Author: Meisha Nicole PM
Coretta's mother is insistent on her getting married and participating in the contest which will decide her husband. However, after some thinking, she decides to compete for her own hand in marriage. Naturally, it's all going to go according to plan.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Words: 10,292 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Published: 01-25-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3095288
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"You look beautiful," her mother whispered, pressing her cheek against the side of her head as she smoothed some of her hair back.
Staring at herself in the mirror with the dark blue gown, billowing out below her with a corset pinching her waist wasn't what she would call beautiful but beauty was subjective. She was inclined to give her mother the benefit of the doubt but the sight of her blonde hair pulled back in this elaborate style with the expensive looking jewelry decorating her wrists and neck made her think otherwise.
"I look terrible," she bit back, wishing to be back in her tunic and trousers with those worn-in riding boots she loved so much. "Mother, I don't want this."
"Nonsense, Coretta. This is your duty."
Biting back a reply, she nodded and tried not to flinch when her mother pleased a well-meaning kiss on her cheek. Glancing over her shoulder, she resisted the urge to tear these clothes off her body and walk stiffly towards the door.
This wasn't what she wanted and she could care less about her duty to her kingdom. All she wanted was to be able to live her life and not worry about getting a fiancé at sixteen but she was sure this was a common complaint with princesses. Still, it was what she wished for.
Heading outside, they went to the courtyard and she took her seat beside her mother who was next to her father. On the other side of him was her two younger brothers and they looked bored out of their minds. Honestly, she didn't blame them at all because she felt the same way.
"Welcome to our Kingdom of Freyregard. We are happy to welcome you to the annual contest…"
Coretta tuned her mother out after that because it had been drilled into her head enough over the years.
The Kingdom of Freyregard was a modest sized country. For the most part it got along with its neighbors and the ruling family ruled with a firm but good hand. Having been on the throne for nearly a century, the annual contest that was held had been created by the princess of the first king.
She had several suitors and had proposed an idea. In this contest, the few chosen suitors would compete in a series of events for princess's hand in marriage. This soon became a tradition passed down to all the women in their family. Every daughter born would have to take part in this contest and her mother Cossette had done this as well.
When Cossette was small her father died and it left her mother ruling in her place until she came of age. As soon as she was sixteen the contest was held had she married her father, Vasska and though he was the king, Cossette was the one who ruled. Her husband, as she liked to put it, was just there to look tough.
Looking over the suitors, she saw quite a few of them and wondered who had decided to show up. Letters were sent to all nobility and royalty in the country for their first born to compete in the annual contest for the princess's hand in marriage. Some declined and some accepted. Honestly, she wished no one had come because it would make it easier for her.
"… and remember, you all have a chance. The first born of every family has a right to compete in this wonderful tradition in Freyregard. So please everyone competing stand up and grab a bow and arrow. Our princess has chosen this event as the first one and we all hope you do well.
When her mother was speaking, Coretta was formulating a plan. Managing to sneak off, she ducked behind the barrel containing the bows and arrows and peaked her head around the corner. Watching the boys competing for her hand shrugging off their cloaks, one happened to be dropped near her and she was quick to grab it.
She rushed behind a pillar and tore her hair out of the elaborate style and shook it loose, the strands falling everywhere. Tugging at the strings of her corset, she settled for yanking them and then ripped the bottom of the gown before throwing the cloak over her body. Drawing it close, she pulled the hood up and grabbed a bow and arrow. Then she waited.
"Next person introduce yourself."
When it was her turn, she stood tall and reached for an arrow. Before she lined it up, she threw the hood up and narrowed her eyes, looking directly at her mother. "My name is Coretta of Freyregard and I will be competing for my own hand."
Her mother gasped and started to sputter so she quickly pulled her arrow back and closed her eyes before letting it go. It went right into the middle, striking through another's arrow. Grinning, she was proud of herself but it was short lived as the crowd started up and her mother stormed down the steps.
She knew she was in trouble now but she didn't care. It had been worth it.
"What were you thinking?!"
Pulling her arm out of her mother's grasp, she winced as the door was slammed shut, leaving them alone. "I'm only doing what is my right!"
"Coretta, you better march out there and apologize!"
"No!" she shouted. "It says that the first born of every noble or royal family is allowed to compete for a princess's hand in marriage. I am the first born of this family and of royal blood and I see no reason why I can't fight for my own hand in marriage!"
"That isn't allowed!"
"You've forced me to memorize that declaration and nowhere does it say I am not allowed to compete for my own hand, mother!"
"What is all the shouting about?" Vasska asked as he poked his head into the room. "The crowd is getting restless and wondering what is going on. I can only subdue them for so long!"
"Calm down, Vasska. I was only explaining to our daughter here that what she did was out of line and she needs to get out there and apologize!"
"Dad, mom is being unfair! You two are always telling me to stay strong and stand up for what I believe in and this is something I feel I have to do!"
Cossette pinched the bridge of her nose. "There is no precedent for this and it certainly isn't legal!"
"Dad, it says in the declaration that the first born from every royal and noble family has the right to compete for the princess's hand. Technically, I am the first born. Nowhere does it say I have to be a boy and that the princess can't fight for her own hand."
Vasska nodded. "She has a point there dear. Nowhere does it say those things."
She pinched the bridge of her nose harder. "Of course it doesn't! Why would one need to get that specific?!"
