Breakfast is normally my favorite meal of the day. Eggs, sausages, potatoes, and toast with jam. Breakfast also means a new day where anything is possible. Maybe I’ll get to take a walk down to the seaside. Maybe I can sneak into my father’s court proceedings and learn how to rule one day. Maybe I’ll get to see the blacksmith and get my hands on yet another fine weapon that my parents disapprove of.
But today is different. Today's breakfast means that in less than six hours I’ll be married to someone I’ve never met before. I’ll be shipped off to a country I’ve never been to with a man who probably can’t do anything but start wars and starve his people. No, today's breakfast isn’t looking so good at all.
I make my way down to the dining hall with shaking legs. Father is seated at the head of the table, reading court papers. Mother is across from him, drinking tea and reading the guest list for the wedding this evening.
I’ve been preparing for this breakfast for weeks. The thought of marriage sends cold sweat down my spine. I’m only eighteen. Not old enough to rule my own kingdom.
My father says he needs to make political alliances before we are taken over by the enemy. I’ve prepared for this. We don’t need a bigger army. What we need is a ruler that knows how to fight. I’ve been secretly studying to fight with some of the guards. We need a leader that is well seasoned in adventuring. Someone that knows about all the different creatures of the land. We also need someone charismatic and who knows when it's time to talk and when it's time to fight.
My father got all this training and more before he became king. He was sent off for three years on his eighteenth birthday to learn the ways of the world before he ruled it. I want to do the same.
I quickly walk into the room and sit at the table as a servant puts down a plate in front of me. It’s silent except for the sound of rustling paper and the clinking of fine porcelain. My father notices me as the servant walks away.
“Ahh, Adaline,” he greets me. “Look here! Your betrothal to Prince Volodar is the headline today. Seems the common folk are happy to see their princess growing into womanhood.” He takes a big bite of his morning sausage. “‘Ey ‘r’ callin’ you the ‘People’s Prin’ess.”
I take a deep breath. “Father, I would like to talk to you about that. I don’t wish to be married.”
The reaction is exactly what I expected. My mother drops her teacup, splashing tea all over her papers. My father chokes on his sausage for a moment before a servant comes to pat him on the back. After a tense moment he coughs it up.
“You don’t wish to be married?”
“No,” I respond, more to my plate than to him. “You see, I’m only eighteen. That’s very young for a girl to be married. And I haven’t even met Prince Volodar, how do I know that I love him?” The words were tumbling out in a rush now, not at all how I intended it. “I haven’t even seen the world yet.”
My father cuts me off. “You have so seen the world. You’re out and about in the city every other day, even though I wish you wouldn’t. Is that not enough for you?”
“No, my trips into the city are perfectly pleasant. I just mean, I want to see the world like you did. Just me and my best friend Iolena, off on an adventure to see faraway places and conquer dragons, fight off dark magic and sleep by the fire. Our people need a leader who knows how to protect them.”
My mother looks faint.
“You? Fighting dragons and monsters and Gods know what else,” my father berates me. “No. You are my only heir. I will not have you risking life and limb for some foolish dream.” He points to my plate with his fork. “Now, eat your breakfast.”
I didn’t expect it to go this poorly.
“But father, when I’m old enough to rule the people-”
“Rule the people,” he cuts me off again, voice rising and veins popping. “Adaline, the people aren’t yours to rule. You are marrying Prince Volodar because he is the best choice to take over the kingdom. You’re only a woman. You aren’t fit to rule.” His voice rose to a shout in the last sentence.
“I am so fit to rule! And I would be an even better ruler if you would let me go out to explore the world,” I shout back at him.
He scoffs. “Prince Volodar has enough experience for both of you. He’s a seasoned adventurer and swordsman. I hear he even knows a fair bit of magic. He’s a worthy choice.”
“As heir to the throne, it’s my job to rule the people when I come of age.”
“As the female heir-ess to the throne,” he says, “your job is to marry a man I deem worthy of the title of king!”
He cuts me off in anger a third time. “Do your duty as future queen of your people. I will speak no more of this.”
He picks up his court papers and buries his nose in them again, not even glancing at me as I storm out of the room with clenched fists.
It’s not fair, I think to myself as I march to the armory. Men are allowed to go out and adventure. Defeat demons and win back kingdoms. I have to stay here where I can be “the People’s Princess.”
