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Echoes of Hunting

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Sometimes Antoinette wonders if it was worth it. If he was worth all the effort she put into being close to him. She knows how daunting a figure his father posed, but still, is it wrong of her that part of her wishes he had put in a little resistance? Any resistance at all?

She would never give up the sisterhood she found among all the huntresses with penchants for cross-dressing who looked so much like herself. They followed her, a noblewoman resoundingly jilted by the young king. They put their hearts and souls into forming her hunting party and passing for men and spurning the Lion.

Few can ever go back to their families. Antoinette can never repay them for all they gave.

...

She wakes up with her feet still sore from dancing and her face cramped from smiling. She hardly recognizes herself. Does he recognize her any more?

...

He swore he loved her and then, after a haircut and a costume change did not even know her face. Her sisters insist that he took to them all precisely because they reminded him of her. Antoinette would love to believe that. She‘d counted on his obliviousness, but still, she had clung to that reassurance a lot.

It tears at yet warms her heart to recall how he treated her when he believed her a dedicated male friend. She loves her skirts and dresses, missed wearing them for weeks and months; is the way he looks at her different? She felt closer to him in disguise than she does now that he’s acknowledged her as his fiancée once again.

The agony on his face when he feared she might die…

Antoinette cannot rightly bring herself to feel sorry for the woman who believed she would be queen in her stead. It’s not her fault that she came between a love match. It is a love match… isn’t it?

It would be imprudent to ask for a change of pace when every ball and reception is part of the king’s effort to circumvent the political turmoil that came from the king’s choice to honour his original key.

Antoinette has yet to get over the feeling of bitterness when she thinks of the late king. What had she ever done to him? What was the big advantage to the other’s homeland that he decided it was worth it to stomp over her heart for it?

The ring on her finger reinstates her honour in front of her family; what reassurance can they offer her now? Her father, who gave her the means to win back her lover, who does not recognize the woman she became in the process? Her sisters, who are not complaining but who are watching her every move like hawks…

The naive waif she once was is long since gone. She is not just a pretty, gentle face who will run her king‘s castle and bear his children. Antoinette will do those things, too, but she wants more from life now than her erstwhile expectations.

She is the head of the kingdom’s most accomplished hunting party. The man whose face she showed the world for a year became the King’s close advisor. She is his equal, or nearly so. She is not giving it up.

The kingdom matters. The future matters. Peace is brought closer by each banquet, each soirée, each greeting.

Antoinette is keeping an eagle eye on the servant who so faithfully warned the king‘s hunters. Poor boy, so shocked when it came out that they all actually were women… She will do her best to encourage it should something develop between him an one of the huntresses.

The king has chosen her, definitely, now – how long will it last? asks a treacherous voice – and so she has power she did not possess before, but she’d prefer her life without the enmity she can scarcely see a way out of.

She cannot fault the Lion for the loyalty to her soon-to-be husband, but he tried to expose her scheme not for the good of the kingdom but because being seen as wise suited him.

The incident with the peas was in good fun, but trying to entice twelve women with spinning wheels when there are only three among them who even enjoy fibre craft...

She will never like or trust the Lion.

...

He looks at her as if searching for someone; she searches for her true self each time she looks in a mirror.

The hunting uniform languishes in the back of her closet. Jacket and trousers show no sign of the dirt and blood from her fall. Its brilliant red calls to her, a promise of freedom in each button’s gleam.

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