“ONCE UPON A TIME” was always a phrase I had hated.
It seemed unfair, it was just a few hand-picked words strung together for the sake of sounding inspired.
But over and over again, it was the choice phrase of one too many writers. Once upon a time clogged the starts of many tales, but not this one. It implies that the time is whenever the reader wants it to be, long ago, perhaps by centuries, or just last week.
But this is my story, and it happens not once upon a time ago, but a month after I was born.
THERE WAS A YOUNG princess, who fell in love with a poor man, she begged her father, the King, to let them be married. She was in love, and no other man, no other Prince or King, no amount of money or silver tongue could convince her otherwise.
And the King, who had married a woman he had not loved, who was betrothed to him since birth, let his daughter choose her husband, he wished her happiness in all things, and even if it took the rest of his life, he would take the poor man under his wing and teach him to be a great king.
They were wed in the middle of a war, and the King begged their battle ready neighbors for peace, at least for one day, for his daughter to be wed.
Their day of peace was granted, but the King, untrusting of their neighbors, kept his guard up, his sword at his side, and his eyes looked everywhere, for any strange thing that would give him any hint that something gruesome was to happen.
But, the day was happy and without bloodshed, the King, in his heart, felt that one day this war could be over.
The Princess was happy, overjoyed that she would be able to marry the man she loved, and that the man she loved was so happy to be marrying her. She danced around the room, her feet flying, barely touching the floor, as the band played and her people clapped in rhythmic unison. Her husband never let go of her, his hands always touching her, unable to part from her.
“They look happy.” A man said.
The King looked to the man, the groom’s father, a smart man, he recalled, and a scholar.
The King agreed, he never thought he’d ever seen his daughter happier.
“A day with peace, with every man home,” The man took a deep breath. “Refreshing, is it not?”
The King agreed. He saw in attendance every knight and every soldier he had sent out into battle, home enjoying the wedding banquet.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if it could last? I have studied the art of war, but also the art of ending wars, allow me to give you advice. Perhaps a fresh pair of eyes is what this war needs.”
Perhaps it was. The King agreed, he was a tired man, tired of fighting, and he wanted his daughter to live as happy as she was now; free from the burden of war and battle.
In the weeks to come, the groom’s father, a man named Drosselmeyer, became the King’s Advisor, and a dear friend to the King. Any thought the King had did not go spoken until it was whispered into Drosselmeyer’s ear.
And that was how Drosselmeyer liked it.
Drosselmeyer was a power hungry man, he wished and desired for the crown, planting his son in the footsteps of the King’s daughter, in hopes that they would fall in love, and it worked. Oh how marvelously it worked! And now he was the King’s Right Hand man, nothing was approved, nothing was permitted without his allowance, but it wasn’t enough.
The King was still King, and Drosselmeyer was still nothing, he still had no real power, he had only taken a sip from the pool and it made his thirst deepen.
He made plans for the King, plans that would leave him in power.
Drosselmeyer had a secret weapon, a gift granted to him by the spirits of the Forest, by the Great Oak Tree. With just his hand- no, with just the tips of his fingers, he could control reality. The people, the Princess, his son, the King.
The gift, however, was not easily used, it could not be reversed, it left others in a daze, and if he used it on them for too long, they become lifeless, like a puppet in his hand. Able to do anything he wished, but without any soul, without any heart, and thus he had to be careful. The King had a great personality, he was loud and boisterous, he easily laughed, and lost his temper too frequently. If Drosselmeyer was to use him, it would be too obvious. A loud storm, suddenly silenced.
No, instead, Drosselmeyer’s target was his daughter-in-law.
The Princess was headstrong and too much like her father, but only behind closed doors, only to the people she knew well, and to others, she appeared the perfect young lady, silent and always listening.
It was not the King he controlled, but his daughter.
With a pen, Drosselmeyer put his attentions to the Princess, and with each passing day, the Princess lost her fire.
His plan came to fruition when the King himself went to the neighboring kingdom, to talk of peace, and with a smile, Drosselmeyer sat down at his writing desk, and saw what the King did, his actions, his words, his pen scribing the scenes, and he would let his hand write, until it was time to intervene.