"It doesn't mean it isn't allowed either!"
"All right, Coretta wait a moment while I have a word with your mother."
Pulling his wife off to the side, he rubbed his beard nervously and looked down upon her. "Our dear, strong headed daughter has made a point, my dear."
"It's ridiculous. Have you ever heard of such a thing?!"
"Cossette, I understand why you're against the idea but what could it possibly hurt?"
"Vasska do try to pretend, at least for a moment, that our daughter doesn't have you wrapped around her finger," she said icily. "If I ignore that for a moment and actually consider it, I can give you one reason what it could hurt: our peace in the kingdom!"
He shrugged. "So a few stuffy nobles have to run away with their tail between their legs? It's not the end of the world or our kingdom! They still know that Freyregard is a loving and fair kingdom with a beautiful queen…"
"Oh, don't you start! Flattery will get you nowhere if you insist on giving attention to your daughter's childish antics."
"She's sixteen my dear and I think we should hear her out."
"If we let her do this then what happens next Vasska? She never gets married?"
"If that happens then blame me but if we don't we could lose her forever."
Cossette swallowed. "It's a childish request and she doesn't understand the consequences!"
"This could be the perfect way to open her eyes."
"And it could also spell a disaster."
"Trust me, Cossette."
Frowning, she allowed her husband to pull her back towards her daughter and the two of them stood there, eyeing one another until a small shove got her to start speaking. "Your father and I have discussed it, though admittedly not well enough to understand the true consequences…"
"… but we've decided to allow you to compete."
Coretta was dumbfounded and then she rushed forward, embracing both her parents tightly. "Thank you, mom and dad!"
Finally, she would prove herself capable.
The reaction from the nobles and other royals competing was to be expected. A princess fighting for her own hand in marriage wasn't something that had been done. It sounded ridiculous to many but it wasn't against the rules. There was nothing in the declaration about this and Cossette was almost tempted to change it even if it were a legal document for their kingdom.
"Mom and dad are so angry with you!" one of her brothers chimed. His name was Simon and he was pushing six. The boy was a terror on two legs but not as bad as Charley who was younger by a year. For all intents and purposes, they were usually considered twins.
"You were amazing, Coretta!" Charley spoke up. "I wish I could wield a bow like you do!"
"Thanks you two but I nearly got myself in big trouble with them today."
It was worth it though.
Once she had snuck off to her room, she knew she didn't have time to put something more comfortable on so she hurried to grab her cloak and then to the window. It was an escape route she had used many times and she wanted to get away before the dinner tonight. She was planning to go but if she could be fashionably late she would be.
"I think you always have to go for the shock value."
It was the first thing she heard when she stepped into the stables and she grinned.
"It wasn't my intention but thank you, Nyles."
He was the son of a noble and his older brother was one of boys competing for her hand. Growing up, his family had been a frequent guest at the castle and with them being around the same age, they had often played together. Ten years later things hadn't changed.
"Your parents looked like they were ready to maim you!"
"I had to do it. You know how I feel about this."
He pursed his lips and pushed himself off the stable door. "I know but I never thought you would actually suggest something like that."
Nyles shook his head. "Only you would try to push the limit, Coretta."
"Oh do be quiet."
He grinned and then gestured to her dress. "You do look… lovely today."
"Stop it! I know I look terrible but it is no need to rub it in."
"I only mean you look uncomfortable. Takes away from it really."
She sighed. "I only wish my mother would back off."
"Don't you think you're being a little childish about all this?"
"No! I have to stand up for what I believe in!"
"And what is it you believe in, Coretta?"
She shot him a look. "Nyles, your brother is an absolute bore and a buffoon. Did you see how he tried to act as if he was a good shot but then completely missed the target?"
He chuckled. "I thought we decided this about my brother years ago?"
Glancing at the setting sun, she frowned when she realized as soon as it was dark, the party would start. "I wonder if I join my family or the others."
"I assume your family but it's not like there is a guide book for this. You're the first to try such a thing."
Coretta grinned. She didn't regret it at all but when her mother looked at her she wasn't sure what to feel. The woman still treated it as if it were an act of teenage rebellion. It was more than that, though. She wanted… well she wasn't sure what she wanted. All Coretta knew was that she had to do this.
"We should get back."
Nyles nodded. "You should. I'm just here for moral support but I think I should come with you to make sure you're all right."
Entering what one would call the ballroom; she felt eyes on her but held her head up high. Her mother would've attempted to clean her up but she still stood with her head held high despite her messy hair and ripped gown. Her mother frowned but she turned her head and tried not to meet her gaze. In her opinion the woman was just being stubborn and bullheaded. In time she would see that she was right.
It shouldn't be surprising to hear that her mother was thinking the same thing.
"Welcome everyone. We are all so happy you can celebrate with us tonight and even due to the… strange circumstances, the contest will continue without interruption. Please do not fret because it will go according to tradition."
It wasn't said outright but she could tell her mother didn't think she could win. It was more than obvious. Maybe she wasn't as strong as some of these boys but she was clever and fast to boot.
"So please eat and drink. Tomorrow the real games begin!"
Huffing, she sunk in her chair and folded her arms over her chest. Her father was clearing his throat and applauding her mother's speech but he had to do that. He was her husband after all and if you spent one day around them you would know who the real person who ran the kingdom was. Like her mother said, he was just there to look strong.
