[Story] PRINCESS DRIANNA Chapter 13
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke
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She looked older. Her black hair was streaked with gray and her blue eyes, though still sparkling as I remembered, were tired and surrounded by thin lines. But she was still beautiful. In my mind she would always be the most beautiful woman in the world.
When I entered, she and Shane had been bent over a long table, surveying a map of the country but she immediately straightened and her eyes sought me out. There were others in the room, more generals and council members, no doubt. Many of them bowed to me as I came in but I paid them no mind and neither did mother.
“My dear,” she exclaimed softly, opening her arms to me. I rushed into them, elated with the feeling I’d no idea I’d missed so. I felt a wetness on my cheek but it was not my tear. It was mother’s. My own tears were stinging my eyes as I tried to blink them away. “My precious child. It has been so long.” She held me at arms length.
“Yes. Oh, I’m so sorry, my dear. I’m afraid I’ve missed you growing up. Can you ever forgive me?”
I nodded. “Of course.”
We embraced again before, with an arm clutching me to her side, she turned and addressed the room. “Generals! Council! Soldiers and servants! Our Princess has come home to us!”
The room erupted in cheers and shouts of glee. I could only smile and nod my appreciation. Soon the noise died down and mother looped my arm through hers. “Let us take a turn about the castle, hmm?” She patted my hand and turned to Shane. “We shall meet for dinner. Hold things down while we’re gone.”
He nodded dutifully and mother guided me out of the Great Hall into a back corridor lighted by dim candles. It was empty except for us and our footfalls echoed off the stone.
“We have much to talk about,” mother said, clasping her hands behind her back and strolling languidly along. “You look well. The maid suits you I hope.”
“Yes, indeed. She is very helpful.”
“She is a sweet girl, very competent. But I wouldn’t say anything in front of her I didn’t want the rest of the castle hearing. She’s a shameless gossip.”
“That could work in my favor, however.”
Mother grinned. “Indeed. So how has life treated you?”
I was hesitantly silent and thought seriously of my answer before saying it. “It has treated me fairly…all things considered.”
“You were happy for the most part?” I nodded. “I sensed it. If I had not known you were safe and content, I should never have left you. But as it was, you were safer in hiding- even as a slave. But I’m afraid you might have become a bit too satisfied with your situation.”
“Don’t trouble yourself over details, child. General Raphen has related to me most of the story. You were in love, I take it?”
“Yes. Very much in love.” I hesitated. “I still am. But it is not the way…perhaps in time…I shall seem him again. Now my duty is to you and Danubae.”
“I’m happy you’ve realized that. Was there much affection between you?”
“Oh yes…I’ve never known such happiness, mother. And he truly is kind and loving. I wish someday for you to meet him. But…time will tell.”
“I’m sure he’s a fine lad. What is his name?”
She smiled. “You say his name with much fervor. Tell me, is he handsome?” I blushed and she laughed. “I see. That is all the answer I need.” We walked on in silence for a moment. I could sense my mother pondering something until she finally voiced what was on her mind. “I had a lover when I was your age- a bit younger actually. He was a stablehand on my father’s estate. Rolf was his name.”
“Was he handsome?”
“He was pleasing to the eye, yes. And he’d spout sonnets on request- a very romantic figure. I was sure I was madly in love with him. But of course, my father forbade the match. I was free to marry whomever I wished as long as they were within my class. Rolf didn’t have two sticks to call his own but I was young and didn’t care.”
“My father sent him to work on another manor, eighty miles from ours. I never saw him again. Oh, I thought my heart would break in my chest. And I swore I’d never love again. I was so set on this that I almost passed up your father.
“He came riding in to the manor with his father, the king, one day. They had some sort of business to attend to and I couldn’t have cared less. I sat in the garden the whole day, crying over my lost love. But Cronos happened upon me and the way he told it- he knew I’d be his queen the moment he laid eyes on me. Of course, I didn’t pay him any mind. But he won me over in time and made my affinity with Rolf seem like a measly infatuation.”
I studied her suspiciously. There was more, I knew. Glancing at me out the corner of her eye, she asked, “How are you getting on with General Raphen?”
I laughed bitterly. There it was. “It’s amusing how he keeps coming up in conversations.”
“You’ve always been close.”
“But he’s changed. He’s so…”
“Yes. He’s hard and stern and I can’t see in him any of what he used to be.”
“He grew up. So have you.”
“But I have not changed so, have I?”
“You have dealt with what life has handed you a bit better than he has. Life has not been kind to him. His mother died in the siege of Iae Wiltur. He watched her die. In fact, he was trying to save her and failed. It was not his fault, though I don’t think he believes that.” She sighed. “Do not think ill of him if he is harsh with you. He cares for you dearly, Drianna. He just does not know quite how to show it as he once did. Don’t let your dwelling on past loves hinder you from new ones.”