When the two Kings sat down, they bowed to one another in greeting, they gave sad smiles, and began to speak, Drosselmeyer moved his attentions to the guard that stood on the North wall.
He strode forward, and drew the dagger from his belt, his eyes locked on the King, and with the dagger in the knight’s hand, Drosselmeyer slit the throat of his friend.
In a day, word came back that the King had been murdered, the sorrow was enough to break the Princess free from Drosselmeyer’s hold, but he would allow it.
In a week, the Kingdom wept as he was lowered into the ground.
His daughter and Drosselmeyer’s son were crowned King and Queen.
And the Queen grew pregnant.
The King, Drosselmeyer’s son, had been a good student, but he feared that he was ill prepared to sit on the throne, to lead his people out of battle and into days and times of peace, even though it was he who won the Königsspiel.
Drosselmeyer thought it was all going just as he had planned it, until he went to the Forest once more.
He stood in front of the Great Oak Tree, singing his praises, when a voice came from it’s bark.
“I wouldn’t be so proud if I were you.”
Drosselmeyer stopped, the voice of the Oak Tree and the voice of this woman were very different indeed. “Who goes there?”
A pale woman stepped out from behind the tree. “It is I, the child of the Oak Tree.”
“Child of the Oak Tree?”
“Her guardian, her protector. I am her eyes, and she is mine. And with what she has shown me, I wouldn’t get so excited if I were you.”
“Tell me then, what she has shown you.”
“And ruin the surprise?”
Drosselmeyer narrowed his eyes at her. “Tell me. Now.”
“The wildfire burns down the trees and the plants, and gives the earth new life, but the fire started by man burns him down and the people with him.”
“An insane thing to say, now speak frankly.”
“What will happen, Drosselmeyer, when that fire reaches your bed?”
“How do you know my name?”
She caressed the oak tree. “I told you, the Oak Tree told me.”
“Enough of this. I came to praise the Oak Tree and her works, and now that I have, I shall be on my way.”
“But wait, don’t you want to know the future of the future King?”
“My son is already Ki-”
“No, the little prince Helima has growing inside of her.” The woman pressed her hands to her lower abdomen, her thumbs creating a heart. “His future will be your undoing”
“The acorn fell upon your head, but you were greedy and didn’t pass it to your son, but from your hand it fell to his future son. It is already planted in his heart, the seed of knowledge was given to you and you had to grow it by hand, but it is already in him, and it will grow strong, the roots of him will grow deeper, the leaves upon his branches will touch the sky, leaving you in shadow.”
“Your words fall upon dead ears, madam.”
“Then perhaps you should awaken them.”
“They will not be woken only to listen to jiberish.”
The woman smiled. “Jiberish now, it may be, but in time you will see. What little has been handed to you, it will be born with him, and your evil deeds will not go unnoticed by him. He will see you, and he will know of your corruption, and he will chop you down.”
Drosselmeyer was angered by her, and her implications. “And the Oak Tree told you this?”
The woman nodded. “She tells me everything.”
Drosselmeyer glared to the tree, and thought, “No one will take from me what is mine.”
He left the woman behind, the Oak Tree nothing now but a nuisance.
When he returned, his son approached him and told him that he himself would be going to the front lines, in an effort to speak with the King, in hopes to talk of peace, and bring an end to the war.
The acorn fell upon your head, but you were greedy and didn’t pass it to your son, but in his blood, the acorn is there nonetheless.
His son was in love with the Queen, there was no doubt that they would have more than one child.
An army with his gift, all aimed at him, it would be his downfall, his destruction.
No, he could not let this first child live, much less let there be more.
The night his son left, Drosselmeyer sat down at his writing desk, he didn’t care how his son died, so long as it was done, but so busy was he, that he did not hear the screams of his daughter-in-law going into labor.
The pen scratched against paper, and as the King perished, the future King was born.