The party seemed to drag on forever and she was grateful to retire to her bedroom.
She had to prepare for the contest after all.
"Your daughter is exhausting!" Cossette shouted once they were in their private chambers. She made a throttling motion for her hands and then cleared her throat, sitting on the bed as her husband shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.
"Dear, if I can recall you were…"
"What are you trying to say, Vasska?"
He cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "I am trying to say you two are more alike than you think."
"I admit I was stubborn at her age but I still knew enough when I had to put my childish actions behind me and focus on what was best for my family and my kingdom."
Vasska knew better than to say anything when his wife was in one of those moods and he cleared his throat and embraced her lightly. "It will be all right dear."
"When your daughter comes to her senses then it will be all right."
In her own room, Coretta was complaining about the same thing to her brothers who were staring at her, their heads cocked and it clear to her that they couldn't care less about what she said.
"Go to bed, boys. You two are no help to me!"
"See you in the morning, Coretta!"
The next event would be fencing and she was going to be sure to get up early and practice. From an early age, her father had treated her almost like a son or this was what her mother often complained about. Nothing was ever out of reach for her. He had been supportive in every way. Her mother had always been there for her as well but the woman had a tendency to stick to the rigid rules the kingdom had.
In the morning, she was still mulling over this and was setting up with the boys who were all gazing at as if she were committing an atrocity.
"You know, Princess I think what you're doing is very noble," one of the boys said to her when she was off to the side.
"I thank you for your words of encouragement."
He smiled. "I will make sure to praise your brave attempt in the contests when I win."
"Excuse me?" Coretta forced out. "What makes you think I am not perfectly capable of winning?"
"If you would like to recall yesterday, I was the only one who hit the center of the target. You didn't even come close."
He appeared put off and swallowed, sputtering for a few moments before turning away from her without another word.
Snorting in disbelief, she saw Nyles give her a look from the side and she tried to stifle her laugh. Looking over at the stage where her parents sit, she saw the expression on her mother's face and felt torn. She wanted so much to please her mother but she had to do this.
"Everyone, please come up to the stage now!"
Her mother announced this and seemed to avoid looking at her. Frowning, she stood straight and gathered her things as she walked ahead, feeling very proud. Never would she feel ashamed of what she had done. Sometimes the guilt would creep up in the back of her mind but it couldn't be helped. When it came down to it she loved her mother more than anything. They had always been close when she was younger and when she got older the two of them grew apart.
One by one they were assigned partners and to her horror she was assigned to fight Nyles brother, Victor first. He was a tall, big male and very fit. She wondered if her mother had chosen this one for her without a hint of bias but one look at her face told her she had.
"Don't you think you're a little in over your head, Princess Coretta?"
"You were around when I was little so what do you think?" she snapped back as she took position.
Then, when the alarm was sounded, Victor rushed forward and Coretta knew if she wanted to succeed she had to hang back at first. Playing the defensive was what would help her.
He attacked with the sword and she dodged. In their kingdom, fencing was similar to the sport played in other countries but it was different in certain manners. Freyregard seemd to always had to have its own twist on everything.
The object, in the end, was to get your opponent on the ground over the yellow line. It would be difficult with the size difference but she held her sword and then she dropped to her knees. She struck his lower legs and he stumbled.
"Guess I underestimated you," Victor muttered as he landed rather painfully on the floor. Rubbing at his shoulder, he accepted the hand offered to him and grinned at the princess. "I'm quite relieved actually."
"Relieved?" Coretta asked with some confusion as Victor got to his feet. "I thought you'd be upset."
"No offense but this was my parent's idea. This failure won't put me in the lead."
Apparently, she had misjudged him and nodded. It was her way of apologizing to him.
Towards the end of the day, she made it but not far enough. The results were disappointing but tomorrow would be the next test which was horse riding.
When her mother came to her chambers that night, she stiffened and smoothed down her nightclothes. "Yes, mom?"
"I wanted to talk to you about my behavior for the past few days. It hasn't been appropriate and neither has yours but the point is I want to apologize."
"Mom I won't leave the contest."
"I'm not asking you too because in the end you'll understand that sometimes we can't do every childhood whim that beckons us."
"Mom, this isn't a childish whim!"
"You need to do a lot of growing up, Coretta but I won't stand in your way if this is the path you want to continue down."
"Why the sudden change of heart?"
She smiled faintly. "Your father is very persuasive."
With that she left after kissing the top of her head and muttering a good night. She wasn't sure how to react after that encounter because her mother had surprised her with her actions. In a way it almost felt like a victory but then again, it didn't.
"I'm not going to quit and when I win I'll show her that it's not some childish whim."
Back in her mother's room, the queen was leaning against the door and she looked like it was hard for her to say those words to her daughter. "I think I misjudged the relationship between my mother and I."
Vasska was hesitant to bring up his now deceased mother in law because they had never gotten along. It was clear she was disappointed he had won the contest but rules were rules. "What do you mean, dear?"
"I always assumed we had a difficult relationship but now I see it was most likely better than what I have with Coretta."
"Cossette, you two are only going through a rough patch. You'll get back on track."
She held her head up and sat in front of her dresser. "I will support her but I only hope she realizes that her stubbornness could have consequences."
"I think my mother is supporting me in her own strange way" she said this to Nyles early the next morning after having snuck out. Actually, it wasn't sneaking out because she was participating in the contest. The morning was free to enjoy and afternoon would be dedicated to the third competition.
