The horses pulled the carriage at a steady pace. The heavy load and threatening weather did not seem to bother them. The dark clouds that had blocked the sunshine since this morning, had followed them all the way from their home town. In the far distance, the outline of a magnificent castle appeared. The girl, her mother and their servant looked in awe at the impressive building that was their final destination.
The entire journey had been a great adventure for the little girl. They had passed through countless cities and villages. She had found them all equally wonderful, until they reached Cereia, the capital city of Regantis. The driver manned the carriage right through the center of the city and the girl wished she had more eyes so she could see everything that was going on. Countless horses and carriages travelling in all directions, the enormous square in front of the main temple of the Gods, children playing, merchants selling their goods, Council members in their distinguished white and blue robes. But all this fell short in comparison with the view of the Royal castle.
The driver proficiently manned the carriage through the large gateway that provided entrance to the courtyard. He stopped the horses in front of the doors. Several servants hasted themselves to the carriage to help out. The girl was lifted from the carriage first, by a large man with bronzed shoulders.
‘Is this it, mommy? Is this where we’re going to live now? Is this our new home?’
The girl could barely contain her enthusiasm when the bronzed man put her down. Her mother nodded and elegantly stepped out of the carriage, aided by a female servant.
‘It’s so BIG!’ the girl yelled, admiring the part of the castle she could see from where she stood.
Without waiting for the others she ran inside, with her blonde hairs fluttering in the wind. She came to a halt in the middle of the entrance hall. Her brown eyes flashed in all directions, trying to take it all in. The ceiling was so high, that three men would need to stand on each other’s shoulders in order to clean the chandelier that was hanging right in the center. Halfway on the right side of the hall, were broad circling stairs. They were so large that the horses could have easily pulled the carriage upstairs without damaging the banisters. Across from the stairs were two richly adorned double doors, leading to the Council hall. Here the King would meet with his Council, seventy high Lords from Regantis, who would advise him on how to rule the country. Next to the double doors was a large portrait of the current King, King Primocles, sitting on his throne. Four different corridors, each sided with two marble pillars, led to different areas of the castle.
‘Look mommy, I think I can see myself!’ the girl laughed when her mother entered the hall. She looked down at the shiny marble floors.
‘Your chambers are upstairs, Lady Lopeia,’ the bronzed servant said while bowing at the girl’s mother.
‘Queen Wenaeis will greet you tonight and has requested that you accompany her for dinner.’
Lady Lopeia nodded that she understood and gestured the servant to lead the way.
‘Come along, Alexa,’ she summoned the little girl.
The girl compliantly did as her mother asked and followed the rest of the company upstairs. She would have loved to stay down in the hall and explore where all the corridors were leading to, but thankfully there was enough to see on the way to the chambers. Little Alexa repeatedly cried out from enthusiasm whenever she saw something new, unlike the rest of the company who followed the servant in silence. Alexa’s enthusiasm reached a summit when their guide eventually stopped and opened the door that led to a light chamber with a view of the castle gardens.
‘These are the chambers Fourth Queen Wenaeis has allocated to you, Lady Lopeia,’ the servant informed her politely.
‘The door on your left leads to the washing room and here on the right are the sleeping accommodations for both you and your daughter. For your servant a bed has been cleared below, in the servant’s quarters. The rest of your belongings will be brought up to you as soon as possible.’
After a nod from Lady Lopeia the servant bowed again and left, closing the door behind him. The little girl raced from left to right to examine the different rooms.
‘Look mommy, look how pretty,’ she yelled from the washing space. ‘Mom! Mommy, did you see the bathtub?’
But the girl’s mother did not seem to share her enthusiasm. She sank down on a chair near the window and stared outside with a blank expression on her face and her hands folded in her lap. The girl did not seem to notice her mother’s sad state and eagerly kept exploring the rooms, as if she wanted to take in every inch of her new home.
‘The garden is so big!’ she yelled in surprise when she looked outside the window.
Her Doe smiled forgivingly at the girl’s joy and started unpacking their belongings. Lady Lopeia, however, seemed immune for her daughter’s cheerfulness and did not respond. With a sad expression in her eyes she kept staring outside, to the solemn grey sky. The girl finally seemed to notice that her mother did not share her bright mood. She walked over to the window and placed her hand on her mother’s knee.
