The night was surprisingly warm for the beginning of spring but regardless of the sweat beads forming at his temples the young man pulled his wool cloak closer around his shoulders. He could not afford to be seen. Loud merrymaking drifted towards him as he traveled through the woods surrounding his hometown and at the sound of revelry he uttered a grimace.
Was there truly any reason for these farmers to rejoice? By the week’s end they would be toiling in their plots of land for the meager pittance that would extend their lives just for one more day. At times the youth found himself envious of their ignorant oblivion and more than once wished to trade places with one, even for only an hour.
A twig snapping nearby caused the teenage boy to halt his progress and hold his breath to better hear in the darkness that surrounded him. Had he been found?
“Timothy?” The boy sighed in relief at hearing the familiar voice and smiled when a small hand slipped into his. “I was afraid you would be unable to meet with me.”
Timothy smirked. Not once had he failed in arriving to their assignations and despite the trouble in which he would be if ever they were discovered he relished their meetings together. “Nothing can keep us apart, Aumni,” he swore as he placed a hand on her slender waist and brought her close to his side.
He knew what it was that drove him to this older woman and it had little to do with the tiny amount of affection he had for her. Whenever they were together he felt the burdens of his life lift from his shoulders and for that moment of calm she afforded him he would give up everything he held dear. It didn’t matter that he had on more than one occasion seen her in the company of older men; she was using him as much as he was using her, but when they were together she soothed a deep ache within him and –though he hated to admit it—he needed her, especially tonight.
“Let’s go,” Aumni suggested and Timothy let her lead him to their destination: a small log cabin tucked away behind three incredibly old evergreen trees. Their soft piney scent followed Aumni and him into their little oasis and as she went about lighting the candles expertly in the dark he moved towards the closed window. He easily pushed the shutters open and looked to the starry night sky.
He had often stared at this overhead expanse, hoping to find meaning for his existence, but just as the twinkling lights disappeared in the shine of the morning sun so did his faith of receiving the answer he desperately sought. And tonight would doubtlessly continue in this long line of disappointments.
“Timothy?” He turned to Aumni at hearing the concern in her voice. “What’s the matter?”
He smiled and walked to her. He didn’t feel like divulging his innermost thoughts at the moment; after all, that wasn’t why they were there. “I’m fine,” he said smoothly and gently cupped her beautiful face with his hands. “Shall we begin our own Spring Festival?”
Aumni smiled, her ruby lips looking most inviting, and placed her hands atop his. “Of course, Your Young Highness.” Timothy smirked at wryly at hearing his royal title and moved with Aumni to the handsomely furnished bedroom at the back of the cottage.
His grandfather had built it he thought in passing as he and his love once more consummated their feelings for one another and perversely wondered if it was on this bed that his father was conceived. It was hard to imagine his hard, unbending father as the product of fulfilled passion, but as he came to realize for himself this sacred act need not involve the emotion of genuine love. Such were the constraints of being born with Royal Blood.
Timothy returned to the window, leaving Aumni blissfully asleep on the bed and turned his emerald colored eyes once more to the sky. The last of the fireworks exploded against the dark night’s backdrop and as he watched the dazzling display peter out he could almost sense his father’s reproach for him. It was true that he flagrantly disobeyed his father at nearly every turn but it was the only way to…
He angrily shook his head. What did it matter that his father didn’t love him, didn’t truly care for him as his son? His father’s regard for him was just as transient as the colored rockets bursting open in the air and for that Timothy could never forgive him, never see him as worthy of his affection or adoration.
“So be it,” he whispered harshly through gritted teeth and turned back to the bedroom. He would enjoy the time he had with one his father so utterly despised more so than himself and make him regret keeping him at arm’s length.
The night passed in a blur and as the sun began its trek over the horizon Timothy lay on his bed alone, Aumni having gone while it was still dark in order to make it back to the city unobserved. Not even her company, as substantive as it was, could shake him from his feelings of blasé and he closed his eyes tiredly. If this truly was his lot in life the persistent whisper of ending his journey that resided at the back of his mind had a soothing voice indeed.
Timothy soon dressed and after making himself a cold breakfast of the bread and salted meat he had brought with him he left the cabin, heading deeper into the woods as he walked. The morning air was bracing and cool as he traveled and he breathed in the fragrances around him, letting his uncertainties of life fade to nothing. Perhaps today would be a good day.
He soon reached a small river and sat down at its bank. It was too early to go for a swim but he was in no mood to return to the castle and face his father and his accompanying indignation. Lectures laced with disappointment and anger likely awaited him and a lazy day out in the wilderness was much more preferable to that torture. I wonder how long I can stay without being discovered.
He sighed and lay down on the grass. His body guards were utterly lax in their watching over him due to the celebration and he used their ineptitude to his advantage. They alone were to blame for the wrath they would soon be forced to encounter and the only way to garner the king’s favor would be to locate him as quickly as possible. It was a shame they knew nothing of his hideaway.
Timothy snickered at the thought and closed his eyes. The happy chirping of the avian residents of the wood seemed to mock him at first, but as he continued to listen in on their banter he heard an all too familiar conversation consume their dialogue.
“You shouldn’t have left him alone,” a mother bird screeched shrilly to which her mate replied in equal tone, “He isn’t my responsibility!”
“He wanted to spend time with you! You’re his father!”
“I have other duties to perform! He has to understand that I am his king first and father second!”
“He’s just a child!”
“He must learn his place!”
A rifle blast caused Timothy’s eyes to snap open and he quietly waited for the disturbed birds to settle back in their treetop homes. The shot was close, possibly done by a palace huntsman in search for the perfect game for the morning meal, and if that were true he would be found sooner than he intended.
