The room that overlooked the entrance of the Victorian palace was indigo with a cream border decorated with iridescent navy and violet irises. A crystal vase of indigo irises sat on the ebony end table beneath the window. To one side was a mirror. There, a woman examined her maroon bodice and scarlet skirt and lips. She pulled back her coffee waves at the sides and allowed them to tumble down to her waist. The mascara on her eyelashes made her sky blue eyes stand out.
"Amora! Get down here!"
Princess Amora Iris Lee of Carmenia started with surprise. She straightened her dress one more time and strode out of her room. The entire house outside her domain was decorated with ebony wood floors and panels that came partway up the walls, and cream damask wallpaper that managed to balance the ominous wood. She started down the hall and stepped down the stairs when she reached them. At the end stood a muscular man in a black suit. His arms were crossed and he scowled.
"You are late."
"I apologize, Father."
King Reginald continued to stare at her as he uncrossed his arms and started down the hall that led to the dining hall. She came after him and, when they reached the rectangular table, sat across him.
"What have you done today?" King Reginald demanded.
"I spent a great deal of time reading," Princess Amora answered as servants stepped toward them and placed small bowls ahead of them. They removed the lids to reveal steaming onion soup. "Thank you," she smiled to them. She then returned her eyes to the king. "And then I spent some time mending dresses –"
"That," the king raised his eyes with a severe tone, "is a task for the servants."
"I realize that, sir. Hannah had a lot to do today, and her daughter Amy accidently ripped her skirt."
"And so you mended the dress of a servant."
Princess Amora swallowed a mouthful of soup from her spoon and met his eyes again. "Yes, I did."
He sizzled beneath the surface. She could see it in his austere eyes. He slammed a palm down beside his soup, causing ripples.
The woman bustled out of the kitchen with an apron dusted with flour.
"The soup has too much salt. Do not make that mistake again."
"Yes, sir, I apologize," she bowed her head and returned to the kitchen. Princess Amora returned her eyes to the man seated across her.
"She made the soup with the same recipe she always does."
"I was not speaking to you."
She returned to her soup until the last drop was gone. As servants arrived to take their dishes and replace them with dishes of fruit, King Reginald cleared his throat and eyed his daughter.
"I have agreed that you should marry the Prince of Darton."
"Excuse me?" she demanded before the words were completely absorbed. Darton was an island some thousand miles away, and the prince was nearing the age of forty. She was eighteen, and not about to be united to a man recognized for his rudeness and pride.
"Prince Julius of Darton has requested your hand in marriage. I agreed."
"Why would you not consult me in the matter?" Princess Amora asked desperately.
"Consult you?" he released a short laugh. "What for?"
Princess Amora set down her spoon and dropped back against her chair. Her heart thundered as she imagined the idea of life with the man who taxed the wealth from his people, then gambled it away on horse races. He would then rig the races to win his money back, sabotaging other competitors.
Besides, she loved her people. She loved her country. Tears pricked the corners of her eyes.
"I can't marry him."
King Reginald now set down his spoon. He clenched his teeth beneath his brown moustache, and his eyes darkened. "You will marry him."
She strove to gather her breath and raised her eyes to meet his. "I won't."
He rose in his seat and his chair scraped back. "You get out of the hall. You will spend the rest of the night in your chambers."
"My pleasure," she slammed her napkin down beside her dish and stormed away.
She dressed in her night clothes as soon as she reached her room and cast herself onto the indigo covers of her bed. Tears streamed down her cheeks until they dampened the hair beneath her head. She could hear the scrape of the lock outside her room. She was often punished as a child by being locked in her room. She later came to realize this was not the average.
She would not marry Prince Julius of Darton. No one, not even King Reginald, could make the words "I do" come out of her mouth. The sense of control that came with that realization relieved her. What could make him decide that they would be a good match? No political alliance needed to be made or amended. He had said that perhaps a husband would shape her into a suitable woman. Perhaps that audacious, rude prince was his idea of a polisher for her character and etiquette.
She heard another creak outside her door. Something compelled her to rise and see what this strange sound was. She swung her legs over the sides of her bed and crept closer to her door. She kneeled down when she reached it and peered through the keyhole with one blue eye.
What she saw stole her breath away.
King Reginald spilled lamp oil onto the wood outside her room. The stench burned her nostrils. Her heart started to pound in her chest. He picked up a second kerosene lamp and lit the wick. He crept back and pitched the lamp onto the spill. Flames erupted into a wildfire.
Princess Amora rushed to her navy cloak and secured it around herself. She gathered what money she had and shoved it deep into her pockets. She could hear the crackling of the wood of her room. She could hear the shouts of the servants. The acrid smoke seared her nostrils. She dropped down on her knees and scrambled across the room.
It was late. King Reginald must have counted on the idea that she was asleep. That was how she often passed the time as a child when she was locked in her room early. This time, she was awake and aware enough to pry a couple of the ebony panels out of her wall and crawl into the space.
She was on a platform with a pulley above her and a rope secured around a lever beside her. She unraveled the rope as smoke seeped into the space, causing her to cough. She wrapped the rope around her wrist until it bit into her skin. She used her other hand to release the rope with a steady pace, dropping the platform down a dark and smoky shaft.
She hit the bottom with a sudden crash. She rapped her knuckled against the wood panels ahead of her that she could not see until she heard a hollow sound. She kicked these panels out with her heel and crawled out. Smoke billowed around her, burning her eyes and searing her throat and nostrils. Her eyes watered and she coughed as she crawled through the ashes and heat…