Beneath the Crown

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Chapter 8

Ash

Why won’t this damn dress just do as it’s told, I thought as I tried to get it to stop getting hooked on my shoes. The others had gone out already, to surprise the Princess for her birthday, but I hung back and tried to get my dress to work with me.

Raylon told us all about the surprise when we got to the borders of this kingdom, and after a few days of rest, we all started getting ready.

I felt terribly nervous at all this. My first glimpse of a new planet and at my new life would be a grand party in the Palace for a Princess.

I was glad that I had grabbed the bottle of Tequila from Connie’s house. At least I had a gift for her, even if it wasn’t much.

Billy and Bob’s ship had made me a very fancy gold and crystal salt shaker and three perfect yellow lemons. I also asked the ship to make me a set of six shot glasses. Each one with a picture of one of the wonders of Earth on it.

It’s a nice gift, right? I mean, acceptable for a princess? God, I hope so.

I grabbed the fancy gold bag her gifts were in, and with one final tug on my dress, I made my way out of the shuttle. I pulled the dress up over my shoes as I walked and when I looked up I saw Connie, Raylon and another man all staring at me.

The other man had a gold band on his head, holding his long black hair in place. His green eyes moved over me and when his mouth fell open I felt shy suddenly.

Raylon whispered something into his ear and his mouth shut as he looked away.

I approached them with a storm of butterflies in my stomach and remembered what Connie had said about greeting the King.

I gave him a small curtsy, “Good evening, your highness,” I said and looked into his eyes.

He stood there, staring at me without a word.

Shit, I screwed that up, didn’t I?

I nervously looked at Connie, but she just shrugged and stepped forward, “Ash, this is King Zasrus. Zasrus this is my best friend, Ashley.”

I bit my lip as he stared at me still, not sure what to do. When he finally broke out of whatever daze he was in, he gave me a smile I thought would knock me over, “Hello, Ashley,” He said and took my hand. He placed a kiss on the back of it and looked up at me, “Welcome to my home.”

I felt my blush creep in, “Thank you.”

He let my hand go, and turned to Raylon, “A word?” He said and they left us standing there.

I went to Connie, “I messed up didn’t I?”

She frowned and looked back at them, “No, I don’t know what’s up with him. He’s usually quite chatty.”

I pulled at the annoying dress again, “Is it this dress, do I look ridiculous? Maybe I’m showing too much skin?”

She grabbed my arm gently, “Ash, you look stunning, trust me it’s not you.”

I looked over at the King and his brother speaking and noticed how every few words, they both looked in my direction.

Great. The first day here, and I am going to get sent home.

The young woman from the TV in Connie’s flat came to us with Rein behind her. Connie smiled at her then turned to me, “Laylar, this is my friend, Ash.”

“Hello, Ash. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” She said and her smile fell as she stared at me.

“Likewise, Princess Laylar,” I said and remembered, “Oh, and happy birthday,” I said handing her the gift bag.

She smiled at me and took the bag, opening it to pull the bottle out.

“What is it?” She asked.

“It’s Tequila. It’s a drink from our planet. In there are salt and lemons that are all drank together.”

“Will you show me how?” She asked and Rein stepped forward.

“Do not drink that poison, Laylar.” He said as he eyed the bottle.

Connie and I both laughed before Connie said, “It’s not poison, Rein. It just feels like it is when you drink as much as we did.”

Laylar turned to him, “Sounds like you had fun while you were away.”

The kid lowered his head as his face turned a little red.

I spotted the gold chain around her neck with the pendant hanging off it. The small red tulip inside of a crystal heart matched her dress.

I smiled at the thought of how tulips symbolize a declaration of love and how fitting the gift was.

I wonder if he told her what it means? I explained it to him on the way here.

The king and Raylon came back to us, and with a wide smile, the King gestured for us all to go into the hall.

I could feel his eyes on me the whole time. Not in a creepy kind of way at all. I liked it.

We made our way to a large table in the back of the room, and as he and Raylon sat down at the head of the table, Connie sitting next to Raylon, I looked around for where to sit. The only place left was next to the King.

I gave Connie a wide-eyed look and she must have understood what I meant, because she leaned over to Raylon, “Where is Ash going to sit?”

“Next to me,” The king said, “Please?”

I nodded and twisted my hands as I went to the seat and sat down. I kept my head down, and my hands on my lap as I waited.

“Why does Connie call you Ash?” He asked.

I met his stunning green eyes again, “It’s a nickname I’ve had all my life.”

“Do you like it?” He asked as he poured me a drink.

“I guess. I’m used to it by now.”

“Yes, but do you like it? Or would you prefer I call you Ashley?”

I swallowed. No one ever asked me that.

“I. . . I don’t know. Ash will be fine.”

He nodded and lifted his glass to his lips, all the while watching me. I took a slow sip of the fizzy pink drink and smiled at how delicious it was.

I set the glass down, trying to be as prim and proper as I could. I kept my back straight, my hands folded neatly in my lap and legs crossed at the ankles.

“My brother tells me you plan to stay in my Kingdom for good?”

I turned to him again, getting lost in those eyes of his, “Yes, if that’s alright with you?”

“Of course. Any friend of Connie’s is a friend of mine. Where will you be staying?”

“I think Connie said we will be here for a few days, then we are going to Parna.”

“Ahh yes, my brother's private planet. I heard magic happens there,” he said with a smile.

We fell into an awkward silence, as I fidgeted with my fingers on my lap.

