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Fantasy Fiction

Princess Aoi sighed as she stared out the window of her office, daydreaming of taking a walk in the palace gardens and ignoring the heavy piles of documents in front of her.

“Is something the matter, Your Highness?” The palace tutor Giles Christophe looked up from his papers with concern.

“There’s so much to do, Giles,” she whispered. “I fear I’ll spend most my life reading and signing documents, giving attention to nothing but parchment.” She sat up in her chair and grabbed the next document from her unfinished pile. Giles set down the papers he was reading and strode over to her desk, taking the document she held.

“Giles?”

“It's time for your dance lessons anyhow, princess.” Giles laid the papers back on the unfinished pile. “Duke Howard should be in the dance hall waiting for you. I’ll have Nico prepare your favorite tea when you return.” Princess Aoi smiled, slowly rose from her desk and walked toward the office's large doors. Giles noticed her reluctance to leave her work, walking over and carefully opening them for her. “And don’t forget to smile for Louis. Everyone knows you have the most beautiful smile, Your Highness.” An embarrassed smirk showed on the princess’s face and she walked off towards the dance hall.

----

“You are distracted,” Duke Louis Howard remarked as the princess missed yet another step of the dance they’d practiced for weeks.

“I’m sorry.” She looked down at her shoes. They stopped moving only minutes into their lesson and the orchestra in the corner followed suit. “I was thinking about all the paperwork left on my desk in the office.”

“I see.” Louis turned to look out one of the tall windows of the hall. “Perhaps you would prefer we continue our lesson another day? You may find it easier to concentrate once some of those documents are in order.”

“Hopefully, but I feel that every day I receive twice the amount I finished the day before.” Louis stared at her small stature another moment before speaking again.

“Why don’t we stop for today, and we can continue tomorrow at the time your dance lessons normally occur?”

“But I have my equestrian lessons with Alyn at this time on days we don’t meet.”

“I’ll speak with Giles,” Louis said quickly. “Plan on tomorrow evening after your dinner. That should be plenty time to finish your work.” She showed a happy smile to Louis.

“Okay. Thank you, Louis.” The princess curtsied and walked quickly towards her office.

As she walked up one of the staircases, she noticed a small group of men standing near the top, talking enthusiastically. They were bureaucrats who visited the palace often to talk politics and argue about trading contracts with other countries. Among the older men was Leo Crawford, her teacher and the youngest of the men. He saw princess Aoi’s smiling face and bowed as she approached.

“A pleasure to see your smiling face today, Your Highness.” The other men stood flustered for a moment but quickly followed Leo’s lead, bowing deeply, and greeting the contrastingly small princess.

“And what might be the conversation today, Leo?”

“Nothing interesting, I can assure you, princess.” Leo and princess Aoi giggled at the protests from the other men.

“It is of upmost importance, Leo,” one man declared.

“Yes, Your Highness, we are speaking of our neighbor country, Stein.” The men all nodded.

“That country has been silent for years, and now King Byron Wagner decides he not only wants to start trading contracts with us, but also requests to visit the palace? The audacity of that man,” said another.

“Yes, well you can only expect so much from a king who took the crown at sixteen,” a kinder-looking bureaucrat said. “His father had such a reign of terror and he’s been trying to defuse the effects ever since, you know. This could be a very good thing for Stein’s citizens.” The bureaucrat Lloyd Grandier had traveled the world and was clearly more knowledgeable about Stein than the others. He leaned towards the princess, speaking no quieter than before. “Don’t worry about these judgmental men, Your Highness. I’m sure King Byron will be quite the gentleman in your presence.” Lloyd gave her a quick wink and a teasing smile.

Princess Aoi chuckled, gave the men a cute grin and curtsied. “Continue with your conversation, please. I must be heading back to the office now; Giles is waiting for me.” She gave a polite wave to Leo and Lloyd as she hurried off, letting the men’s loud words fade in the distance behind her.

----

Back in the office, she worked hard at her unfinished pile with Giles until dinnertime.

“Looks like we finished everything just in time today, princess,” Giles said with a wide smile. “Let us go. The kitchen has prepared a nice meal for you, tonight.” The princess happily stood and walked past the tall windows toward the doors, staring at the setting sun.