"Really? I wouldn't expect that."
"I think she is but it doesn't change the fact that this whole contest idea is barbaric. I don't ever want to get married. All I want is to be able to live my life and have freedom."
"Don't Coretta me! At least now I actually have it. This is the most fun I've had in a long time."
Shaking his head, he reached for the reigns of his horse and started to lead him out of the stable. "I think you need to get a better grasp on all of this but you never listen to me so why am I even bothering speaking right now?"
Coretta frowned and reached for her own horse. "Be quiet, Nyles. Giving me advice doesn't suit you."
"Do you want me to stick to just looking pretty? I think I do it better than you."
Laughing, she reached over to hug him tightly and grinned. "You're a good friend. I think the only true one I have."
"You only say that because I'm not fawning over you like all those other boys."
"They don't fawn over me… well maybe in the start. Now they cringe when they see me."
"Your mother would say it's because you're acting improper."
She shrugged. "What right do these people have to tell us what is and isn't proper? I may be a lady but I should be able to act anyway I please. My mother, I bet, isn't as innocent as she likes to make herself out to be. From what my grandmother used to tell me when I was little, she was a hell raiser."
"Like mother like daughter than!"
She climbed onto her horse and sneered. "Don't say such a thing. The two of us are nothing alike!"
"That's what you think but everyone around you two can see it."
Rushing up ahead, she grinned but it quickly faded when Nyles passed her.
"The trick is to start out slow and then leave your opponents behind."
"Think it will leave me the winner?"
"Even if you get in second or third, you'll have one of the highest scores."
Coretta pursed her lips and slowed down her horse after they made a loop around the trail. "I like these odds but I have to do better than second or third."
Heading back to the stables, she grinned at Nyles and it was her way of telling him she was indeed stubborn but didn't care. "Thanks for helping me out, Nyles. You're a good friend."
He bid Coretta goodbye and set to putting the horse he so often used while here back in the stables. Sighing softly, he made his way down the path and turned before he got to the main one. The one he was walking down was the servants commonly used. If his parents found out he was walking down the path they would lay into him about how it wasn't proper but what his parents didn't know wouldn't hurt them.
Opening the door, he slipped inside and immediately started walking straight. Then he turned a corner, another, and finally took a right before he was pulled into darkened room and kissed deeply.
"You could warn someone before you do such a thing. What if I didn't know it was you, Daniel?"
The male called Daniel chuckled. "Who else have you been meeting in darkened hallways?"
"Well now that you mention it…"
He was cut off by another kiss and moaned softly, wrapping his arms around his neck in order to pull him as close as possible. "The next round starts in an hour. Don't you think you should be practicing?"
"So you want me to succeed and face the possibility of marrying your best friend?"
"Trust me, if she has her way that won't be happening."
"I almost want to thank her for it."
Nyles kissed him softly. "If not her then it will be someone else. You are the first born after all."
Daniel was a distant cousin of the queen and as the first born he was eligible for the contest. The two of them had met innocently last year when he was visiting with his family and it evolved from there. In the end, it couldn't be more than what it was but it didn't stop Nyles from wishing it could be.
"Talk like that is going to ruin the mood. Is that what you want?"
"What I want is to be able to be with you," Nyles muttered and he knew he ruined the mood when Daniel pulled away. "Daniel…"
The older male pulled him close and kissed the top of his head. "Sometimes we can't always get what we want."
"Running away is always an option. Didn't you tell me you wanted to be a blacksmith's apprentice?"
"My mother regrets even letting spend time with my disgraced uncle."
"I'm serious, Daniel."
"Nyles, I'll never be able to perform now."
"I guess I did ruin the mood."
A few minutes later, their conversation was forgotten and he gasped as Daniel pinned him against the wall and hit that certain spot. When they parted he felt empty and not in a physically sense but as if he would never be able to truly have Daniel. It left this empty feeling inside him and he forced a small smile.
"See you tonight?"
"I should be able to sneak away after we retire to our guest chambers. Will you be waiting in the stable?"
"Where else would I be?"
Leaning forward, he kissed Nyles again and then he was the first to walk out. After ten minutes, Nyles followed and ignored the stares of the staff. His rumpled clothes and hair probably wouldn't help rumors but he didn't care.
By the time he headed inside, the others were setting up and trying to get ready for the next competition. Several people rushed past him and he set to finding Coretta but knowing her she was avoiding this for as long as possible.
Since he had known her, she had always been a stubborn thing. The girl was sometimes one of a kind with her stubbornness but she was a good friend. He only hoped she wised up to what she was doing and she and her mother could heal their relationship.
Out of the corner of his eye he spotted Daniel and they shared a look. Stolen glances and secret meetings at night wasn't all it was cracked up to be. In the stories it was always made to be romantic and forbidden but that was a lie.
"Nyles, where were you? I was trying to find you," Coretta whispered as she slid up beside him.
"I was off for a walk."
"In the servants' quarters?" she asked with a small smirk and judging by the expression on his face he didn't think he was going to be caught. "I had to ask you something so I turned back by then I saw you walking to the servants' quarters. Do you want to explain to me why?"
"We'll talk about it later. Don't you have a contest to win?"
"I feel as if you are hiding something from me but I'll let it go for now."