Drosselmeyer stood over the infant’s crib, how easy it would be, to suffocate the child, to strangle him in his quilts, he screamed and wailed, the disgusting creature, and surrounding him was always his mother and her maids.
When her husband died, Drosselmeyer did not allow her to grieve. Taking control of her and not giving her a second to be herself, so much so, that even without his pen, he could whisper into her ear a command and she would obey.
He would have to wait until there was a moment they were alone, without the maid’s eyes, and with a replacement in his hands.
It was fortunate that the highest ranking nobles had a son only a fortnight prior to the Queen, with similar enough eyes, and dark enough hair that no one would know the difference.
It was a small matter, he placed a cover over the Duke and Duchess’ eyes, their poor baby boy was sick, doomed to die, and a loyal servant of Drosselmeyer’s plucked the baby from his crib, and his parents mourned their loss.
“Isn’t this an unbearable child?”
The Queen looked down at her son. Yes, yes he was.
“Oh, how ugly is he. His skin marred by that birthmark, it takes up most of his chest. That is not the chest of a King.”
His daughter-in-law picked up her child. No, no it wasn’t.
“Take this child instead.” Drosselmeyer placed the baby in her arms, and took her son from her. His loyal servant took the baby from him.
“Look at your son. Look at your future king.”
The Queen smiled, wide and glossy. The baby squrimed in her grasp. It was not the warm smile of his mother, it was not the loved hands of his mother, and he knew it.
The loyal servant looked down at the baby, stripped him to his diaper, and opened the window, below the ground was white and covered with frost. He held out his arms and dropped the baby in the snow, to freeze to death.
Drosselmeyer grinned. “The future king looks happy, to be held in his mothers arms.”
The Queen nodded, holding him close to her, even as he wiggled and kicked, screaming out loudly, his face red.
“Close the window, the poor Prince will catch his death.”
THE BLACK SMITH LOOKED at the small Prince, crying out in pain and discomfort. He scooped up the child immediately, wondering why had he been thrown out a window, why would anyone try to kill him, he looked up at the window, at the Queen, smiling and holding a baby.
Something was wrong with the Queen, he knew, he knew since the day she was married something had overtaken her, but it was not his place to speak, not his place to say anything against the Royal Family, even if it was in their best interest. He knew that whatever had happened, was not of her own doing, for she would never behave this way.
She was too much like her father.
He looked down at the Prince, warmer now that he was wrapped in the black smith’s jacket.
“I’ll take care of you.” He said. “I’ll take care of you, Fakir.”
Charon knew that that was what would Helmia would want, for her son to be safe, and he knew that it was Drosselmeyer that had done this, he just didn’t know how.
But, Charon couldn’t just take Fakir, he had to make it look like the Prince had died.
He took one of his chickens and killed it, pouring it’s blood into the snow, and making a dripping trail, leading to the forest. “There, now it will look like an animal got him.”
He left some of the carcass, and prayed it would be convincing enough.
He lit a fire for the little Prince, holding him close, “I don’t understand it, but I know that Helmia loves you with all of her heart. I will take care of you, and when she is well again, you will know your mother.” Charon kissed Fakir’s forehead, not as cold as it had been, and he hoped the child wouldn’t grow sick due to the few moments he spent on the frozen ground. “I promise, you will be King.”
THE LIGHT OF THE sun, shining through the leaves, flittered over her closed eyes as the sound of the train lulled her to sleep, it’s gentle motion enough to make her lethargic.
There was a small chuckle. “Awaken, for we are nearly there, Princess.”
“Mm?” Ahiru opened her eyes and stretched her arms over her head. “I’m not-” She yawned. “Oh, right. Sorry.”
“Do not apologize, it is not the job of the Princess to apologize, but whoever wronged her.”
“Apologize then, Miss. Edel, for stirring me out of my revive.”
Miss. Edel grinned and bowed her head. “I do ask for the mercy of the Princess.”
Ahiru giggled. “Of course! Why would I say no?”
Miss. Edel smiled, “Look out your window,”
Ahiru did as she was told, and was greeted to the site of the walls ofNordlingen, but it was still quite far away. “It’s beautiful.”
