[Story] PRINCESS DRIANNA Chapter 12
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke
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Our journey began slowly. We set off from Elphame in the early hours of the morning, soon enough to watch the sun rise over the plains as we rode. As we reached the crest of a grassy knoll, Shane reigned in his horse and I, looking back in confusion, did the same.
“Why’ve we stopped?”
“Look.” He pointed to the growing light on the horizon. Silently we gazed as the flaming sphere rose in the sky. “It puts me in mind,” Shane said, breaking the silence. “Of when we first set out from Groithia.”
“Do you not remember?”
Thinking a moment, I realized his meaning. “But that was a sunset.”
“And this is a sunrise. Appropriate, eh?”
I only nodded. It was very appropriate.
The whole of that first day of our journey, I wrestled with indecision over whether to inquire after Shane’s presence in my chambers the previous night. I was certain he thought me asleep, for he acted and spoke naturally with me. I began to wonder if it was not the first night that he’d visited my room whilst I was asleep.
What possible reason could he have? I had the feeling that I didn’t want to know and in asking I might arouse discomfort between us which would deter a pleasant journey. So by the evening of the first day, when we’d camped for the night, I’d decided to forgo broaching the subject at all with him.
Resolved in this, I settled in my blankets and closed my eyes but found myself unable to fall asleep. Hours passed during which I heard Shane’s breathing grow even and him begin to snore lightly. I watched the fire crackle until it devoured the kindling and faded to glowing embers. Then I tossed restlessly until I rose and walked out of camp, set on a midnight swim.
The small pond was separated from our camp by a cluster of bushes and trees and making quick work of those, I found myself at its edge. The summer heat drew beads of perspiration on my skin and the thick air smothered my lungs. Eagerly I voided myself of my robes and slipped into the cool waters.
I gasped audibly at the release from the humid air and ducked beneath the surface of the pond. When I came back up, I leaned backward in the water and floated calmly over the surface, basking in the rippling waves on my bare skin and the view of the velvet sky above. I was so at peace that I did not notice the two green eyes watching me from the shore until I ducked under the water again and came back up.
I nearly screamed, but managed only a sharp gasp when Shane’s figure came to my notice. Angrily I glowered at him and shouted, “Do you make a habit of watching people at night?”
He did not blush nor make an excuse for his actions. His face remained emotionless as he returned with, “Do you make a habit of wandering off at night?”
“I didn’t wander off! I’m not ten yards from camp!”
“And yet you’re out of sight of camp. That is a very unwise thing to do, your highness.”
“Why is that? I can rightly take care of myself now.”
“You can. That is, if you know to.” I didn’t like the tone in his voice. It was as if he knew something I did not and was extremely pleased with himself for it. His lips quirked in a crooked smile and his eyes looked pointedly to the other side of the pond.
I spun round in the water and looked in the direction of his gaze. There was nothing there- only a cluster of bushes. But upon further inspection, I made out the crouched form of a dark elf, grinning hungrily at me, its feral eyes flashing gold. A curse escaped my mouth and I hastily swam to shore.
There, Shane held out my robes and courteously averted his eyes as I slipped into them. When I had turned back to him, intent on giving him a begrudging glare, I found I could not. His face was flushed, his lips parted slightly, and his breath came thickly. But his eyes- something that could only be called awe sparkled behind the green orbs as they took in my soaked appearance.
He made as if to move- perhaps lean forward- but quickly he snapped back. The look was gone. He cleared his throat and said gruffly, “Don’t wander off again, your highness. It’s not safe.” And he led me back to camp.
Many times over the course of our journey I wondered about that night, about that look in his eyes. What did it mean? I didn’t dare contemplate that he might harbor some sort of feelings for me. That was impossible.
Granted, as children it was open knowledge that we cared a great deal for one another. We loved each other as keenly as any child could another. There wasn’t a childhood memory I had that he was not in. He’d been my companion, my friend, and I’d always assumed- as everyone did- that when we were grown, he’d be my husband.
But then things changed so quickly and so drastically. I changed and he changed. He was so stern now. Glimpses of the boy I’d known were rare and short of duration when they did appear. I found myself not liking the man he’d become. He commanded and dictated my every move with such imperious airs. It was impossible that he entertained any romantic feelings for me when he treated me with such a detached regard.
And surely he must have had his lovers over the years. Perhaps there was one waiting for him in Danubae. For some reason, the thought made my stomach churn disagreeably.
Our trip seemed to take no time at all. Before I knew it we were back on Danubae land and in even shorter time we arrived at the remote outpost in the snowy alps of Danubae where my mother was hidden.
With trepidation I guided my horse behind Shane’s. He had told me that just over the next rise would be the compound but I was not prepared for the sight that lay before me. At the crest of the hill I gasped at the sea of soldiers camped on the icy ground, making the white seem black with their numbers.
“So many…” I breathed.
“This is but one army, your highness. You shall have ten times as many under your control.”