I pick up my finest rapier and begin slashing at the hay-filled dummy in the courtyard.
I can’t even entertain the thought of marrying a man for longer than a few moments before I’m overcome with a feeling of vomiting. My heart races and my hands grow cold and sweaty. I feel a tightening sensation around my chest like my ribs are squeezing all of the air out of my lungs.
My rapier slips from my sweaty hands with my next swipe at the dummy. I fall to the ground as I lose my balance.
A high, melodious laugh fills the air around me.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to fall on the battlefield,” calls out a familiar accented voice. I twist around and see a tall woman with a face that radiates beauty.
She has dark hair down past her waist, with skin that seems to glitter in the sunlight. Her eyes shine like gemstones and I can see the tips of pointed ears sticking out through her hair. As I turn, she smiles at me.
“I hear the king and queen put women to death for fighting in their army.”
I stand, wiping the dirt off my hands and onto my dress.
“Well then, it's a good thing I’m not a soldier.”
She laughs at me again.
“Adaline, it's good to see you,” she says as she pulls me into a hug.
“It’s good to see you too, Iolena.” I linger in the hug just a moment too long, drinking in the lavender smell of her hair. Am I imagining it, or does she seem reluctant to pull away from the hug as well?
She pulls away and looks at my face.
“I’m not here for the wedding,” she says. “I’m just here to wish you luck before.”
This surprises me. She should’ve been invited. Iolena and I have been friends for our entire lives. Her mother was my mother’s midwife.
“I suppose that commoners aren’t exactly the first choice of guests for a royal wedding.” She narrows her eyes slightly as she says this. Iolena has hated the monarchy ever since we found out that I wasn’t able to rule by myself. That I have to have a husband to do it for me.
“Why can’t you rule alone,” she would always ask me. “You can be the queen and I can be your royal advisor. Then we never have to leave each other.”
I pat her arm to console her.
“I’m sure they meant nothing by it. Prince Volodar must have a large family.”
“Oh, so that’s his royal mysterious-ness’s name,” she says with an eye roll and an edge to her voice.
“Why are you being like this Iolena,” I ask her, a bit annoyed.
“Being like what,” she asks, clearly irritated.
“You know what. You’re acting like I have a choice in any of it.” I sit down on the ground hard.
She hesitates for a moment before sitting down beside me.
“I’m sorry,” she confesses after another moment. “I don’t want my best friend shipped off with someone we don’t know.” She rests her head on my shoulder. “I wish we could just run away together, like we talked about as kids. Slaying dragons, rescuing towns, finding treasure.” I lay my head on hers.
“Can I confess something to you,” I ask her, my eyes burning with tears.
“Of course Ada,” she replies.
“I’ve never said this out loud,” I start, “but the thought of getting married petrifies me. Every time I think about it my heart races and I can’t breathe and I get all sweaty. I’ve always known it's my duty to my people, but I can’t even entertain the thought without wanting to vomit.”
She chuckles a little at this.
“Don’t worry Ada,” she says. “If you vomit in the abbey I’ll make sure it doesn't get on your dress.” We both start giggling at the thought.
We sit there for a few more minutes, neither of us saying anything. Just enjoying each other’s company.
Before either of us are ready, my lady’s maids appear in the courtyard, ready to whisk me away to my certain doom. I give Iolena one last hug. I walk across the courtyard to where my maids stand waiting. Just before I enter, Iolena calls out to me.
“Just remember-” she stops suddenly. She appears to be debating something. Then she shakes her head and says “just remember you’re always going to be my best friend.” Then she turns around and walks out the front gate.
I follow my lady’s maids to my chamber. The mannequin where my dress used to be is wrapped in chains and shackles, no dress in sight.
“Isn’t it beautiful Princess,” my maid asks me. I gape at her. Is this some sort of cruel prank? I turn back to the mannequin and see that the wedding dress has returned, not a chain or a lock in sight.
“Yes,” I say quickly, hoping they didn’t notice my horror.
My maids busy themselves with getting me ready. They attempt conversation with me several times, but I can’t stop looking at the dress, worried that at any moment it will transform back into chains.
As they ready me, I can’t help but think about the roast pig I saw the cook preparing for dinner. I am that pig. My maids are making me more appetizing with spices and fats before they throw me on a spit and roast me over the fire for the prince to devour.