“Hello,” I heard a small child’s voice say from next to me. I turned to see an adorable little girl, maybe ten or so years old, in a bright pink dress standing next to me.

“Hello honey,” I said as I gave her a bright smile.

“You’re very pretty."

“So are you. I love this dress,” I said and she beamed at me as she spun her dress around.

“What’s your name,” the girl asked.

“I’m Ash, and what’s yours?”

“I am Tomlee.”

“You’re one of the princesses,” I said with a wide smile.

How cute is this precious little thing? I wish my daughter had survived.

“Is this your real hair?” She asked, reaching up to my silver-white hair.

I leaned down, “Yes, it is. But can I tell you a secret?” I asked, hushing my voice and leaning in closer.

“Yes!” She said and moved closer to me.

“It’s not my real color,” I said with a wink.

“What is your real color?”

“Well, a kind of faded brown I think. It’s been a while since I have seen my real hair,”

“Why do you make it white? Is it to match your name?”

It’s because a long time ago, I was not allowed to look pretty at all.

“I woke up one day and wanted something different.”

She smiled as she considered it then said, “Do you want to see my Timix?”

“What is that?”

“Father,” she said looking past me at the King, “May I take Ash to see the Timix?”

I turned to look at him, and he held a smile on his face, “Of course,” He said as he gave her a wink, “May I join you?”

“Yes!” She called out and grabbed my hand. I followed the girl through the crowd, all the while conscious that the King was only a few steps behind me.

Tomlee led me out of the hall through a side door and when we entered a beautiful garden she paused to look at me.

I met her eyes, “where to?”

She pointed to a path leading into the darkness of the trees.

Should we be going down there?

I felt the King step up to me, “It will be worth the walk, I promise.”

“Okay then. Lead the way, honey.” I said and walked beside the king as Tomlee ran off ahead.

Thank goodness I wore flats. This path is so dark.

“Forgive my daughters excitement,” The king said as he slowed to walk right next to me, “She has always had a fascination with new species.”

I laughed at that.

“What makes you laugh like that?”

“I just never considered that I would be a new species anywhere. It sounds so strange to be thought of like that.”

“Is it not the same for you? After all, everyone here is all a new species to you.”

“No, you’re right, I just never thought I would be new anything, anywhere.”

The girl had gone off deeper into the darkness and when she moved out of sight, I quickened my pace to try to catch up to her.

“Tomlee?” I called out to her when the panic of the child disappearing took hold.

“She is alright. Nothing will happen to her here.”

She isn’t yours, Ash, relax.

“But what if she gets hurt? Or lost?”

“My children know these gardens better than the trees themselves.”

“She could still fall or-”

Back off Ash, she’s fine.

“You must have children,” the king said with a smile.

I lowered my gaze to the ground, I should have had three.

“No.”

“You would make a wonderful mother,” He said and I felt a lump build in my throat.

I know I would have. Its all I ever wanted. But once again, Dave took that away from me.

When I didn’t answer, the king stopped us on the path, “Forgive me, did I say something to upset you?”

I shook off the thoughts, “Not at all. You just brought back some hard memories.”

“Would you like to tell me about it?”

I swallowed, Not really. But I can’t exactly be so rude to him.

“I had three children. I lost them all.” I said and began walking again.

“Forgive me, Ash, I didn’t mean to upset you. That is a loss so unimaginable. I know the pain of fearing I may lose a child, and it is not something I would ever wish upon anyone.”

“You almost lost a child?” I asked, hoping to deflect the conversation.

“Yes, Laylar. Our people have a sickness passed from mother to child. It almost took Laylar.”

“But she’s fine now?”

“Yes. The Ful’s, Billy and Bob, saved her. I owe them a debt that I will never be able to repay.”

“I’m so sorry that happened. I never got to know my children.”

“Why not?”

I took in a long breath, then let it out slowly, “I lost them before they were born.”

“Did a sickness take them?”

“You could say that. A vile plague on my life.”

When he didn’t say anything, I turned to look at him thinking about my words.

“I’m not sick,” I said, realizing that he must have misunderstood me, “The plague was my ex.”

“I see. If you ever wish to speak of it, I am always here.” He said as we cleared the trees. Tomlee stood on the bank of a massive lake. The waters looked pitch black, and so still the moon reflected off it like a mirror.

“Wow, this is beautiful.”

Tomlee ran over to us, “father, throw a pebble in, please.”

He gave her a smile and bent over. He picked up a hand full of small stones and threw one as hard as he could into the water.

The second it broke the surface, the water boiled and illuminated into a bright blue color.

“What is that?” I asked as my eyes went wide.

“That’s my Timix,” Tomlee said with a proud smile.

I stared at the sight as the water began to grow calm and dark again.

“Again,” Tomlee shouted and went to the edge of the water.

The king turned to me, “Would you like to try?” he asked, holding his hand with the stones in out to me.

I nodded and grabbed a stone. I looked at the water as the last of the light faded away, then threw the stone into the water.

Again the water bubbled and grew brighter.

“What are they?” I asked as I turned to find the king still watching me.

“Timix are small creatures that live in this lake alone. They are tiny but very dangerous. They eat anything that falls into the lake.”

“And you let your kids play here?” I asked, before I could stop myself.

He gave me a quick frown before he smiled, “They know not to go into the lake.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you like that.”

“I don’t mind at all. My brother tells me I need telling off every now and then.”

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