I fell silent with the weight of his words. It was a daunting thought that so many lives would be held in my hands. But I realized that I felt confident with the challenge. This was what I was born for.
We rode on down the hill until we arrived at a gate. Two watchmen there eyed us hesitantly as we approached and halted our entrance with authoritative gestures.
One guard, full of self-importance demanded, “Who goes there?”
Shane pulled back his furred hood and regarded the man stoically. Immediately the guard back away with a bow. “Welcome back, sir. Forgive me. I did not recognize you.”
“It is quite all right. You are performing your task dutifully. Do not apologize.”
The second watchman hesitantly approached our horses. His head bowed subserviently, he asked, “Sir? Have you brought her majesty? Is this she?”
I pulled back the hood of my own fur cloak and heard the audible gasp of the guards. I looked curiously at Shane who seemed to think it natural as the guards knelt before me.
“Rise,” I commanded, surprised at the authority in my tone.
“Welcome, Princess,” one watchman gushed.
“It is good you’ve returned to your country.”
“It has missed you so.”
“Surely you will win this horrible war for us.”
“And restore the peace there once was.”
I was speechless. But thankfully, Shane saved me the need for comment as he spurred his horse on through the gate. I nodded to the guardsmen and followed. Inside the camp we were greeted with much the same awe and trust that the guards had bestowed. Knights along our path knelt as we passed, placing their hands over their metal-encased hearts.
Reigning in his horse to ride beside me, Shane leaned over. “Do not look so surprised, your highness.”
“They all look so hopeful.”
“You are their hope.”
We rode on, nearly five miles before we finally reached headquarters. Headquarters was a large stone structure with thatched roofing, situated comfortably on a rise overlooking the entire encampment. It was a busy center. Riders and messengers tore in and out, assigned with important deeds and in a hurry to complete them. Haggard knights clambered around the stone walls, no doubt bringing in reports of recent battles.
I clung close by Shane’s side as we dismounted and made our way through the chaos into the building. It had been snowing outside and white flakes clung to my cloak and hair. I’d expected them to melt upon entering the structure but, if possible, they froze more. Inside the stone walls it was just as cold as outside and I hugged my cloak around me tighter.
“There will be fires in the anterooms. You’ll be warm soon enough,” Shane said, noting my shivers. “But I should become accustomed to the chill, if I were you.”
“You’ve arrived at last!” exclaimed an excited voice behind us. We were joined suddenly by a man, no bigger than a lofty dwarf but obviously human from the looks of him, that held himself in a manner all too high for one so small.
“Her majesty will be so pleased! She has awaited your arrival for days! Welcome back, Raphen. And Princess Drianna!” He gushed at my name. “I am Lord Knowlu,” he introduced himself, taking my hand and planting a long, wet kiss on it. “And I am your humble servant, most beauteous Princess.”
Shane rolled his eyes. “Is the Queen in the Great Hall?” he asked impatiently.
“Yes, sir. She has been notified of your arrival and requests your presence at once, but understands if you desire to freshen yourselves after your long journey.”
“Yes,” I jumped to agree. “I would like to freshen up a bit, first.” It’d been days since I’d bathed and as eager as I was to see my mother after so long a time; I didn’t wish her first meeting with me to include a reprimand of appearance.
“Then I shall show you to your chambers.” Lord Knowlu said importantly and led the way. He chattered eagerly with Shane as we made our way through the corridors and I, annoyed with his incessant babbling, tuned out of the conversation until we arrived at a heavy wooden door. “Here you are, your highness,” Knowlu said, opening the door with a bow.
I stepped inside and heard his nasal voice behind me. “And if ever you require something- anything- my chambers are but the next hall over. Never hesitate to call on me at any time for anything.” I forced a grateful smile and nodded to him and to Shane, who had a notably amused look on his face.
He glanced at Knowlu as the little man began his way to the Great Hall, and smirked. “You’ve made a friend already- or- at least a humble servant.” I glowered at him but he only laughed and shut the door.
I huffed and turned to explore my chambers. I was in a round anteroom, furnished only by a table and two chairs and a rug of fine white fur. Directly across from where I stood was a window with heavy glass panes and wrought iron frames. On either side of the window were doors. Upon inspection, I found that one led to a bedchamber with a large four poster, elegantly canopied with white satin curtains and piled high with white fur blankets. There was a full-length mirror along with a wash stand.
The next room was a closet that, to my surprise, was full of clothes. I fingered the garments, gasping at the fine cloth. Each gown was beautifully sewn with brocades of all colors and patterns with sparkling jewels encrusting the bodices.
“Excuse me, your highness?”
I spun at the soft voice, finding a young girl standing in the door of the closet behind me. She was obviously a servant and but a few years younger than myself. Her black hair was held under a thin white cap, a few curly tendrils escaping to frame her round face. She gazed up meekly at me with wide gray eyes and wrung her hands on her tattered apron.
“I’m Mini. I’m to be your maid servant.” She spoke uncertainly in quiet, nonthreatening tones and immediately my heart went out to her. I smiled softly.
