Warning: This story is heavily inspired by those boring old lady movies that are usually black and white. Do not be surprised if you find yourself falling asleep during the reading process. And now let the boredom begin.
Act I: The Cotillion
“Do you prefer the red, or the black?”
The Duchess’ handmaiden asked, presenting two beautiful flower headdresses before her, looking very excited.
The Duchess didn't seem to be interested, as she was not looking forward to the upcoming moments.
“It doesn’t matter, Betje.” She boredly replied. “I never wanted to be part of this event.”
“Cheer up, dearie.” The handmaiden, Betje, tried to assure. “You know your parents hold this banquet every eight months, and how it means a lot to them.”
The Duchess sighed. “Perhaps. But you do know they are only trying to marry me off to some prince.”
“They only want what is best for you,” Betje remarked. “And I think you will make a wonderful archduchess!”
Before the Duchess could respond, Betje noticed the position of the clock on the wall, the little hand on the VII, and the big hand on the XII. She made a small squeak of alarm and quickly finished tying the Duchess’ gown and gave her the red headdress, which matched nicely with her crimson ball gown.
“Off you go now! Have fun!” She hurried the Duchess out of the dressing room in the nick of time.
Going down the stairs in a giant hoop skirt proved difficult for the Duchess, but she managed to get down the whole flight without falling. As usual, the banquet was abundant with many guests, all in beautiful wear. In the crowd, she caught sight of her parents talking to someone else she couldn't identify. Her mother saw her and beckoned her to come.
“Anika! We’re so glad you bothered to come down!” The Duchess’ father greeted her. “ There’s someone we want you to meet.”
The Duchess, Anika knew exactly where this was going as her mother started to introduce the person he was talking with. He was dressed in a dashing suit partially concealed by a sleek black coat finished with gold trim, matching boots, topped with a moderately wide-brimmed cavalier hat; there was also a small white rabbit perched on his right shoulder.
“Anika. This is Prince Nohr of Holland. Nohr, This is my daughter, Anika.”
“How do you do?” Nohr asked, fixing his bowtie.
Anika’s gaze was fixed on the rabbit on Nohr’s shoulder, but still managed a placid hello.
“If you are wondering, his name is Sverre.” Nohr said, stroking the rabbit. “His name means ‘troublemaker.’”
Anika smiled. For some unknown reason, she did not find herself cringing at this prince, like she usually does with ones that she had previously met. Maybe this man would be different from the others. Maybe he would be the one, She thought to herself.
“He sure is darling,” Anika complimented the soft white rabbit. “I sure hope to see him in the future.”
“I do intend to return tomorrow or the next day.” Nohr stated. “I have some unfinished business to go about with your parents.”
“Alright.” Anika responded. “I shall see you again soon, Nohr of Holland.”
“As will I, Duchess Anika of Denmark.” Nohr declared, slowly backing away. “Perhaps we could rule this kingdom together. Just think, you could be the Beatrice to my Dante; The Cinderella to my Prince Charming; The Juliet to my Romeo!”
As Nohr was turning to leave, the rabbit, Sverre, was glaring at him.
“‘Unfinished business’? Are you trying to act like a deranged fugitive?” He quietly hissed.
Nohr gently pressed his finger against Sverre’s muzzle. “Hush, Sverre. Rabbits don’t talk. Things will fall into place just fine.” He assured before leaving the banquet fashionably early.
Act II: The Blade
The streets of the marketplace were quite full today, Anika thought to herself. But overall, it was nice to be out. Sometimes, she likes to escape the responsibilities of royalty and go into town disguised as a peasant. She feels it helps her mind cope with things. In this scenario, She was pondering about Nohr and whether he would be a suitable successor to the throne; and is he a suitable match for Anika? Perhaps she would come to terms with it soon. As she was walking through the streets, she heard some commotion up ahead. As she pushed herself up to the front of the crowd, she saw one of the stands being robbed. As the duchess, she decided to do something about this. These were her people, and she would not let any of them be subject to such things. But before she could even make a move, a cloth peddler stopped what he was doing and pulled a sword from another stand and confronted the thief, who also pulled out a weapon. Anika was amazed at the swordsmanship of this peasant, for not even she knew how to take part in such a majestic form of combat. She was especially surprised when he knocked the weapon out of the thief's hand, causing them to back down and flee. The streets applauded, but the peddler simply put the sword back where he found it and continued his work like nothing happened. That was when Anika decided to go up to him.
