"Attention everyone!" my father called out.
"Wait, father!" I called out, stepping up to him. Everyone's eyes turned to us and father turned around to face me with a confused expression on his face.
"What is it, Lydia?"
"Can you postpone the announcement for a few moments? I must speak with Landon alone," I said nervously. Father raised an eyebrow.
"Is something wrong, Lydia?" he asked suspiciously.
"No, I just need a few moments to discuss something with him," I lied. He was quiet for a moment before nodding.
"Alright, but do not take too long, the people are waiting," he said, nodding towards all the guests who were looking to us with curious eyes. I nodded before gently taking Landon's arm and leading him to a small room behind the thrones. As soon as I shut the door behind me I leaned against it and let out a sigh.
"I can not go through with the engagement," I stated. Landon's eyes widened in surprise.
"Why, Lydia?" he asked, taking a step towards me.
"I can not keep you from Cassie. I know the pain of having to choose another when you love someone else, and I do not want to do that to you. You can marry any girl you please, I cannot. If I cannot be happy with the one I love, I at least want you to be happy. It would not do to have two people who are in love with someone else, married. I release you from the promise you made," I explained, slipping the ring off of my finger and handing it back to Landon. Sometimes I found myself envious of men.
From royalty to peasants, they could marry any girl they wished. A prince could marry a common labor girl if she struck his fancy, while women of high class had no choice in the matter. They chose someone in their class, and they never married lower than their standards. A princess was forbidden to marry anyone below the status of a duke. It would simply not be good for the kingdom to have a commoner to take over the throne, they said. How I envied Prince Landon at that moment, free to marry Cassie.
"Are you sure you want to do this? Who will you choose?" he asked, concerned.
"I will…" I thought for a minute and then shrugged. "I will find someone else."
"What will we tell you Father?"
"I will tell him I broke off the engagement," I replied.
"But if everyone finds out you will be labeled as undesirable because they will think you cannot commit," he explained.
"Well then we will say it was a mutual agreement."
"They will all be confused when they hear," he said with a slight smile.
I laughed. "I know."
Landon leaned forward and kissed my cheek. "Thank you."
I blushed involuntarily and looked away.
"If I may ask, who is it you are in love with?" he asked.
I took a deep breath and said his name before I lost my nerve. "Dawson."
"I guess I should have expected that," he said with a smile. "Well, I wish you two the best of luck. I shall stay until you have made your decision so I can assure that you are treated with respect."
"You do not have to…" I started to protest.
"I know, but I want to," he said. I smiled and he smiled back before opening the door for me. I walked up to my father with Landon by my side.
"Landon and I both agreed we want to call of the engagement," I told my father, fearing the worst. His eyes widened and his face turned red.
"What?!" he nearly thundered. The whole room fell silent and the guests started to whisper to one another.
"Why?" my mother asked, confusion etched on her face.
"We do not love each other," Landon stated simply.
"What does love have to do with marriage?" he whispered harshly.
"Perhaps we should take this discussion to a more private place," my mother interjected, glancing at the crowd staring at us. My father cast them a look before leading us all to the back room with a sigh. When we had the door shut firmly behind us my father turned to Landon with a cold look.
"Now listen, young man. You made a promise to my daughter, and do not think for one second that I will not hold you to that promise-" my father started to say, but I had to say something.
"It was a mutual agreement, father. I do not love Landon and he does not love me," I said. My father turned to look at me with a confused look on his face.
"What am I supposed to tell everyone waiting outside?" he asked harshly.
"Just tell them there was a mistake and there is no announcement," my mother said in a calm voice, putting a hand on my father's shoulder. He took a deep breath and let out a sigh. He cast one last glare at Landon before striding out of the room with my mother close behind.
"I am sorry for all the trouble this has caused," Landon said when the door closed behind us.
"Do not worry yourself about it. Go to Cassie," I said with a smile. Landon returned the smile before walking out. I walked over to the wall and leaned against it, taking a deep breath. My father would no doubt be mad about this for a few more weeks. There was also the matter of picking another prince, now that Landon was no longer an option. I searched my mind of all the princes I'd met, trying to pick out a single one that I would not mind marrying. Well, I would start my searching tomorrow. I had only three weeks left to chose a husband.
