Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The King's Daughter #shortstory #romance

Here’s another short story inspired by a picture writing prompt:

Not just any walk in the park... - Explored

I’m not sure why, but I’m coming up with a lot of paranormal stuff from these writing prompts. It’s fun because it’s so different from what I’ve been writing for the past few years.

The King’s Daughter

The trees in the King's garden were full of colored pixie lights. The king had hired a charmer to fill the trees with pixies of different species, and so they flitted in the branches, streaks of various colors like iridescent starlight. The water garden looked even more enchanting than it normally did, but it was mostly empty at this time of night, because most of the guest were at the Pavilion for the speeches for the king's birthday.

One figure skimmed the edge of the glass lake, skirting the low round bushes, until she reached the jagged line of half sunken boulders that led to the small man-made island in the middle of the lake. There were pixies swirling in the trees on this island also, but they flew less frantically, the lights swirling in lazy circles that encouraged one to stop under the wooden trellis, sink onto the worn wooden bench, and contemplate life. The figure did sit on the bench, but it was not to contemplate life—she picked up a stone at her feet and tossed it to the lake, watching it disrupt the perfect mirror of the fairy lights in the trees.

The girl was dressed extravagantly, in a gown of brocade, decorated with real jewels sewn into the neckline and the edges of the sleeves. Slashes in the skirt showed glimpses of rose pink silk, and the neckline was just open enough to not be immodest, but to show off the heavyset necklace of pink sapphires set in silver. She had a pink silk mask on her face, cleverly pinned to her dark brown hair, which had been piled on top of her head and allowed to drape down one shoulder in glossy ringlets. However, the girl impatiently brushed the ringlets from her shoulders because they itched. She tugged on the mask, but she couldn't remove it without undoing the pins that her maid had used to secure it in place, and the one thing she must do was make sure her mask was in place when she returned to the party.

She let out a very unladylike, gusty sigh which would make her maids and her mother scold her. But there was no one here except for the wisteria that thickly covered the terrace roof and drape down the sides, forming a partial screen from the party. Even from here, she could hear the music and the cheering from the Pavilion on the other side of the lake, rising up like a golden, multitiered birthday cake, with the King’s sigil at the top of the spike that rose from the center. It was a beautiful sight from the island, that tower nestled among pixie-lit trees, but the girl turned away from it all in disgust.

She could somehow breathe easier here, without the eyes of everyone on her. The waters of the lake were completely still, without even a breeze to ruffle the surface, and here she could enjoy the pixie trees without looking too much like a country bumpkin. Strangely, although she was alone here, she had felt more lonely in the midst of the crowd at the birthday party. No one there had known her, and no one had really wanted to know who she was. All they saw was the king's daughter. Most of them wanted something from her, and it was often too difficult to try to separate the people who might genuinely want to get to know her just for herself. Not that it mattered tonight, because none of the people here wanted to know her, that much she knew.

She heard the soft scuff of leather against stone, and realized someone else was crossing the stone boulder bridge to the island. She grit her teeth in frustration. She had hoped for a little more time alone, but someone had found her out already. She schooled her face into a calm, dignified mask, ironic since most of her face was covered with pink silk. She turned to look at the visitor, but the fairy lights were behind him, and all she saw was a man's silhouette.

He was not tall, but he was broad shouldered and yet lean in the hip. He walked with an easy, athletic grace, but it looked like a work-earned strength rather than the artificial fitness that other men of the court developed through games and sports. As he came closer, she could see that he was dressed properly in dark colors, and the fabric was fine although not as sumptuous as some of the other guests. His face was almost completely covered by a black and gold mask that only showed his bottom lip and chin. His hair was dark, and had been slicked back and tied into a tight queue with a black ribbon.

“This is a strange place to find a princess,” he said.

“Only if the princess wished to be found.” She couldn't hope that this would chase him away, but she couldn't help the tart reply. After all, she had chosen this remote spot in order to be alone, and it seemed the man had been looking for her, as opposed to simply stumbling upon her.

“I thought princesses liked being in the spotlight.”

She hated men like this, who assumed all kinds of things about princesses and people in general. “Even princesses can only drink so much wine before needing some air.”

“Well, it's a beautiful place to breathe some air.” He glanced out toward the lake shore and the twinkling pixie lights in the trees. Strangely, he looked out on the opposite shore from the Pavilion where the party. Most people assumed that the best view on the lake was of the Pavilion, but she had always enjoyed the trees instead.

She didn't answer him, and sat there staring out at the trees. She wondered if her silence would be enough to make him leave, but instead the aggravating man came and sat down next to her. She caught a whiff of rosemary and sandalwood. She suddenly knew who this was. It was Jackson, senior presence to the royal blacksmith. She had been friends with him since they were children.

She sank back in her anonymity, and she relaxed a little, not just because he didn't know who she was, but also because she knew him well enough to know that he wasn't a tedious conversationalist. She at least wouldn't have to listen to him try to flirt with her like some of the other lords at the party had done. All the same, she wished he would go away.