“You know Giles, I am glad to be the princess. I do love serving this country and my citizens, and I’m happy that I was chosen to be princess.” She turned to Giles with a nostalgic smile. “But sometimes I wish I could go back to being just a citizen again.” Giles stopped walking and stood looking at her as she waited by the door, still staring out the windows.

“I wonder…”

“What is it, Giles?” She turned to face him. Giles smirked.

“I wonder if you smiled as much back then as you do now.” The comment caught her off guard. She thought about nothing else all through dinner and as her personal attendant Nico Meier escorted her back to her chambers.

“You’ve been awful quiet tonight, princess,” Nico remarked as he closed the drapes over her windows. “Your usual smile is gone, too. Did something happen today?” Princess Aoi forced a smile for Nico and assured him she was only tired. Nico was unconvinced but wished her goodnight and left without protest. She laid down in bed, still pondering Giles’ words from before. I wonder if you smiled as much back then as you do now. Truthfully, she didn’t. She had lost her family early on in life, and other than the pupils she used to tutor, she didn’t have many friends. Drifting off into sleep, she recalled the day she was chosen to be the next princess.

In her country, when the King or Queen has no heir to the throne, women ages 19-21 are called to the palace from all over the country. The palace tutor chooses one girl out of the hundreds to be princess, and she then must choose from a small list of eligible men who will be prince consort, her eventual husband and future King. Princess Aoi was still overwhelmed by the prince consort decision, having to choose between Duke Louis Howard, bureaucrat Leo Crawford, captain of the royal guard Alyn Crawford, royal painter and bureaucrat Robert Branche, and now King Byron Wagner of their neighboring country Stein.

Princess Aoi lay in bed tossing and turning, thinking of all that had transpired since the day Giles had chosen her when a bright light from her window distracted her. Curious, she stood from her bed and followed the light onto her balcony where she found a glowing gold orb. Suddenly, its glow grew brighter until she couldn’t stand it anymore and shut her eyes as it enveloped her completely. When she opened them again, she was standing face-to-face with a gorgeous man with glowing dark skin, silver hair, and golden eyes.

“Hmm, quite unusual,” the man spoke in a low, comforting voice. “I haven’t been sent a princess in a long time.”

“Where am I,” Princess Aoi asked, feeling smaller than usual in the glowing man’s presence.

“Why, didn’t you call for me, little one? You said it yourself: you wish to go back to being a mere peasant citizen again. I am here to grant that wish.” Princess Aoi prepared herself to protest the man’s words but stopped to think about his offer seriously.

“I could really go back?” Her voice was quiet and soft, talking more to herself than the otherworldly being.

“Yes. However, I must preface this with how the process will work.” The man approached and lifted her chin to look into her eyes. “I’ve done this many times and found that I receive less complaints if I give people a trail period.”

“Trial period?”

“If you still wish to return to being the princess after 24 hours of experiencing life as a citizen again, with some minor changes to account for the time you became princess, I will reverse your wish, and everything will be as it should be. If you find that you prefer the life you experienced in these next 24 hours, I will let you remain there.” Aoi stared at his mesmerizing eyes, seriously contemplating the man’s words.

“Alright, but what price must I pay for this that you claim to provide?”

“Smart girl.” The man stood up straight, towering over her and tracing his finger along her jaw. “I suppose in your case, I shall take your beautiful smile.”

“My smile? That’s all?”

“Do not underestimate your smile, little one.” He placed a single finger on her lips. “It has much more power than you give credit for.” The man slowly turned and started walking away from her, gesturing for Princess Aoi to follow him. “You will be unable to smile for the 24 hour trial period, and if you choose to remain, I will keep your smile so long as you live.” Walking behind him through what she saw as blank nothingness, Princess Aoi touched her lips.

“I won’t be able to smile?” She lowered her hand slowly and looked up at the man. “But that seems such a small price to pay. Surely you’ve taken more from others before me?”

