Prologue

The dark cold wind blew, and a figure ran up to the tower door, banging on it hard. "It's the prophecy!" he yelled over the wind, "The child of the prophecy has been born!" The door opened, and the frozen young man was rushed inside. He continued, "There is a girl, born lovelier than a rose bud, in just the next kingdom over!"

"Is this so?" a slow voice asked. "I wish to see this child. Bring her to me."

The man shuffled nervously. "I can't, sire. It would be quite noticeable and cause quite a fuss. She is… a Princess."

The air sparked with green light, and the man cowered in fear. He knew the consequences of an unhappy Master. He flinched as one spark came particularly close, before the electricity in the air died down. "We can't let this go unnoticed; something has to be done about this girl." The voice continued, much more calmly. "I want you to watch her. The night of her 18th birthday, I'll see if this flower poses a threat to my power."

The young man snickered slightly. At the curious glance from his Master, he replied, "That… rhymed, sir…" As the air sparked again, the man ran out of the tower and back into the storm.

CHAPTER 1

"I will not see King Cedric! He is a pompous old coot!"

I was furious. Father was determined to get me to marry one of his suitors, when all I wanted to do was find love. Rebelling at every chance I got, I had managed to avoid more suitors than was thought imaginable. Father turned red in the face from arguing.

"I don't understand! His kingdom is prosperous; and that can take care of you and the kingdom when I'm gone! You can't be so selfish! He's even better looking than Prince Charles and he's young-"

"–He's 35."

"That's better than Lord Timothy; I admit that might have been a little too much." Lord Timothy was a kindly lord in the neighboring kingdom. He was the right hand man to the king, chivalrous in every way, and only 62 years older than I. "A young girl needs someone to depend on, not take care of. Someone young." Father paused for a second, thinking of another past suitor. He smiled. "Why not Prince Eric?"

I scoffed. "Someone to depend on, not to baby sit."

"King Jerald was 20-"

"Jerry wouldn't know how to tie his own shoes if he didn't have advisors telling him how to do it." Both he and I were frustrated: I, with the fact that 95% of my suitors made me feel like a thing rather than a person, were drop dead dull, or didn't have two brain cells to rub together; and he, with the fact that I could not, no, would not choose one over another.

"His twin was willing; Prince James would have made a fine king."

Ah, yes. I remember James. Every girl in the kingdom wished they could marry his brother, so I focused on James when they journeyed here. He and I actually got along. He was sweet and sensitive, smart, and easy to talk with. "James… Good old James. Smart, talented, has never been in trouble in his life."

My father looked at me hopefully. Had I finally chosen a suitor? "So…"

Not quite. "So he has no life. No sense of adventure! …And his nose is off centered." I was a wild, hopeless romantic, looking for adventure, and he was a conservative, down to earth guy, looking for somewhere quiet to study. Great guy, but we are kind of like water and fire. I couldn't live surrounded by safe things, and he wasn't particularly fond of leaving castle grounds, let alone the capital.

Father didn't see it that way. "Young lady, you will meet with King Cedric! You will be at dinner tonight at 6! That is my final decision! I will not have you evading your duties any longer! You will marry one of my suitors by the full moon, or so help me; I will disown you and put you out on the streets!"

I laughed and gave him that look that has every father wrapped around his daughter's pinky. "Oh father, you would never do that."

He stumbled over his next words, trying to regain his lecturing tone. "No… but I will do something, and you won't like it. I am the king! And if my own Daughter rebels against me-"

"Alright, fine. I'll be at dinner." I had to spare his threats of what would happen to the kingdom if a king wasn't found responsible.

"Then by go… oh, alright then. I'll send Edward to escort you down." He left without another word. I waited until the door closed and I heard his footsteps retreat down the hall. As soon as I knew he was far enough away, I belly-flopped onto my four-poster bed, shoved my head into a pillow, and screamed until my throat went dry. I heard laughter and looked up just in time to see my eldest brother step from behind the curtain leading to the balcony.

"That's not very lady like."

"Eddie! You were eavesdropping! Again…" I smiled. My balcony was right below the guestrooms, so it was easy to get to my room from there. My family is famous for sneaking into conversations. Even little Ann has started practicing. I ran to Edward and hugged him furiously.

"Hey there!" Edward hugged me for a second, then moved back and swept a flourish-y bow. "You are supposed to bow respectabibbily to your so-peer-ee-ors."

I stepped back and swept a deep mock curtsy of my own. "Oh, Excuse me," I said, playful sarcasm lavishly dripped into every word, "Your most Royal Highness. You must excuse me for this most disgraceful behavior. It most certainly won't happen again." We laughed for a while, and then a shadow crossed over Edward's face. "Eddie?"

"You really shouldn't give Father such a hard time. He's already had one rebel child-"

"-and he doesn't need two. But why did you have to go off and rescue a princess of another court- no, another country - and fall madly in love with her when she was the only heir to the throne? I was supposed to live a normal life! And now I'm crowned princess! It's not fair!" I turned away from him, afraid I might cry, realizing that all of my dreams had been ruined or changed now that I was heir to the kingdom.

