Ami slumped in her chair as her father read to her a very disagreeable letter.
“-I am very sorry for not being able to help you fulfill the alliance. My deepest regrets to you all, signed, Gillian McCormack.” The King set the letter down on the table. “I was afraid of that.”
He looked up at Ami and sighed. “You know what this means Ami.”
She avoided his gaze and allowed her lower lip to protruded. She knew what it meant. That didn’t mean she had to acknowledge it.
“It means that you will have to be sent to Carenthia instead,” he continued, choosing to ignore her pouting. “I’ll send a letter to the King and Queen of Carenthia as soon as we’re done here. And then you will go as soon as you are all packed.”
“As soon as I’m packed?” Her head snapped to attention. “Don’t I get a farewell ball or something? Don’t I get to spend a little more time in my native land?”
She stood up aggressively, almost knocking her chair over, and flounced out of the presence of her father.
The servants in the hall sent her sympathetic glances as she scurried to the confines of her room.
“I don’t want to marry him!” she collapsed on her bed.
“Now, Miss Amélia.” Her lady-in-waiting gently closed the bedroom door closed. “He can’t be so bad.”
Ami sat up and frowned. “I’m sure he can! When I last saw him he was a chunky and short little boy who hated me because I didn’t want to go outside in the rain or go frog hunting with him. And he had the nerve to get my favorite dress dirty!”
She flopped back down on her bed.
“He’s older now. I’m sure time has done the boy wonders.” Her lady-in-waiting, Gloria, folded up Amélia’s shawl. “He’s almost old enough to rule the country so he can’t be like he used to be.”
Ami rolled over and rested her chin on her pillow. “Somehow I doubt it.” She sighed. “See, Gloria, if he were good looking and mean, I could bear it. But when I saw him last, he showed no signs of a hopeful future.”
“Amélia!” Gloria shook her head. “That is a very rude thing to say, even if he was mean. Besides, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.”
“Is. He still is mean.” Ami corrected. “And I don’t care if it’s rude or not - it’s still true.”
“Ami, I am surprised at you.” Gloria frowned. “You didn’t used to be this foul-tempered.”
Ami frowned deeper. It was true. She wasn’t usually so unpleasant. She was usually chipper and kind-hearted. She didn’t like this dark, brooding temperament that seemed to overtake her, but she had come so far it was hard to stop.
“Well, the rest of your breakfast is on your table. You know how to eat it.” Gloria smiled at Ami and opened the door, revealing the Queen standing in the doorway.
Gloria curtsied and stepped aside.
“Excuse us, Gloria.” The Queen let Gloria shut the door before walking over to Ami’s bed. “Ami, your Father and I have some news for you.”
Ami sat up and face her mother. Was the marriage going to be called off?
“It’s good, in a way, and also a bit bad.” she sat down next to her.
Ami raised an eyebrow. Probably not called off.
“I’m expecting.” The Queen’s gaze flitted to the patterned rug on Ami’s floor.
Ami’s eyebrows shot up even farther. “A baby? Why’s that bad news?”
“Well,” she rested a hand on her stomach, “the physicians say that I shouldn’t be traveling in my condition and of course your Father would never leave me here by myself.”
Now it was starting to sound like bad news. “Can’t we postpone the wedding until after you have the baby?”
“We’ve waited long enough for the alliance to go through. Any more excuses will make us sound hostile and put us and our country in danger,” her mother said.
“But I’m not even sixteen yet!” Ami flopped back down on the bed. “Why should I go so soon? I know that the Prince would be more than happy to hear that I’ve been delayed. Surely they would understand!”
Her mother shook her head again.
“But who’s going to give me away? If Father can’t, then I can’t get married!” Ami grabbed onto the Queen’s hands in a desperate attempt.
“The Queen’s brother is going to give you away. I hope. Your father included our situation in his letter. But please Ami, don’t make this any harder for me. I wish your aunt could have gone through with the alliance, or that I could have, but your grandfather had already married me off.
They sat in silence for a minute.
“You know, I hadn’t wanted to marry your father.”
Ami rolled her eyes discreetly. She had heard this story a million times, about how her mother had married her father against her will, but she had eventually grown to love him.