“I take from you creatures what others deem most important about you. For you, it was either your smile or your kindness. Life would be much too miserable without the latter, wouldn’t you agree?” Princess Aoi looked down at her feet and felt a sense of gratefulness as she considered a life without the ability to be kind to others compared to a life without the ability to smile.

“How will I find you if I wish to return to my life at the palace as the princess?”

“I will be around. If you find you are in need to call your journey short or you are in danger of losing your life before the 24 hours are through, use this.” The man snapped his fingers and a small orb similar to the one from earlier appeared before Aoi and fell into her hands.

“How do I use it?” Aoi’s words echoed into the dark as she looked up from her hands to see that the man was no longer in front of her. Glancing at her surroundings, she found herself in one of the many forests of her country. Looking down, she saw she was wearing worn and tattered clothes, much worse than anything she’d worn in her life. She noticed a distinct lack of shoes on her feet, too. With a sigh, she began walking through the dark wooded area in the direction of distant lights.

Aoi walked for what seemed like hours, cold and hungry until she finally came upon the city outside the palace. She walked through the dim streets feeling anxious. Dark silhouettes formed in the distance in front of her. Feeling scared, she turned around only to find another figure behind her. Aoi quickly walked down an alleyway connected to the street, still looking behind her. The figures followed down the alley, and Aoi attempted to start running only to find it led to a dead end. Oh no. She spun to face the four men that stood leering in front of her.

“Looks like we found a cute one, boys.” The men walked closer, towering over her.

“How much you think she’s worth, boss?” One of the men reached for Aoi’s arm and she immediately twisted away, looking around for anything she could defend herself with. A small light seemed to shine at the end of the alley.

“Won’t know until we bring her back with us, now will we?” The largest man forcefully grabbed at her shoulder. “Come on, little girl, show us a smile.”

“Leave me alone,” Aoi yelled as she shoved the man away. The light at the end of the alley grew brighter.

“Who’s back there?” The sound of clanging metal and hooves emerged, and lanterns came closer. That’s the night watch! Despite the pain she felt stab her lips, Aoi ran past the distracted men and towards the guards. Captain Alyn Crawford dismounted his horse and drew his sword at the shady men. Aoi hid behind Alyn.

“State your business being out so late,” Alyn demanded. The men seemed to cower at his presence, silent. “Fine. Either leave to your homes immediately or face arrest.” Clearly outnumbered, the men ran away past the guards. Relief passed over Aoi until she saw Alyn staring down at her sternly. “And you. What are you doing out at night? You should be home.” Aoi took a few steps back. I forgot; he doesn’t know who I am. The palace is the only “home” I can think of.

“I don’t…” Aoi looked around the small space where they stood. She couldn’t find the words to explain. Alyn looked at his accompanying guards, seeming to understand.

“Continue on tonight’s route, men. I’ll see to it she gets home safely.” The other guards left the alley as Alyn commanded. Aoi turned to face him, feeling a sharp pain at her mouth again.

“Thank you, sir, but I don’t know how to get home from here,” she said quietly. Alyn paused.

“Are you homeless?” Aoi looked at the ground shamefully. He was correct. She began to cry silently. Alyn grabbed the reins of his horse and walked over to her. “Your hand, please.” She complied and Alyn helped her onto his horse. Heading out of the alley, Alyn led farther into the city towards an inn. Once inside, they were greeted by a man behind the counter. “Wait here a moment,” he said as he sat her down on a small sofa and walked away to speak with the man.

Aoi took this time to look at her surroundings. It was quite a fancy inn. Expensive décor lined the walls, and the carpet fabric was clearly top of the line. The sofa she sat on felt the same as the sofa Aoi had in her bedroom at the palace. The sconces were similar to those in the palace halls, too. She felt almost out of place in the elegant room, and she noticed another dull pain at her lips and arm. Alyn soon returned holding a key.

“Follow me.” He led her to a room upstairs and unlocked the door, leading her inside. “You’ll stay here for the night. Don’t worry about paying the innkeeper, that’s all taken care of. From now on, don’t wander the streets alone. It’s dangerous.” Aoi nodded. He sighed deeply. “Look, if you can’t find somewhere to stay tomorrow, come back here. I’ll speak with the innkeeper.” She looked down at her bare feet, holding her arm that would soon be bruised where the men had grabbed her. “Do you need to see a doctor?”

