Author’s note: was going to post this last night, but was too tired~ muuu~
The King declared that a masquerade ball was to be held upon Alenaire and Luce’s sixteenth birthday. In this ball, he was prepared to reveal Alenaire’s fiancée to the kingdom.
He had not told the princess yet about her fiancée, thus she seemed almost convinced that her father forgot about the whole matter of marriage entirely. The king was happy she spent the three years in bliss, yet he also felt a pang of guilt knowing that he kept such vital information from her. It was a surprise he knew she would not like, and he had already come to an agreement with himself that he would bear the brunt of her anger. He had started hardening his heart since the morning.
The Princess Alenaire remained incognito in the ball, as she determinedly covered half of her face with a grotesque mask, using a large brim hat to cover her hair. She stood leaning against a stone pillar with an elbow to support her frame. She was glad no one bothered to go near her. Perhaps it was because of the mask’s gnarled nose, the length of which could poke someone in the eye during normal conversations.
“May I ask milady for a dance?” A tall man sidled up to her side, offering a hand.
Alenaire looked at the mask which was almost identical to hers, only that the nose itself sheltered nose hairs. The man did not bother to wear a hat, and a curl determinedly swept across his forehead despite his constant arrangements.
“I am waiting for the dessert to be refilled by the servants,” Alenaire said, peering at the dessert table again. She was waiting for the absolutely delicious squash pudding which always ran out so quickly.
“Then, will you dance with me while waiting?” The man suggested, his hand still waiting for hers. “Or perhaps you’re waiting for your prince?”
Alenaire’s lips twisted with disgust.
“I am not this prince you seek, but in this masked ball, I can be whoever you want me to be.” The two slits in the mask revealed eyes that were full of mischief, as he waited for her answer, his palm up towards her.
She raised a hand to cup his cheeks tenderly and smiled, holding the stars in her eyes. “I want you to be…yourself.” She looked into his eyes, amethyst against emerald. His eyes burned with an emotion she could not fathom, but it caught her breath. “Luce…” She whispered his name like a feather brushing his heart.
He raised his hand to grasp her wrist gently, kissing the inside of her palm, he whispered back, “I always am, when I’m with you.”
They stood still for quite some time, just silently looking at each other, when they heard trumpets which heralded The King’s upcoming speech.
Both Alenaire and Luce turned towards the man who stood up from his throne, the gold crown on his head a bit askew on a head of hair that was starting to turn grey.
The King’s voice was sonorous as he said, “Good evening everyone, thank you all for coming tonight. This ball is a celebration of my daughter, The Princess Alenaire’s, sixteenth birthday. It is also to deliver to you news of her engagement. I have thought long and hard of this arrangement, and now as my other son Prince Alasdair has already wed the princess of Oturus, the Princess Alenaire will also be wed to one of our allied countries, the Kingdom of Rhiannon…”
The King continued to talk, yet Alenaire did not want to hear anything more. It was as if the noise in the surroundings died in her ears, as she replayed the words that her father had announced. She knew she could not escape being engaged to another, but she was still not ready to face reality. No, she was not ready to face herself, to face her own title. She had been living in a sheltered bubble, thinking that perhaps her father wouldn’t be so cruel as to give her away. Thinking that perhaps, it was different for her. It clearly wasn’t.
She blanched as she clutched Luce’s arm so tight that he winced, but even he wanted to feel a little bit of pain. It was to remind himself that this was real. His princess was indeed getting married. Although he knew it all along, hearing his thoughts being affirmed held even a greater impact.
“Princess,” Luce’s voice cracked, and he immediately cleared his throat. “Princess, your father is calling you to stand up on the stage.”
His voice brought her back, and in a panic, she ran through the crowd of guests in the ballroom, not caring if some were knocked away by her sharp elbows or gnarled nose. She wanted to hide. She needed to collect her thoughts. She needed to convince herself she did not love him.
“Alenaire, my dear, I apologize for not telling you…” Her father’s worried voice came through the door.
Alenaire sat on her bed, holding her knees against her chin. “Father, how could you!” She shouted.
The brass doorknob shook as someone tried to open the door but to no avail. Alenaire had locked it so she could be alone.
“Alenaire, love!” Came her mother’s exasperated tone. “You knew this would happen. You’re a princess!” Alenaire could almost visualize her mother’s angry face. Although her mother was pleasant and lovely, once she was irate, she became frightening.
Alenaire still did not reply.
“Alenaire, I told your father to give you one month to prepare, but if you still won’t open your door in three days, I’m going to break down the door with my own two fists and send you off to Rhiannon right away!” Her mother warned her as her voice dripped with menace.
When the footsteps went away, she wrapped her blankets around her shoulder while Bastian cuddled close to her side, his paws stroking her arm in sympathy.
Alenaire smiled at him sadly while she fiddled with one paw. “Basti, if I were a commoner, I could love whoever I wanted right?”
Bastian tilted his head to the side, his cerulean eyes gazing back at her with an intelligence inconceivable for a mere house cat. Sensing her sadness, he stood on his hind legs and licked her cheek.
