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|This is a story built on random inspirations. Part fairy tale, part chick flick, hope you enjoy.||
I had just finished documenting another scroll and was putting it up when the king came in. I and the other diplomatic aides stood up from out desks and bowed. King Lidonet seemed exceedingly pleased for some reason.
“Thank you everyone,’ he started. “As you all know, Prince Lariet has been away at school for the past four years. Last week he graduated and is coming home tomorrow.” Everyone started whispering, and I smiled. “Aides, your job is to accommodate any foreign visitors that might come as a result of his homecoming.” The king looked at me. “And Cherene,”
“Yes your Majesty?” I said, curtsying a little.
“The queen needs your advice on some matter. You’re to report to her chambers. Do you need an accompaniment?”
“I know the way. Thank you your Majesty.”
The king exited then I grabbed my purse and started to the queen’s chamber. I stopped by a large painting to stretch my back. It was a painting of Prince Lariet and us aristocrat children ten years ago. The prince and I were on the far right sitting on the garden wall. We had been best friends since my parents died when I was three. I hadn’t seen him much since he went to squire’s school when we were fifteen. We still occasionally wrote to each other but it would be nice to see him again.
I wondered if he was made fun of at squire’s school. Lariet didn’t exactly have the physique of the ideal prince. The painting showed him exactly as I remembered him. He was short, chubby, and had blonde hair that never went the way it was supposed to go. I was never a ravishing beauty either. I was awkwardly skinny with stringy with dead-brown hair, and my nose was too big for my face. I turned to a mirror on the other side of the hall. In four years, I lost the awkwardness, grew into my nose, and my hair obtained some life.
Not exactly enchanting beauty, I thought. But passable.
When I got to the queen’s chambers, she was at her desk staring into space with a few letters in front of her.
“You sent for me Queen Gwendolyn?” I asked.
She came out of her trance and smiled at me. “Oh, Cherene, good to see you.” Queen Gwen had always liked me. She was almost my second mother.
“I got a letter from Lariet. He said that he met a nice girl, and she’s coming for a visit. What are your thoughts?”
“A girl likes LARIET?”
It accidentally slipped out. I covered my mouth in embarrassment, but Queen Gwen burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry,” she said, trying to compose herself and act more queenly, “It’s just that I had the same reaction. Excuse me, darling. I just wanted to see if I was crazy. Here’s what I really needed your help for…”
It turned out that Queen Gwendolyn just needed to know how to politely turn down the offer from another queen to help bewitch a parlor maid. Queen Gwen was a talented sorceress and got many such offers. I helped her compose the letter, and then went home early. On the way home, my mind turned back to the girl Lariet was bringing home. He used to be so nervous around girls, except for me. How much had Lariet changed in four years? I decided to let the issue drop when I got home. I was going to my favorite band’s concert that night and had to get ready.
The concert was great. I went with the only other female diplomatic aide, a mousy little duchesse named Penelope. We met up with a few more friends and danced until long after midnight. I strode home alone along the garden path, gazing at the stars on my way. Without knowing it, I had brought myself to the garden observation terrace. It was a corner of the palace with a guard wall on two sides. The corner pointed east like a compass rose and had a magnificent view of that side of the kingdom. Lariet and I had always met here. We also came here alone when we wanted to think.
There was a man sitting by himself beneath an olive tree. I paid no attention and leaned on the wall and looked at the countryside below.
“Hello Miss,” The man said after a while. His voice was familiar. “You’re by yourself a little la… Cherene?
I turned around, finally recognizing the voice, “Lariet? No way!”
We laughed and ran to hug each other. Lariet picked me up and spun me around. He had definitely gotten stronger. He was no longer pudgy in any sense, and his hair was long and in place. Lariet finally looked like a prince.
“Lariet, look at you!” I said.
“Well look at you! I mean, Wow.” He was apparently as shocked as I was.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “I thought you…”
“Came home tomorrow?” he finished, “The ceremony is tomorrow. I got in half an hour ago. This was the first place I visited. What are you doing here?”
“I was going home from a concert and I decided to walk by her.”
“Can I walk you home?” he asked.
“Sure.” He started toward one end of the garden. “I don’t live with my aunt and Uncle anymore. I got an apartment.”
“I’ve been away far too long. What else has happened?”
On the way home, I told him about my job, our friends, and his parents. He told me about school and his friends. It was as if he never left, we were still best friends. And like best friends, I could tell when he was holding back.
“So your mother tells me you’re bringing a girl home.”