“I was hesitant at first. But when we got to know each other better, I found out that I could love him.” Her eyes were distant.
“He was fifteen years older than you mother. And he didn’t even look dashing.” Ami commented dryly.
“He might have been older, but he looked fine enough. He may not have been the most handsome apple in the barrel, but he was fine. And you love him very much. Don’t pretend that you don’t, young lady.” she narrowed her eyes at Ami.
“But Mother! Jacques was so ugly when I last saw him; I can’t imagine how bad he might look now. And, not to mention, his age!”
The Queen rolled her eyes at her daughter’s antics. “He is only five years older than you, which is a whole ten years improvement from your mother and father. And he wasn’t ugly when we last saw him. He just...had room for improvement.”
Ami gave her mother a flat look. “Fine.” she muttered. “I’ll pack as soon as I’m done sulking.”
She buried her head back in her pillow.
Her mother rubbed Ami’s back before standing up. “Thank you, Ami.”
“Jack!” the King of Carenthia’s voice rang through the courtyard. “Jack!”
Jack swung his sword one last time before facing his father. “Hmm?”
“I need to talk to you for a minute.” He beckoned from the doorway of the courtyard where beginner and senior knights trained.
“I’ll finish you off later.” Jack tossed his sword to his friend Madison and followed his father in a guardhouse by the training grounds.
“Sit down, Son.” the King sat down on wooden chair and motioned for Jack to do the same.
Jack sat down slowly. His father rarely called him son. “What’s wrong?”
The King’s mouth twitched. It was bad news whatever it was. “You know that this has been coming. You’ve known it since you were a child.”
Jack placed his head in his hands and groaned. The alliance. Yes, he had known that this moment would come - but how had that little girl gotten to be sixteen so soon?
“Andromeda Aurora Amélia the Third will be turning sixteen soon.” The King stroked his beard. “And you know what that means.”
Jack nodded. He wished she had never grown up. Or maybe if she had a brother, then his little sister could go through with the alliance instead of him. He would do almost anything to get out of it. Anything to preserve his freedom.
“They’ll probably send us a letter, informing us of ship they’ll be traveling on and all of that,” the King told him. “And then by the next month, the alliance will be complete, and you two will be married.”
Jack scowled. “Is this the only way to fulfill the alliance? Do we even need it? Carenthia and Rhone can fight off Svenland without it.”
He knew it was necessary, but it was worth a shot to try to get out of it.
“Jack,” the King scowled, “we’ve been waiting for this for decades. You can’t back out now. We need to take care of Svenland, and to do that, we need Rhone’s fleet. We are at a large disadvantage without them. We have the funds. They have materials. We need to join forces.”
“We could join forces without an alliance,” Jack suggested.
“Jacques,” the King warned, "this is not a joking matter.”
“I’m not joking!” Jack stood up. “I don’t want to marry her! She’s a snob and I don’t see why I should take the punishment for her aunt’s mistake.”
“Jacques!” the King stood up as well. “You will not speak to me in that tone. I am your father and your king and demand your respect. Now, the Princess will be treated with respect. When she comes, I expect you to have a better attitude towards her.”
“She doesn’t deserves it.” Jack muttered.
“Go to your room, and stay there until you’re ready to change that mindset." The King lowered his tone. "Amélia is a very pleasant girl and I expect you to respect and take care of her once you’re married.”
“I'm not a child, Your Majesty. Most men get to choose their wife! I, on the other hand, am forced to marry a dull girl who happens to be extraordinarily plain.
“Go to your room!” the King bellowed, pointing to the door.
Jack stormed out of the room, slamming it behind himself, leaving his father to stare at the back of the door.
He barged into his room to find Madison sitting in his velvet chair, reading a book. “Ahhah! There you are!” Madison closed his book and hopped to his feet. “What was that all about?”
Jack scowled and sat down in the chair that Madison had just vacated. “Stuff.”
“Like what sort of stuff?” Madison put the book back onto Jack’s shelf.
“Alliances with a neighboring country, sort of stuff.” Jack rested his head against the soft chair and closed his eyes.
