All Strings Attached

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Chapter 3: Madhouse Called My Home

Arika woke up before the sun could peek into her window. She stared at the large, wooden shelf filled with things she picked up while on her walks opposite to her bed. A few silhouettes of jars could be made out from the moon’s reflection.

Her mind that usually wandered became fixated on the meeting.

“Prince Sin-Vira… I wonder what he’s decided to do…”

After staring into the darkness for a moment longer, she sat up from her bed and raised her arms to stretch, only to hear a clattering sound.

“Hehe whoops~ Arm came off…” she whispered as she looked at her forearm on the ground. “Strings and hooks; porcelain and wood; a soul and a purpose. That’s what makes the perfect doll…” Arika recited as she picked up her fallen arm and pushed it back into place.

Being a doll meant she wouldn’t have to worry about starvation, hypothermia, and various other things the living worried about. Though what they shared in common was an end.

As the sun began to rise, she went to her dresser and changed into her casual wear. A green dress with ruffles that covered her legs entirely.

“I do hate wearing this, but my secret must be kept…” She muttered as she put on arm length, silk gloves, and heels. Once she was fully dressed, Arika headed off to the forest to see the prince.

There were already some commoners preparing to start their days.

“Good morning, Princess Sibylla!”

“It’s a pleasure seeing you up, Princess Sibylla.”

“You look more like your mother every time I see you, Princess…”

As greetings that mentioned that name built up, Arika felt a discomfort knot in her chest.

They knew nothing about what was happening behind the walls. Which was for the best if the kingdom were to avoid falling into shambles. Arika would continue to smile and wave until she made it into the forest, her forced smile dropping as she felt a feeling of relief.

Already by the half-covered fire Arika made, Prince Sin-Vira leaned against a tree. He was noticeably drowsy and had dark circles under his eyes.

“You came early,” he said. Pushing off the trunk as he approached her.

“I couldn’t sleep. I was looking forward to hearing what you had to say. Though the mountains are a bit far from here. Why come when it’s barely bright out?” Arika questioned while staying keen on his movements.

He yawned. “I also had trouble sleeping. My mother’s words were all I could think about…”

“So you spoke with her? Did you mention being knocked out by a stone?” She joked with a small smile.

Sin-Vira scowled at her. “No.” He took another step towards her. “The details don’t matter, just know she’s willing to give your idea a chance. What of the king’s decision?”

Arika gave a small smile. “He was already asleep by the time I arrived. Though I shall discuss the matters with him over breakfast.” She glanced around before staring at him. “I’m surprised you trusted my words so easily. I merely spoke without properly thinking.”

“… You gave me little time to properly think. But I’m aware our options are limited.” He held outstretched his hand to her. “Marriage is the most effective way. I shall play along, but the moment you try making their lives any worst, I will not hesitate to intervene.”

She stared at his hands and noticed how detailed they were. A dark complexion that showed the few scars in his hand. Her hands never scarred, they only cracked and warped when improperly taken care of.

Arika took Sin-Vira’s hand and gave him a firm handshake. “I can assure you, I have no interest in gemstones that were reaped by the workers who were forced to unearth them.” She released his hand and smiled. “If all goes well, you should receive an invite for us to meet! Now please return home and rest. I was worried you were the waken dead. They’re quite troublesome to deal with!”

Sin-Vira stiffened as he clicked his tongue. “I’m aware I need sleep. There’s no need to tease me.” He covered his mouth and yawned. “I still can’t believe I agreed to this…”

“You’re quite selfless, prince Vira. I shall do what I can to make this worth your time.”

Bell chimes could be heard in the distance, causing the two young royals to look over at the kingdom.

“Morning has officially begun I suppose. Let us pray we don’t have to resolve our issues through violence, hm? Good day!” Arika waved with a wide grin on her face, turning to her heels, and hurried down the path.

Knowing that the king would likely scold her, Arika knew that she would have to tread on thin ice. Her steps resumed to a walking pace as she stood upright and continued her act for the public.

By the time she arrived, the king was already seated in the dining hall and had a glare that could pierce through stones.