Edward came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. In a soft voice, he said, "I'm sorry; I know it's a lot of pressure, that's why I ran away. But you are the next oldest, and it will be years before Odette is old enough. And you know that Mother's worried about Father's health; we don't know how long he has, which means you need to be ready." He stood there a moment, and then turned me around. "Isabelle…"

I buried my head into his nice white tunic and started to cry. Edward ran his fingers through my hair comfortingly until my breathing slowed, then he held me back and wiped away the few stray tears. "Now, let's get you cleaned up for King Cedric, and if you promise to behave tonight and act like a proper princess for King Cedric, I'll talk to father and see if I can find a suitor worthy of a young, free spirit such as yours."

He left a short while later, and I shut the door as Edward retreated down the hallway. I trusted my brother, and was glad he would go to find my next suitor. Sighing, for I always sigh when face with the decision of what to wear, I walked over to my wardrobe, threw open the door, and stared in awe. I normally would have seen many different dresses of many different colors. All I found was a beautiful, lilac, floor length dinner formal with a slightly darker corset.

"I guess this is what Mother wants me to wear tonight." I muttered to myself. Below the dress there was a matching pair of heels, a pale yellow ribbon, and an ornate jewelry box. Confused, I pulled out the box, opened it, and gasped. Inside was the loveliest silver tiara and a delicate chain with a full-bloom silver rose pendant. I walked over to my bed, set the box carefully down and pulled out the necklace. After struggling to clasp it behind my neck, I looked back down at the tiara and saw a corner of a paper sticking out. Plucking it up from underneath the tiara, I read it eagerly.

Happy Early Birthday, my dearest sister. I thought for your 18th birthday you should have something a little more regal than the golden circlet you usually complain about. And I know how much you prefer silver to gold. This outfit is for the dinner on that special day. Mother is in the process stressing over the perfect Ball gown, so I told her I would take care of this. I Love you.

Eddie

So it hadn't been Mother after all, I thought. Wow, Eddie has good taste. But where were the rest of my clothes?

P.S. Mother wants to see you about the dress you are going to wear tonight. She has your entire wardrobe in her room. Good luck!

Uh-oh. That was never a good sign. Like I am sure with most mothers and daughters, my mother and I had two totally different tastes: I loved plain, toned-down dresses; she was all for flashy and bright. I loved floral accents; whereas the royal Jewels were her favorite. And last, but certainly not least, I hated gold. I would wear the occasional gold chain with warmer color dresses, but I refused to wear the circlet my mother had given me when I was named the crowned princess. Walking to Her Majesty's chamber felt like walking toward my own death sentence. No doubt left on her own for so long, she would have found not only the "perfect outfit" but also the arguments to make me wear it as well.

Sure enough, the four choices I would have picked lay on the bed, while my mother's choice was already being fitted on the 'my-size' mannequin. I shuddered. It was solid gold. I am sure it would have looked lovely… on someone else. Not me. I started my protest.

"Mother…" I started to ask, "Did you really ha-"

She interrupted me sweetly. "Honey, I know you don't like this color. But you see, back when I was your age, and King Cedric, Prince Cedric back then, well he was one of my suitors, and this was the dress-"

I had stopped listening as she knocked of reason after reason why I should wear the dress. When she sounded like she was finishing, I all but shouted, "One of your suitors? UGH!!"

"That's the way royal marriages tended to go, and still do: for the kingdom. The sooner you figure that out, the sooner you can get on with your life. Besides, he's just coming to meet you, formalities and all." She sighed forlornly. "To tell you the truth, Cedric and I were in love. But your Father was a better candidate for an alliance, and I liked him well enough. Not that I had any choice." She looked at the dress with sad eyes. "I guess you can pick one of the dresses on the bed. I had them all fitted for you as well. I just…"

She looked so heartbroken; I knew there was only one way to cheer her up. I shuddered again, and took in a deep breath. "I'll wear the dress, Mother."

She immediately perked up. "Alright then, try it on! We have very little time before he arrives." She swiped it off of the mannequin and hurried over to me. I took it begrudgingly and stood behind the changing screen.

The material felt nice. It was silky and smooth. But like I said, it was solid gold. The threads were individually flashing light everywhere. The sleeves cut off at my elbow, and the skirt flowed like a massive silk flood. The dropped waist made my torso look too long, and the square neck emphasized the fact that I had no shoulders. As I stepped from behind the screen, my mother swept me to Lucinda, the seamstress working on the fittings. I looked over to the bed, where the blue silk brocade sat neglected next to the gold jewels. Even though I didn't like the raised design, I loved the color so much better than gold. As my mother started to clasp a ruby on a gold chain around my neck, she saw the silver rose pendant.

"What is that? I've never seen it before." My mother fingered it curiously: worried it may be from someone who was competition for the suitors, no doubt.