“That was very impressive. You should be proud of yourself.” She commended.
The peddler shrugged. “It was nothing.”
“Nothing?” Anika shouted. “You have mastered ten years worth of sword techniques at the very least!”
“Ten years or two, I am only glad that I was there to assist your people, Duchess.” The peddler replied.
Anika took a step back. “How do you know who I am?” She startledly questioned, thinking that her disguise was very convincing.
“I have seen your face many times before.” The peddler responded.
Anika stayed silent for a moment before saying anything else. “Thank you again. Not even I know how to hold a sword, let alone any other kind of self-defense.”
“That’s dangerous.” The peddler mentioned. “You could easily get hurt.”
“Nonsense.” Anika laughed. “I have guards.”
The peddler recoiled. “Sometimes, your guards can let their guards down, no pun intended.”
Anika thought for a moment before answering. He did have a point there. "Okay." She decided. “I will learn, but only if you teach me.”
The peddler seemed flattered. “I’d… be happy to. Say, why don’t you meet me at the top of that old tower tomorrow and I can teach you my ways.”
“I’ll be there,” She promised. “ You probably already know, but my name is Anika.”
The peddler shook hands with her. “I’m Einar,” He introduced. “And your new mentor that you will be seeing tomorrow.”
“I probably should be getting back to the palace, shouldn't I?” Anika remarked. “Someone might notice I’m gone. But I will return tomorrow, Einar.”
“And I will wait for that moment.” Einar said.
Act III: More than a Duchess
Anika cautiously put away her sword in the back of the closet before she tumbled onto her bed, giggling. She had been training with Einar for months now, and Anika had to admit that she had been growing quite fond of him. Not only was he a great mentor, he was also a wonderful friend. She wondered whether it would be a good idea to tell her parents about him and her secret training. She did not know how they would react, but the idea made her shiver. Or maybe it was just the draft in her room. Anika noticed that her window was open. She got up to close it, but something outside caught her attention. It was Nohr, pacing back and forth by the stone fountain. Of course, Anika left the window open to eavesdrop. She only caught every other sentence, but it sounded like some sort of dispute between Nohr and Sverre.
“I don’t know what to do, Sverre.”
“Well, you better figure out something, or we’re screwed!”
“Maybe I could…”
“That sounds like your worst decision yet.”
“ Fine. Maybe while I… you could…”
“Excuse me? Do I look like a chocolate bunny imported from Belgium to you?”
“Alright. I’m sorry. Let’s just…”
“Okay. Let’s hope it will run smoothly. We don’t have time for…”
“You’re right. Let’s just sleep on it.”
Anika was astonished by the talking rabbit, and was curious to know what they were talking about. But it was late at night, and she did hear enough to jump to any conclusions. She closed the window and collapsed on her bed, drifting into Dreamland immediately.
The following afternoon Anika was getting ready for yet another sword session with Einar. She was excited, for this was her final lesson as a competent. She quietly crept down the stairs, her sword concealed in her cloak. However, when she entered the throne room, she saw Einar, talking with her parents. At first she was shocked to see him here, but then realized that he was only selling them fine cloth.
“This white silk is the finest fabric I own.” Einar was presenting. “Is this what you have in mind?”
“Yes! Excellent!” The Archduchess squealed. “Betje could use that to make a stunning dress for the duchess!”
“Indeed,” The archduke nodded. “I can see her now, walking down that aisle, looking more graceful than ever.”
White silk? Dress? Aisle? Anika tensed with irritation before storming out in the open.
“Are you trying to arrange a marriage without talking to me about it?!” Anika asked angrily.
“The shorter answer is yes,” Anika’s mother, the Archduchess, admitted. “But your father and I noticed how well you and Nohr were getting along and we came to a conclusion.”
“One I didn't agree to!” Anika retorted.
“We have already consulted Nohr and planned your wedding with love.” The Archduke explained.
Anika opened her mouth to protest, but no words came out. She knew there was only one way to handle this. She looked back at Einar. He nodded confidently. Anika then took a deep breath.