“And the Kingdom itself is beautiful, also.” Miss. Edel sat up straighter. “We will be entering from the most northern gate, and the Princess Kraehe Rue of Baden Wurttemberg will come into the Southwest.”
“There are five gates, right?”
“Yes. North, East, South, Southwest, and Northwest.”
Ahiru nodded. “And it’s beautiful?”
“Not as beautiful as Arnis, but quite.”
Miss. Edel placed her hand on Ahiru’s. “Do not be afraid of the path that lies before you, the Prince Siegfried Mytho of Bavaria is said to be a kind man.”
“Unlike his brother.”
“Don’t let the rumors become fact in your mind. You have not met him.”
“Neither have I met Prince Siegfried! What if those rumors aren’t true either? What if he’s just quiet and well-mannered when there are people around?”
“Then you will just have to be the judge of him. Your bethorthed will become a kind man just from admiring your smile.” Miss. Edel grinned, and Ahiru smiled too.
“What if he finds out I’m not a Princess?”
Miss. Edel pursed her lips. “The trade we have created with them will not matter, they get their fish and their blubber, and your kingdom-”
“Won’t go into financial ruin” Ahiru nodded. “I’m not good at keeping secrets.”
“A Princess is good at keeping many secrets. They keep diaries. And if you can’t stop yourself from blurting out-” Miss Edel started to laugh, and Ahiru joined her.
“Write it down.”
“That is why I bought you this.” Edel reached into her skirts and pulled out a leather book from her pocket. It was the size of her hand, it came locked, and as she handed it to Ahiru, she touched it with her hands, it was made with soft suede, it was pale tan, and a sun was carefully etched onto it’s cover.
Ahiru closed her eyes and she stood on the docks, she felt the sun, warm on her face, reflecting off the cold water below her. Often it was cold, and wet, but on days like these, she would come out to the docks, and let the sun warm her skin.
“Thank you, Miss Edel.” Ahiru held it to her chest. “I’ll treasure it forever.”
“And take the key.” Miss. Edel held in her hand a pendant, large and red, and much to round to ever be a key.
“Uh, Miss. Edel?”
She smiled, “It is a locket.” She pinched the side, the locket opened, and the key fell out. She caught it in her hand.
Ahiru slipped the locket over her head, smiling at the gift. “Thank you.”
AHIRU STEPPED OFF THE train, her eyes wide as she stared up at the castle.
Unlike the castle in her kingdom, the Castle of Nordlingen was large, built to be seen by all. Built from large stone, tall enough that the turrets touched the sky. Strategically placed, at every corner and measured perfectly between, were emerald flags that fluttered in the wind.
She was escorted to the castle in a private carriage, her hand clasped to Miss. Edel’s, as Miss Edel’s daughter, Uzura, bounced up and down in the seat across from them.
“Are we almost there, zura? Are we almost home, zura?”
“Shh, little one, we will be there soon.” Miss Edel smiled.
“When we get there, will there be lots of food, zura?”
“Yes, the first banquet is tonight.”
“With dancing and music and cake and mashed potatoes and-”
“Yes, Uzura!” Miss. Edel chuckled. “You will have your fun.”
The carriage jolted to a stop, and if possible, Ahiru’s hand latched onto Edel’s tighter.
“Announcing the arrival of the Princess Odette Ahiru of Schleswig-Holstein.” The carriage door was thrown open, sunlight blinding her. Ahiru let go of Edel’s hand and took the one offered as she stepped out of the carriage.
Poise, grace, tranquility, elegance-
But as she placed her foot on the step, the trailing skirts of her gown nestled themselves under her satin shoe and she slipped, falling into the arms of the servant who was to escort her.
“Oh! I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to fall on you! I’m-”
Miss. Edel cleared her throat as she stepped down beside her. “Her Grace is tired from a long journey, and tired from staying seated for too long.”
“Yes! Yes, of course.” Ahiru cleared her throat.
Ahiru looked up, and at the top of the steps that lead up to the palace doors where five people.