"It's from Eddie, for my birthday next week. I would like to wear it if that's ok." Of course it was not ok. It probably clashed awfully with the dress.

Surprisingly enough, she moved to work on my hair with Chelsea, who had just walked in the room with bundles of hair irons and pins. She still looked slightly surprised when she turned me to face the mirror. She pulled all of the pins out of my hair, and it slowly fell to my knees. It takes normally takes hours to do my hair, but this time, she left it hanging straight. She pinned on the cursed golden circlet, and gave me the mom look. The silver did clash in every way possible. I sighed and removed the necklace as my mother hung the ruby in its place. After poor Chelsea finished brushing out my ridiculously long, auburn hair, she rubbed a bit of my favorite rose oil into it to make it shine.

A herald of trumpets announced the king's arrival, and Mother rushed off to greet our honored guest. I tugged on the dress nervously, until Mary, the seamstress, slapped the back of my hand.

"You look fine," she said with a smile. Chelsea nodded her agreement.

"Isn't there anything we can do to fix that?" I asked, looking as horror stricken as a lady at a ball who just discovered a wart on nose. After a few giggles, Edward knocked on the open door.

"I hope you are not having too much fun in here." Chelsea and Mary curtsied, and both muttered some form of 'No, Your Highness' while I gave my response by motioning to the ensemble.

"How could I be having too much fun in this thing?"

Edward looked me up and down. "Yikes! You let mom have her way again didn't you?" I nodded helplessly. "That's alright, you still look fantastic." Mary and Chelsea giggled again, and I glared sideways at them. Edward gestured towards the doors that led out of the living quarters to the top of the stairs. "Shall we?"

I sighed and walked out of the room, listening to the whispered 'good lucks' from Mary and Chelsea, and the 'Your Highness' from everyone else hiding still in the background. I stopped at the door to the stairs and turned to Edward. "Will you do me a favor?" He nodded slowly, an odd expression on his face. "Will you keep this safe for me?" I held up the little rose, "It is my most prized possession."

Edward nodded and laced it through the cuff on his sleeve. "I thought you might like it." He held out his arm, and I clung tightly to it. He reached over to my hands and squeezed them comfortingly. "You'll be fine, remember my promise?" As I nodded, he knocked on the doors. They swung wide and the light rushed in to meet us.

The typical Processional started at the top of the staircase; my mother was a more hopeless romantic than I was. My suitor would be standing at the large door, engaged in a conversation with my mother and father. The herald would call out my name, and Edward would lead me out onto the top of the stairs. My suitor would gaze lovingly up at me, and I would… honestly? I would trip on purpose, tear my dress, or twist my ankle: something to stop the whole romantic moment. Most of the time, it had worked too. This time I had glided down the stairs gracefully, and stopped a few steps back, and curtsied graciously to King Cedric.

"King Cedric, May I present Princess Isabelle, our pride and joy." Father's words spread throughout the grand foyer. I concentrated on the chandelier's tinkling from the loud proclamation. King Cedric reached for my hand.

"It is a great honor to finally meet you, Princess." He kissed the back of my hand, and I rolled my eyes, which succeeded in me getting a glare from my mother, and a jab in the ribs from my escort. "I've heard a great many things about you." Edward and I exchanged glances and nearly broke out laughing. That wasn't necessarily a good thing. Edward nudged me slightly, and I turned my attention toward the kings and queen in front of me.

"The pleasure is all mine." I said, slightly distracted. I curtsied again, looking down, as one should when addressing a superior.

He raised me back up and offered me his arm, which I reluctantly took. All these formalities made me wince. I suffered through them silently.

The walk to the sunroom seemed to take forever. We talked about nothing of consequence. When we finally arrived, he led me over to the love seat and motioned that we should sit. Alone, in that room, I suddenly felt vulnerable. I sat as far away as I could on that small couch, looking firmly at my folded hands, neatly placed on my lap.

King Cedric looked at me with curiosity laced in his eyes. "You aren't happy with this arrangement, are you?" he asked casually, with a smile that reached to his eyes. He laughed at my surprise, and it broke the tension.

"Not really, no. But then again, if you've heard a lot about me, chances are you've heard I'm not alright with a lot of arrangements."

He laughed again, and took one of my hands and said, "I'm actually quite glad you feel this way. You see, I'm not sure how much your parents told you, but I am the messenger, not the suitor. You see, my heir…"

I tuned out completely. I wasn't marrying King Cedric! My parents totally forgot to tell me that part. It took all of my self-control to hide the inexplicit joy I felt and to try and concentrate on what he was saying. "And that way, everyone is happy. Now, I'll tell your father we have come to an arrangement, and that I'll supply Crowned Prince William as suitor, in honor of the treaty."

I must have made a face at the word "suitor" because he laughed again.

"He's a good boy, and I'm sure you'll like him, at least a little more than your other suitors so far." He patted my hand, stood and offered me his arm again. "Shall we go to dinner then?" I stood and took his arm with much more confidence and a smile that could make the grumpiest dwarf laugh.

Yes, I thought, we shall.