"You didn't need to know everything princess. Remember that," he warned and he was partly kidding but he wished Coretta could have respect for the fact that he didn't want to talk about it.
"You're a great friend, Nyles. I don't like the idea of you keeping secrets from me but if you are then I realize you must have a good reason. However, it doesn't stop me from wanting to find out! You know how curious I can be!"
Resisting the urge to give Nyles a hug, she shot him a smile before climbing onto her horse. "Wish me luck."
"I'm not going to wish you luck because you don't need it. You'll do fine."
"Some of these boys are bigger than me."
"Size has nothing to do with it."
Watching Nyles walk off with a wave, she led her horse down to the starting line. She could see eyes watching her and there were a few looks from some of the boys. For the most part, they seemed to have avoided her like the plague. Apparently what she was doing was too embarrassing to even discuss and it only made her angrier. Some got cocky about it at well.
The start of the race started out good when the signal went off. She clutched the reins tightly and held her horse back at the beginning. Some did the same and then she slowly started to gun it. The people around her didn't matter and all she was focusing on was the race.
"Come on," she whispered to her horse, patting him gently as the finish line came closer and closer. The end result was her crossing it with two others. A tie was what they eventually decided because it was too close to tell. She wasn't sure what to feel about it but accepted it with a smile.
"I think you did great," Nyles told her after it was over.
"I could've done better but I just need to stick to it because it looks like I have an actual chance in this."
Waiting for Nyles to respond, she frowned when he failed to say anything and then notice his gaze was fixated elsewhere. Following where he was looking, she saw that he was staring intently at Daniel. She knew of him and he wasn't as irritating as some of the ones around here but she assumed he and Nyles didn't know each other very well. The gaze told otherwise, however.
"Is Daniel Rellos suddenly very interesting to you?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
The red on his face told a different story. "Oh.."
"Please try to not cause a scene, Coretta!" he hissed quietly when he saw her eyes widen slightly.
"I don't know what you're talking about but if I did know what you were talking about I would hope that you would be able to tell your good friend if anything of such a nature was going on."
"Thank you, Coretta."
"Thanks for what?"
Nyles only chuckled.
Coretta knew there had to be a reason if he was keeping this secret and just from what she was considering, she could think of plenty of them. If he wanted to tell her he would and later she would make sure to badger information out of him. Now was not the time for it because she had to focus on getting ready for the after party.
Her kingdom just loved to drink.
"Dad, why are you hiding out in the kitchen?"
Coretta would often sneak into the kitchen in order to avoid certain functions or even for dinner. It became one of her favorite places to be and now her father was hidden near the corner and it appeared he had stolen some sweets.
"It's a relaxing place."
"Is the party becoming a little too much to handle?"
He shook a little bit. "Your mother is usually the one who handles these things but something came up with another kingdom so it falls on me and I… can't do it! I have your brothers out there entertaining everyone right now!"
"Dad, Simon and Charley shouldn't even be around animals without supervision!"
Rushing towards the entrance, she smoothed out her gown and tried to make herself as presentable as possible before heading into the ballroom and the scene wasn't pretty. Her brothers had started to run around and were causing trouble.
"Simon! Charley!" she shouted as best she could while trying to remain discrete. "I apologize for my brothers. They are at that age you know."
Swallowing, she motioned for them to sit and they did. "Normally my mother would be hosting the after party but she's busy for the moment and my father… isn't feeling well," she forced out. She couldn't say it was hiding because that would do nothing but embarrass him. "As someone who is participating in the contest this may seem out of place but I am still princess and I will host in my father's place."
Coretta was making this up as she went along and she felt her heart hammering in her chest. "Everyone, did an excellent job today so please enjoy yourselves! The next match won't be for another two days so we have plenty of time to catch our breath and enjoy the festivities."
Taking a deep breath, everyone clapped and as she stopped off towards the side she felt a hand on her shoulder. When she turned around she discovered it was her mother. "Mom?"
"Is your father hiding in the kitchen?"
"Yes. You know how he feels about these things."
"Well you certainly handled it well," her mother said and Coretta could've sworn she saw a small smile on her face.
"I was only emulating what you've taught me for years."
"I'm proud of you, Coretta. You even did well in the horse riding competition this afternoon."
"That's what happens when you're practically raised on a horse."
Blinking when her mother embraced her lightly, it was as if it didn't happen and then she was moving towards the center of the room to apologize for her absence. She left her feeling confused and Coretta had to let out a small sigh.
It was at times like this she didn't understand her mother but she said she was proud of her. It was the first time she had heard those words and it felt good. She would be lying if she couldn't admit it had ignited something inside her.
"I better go tell dad it's all right to come out of hiding," she muttered to herself.
The next stop she made was the kitchen and Coretta let out a chuckle when her father rushed back out into the ballroom once he knew it was safe. He also gave her a hug for coming to his rescue like that and trying to smooth things over. It was another surprising comment from her parents and she had to try hard not to smile a goofy little smile.
Coretta sat with her parents at the after party but retired early with some of the other guests. She made sure to stick around for the announcement of the final contest. It wouldn't be for two days which would give them all enough time to prepare. It was a duel contest that involved riding on a horse and shooting targets with your bow and arrow. The simple term for it was target practice.
She went out that night to the stables to practice. There she met with Nyles who had agreed to help her but he was always willing to help her. No matter what her friend would put her first.
"Nyles, I appreciate this."