“Oh,” Madison said. “Conversation didn’t turn out well, huh?”
“No it didn’t." He opened his eyes to give Madison a flat look. "I still have to marry her, and since she’s going to be turning sixteen soon I have been notified of her upcoming arrival. Father planned the wedding to be in a couple weeks."
Madison raised an eyebrow.
"Why do I have to be the Prince? Why Mad? I never asked for it. I’d do almost anything to get out of this arranged marriage!” Jack crossed his arms.
“She can’t be that bad.” His friend shook his head. “She’s a Princess. She’ll at least look beautiful, right?”
Jack looked at Madison flatly.
“What?” Mad looked at Jack with innocent eyes, struggling to keep a grin off his face. “She was adorable the last time you saw her, right? At least it won’t be a pain to look at her.”
Jack wanted to wipe the gloating look off of Mad’s face. “Yes, she was cute at age six, but that doesn't mean she didn't change for the worse. And she was still a prim brat.”
“And you were what. Ten? Eleven? You had a horrible pug nose and had the worst haircut I'd ever seen. Do you think she’s looking forward to seeing you again?” Mad reasoned.
Jack mumbled something incoherent. “But at least I was interesting. She was as dull as the books in our library.”
“Books can be very interesting Prince Jack.”
“Not her. She is a book I never want to read,” he answered and crossed his arms. “Say, if she doesn’t want to marry me, then we should both just not get married. Father should understand that!”
“It’s an alliance. It doesn’t matter if you both hate each other's guts. I’m sure nobody would care if you both lived on opposite sides of the castle.” Mad shrugged. “Besides, maybe she’s changed. Maybe you’ll love her.”
“Love?" Jack scoffed. "This isn’t some fairy-tail you’d read about, Mad! I’m sure she hasn’t changed, and if she has, it won't be for the better.”
“Everyone has their own story. It’s up to you to make yours any good or not.” Mad shrugged. “I’m not saying that the marriage will be incredible with tons of hearts and butterflies, but you could make it bearable by trying to not think so negatively.”
Jack frowned. “I don’t want to make it bearable. I want to be miserable.”
Madison smirked. “You’re acting like your baby sister.”
“She isn’t a baby anymore.”Jack glared at Mad. “And I am not.”
“Yes. You are. You’re telling me that you hate the Princess because she’s going to ruin your life, and yet you say you want to be miserable!” he threw his hands up in the air. “I feel bad for the poor girl who’s marrying you!”
“I feel bad for me! I’m the one who has to marry the girl!” Jack retorted.
Mad shook his head. “I wouldn’t mind marrying her. At least she isn’t so pig-headedly stubborn as you are.”
An evil grin appeared on Jack's face.
Mad saw Jack’s expression and was quick to shoot down his mischievous plans. “No. We don’t even look alike. I’ve got light brown hair and green eyes, you have very dark hair and grayish blue, or whatever you call it, eyes. Definitely not. There is no way we would be able to switch lives.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Such a downer.”
“No, I’m being realistic.” Mad crossed his arms defiantly. “Stop acting like a child and man up.”
“I don’t want to! I’d rather be a child all my life and never have to marry,” Jack said.
“This could be a matter between life and death.” Mad lowered his voice. “The people are relying on you two to get married. Svenland has gone far enough, and it’s time we join sides and force them stop raiding us.”
“Once and for all, we can join forces without getting married!” Jack yelled and stood up.
“You’re just a big baby. You know how neither of the nations trust the other. The alliance was supposed to go through years and years ago, but because it didn’t, there was more mayhem added to the mix. More confusion and less trust. You know that we need the alliance to go through. And what’s more, we can’t have the Princess running back to her parents, crying and saying that the marriage would never work and that her husband is a bully.”
“It’d be her fault.” Jack muttered. “And I'm not a bully.”
“Calling her boring and plain and prim and brat isn't bullying?” Mad asked dryly.
Jack glared at Madison.
Jack huffed and and sat back down. “Go away.”
“Fine,” Mad shook his head and opened the door to leave, “but think about what I said. Try not to be too miserable, otherwise you'll both be miserable.”
He closed the door, leaving Jack to his stew of thoughts.