cw: character death
“Do you, Queen Marabelle Valentina Caspien of the Fifth Region, take Prince Geoffrey Benjamin Findlay III of the Twelfth Region to be your lawfully wedded husband?” The priest intones.
I pause, suddenly unsure of what I was doing. What am I even doing here? I wonder.
My racing thoughts are interrupted by my soon-to-be husband. He’s tightening his hold on my hand in a vise-like grip. “Marabelle, remember our agreement,” He whispers, his breath heavily tinged with the scent of alcohol.
I tremble, trying desperately to remember why I was doing this. I was doing this for my people, for my kingdom, for Jay. I take a shaky breath, steadying my heart and whisper the words that would seal my fate forever.
“I do,” A vow, a promise that I never thought I would make to this man or any man who wasn’t Jay.
I closed my eyes, for a second, just to be free of this horrible nightmare I was living in. I didn’t expect something to be living underneath my eyelids. Something I swore I wouldn’t relive ever again, but the colors swirled around me. And when I opened my eyes again I was in a different place.
Eight Years Ago
“Mara! Come on, you slowpoke,” Jay yelled from the top of the grassy hill. When I arrived at the top, he taunted, “Why are you so slow?” He gave me that cheeky grin that made me want to hug him and slap him across the face at the same time.
“Not everyone has your ability to race up a hill and you’re not wearing a dress like I am.” I stuck out my tongue.
“I could wear one,” He smirked. “We’re about the same size,” He started near me, looking me up and down. I heaved a heavy breath, lungs ready to explode at any moment. He held out a hand to help me up but I slapped it away.
“I hate you,” I grumbled, straightening up, smoothing the wrinkles on my skirt.
“You love me,” He responded immediately. We had been nine or ten at the time, but my heart fluttered. In my head I knew I couldn’t love him, he was the son of a nobody nobleman. He had no status or riches, and I had to marry a prince. But there’s something about the way your heart works, where it defies everything you ever ask of it.
I didn’t respond.
The colors spun and weaved another memory around me, one that was tucked in the back of my head. Never to be shown light again.
Three Years Ago
Meet me in the library at 14:00. - J
I could recognize his messy handwriting anywhere. We hadn’t been seeing each other lately, me being too busy with princess duties and him taking over his estate after the death of his father.
Finally we were in the same place at the same time for more than two minutes. I darted around the corner, making sure to keep out of sight from the guards. I hoped Madame Aadhya would be too busy screaming about the mice in her room, to worry about teaching me--which I knew nothing about, by the way.
I crept into the library, the musty smell of old papery books filling my senses. “Princess?” The librarian, Mr. Scola, asked. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have tutoring?”
“Umm, Madame Aadhya canceled, due to, ummm, rodent infestation.” I stuttered, hoping he would buy my story. My eyes darted around, looking for Jay. “Can I have some, umm, alone time?” I asked.
“Of course, my princess,” he bowed and prowled away. Though he was probably my favorite person in the entire palace, he can be a bit creepy at times.
“Jay?” I whispered, moving in between the shelves looking for him.
A hand grabbed my wrist. I whirled around ready to hit them, but Jay’s face came into view. He looked worse from the last time I saw him last year at his father’s funeral.
Dark circles lined the undersides of his eyes like bruises. His frame was skinny and his clothes were loose on him. He pulled me into one of the maid’s cleaning closets, locking the door behind us. “How have you been?” He asked, stepping away from me.
“How have I been?” I shrieked. “Look at yourself! You look like you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in ages. What have you been doing at your family estate?”
He ran a hand through his hair, a habit that he’s had since his youth. That was one of the only signs that I saw that told me he was stressed. “I lost my family’s estate,”
“What?” I stopped my tirade. “How?” I whispered. That estate had been in his family for over five generations.
“Debtors came around a couple months back, asking for the money that my father owed them. But,” He gave me a strange smile, one that gave me chills. “What do you know? He spent all of it at a gambling den. So they seized the house as ‘payment’” He ran his hands through his hair and took a deep breath.
“Why are we meeting in secret? Does my mother know you’re here?” I asked, but I had already guessed the answer. My mother hated anyone who was below the status of a viscount and even that was pushing it.
“It is surprisingly easy to sneak into the palace if you know the servant entrances.” He attempted to smile, but there’s a sadness in it that wasn’t there before.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked, reaching out to him. He flinched back, moving farther away from me.
“This was a bad idea,” He muttered. “I should leave,” He turned to go, but I caught his shoulder.
