CHAPTER 1: THE BLEEDING CROWN

CHAPTER 1: THE ROYAL ULTAMATUM

Green flames encircled her arms as the tapestry rose ominously into the air where it continued to float even after she had let her hands drop to her sides and the flames had died down.

"Ha! I'd like to see you get through that." Ariana laughed looking at her mentor on the other side of the tapestry.

"We shall see." Lady Vivien replied raising the sleek white wand in her hand.

She said nothing but after a second's contemplation moved the wand in a swift arc. There was a sound as cacophonous as though a thousand mirrors were breaking at once and the tapestry toppled to the ground with a pathetic thud.

Lady Vivien crossed her arms victoriously.

"I give up." Ariana sighed. "Maybe if I had a wand it would be easier."

"Blame the artist, never the paintbrush." Lady Vivien smiled "A wand would be useless to you if you cannot even produce a powerful amulet. I destroyed that protection with the simplest spell." She indicated to where the tapestry lay.

"It's such a bother, why do I need to make such large objects into defensive amulets, when is the kingdom ever going to need it?"

"It always pays to be prepared."

Ariana fumed silently, if she was like any other princess she would have thrown a fit and demanded that she pass the class based solely on her royal lineage because it was only fair right? Those who knew Ariana best however knew that the one thing she hated the most was being a princess. Princess Ariana, it made her sound like some simpering, golden haired brat waiting for a prince to save her when she was quite the opposite. She loved it when she met people for the first time and saw the surprise on their faces when they saw the caramel skinned youth with the unruly jet black hair as their princess. She tried her best not to fit into the category of a proper princess or a proper girl for that matter. She was brought out of her thoughts by the melodious tinkling of the dew on the leaves, she looked around as the wind whispered through the trees and before she had time to listen to what it was saying, the trees bowed, their leaves gracefully sweeping the ground in an act of supplication. In between the columns of bowing trees floated a magnificent throne with a vision of loveliness astride it.

"My Queen." Lady Vivien smiled bowing.

"Mother." Ariana added bowing as well.

The Queen smiled benevolently, the absolute definition of beauty, her shimmering dark hair sat in a becoming bun on her head, her beauty brought out still further by the dazzling jewel encrusted crown sitting recumbently on her head.

"Looks like I'm just in time for a demonstration of what my daughter does instead of learning how to be a queen." She laughed settling herself more comfortably.

Lady Vivien raised an eyebrow mockingly at Ariana who just sighed and took her position once more behind the tapestry. Once again she concentrated on the tapestry, muttering what sounded like incoherent strings of words under her breath until the tongues of green flames started to course down her arms. When the tapestry was in place Ariana stepped back and Lady Vivien approached and without the slightest hesitation broke through her defenses.

"Number one." She said "Never let your enemy hear your incantation and number two, remember that an amulet only works for the purpose of which it was designed and nothing else, you made your amulet so that it would only resist the simplest of defensive charms but not the most complex. We shall resume this tomorrow." And with that she exploded into a ray of sunshine and disappeared.

"That was….Interesting." Her mother smiled as Ariana rammed her own crown onto her head and began to trudge back to the palace, the throne floating serenely behind her.

"Why does magic even exist? I say we should just stick to what we're good at." Ariana fumed.

"But darling what we're good at has everything to do with magic." The Queen laughed "maybe you should just stick to what you were born to do."

"And what's that? Get married and spend the rest of my life as some subservient little queen? No thanks!"

"You must! For your kingdom as well as for us, it is your duty."

Ariana said nothing, she didn't understand her mother's outburst, it came out of nowhere but maybe she was just tired. The Queen had been ill for the past two years and no one knew what she was suffering from, she was now paralyzed and confined either to the royal bedchamber or the royal throne.

"Is Lady Vivien a good mentor?" she asked

"As good a mentor as any guardian could ever be." Ariana replied

They walked on in silence, the only sound being that of the birds in the trees and the bubbling brook.

"I am sorry." Her mother said at last "I should not have snapped."

"No problem." Ariana replied.

"Are you ready for the ball?"