“My mother what! How did you? Sorry I didn’t tell you”
“It’s fine. I just want to know why you didn’t tell me. Are you afraid she wouldn’t pass the best friend test?”
Lariet looked a little uneasy. “She’s not like you, Cherie. I didn’t think you’d have much in common with her so I didn’t mention it. But she’s beautiful and sweet, and I really like her.”
“Then so will I,” I said. Even though eh hadn’t liked anyone since we were nine, I could tell he was gone.
We got to my house as the moon set. I stood by the door of my house and looked back at Lariet.
“She’s not coming until tomorrow evening. Would you like to ried out to meet her with me?” He asked.
“I would like to see you before then, though.”
“No problem; I’ll meet you after the pomp and circumstance at the usual place.” I turned to go inside but he stopped me.
“Hey, Cherie,” he said.
“I missed you.”
“I missed you too Lariet.”
The next day, I was off work so I slept in unnaturally late. After lunch I hurried to get a good spot for Lariet’s parade. Penelope had save a seat for me on the balcony of her villa. All the jugglers and dancers were very nice, but I could tell everyone was here for Lariet. Finally the trumpets sounded, and Lariet rode down the boulevard on the silver horse King Lidonet gave him for his birthday.
Lariet looked my direction as he passed. I stuck my tongue out and crossed my eyes. He laughed, then puffed out his cheeks and rolled his eyes. Then he rode on toward the palace, and I left my seat to meet him at the garden wall.
I hadn’t waited long when Lariet walked up the path. For the next two hours, we walked down forgotten alleyways, talking about everything. We spoke of deep personal things and meaningless things, but we never ran out of things to say. We came to a balcony, and I sat on the wall. A glint from my belt caught his eye.
“A lady’s knife?” he asked. A lady’s knife is a small, thin dagger noblewomen carry because they’re really important, or they (like me) have a job that is potentially risky. Some women carry useless decorated ones to look important, but I prefer a more functional model.
“Yeah, I have a real job; remember?”
“I know. It’s just scary to think of you with a weapon.”
“Shut up!” I hit him in the arm. We both burst out laughing.
A courier walked up to us and bowed, “Your majesty, Princess Sarafina has arrived at the river and wishes you meet her there.” He announced.
“Thank you,” Lariet said to the courier, then turned to me, “Well Cherie, you ready to go?”
“Yes, but for the record, Sarafina sounds like a stuffy name.”
We rode outside the city gates and galloped down the countryside in the mid-afternoon. The wind blew the sweet smell of the fields past our faces and into our hair. We were silent except for an occasional laugh. There was just a thrill and sacredness to riding that we knew was just too good for words. The river came in sight, and we slowed to a leisurely canter.
The skinny, nameless river was calm and light blue, only interrupted by the occasional boat peddlers who would sell their wares at a town farther upstream. The stone bridge on the road was a traditional meeting place for people from different regions.
As we got closer, Lariet started to look concerned.
“Her pavilion should be set up at the bridge,” he said. “This is strange.”
Two men rode out from a copse of trees. As they faced us, their ragged clothes and shady expressions showed they did not have genteel intentions. Lariet and I looked at each other, silently forming our plan.
“This must be the escort for that pretty princess,” one muttered to the other.
“It’s smaller than she let on,” the other said.
They charged. Lariet and I bolted in separate ways off the raised road. I ran my horse through the wheat fields. One of the bandits was gaining behind me. I made a line for the bridge. Lariet had already doubled back onto the road and also headed for the bridge. I turned to go to the bank on the bridge. When I got there, I grabbed the stones of the bridge bottom hoisted out of my saddle. I kicked the bandit in the head when he rode past, sending him into the river. Lariet steered his horse to jump expertly to the ground from the bridge. The other bandit was not as accurate on his mount; therefore he landed in the water. I jumped to the ground and Lariet leapt from his horse.
He grabbed my arm, “They’ve got friends. We need to hide.”
We ran into a crawl space between the bridge and the ground. We waited anxiously, with my knife and his sword were drawn and ready. We held our breath and hoped no one noticed us.
“That would be my prince to rescue me. See, there’s his horse!” said a high-pitched voice, crushing all hope.
“Sarafina!” Lariet whispered.
“I’m going,” I said.
“What? No! What will they do if they capture you?”
“What will they do if they capture you, your Highness?”
We heard footsteps coming toward us. Hiding my knife, I squirmed out of the hole and stood innocently on the bank. A ragged bandit stepped under the bridge with a nocked crossbow. He lowered it when he saw I was a girl. The way he looked at me was disgusting.
