It took Anni sixteen paces to get from one wall of her room to the other. That is, assuming that a pace means a step. Her white satin slippers turned thoughtfully at each end of their pacing and then continued on their way down the other side. Their owner held a book in one hand and gesticulated with the other, trying frantically to remember the dates of her history lesson that she hadn't bothered to study until just now. Soon her mother would be in to quiz her over them and she didn't want to get them wrong. Her eyes closed tightly to keep from peeking at the information. Occasionally she'd allow herself a frantic look just to remember the next date and then she'd go on from there.
When she had read the list for possibly the hundredth time and still didn't seem to remember any more than she had when she had started her cramming, there was a knock at her bedroom door. Her pacing slippers paused somewhere between the thirteenth and fourteenth step and turned to face the door. "Come in!" She called, eyes now rapidly scanning the list of dates in her notebook, trying to soak in as much information as they possibly could before it was all too late.
The door swung open and Anni's mother stepped in gracefully. "Good morning," she said cheerfully. Her dark auburn curls were pinned up delicately and her aging face wrinkled up into a smile. "I see you're studying hard."
The younger woman never looked up from the list of dates. "Can I have just five minutes? You know how I am with numbers."
"Five minutes of cramming won't do you any good in the long run, you know. Even if you remember it for me now, you'll forget it the second I walk out the door."
Anni sighed and looked up at her mother, "You're right. I'm sorry. I promise you that I actually did try. It's just – ugh! These dates! Why do I have to remember so many dates? If I get the general order of events right then who cares when they actually happened?" Her mother didn't say anything and so she sighed again. "I'm sure it's important somehow. In any case, I remember the rest of my lessons."
"Well, then, how about we skip the dates for now. No good in quizzing you over something you don't even know." Her mother sat down in a large white chair and opened a book sitting on the arm. "How have you been doing on poetry?"
"Poetry is so much easier because I actually enjoy it. I promise you, it's only the dates I'm having trouble with." The young girl frantically waved her hands at her sides.
Her mother watched her for a few moments. "You don't have to try so hard, Anni. Honestly, I will love you whether or not you memorize another date for the rest of your life."
Anni sat down at the foot of her bed and bit her lip. "I know that," she said.
The two sat in silence for a moment before her mother set the book back where she found it and stood up to leave. "I get the feeling you're a little bit stressed. I don't want to get you thinking that studying is the only important thing in life." She too bit her lip and looked over Anni's head to the window on the opposite wall, "How about you go to the library and study something that you want to study. Read whatever you'd like and tell me tomorrow what you've learned. I don't mind what it is – just explore. Sound good?"
Anni smiled, "Sounds great."
"Would you like breakfast sent up to you?" Her mother said as she stood at the doorway to go.
The young girl shook her head and her mother smiled and left, shutting the door softly behind her. Anni fell back on her bed and stared up at the canopy of white lace that she always saw as she drifted off to sleep. Her eyes traced the loops and frills of the delicate threads and got lost in the complicated beauty of it. She sighed and sat up. She ruffled her hair. She kicked her legs up and twirled one of her satin slippers around on her toe until it fell off onto the floor. She sighed again.
"Well this is boring," she chuckled to herself. "I must be absolutely pathetic – I always put off doing my lessons thinking about all the fun I want to be having, and yet when they are finally taken away from me, I find myself with absolutely nothing to do."
The young girl wandered over to the mirror on her wall and stared at herself. She was wearing loose, white cotton pants that fell crisply at her ankles, showing off her ornately beaded white slippers. She wore a beaded pink silk tunic and her long, tussled blonde hair fell in its usual haphazard way over all of the beading, getting tangled and requiring much tugging and painful yelps to pull it free. Once that was over, she leaned her head against the mirror and stared deep into her grey-blue eyes. "I'm so bored."
From far away she heard male voices calling out to each other and laughing. She wandered to the window and curled up on the small couch beneath it, her hands perched on the sill as she watched the men, or maybe only boys, as tiny as ants below her. She was several stories up – so high that she could see the tops of trees. Maybe the birds she heard were louder than what could be heard on the ground since most of the birds' nests were so high up in the branches. The wind toyed with the tiny wisps of hair dangling around her face and she sighed again and chewed at her lip. "What I wouldn't give to be able to fly out of here. Fly far away and make a nest in some tree." The irony struck her and she mumbled darkly to herself, "Yes, make a nest so high in a tree so I can watch the world pass before me like ants like I do now."
Anni puffed up her cheeks so they were like two halves of a hard melon and poked them with her fingers, spitting out air as she did so. She puffed them up again and beat a rhythm on her face. The people below her continued to laugh and call out to each other. "Hey!" she yelled to them. "You normal people down there! I hope you're happy!" They, of course, didn't notice.
With yet another sigh, the blonde girl propelled herself off of the couch. She yanked her bedroom door open and headed for the library. "Princess Anni, champion of boredom!" She muttered to herself. "No use in muttering – I could yell it and nobody would hear." She laughed and tried to think of something she wanted to yell, but by the time she thought of something, she was in the library, and she found that she wasn't alone.
"Monica!" Anni stopped cold, tiny slippers freezing in place and ice-blue eyes growing wide. "I haven't seen you in a long time."
