II.

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- Gwen -

A COOL BREEZE BLEW through the air, a welcome relief from the hot temperatures of summer. The muffled chattering of the people down below could be heard from Gwen's place on the balcony, but she was too absorbed in her book to notice. She absentmindedly flicked a strand of her auburn hair that had fallen out of her braid away from her eyes as she read. The Emerysune was her favorite book.

Gwen desperately wished she could live the life of the book's protagonist Aiden Valiski; she would trade anything to have it. Alas, it seemed as if she was doomed to live the boring life of a royal forever. It wasn't as glamorous as it seemed either. Everyday was the same mundane routine and Gwen was getting sick of it.

"Your Highness?" the voice of her personal maid, Catalina, shook her from her reverie. She placed her bookmark inside her book and walked back into her room.

"Hello Lina!" Gwen said happily when she spotted the girl. Gwen and Lina had grown up together and had become best friends. Lina was the only person Gwen could confide in and was a welcome relief from the stiffness of royal life.

"Her Majesty the Queen has requested that you join her and the King in the dining hall," she said. "I was sent here to help you get ready."

"Thank you Lina," Gwen replied.

She picked up the dress Lina had laid out on her bed and quickly put it on. The texture was of the finest silk. It was a dark scarlet with gold beads embroidered into curling patterns of flowers on the neck and waistline. The skirt was long enough to brush against the floor when she walked. She pinned up her auburn hair into an elegant chignon bun with a few strands framing her face using a crystal-encrusted flower clip her mother had given her for her fourteenth birthday. Then she slipped on the matching slippers.

Lina handed her wooden box and said, "Your mother also requested that you wear these."

Ugh, she can't be serious," Gwen mumbled as she took out a heavy, gold necklace encrusted with several large rubies and diamonds. A matching bracelet and set of earrings were nestled in the velvet lining on the interior of the box. Although she didn't like wearing them, she had to admit that they complemented her hazel eyes rather nicely.

The two girls walked towards the dining hall together before parting ways. Gwen took a deep breath before entering the room. Her mother Queen Grace was sometimes a difficult person to deal with. Gwen was sure she had some ulterior motive hidden up her sleeve.

"There's my beautiful daughter!" Richard Blackwood boomed happily as she entered. She was surprised to not only see her parents, but another man as well waiting for her.

"Hello Father, I trust your day has gone well so far," Gwen replied.

"Of course," he replied. "Gwen, this is our guest, Lord Tyrone, Count of Tekamis."

"Hello, my Lord. How are you faring this evening?" she asked politely.

"I am doing quite well, thank you for asking Your Highness," he replied with a smile. He took her hand and kissed the back of it. Gwen forced herself to smile, but on the inside, she was recoiling in disgust. Tyrone was probably in his mid-thirties and at least fifteen years her senior, a fact that made Gwen cringe.

"Gwendolyn, Lord Tyrone would make a very fine husband," Grace said casually.

"Oh, I'm sure," Gwen replied sarcastically with a slight grimace.

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