From left to right they stood, a smiling man, with pale hair and a golden crown. A young man with a similar crown but dark hair that shined violet in the sun, and on his face was the absence of a smile. There was a young woman, she had dark hair that curled around her face, a tiara, but her face carried no happiness. Then, a woman with her hair wrapped up carefully, her crown shining in the sun, she stood oddly as if she was frozen, the only movement Ahiru could she was the wind in her hair, she was older than the rest, but older still was who stood to her left-
Ahiru stopped her observances as she was met with the steps of the palace, she lifted her skirts, careful not to trip on them again.
The servant let her go, and grabbed the hand of the older woman. “Introducing to the Princess Odette Ahiru of Schleswig Holstein, the Queen of Bavaria.”
The Queen’s eyes were empty. Ahiru curtsied and smiled up at the Queen, but she offered no such pleasantries in return.
The older man stood next to her, his hair was long and white, his skin wrinkled and old, he gave her a grin, but she could tell it was not one that grew from the joy of making her acquaintance. The man scared her.
“I am Herr Drosselmeyer, Advisor to the Queen, and previous father-in-law.”
She swallowed and nodded. “A pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” His eyes flashed to Miss. Edel and for a moment, his grin disappeared, but only for a moment.
“Introducing to the Princess Odette Ahiru of Schleswig Holstein, the Princess Kraehe Rue of Baden Wurttemberg.”
The Princess gave Ahiru a small curtsy, and Ahiru returned the favor. She was beautiful.
She was elegant, and graceful, she stood tall and serene, her face was pale like porcelain, and smoother than silk. Her eyes a deep red, and her hair, a dark brown, created such a contrast, Ahiru couldn’t think of another word that suited the Princess other than perfect.
She was what a Princess ought to be.
“Introducing to Princess-”
“Enough of that!” Next to Princess Kreahe, a young man glared at the servant. “We know who she is, and I am sure she has not forgotten who she is.”
The servant bowed his head. “My- my deepest apologies. Introducing to- The Crowned Prince Lohengrin Autor of Bavaria.”
Ahiru curtsied to him.
“Hello.” The young man next to the Crowned Prince beamed at her. “I am Prince Siegfried.” He took her hand in his own and bowed over it, he placed a gentle kiss on her knuckles. “It is an honor to meet the woman who is to be my wife.”
Ahiru grew red. So, the rumors were true, the eldest was rude and unseemly, while the younger was-
“May I take you inside? I’m sure you are tired from such a long train ride. I can barely handle an hour in those cars, I can’t imagine a whole day in one.”
She smiled. “Yes. It was quite long.”
He took her hand and placed it at his elbow as he lead her into the rest of her life.
AHIRU SAT IN THE fields just outside the northern gate. She sat in the sun, letting it warm her skin.
Mytho - he had asked her to call him Mytho! - had taken her around the palace, showing her where everything was and introducing her to everyone who crossed their path, before leading her to her own quarters to prepare for tonight's banquet.
But, she knew she had a bit of time, and taking Uzura with her, they went out of the north gate, stationed just beside the castle, and went to sit in the fields.
Uzura had begged to go outside, to make flower crowns, and who was Ahiru to stop her?
Ahiru sat down in the tall grass, rolling up her sleeves to let the sun touch her arms.
She could hear Uzura, just to her right, running around and catching bugs.
“Just a little longer, then we have to go back, okay?”
Ahiru smiled, she loved Uzura, and loved watching her, even though, as a Princess, it wasn’t her job to.
But after a while, she didn’t hear Uzura anymore, and when she opened her eyes, she looked out over the grassy field and saw her head running towards a dark and looming forest.
“Uzura! Wait! No!” Ahiru jumped to her feet and chased after the little girl, how had she gotten so far? Oh, she was going to get in so much trouble for this!
But, before Uzura could reach the forest’s edge, and before Ahiru could claim her, a horse galloped past her.
Ahiru let out a cry of shock, where had he come from!
A young man swooped down and pulled Uzura onto his horse, then he turned around and trotted back to Ahiru.