Timothy moved to his feet and journeyed down the rivers bank, moving southward away from his home; he had to get away as far and as fast as he could. He ambled along for a few hours, following the gentle weave of the river’s trail, and smiled when he reached a moderately sized clearing. It had been a long time since he had come here. Hopefully, this will be among the last places they look for me, he thought as he sat down and wiped the sweat that beaded up on his forehead.
It had to be near the lunch hour judging from the sun’s position and the grumbling of his stomach and he once more partook of his small stash of dried meat. After drinking a handful of cool river water he sighed and rested against a nearby tree. Life would be simpler if he had been born to a position in which he could enjoy the nature that surrounded him; but chances are that if he had he would eagerly be desirous of the royal trappings he found utterly empty and devoid of life.
Ignorance is bliss indeed, he thought wryly and closed his eyes. It was this ignorance upon which he pondered loftily before drifting off to sleep.
The cooing of a dove broke her concentration and the teenage girl turned her bright brown eyes to her open study room window. It hopped gingerly about the stone sill and she couldn’t help but smile at its movements. Such a happy little fellow, she thought with a light laugh and watched it fly away into the early morning sky. How easy it was for that feathered creature to flit about its travels without a care and needless to say she was envious of its freedom. The girl closed the book that lay open in her lap and moved to her feet.
What would it be like to freely fly from this place, she wondered as the winged adventurer disappeared into the azure sky but shook her head at the inappropriate fancy. She couldn’t leave her life behind and gallivant about her kingdom; she had duties to perform. Besides, her gilded cage wasn’t as intolerable as others believed it to be. A loud noise from her room door caused the teenager to turn and in her parlor she saw a young woman with curly black hair frantically searching the cushions of the sofa. “Miriam?” The woman turned at the address, her green eyes sparkling in the sunlight, and smiled in surprise.
“Oh, Rahab. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“I was already awake when you entered,” Rahab said as she moved into the parlor. “And it’s good that I was. Your noise would have woken the dead.”
“Forgive me, Sister,” Miriam apologized before going back to her digging. “I need to find my brooch and I believe that I left it in here.”
Rahab studied her sister for a moment and frowned. She was clearly dressed to go for a ride –the lost pin being used to secure her cloak—but why today of all days! Surely she had not forgotten. “Miriam?”
“Where are you going this morning?”
“To explore the surrounding woods,” she stated matter-of-factly and suddenly cried out in triumph. “I’ve found you!” The errant pin glistened in the sunlight and Rahab couldn’t help but smile at seeing her exuberant sister’s face. It was at times like these that she found it hard to believe that Miriam was two years her senior. “Well, I’m off.”
Miriam had nearly crossed the parlor completely when Rahab raced to her and took hold of her arm. “Sister, you cannot leave this morning.”
“And why not?”
At seeing Miriam’s inquiring look Rahab frowned. She knew her sister was in no way obtuse, especially in matters concerning their kingdom, and to see her carry on in this fashion was more than frustrating. “You know precisely why you cannot leave. Your betrothed is coming today.”
“Ah,” Miriam said languidly and Rahab released her. “My betrothed.”
“Don’t sound so depressed about it,” Rahab lightly reproved. “Eric is a fine man and he loves you very much.” She studied her sister’s maudlin face and looked to her in sympathy.
Arranged marriages from birth were their lots in life and if not for the unfortunate circumstance of her betrothed’s infant death it would be she, not Miriam, who would be wed. At least Eric cares for her, she mused. It was rare an occasion that two monarchs were well-acquainted before their wedding day –let alone met one another outside of playrooms as children—but Eric had been their friend throughout the years; there was no reason for Miriam to be reticent in marrying him.
“I’ll be back before he arrives.” Rahab watched in stunned silence as Miriam raced from her room and groaned. Their parents weren’t going to like this turn of events one bit. She then dressed in moderate haste and made her way towards the dining hall of the castle. She lightly smiled as she passed by the various tapestries hung along the small castle’s corridors and couldn’t help but stop in front of one piece of artwork in particular.
“The Albatross,” she said softly and affectionately stroked the silky fabric. Expertly woven onto the smooth material was the large creature soaring over the ocean landscape, maneuvering away from the rock outcrop far off in the distance. To be able to glide wherever the wind determined; that was true freedom.
“Perhaps it’s a sign.” Rahab turned at hearing the comment and smiled at seeing a tall man with brown hair streaked with gray dressed in royal robes standing beside her.
“How do you mean,” she asked with a small laugh and leaned against him when he put a hand on her shoulder.
“The only portraits which you seem to engross yourself have the same theme. I’m beginning to think that this young bird is growing tired of her cage.”
Rahab lost her smile at the observation and returned her focus to the tapestry. “Was I that obvious,” she said meekly. Her life didn’t allow her to indulge in the discomfort she had for her position and it was becoming more and more apparent that she needed to further perfect her ability to compartmentalize. Doubt -in herself and her abilities- was a luxury she could not afford.
“Rahab?” She looked back up into the pale man’s brown eyes and smiled when he kissed her forehead, his beard lightly tickling her face. “I’m sorry, My Daughter. There isn’t a way for me to lessen this urge within you.”
“I know, Milord. I am a princess and I will do what is best for the kingdom.” Rahab grew confused at seeing sadness in her father’s eyes at her answer, but before she could address his emotion he said, “Let’s go to breakfast. I’m sure your mother is wondering where we’ve gone.”
“All right.” The two moved away from the tapestry and Rahab gave it a final glance. I have been too evident in my musings, she realized and frowned as she and her father continued on their way. It was pointless of her to wish her away her position and daydreaming of escape, a waste of time. Reality was the only situation in which she could orient herself and as such she determined to give her all to her duty.
“Where’s Miriam?” Rahab sighed at hearing the question and weakly grinned. It wasn’t as though her sister was giving her any other option.