“Hello, Mini. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Is there anything you’re wanting, miss? Would you like a bath? Or something to eat?”
“A bath sounds wonderful!”
“There’s one drawn, miss, if you’ll follow me.”
Mini led me into the hall and two doors down from my room. “Mini? Who is that?” I whispered, glancing back at the large oafish man who clambered behind us.
“Why, he’s your bodyguard, miss. That’s Penn.”
Penn was easily five times my size with hands that, when spread, would surely be the size of my head. He took his place beside the bath door and stared vacantly into space. I was uneasy. I’d forgotten how it was to be shadowed by servants and guards.
I slipped inside, immediately reveling in the steamy air of the bath. A large circle was carved into the stone floor with steps leading down and hot, bubbling water foaming in it.
“You’ve been away from us a long time, miss?” she said, helping me out of my gowns.
Mini smiled wanly. “I suppose it takes some getting used to- being waited on like this.”
I nodded. “Honestly, I’d be more comfortable in your position.”
“Oh no, miss. You’re too grand for this life.”
“You think so?” I laughed. “I was a servant for six years.”
“No, miss! That cannot be! Not a beautiful lady like you!”
“It’s true. But I can’t complain. The life was not all unpleasant.” My thoughts flew to Gadel as I slipped into the frothy waters.
I lay back, breathing the spicy air as Mini poured sweet smelling salts and oils into the bath. I laughed as the bubbles they caused tickled my bare skin.
“I haven’t had a bath like this since I was eight years old. Of course, then, I never appreciated its pleasures.”
“You didn’t like it?”
“Oh I hated taking baths! I was wild and if given the choice, I’d have much rather stayed dirty.”
“I suppose all children are like that, miss. You have to practically tie down my nieces and nephews and dunk them to get them clean!” she exclaimed with a laugh.
I was pleased that she seemed to have grown easy around me so quickly. She would be a good servant.
“You have many nieces and nephews?”
“Five nieces and seven nephews.”
“Yes. And they’re a handful. But I have not seen them since I came away from Iae Wiltur.”
Hesitantly, I asked, “Have you heard from them? They are safe?”
Mini shook her head. “I’ve no knowledge of their whereabouts.”
My heart broke with the crack in her voice. “I’m sure they’re safe, Mini. Don’t worry. Hopefully, this war will be over soon and you can return to them.”
She straightened and with a light tone, asked me what I would wear. I shrugged, leaving the choice to her and as I dismissed her she turned to me with a smile. In her eyes was the same hope that had filled the soldiers’ as they’d bowed to me earlier that day. I wouldn’t let her or them down.
When I was dressed, I surveyed my appearance in the mirror. Mini stood behind me with a gleeful look on her face, proud of her work. She’d picked out a velvet gown of the deepest violet with leafy silver and gold brocade around the bodice and skirt hem. Over the gown, was a black robe, its collar lined with white fur that tickled my throat.
Mini had spent nearly half an hour intricately braiding my hair, lacing gold and silver ribbon in the blonde locks. Finally she had sat a simple band on the crown of my head and it hung across my forehead, its diamonds sparkling in the dim candlelight.
“What do you think? Am I presentable?” I asked nervously.
“You look beautiful!” Mini exclaimed, clasping her hands together. “A prettier lady never was seen!”
I smiled at her flattery and fiddled with my robe, adjusting it over my shoulders. “Is Shane with my mother already?” I asked.
“Shane? Oh! General Raphen!”
“General!” I exclaimed, whirling to look at her.
“Of course. He’s your mother’s high commander. Did you not know?” I shook my head. “He was promoted soon after King Cronos…” her voice faded.
“He’s a very brave man, miss. He’s lost not one battle. We all thought the army would surely be defeated in his absence. No one wanted him to go but he insisted on finding you himself. Or…that’s how I heard it. Are you very close with him, miss?”
“Childhood friends,” I commented vaguely.
Mini looked up at me with a devious twinkle in her eye. “He is very handsome, is he not?”
I watched in the mirror as my eyes went wide. Yes. He was very handsome. I had noted it immediately upon seeing him. But his manners more than made up for his comely appearance. I shrugged indifferently. “I suppose he’s as handsome as any.”
“Perhaps…a bit more so?” she hinted.
I sighed. “Is he with my mother?”
“Would you be so kind as to show me to the Great Hall?”
“Penn will lead you, miss. I shall stay and tidy up here.”
I quit the room, stopping in the hall long enough for Penn to step in front of me and take the lead. Quietly I followed him through a maze of corridors, down a flight of steps, then another, and finally to a set of looming double doors. The guards there stepped forward and heaved them open and I heard my name being announced plainly to the room inside.
When I stepped to the threshold, all eyes were on me. But I did not feel nervous as I’d thought I would. I held my chin high as the royal that I was and found the person I’d been longing to see. When our eyes met, I could not stop the wide smile that broke out across my face.
To Be Continued….
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