“Now, pretty thing,” he said, inching toward me. “Can you tell me where the little prince might be?”
“I have no idea,” I stated plainly.
“Then you’re going to tell the boss that.” He grabbed me and tried to drag me out from under the bridge. I stabbed him in the leg with my dagger and ran into the open air. Another bandit mounted his horse and started after me. I had to lead him away from Lariet. I scrambled on the bridge and ran across to the other side. Almost off the bridge, my foot fell through some rotten wood and got stuck. I tuned in fear to see the bandit and his horse coming towards me. There was a glint of metal by the horse’s hoof and he stumbled. The bandit fell to the ground, knocking him unconscious. Lariet jumped up on the bridge and triumphantly put his foot on the bandit’s rear.
“Any other takers?” He yelled at the two remaining bandits. They hopped on their horses and took off. Lariet helped my foot out of its prison.
“That was cute,” I said as he pulled me up.
“The first thing you learn in squire school is how to look more powerful than you really are.”
Suddenly a girly squeal came from the other end of the bridge, “Lariet, my love!” a skinny, blond girl said as she rushed to us. Pushing me out of the way, she latched onto Lariet and started blubbing in his shirt, “Oh my dear prince, I was so frightened. Thank you so much for rescuing me,” blah, blah, blah. I didn’t like her the moment I saw her. Her long, golden hair was done in a frilly, impractical fashion. Her long light blue dress was wispy and highly ornamented, and her shoes were of fine silk. This meant she rode a carriage here. In four years of diplomatic experience, I’ve learned a carriage meant she didn’t care enough of us little people to ride with us. I didn’t see a lady’s knife either. She expected someone else to defend her.
After Sarafina finally finished fawning over him, Lariet could get a word in, “Sarafina, I would like you to meet my dearest and best friend, Lady Cherene Whynstone.”
The fact that Lariet mentioned my title meant that Sarafina cared about it. She looked at me down her nose wearing an expression of vaguely hidden disdain as she greeted me. I gave a polite, noncommittal return.
She turned back to Lariet, “I thought you would bring a larger escort.”
“Why? Cherene and I make a good team. We did well with the bandits, didn’t we?”
“It would have looked more impressive,” Sarafina said in a very fake pout.
Lariet shrugged and went and got his horse, which was the only one that hadn’t run off.
“Dearest prince,” Sarafina started, “Please fix the saddle that I may ride comfortably.”
“Sara, I was getting the horse for Cherene,” Lariet said chidingly. “She’s injured, and I would have no one ride if she didn’t hurt her foot.”
“It’s fine,” I said.
“See, she says she’s fine. It’s only proper you bring your princess home on your steed,” she said slightly shocked.
“I care about safety over propriety.” He told Sarafina forcefully, and then he turned to me. “You’re riding. That’s it.”
Sarafina mumbled that riding was boring anyway, and I gave Lariet a meaningful look as helped me up. He shrugged it off. I didn’t like how she affected him.
The whole way back chattered on about completely useless things tha neither Lariet nor I cared about. We didn’t listen, she didn’t notice. I got a glance at Lariet. She was pretty and could turn the charm like a faucet. That’s why he liked her.
When we got back to the palace, Lariet and Sarafina went to see his parents while I found a bandage for my cut foot. I sat in the kitchen room of the palace, angrily wrapping my foot in gauze. I couldn’t stand the thought of Lariet even taking a slight interest in that thing. She was completely not his type. I didn’t trust that girl with him for one minute, but who would I trust with Lariet?
A messenger interrupted my thoughts, “The queen requests your presence in her salon as she receive the Princess Sarafina,” he said.
I nodded and went to the salon. When I came in, the queen and her lady’s-in-waiting were preparing for the personal talk between Gwendolyn and Sarafina. Queen Gwen gave me an Are you believing this look when she saw me. I know, I mouthed.
She walked up to me, “Have you recovered from your ordeal with the bandits, dear?” she asked.
“I’ll recover,” I said. “Your son was very brave.”
“So Sarafina told us,” Gwen said with a sigh, “but it means more coming from you. Now, when she comes in, I want you to have this seat, so you’re not as noticeable. I need you to observe today.”
Within five minutes, Sarafina glided in, wearing a different dress and looking much less pouty. She, Gwendolyn, and I had tea, and I watched their conversation. Sara kept babbling on about how she and Lariet met, then went on to other useless things that Gwen didn’t like, but she humored her.
