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[Story] PRINCESS DRIANNA Chapter 4


Written by
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke

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In no time we were but a hill away from Colias Manor. Our little party trudged slowly up the grassy bluff and just as we reached the top, the whole of Colias Manor was laid before us. I couldn’t stop the loud gasp that escaped my throat.

Gadel chuckled, riding up behind me. “Do you like it?”

I stared wide-eyed at the scene before me. In my short life I’d seen but one place grander than this and that was my palace home. But after two years away from its grandeur, living in a shabby village and then on a long trek through savage wilderness, I had managed to forget the wonder of such a place. And so this manor, which in actuality was a dingy farm compared to the palace, seemed to me to be heaven itself.

The sun shone brightly on the expanse of green fields, peppered with red and yellow flowers and made them glow as if made of gold. The stables went on forever with stall after stall filled with beautiful horses. Rows of hedges weaved in an elaborate maze beside the house, which was stately and elegant. The walls towered three stories with gray mortar between the dark stone. Five towers reached to the sky with pointed roofs and poles flying the Colias Family banner.

“It’s…it’s beautiful,” I gaped.

“I’d wager you’ve never seen a manor the likes of this one before!” Lord Colias exclaimed.

Timmy shot me a backwards glance and I kept my mouth shut. The rest of the short trip was silent until we reached the manor. Guards hurried to swing open the great iron gates that bore the Colias insignia and we were escorted into a large courtyard. Gadel and Lord Colias dismounted and stable hands immediately rushed to take their horses and lead them towards the stables.

An elderly tuxedoed man hobbled down the great stairs leading to the house and on long, spidery legs hurried over to us. “Welcome home, m’lord!” he greeted Lord Colias cheerfully. He turned an appraising eye on us. “Are these the new ones then?”

“Yes, Heinry. This is Timmy and her daughter…”

“Havara,” Timmy rushed to supply.

“Havara. And…”

“Nealp.”

“Yes of course. Nealp. Timmy and Havara will be working the house. Nealp will help you around here with the heavy lifting and such. If you’ll please show them their quarters, Heinry.”

“Yes, m’lord.” Heinry looked at us questioningly. “Have you no baggage?”

Timmy spoke up. “No. We have none.”

“I see. Well then, do follow me.” He set off briskly for the house.

The three of us looked down at our bound hands. “Sir?” Timmy called. When Heinry turned back to us, she nodded towards the ropes.

“I’ll get that.” Gadel stepped forward, producing a penknife from the folds of his cloak. He sliced the rope, which connected the three of us and then set to work on the rope around our hands. Timmy and Nealp were freed and then Gadel gently took my hands into his. He smiled at me as he cut at the twine and in a second I was free. I rubbed my aching wrists, wincing at the raw, red skin there.

“Thank you, m’lord,” I said softly and hurried into the house after Timmy.

Heinry took Nealp to his little shack behind the stables first, leaving Timmy and I in the foyer. It was dark and cool, with a ceiling the height of the manor and a stone floor beneath our feet. A narrow gold carpet ran the length of the foyer and then up a grand staircase which branched off in two directions. There were rows of doors on each side of us but all were closed and offered no clue to their contents.

On the dark wooden walls hung portraits- one of Lord Colias, one of a young boy I assumed to be Gadel, and one of a beautiful woman. The woman’s portrait caught my interest immediately. I walked to stand directly before it and inspect it more closely.

She was truly beautiful with dark curling hair and blue eyes. She reminded me of my mother in her looks, though she possessed none of the strength and power that seemed to radiant from my mother. Instead her blue eyes were sad. Her pink lips were smiling but still her countenance expressed the strongest sense of loneliness.

“Havara, come from there,” Timmy ordered.

“I’m only looking.”

“Still…we don’t yet know how temperamental the master is. Come.”

I didn’t move. “She looks so sad and lonely.”

It was Heinry’s wobbly voice that responded to my statement. “Yes, she was a very sad and lonely woman.”

“Who is she?”

“Why, Lady Alena, of course- the lord’s wife and mistress of this estate, mother to the heir, Master Gadel.”

“She’s very beautiful. When did she die?”

“Oh…it’s been about three years ago, I suppose. She came down with the fever. But I dare say that’s not what killed her.”