The glass door to her balcony started shaking the next morning, as someone started knocking at it persistently. She knew who it was, and she quickly stood up to draw away the drapes of the window, revealing a face that was pressed up against the window, the glass fogging as his nose breathed against it.
Alenaire laughed and opened the door for Luce to come inside her bedchamber.
“Awi…” Luce looked at her seriously as he closed the door behind him.
Alenaire sat at the foot of her bed. Since she did not want to look him in the eye, she started studying her toes instead.
“Awi, talk to your father,” Luce’s voice was calm, yet it hinted a sadness that dwelled deep in his heart.
Alenaire shook her head stubbornly. Bastian pawed his way through the comforters of her bed to curl himself beside her hip.
“Awi.” Luce looked at her face, his eyebrows drawn together. “What is there to be so upset about? Both of your brothers have already married, it is now your turn. This is your future.”
Alenaire shook her head again. Her throat felt tight as she wanted to utter, “But it is a future without you.” But she swallowed the words down, ashamed. What would he think of her if she abruptly told him she loved him? Would he look at her with disgust or would he run away with her?
“I’m not going to run away with you,” Luce clucked his tongue, smiling slightly. “I can read you like a book, you know.”
Alenaire stared back at him fiercely. “Then can you read my feelings for you?”
A flush crept from his neck to his face in less than a second. “That…well…I can only assume…if your feelings are the same as mine…”
Alenaire threw her head back to laugh, and the flush slowly faded from his face.
She stood up to grab his hand, looking up at him, she said softly, “Than can I assume as well?”
“If assuming is a good thing,” he replied as softly, the dimples appearing on his cheeks.
“I assume it’s a good thing.” She leaned forward and placed her head against his shoulder, his arms wrapping around her waist.
“Talk to your father now. He’s as heartbroken as I am,” he whispered against the top of her head.
“Are you not against this?” She asked, her voice a bit muffled against his shoulder.
“Even if I am, what can I do?” He said, pressing his lips against her hair. She fisted his shirt in her hands. “I am only your knight, princess.”
Luce combed her golden hair with his fingers, tucking strands behind her ear. “Go, Awi. Your father is in his study while your mother is holding court.”
“Fine…” She reluctantly peeled herself off his chest, her eyes downcast. She picked up Bastian from the bed, and cradled him in her arms as she walked slowly towards her father’s study.
The pageboy opened the doors for her, and she stepped inside hesitantly, holding Bastian tightly in her arms.
“Alenaire, dear…” The King looked weary, as if he aged overnight. There were dark circles under his eyes, and although he smiled at her, the sadness in his eyes could not go unnoticed.
“Father…” Alenaire released Bastian from her arms to hug her father around the shoulders. She felt guilty for acting so spoiled, acting like she had no obligations as a princess. It was true, she knew from the start. She knew she could not marry the one she actually loved.
“Alenaire, I am sorry,” The King said gently, his arms wrapping around his daughter’s.
“You don’t need to apologize, father. If anything, it should be me. I’ve been rude, I’m sorry…” Alenaire sat on his lap as she snuggled closer against him, smelling his scent of cardamom and thyme, the fragrance a favorite of her mother’s.
“I remember you used to sit on my lap like this when you were a child,” King Altair recalled fondly, stroking her long hair. “How time flies so fast, my dear. You were so small, so tiny, I could keep you in my pocket. I can’t do anything like that now, but as a parent, there is one thing I must do.” He rubbed the sides of her cheeks, as she smiled wistfully.
“You know, it is a parent’s greatest desire to see their children live happily.” He sighed. “Although I cannot deny that your marriage also has an ulterior purpose, such as the marriages of your brothers.”
“I know. It is my duty,” Alenaire replied, resigned. “Mother said you owe the King of Rhiannon a debt for saving your life. If I am the reward, then my sacrifice is worth it.”
King Altair shook his head, not knowing how to reply to that. It was true that he felt indebted to the king, yet he did not want to make his daughter feel as if she were a mere commodity.
“I know your heart lies elsewhere,” King Altair twisted his lips to form a wry smile, “We all know to whom it belongs.” He started patting her shoulders in rhythmic motion, just like the way he did when she was a kid.
“Is it so obvious?” Alenaire sighed.
“Which was why we allowed the two of you your freedom in the first place, before you were to be sent away. But perhaps it was also a wrong decision of mine, as you are feeling worse than you would be if I had not.”
Alenaire shook her head fiercely. “No, father. I would never want to lose the time I spend with him.”
King Altair continued to stroke her hair. “My dear, if we were an ordinary family, I would let you choose whoever you want…”
“I know, father, I know.” She sighed heavily, and closed her eyes against his chest.
“I hope you don’t despise this old man,” King Altair said gruffly. “I honestly wouldn’t know what to do if my only daughter hates me.”
Alenaire chuckled. “You’re so silly, father. I’ve never even stopped loving you.”
King Altair was moved, and while his daughter leaned against him with her eyes closed, he quickly wiped the edges of his eyes with his fingers, catching the drops of tears that spilled from his heart.