Chapter 2

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I had met him once. It would have been more than eight years ago, when I was a mere child aged but seven years.
That day was the first and only day before I had set foot in the grand stone Clockman castle. I had thought it was all fun and games then, when my mother sat and talked deeply with the king of matters that concerned me more than I knew. I wandered away while they were talking of boring adult matters. I remember quite well, my mother cursing, dragging me out of the duck pond, my nicest dress dripping in poo and foul-smelling mud, shoving me in front of a young blond boy and telling me to say hello.
Say hello to your future husband, Hollie.
I couldn't quite remember what had happened next, but I do recall being chased through the stables by the same boy who was seemingly also covered in mud now, no doubt because one devilish little girl had pushed him in the duck pond.
It wasn't until much later that I realized that little boy was my betrothed, and even then, I never thought much of it. Until now. Until my mother informed me not but a week ago that I was to be married to the prince of Clockman, and I was going to accept it and play nice.
Play nice. She had said that to me, in those very words.
"Hollie, play nice."
Hollie Barnersworth didn't play well with others. And my mother knew that. I had often wondered what she had told the king to convince him to accept me as his daughter in law, future queen of Clockman. She must have lied a good bit.
As daughter of the High Duchess of Prenner, it was my duty to join the two kingdoms and bring our people together in an inseparable bond. My entire purpose in life is to obtain a powerful position. Nothing more.
I am but a chess piece.
"Poor miss." The lilting, unfamiliar accent drags me out of my thoughts, and back to reality. If only I could have slept forever.
I sit up, blinking in the bright lights.
"Don't strain yourself, dear!" I try and focus as a small dark shape darts about and slides several more pillows under my back and neck.
I'm startled at first, as my surroundings begin to meld into focus.
"Where...?" I croak, my voice horridly crackled. Wordlessly, the talking blur hands me a cup of water, which I down in one gulp.
"You're in the physician's infirmary." The voice explains gently. The cool cup is pried from my hand, and I look around the small stone room. I lay on a firm cot, with a few others spanning the length of the room. Numerous bookshelves line the far walls, and one entire end is cluttered with desks full of papers and tiny, whirring instruments and vials of potions.
"Why?" I look at the talking blur, and finally everything solidifies and becomes sharp.
"You fainted, my lady." The girl said. Her voice was young, but I was startled by how youthful she seemed, a girl of perhaps twelve, most likely younger. She was dressed in a maid's uniform, a simple dress and white apron.
"I did?" I knit my eyebrows, and then the wedding hits me all over again. I bite my lip to prevent myself from crying out. I am now the property of the prince of Clockman. Which means I am...
I am the princess of Clockman... no longer the scheming daughter of the Duchess... I sigh, and look up at the maid.
"How long have I been asleep?"
"Only an hour or so, miss." She says lightly. I nod. The wedding... it seems already years ago, but it was now only early evening.
I slide out from under my covers, to find I'm still dressed in my lavish wedding gown. It drags at my shoulders, and I squirm uncomfortably under the yards of fabric.
"You're feeling better, my lady?" The girl asks, looking surprised, and a tad concerned.
"I'm fine." I gently push her hand away and get to my feet, not shaking in the least bit.
I begin to walk away, remembering all my mother's teachings. If I am to be high princess of Clockman, I am to act and look the part. I hold my head high and my back straight, mindless of the stares I attract from the white-bearded man I assume is the physician, and the single other patient he is tending.
"I think the princess has fully recovered." The girl maid calls to the physician, and he nods, smiling politely and toothlessly.
"Where may I change?" I turn to the maid the moment we have passed through the doorway and into the hall of the castle.
"I will take you to your room." She says, skipping ahead of me and bouncing down the hall. I struggle to keep up under my heavy gown, gathering the thousands of tiny ruffles in my hands.
"Please slow down." I request reluctantly, when I'm beginning to sweat under the hot, suffocating fabric. I wish I were free of the restraining dress- I could beat the girl in a foot-race any old day, if I weren't carrying an entire cloud on my back.
"Forgive me, my lady." The girl apologizes quickly, her short black hair bobbing as she bows.
"Why are you calling me that?" I ask, hiking the neckline of my dress up as far as it will go so I don't feel half-naked.