“What do you mean?”

“Another tale for another time. Come, I’ll show you two to your new quarters.”

Heinry escorted us through a door behind the stairs, through a dimly lit hall, and into a great kitchen. There was a friendly hearth with a kettle already boiling and a cat sleeping on the hearthrug, its tail twitching back and forth. Copper pots hung from suspended racks on the ceiling over countertops and racks of herbs and spices lined the walls. After taking a minute to take in the room, we moved on through a little door beside the fireplace.

It led to a small apartment, plainer than any I’d ever been in. The walls were bare stone and the floor was dusty old wood, which groaned under our feet. There was a tiny fireplace, a table, and two chairs- none of which looked very sturdy.

“There is a bedroom through there,” Heinry said, pointing to an open doorway. Inside I could see a thin mattress laid on the floor of the dark little room. “The child can sleep in here. We’ll have some hay brought in to make a nice pallet for her.” Timmy and I couldn’t hide the shock and disgust on our faces at the dingy living quarters. Heinry observed it with sympathy. “It wasn’t always like this, you know. When the Lady Alena managed the house, all the servants were as well cared for as the family. In fact, the lady would have fainted at the thought of slaves on the manor. But alas, the lord manages everything now and poorly at that. Oh, he’s kind to me, of course. I’ve been here since his father was lord and I’ve brought him up. I’d like to think he has a soft spot for me. I’m very much the only treated with respect around here. I am the ranking butler, second-in-command to the lord himself. I shall see you each morning to supervise the day’s meals and any problems you have shall be taken up with me. Understood?”

“Yes,” Timmy and I answered.

“Well then…I suppose I’d best be getting on my way. I’ll tell Oli to bring in the hay for your pallet, little one.”

He left Timmy and I alone in the drafty little room. She began to make a fire with the dry kindling that’d been stacked by our little hearth and I took a seat on a rickety chair. “I like him,” I said decidedly.

“Who?”

“Heinry. I like him. He’s very sure of himself…but I believe we’ll come to be friends.”

“Oh bother…there’s nothing to light the fire with!”

I looked over to where she knelt before the hearth, a stack of logs piled neatly in the fireplace. With a flick of my wrist, the kindling burst into flames. Timmy whirled around on her heels to look at me.

“Don’t be doing any of that, missy!” she scolded.

“Why not? I got the fire started didn’t I?”

“Because that’s not safe to use around here! Who knows what they’d do to you if they knew you had the Power. Promise me you won’t use it again.”

“I promise,” I said reluctantly.

Soon we settled into life at Colias Manor. Timmy spent most of her time in the kitchen cooking meals. I was discovered to have no skill for cooking and was put to work doing odd jobs around the house. I washed dishes, scrubbed floors, picked fruits and vegetables from the garden, fetched eggs from the hen house and water from the well. If a maid was ill I would take her place. If the lord’s armor collection needed polishing, I’d be the one to do it.

I tried to spend as much of my time as possible away from my dingy little apartment. I loved to be outside. Many times, if I’d finished whatever task had been assigned to me that day, I’d go for walks in the hedgemaze or through the fields. No one ever thought that I might try to escape and indeed the thought never really occurred to me. I was content to stay where I was though always in the back of my mind I considered it a temporary situation. Someday I knew I would return to Danubae and take what was rightfully mine. But that day seemed far off.

In the meantime, I was content with my life at Colias Manor. Other than my unpleasant living conditions, I was never reminded that I was a slave. It was like living in Dezla, doing chores and enjoying Timmy’s company.

I even began my nightly concerts again. Timmy and I would sit before the fire in the kitchen and I would sing for her while she gently stroked the tabby cat and sipped on tea or cocoa. One night, while I was performing, Heinry came into the kitchen to join us. He’d heard me in passing and delighted in my voice and soon he was a regular fixture of our nights around the fire.

I found him to be a sweet old man who’d seen or heard nearly all of the dramatic Colias family history. After I’d finish singing, he would usually began talking on some mundane event of the day which would always evolve into a story of his life on the manor. One night, he related the tale I’d been longing to hear since my arrival at Colias Manor- the tale of the Lady Alena.

