what if the words in a book could take you to another place - literally?
Chapter Twenty-Two ~ Leylina
“Good morning, Mother,” Leylina kissed the queen tenderly on the cheek as she arrived in the banquet hall of the palace.
“Hello, darling,” her mother smiled. “How did you sleep?”
“Well; thank you,” the princess sat down next to her mother. “And you?”
“Not too well, I’m afraid,” the queen shook her head. “I have a lot on my mind at the moment.”
Leylina was about to ask what exactly she’d had on her mind when one of the kitchen maids walked into the room.
“Ah, I see Sami fetched you,” the plump, rosy-cheeked servant said. “He’s such a good boy.”
“He is,” Leylina agreed.
“And Frauline came and saw to your needs this morning?”
“Anything in particular you’d like this morning?”
“Just some bread and fruit would be lovely, thank you.” Leylina smiled.
The maid nodded and hurried back into the kitchen.
“You look gorgeous today, Ley,” her mother said, looking her daughter up and down. “Is that...?”
“Your old gown,” Leylina nodded. “I found it in my wardrobe. It’s divine.”
“It looks wonderful on you, my darling.” Fayone kissed her forehead in affection. “It will be perfect for today.”
Leylina’s forehead creased in confusion. “What’s happening today?”
“The Duke is paying a visit to our kingdom,” The queen explained while buttering her bread. “We will be providing his accommodation.”
“The Duke?” Leylina exclaimed. “The Duke of Caelum?”
“Yes,” Fayone confirmed. “And he told me that he shall be bringing his son with him.” The queen looked at her daughter with raised eyebrows.
“Mother,” Leylina complained. “You know I have no interest in...in...”
“Leylina,” Fayone grasped her daughter’s hand. “You are almost sixteen. It’s time to start considering these things. If our family and the Duke’s were to be bonded, it would be more than a blessing. The relationship between our kingdom and Caelum could become harmonious once again.”
“It’s unfair,” Leylina argued. “Please, be selfless in this matter. Perhaps the Duke’s son will be a charming young man, fine, but what if he is the opposite? What if he would make an awful husband?”
“Marrying for love is dangerous in the society we live in, Ley. It causes imbalance between families, and destabilises our community.” The queen shook her head in dismay. “I am not suggested that you two are to be betrothed at any point in your lives. However I am saying that you need to be aware that one of these days, you will have to be married to someone of noble birth. I know it is not just, and I know it is not fair, but it has to be done. It would do you a lot of good to give the Duke’s son a chance. If he proves to be a pain in the backside, so be it.” The queen smiled. “But you never know - he may just be a gorgeous young fellow.”
It was at this point that the maid came in and set a plate of bread and freshly sliced peach in front of the princess.
“Apologies, mother,” Leylina said with a frown on her face. “But I seem to have lost my appetite.”
The princess rose from her chair and abruptly walked out of the dining hall, through the kitchen, and out the back door, despite the calls from her mother.
The morning breeze was cool against her cheeks as Leylina walked the paved path into the palace courtyard. She shouldn’t have stormed out of the room like that, but she probably would have exploded if she had stayed any longer.
The young woman walked to the middle of the courtyard, towards the fountain. When she reached it, she rested her elbows on the edge and stared into the water, watching as it drifted in all directions. Unlike her life. It would always be headed in one, painful direction.
“Rough morning?” Asked a male voice. Leylina didn’t even bother glancing upwards. She could recognise that voice anywhere.
“I suppose you could call it that.” She ran her fingers along the fountain’s marble surface.
“Was it an argument? With your mother?” The boy imitated her stance, his elbows resting against the fountain’s edge on her right. They were so close that their shoulders brushed as he leaned forward, his gaze piercing the water’s surface.
Leylina looked at him. His shaggy, dark brown hair had fallen over his hazel eyes. A lopsided grin she knew all too well formed on his face as she brushed the strands of hair behind his ears.
“How do you always know these things?” Leylina asked, sighing.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because I’ve known you for almost sixteen years, Ley?”
“Sixteen years. I can’t believe I’m still here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sixteen years is a very long time to spend with a person like you, Konan. I’m surprised I haven’t killed myself yet.”
“Aw, that’s so kind of you,” Konan playfully punched her on the shoulder.
“You shouldn’t hit girls.” She said, and tut-tuted while wagging a finger in front of his face.