I pushed myself from the wall and strode out from the room. I walked down the steps gently and looked around the ballroom, searching for a dancing partner. I knew I could not leave the ball like I had done last time. Suddenly Sir William appeared in front of me and I resisted the strong urge to grimace.
"Princess, may I have this dance?" he asked politely. I could not refuse him, I knew better than that. I took his hand and his arms coiled around my waist like a snake. His grips was tight and forceful like the first night we met, but I didn't have Landon or Dawson as a saving grace this time.
"I heard about how Landon broke off your engagement. You poor girl," he said, raising a hand on my cheek and stroking it. His voice sounded full of sympathy but when I looked up into his eyes I only saw satisfaction.
"But I know it is for the best. I will be here to comfort you, Princess Lydia," he continued, leaning forward. I realized with a start that he was leaning in to kiss me. I abruptly stepped away and sent a scowl in his direction. Without another word I ran out of the ballroom.
I ran down a maze of hallways, praying that Sir William did not follow me. When I was sure that I had lost him in the crowd at the ballroom I leaned against the wall and took a deep breath to calm my rapidly beating heart. How dare he try to kiss me! And in front of all those nobles and royalty too! I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I was suddenly grateful that Landon was staying here until I chose a husband. Sir William would dare not mess with me if Landon was near, especially after he best him in fencing.
Suddenly soft chatter filled my ears and I heard a man and woman's voice echoing through the halls. I walked to the end of the hallway and peeked around the corner to see Landon and Cassie standing there.
"Cassie, you are my one love. Will you do me the honor of marrying me?" he asked, getting down on one knee. I suddenly felt bad for intruding on such an intimate moment. I slipped behind the wall so they would not see me and become embarrassed I had intruded on such a private moment.
"Yes, Landon!" I heard Cassie cry. I couldn't resist the urge to peek around the corner and I saw Cassie locked in Landon's embrace. They pulled away a few moments later and I saw a look of love in Landon's eyes, something he had never looked at me with. I felt my heart clench with pain at the sight of it; not because of the way I felt about Landon, but because I had never seen a man look at me this way, with that look in his eyes…and I wanted it so badly.
Suddenly Landon reached forward and touched Cassie's chin, bringing her face up to his. Cassie closed her eyes and leaned forward until their lips met. I felt tears sting the back of my eyes. Before I had believed that kissing before marriage was something to be avoided, but watching them…it was simply breathtaking. Something magical between two people who loved each other very much. Something I had not understood until I saw that look in Landon's eyes. Would I ever have a love like that? I tore my eyes from the sight and walked quietly down the castle hallway.
I don't know how long I wandered through the halls; all I do know is that when I finally came out of my daze I found myself outside in the garden. A full moon was directly overhead, and seemed so big that I could just reach out and graze my fingertips over the surface. A few stray rays of light brushed across the horizon, but otherwise it was dark. The stars were already out and overhead, shining like fireflies in the sky.
I walked over to the wooden bench by the roses and sat down. I reached out and plucked a rose from among the bush, careful not to prick my finger on the thorns. I spun it around, taking in it's beauty. So sweet, yet it could be deadly if you were not careful.
"What's in a name? that which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet."
I jumped when I heard the voice and the rose fell from my hand. I spun around to see Dawson standing there.
"Dawson, you should not sneak up on people like that!" I chastised him, but I was too happy to see him to actually be angry with him. He smiled as he walked over to me and sat down.
"And what was that you said?" I asked.
"A quote, from Romeo and Juliet, by Shakespeare," he replied.
"I know that book! Landon was reading it in the garden only a week ago," I said. I suddenly remembered how I had found myself here in the first place.
"Dawson, what is the book about?" I asked.
"It's about a boy named Romeo and a girl named Juliet. Both of their families hate each other, but they fall in love anyways. That quote was from a scene where Juliet is musing to herself that it is not a person's name or status that matters, but what is inside that really counts. As she said, 'a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.'"
"Such wise words," I said with a smile. I wished we could live in a world where titles and status didn't matter, and it was the person on the inside that we judged. I suddenly remembered the festivities going on inside, and wondered why Dawson was outside in the garden.