"Oh, I am so sorry, my lady!" She grabs her hair like she's forgotten something important. "I swear, it completely slipped my mind! I know you shall never forgive me, but I never meant to forget, honest-"
"I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about." I say honestly.
"I'm your lady in waiting, miss! Your personal servant!" She explains desperately, eyeing me like she expects me to slap her.
"Oh!" I smile at her, trying to show her that it's completely okay.
"If you'll ever forgive me-"
"There's nothing to forgive you for," I smile gentle. "It is fine."
"God bless you, my lady." She says in relief, and we begin to walk again, traversing a labyrinth of stone halls and grand stair cases, passing uncountable grand oak doors and majestic tapestries.
"I always thought ladies in waiting were... older..." I say as courteously as possible.
"Oh, usually they are." She assures me, leading me down a flight of stairs down which I trip several times over my own dress. "But considering your age they thought you might be more comfortable with a younger servant."
"How considerate..." I say thoughtfully, pausing to trace my fingers over the elaborate swirls of a hanging shield. "And, er, how old exactly are you?"
"Twelve today!" She squeaks happily, beginning to bounce again.
"I wish you a wonderful birthday, then." I say absently. "And... your name?"
"Mathilda Burnabank the-" She stops, frowning, and counts off her fingers. "The third!" She says proudly.
I blink. "Can I call you...er-"
"Matty will do fine." She confirms.
I nod, slowly making my way down yet another hall. Finally, we stop before a single oak door.
"This is your room, miss." She explains, and knocks nervously.
"Why are you knocking then?" I ask, perplexed.
"The prince!" she mouths soundlessly, and my heart falters.
This day just keeps getting better and better.
"I thought you said this was my room-" I say slowly.
"It is." She says eagerly. "And it's the prince's- his majesty's room as well."
I feel my heart sinking inside of me, and I need to find a chamber pot to throw up in, quickly. We wait, but there is no reply from inside, so we enter and I take a look around.
An enormous four-poster bed dominates the center of the room. The curtains are drawn aside, revealing the mass of thick red blankets and white feather pillows, scarlet lips pulled back to reveal plush ivory teeth.
Beneath the bed, and stretching across most of the cool stone floor, is a woven, heavily embroidered rug. In the far corner towers an enormous oaken wardrobe, and a table sits at the forefront of the room. A standing mirror is propped up behind the folding screen, and a metal wash bin in another corner. A footstool in the corner hides a chamber pot, which I proceed to vomit in.
"You are sure you are fine?" Matty asks concernedly as I grimace at the taste of bile in my mouth.
"Yes, I'm sure."
"His majesty must be at the feast..." She ponders slowly, and I feel a start as I realize I do not even know his name.
"Yes... what was his name?" I ask openly. Matty looks disturbed, and eyes me suspiciously.
"I am not supposed to say his majesty's first name..."
I give her a withering look.
"His majesty is known by those closest to him as Connor, high prince of Clockman, the Lord of the eastern lands, greatest knight of the highest order-"
"Thank you, that will be all." I cut her off. I don't need to hear the many titles of the man who's first name I do not even know.
"Yes, my lady." She says lightly. "I'm afraid the dresses we have set out may not fit right, we did not know your size-"
"I'm sure they'll do fine." I dismiss it and walk behind the folding screen. Matty undoes the fitted bodice of my elaborate wedding gown, and the millions of ruffles and yards of fabric crumple to the ground. I ask her to bring me a nightdress.
"You're not going to the celebration?" She asks, puzzled, and I shake my head. No, I need to get away from that. I want to forget. I need to be alone.
"My lady, your corset-" She begins, and I grimace at the horrid mechanism lying on the ground. I'm not about to sleep while wearing it. I hold up my hand, and she bites her lip while she slides the gown over my head, undoing my elaborate bun in the process, so my dark waves cascade down my back.
I stand back to look in the standing mirror.
"Much better..." I sigh, pressing my hands to my waist, which is sore from being contracted all day. I'm already of petite build with a small waist anyway, and I know my corset is loose compared to those of many other women, but I hate it.
"How does it fit?" Matty comes up behind me. She is only slightly shorter than me, though I'm nearly fifteen. I don't see why the nightgown matters- it is only a nightgown, after all.