“Why are you helping me? You don’t know me.” Her soft voice surprised him. He spoke confidently with a smile.

“I’m captain of the royal guard. It’s my duty to protect citizens of my country.” He stepped closer to Aoi, reaching for her chin and lifting her gaze. “There’s no need to look so sad now. Would you do me the honor of seeing your smile before I go?” His voice was gentile and sincere. Aoi’s mouth began to curve upwards instinctively, but a sharp, unbearable pain like a thousand knives stabbed at her lips again and made her flinch. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. It’s just a toothache.” She answered frantically, hiding her mouth and holding back tears. Alyn stood quiet for a moment.

“Alright. I’ll take my leave now. Sleep well, miss.” Alyn closed the door behind him and walked slowly down the hallway. Once she couldn’t hear his footsteps, Aoi fell to her knees and began sobbing. It had only been hours since she encountered the glowing man, and she managed to almost get kidnapped, disturb Alyn during his shift, and inconvenience a poor innkeeper. All that in a matter of hours, yet what made her truly miserable was after all he’d done to help her, Aoi couldn’t give Alyn a smile or return safe to her home.

           All through the rest of the night and hours into the daytime, Aoi didn’t leave the inn’s bed. Falling in and out of sleep and drifting between feeling hopeless and alone, she cried.

“My, my, what have we here?” A familiar glow lit up the room. Aoi looked up, drying the tears from her eyes. “It seems I may have gone too far.” Aoi jumped up and ran to hug the glowing man.

“Please, take me back! I want to go back now,” she sobbed into the man’s chest. He patted Aoi’s head comfortingly.

“You hardly experienced the day, little one. What makes you tremble so?”

“I don’t have my friends. I don’t have family to go home to. The people I love are so far out of my reach and they hardly know I exist. This is torture!” She cried harder. “My heart feels more pain than my lips did when I tried to smile for Alyn. I couldn’t take it. I can’t handle this, please just let me go back to the way things should be. I’ll do anything!”

“Anything?” The bemused man smiled and lifted her chin to look at his face. “To return to the way things should be, you will do anything?”

“Yes,” she said, drying her tears.

“Smile for me.” Aoi looked, confused, remembering the pain when she attempted to smile for Alyn. But she was determined to see the people whom she considered her family again. Thinking of them, a beautiful smile came naturally to her lips. The man placed a hand on her cheek. “Never lose that smile, princess. You underestimate the power it holds.”

He disappeared before the princess’s eyes and she looked around to find herself in the palace gardens, the sky just as dark as when the glowing orb appeared before.

“Princess!” Princess Aoi turned to the sound of Nico’s voice, finding him running toward her with Giles and Alyn close behind.

“What are you doing,” Alyn asked sternly. “I told you, never leave your room without a guard! It’s dangerous to walk alone, don’t you understand?” Then Giles noticed her tears.

“Princess? Are you alright?” The men grew concerned. Princess Aoi pulled them into an embrace, smiling brighter than ever.

“I’ve never been happier.”

April 04, 2021 23:16

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4 comments

Ruth Smith
12:41 Jul 08, 2021

I read this story after I read "The Tale of Two Smiles". I like this one better, it fleshes the characters out better. You write very well. Keep it up!

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Juno Y.
02:19 Jul 24, 2021

I really liked this story, though I wish there had been a bit more showing, rather than telling, like in the part where we learn about the former king of Stein. Overall, I enjoyed the concept of a kingdom having no heir and a mysterious figure granting a princess a wish.

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Cole Lane
12:53 Jul 21, 2021

Allie, I wish I had read this story first! I kinda knew the smile was coming back because in story two it was a key factor. :) This story gave me more of Princess Aoi's depth of personality though, it was all the back story that the second built upon. You really have a magical way that you tell a story, especially in the fantasy genre. Although the only other that I have read so far was more of a horror/sci-fi, which was also very good. I look forward to reading more!

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S. Closson
03:41 Jul 18, 2021

Another awesome story! I'm glad I got the chance to get to know these characters better. Very cool stuff.

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