As my mind processed my realization, a horrible thought struck me. If I was here, in Emeline’s body, then what was my body doing? Where was Emeline? Was she in my body? A sickening image of her running around in my body, acting like the princess she was and I wasn’t, ruining my relationships struck me, and I had to sit down.
Clarisse hovered around me like a concerned hen while I processed the impossible events unfolding before me. She left the room while I still sat in a daze. Later, she returned with a woman and a boy about my age. I didn’t look for more than a moment, afraid I’d recognize them, too. But I couldn’t stop it. I knew their counterparts too well, and I gaped as I saw my mother and my hopeless love walk into the room.
“Emeline? Are you alright? Clarisse says you’ve been acting odd all morning.” The woman who looked like my mother asked. Glancing up, I caught the deep green eyes of the boy next to her. Aaron. My heart skipped a beat as I tried not to think of the boy I knew in my time, the boy I’d been in love with for years, and the boy who’d asked out Claire the week before. And she said yes. My heart remembered painfully.
“Emeline?” The woman’s voice brought be back to reality, and I forced myself not to think of Aaron, or this boy, whatever his name be in this time. Right now, I had to figure out the names of these people, and what Emeline’s relationship to them was. Claire was my friend, but it appeared Clarisse was Emeline’s servant. So how was I to be sure that this woman was Emeline’s mother? She could be anyone. As I panicked, the boy stepped forward.
“My Queen, it seems to me your daughter is simply tired and confused. Hasn’t she been working herself hard of late?” He said with a gentle look towards me. The woman nodded and I flushed. Could Emeline have a romance with him?
“Yes. Sir Ayden, you’re right. My dear, try to get some rest. I’ll handle the preparations for now.” The woman spoke gently. “Clarisse, make sure my daughter is feeling better soon. Send for the physician if you must.” Clarisse bowed low.
“Yes Queen Elva.” My mother’s name was Ellie. “Shall I have the cook prepare your favorites, mi’lady?” She said, turning to me. Mutely, I just nodded. Queen Elva and Sir Ayden turned to go and Clarisse followed. I assumed she was going to the kitchen, to get the cook to make Emeline’s favorite foods. Dimly I wondered how similar she and I were, and how much she knew about her world that I would have to fake.
Queen Elva had mentioned preparations. What was Emeline preparing? Or preparing for? How would I possibly pass as her? There was so much I didn’t know, so much I had to learn, so much they would expect me to do, and so much I had to hide. I had to erase my whole life and act like someone I knew nothing about in a time and area I knew nothing about. What jokes did they make? What was the opinion on gossip? Were boys romanticized, or feared? Was this a court of snakes, or a court of honor? How was I supposed to be something and someone they all thought I had been bred for my whole life, when I was at a total loss regarding even the simplist of things? I flopped backwards with a groan. I can’t do this. I thought dismally.
By the time Clarisse had gotten back with the food, I’d managed to pull myself together somewhat. Yes, there was no way I could survive for long in this place. But I didn’t have to. All I had to do was avoid people and interaction long enough to figure out how to get home.
Surprisingly, the foods that were Emeline’s favorites were actually pretty good; I attributed that to the similarities I’d already noticed. There was something strange going on; reincarnation, maybe? But the odds that the souls here and now would all be reincarnated in the same place in my time were extremely low; maybe that had something to do with why I was pulled back?
There was also the issue of Emeline. Where was she? If I was right about reincarnation, that would mean we had the same soul, so she couldn’t be in my body. But then where was she? Now that my memories had inhabited her body in our shared soul, where were her memories? Did our soul duplicate, so she was with it as well somewhere? Did I have to find her? There were too many questions, not to mention figuring out how to navigate a medieval court.
After I’d eaten, I dismissed Clarisse; an action I quickly realized had been a mistake. The palace Emeline called home was worse than a maze, and I was lost in minutes. Every moment was nerve wracking as I worried I’d run into someone. Every time I had any advance warning of someone approaching, I’d hide in the nearest side corridor.
Finally, I wasn’t fast enough, and I heard someone call out “Princess!” from behind me. Heart in my throat, I considered running before realizing that would only raise suspicion, and was probably futile anyways. Filled with dread, I turned to see Sir Ayden briskly striding up to me, a worried frown touched with something deeper on his face.