"Stop thanking me. If you thanked me for everything I did for you, you'd be exhausted."
She shot him a look. "You shouldn't talk to your princess like that."
"If you haven't noticed, princess, it's just the two of us!"
Smiling, she led her horse out and paused. "What is going on with you and Daniel? The look you sent him was more than a friendly look."
He stilled and nearly stumbled forward. "Warn someone before you bring such a thing up!"
"Well, I'm curious."
"You two are together are you not?"
Nyles sighed and nodded.
"Then the two of you are together."
"He's the first born and meant to marry in order to carry on the family name. It's not as if it can ever be."
"Oh, don't give me that! It may not be talked about but no one will bat an eyelash at two men together. It's more taboo than anything in this Kingdom and you know that."
"We all have our duties in life, Coretta."
"So I should just accept the fact that I have to marry whoever wins this contest? Are you saying I shouldn't fight for my own hand?"
"Tradition is there for a reason but you are so bull headed that I say screw tradition when it comes to you. Some people can't fight it, Coretta."
"I think all this fuss about tradition is stupid. We should all follow our own path."
"Even if you can hurt people around you?" he countered.
She huffed. "Let's stop talking about this and practice, Nyles. I don't want to discuss this anymore."
"Fine but you have to admit I'm right now don't you?"
Coretta hit only half the targets but it was because she was distracted by everything that Nyles had said to her. Shaking her head, she couldn't think about anything else but the contest.
"Your game wasn't good today."
"You put those thoughts in my head!"
"I wasn't trying to put anything in your head, Coretta. I… don't know. This situation with Daniel has gone farther than I ever thought it would."
She threw her quiver over her shoulder and pursed her lips. "I still say your families be damned. The two of you should run off and be together."
"I couldn't leave my family and he couldn't leave his," Nyles said softly. "What about you? Why haven't you run?"
"Well… I love my family. What would Charley and Simon do without me?"
"They would certainly be lost."
"Nyles, consider it. I want you to be happy so fight for it! Sometimes, the hardest journey in life is trying to figure out your future."
"Well you certainly have a tough one ahead for you then."
Smiling, Coretta embraced him and then they parted. When she got back to her quarters, she found too difficult to fall asleep.
Was she doing the right thing? It was a question she had been asking herself and her words to Nyles ran clear in her mind. The hardest journey was trying to figure out your future and it was a difficult journey she was on right now. Most of her knew it was the right thing. It needed to be changed. This contest never should've been and they should be able to pick their own spouses. For Coretta it wasn't about falling in love but rather having that right.
Closing her eyes, it all didn't seem so easy anymore. When she first thought of it, she had been so sure of herself but maybe this wasn't the answer. With the last contest only a day away she had to make a decision quick and it wasn't going to be easy.
Nyles had skipped out on meeting Daniel to help Coretta. They didn't often have a lot of time to meet because his family would only come to the castle a few times a year but when they got the chance they jumped on it. Then he went and chose Coretta over him. The older male hadn't been happy but he tried his best to brush it off as nothing.
"It's nearly sunrise. Your training took that long?"
Sitting next to Daniel, he was glad he had agreed to meet now even if it had taken a lot of convincing. "She wanted to practice until she couldn't."
"I will only be at the castle until the end of the week, Nyles."
"Then let's run away. We won't have to worry about seeing each other if we do that."
Daniel chuckled. "I think your friend's ideas have gotten to you a little bit too much."
"It's an idea. Sometimes we just have to say 'screw tradition'. Don't you think?"
"I couldn't, Nyles but it sounds like a nice idea."
He smiled faintly but it was a forced smile. "I think so too."
When Daniel moved close to kiss him he didn't resist. After this contest was over he would go back home. There was no chance of him winning because he wasn't high up in the rankings but it didn't stop the fact that he would soon be married. The male was pushing eighteen and it would be expected that he marry a young girl from another family.
Sometimes, Nyles considered taking off on his own but life couldn't always be fair and sometimes you had to adhere to tradition even if all it did was make you miserable.
They parted before they even reached the castle and Nyles had every intention of finding Coretta. If he focused on her he didn't have to think about anything else. In a way he was using her and he found her already in the forest training. It was a place they had often found themselves when they were younger and sought comfort from the older they become.
"More like thinking."
He nodded. "What about?"
"We should be able to marry the ones we want. This tradition of the contest is ridiculous but what else can I do to prove my point?"
"If you speak they will listen."
"To them I'm just a child and it's what my mother thinks."
Nyles only smiled.
"Vasska, I need you to stop roughhousing with our sons and help me prepare for the final party. Tomorrow, we will have the winner."
"Darling have you considered what would happen if Coretta wins?"
She sighed. "It's looking like a possibly but I'm doing what you said would be best. I'm letting our daughter make the decisions for the time being. It is probably not the best parenting strategy…" she muttered but that was what she got for listening to her sometimes clueless husband and king.
"Cossette our daughter knows what she is doing. Trust her."
Looking over her shoulder, she smiled softly. Since the start of the contest she had felt her relationship with Coretta more strained than ever but she was proud of her. Despite her reservations against it, the girl had stuck up for what she believed in and when she got older she would understand one couldn't always have it the way they wanted. Still, she was very proud of her and the stand she was trying to take. It almost made her question the whole idea of tradition.
The contest had been a way to appease everyone but did it really? In the end you still had very little choice of who you married and the only difference was that it was out of your parent's hands.