“Oh, thank you so much! I never would have been able to-”
“You should keep a better eye on your child.”
“What? Oh, no, she’s not mine.”
“She’s not yours? I hope her mother doesn’t whip you for not keeping a better eye on her child.”
Ahiru’s eyebrows furrowed together. “Are you implying I wasn’t watching her?”
“She was halfway to the forest before you even noticed. I’m starting to think you wanted her to die.”
“What? Die! I don’t want her to die, I was listening and once I couldn’t hear her, I went after her!”
“The forest is a dangerous place, not even the bravest men enter it. If you let this child run in there, she would have perished.”
“Not me, zura!”
“May I please have her back?”
“I’m starting to think I should keep her and return her to her mother myself. I don’t particularly trust you.”
Ahiru scoffed. “I have been watching her for a long time! This is just the first time she’s run off like that.”
He scowled down at her, he’s eyes rolling over her body. Her clothes. Before he scoffed himself. “I should have known.”
“You’re the Princess, come to marry Prince Siegfried.”
“How- how did you-”
“I know all of the Nobles, and no one else could afford such nice clothing. Why don’t you do everyone a favor, and get back to what you’re good at.”
He sneered. “Sitting around all day on a throne, looking pretty, and never lifting a finger.”
Ahiru opened her mouth, she wanted to protest, she wanted to tell him about all of the hard work she had done, but she couldn’t. She was supposed to be a Princess, and Princess’ didn’t lift a finger.
“Your keeper is calling.” He let Uzura down before he left, galloping away on his horse.
“Princess!” The servant huffed and puffed. “It’s time to get ready for-”
“The banquet. I know.”
SHE STOOD IN HER room as many servants came in and changed her attire.
“Grass stains.” Edel tsked. “This will be a pain to get out.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Next time, take a blanket.”
Ahiru smiled, but when Edel left with Uzura, she had nothing to distract her from her thoughts.
The words of the young man on the horse.
He saved Uzura, but he was so cruel to her.
Why did he dislike her so much? Just because she looked like a Princess? Who did that guy think he was.
She crossed her arms in a fit.
“Your Grace, I cannot change you if-”
“I’m sorry.” Ahiru stuck her arms back out as a dress was slipped onto her shoulders.
Did he hate royalty or something? Was he a rebel?
She had heard about people like that, people who despised the crown and plotted to have them taken down, beheaded. She touched her throat.
She was lead to her vanity, and hands touched her hair, added makeup to her face.
Did he think she was incapable of watching Uzura? She had been watching Uzura for months now! It wasn’t her fault she ran off! She had never done that before!
“Ooh, that guy really ticks me off!” She muttered under her breath.
“Who does, Your Grace?”
“Oh! No one, sor-”
Ahiru looked at herself in the mirror, a small tiara was placed on her head.
If only he could see how ridiculous she looked.
AHIRU WAS LEAD TO the grand dining hall, Mytho had shown it to her earlier, but now it was filled with guests, the chandeliers and candles were lit and cast a warm, champagne glow over the room, flowers filtered the air, and she smiled brightly at it all.
“Yes, indeed. Is it just as wonderful as I promised?”
Ahiru jumped a little, but looked over at Mytho, who now stood beside her. “Yes! Yes, it’s all so amazing.”
“It’s all for you, well, you and the Princess Kraehe, but it is for our marriage.”
She smiled softly. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Not even in your own kingdom?”
“No, our kingdom is small, not even our palace is like this.”
Mytho smiled. “Not as grand in Arnis, is it? Our wealth can be attributed to our trade, and we trade everything. We are quite a valuable asset to all of Europe.”
“Except for fish.”
Ahiru giggled. “Fish. The agreement, Arnis trades fish with you, and we get all of your goods.”
“An unfair trade. A woman as beautiful as you, nothing in the world is enough.”
She blushed, and looked away. “I’m sorry.”
“That you have to marry me. That you don’t get to marry the one you love.”
“I love everyone, my heart is open and wide, but I have never fallen in love. Have you?”
She was quiet, was this a secret to share? Or one for her diary. “Yes.”
