(Updates every Friday/Saturday.)

Part One:


— 1 —







"Princess Rayne, your mother wishes you to come to dinner in your best attire and sit beside Lord Archibald again. He will not agree to our trade arrangement…"

"Princess Rayne, the people are distraught over the recent flood near Deblia. Your father has commanded you to appear beside him when he addresses them so that you may comfort them with your presence."

"Princess Rayne…Your Highness…The queen wishes…the king has asked me to tell you…you are to stand…you are to sit…you are to dance…you are to look pretty and not speak before the prince of…"


"Sandelica…" I sleepily roll over in the covers and catch my favorite sister around the middle, pulling her down. She collapses on top of me, giggling.

"You were crying in your sleep," she laughs in my ear, breathless.

I reach with my free hand to touch my face, keeping her facing away from me so that she can't see. Her dark brown hair mingles with my black on the pillow.

Tears, indeed, as she said. It's been a while since I've cried during my dreams.

"Just a nightmare," I murmur cheerfully into her ear. She crawls away and I sit up, rubbing my eyes, then reach up to smooth my hair.

"You look beautiful…as always," sighs Sandelica.

"You're beautiful, Dell." Her big eyes for her eleven years old, not to mention her delicate build, definitely mark her as the elegant queen's daughter. Five years younger than I am, she still seems an equal to me in maturity.

"Not as beautiful as you. I wish I could look that nice in the morning."

You're lucky, I want to say.

If I didn't have this face, if I was plain, or even simply pretty, I wouldn't have to do all this. My parents would leave me in peace. I would be just another of their large brood. Not especially young, but not the eldest, either.

Being proclaimed as the beauty of my family may seem to be not all that bad. Perhaps it would be nice, in fact, if my family wasn't royal. If I wasn't used and re-used and prodded and commanded and given no free time, perhaps I might even enjoy it.

But all I am is a useless doll. I can only do what others say. I cannot be my own person. I don't know what would happen if I tried.

Besides, after all these years of playing the pretty mask of others' will, I do not think I know how.

"The gardener's new apprentice is very handsome. They're calling him the best-mannered man in service, too. I do suppose that Fleuria will get to him first, though. It's not fair that you and Fleurs should have such pretty faces when I'm so plain. I want a boy to look at me without drooling in your direction."

Kalrei is the third youngest, ten years old, and certainly the loudest of all the royal children. The eldest princess, Merle, now married to a foreign prince and living far away, used to call her Hummingbird, because of the way she speaks so fast.

I stand in the balcony high above the ground, surveying the countryside of the local towns, Kalrei clinging in what she thinks is a romantic, sorrowful way to the heavy drapes behind me.

"You would much prefer to have the face you've got, Kalrei, and flirt with all the common boys than be presented to stuffy old princes and whatnot. I know you would, you're just complaining to complain." I squint in the early morning light to see a tiny dust cloud out on the road, gently winding from side to side on one of the distant hills surrounding our kingdom.

A horse. Why would the rider be rushing so?

The war with Catkell.

I draw back to the drapes uncertainly, becoming nervous. Tugging Kalrei's hands from the fabric, I pull them closed, to her protests.

"Rayne, what are you doing?"

"A horse," I answer briefly, flying to the door and unlocking it. "Stay here."

"A horse…?"

I'm gone, though, pulling up my skirts and running to find the king, or the captain of the guard, or the Crown Prince Yarl, someone who I can tell.

If it's just the one rider, it can only be bad news.

Prince Teel, my younger brother by three years, is seated on the end of the banister of one of the grand staircases in the great hall, swinging his legs, bored. I stop in front of him, breathless, and he jumps. Recovering, a sullen expression comes over his face. He's not supposed to sit on the banister.

I don't have time for such things now. "Have you seen His Majesty?"

"He went off to some place to talk about peace, Princess Rayne." Teel starts to look suspicious at my not scolding him.

