A voice broke through the sweet darkness that was sleep and I felt myself beginning to wake. Gradually the voice grew clearer, Jen's frustrated mumbles as she moved about my room drawing me further from rest. The blackness faded to a dull grey, and with the sound of curtains, a bright orange. I screwed my eyes shut and tried to burrow discreetly under the covers again. Jen pulled them off me and removed my pillow from under my head. I groaned and sat up slowly, glaring at my handmaid. Sometimes I wished I hadn't insisted she be less formal with me.
"Your mother has requested that you be present for breakfast in the dining hall in an hour."
"But I never eat with mother." I complained, standing up slowly and stretching my aching muscles.
"There is a visitor and she wishes you to be prompt and make a good impression." She began making the bed and shooed me away. "Your bath is ready."
I frowned again, remembering the guests I had not yet made acquaintance with that had arrived late last night. I inched my way towards the bathroom, undressing as I went, and lowered myself in the steaming water. My muscles began to loosen immediately. I had come to regret pestering Mother and Father for defense instruction, but I had hated feeling useless during the war, merely the princess that needed constant supervision. Father and Lucifer had both been more protective since it began, and only grew more so over the past six years. I had presented the idea to them first, their being the easier party to sway. Mother had, of course, protested; horrified that I wished to participate in something so "unladylike and barbaric". I had to promise I would still attend my other lessons and activities, and only use what I learned when absolutely necessary. Much to her dismay however, I had taken to wearing my small sword on a leather strap across my hips while I remained in the castle.
I lathered the scented bar of soap onto my hands and massaged my muscles as I washed. I inspected the long bruise on the side of my thigh. The knight they assigned as my tutor was arrogant and blatantly opposed to teaching a girl, and thus, I had never worked so hard as he made me in the last few months. Last night I had run the two-mile course around the castle grounds twice, my sword bumping against my leg with every step, and sir-arrogant yelling at me the entire time. I lay in the bath until the water turned lukewarm and Jen knocked on the door. I quickly rinsed and clambered out, toweling myself of and accepting the undergarments she handed me.
I looked at the large bundle. There were many more than I usually wore, meaning today would be insufferable and formal. I sighed and began dressing. Upon exiting the bathroom, I spotted Jen preparing a corset. I jumped back inside and shut the door. "I'm not wearing that!" I shouted through the door.
"Your mother's orders are for you to be properly dressed."
"I don't want to!"
"Lorraine! Come out before I call the other maids."
I begrudgingly stepped out of the bathroom, glaring at her. I hadn't worn a corset in weeks, my training having graced me with a figure that allowed me to go without. I was tempted to argue longer, but she had called the other maids before and corsets were easier if willingly applied. That didn't stop me from fuming as I slipped into the restrictive structure and she laced up the back. I resigned myself to small breaths until I could escape back to my room and she continued to help me dress. Laid across the trunk at the end of my bed was a pale green gown. It was a version of the kingdom's color- a dark forest green. Mother and I always wore the paler versions (when I was young I thought it was because it matched my eyes). Father and Lucifer wore the darker color.
Jen slid the gown over me and arranged it carefully over my underskirts. She laced up the back of the snug dress and smoothed out the wrinkles on my abdomen. The fitted sleeves trailed past my wrists and ended in a point on the back of my hand. Jen helped me to step into my slippers, resigning to my pleas for a pair without heels. Nobody could see them anyways.
I sat carefully in my vanity chair, uncomfortable in the corset keeping my from my usual semi slouch. Jen quickly powdered my face, brushed through my hair and plaited it carefully. The end of the damp braid ended in the middle of my back, tapping lightly against it as I then stood and walked across the room. I eyed my sword and leather carrying-strap, but decided wearing it wasn't worth Mother's wrath today. I wasn't sure who was here but I figured they were important.
Jen ushered me out the door and I sent her one last glare before painstakingly made my way through the long hallways. Perhaps I was so dolled up today to meet a suitor. Father had been careful to discourage them in the past. The speculation was why; whether he was saving his only daughter to marry off to a country he wished to ally- though our only enemy was Aethet, the country we were at war with- or to keep me with him. I doubted it was a suitor; this was probably just a visiting ruler from a neighboring country. Though why that required such preparation I was not sure. I have known the nearby royalty since I was young, and had befriended many of the other princes and princesses. Quite a few of the princes had attempted to court me at some point, both when I was young, and even more so now that I am seventeen. Even the kings had begun to question my father's motives now that I was nearing adulthood. If he did not act soon, he would lose his right to arrange my marriage when I turned eighteen. I shrugged away my thoughts as I neared the dining hall. The guards that had accompanied me joined the others by the doorway.
I entered the room slowly, not sure if I was late. Only Mother was already seated, though the table set with nearly twenty places. Mother sat at the far end of the table and I took my place at her right.
"You told Jen to make me wear a corset?" I accused.
"A proper lady always wears a corset."
"Nobody would have noticed if I hadn't."
"It compliments your figure." I glanced down. The combination of the gown and corset did make me look much slimmer than usual, but I was already very fit. The doors opening interrupted my telling her this. I anxiously watched the empty places begin to fill as advisors gradually filed into the room. A few moments later the table was full, spare Father and Lucifer's seats, and the two seats to the left of Father's. I inspected the advisors; I did not know all of them.
"Who is our guest?" I inquired, turning to my mother.
"Another king." I frowned, I had figured the advisors had accompanied a king, but advisors did not need to wear their country's colors so I could not determine whom. Mother would not say more about the guest, and grew agitated when I asked why he was visiting. I instead glanced about the table. Multiple of the noblemen were inspecting me when I met their eyes, including some of the foreigners. Looking around once more, I realized that every foreigner had his eyes trained on me and I shifted awkwardly.
I looked back to Mother to avoid the uncomfortable atmosphere surrounding the rest of the table. "What country does the king command?"
"I do not know, they arrived late last night." I huffed and was fighting the urge to crawl under the table when the doors opened again. I quickly pushed back from the table to stand, craning my neck to inspect the foreign royalty. Father, dressed in his dark green dress robes, walked beside a man I did not recognize. He was tall, though not as tall as Father, and wore a warm orange color. His robes however, were adorned with gold trim and designs that blended with the oranges to create the appearance of wearing a sunset. Behind them walked Lucifer and a young man, near my age, who sported the same color and a half crown.
I frowned. I did not know his kingdom. I glanced to Mother. She was still and pale, a wane smile plastered on her face. She wouldn't meet my gaze. We sat again and waited for Father to begin supper. "What kingdom is he from?" I inquired of Mother.
She was wringing her hands below the table violently; features flickering between worry and rage. "Did you say something?"
"What kingdom are they?"
Mother looked immensely sad for a moment, before answering quietly. "Aethet."
I paled. They were the enemy; the country we were at war with.