The more I heard Sarafina talk, the more I realized all her damsel ditzyness was put on. She was good at that manipulative act, but not good enough to fool me. I would die before she could get her claws fully around Lariet. There was no way I was going to let the man I love fall to a…
I nearly choked on my tea with that realization. The fact that I had fallen in love with my best friend became blindingly clear. I regretfully had to admit it made sense.
I looked around hoping no one noticed me nearly spill my teacup. Everyone’s attention was on Sarafina, so I proceeded to slip out. I needed some time alone. Gwendolyn looked at me as I went out the door. I nodded and headed out. She would know that if I left, it would be for a good reason. I’m sure she would consider falling in love with Sarafina’s boyfriend a good reason.
I ran to my house and fell on my bed. For the next two hours, I tried to process my feelings. I couldn’t tell Lariet; he thought of me as a friend or a sister but never anything more. I wasn’t going to just let Lariet go to Sarafina. She didn’t deserve him.
I didn’t realize I was crying until I rolled over and my pillow was soaked. I threw it across the room then promptly, out of exhaustion and stress, fell asleep.
For the second day in a row, I woke up late. All the other aides were organizing the homecoming ball for Lariet so I had nothing to do at work. I was supposed to keep the prince busy anyway, but I just couldn’t face him. I got out my dress for the evening, not sure I was going, organized my bookshelf, and scrubbed the same platter ten times. Then I formed a plan while eating lunch to have a frank, distraction-less conversation between Sarafina and me. That way, I could tell her I saw through her act.
I walked through the corridors until I found the blue ribbon that marked the door to Sarafina’s room. I had nearly knocked on the door when I heard a man’s gruff voice talking. I stumbled back in shock and peered through the latticing inquisitively. Sarafina was sitting in a chair while a scruffy man in ragged clothes was talking to her. I recognized him as one of the bandits from the bridge. Sarafina did not look near as scared or helpless as she did yesterday.
“Now why haven’t we killed him yet?” the man asked.
“Because it wouldn’t do any good,” Sarafina said harshly. She sounded more intelligent than I’d ever heard her. “He will propose to me at the party tonight in front of everyone. Then you can ambush and kill the prince. His pathetic parents will have to take me into their home after the death of their only child, and two months and two poisoned glasses later, I will rule this pathetic dump.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. She wasn’t just a conniving minx; she was an evil little demon with a rat conspirator.
“And I will be your sword,” said the rat-bandit. Then to my revulsion, they started passionately kissing.
“Gross!” I croaked, and pulled away from the lattice. I tripped, hitting my head on the door with a loud thud. There was no way they couldn’t have heard that. I got up and ran frantically down the hallway into the garden. Halfway through a long arbor, an arm reached from the shadows and grabbed me. He seized my knife before I could and pinned my arms down with an iron grip. His other hand clamped over my mouth before I could scream.
“What you heard back there,” he growled with his face two inches from mine. “you don’t tell your boyfriend or I will kill that aunt and uncle of yours before I kill you. And if you try to bring this tonight,” He waved my dagger across my face. “Your little mousy friend will be dead before you can get it out.” He threw me to the ground and was gone.
I was shocked, scared and hurt. I ran to the garden terrace and broke down crying on the wall. Then I stared mournfully out over the kingdom. After a few minutes, I heard someone come up behind me.
“What’s wrong?” Lariet’s voice asked.
Oh no. “I was just thinking about my parents,” I lied. I knew I should say something, but I was too stressed to figure out how.
Lariet saw through the lie immediately, “No you’re not. What’s really the matter? I haven’t seen you all day.” He came over and sat beside me. “It’s Sarafina, isn’t it? I know she’s not what you’d expect but…”
“Tell me you’re not proposing to her tonight!” I blurted.
He didn’t answer right away. “Sarafina and I planned on cementing our relationship tonight. Why shouldn’t I?”
There were so many answers to that question, and I had to choose one that wouldn’t break either of our hearts.
“How long ago did you meet her? Don’t you think you’re rushing things a bit? It’s too soon to be proposing to her. Wow well do you know her anyway? I saw you with her yesterday, Lariet, and it wasn’t like you.”
The words spilled out while he sat and listened patiently. I calmed down when I stopped for breath. Lariet seemed to understand.
“But that’s not all, is it?” He asked.
“My opinion doesn’t matter,” I said as I left my spot and started walking home.
“Don’t pull that diplomat act with me Cherene!” He yelled at me from behind. He ran in front of me and grabbed my shoulders. “Cherie, we know each other better than anyone else, and I know there’s something you’re not saying. Tell me how you really feel.”