“You look very beautiful tonight, even though it's not how you usually dress.”

He would never have said this to her if it weren't for the dress, the mask, and the magical night with the pixies in the trees. And yet, she couldn't help a small, pleased warmth that flowed to her chest, warming even the cold sapphires at her throat. “Thank you.”

After another long silence, he said, “You're not going to make this easy for me, are you?”

“Why should I make anything easy for you? Do I owe you anything?”

“No,” he admitted. “But I wanted this chance to speak to you.”

He saw her every week, and yet he never sought her out like this, wanting to speak to her alone. It made her a little sad, and and yet she tried to remember who she was tonight. “What did you wish to speak to me about?” If she got it out of the way quickly, maybe he would leave her alone sooner.

“Nothing much, I just barely get a chance to speak to you like this.”

“There's a reason for that, isn't there? A blacksmith apprentice wouldn't normally speak to the king's daughter.”

“But tonight, you're not the king's daughter. You’re a woman alone among pixie trees with a young man who admires you.”

She was shocked that he had confessed himself so easily. “There are great many men who admire me.” Maybe that would make him back off.

“But they don't know you like I do.”

“Are you saying you really know me? That's rather arrogant of you.”

“I think I know you even better than you know yourself.”

“That's even more arrogant. It is a woman's prerogative to both know herself and to change her mind whenever she wants.”

“That's true, so I'm hoping you will change your mind now.”

“About what?”

“About me.” His voice was deep and soft.

She finally turned to look at him, and she could see his eyes behind his mask, thick lashed and dark. She could only see his bottom lip, but it seemed as if he was smiling faintly. “I am realizing I don't really know you at all.” He was sitting close to her, and his presence made her heart flutter, but at the same time it caused her great deal of pain. He didn't know her and all he saw was a fantasy.

“You know me. In fact, I think you're the only one who really knows me.”

How would the king’s daughter know a blacksmith’s apprentice? “What are you talking about—”

But before she could finish her sentence, his head blocked out the colored lights and he was kissing her. His mouth was firm and yet sweet, as if she was something he desired and at the same time held infinitely precious. She didn't realize she was crying until she felt a tear soak the edge of her mask and trickle down to her jaw. He didn't know who he was kissing. She didn't know if she should feel happy about that or disappointed.

Then he drew his head back, and he whispered her name. “Ellie.”

She jerked back. “How did you know it was me?”

She could see his eyes go stormy even with the mask. “Did you really think I would kiss the princess? After all the things I said about how I felt about you?”

“I thought you thought you were talking to the king's daughter, moron.” She tried to hide her embarrassment behind their comfortable childhood insults.

But instead of firing insults back at her, Jackson leaned closer and invaded her private space. It excited her, and yet it was also unfamiliar and a little frightening. This was a Jackson she didn't really think she knew, just like she had said to him before.

“I was kissing you, Ellie. I came out here specifically to find you. At the party, as soon as I saw you in Theodora's dress, I knew something must've happened to Theodora. So I spent some time talking to some of the servants I knew, until I found out that Theodora eloped with your stepbrother Alexander tonight.”

Ellie was dismayed. “Oh, no, if you found out, that means other people will find out, too.”

“Why are you masquerading as your cousin? You had to know there would be some people you wouldn't be able to fool.”

“That's what I told the King, but he wouldn't listen to me. It's hard to say no when your uncle asks you to pose as your cousin until he can figure out what to do. He sent soldiers after them tonight.”

“I knew that with the two of them gone, this was my chance. I'm sorry for not being more concerned about your cousin, but I wanted to take advantage of this chance to speak to you.”

“That's what you said before, but you see me all the time. Why now?”

“I have been commissioned to make a magic sword in the Forveria kingdom. I leave in a month.”

“This means you are starting off as a master blacksmith? Congratulations, Jackson.” She tried to make her voice cheerful and encouraging, but there was a shrinking in her heart at the thought of him leaving her.

“Ellie, I want you to come with me.”

At first, she thought she hadn't heard him properly. There was a long moment of silence between them, broken only by the muted sound from the party, and occasional joyous tweets and twiddles from the pixies, when they spoke up loud enough to be heard. She stared at him until he finally burst out, “Aren't you going to say something?” His voice sounded a little panicked.

“Give a girl a chance to absorb the reality when you spring a question like that on her.”

Jackson both annoyed her and pleased her when he laughed. “I couldn't speak before now because your brother threatened me if I approached you, but now that he has disgraced himself, I can take you with me the way I have always wanted to.”

So that explained why he had seemed so distant in the past few weeks.

“So? What's your answer? It means you have to leave the castle, and the king.”

What other answer was there? She flung herself at him, drowning him in brocade and pink silk. “Yes, Jackson. Of course I'll come with you.”

And for a long time all that was heard were the sounds from the party and the pixies, who suddenly seemed to be celebrating something.

***

You can check out my other short stories here.

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