“I should be the one apologzing to you.”
“It never would have happened. He is-” She paused, how to word it in a way that wouldn’t give her away? She would just have to switch their roles. “He is the son of a fisherman. Not even a noblemen. I never would have been allowed to marry him.”
“It is a tragedy, then.”
She gave him a sad smile. “Right.”
“Did he love you?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“I will do my best to give you a happy marriage, and maybe one day, you’ll think to yourself, how silly I was, to have fallen in love with a fisherman’s son, when a handsome prince was on the way.”
She laughed. “I hope so. Mytho?”
“If I don’t fall in love with you, will you be mad?”
“Ahiru, if you don’t fall in love with me, I will have failed in my duties as a prince; as a husband.”
“Your Grace! You’re late!”
Mytho smiled at the servant, “Thank you.” He held Ahiru’s hand up in the air, and lead her to the banquet.
“Presenting, Prince Siegfried Mytho, the second son of Queen Myrtha Helmia, and his betrothed, Princess Odette Ahiru of Schleswig-Holstein.”
Mytho smiled, the guests all seated and waiting for them. “My apologies for being late.” His voice carried across the room, so all could hear. “It is impossible to keep track of time when conversing with a Princess as enchanting as the one who stands next to me.”
She blushed again and they walked down the steps, Mytho lead her to her chair.
She sat down, expecting him to sit next to her, but she sat on the Queen’s right, and he sat at her left hand.
Ahiru looked over at the Crowned Prince, he sat next to her and she worried that this night wouldn’t go as well as she had hoped it would.
The Princess Kraehe Rue sat next to Mytho.
Wives weren’t allowed to sit next to their husbands. She remembered. It was improper.
All plates were filled, every glass of wine untouched, but they all waited for the Queen to take the first bite before they themselves indulged.
As lifeless as Ahiru remembered the Queen to be, she picked up her golden fork and chewed quietly on her food.
In a second, everyone continued their conversations, food was eaten and wine was swallowed. And as Ahiru ate the food before her, she had no idea how the Queen could be so lifeless. She couldn’t stop the moan that came from her throat at the mere taste of the food, she had never tasted anything better.
She looked across the table, half of her vision blocked by the candelabras, but watched as Mytho and the Princess talked, laughing and smiling at each other.
“So, you are the Princess who will marry my little brother?”
She jolted, she had not expected the Crowned Prince to talk. “Yes, Your Grace.”
“I prefer Your Majesty.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine, just make sure to correct yourself in the future.”
“Yes, Your- Your Majesty.”
“And you come from Arnis? The little fishing town?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
He was silent and when Ahiru looked over she saw the slightest movement of his jaw. Was he chewing? How much food did he put in there? Obviously not enough if it took such little movement to chew.
She looked across the table, the Princess Kraehe’s fork flashed in the candlelight and Ahiru saw the smallest piece of meat carved out on her fork.
She looked down at her plate, her food half gone, had she been eating too much?
Oh no, then everyone was going to see she wasn’t really a princess and-
“Obviously they don’t have manners, if they teach their Princess’ to scarf down their food as soon as they sit down.”
She reddened. At least she was still a Princess, just an ill-mannered one.
“I beg your pardon.”
“Perhaps it is better that you are marrying my little brother, it would be embarrassing to have you sit beside me on the throne.”
Her hand tightened on her fork, and she bit her tongue, but now her face reddened in anger.
“Even the common woman should have better control over herself at the table. How barbaric is Anus?”
She gritted her teeth. “It’s. Arnis.”
“Is it now? I couldn’t tell the difference.”
“Perhaps, so tell me why then, you came to us looking for aide? Looking for a bride? If we are what you say, you should have gone somewhere else.”
“Perhaps we should have.”
But before she could say anything else, Drosselmeyer stood and grabbed the attention of the room.