‘Mommy?’ she asked hesitatingly. A frown appeared on her forehead.
‘Is… is daddy coming here too?’
Lady Lopeia silently kept staring out of the window without acknowledging her daughter’s question, but her bottom lip started quivering. She gently swept her hands along her eyes. The servant quickly walked towards them and kindly placed her hands on the girl’s shoulder.
‘Alexa, why don’t we unpack your things in your new room?’ she suggested.
‘Let’s give your mother a little time to recover from our long journey.’
Friendly but determined she led the girl to the smaller of the two bedrooms, where she started to unpack the girl’s clothes. Alexa pulled her legs up on the bed and wrapped her arms around herself. She rested her chin on her knees while she watched her Doe neatly folding the clothes and putting them away.
‘Daddy is not coming anymore, is he, Aldarin?’ the little girl asked after a while. It was more a statement than a question and the servant nodded without interrupting her work.
The servant sighed and turned towards the young girl. With her head tilted and her hands on her hips, she looked at the young girl in her care with compassion on her face. As Alexa’s Doe, she had been there when Alexa was born and had been caring for her ever since. She would keep doing so until Alexa came of age, at which point Alexa would most likely get her own servant while Aldarin would continue to serve Alexa’s mother. Aldarin sat down beside Alexa and placed her arm around the girl’s shoulder.
‘We talked about this, Alexa. You know this. Your father can no longer be with you.’
‘Yes, but why?’
‘Your father was a very brave man, Alexa. He fought for his country so that you, and all of us, can live a safe and good life. He did that so well, that the Gods have granted him a place to live beyond the Heavenly Gates.’
‘So he rather wanted to be there than with us?’ Alexa asked in a sad tone.
‘No, of course not, Duna!’ Aldarin called out to the girl, using the nick-name commonly used affectionately for young girls. She pulled Alexa close.
‘I think your father would have wanted nothing more than to come home to you and your mother, but once the Gods have decided we cannot change their minds. Not even when we really, really want to.’
‘I still wish he was here,’ Alexa spoke softly. ‘So that mommy would not have to cry all the time.’
The servant smiled and stroked the girl’s blonde hair.
‘You just have to be a good girl for your mother. I’m sure she will get happier again. Perhaps it will help that she is with her sister now. Lady Lopeia and her sister used to be very close, before her sister left for Cereia to marry the King. It was a good idea from Fourth Queen Wenaeis to have you both moved to the castle. You will both be taken care of here.’
‘Do you like coming here too?’ Alexa asked curiously.
‘It does not matter what I want,’ Aldarin said with a gentle smile. ‘I am your mothers servant and your Doe. I belong with you, so I go where your mother wants me to go. That’s how it works.’
‘Don’t you mind it?’
‘You get used to it.’
‘Well, I think it is stupid,’ Alexa said. ‘When I’m bigger you don’t have to be a servant anymore, alright Aldarin?’
The Doe smiled without engaging with the little girl and got up from the bed to continue her work.
‘Go to your mother, Alexa. Tell her that you are sorry that you have upset her.’
Obediently Alexa stood up and walked back to the sitting room, where she found her mother in the exact same position as they had left her. She hesitated for a moment, but then gently stroked her mother’s arm.
‘I did not mean to make you sad mommy,’ she said sweetly.
Lady Lopeia finally pulled her stare away from the window and granted her young daughter half a smile.
‘I know, Duna,’ she said and she reached her arm out.
Alexa quickly crawled on her mother’s lap.
‘I miss daddy too,’ she whispered, while she curled up in her mother warm embrace.
‘I know you do,’ her mother quietly answered and pressed a kiss against Alexa’s forehead.
‘Will you sing the secret song?’
Lady Lopeia pulled her daughter close. Her eyes drifted to the window again when she started singing the song she had composed for her daughter. Lady Lopeia had a kind, exceptionally melodious voice.
’You are my sun, my moon, my world,
I love you most, you see
It’s how it always has been
How it will always be
Both in days of happiness
And times of great despair
I will always be with you
Even when I’m not there.’
Mother and daughter sat in silence after the last tones of the song had faded away. Two pairs of brown eyes stared at the outside world. It was as if the dark clouds slowly started to lighten up. It probably wouldn’t be too much longer before the sun would show its face again.