“Princess Emeline, what are you doing out of bed? And what are you doing down here?” He asked, taking my elbow gently. I blushed and tried to stammer out a response, painfully aware of his similarities to my own Aaron. This isn’t him. I tried to remind myself, but all I could see was his sweet face, the one he and Ayden shared. Finally, his face softened into the something deeper, and with a jolt I realized it was affection.
“Come on. Let’s get you back to bed. You need your rest.” He said fondly, hesitating slightly before wrapping an arm around my waist. I was shocked, both by the contact and the fact that in this time period, it was even more scandalous. He flushed deeply, muttering “So you don’t fall,” not quite looking me in the eye. Does Sir Ayden care about Emeline the way I care about Aaron? The thought zipped through my mind, sending electricity crackling through every inch of my body.
I was hardly aware of the journey back to my rooms, but when we arrived, I found I didn’t want him to leave. “Wait!” I blurted without thinking as he turned to the door. He swiveled his head, cocking it, saying “go on.” I struggled to find a reason for him to stay, then remembered there was a good chance I wasn’t supposed to leave the castle unaccompanied. “Will you escort me to the gardens?” I asked, trying to sound imperial.
“But Princess, you need to rest. You were not yourself at all just a few hours ago.” He spoke with hesitation, but gently, as if he were afraid of refusing me or offending me, but he truly had my best interests at heart. My own heart ached. If only Aaron had been this way. I shook off the thought. I had too much else to worry about.
“I assure you, I’m feeling quite better now. It was simply a jarring dream.” I attempted to assure him by adapting my speech, which I suppose worked, because he sighed and spoke.
“Very well.” He said, offering me his arm. A crooked smile spread across his face that made my heart skip a beat. “It would be my honor to escort Her Grace to whatever destination she so desires.” He said with mock formality, and an overly stiff bow. I giggled, and his grin spread as I slapped a hand over my mouth, mortified.
Gathering myself, I took his elbow with equal poshness, and we exited in what can only be called a strut; him smiling his roughish smile, and me trying to hold back peals of laughter. We talked as we walked; first small talk in the ridiculous posh voices, then delving into more comfortable topics.
I was surprised at how easy it was to talk to him and avoid any knowledge I lacked but Emeline did not. We joked, we poked fun at the swans, we poked fun at the lords and ladies we passed; simply put, we enjoyed ourselves and each other. I couldn’t imagine how lucky I’d been, to land myself in a situation where the love of my life loved me. But he’s not the love of your life--he’s Ayden, not Aaron. A small voice inside me whispered. I pushed it away guiltily. This was too wonderful to spoil.
When we reached the gardens, Sir Ayden was able to tour them with me for a short while, but all too soon a man in light armour practically jogged up. “My lady,” he said, giving me a bow, which I acknowledged with a startled nod; I guessed that was the correct action, and it seemed I was right or the flustered man simply didn’t notice, because he didn’t react.
“Borin? What is it?” Ayden said, concerned. I realized with a shock that this was the Duke Borin whose favor Emeline had supposedly rejected. I was disgusted; he was at least twice my age, and sweated like a pig. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt; it did look like he’d just run here, after all. Still though; at his age, he had no business courting Emeline.
“Forgive me if I disturbed you, my lady.” Borin nodded to me quickly. His voice turned gruff as he turned to Ayden. “And it’s Duke to you. The guard needs you, boy. You’ve been neglecting your duties, and there’s been a fight in the city proper. They need all the manpower they can get. Off with you.” He said dismissively. Ayden cast a dismayed glance to me. Borin’s reply was slimy at best. “Her Grace will be in good hands. Now be off. You have duties to tend, even as a knight.” He waved his hand in the air at Ayden, as if shooing a fly.
“I am sorry, my Princess. Duke Borin is right. I do need to tend to my duties as a knight. I had wished I could finish this trip with you. Another time.” He flashed a smile that made me feel weak at the knees just before he sprinted off in the direction Borin had come from. My blood ran cold as I realized I was alone with Borin, who had markedly hungry eyes.
He opened his mouth to speak, but I hurriedly cut him off. “While it would be my pleasure to wander with you, I’m afraid I am feeling a slight faint. I think I’ll retire. No, no, no need to accompany me. I’ll be fine on my own. Good day.” With a slight curtsy that I hoped was proper, I fled. I looked back once to see Borin standing there, his mouth flapping like a fish, and I allowed myself a giggle. What to do now?