“Please, let me in,” I gave him a small smile. “We could race to the hill and we could talk, just like old times.” I offered.
“But it’s not like old times, Mara, we’re older. We can’t do that anymore.” For a second it looked like he was close to tears, but I blinked and his face was stony.
“Why are you blocking me out like this, what did I do?” I pleaded. “Tell me how to fix this,” I gestured to the space between us.
“You’re getting married--” He started and I gaped at him.
“What? Since when?” I asked. “No matter what my mother says, I’m not getting married to some random royal who’s rich. I want to marry someone who loves me for who I am.” I tried to keep the rush of warm blood from my face, but I could feel my face heating up. The closet was big enough for us to be about arm's length apart, but I could feel him in the room. “What’s this really about?” I said, planting my hands on my hips, letting go of his arm.
“Nothing.” He said a bit too quickly, crossing his arms in a defensive manner.
“Jay,” I reached out an arm and this time he didn’t pull away. “Do you want to talk about something?”
He mumbled something along the lines of “love...with...”
“What?” I asked. “Speak up.”
“I’m in love with you,” The words filled the room and made me go still. I had been in love with him since I was ten years old and now I learn he likes me back. I must have been silent for too long because he rushed out the door. Away from me.
I unfroze and dashed after him. “Jay! Wait!” He turned around.
“For what? You don’t like me back and all you’re going to do now is break my heart for daring to express my love for you.” Jay snapped.
“No.” I said with such conviction, his eyes immediately locked with mine. “I would never do that,” I paused. “Because I love you too,”
His lips parted. “Really?” He asked.
The last word out of my mouth before blackness closed in on me was, “Yes,”
All the colors. There are so many colors behind my lids that I didn’t know were there before. Glimpses of memories rushed before me.
One Year Ago
We were kissing and whispering sweet nothings into each others’ ears.
I convinced Mother to claim Jay’s family estate back and give it to him.
We were holding hands in public, affectionately touching each other in front of others.
Then the entire mood changed. Something that rocks everything out of it’s roots and crushes it.
War, between many of the Regions. The Fifth region was landlocked, between all of the warring countries. We had to choose a side. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, what skirmish started this entire war, but I do remember going to the front lines with Jay to rally the losing troops.
We were attacked. They dropped smoke bombs into the camp. No one could see anything and some of our soldiers had allied with the other side. They had been giving information on when and how to strike, to leave our side defenseless and without hope.
Jay and I stumbled out of our tent, holding onto each other. Somehow we got separated. At some point our hands let go and he got swept up in the rush of soldiers trying to fight the unseeable foes.
I tripped around the camp, trying to look for familiar faces and walk straight without tripping.
“Found you, Princess.” A man twirled a knife on his palm. “The captain said if I found you, I could kill you. It’s quite an honor to kill you, Your Highness.” He smiled and sketched a bow. Before straightening and twirling the knife again. “Good luck in the afterlife,” He cocked his arm and threw.
I was frozen, I couldn’t move. I was too shocked. “Mara!” Jay’s voice was faint. I braced for the sharp tip to hit my skin, but it never happened.
I opened my eyes to find Jay in front of me. He fell in slow motion, a dark red stain growing on his stomach.
“Nooo!” I howled, dropping to my knees. I don’t remember what happened to the man who killed my Jay and I don’t remember much of the aftermath.
All I remember feeling was numb.
Then Geoffrey came into the picture.
He was the perfect image of a prince. My mother begged me to marry him, but I was still mourning Jay. I couldn't dishonor his memory like that.
Then the attacks. The Seventh and Eighth Region had seen weak spots in our border and took advantage of our broken state. Geoffrey's father's army saved us.
He agreed to give us his army, if I married him. My mother, of course, said yes. He was a prince, he had an army, he was the sole heir of the Twelfth Region--in short, he was everything Jay hadn't been.
I foolishly agreed; I thought he would love me, care for me, be Jay for me, but how wrong I was.
He wanted our land, my power on the throne. The Twelfth Region would be the most powerful and intimidating of all the lands, he would use that to conquer those who tried to rise up against him.
A sharp snap in front of me makes me open my eyes. My vision clears and Geoffrey is standing there staring at me. In fact, everyone is staring at me.
"What?" I quietly ask the priest.
"You may kiss the bride, Your Highness," He frowned.
Geoffrey leaned in and I didn't pull away. A cheer rose from the crowd behind us, but I couldn't hear them.
I was drifting away, confined in my terrible new fate, but happy in my memories.