That evening as we sat down for dinner in the Dining Hall, I tried not to let my thoughts dwell on my mother’s words. The hall was full of laughing, talking people and I wanted to join in the felicity.
It was mother’s rule that at dinner, or during any meal for that matter, there would be no talk of war. Everyone seemed eager to comply with her wishes and indeed there was not a long face at the table as we sat down.
I found my place at mother’s right. She was at the head of the table and Shane was at her left, across from me. The rest of the nobles and generals found seats and to my horror, Lord Knowlu found his beside mine. As he began blubbering my eyes drifted across the table to Shane, who was trying to conceal his amusement behind his napkin. I glared and delivered a swift kick to him beneath the table. It hit him in his shins and he yelped in surprise.
I sat back, extremely satisfied with myself and smiled as Shane turned red and the eyes of those around us fell on him. He offered them no excuse so they shrugged and returned to their meals and I returned to mine, nodding and making appropriate remarks in the rare pauses in conversation with Knowlu. Then at one point, I reached for my goblet of wine, only to have it skid out of my reach mysteriously.
I furrowed my brow and reached for it again, only to have it elude me once more. A scowl came to my face as I realized the trickster behind the moving goblet. With a quick hand, I feigned reaching for the goblet in one direction and as it skidded the opposite way, I moved for it. Unfortunately, I missed catching my target, only managing to tip it on its side. Red wine poured over the tabletop and onto the lap of Lord Knowlu.
I gasped, a hand flying to my mouth as Knowlu cried out in surprise. But soon my shock turned into amusement as the little man sputtered and wiped at his tunic.
“I-I’m so sorry, Lord Knowlu. How clumsy of me! The goblet just got away from me.” I heard Shane stifle a laugh. I myself was trying to conceal my laughter with nervous coughing as I handed Knowlu more napkins.
“It is quite all right, dear, noble Princess Drianna. For if I had to be spilt upon by anyone, I could not ask for a more beautiful, enchanting lady to do it,” he said fervently. “Now, if you would excuse me, I must find a cleaner garment to wear.” He left and I immediately had to smother my laughter in my napkin.
“What sort of manners are these?” mother hissed softly. “I would thank you to behave properly at my table.” I bowed my head in disgrace that I did not feel and Shane laughed at my being rebuked. “Both of you.”
His laughter ceased immediately and mother returned to her meal but I caught the small smile playing at her lips as she sipped her soup.
Shane and I laughed all the way back to my chambers. We reached the heavy door, clutching our sides with laughter. I fell against the wood, gasping for air.
“Did you see his face?” I exclaimed.
“I did. I’m shocked that I was able to contain my laughter.”
“And I! Do you suppose he’s very cross with me?”
Shane chuckled and then, feigning sincerity, assured me, “Of course not. He ‘could not ask for a more beautiful, enchanting lady’ to spill upon him. I am sure he remains your humble servant.”
“You’re horrible!” I cried, laughing harder. When it subsided, I let out a long breath. “My, I haven’t laughed like this in the longest time!”
“Nor have I.”
“I know. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten how. It’s good to see it, though,” I smiled softly, the mood suddenly serious. “You should do it more often.”
“If it pleases you Princess, I will, now that I have something to laugh about.”
“You mean Lord Knowlu’s comical devotion to me?”
“That…and your flustered expressions when you can’t get at your wine.”
“Flustered? I was not flustered!”
He chuckled. “Of course not. Her highness is never flustered.”
“Don’t tease your monarch. I might have you beheaded for your insolence.”
“Don’t try me, General Raphen.”
He arched an eyebrow at me and leaned close. “So formal?”
“Well, if I am to be your equal in combat, we cannot be on such familiar terms. It would breed disrespect amongst our troops.” I was suddenly aware of our tight proximity. I could feel his breath on my skin, which was growing warmer. “It is best…perhaps…to maintain a formality between us. That is…in front of the men…to encourage the same in them.” My voice was breathy and I distinctly felt that he was only half way paying attention to my words. But then, so was I.
I met his eyes and they were stormy green. They appeared nearer and nearer and my breath hastened as my body prepared for I know not what. For him to kiss me? The thought sent a wave of panic through my system and I snapped out of the spell I was in.
“The wine,” I said hastily. He drew back, seeming to snap back as well. “The wine was very…”
“Yes…the wine was heady…so very heady…”
“You should rest. Sleep it off.”
“Yes. That’d be wise.” I opened the door and backed through it. “Goodnight, General Raphen.”
“Goodnight, your highness.”
To Be Continued….
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