“You should know by now that curfew exists for a reason, Arika,” he Snarled, taking a plate from one of the various silver carts of food he would likely waste. “What would the public think about seeing my Sibylla walking around at night?”

Arika bowed before sitting in her chair at the other end of the long table. “I apologize, King Lambert. There were unexpected events that delayed my return after Prince Beka and I parted ways.” Arika stared down at the empty plate sitting before her. Engraved in the plate said the name ‘SIBYLLA PURCELL’ in gold. To her, this was another reminder of what her role was meant to be.

The king scoffed at her words as he bit into a piece of steaming food. “Really? My Sibylla would never come home late, even when ‘unexpected events’ happen. What happened?” The king pushed his plate of unfinished food away before taking another meal to eat.

Arika stared at the king with a blank expression. “While walking through the forest, I took an incorrect turn and overheard two men that came from the snapdragon kingdom. They spoke about the treatment they received at the mines and–”

Lambert slammed his fist down and grunted. “So what of it?! Don’t tell me you plan on siding with those bastards!?” He stabbed into the plate harshly, shattering it with his golden knife. “I spared those slimy lizards from destruction with a fair deal! You were not created to defy me, do you understand!?” He shouted.

The princess felt herself shrink in her seat. “I… I am aware, sir. But I did not speak of this to question your noble cause. After overhearing these men did I become aware that there is resentment that has become rooted and is growing. Which means, retaliation can follow suit without proper preparation.”

“Retaliation! Then I need to send more guards!” He shouted before stabbing into his meat and biting into it.

Arika took a deep breath. “My mission was to find Sibylla a suitable prince to marry. Prince Beka of the Hyacinth kingdom is a weak prince that lacks any real benefits if she were to marry him. Also, I believe his older sister is already preparing to marry a royal in the Lily kingdom. However, the Snapdragon’s have a prince and something you want…”

King Lambert’s brows furrowed as his grip on his knife tightened. “Whatever you’re implying, think about your next words very carefully…” he warned.

She laced her fingers together as she straightened her back. “King Lambert, the Snapdragon’s are growing restless from the lack of communication between both kingdoms. Sibylla would not approve of the Snapdragon’s hatred towards this kingdom and would make the same decision I wish to make.” Arika stood up from her seat, her hand over her chest. “Allow me to win over the prince’s trust. If we were to wed, my presence in their kingdom would not only diminish suspicion but bring ease to the people. Even if we slightly change the treatment now and then, there would be enough false hope to discourage the idea of retaliation.”

Arika was aware of how much the king loved his mines in the Snapdragon’s mountains. Everything he owned and wore was dazzled by the gorgeous gemstones. His jewelry, silverware, furniture, even his clothes had minerals embedded into them. He was more than aware of the harm he was causing, he was the one who boasted about it at every gathering. There’s no saving a man drowning in his greed after all.

“My daughter deserves better than to marry a kingdom as worthless as the Snapdragons! Are you certain the Hyacinths lack resources that are of value?” He questioned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

The question made Arika cover her mouth for a moment to hide the smile creeping on her face. “Please believe me when I say the Hyacinth’s waters are home to common fish. Besides that, there are no benefits in that kingdom.”

“The Snapdragons are nothing short of an embarrassment. They’re brutes! What other options are there!?”

Arika shook her head. “If you desire to keep your mines without retaliation, I suggest looking into my idea. They’re restless and might seek blood without an olive branch between the kingdoms…”

King Lambert abruptly stood up from his seat. His bush hand gripped onto the cart and flipped it over. Cursing, shouting, and lashing out on now wasted food.

The princess sat in silence. Waiting for him to wear himself out since this was common for him to do.

Lambert fell back into his seat as he breathed heavily. “Fine! I’ll concede! It’s not worth the risk of them trying to bite back anyways…” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Leave me be so I can prepare!” he shouted.

Arika smiled and left her seat. “I wish you a pleasant morning, King Lambert.” She bowed before hastily exiting while the servants began cleaning the mess. She was unaware that her hands were balled into a fist until she was outside again. Free from the madhouse she dared to call home.

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