“There is something I have been meaning to tell you for a while now,” Anika confessed. “I have been sneaking out of the palace for a while. I know this peddler here personally; He has been teaching me self-defense skills and such. And not only that, he is an amazing person.”
Anika’s parents were speechless. She did not know whether it was out of surprise or horror, but she continued speaking.
“I may be a duchess, but I am also a woman. And I feel that I should be able to make some of my own decisions. And my decision is… Since you would hate for this lovely wedding you planned to go to waste, I wish to get married to Einar.” Anika finished. “If he will have me.”
Now everyone was speechless. Anika’s mother broke the temporary silence.
“I.. never knew that you felt that way, dear.” She said remorsefully. “And you are absolutely right. You are an adult woman too, and you should be able to make bigger decisions of your own. And if you would like to be betrothed to our cloth peddler rather than Nohr, I suppose me and your father could arrange that, if that is what Einar wants?” She looked over at Einar, waiting for an answer.
“Yes!” Einar immediately responded. “I would want nothing more!”
The Archduke and Archduchess exchanged glances and smiled. They trusted their best peddler to be the next duke, and if their daughter was happy, so were they. But one problem is how Nohr would take the news.
Act IV: The Grand Finale
Some weeks later, a magnificent wedding was held, planned by the Archduke and Archduchess. The stained glass windows reflected the beautiful sunshine rays on the sleek floors. Einar and Anika were saying their marriage vows before the priest, While the guests were holding back tears.
“Einar, do you take the duchess to be your wife?” The priest asked.
“I do.” Einar replied.
“And do you, Duchess Anika, take this man to be your husband, and rule beside you as the duke of this kingdom?”
“I do.” Answered Anika.
The priest looked up from the book and faced the audience. “Speak now, or forever hold your peace.”
“Me! Pick Me! I object!” A voice called from the back. The speaker took a step forward, revealing himself as Nohr. Anika and Einar looked in his direction.
“Yes, I was informed that I would have no part to play in this wedding. Which is a shame, because I was looking forward to being the Archduke of this kingdom. ‘Twas what my father wanted. For me to jointly rule both my kingdom and this one.”
“Archduke?” Anika questioned. “Einar is to be the Duke of my kingdom.”
“I know.” Nohr responded. Just then, several other people emerged from behind him.
“Are you… planning to kill the Archduke?!” Einar blurted out, preparing himself for a fight.
“Me? Heavens, no! That would make me a regicidal maniac! I have some friends to ‘execute’ the task.” Nohr replied, laughing at his own joke.
Anika stepped down from the altar. “It appears we will have to postpone my wedding for various reasons.” She said, pulling two swords from the wall and tossing one to Einar. “Guards, get ready to fight.
Nohr took a step back. “Sverre, keep the guests calm.” He ordered. Sverre jumped from Nohr’s shoulder and ran to the center of the room, acting cute and innocent. This was Nohr’s chance to flee from the building. Anika was not going to let him get away; she went running after him.
Anika almost lost sight of Nohr in the crowded streets, but managed to catch up to him and confront him a the top of the tower she and Einar trained at. Nohr pulled out his sword and readied his battle stance.
“You’re making a big mistake.” He implied.
“I’m professionally trained.” Anika answered before lunging towards him. Nohr evaded the attack with ease, causing Anika to stagger backwards. Nohr took this moment to swerve behind and attack. Anika quickly turned and blocked the offense. She then used her strength to thrust Nohr away from her, resulting in him collapsing. Nohr didn't stay down for long; he used a rolling technique to pick himself up and try to slash at Anika, in which she rebuffed with her sword in a way that caused Nohr’s sword to fall away from his hand. Anika quickly grabbed it and confronted Nohr with both her sword and his. Nohr knew that there was nothing he could do to counter this, so he merely slumped down on the cold stone floor of the tower.
“I must admit, you are very skilled with the blade.” Nohr murmured.
Two guards emerged from behind Anika. “I told you so.” She said, giving the swords to each guard. “You can deal with this menace,” Anika told them. “I have a wedding to return to.”
The wedding was resumed. Anika and Einar were happily married and the two ruled together as duke and duchess, and kept the thieves and such at bay as a side job. They truly were great rulers of their kingdom.
⚔ 💕 fin. 💕 ⚔