"Vasska concentrate!" Cossette ended up snapping when her husband ended up on the floor after being tackled by their son. Of all the royal families, she often felt they were the most unsophisticated ones.
"Sorry, dear but your sons are rowdy today."
"My sons? I think they're your sons."
Reaching down, she grabbed the collar of her boy's shirts and set them on their feet. "Go into the kitchen boys. I think Hilda wants some company."
A large part of her knew it was cruel to do such a thing but she needed them out of the way for the time being.
"I'll go with them, Cossette. Someone needs to keep them out of trouble."
"Did dad leave?" Coretta asked when she poked her head in the room. Looking at her daughter, she nodded and took in her rather haggard appearance. It almost reminded her of when she was younger.
"He is apparently more interested in playing with your brothers. Now I regret sending them to Hilda because the poor woman doesn't deserve that after having to put up with you when you were a child."
Coretta frowned. "I was a fine child!"
"Let's agree to disagree."
Coretta huffed but then a smile broke out onto her face. "Mom I've been thinking lately and I feel like I acted to irrationally."
She paused and nearly dropped what she was holding because it wasn't something she had been expecting. "Coretta?"
"I only wanted to say I was sorry and I will make sure to do my best in the contest tomorrow."
"I want to apologize as well."
Coretta smiled again and embraced her mother. It was far from perfect but it was a start.
The night before the final competition she didn't feel nervous but it wasn't as if she felt prepared either. No matter what the outcome, she was going to fight as hard as she could for her own hand because she would be damned if she was going to be forced to marry someone who she didn't want to marry.
Swallowing, she slammed her fist down onto the bed and closed her eyes. The teenager was determined to fall asleep and she did, getting up early at the first speck of sunlight that shone into her window. Reaching for her trousers, she dressed and tied her blonde hair into a tight ponytail at the nape of her neck.
The air almost seemed tenser but that was to be expected. She made sure to stop and see Nyles before she went down for breakfast and found him in their usual spot. "Are you not going to wish me luck?"
He tilted his head to the side and smiled. "Do you think I really should?"
"Nyles, I don't appreciate your sense of humor."
He chuckled. "If you don't win still try to make your point Coretta."
"What if that point isn't as clear as it was in the beginning?"
He lifted a brow. "What do you mean?"
"I feel as if I made this decision is haste and while I don't regret it, I wonder if I fully considered my actions and all those around me like my mother. She says she's proud of me but…"
"I don't know."
Embracing her lightly, he whispered in her ear to do her best and then he pulled away and she climbed onto her horse. Trotting to the starting line, she straightened her back and took a deep breath. "Do your best, boy," she whispered to the horse as she patted his side lightly. The horse snorted and then almost seemed to nod.
She felt her breath caught in her throat when the starting signal rang out. The horses went flying out and she lined her bow and arrow. Hitting the first target perfectly, she grinned and pulled on the reins. The point was not to win the race but to make sure you aimed the best when you pointed your arrow at the targets.
Some of the other racers were trying to go as fast as they were able and it was foolish. However some others were hanging back and pointing their arrows at the targets with such precision. On her second target she hit it and then the third she missed. Taking a breath, she patted her horse and urged him to go faster. The fourth one she managed to hit and she smiled only slightly.
Coretta tried her hardest and her best to ignore everyone else around her. The others didn't matter and all she wanted to do was focus on the targets. On the last one, she hit it right in the middle and then she crossed the finished line. Climbing off the horse, she saw others come up behind her and she walked him over to the sidelines as others cheered.
Each of their arrows had little flags on them. This was so they would know what points to count up and she had lost count honestly. With every target she passed, her mind erased everything else and zoned in on just that red and white circle hanging from the tree. Patting her horse again, she looked around and saw that the last one had crossed the line.
The people were off to count the scores. Shifting from foot to foot, she sat down and all they could do was wait until they came back. Eventually they would be herded inside and then the final scores would be revealed. She was in good standing and to get her point across she had to win.
"Will everyone please make their way into the ballroom!"
Feeling her breath catch in her throat, she handed her horse to one of the stable hands and straightened her back as they slowly made their way to the ballroom. It was almost time now.
She heard Nyles shout this to her and she laughed. Coretta couldn't see him but the fact that he was still nearby made her feel happy and the nervousness almost melted away.
"All right, everyone we want to thank you for competing in this year's contest. It is such a great tradition…"
Coretta once again tuned out but she had admitted to herself long ago that she had a tendency to do that when her mother spoke. Then, suddenly, the winner was announced and she was all ears for that. However, when the person was announced she felt her heart dropped into her chest because her mother read off her name.
She was being called to the stage and the looks from the mothers and fathers weren't good. They looked so angry and some of the boys totally indifferent. Swallowing, she bowed her head lightly and then straightened before making her way to the front of the room.
It was the last thing she expected to happen even if it was what she wanted to happen. She had stood up for herself and declared she would fight for her own hand. It seemed so long ago when she had stood up to her mother in that manner and now all she felt was sick.
"I… thank you all," was the first thing that fell out of her mouth as she addressed the crowd and after a moment, she stood straight and brushed off her shirt. "I did this because I was being stubborn and I can admit that. The idea of fighting for my own hand solved the problem of having to get married. What I am trying to say is that I want to apologize to everyone, especially my mother, for how I approached this but I am not sorry for the reason."