“I first met her on her wedding day,” Heinry began. “Her marriage to the lord was arranged, as most are in the nobility. The young lord had already decided that he would despise whatever woman he was forced into marrying. He had given his…heart- well, his attentions at least- to a magistrate’s daughter in Suraad. Oh, she was a foul one- attractive by some men’s standards, but not beautiful. Not like the Lady Alena.

“That day, I’d sworn I’d never seen anyone as lovely as she. I came to introduce myself to her, as she was to be my new mistress. She was sitting at her dressing table…I can still see her…all in white, smiling, looking the happy bride. She had never met her husband-to-be and she was optimistic about the match. She told me so immediately upon introduction and I hoped that the lord would feel the same way once he met her. I didn’t see how he could not. She was an angel.

“I watched as she walked down the isle. I saw her face as she met the lord for the first time and there was no mistaking that look.”

“What look?” I asked.

“Utter love and adoration.”

I smiled at the romanticism of Heinry’s words, though he said them with unmistakable pain in his voice. I could see how Lady Alena could fall in love so easily with Lord Colias. Though he was aging now and the last time I’d seen him he’d had a short beard with streaks of gray running through it, it wasn’t hard to tell he’d been an extremely handsome man is his day. I could see his looks budding in Gadel’s colt-like appearance. But I couldn’t understand why Heinry spoke of Alena’s love with such anguish.

“She loved him immediately and gave him everything she had to give- all her love and devotion was bestowed on him. And he tossed it away like foul bath water. He made a mockery of her in society. Everyone but she knew of his exploits with the magistrate’s daughter. Although many of the noble women were in similar situations, their husbands had the decency to carry on their affairs in private. But not the lord. No, he took that horrid wench to state balls and parties when Lady Alena should have been on his arm. She was made a laughing stock. But still she remained obliviously in love and did her duty by him by bearing his heir.

“After Master Gadel was born, the lord found it unnecessary to be at home much. He spent his days and nights with his wench and the bastards they’d produced. Lady Alena was left in this huge manor with no one but an infant son and servants to keep her company.

“It went on for many years that way. Gadel grew older and though he loved his mother, he was often busied with tutors and training to be much company for her. I watched her waste away.

“And then one night, the lord had the audacity to bring his wench to the manor. Lady Alena was distraught. She fled the house and disappeared. For three days we searched the woods for her. I found her by a creek. She was unconscious and her skin was blue with cold. We brought her back to the manor and nursed her. She hung on through the fever but she never really fought it, I don’t think. She didn’t have the will to.”

A depressing silence hung over the three of us after Heinry finished his tale. I sat on the hearthrug, grieving the Lady Alena and hating Lord Colias. Soon I excused myself and went to my soft hay pallet for a fitful night of sleep.

Lord Colias and Master Gadel were rarely at home. The lord was a commander of a reserve troop of Groithians and was always off on some campaign, taking Gadel with him. Because of this, war news came frequently and promptly to Colias Manor.

Three days after it concluded, we heard of the three-month seizure of the palace only to find the king and queen gone. And of course, until my father and mother and I were dead, the war would go on.

There was much speculation about my whereabouts. As the rightful heir to the throne and particular target of King Oghma and Queen Olivia, I was a key part of the war. Some thought I was already dead. Others believed I was in hiding with my mother and father. But no one knew what I looked like or anything about me other than my name, which I’d changed, so I was safe.

I did worry, however, for the safety of my family and friends. I hoped that Aliqua and Shane had made it safely from the palace with mother and father. Each day I clutched Liliquoi’s shoe- my only remaining possession- to my heart and prayed for them. Then I would go on about my day, feeling somewhat guilty for being so content with my life.

I’d made a friend of Oli, the stable boy, who was two years older than I. Together we played in the fields and raced around the barns. He even let me help him care for the animals. It was discovered that I had a knack for this and soon it was part of my daily chores to take the boars out to graze or to groom and exercise some of the horses.

I quickly found a favorite amongst the steeds- a coal black stallion named Talius. I’d groom him and talk to him and feed him apples from the orchard. One day, in my second year at the manor, I was brushing his coat and telling him about Uncle, unaware that Talius wasn’t my only audience.