Silence. Ariana said nothing.

"Are you?" her mother persisted

"Yes of course I am." She smiled "Is the dress already here for my fitting?"

"Well not exactly." Her mother said mischievously "You will be going to the dressmakers for your fitting.

"Outside the palace?" Ariana asked in awe "You're joking right?"

To any other person this would sound very weird indeed but unlike most princesses Ariana was not allowed out of the palace gates unless there was a very good reason for her to do so i.e. a fire or a funeral that must be attended and because of thus she had no friends, the few that she used to have were either too embarrassed to talk to her or to busy with their husbands. Leaving the castle walls would be a treat and Ariana could already feel the excitement welling up in her.

"Are you coming?" she asked, in her excitement she had forgotten how insensitive the question would be.

"This old cripple?" The Queen joked, taking no offense "No I think I'll stay here and read a book, oh don't look so dejected' I'll still be here when you get back."

The Queen continued to talk but Ariana wasn't listening, she was studying her mother carefully, sometimes she worried about her. Her long dark hair unlike her daughters was rarely left loose, perhaps so as not to emphasize the well formed face which was slowly beginning to waste away because of the disease. Most people usually described her mother as a latter day Snow White, lips as red as blood, skin as white as snow.

"And your father returns today."

"What?" she asked coming out of her thoughts

"You're father, you remember who he is don't you?" she laughed "He's coming back today."

Ariana smiled at her mother's elation, the Queen was always miserable when her husband went away and was rarely seen even in the castle grounds so it was no surprise that when she did show her face glowing like the summer sun, the staff knew that the king was soon to return and immediately started making preparations.

"Anyhow I thought it was time you had a little treat, so go on the carriage is waiting for you in the courtyard."

Ariana kissed her mother goodbye and ran to the courtyard where the royal carriage was indeed waiting for her.

"Morning ma'am." Said the fat jolly driver as she got into the carriage, ignoring the assistance of the footman.

"God gave me legs and arms Jenkins and I'll be damned if I don't use them just because I'm royalty." She said to him before calling out to the driver. "Morning Steve."

After a while the carriage clattered onto the cobbled streets of the city. The women with their baskets filled with bread and fruit made their way to the market, chatting away jovially, as the carriage passed them they waved at them and Ariana waved back. It didn't take them long to reach Madam Moore's dress fitting parlor and from the commotion inside it seemed to be quite a busy day.

"I wanted rose pink you fat cow not baby pink." Yelled a golden haired girl pacing around the room in a magnificent ball gown.

"But there is absolutely no difference!" another girl shouted.

"Show's how much you know." The golden haired girl sneered. "And who the hell are you?"

An older woman who Ariana took to be Madam Moore walked serenely up to her.

"I'm Ariana ma'am." She said "Princess Ariana."

"Of course you are darling; you have your mother's eyes." Madam Moore bowed.

She was shown to a small platform where a dressmaker began to attend to her immediately, other girls filtered in. Ariana watched them; they all seemed to know each other.

"Is that her, THE princess Ariana?" Asked a certain girl.

"You say that as if you envy her." The golden haired girl, who Ariana found out was called Catherine sneered; she seemed to have a talent for it.

"Well-."

"There's nothing to envy about her, she's a total outcast, and did you know that this is her third ball? Her last chance, nobody wants her."

Ariana had been listening to this whole conversation while staring passively at the wall; she could see the woman who was fitting her dress glance up at her curiously. In the land of seasons it was required of every royal female child to be married by the age of sixteen and every male by the age of eighteen. Ariana was sixteen and not married, she had been to two previous balls and this third one was her last chance, no royal had ever managed not to find a spouse but Ariana was sure that the consequences for not doing so were severe.

"There you go dear." The dressmaker smiled "You're really gonna turn heads, don't you worry." She gave her a conspiratory wink and walked off.

"They are annoying aren't they?" said a voice behind her, Ariana turned around to find the girl who Catherine had accused of being envious of her.

She was dressed in a maid's garb, a simple gown of cotton dyed red.

