From the moment they sat down in the back of that roughly made cart, Marcus realized how difficult it had been for Delina to walk. She had tried to hide it and if Marcus had not seen the imperceptible tension loosen from her jaw, he would not have known she had had any trouble at all.
But still, for reasons unknown to him, she was happy. She spread her feet before her and wriggled her toes in delight. Her eyes sparkled in triumph as she lifted one delicate foot into the moonlight to admire it. Marcus looked at her strangely, he had never seen someone so enamored with their own feet before. Some ladies at court would proudly display their feet in expensive shoes and silk stockings though there was never more than a passing glance of admiration at their feet. The focus had mostly been on their faces. He had caught more than one lady hypnotized by her own reflection before.
Delina began to kick wildly into the air and laugh silently, turning to Marcus to share some indecipherable understanding. Marcus smiled at her awkwardly and transferred his attention to the passing countryside.
It was a clear, warm night. On the deep fabric of the night sky, the stars had been poured like a river of jewels. Cows and sheep dozed sleepily on soft grass pastures, opening the occasional eye at the sound of the cart passing by. Without the walls of the palace surrounding him, Marcus felt exposed and vulnerable. He was not used to such open air.
The heavy clip-clopping of the horse's feet and the noise of the dragging wheels on dirt filled his mind and lulled him into a state of stillness. He could not think of anything nor bring himself to do so. There was only fear, a raw emotion that continually dug into his stomach. There were no words to it and he had no plans to confront it. The anxiety of his lack of control of the situation began to build. He may never see his home again. May never see Elise again.
He pushed that thought away and settled into a bale of hay. Sighing, he stared at the foot Delina continually pointed and flexed. She finally settled it flat on the ground and rolled up to stand. Her arms flapped to keep balance but a particularly deep hole in the road lurched her forward on top of Marcus.
Marcus wheezed, trying to catch his breath. Delina propped herself up above him and looked curiously upon his face, as if studying him intently. Marcus did not enjoy being scrutinized, it reminded him too much of his own father, always looking for some sign that he was fit to rule. There would always be some sort of flaw, a weakness that made him turn away with disappointed eyes.
Roughly, he pushed Delina off of him. Delina looked unruffled and continued to stare, the moonlight hauntingly outlining her silhouette.
Elise had spent the rest of the day in the orchard. The repeating actions of grabbing apples and throwing it in the basket was relaxing. She did not have to think. All she had to do was concentrate on not falling from the tree.
"Hullo, Elise," Timothy the gardener waved to her from the ground.
Elise held back the apple she was about to throw and smiled down at the older man. "Hello Tim! I haven't seen you in a while." Tim knew everything about the palace grounds. He had taught her about animal tracks, flowers, and the names of trees. He knew so much about nature that Elise had always suspected him to be an elf of some sorts. It wouldn't be a far stretch, Tim was a small type of man with ears that sort of stuck out from his leathery face.
As far as she could remember, Tim had been a part of the palace grounds. It was not easy to find him when one was looking, but he had a tendency to show up unexpectedly.
"Been busy," he shrugged, "They've been wanting me to find a blue rose. Probably be looking for it for the rest of my life." Tim coughed and cracked the bones in his back.
"Oh, you can't do that thing where you mix the pollen together?" Elise asked as she climbed down from the tree. She hopped the last distance and looked at her friend.
Tim grinned, "Been trying that too, but mostly I've been getting purple ones. I'm not even sure if it's possible."
"Well if it's you Tim, I'm sure you can."
"If I had that witch's help, I could," Tim grumbled.
Elise's eyes widened, "You knew Theodora?"
"Sure, she came by the palace all the time to see the king. Liked plants too."
"Why would she come by the palace?" Elise asked, putting some of the apples that she had missed into the basket.
Tim scratched his head, "Well I'm not too sure, but the king probably asked her for things like protection and what not. I wouldn't doubt it, she was a powerful lady, that one."
"But she's gone now."
"Probably why we have Telethia breathing down our necks now. We don't have her anymore."
The news that they had relied on a powerful witch to protect them instead of actually forming a good defensive strategy annoyed her. There were so many things that could go wrong with that, like say, the witch deciding she didn't want to help anymore.