"Dawson, aren't you supposed to be inside entertaining the guests?" I asked. Dawson raised an eyebrow.
"Are you trying to be rid of me?" he asked with a slight smile.
"I was just wondering. After all, it was the reason you gave me when I asked if you could dance with me," I reminded him.
"Ah yes, and it was a very valid reason, but the celebration ended earlier than expected. The King was in a foul mood, and when he left the guests decided to leave." So, my father was angry about my broken engagement. This surely would not lead to anything good.
"Is was because of me he was in a disagreeable mood tonight," I admitted, looking down at the ground.
"He was supposed to announcement my engagement to Landon tonight, but we decided to break off the engagement at the last minute," I explained.
"Why did you break off the engagement?"
"We didn't love each other in a romantic sense," I stated simply.
"Lydia," Dawson said firmly, and I looked up to see a disbelieving look on his face. "I know that is untrue. You always put your duties before your feelings. What is the real reason?" For a minute I was too surprised that he had seen through my lie to say anything. But then I realized that I had known Dawson for ten years. He knew me like he knew the ballads of olden times; he could always see through me.
"He was in love with Cassie, and I wanted him to be happy," I finally told him.
"I feel there is a little more to the issue than that…" Dawson trailed off, but did not press on the issue. I did not even want to talk about it anymore, thinking about it brought tears to my eyes. Tears for losing Landon, tears knowing I would never have the love they had for each other, tears because I still had to choose a husband and I did not want any of the other princes. Tears because there was only one man I wanted and he was sitting right in front of me, right within my reach, but at the same time, I knew I could not have him. It was too much…all of it was too much to handle.
I did not even realize I was crying until Dawson asked, in a worried voice, "Lydia, what is upsetting you?"
I did not speak, I just leaned forward and buried my face in Dawson's shoulder. I did not care that it was not 'proper' or 'appropriate' for us to be here alone at night. All I wanted was a comforter, and the only one I wanted right now was Dawson. I suddenly felt Dawson wrap an arm around my shoulder.
"Please, sing to me Dawson," I pleaded. I needed something calming, and there was nothing that could compare to the soothing quality of his voice. For a moment he was quiet and I wondered if he heard my muffled plea, but my fear was soon put to rest as his voice filled the nighttime air.
"Douce dame jolie,
Pour dieu ne pensés mie
Que nulle ait signorie
Seur moy fors vous seulement."
I smiled when I recognized the ballad. It was one I had memorized in both English and it's original language, French, from when I studied poetry and ballads from the 14th century with Sir Julian. Dawson's voice cast a calming spell over me and my tears were reduced to silent sniffles. When Dawson had finished the song I leaned back and wiped the tears away from my eyes.
"Thank you," I said. With a nod he stood up and grabbed my hand, giving it a quick kiss.
The next day I woke up in a most agreeable mood. I woke up to the fireplace already lit and Cassie standing there, tending it with a stick. When she turned around and saw that I was awake she turned her eyes to the ground.
"I am sorry to wake you, princess," she said, standing up. Cassie bent down to put the stick back down in front of the fire and I saw something glimmer in the light of the fire. She looked up and when she saw where my eyes were fixed she quickly covered her left hand with her other hand, but I had already seen the ring on it.
"You do not need to hide it, I bear no ill will towards you because of it."
"I know. Landon told me what you did at the ball, but…I know what I saw. The way you looked at him sometimes…you loved him too."
My eyebrows raised slightly in surprise before I answered. "Yes, but not as much as you love him."
"But you still loved him, and then gave him up so he and I could be together. And that is why there could never be a way to repay you enough for such kindness."
"On the contrary, there is a way."
She looked up. "And what is it, Princess?"
"Be my friend, always. And stop calling me Princess, I am called Lydia by all my friends."
A smile spread across her face and she nodded. "I will, Lydia."
Wow, it's been a while, but I'm still working on this story. I've been slow on updates partially because of other stories, but mostly because of college. Don't wanna flunk out, so an update may take a while, but I'll try to get another chapter up soon. I hope you enjoyed this one =)