“You’re absolutely right. Especially when they’re a princess. A princess who could probably kill a dragon just by staring at it.”
“I never thought I’d say this, but - you’re probably right about that.”
“But in all seriousness - what was the argument about?” Konan had a concerned look on his face.
“I don’t really want to talk about it, Ko.”
“Why not? It must be something serious then. You know you can always tell me anything.” He stood up from the fountain, and crossed his arms.
Leylina turned her body around so that her back was to the fountain and she was facing him. “I know, I know. Fine. Mother thinks that I’m at an age...an age when I should...”
“When you should what?”
“When I should take into consideration...you know...”
“You’ve lost me.”
Leylina rolled her eyes. “She wants me to get married, Konan.”
Konan stood there, his mouth wide open, his eyes unblinking.
“Married?” He sounded like someone was holding a knife at his throat. “Are you serious? But you’re only fifteen!”
“That’s what I told her. But she says sixteen is generally the age where young women get married, so engagement would have to happen before then.” Leylina felt like she wanted to throw up.
Neither of them said anything for a while - they both resumed their positions staring into the water of the fountain.
“I don’t even know if I want to get married at all.” Leylina said. “It would be nice to live your whole life as free as a bird, you know? Without belonging to someone.”
“Or at least spending your whole life with someone who...who loves you. Who cares about you.”
Leylina looked up at Konan. He was staring at her, a look of utter dismay she had never seen before.
“Not that any husband you would ever have wouldn’t love or care about you,” Konan went on. “You’re beautiful. To not love you would be like looking up at a gorgeous dove and thinking, ‘what an ugly creature that is.’ You deserve to have someone whose love you appreciate and return.”
Leylina’s face suddenly felt very hot.
“You never know. Maybe someday, somewhere, I’ll meet the son of a Duke or a Lord or some kind of noble who I will fall in love with and live happily ever after with.”
“Or maybe you’ll live your life as a beautiful dove whose wings have been clipped, locked up in a cage that, on your deathbed, you’ll know you put yourself in that cage. You chose not to spread your wings when you still could, you chose not to fly away when you still had the chance. And you will regret it.”
“I will never have that chance,” Leylina said, putting her arm on Konan’s. “You know that.”
“I could give you that chance, Ley.”
Their gaze met. “What do you mean?”
“We have known each other since we were kids,” he explained. “We have grown up together. We’ve taught ourselves all that we need to know for the life we want to live. Why not live that life together?”
“I’m still confused. What are you saying?”
“I’m saying - we could escape all of this. We could run away. We could climb those walls,” he said, pointing to the palace walls that surrounded them. “And never look back.”
“You’re being irrational. We would be living our lives in fear.”
“It’s better than not living your life at all.” He brushed a loose curl behind her ear. She pushed his hand away.
“Konan, please,” she said, desperately. “You know we could never do that. We’d never get away with it.”
“Listen to yourself, Leylina,” he said, resting the hand on her shoulder. “You’re choosing not to take a chance that you may never have again.”
“You’re like a brother to me, Ko, but you’re a servant. If anyone was to find us running from the palace, you would be arrested. Probably killed. I could never risk anything like that.”
Konan sank to the ground, his back against the fountain. Leylina joined him.
“I know. I’m not thinking straight. I just...I can’t believe that someday you’re going to be taken away from me. And for some man who won’t deserve you.”
“I’m not engaged yet,” Leylina rebutted. “I’m still here.”
They sat in silence for a while. Leylina rested her head against his shoulder, and closed her eyes.
“You look beautiful in that dress,” Konan said softly, breaking the precious silence.
“Thank you. I’m meeting the Duke of Caelum’s son today.”
“Remember to be polite. Smile. Curtsy. Don’t curse or snort or grunt or throw up on him. And don’t throw any unexpected punches.”
Leylina laughed. “But I can throw expected punches?”
“Only if he’s being naughty.”
This made her laugh even more. “I had better get going. Mother will be having a fit.”
“Me, too. Wèline wants me to do some work in the guests’ sleeping quarters. Probably for the Duke and his son, I suppose.”
Konan stood, and offered his hand for Leylina. She took it gratefully, and planted a friendly kiss on his cheek.
“Don’t try any risky escape plans without me,” she said as she walked back into the palace.

Keep Reading

Chapter 23

Chapter Twenty-Three ~ Tasmin

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