"Seems pretty unreliable," she muttered. Maybe Marcus could still be here if the king hadn't gone for the easy route.
"Well, I can understand why the king did that. But it probably would have helped to have a backup plan."
Elise picked up her basket and hitched it up against her hip, "Well, I've got to go bring these back in. It was good seeing you Tim."
Tim grinned widely at her, "Always a pleasure, Elise."
When Elise returned from the orchard, a basket full of apples in tow, she found her friends gathered around the kitchen fire. They were unusually silent and some had tears glimmering around the edges of their eyes. Something's wrong, her eyes darted around the room. To her relief there was no one missing and no one looked hurt.
"What's going on?" Elise asked.
"Elise," Cara engulfed Elise in a comforting embrace. "Honey, I'm so sorry."
"Why?" Elise pulled away. Everyone was looking at her with pity, she didn't like it. It reminded her of the time when Marcus had pushed her into the mud when she was seven and everyone had coddled her when what she really wanted to do was go back and punch Marcus in the face.
Fred put a hand on her shoulder, "Elise, there's no easy way to put this…but Prince Marcus's ship was lost in a storm. He never arrived at the wedding."
The news felt like a blow to the stomach. For a moment, Elise couldn't breathe and was robbed of strength in her legs. Elise collapsed on a chair and felt her own blood beat loudly through her ears. Her heart burned as if poison had been injected into it, but her body felt cold.
"No one," Elise gulped for air, "Survived?"
"There have been survivors," Fred looked grim, "But there's been no sign of the prince." He put an arm around her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Elise."
Why is everyone saying that they're sorry? Elise stared in her lap. Sorry meant broken glass, hurt feelings, things that could be fixed. If Marcus was truly gone, there was no way that could be fixed. Nothing could bring Marcus back. Two moist trails dripped down her face and onto the skirt of her dress. Her eyes screwed shut and squeezed more tears out. Elise hunched over and began to sob, her cries thick from her swollen throat. She was sobbing so hard she couldn't take in air and it only made her cry harder. Cara didn't say anything and rubbed her daughter's back. There was nothing she could say in a situation like this.
Elise was shaking from anger. At herself for hurting him like that before he left. At the king for being so stupid to rely on someone else to protect his kingdom for him. If he hadn't done that, Marcus wouldn't have had to shoulder the burden like this. It was wrong, it was all so wrong!
Marcus would never return. Nothing would ever be the same again.
A week passed by in mourning. The entire palace had an air of heavy grief blanketing it, smothering it. The king had locked himself in his inner chambers, only seeing his advisors and signing things occasionally. More often, servants would be turned away in a great flurry of anger and sadness.
The candles around portraits of Marcus had been snuffed in reverence. His painted eyes stared out from a darkened place on the walls.
Those close to Marcus seemed unable to understand or swallow that he was truly gone. For Elise, Marcus had been a simple fact of life. A being who seemed immortal simply by his infuriating stubbornness. She did not know how to deal with the circumstances.
"So she's just been sitting there, peeling potatoes the whole time?" Maurice peered into the kitchen. And just as he had been told, Elise was sitting sullenly in a corner, peeling potatoes.
"One time, we tried to take the unpeeled ones away from her, and she started to sob again," Fred shook his head in pity.
"Sir, could you tell us what land we are in?" Marcus pulled himself to the front of the cart, shakily supporting himself as it moved roughly.
"You're not in any land. This is middle island territory," the old man snorted.
Marcus muttered to himself, "Of course."
Of course he would not be back in his own kingdom, but end up in a land where he was nearly powerless and quite possibly hated.
Author's note: I was kind of intent on letting TDC go, but I thought of something. I will put up the chapters I have, most are incomplete and bare like this one. But I want to finish it. I have a new story brewing: Court of the Mirror Queen and that is my main focus right now because I have fallen in love with the characters, but TDC is definitely still on my mind. I have decided that Elise, in order for THIS plot to advance, needs to leave the palace. However reading TDC again, even this chapter, made me realize how much my writing has changed in less than a year. TDC will under go a rewrite, but after it is finished, I suppose. Thank you for reading!