"Yes they think that just because they can fix a dress, they can fix my life too." Ariana laughed "I'm Ariana."

"Halle." The girl said as she bowed "Lady Catherine's maid."

Ariana looked over at Catherine who was still ranting about the color of her dress.

"That must be a handful."

"You have no idea."

Ariana laughed and Halle laughed with her. In that instant a bond formed, one which was stronger than friendship, the bond of equals between a girl who had everything and one who had nothing, both of them outsiders.

"Come maid, we're leaving to go to a dressmaker who has at least 20/20 vision." Catherine yelled.

Halle gave her an apologetic look and left hurrying after her mistress.

"Lady Catherine." Ariana said to Madam Moore "Which land is she from?"

"The Kingdom of Spring in the west." She replied

Ariana nodded, she would have loved to talk to Halle more, and even though their respective social classes would disapprove she saw in Halle someone she could be friends with, someone she could trust.

"Is that all dear?" Madam Moore asked handing her a parcel.

Ariana nodded and made her way out onto the crowded street.

"Steve." She said when she finally reached the carriage "I'm going to take a walk around, I'll be back soon."

Steve grunted he was far too absorbed with something that Ariana couldn't see, she left her parcel in the carriage and walked to the market place. It was so full of life and smells and color that Ariana stood there for a moment just gazing at it. The market women haggled away with their customers, four libres for tomatoes! Celery for two! The bakers wheeled carts of fresh bread down the streets and the pickpockets ran in and out of sight.

"Hey watch it!" cried one of the bakers just before he rammed into her, sending her flying into a large vat of God knows what. She steeled herself for the impact but instead was caught by a pair of strong arms. Breathing a sigh of relief she looked up to thank her savior and immediately wished that she had fallen back into the vat.

She was staring into the face of Erik, prince of autumn, pompous, spoilt, conceited and self serving; he was the very reason for the existence of the word jerk.

"Well well, look whose been let out of her cage." He smirked running his fingers through his brown hair.

Ariana pushed herself out of his arms and glared at him, arms akimbo.

"What are you doing here Erik?" She asked "you're not one to mingle with the common folk."

"True but neither are you." He replied "I'm here for the ball remember, I see you still haven't found yourself a man. When you become tired of playing coy-."

"Thanks but no thanks Erik." Ariana sneered and she immediately turned on her heel walking back in the direction that she had left the carriage.

She had met Erik at her first ball when she had still believed that if she became a queen she would rule side by side with her king as an equal. That perception had been shattered when having accepted Erik's proposal he had the audacity to say that Ariana would look good in his bedchamber. She had broken off the engagement immediately to her father's annoyance. She could hear Erik following her but she ignored him. She kept on walking until she reached the carriage which was…not there?

"Steve?" Ariana asked in bewilderment "where could he have gone?"

Erik chuckled as he leaned on the wall

"Looks like someone needs a ride home."

Ariana whirled on him.

"Alright Erik this has your dirty paws all over it, where is the carriage?"

"I truly have no idea."

She studied him for a moment and although he was smiling from ear to ear he was genuinely just as confused as she was.

"Fine" she said "you can take me home."

The palace was in complete disarray

"She's back? What do you mean she's back?" the king thundered

He immediately pushed past the trembling servant and into the main hall. The king of summer was what most would describe as a jolly giant due to his great size. He was a black man with a bald head and dark brown eyes.

"Where in the world have you been?" he demanded when he was standing right in front of his daughter.

"At the dressmakers." She replied defiantly

"I'm not talking about that, I mean what are you doing coming home with a boy who is not your betrothed and without a chaperone? You just ran away from Steve and-."

"I did not run away! He left me."

Steve was immediately summoned and asked to explain himself. Ariana was horrified when he blatantly denied ever leaving her but claimed that she had simply not returned from the dressmakers. Her father looked at her sternly.

"I can't believe that you would do this, and you wonder why I never let you leave the castle walls; if you don't find a husband tonight you'll be dead to me."

"I can't believe that you would take his word over your own flesh and bloods."

"Just get out of my sight Ari; I can't bear to look at you."