Before I know it, I’m completely ready and they are ushering me on. As we enter the entry hall, I look in the giant mirror on the back of the doors. My reflection isn’t there. Where it should be sits a bride.
The carriage waits like a funeral hearse. I climb in, limbs even stiffer than the bodies that a hearse would carry. On the ride to the abbey, wellwishers line the streets and cheer in happiness for “the People’s Princess”, but the blood is rushing in my ears too loudly to hear them. My legs are shaking so badly I worry that the nails holding the carriage together will undo themselves.
My parents sit across from me, relaxed and smiling. I think they’re chatting about which of the many aristocrats they think will give me the most gold as a wedding gift, but their words sound like a foreign language.
After what feels simultaneously like an eternity and only a few seconds, we reach the abbey. My parents exit first and they wait for me just outside. As I put weight on my legs, I feel them go numb. My mother takes one of my arms in hers.
“Are you alright dearest? You look pale.”
Her words reach me sounding like they’re through a pane of glass. I nod stiffly as we continue up the many steps to the abbey.
“Good. I know I had terrible jitters before I married your father. Now, you are going to wait in the entrance hall until the doors open. Your father and I will be seated in the front. Then you can walk down the aisle where your father will take your hand and give you away to the prince. Alright?” I don’t have time to respond before we enter and the doors to the abbey close behind us. She gives me a quick kiss on the cheek before following my father through another set of doors that close quickly behind them.
Time slows down as I stand there waiting. I hear shuffling as everyone settles down. My mouth is dry. I can hear someone speaking to the people. My heart is pounding. I hear music start beyond the doors. My legs buckle a little bit underneath me. The doors slowly swing open and I see the crowd stand in a blur.
I stand there. My legs won’t move. Someone in the crowd gives me a reassuring smile. I try to make my legs move again. They’re stuck to the ground as if with a spell.
“Do your duty,” I whisper to myself. My vision swims in and out of focus.
“Do your duty,” I whisper again, harsher. The music has stopped and people are starting to mutter.
“Do it. Move,” I mutter to my feet. “Do your job as future queen and marry this man.”
I look away from the floor and towards the front of the abby. I can see an elven man with silver-white hair. I focus on that silver and try to force my legs to move again. My legs finally move, but instead of forward, they turn me around and run me out the front of the building. My throat burns and nausea builds while I run through a gate and into the graveyard.
I hide behind a hedge while I start to heave. I haven’t eaten anything today so nothing comes out but a burning, yellowish liquid. I start crying and try to catch my breath.
“You can do this,” I say to myself. “Just turn around and go back inside. It’s your job as heiress.” But instead of turning around, I remember my conversation with Iolena.
She debated with herself before saying that she’d always be my friend. What was she trying to say? Beautiful Iolena, with eyes that shine like gemstones and skin that radiates with the glowing sun. I remember our conversations as children, how we always wanted to just run away together.
The idea hits me all at once. I run around to the front of the building and to the nearest of the guards.
“Sir, I need to borrow your horse,” I say.
He looks shocked.
“Give me your horse,” I shout at him. He quickly jumps off of it and I climb on.
I take off down the road, horse at full gallop. I have to do this quickly, before I lose my nerve. I know the way to Iolena’s family tavern by heart. It takes me only a few minutes to get there.
I jump off the horse and run inside. The patrons give me looks and a few bow as they notice the tiara on top of my head. I find her bringing a mug of ale to a table. I grab her arm and spin her around, sloshing ale everywhere. She’s confused when she sees me.
“Adaline? Aren’t you supposed to be getting married?”
I grip her arm tightly, so she can’t run away when she hears my crazy idea.
“Iolena, let’s run away together like we talked about as children.”
She studies my face. My eyes are wild, my makeup is smeared, and my tiara sits lopsided on my head.
“Adaline, maybe you should sit down.”
“No,” I cry, gripping her arm tight enough to leave a bruise. I grab her other arm now. “I’ve been in love with you ever since we were children, Iolena. Come with me. We can be together. No one to stop us. We can slay dragons together. Please Iolena, what do you say?”
She hesitates for a moment, then leans in and kisses me.
I feel like I can finally breathe again as we run to the horse together. Whatever happens here doesn’t matter. I’m no longer the heiress of my fathers kingdom. I’m the queen of the one Iolena and I build together.