers would be coming to oversee his meeting with Saffron, don't ask me which ones because there is just too many of them," I explain as I step onto the landing. Keon is right behind me as a stroll down the corridor. "The Emperor is giving them a month to get acquainted before the wedding."
"Perhaps you can try some of those conversation starters on the emperor himself." Keon grins from ear to ear when I give him a vulgar gesture.
"I would like to keep my head attached to my body," Keon chuckles at my reply. I stop and turn myself to face him. "Don't you have someplace to be? Like prowling the castle ground for potential danger or training the new recruits."
Keon simply shrugs and lazily scratches the back of his head. A servant scurries past us with a pile of bed sheets in her hands. We both step aside and lean against the wall casually.
"I have my second dealing with it," My eyebrows raise and my eyes search his face for answers "Don't you have somewhere to be? Liken off doing princess things."
"Princess things?" My eyes squint and I am rewarded with Keon's right eye twitching. "Spit it out"
"Your brother -" I groan and pinch my temples in annoyance, "Advised me to keep an eye on you to make sure you didn't disrupt anything for the prince's arrival."
"So I am to be looked after like I am a child? Perhaps if my family listened to me then I wouldn't have to take matters into my own hands." My voice raises slightly and I have to bite my tongue from saying more.
"So you are planning something?" Keon pries with a frown and in return I scoff. I push off the wall and proceed to storm down the corridor. I hear his steady footsteps following closely behind me. I quicken my pace, making my dress swish wildly. I avoid bumping into a visiting noble as I turn the corner. He quickly bows and stumbles out of my way. I barely give him a glance as I continue on my way with Keon basically running to keep up. I did not appreciate being belittled. What I had to say was never regarded or valued, angering me like nothing else could. I usually had to resort to being cunning and manipulative. I did things people would not notice, but would have a consequence in the end.
I paid out money to the hard working poor and starving families that could not work. The money went unnoticed because it was my own I was giving them. No one had ever noticed, except Keon. Gods damn Keon and his calculating mind. He caught my meddling scent right from the start. What my family had noticed is my unfiltered mouth that carried unwanted opinions and ideas.
I reach the other side of the castle with Keon hot on my heels. My hand shoves the door leading to my chambers open. I storm in and turn to slam the door in Keon's face, but he is a step ahead of me and makes sure his foot keeps the door from closing. My sigh fills the silence lingering between us. I lift my eyes to meet his and glare.
"I have nothing planned. I only intend to keep my eye on the prince. If I don't like him, then you should be worried about me planning something." My voice is clipped and it feels like the air around us stills. I turn away and walk over to the lounge area. I drop the book on the table and flop onto the nearest armchair. My shoes are then kicked off and my head drops back to rest on the chair. Keon clicks the door shut and then approaches me like one would to a wild animal. He expected me to bite at any moment. I was done arguing.
Keon kneels down on the rug in front of me. He quietly begins to tend to the fireplace. He towers up the kindling and grabs a few logs to throw on when the fire is lit and burning well. I let the silence linger for long minute before saying to to back of his head. "I just want what's best for my sister."
"I know," He gives me a glance before bending down to gently blow on the embers he had created. They sizzle before they burst into flames that crackle and wrap around the wood. "I just don't want you getting into trouble," Keon sits up and faces me with a serious expression. "Serious trouble."
"I'm a sucker for trouble." My tone softens and the corner of my mouth lifts. Keon's expression remains serious as he looks at me.
"I know," He climbs to his feet and pats down his trousers. His eyes look past me and I know what he is looking at. The oak tree window. The window itself took up half the wall that made up the lounge area and my bedroom. The green and brown on the window made the room come alive in a dance with colour. "I just wish you didn't have to do it all alone. You are playing a dangerous game."
"I know what I am doing. You shouldn't worry so much, Keon," I lean forward and grab his hand. His gaze turns away from the window and lands on my face. "I am the king's daughter. That means I have a responsibility to do what I must for those people suffering under my father's rule."
Keon simply nods. This is not him agreeing. It is him simply accepting that there is no way to convince me otherwise. I let go of his hand and lean back.
"Do me a favour, Violet," I scrunch my eyebrows slightly and nod. "Don't make the prince cry on his arrival. At least give him a few days." I fake a disappointed expression and laugh.
"I will try my best." Keon smirks and shakes his head slightly.
"I better get back before they send out a search party." he stretches his back and takes a step back. I stand up and correct my skirt before walking him to the door.
"Try not to fall on your ass, Captain" My mocking has him turning around at the door entrance, ready to shoot something back at me. He is met with my door closed in his face.
"Try not to chip a nail, Princess." He calls through and chuckles before I hear his retreating footsteps. I glare at the door for a moment before crawling back to my armchair. I grab my book and return to my reading. This prince had no idea what he was in for.