“He was very smart. He was a general in the army and he had ten medals for bravery. He showed them to me once.” Talius neighed. “And he was so kind…he took me in and never asked for anything in return. You would’ve liked him, Talius. He would’ve spoiled you rotten with oats and apples.” I sighed and brushed his mane. “I miss him.”

“What happened to him?”

I jumped at the voice, dropping the brush and whirling around to press my back against Talius’s shoulder. There was Gadel, tall and handsome, watching me with intense interest. I saw that he’d outgrown the colt-like awkwardness and the gangly frame of the early teenager I’d last seen him as. He was sixteen now and his shirt was taut around the developed muscles of his chest and arms and I, just barely entering womanhood went weak at the sight of him.

“M’lord?”

“Your uncle? What happened to him?”

“He…he died,” I answered quickly. “I am sorry, m’lord but I thought you were on campaign with Lord Colias.”

“I was. Father didn’t need me and Heinry is ailing so I’ve returned to manage the manor.”

“Oh. Was there something you required? I’m sorry I did not notice your presence until-”

“No. No. There was nothing. How did he die?”

“The army raided our village. They took anything of use and burned anything not of use. Uncle was…very old and…” I let my voice trail off.

Gadel nodded in understanding. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely.

“It was a while ago now…two years.”

“It doesn’t make the pain go away though.”

I shook my head. It was true. Time’s passage didn’t make me miss Uncle any less just as it didn’t make Gadel miss his mother any less. The honesty of his voice as he’d said those words touched me and for perhaps the first time I regarded him not as a master but as an equal.

In all truth he was my equal. If anything he was below me. I was a princess. But this was becoming a fact that I had to remind myself of continuously, else I forget. I didn’t feel like a princess. A time when I did was nothing but a distant memory. But I didn’t feel like a slave either. I played to my role as if it was of my own choosing and never felt the injustice of it.

I suddenly realized I’d been standing there for several moments in complete silence. But Gadel didn’t seem to mind. He was watching me with something akin to fascination on his face.

“I should really be going…it’s wash day and I have to carry the water to Timmy or there’ll be no wash.”

“Let someone else do it.”

“Sir?”

“You heard me. Let Nealp do it. You don’t look strong enough to carry those heavy buckets anyhow.”

I was indignant. “I am too strong enough!” I exclaimed, forgetting to squelch the spoiled princess in me. Immediately, I gasped and clasped a hand over my mouth. “My apologies, m’lord.”

The words were sour on my tongue. I’d never had to apologize to one of my masters before. I’d never had enough contact with either of them to be in the position to. And now, realizing exactly what it meant to act the slave, I suddenly found myself hating my servitude.

But Gadel dismissed my slip with an amused smile. “Don’t apologize. I was seeing if I could get a rise out of you. Come walk with me.”

He strolled off in the direction of the hedgemaze and I had no choice but to follow him. I came into step beside him just as he reached the entrance to the maze. We walked silently for a while before he spoke up.

“My mother loved the hedges.”

“They are very beautiful.”

“Do you ever come here?”

“Yes, m’lord. Sometimes.”

“I’ve missed them these last years that I’ve been gone. I’d play here often as a boy.”

I smiled. “Happy memories?”

His eyes reflected his recollections. “Yes. I hope someday my children will play here.”

“I’m sure they will, sir.”

“I’m not so sure.”

“Why not?”

“This war. If I don’t die fighting it, I’m not sure I want to bring sons to this world who will.”

“Do you really think it will last that long?”

“It’s lasted four years already and it shows no sign of stopping.”

I frowned. “Well if Groithia would give up it’s pointless quest, then it would.”

Gadel stopped walking and glared at me. “Pointless? How can you say that?”

“They’re punishing an entire people for the senseless act of one!”

“We’re avenging our fallen prince!”

“How many must die before one little boy is avenged?” I demanded. I could feel the heat rising on my skin.

“One little boy? He was a prince!”

“So?”

“So? The life of a royal is priceless. You must see that.” I remained silent. I didn’t see that. I didn’t see how my life was worth any more than Timmy’s or Heinry’s or Uncle’s.

I looked up at Gadel’s dark eyes. “I don’t.”

TBC…

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