“Ladies and Lords, peasants and commoners, I welcome you all to the first of Fünf Festivals. Eat, be merry, the night is yours to do with as you wish, but may I invite the Crowned Prince Lohengrin Autor and his betrothed the Princess Kraehe Rue of Baden-Württemberg,” The Crowned Prince rose and stepped around the table to Princess Kraehe, she pushed out her chair, and he gave her his hand. “And the Prince Siegfried Mytho and the Princess Odette Ahiru to give us the first dance.”
Mytho was beside her, and the guests applauded for them. She pushed out her chair, but the clapping covered it as it screeched along the floor. She grimaced, and Mytho offered her a smile and his hand.
“Don’t worry about it. No one heard.”
A small four piece orchestra played the first of many songs as the three members of royalty and Ahiru danced the first dance of the night.
“You’re a splendid dancer!”
“Hardly, I’m stepping on your toes.”
“I can barely feel a thing.”
She giggled and he lead her through an easy waltz, but it was nothing compared to the one the Princess and Crown Prince danced. It was elegant and beautiful, unlike the dances Ahiru would dance, the jig she and her friends would perform at their improper parties.
“You are a beautiful dancer, I promise.” He smiled.
The song ended, and many clapped for the players while others rose from their chairs to join them on the dancing floor.
“Before you sit down, I have a friend I want you to meet.” Mytho smiled. “He’s been my best friend since I was young. Wait here.”
She smiled and nodded, suddenly standing alone amongst the dancers, their skirts swirling around their partners, they all seemed to know the same dance and it was mesmerizing to watch.
“Ahiru. I would like you to meet Fakir.”
Ahiru turned around, her smile ready, but it dropped as soon as she saw who Mytho’s best friend was.
It was the man from earlier, the man who saved Uzura; the man who insulted her.
“It is an honor to meet you, Your Grace.” He bowed, but his head never dipped below hers.
Mytho smiled. “I’ll be a moment, dance with her, get to know my future wife.”
“Of course.” But once Mytho turned away, he scowled down at her. His hand rested on her waist, one took her hand and he lead her in the dance that everyone else partook in. “So, I was right in my earlier observation.”
“You are the Princess that will marry Prince Siegfried.”
She pursed her lips. “And?”
He ignored her pulling her around the ballroom floor, he was a wonderful dancer, she noticed, his movements were well practiced, and he moved with a fluidity she could not master.
She could only think of Edel, trying to show her even the most simple waltz.
Fakir didn’t even look at her.
“I don’t know who you think you are, but you shouldn’t talk to anyone like that! That’s very rude.”
He scoffed. “And why should I treat you with civility?”
“If you are Mytho’s best friend, maybe-”
“That’s rather informal of you. Perhaps you should refer to him by his proper title.”
“He asked me to call him by his name. But as I was saying! Maybe you should treat me a bit nicer!”
“I will treat you nicely when I think you deserve to be treated as such, but until then, I will do what I think is in mine and Mytho’s best interest.”
“You don’t think I want what’s best for my husband?”
“Betrothed. You’re not married to him yet.”
“In two weeks time, I will be.”
“Two weeks. In two weeks you will know your place.”
“I will- I think in two weeks you will know your place! You can’t talk to me like this!”
“You’re nothing but a silly little girl from a small village, only here to marry Mytho to seal a deal, he deserves better than you.”
“I think he deserves better friends than you!”
“I am his best friend for a reason, I look out for his best interest, I take care of him, and I make sure that no one will hurt him. Consider this a warning.” He leaned down, their dancing stopped, and he whispered in her ear. “If you hurt Mytho in any capacity, I will not hesitate to hurt you back.”
Fakir pulled back and walked away, leaving her alone once more. He walked past the dancers, and she couldn’t stop herself from following him. She clenched her fists as she pushed past the crowd, she wasn’t able to catch up however, when he pushed open the door and walked out into the night.
She bristled and moved faster, she stood in the threshold of the door that lead out into the castle gardens. She didn’t see him and all that illuminated the night was the full moon.
Ahiru didn’t look over her shoulder, still upset about Fakir, about what he said to her, now and the hours before.
“Ahiru, are you alright?” Mytho asked her.
But she didn’t respond, her heart raced, and she could only think about how much she hated his guts.