"Hello, sister." The girl said, very formally. Her hair, the same colour as her mother's, was pulled back and allowed to flow down her back. "This is my friend, Chapelle. We were just looking through your books. We're sorry to intrude."
"Oh no, no!" Anni smiled broadly, "Please, feel free! There's no way I could ever read all these by myself. Help yourself!" She tried to hide her excitement at having company – it didn't happen very often.
"Thank you," Monica bowed her head slightly and joined her friend at a small table. Chapelle looked more like Monica's sister than Anni did. They both had dark curling hair and large dark eyes, and both had very mature mannerisms.
Anni struggled to maintain a proper composure and wandered over to the shelves. Her mind was buzzing with suggestions for herself – Don't stare at them, that's rude. Don't appear too eager, you'll scare them away. Act nonchalant. Stand up straight. If you go behind the shelves, you can watch them from between the books and they won't notice.
Taking her own advice, she drifted into the politics section and grabbed a book at random, trying to stifle a squeal of joy. Her younger sister was whispering with her friend and didn't seem to be very interested in the books on the table. Struggling to hear what they were saying, she wandered closer, wishing she could make up an excuse to go and sit with them.
"See, what did I tell you?" Monica whispered quietly.
"I don't know, she seemed friendly enough." Chapelle shrugged back.
"That's all just an act. She makes you think that she's friendly, but really she's completely self-centred." Anni shook her head hard – what?
"Are you sure? She said she hadn't seen you in a while…"
"Believe me, Chapelle. This library? It's all hers. Melody and I have a library half this size and we're two people! She has this entire floor all to herself. I hear she even talks about herself to herself when she looks in the mirror."
"Maybe she's just lonely."
"Chapelle! Why are you defending her?"
"I'm just saying-"
"Mother has almost convinced Father that she should be Queen when they're gone. Her! Do you know how badly I've wanted to hear them say that about me?"
Queen? Anni blinked and took a step back.
"But Monica, she's the oldest. The oldest always gets it. My brother's going to be King before long and you don't see me complaining."
"That's because you lack ambition," Monica tossed her hair. "But even besides that – look around you! I have a bedroom. Anita gets a floor. She is obviously the favourite. Father's constantly buying her whatever she wants. Do you know she has the most beautiful horse I have ever seen and she doesn't even ride it? I don't even think she's ever gone to look at it."
Anni watched all of this in disbelief. The favourite? If I am Father's favourite, then why doesn't he come and see me? For that matter, why doesn't he let me leave the floor that I'm so "privileged" to have? As she rambled on to herself, she slowly lost her grip on the book she was holding and it clattered to the floor. The friends stopped whispering and turned to look at the shelves. The blonde girl scrambled to pick up the book and in the process managed to knock off two more.
"Sister?" Monica's sweet voice echoed against the pages of the books, "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine!" Anni called out, surprised to find her voice was quivering and sticking in her throat. "Just clumsy is all." She waited to hear her sister's reply but there was none. "Monica?" When she had gathered all the books, she peeked through the shelf and found the room was empty.
"How is she?" A voice spoke quietly in the Queen's head.
"I think I'm pushing her too hard. She was really agitated this morning." She thought back to the voice.
"Maybe you should try letting her outside every once in a while," the voice chuckled, somehow deep and throaty though only a thought, "Fresh air never killed anyone."
"What if someone saw, Arif? What if someone recognized her? Or asked her name?"
"I'm just saying. You keep a person cooped up so long; they're going to be a little stressed."
"Stress I can deal with. I'm just so scared that this won't be safe for very much longer."
"You know I'll tell you if I see anything amiss here," The voice was tender and soft. "You don't have to worry. If it's no longer safe, I'll let you know."
"Yeah," the Queen said in her mind as she looked out the window at her husband's men preparing for the hunt, "It's hard sometimes to watch everyone else going about their daily lives without even a second thought. If they had to deal with the kind of fear I live in every minute of every day…"
"Their brains might possibly explode. It would be quite gory."
She giggled aloud, "Well then, good thing they don't go through what I do."
"What's so funny?" King Terek asked as he entered the room behind her.
"Gotta go, Arif," She thought rapidly, "I'll talk to you later."
"Tell the doting husband 'Hello' for me," Arif's voice echoed in her mind and then there was silence.
"Are you talking to that wizard friend of yours?" Terek asked as he approached his wife, "You know, I wish you wouldn't do that."
"We've talked about this," his wife sighed.
"I know, but sometimes I just wish that I could be the only man inside your head." He put his hand on her forehead and trailed his thumb over her eyelid and down her face. His eyes closed and he bent down for a kiss.
"Your Majesty?" Spoke a respectful voice from the doorway. King Terek pulled away from his queen before their lips could touch. "I'm sorry to interrupt," continued the messenger, "But we're ready to depart at your command."
"Thank you. I'll be there in a minute." The messenger's footsteps trailed down the hall and the king turned his attention back to his beloved.
"Good luck on the hunt," The Queen said with eyes downcast.
"Good luck… staying here." They both smiled. The king left the room and his wife sighed slightly.
"Arif?" She thought searchingly. "Are you there?"
"Do you ever wonder if we're doing the right thing?"
Her thought left a vacant spot in her mind. The silence pressed on until it was almost overwhelming. Moments before she was about to ask if he heard her, she heard a hesitant response: "All the time."