Coretta looked over her shoulder and smiled at her mother who had her hands clasped on her lap and she was watching her intently. When they locked eyes her mother returned the smile and she felt this surge of confidence. "I think we all should be able to choose who we want to marry. This contest is still, in the end, doesn't give you the choice in choosing your own spouse. I did approach this in a wrong way but as the princess of Freyregard I am standing tall and expressing what I believe should be the future."
"Princess, what are you saying?" someone hesitantly asked.
"I, Princess Coretta, want to strip the contest entire. We should all be allowed to marry and be with whom we love. The most important thing is to trust that your children will be able to choose a spouse that will love them unconditionally."
She paused at the end of her speech and felt like she had said everything she wanted to say. In the end she still was the princess and couldn't repeal anything. That was up to her parents but it was what she wanted to say to them for months now. The only problem was that she hadn't a clue of how to approach this but being a part of this contest had forced her to look deep inside herself and work up the nerve to finally give her opinion and speak her mind.
"I'm not saying we should get rid of tradition all together but we should learn from the past and grow. The contest was a solution to a problem but it didn't go far enough."
There was silence from everyone but when her mother stood up there started to be cheering. Glancing over her shoulder, she smiled at her mother and the woman wrapped an arm loosely around her shoulders.
Then, Coretta had another idea and while she sometimes had a tendency to do things on a whim she didn't care because she knew it was the right decision. "However, I have made a decision of whom I want to marry."
Feeling her mother stiffen beside her, she looked out into the crowd and spotted him towards the end of the crowd. "Daniel Rellos."
It was a simple decision that could have terrible consequences for her in the future some would say but she didn't care. Nyles was her best friend and it wouldn't matter if he ever married or not since he was the second born. Chances were he would end up staying with her when she took the throne but for Daniel it was different. He was the first born so he was expected to marry. If she married him the two, in a way, could be together without disappointing either of their families.
One day she might find someone but that was a chance she was willing to take. It wasn't as if lovers weren't taken on the side. She was doing something on the spur of the moment but it didn't matter because it was for Nyles.
"I don't understand you at all," Daniel confessed after all the excitement had died down. She wanted a moment to speak to him privately and after he had walked up to the front they went out into the hall.
"What don't you understand? I'm doing this for you and Nyles."
"If you marry me neither of you will have to run away but the two of you wouldn't do that because you don't want to shame your families which leads me to my decision! It's a win-win for both of you."
He groaned. "Nyles we right. You never do think about your decisions before you make them do you, Princess?"
"I want to help Nyles. He's my best friend and if I find someone in the future I love then so be it. I want to do this for him. He's done so much for me."
"If I say yes Nyles-"
"He'll understand because Daniel we've been friends since were small children. He knows how I think and that I wouldn't do something like this without a good reason."
Swallowing, he nodded. "I… you're giving up so much."
".. and you're actually considering it because you want to be with Nyles. In the end it's worth it and I won't let you talk me out of it, understand?"
He was quiet for a moment before he gently took her hand. There were obvious reservations but he hesitantly nodded.
"Let's go greet everyone then."
Nyles didn't get to corner her until halfway through the party. Everyone was talking and gossiping. It was crazy but finally he managed to pull her to the side. "I can't believe you, Coretta. Why do you never think about your actions? If you bothered to do that then you wouldn't have so many problems!"
"You two can be together though!"
"What about you? What happens when you find someone?"
"I don't know," she muttered honestly. "I'll deal with it when it happens though."
Frowning, he hugged her gently when no one was looking. "I don't know what to say to you. I really don't. This is a huge decision."
"We won't even be getting married until my eighteenth birthday so we have a few more years."
"It's a few more years and then you can be my advisor or something. I'm sure my mother could get you work in the castle. It wasn't as if you never intended to work here anyway."
"That isn't the point, Coretta but thank you. I… don't know how I'm going to repay you for this. I don't think there is any way I can."
"There isn't any reason to do such a thing"
"Shh," she told him with a grin. "Go mingle and talk to Daniel if you can. I know he's eager to talk with you. It has been a big day after all."
Walking away from her friend, she felt someone come up behind her and smiled faintly when she saw it was her mother. "Enjoying the party?"
"Yes, and I've been meaning to talk to you," Cossette said softly. "What brought all this on? I thought you were determined not to get married."
"I had a change of heart, mom. Is that so hard to believe?"
Cossette knew there was something up with her daughter and for the life of her she had no idea what this was about. "Coretta, I want this to be your decision and not mine. I know I was determined in the beginning to get you married but I realize I may have been wrong."
"I realize the same thing about myself, mom. I was approaching all this in the wrong manner but this is something I want to do. I want to help a friend."
"A friend? What do you mean by that?" Cossette asked curiously with an raised eyebrow.
"It's all I can say, mom. Please just trust me, all right?"
"Trust her, dear," Vasska murmured as he came up behind his wife. Giving his daughter a pat on the shoulder, she ran off and he held his wife close.
"She's up to something, Vasska. I just can't figure out what."
"Our daughter has changed and I think she knows what she is doing."
"Still, our baby is getting married and it's almost something I didn't expect even if I wanted it," Cossette said as she leaned against him.
"I know but she's a good girl and if this is what she thinks is right then we should trust her."
Cossette only sighed and knew there would be a lot to talk about in the morning but for now… she would let it be.