"Sleeve are a tad bit tight..." I shrug my shoulders uncomfortably. I'm too muscular to be a lady. I blame my father, the Duke of Prenner, for that. Before he passed away over than two years ago, he had long encouraged me to do many things which my mother frowned upon- sword fighting being one of them.
I remember the tailor's comments on my unusually muscular, tiny physique as they measured me for my wedding dress, how the sleeves would have to be wide to make the muscles less obvious. An athletic princess is not attractive, apparently.
"You are truly beautiful." Matty gasps next to me, staring at me in the mirror in awe. I look up, surprised, and smile slightly. "The prince is a lucky man, you know."
I chuckle sadly. Of course, to her, the whole matter would be one big love story. Not like it really is. It is a simple matter of politics.
Nothing more.
Suddenly the door slams upon, and a figure storms angrily into the room. Apparently not noticing me and Matty, he throws himself straight onto the bed and sprawls where he lay, not moving, face down, as the door swings wildly in his wake.
We stare unsurely for almost a minute before the prince finally raises his head and blinks dazedly at us with large blue eyes.
"What're you doing here?" He demands after a moment of confused staring on both sides. His voice is heavy with a low Clockman accent, accentuating the long vowels and "wh" sounds, and enunciating the t's.
"Believe me, I don't like this any more than you do-" I begin, but Matty clamps her hand over my mouth before I can get myself thrown out the window.
"It is tradition for the prince and princess to share their room." Matty explains, looking from me to the prince, and back again, nervously.
The prince- my husband?- sits up and raises an eyebrow, unconvinced. "Screw tradition. Give her another room."
"That's a great idea." I nod at Matty, and she shakes her head.
"The servants will talk," She shrugs.
"Let them talk." The prince growls, throwing himself back onto the bed and hiding his face.
"Rumors will spread-"
He swings the curtain shut.
"The kingdom will be in unrest, and news will travel to Prenner of the prince being abusive to their Duchess's daughter-"
"WHO CARES!" The prince shouts, his voice muffled by the blankets.
"-And we may end up going to war over nothing." Matty finishes reasonably.
Silence.
Then the curtains are thrown back, and the prince sits up, glaring and breathing heavily in his anger, his mass of blond hair flopping messily over burning, angry blue eyes. He seems to be fighting an internal battle.
Myself? I'm perfectly fine with another room. Let Clockman go to war with Prenner. I just want to be somewhere else, anywhere else.
"Fine." He finally growls.
"My lord!" A shout comes from down the hall, and a second later another man enters, panting heavily, like he's been running for a long time. "My lord... your father... requests your presence...."
The prince grimaces, curses, and falls back on his bed.
"Tell him I'm busy."
"Busy doing what?"
"Despising everyone."
With that, the young man flops back over and ceases to move. The hassled-looking manservant stares at him for a long, tired moment, then decides the prince is a good deal larger than himself, not to mention in a rather dangerous mood, and he quickly leaves.
"I'll leave you be, my lady. Call if you need anything, anything at all." Matty speaks after a moment. I want to cry out after her- "DON'T LEAVE ME ALONE WITH HIM!" but I just bite my lip and nod, as she retreats from the room.
I stand in the center of the room, not quite sure what to do. Perhaps I can sneak out and find an empty room for the night... but when the servants come in the morning, as Matty had explained truthfully, they would talk, and unrest would permeate.
I simply stand and stare at the still form on the bed. At last he rises, shaking a lock of hair out of his face, and raises his eyebrows spitefully in silent question.
I need to talk to Matty about finding a spare cot. I can see quite obviously that the prince is just as opposed to the entire arrangement as I am. Not to mention at this moment I'm positively terrified of him.
"You can have the floor." He grumbles after a moment. I wait for him to toss me a- a blanket, or at least a pillow, something- but he simply rolls over and shuts the curtains around the bed.
I sigh, and curl up on the softest part of the carpet I can find, feeling like a dog. Sure, mother, powerful position all right. Here I am, princess of Clockman, one of the most powerful kingdoms in the land, and I'm sleeping on the floor.
I toss and turn uncomfortably, and finally the full force of the day sinks in. As hard as I try not to sniffle, the tears come anyways.
I cry myself to sleep.

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