We may not be on the best of terms as siblings, but I am a well-mannered princess, and normally I would remind him he ought not to be so undignified, like the queen has told him every time she's caught him.

"Crown Prince Yarl?"

"His Highness is out with his wife." Teel's expression grows sour. No one among the royal children likes the future queen.

"And the captain of the guard?"

"He went that way, perhaps a quarter of an hour ago." Teel points and I gather up my skirts again.

I haven't been to the houses built for our personal guard of soldiers since I was a small girl, smaller than Kalrei. Back then, I was just another princess, the third girl and the youngest of five royal children.

Now, years later, with eleven altogether, three of which are married, everyone sees me as a girl who would make a very nice daughter in law.

The collection of small, compact houses were dark and menacing and big then, and though they're no longer as big as I used to think, they're still dark and menacing. But this is a matter of the utmost importance.

I bang upon the door of one and it opens under my fist.

"Hello?" I step into the gloomy building. "Is anyone about?"

A woman, still in her nightgown, appears in a doorway. Seeing me, her mouth drops open.

"Where is the captain of the guard?" I say commandingly.

Soundlessly, she points to the right.

"I…in the meeting house," she stammers finally.

I knock on the next door just as forcefully, but it doesn't open. "Captain!" I shout in a way that would have my etiquette-endowed teacher wincing and scolding. She always hated me for what she called my "snark."

Finally the door opens. A young man stands behind it. But he's not the captain.

"The captain of the guard?" I demand.

The boy‒for he's still that, really‒assesses my garments with a flick of a glance. Checking my rank. Then his eyes come to rest on my face and his eyebrows go up. "Princess."

"I must speak with the captain!"

"Why would you need to speak with him?" A challenge is in his voice and an infuriating smirk on his face. After all, I'm the empty-headed one. I can't do anything constructive. And why would anyone believe I would want to make myself useful?

His behavior is unacceptable. I don't care if I don't belong here, I am a princess and I won't be treated as if he is above me!

I draw up to my full height, but am annoyed to find he's still taller than me. "Do you think I run about the palace for fun, boy? Do I not look harried? Do I look like I came here for my own amusement?"

The smirk vanishes. "I'll deliver your message to him, whatever it is."

"Let me in, you idiotic commoner!"

He shakes his head, his eyes narrowing in disgust. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Your Highness. This is no place for royalty. Us commoners don't tend to make enough money to be grand enough for you to look upon our bare and unclean meeting houses." His voice is contemptuous.

I finally just push past him, striding down the hall of the house. "Captain!"

He follows behind me. "Leave now. They're having an important meeting."

"And they didn't include you, commoner? How sad. Captain!"

A door opens. "Rowanston! What's all the ruckus?"

"I'll escort her out immediately, sir. I apologize, she's being quite difficult," says the boy, apparently called Rowanston.

"No, you won't," I snap. "I may be only one of the many royal children, but I am a princess! The captain. Where is he?! You must tell me immediately."

The man in the door blinks at me for a few moments. "You're Princess Rayne?" He seems to be trying to keep his eyes away from my face and the bodice of my dress at the same time (a difficult task, apparently), which results in him ending up with his eyes on the hem of my dress.

"I am. And I must speak to the captain." I'm tired of repeating myself now, but to my surprise, he blinks some more and nods. "Very well."

"But sir‒!" protests Rowanston, and the man holds up a hand. "Dismissed, Rowanston. I don't care if you're the captain's favorite."

Rowanston summons an expression like he's got something bitter in his mouth, but leaves.

The other man holds the door for me and gestures me in. I take a deep breath and enter the room.

(Hey lovely lovely readers, the writer here, MarinasDragon. I am way too desperate for feedback of any kind, and I would love you forever and always and plus probably return the favor if you'd review any of my chapters here, and at the very least I'll check out some of your stuff, for sure. ;) Faves and follows are very very appreciated as well. Anyway, thanks so much and continue your reading in peace. )