As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t. I swallowed hard and raised my tear-filled eyes to his, “It would only further inconvenience your majesty to know what I feel,” I said in my best diplomat voice. Then I wrenched from his grasp and ran home in tears.
It took a while for me to try and contain myself. I half-expected Lariet to show up at my door, but he never came. Finally, I composed myself and dressed for the ball. Remembering the bandit’s threat, I put away my normal dagger. I wasn’t just going to sit back and allow this to happen. There was a thin, jeweled dagger of my mother’s in my jewelry box. I spun it up in my hair until only the circular jeweled hilt was visible. No one would suspect. I checked my reflection in the mirror and walked to the palace ballroom. The massive doors were open and graceful waltzes drifted outside. Lariet was standing at the top of the stairs waiting for me.
“I’ve decided not to ask her tonight,” he said. A shot of hope rocketed up my spine. “You’re right. It’s too soon.”
“Thanks for my suggestion,” I said, desperately trying to contain my excitement. I walked up to him.
“And Cherie, afterwards, I want to have a long talk with y…”
The gong sounded to signify the start of the party. We ran inside. I took my place at the side of the dance floor and watched Sarafina and Lariet open the dance. I could tell they were talking in low voices and halfway through the dance Sarafina acted suddenly affronted which meant Lariet told her his decision. She walked away from him in a huff when the dance ended, and then she stood by me.
“What did you tell him?” she said acidly without looking at me.
“Nothing you warned me not to,” I answered coolly.
“You didn’t change a thing,” she said in a low voice. “Since he’ll be dead, Lariet can’t disprove what he did or didn’t say when we were alone.”
With that she flipped her hair back with her hand. A ring on her finger sent a flash across the room. A man came out of the shadows and sneaked behind Lariet who stood on the other side of the dance floor. I watched in horror as the man silently pulled out a large dagger from his coat.
“LARIET! Get Down!” I screamed. Lariet ducked down instantly while I fluidly pulled my knife out of my hair and threw it at the bandit as hard as I could. The knife sunk hilt deep in the bandit’s shoulder before he could react. Lariet turned around and started trying to subdue the would-be assassin. Many women screamed, including Sarafina. I was the only one who knew her concern was for the bandit and not Lariet.
Suddenly there was a blinding shock of pain in my side. The room spun around and my legs gave way under me. I recognized my voice scream in agony, but it sounded very far away. My arms smacked the marble floor. I looked at my still hurting side.
Sarafina carried a lady’s knife after all.
An ivory and gold filigree hilt protruded right below my ribs. Blood stained my dress and dripped onto the floor. Sarafina was standing beside me, probably smiling triumphantly.
I was getting weaker and no sooner had my eyes fluttered shut than Lariet’s arms were instantly wrapped around me. He picked me up, and my head throbbed with pain.
“It’s going to be fine, I promise. Please just hang on,” Lariet whispered in my ear. He sounded on the verge of crying.
He carried me across the floor then laid me on his mother’s throne. I vaguely heard them talking; my head was drumming so hard. There was a sharp pain as she pulled the knife out, then a stinging as Queen Gwen healed my wound. The stinging made my head clear, and I slowly came back into focus. When I could open my eyes without getting dizzy, I saw what looked like a completely different ballroom. Lariet’s parents stood sternly in front of their thrones with their arms crossed. The bandit was slumped against a column with a group of angry courtiers standing guard over him. Everyone else had made a silent ring around the dance floor where Lariet and Sarafina were involved in a long-needed argument.
“I told you she plotted to kill you! I can’t believe you’re backing up that trollop!” Sarafina shouted.
“For your information, that trollop saved my life, I trust her with my life, and that trollop is my best friend!” Lariet roared back. It was good to hear him defend me, though the best friend part felt like Sarafina’s dagger went in my heart.
“The trollop would like to say something,” I interjected.
“Yes, Cherene?” said Lariet in a more caring tone.
“A trollop did plot to kill you, but we’re calling the wrong woman a trollop.”
Sarafina started but Lariet spun to face her and guards immediately flanked her side.
“I would suggest,” said Lariet, barely containing his anger, “that if you don’t want your shoulders relieved of your head, you get out of My kingdom and never return. These men will escort you out.”
Sarafina was led out of the ballroom shouting obscenities at me no decent princess would ever utter. King Lidonet congratulated his son on the excellent way he handled the situation. The guests gave a round of applause. Queen Gwen came up to me and asked concernedly, “Can you stand, dear?”
I swung my feet to the floor. I felt incredibly better physically.
“Yes ma’am. Thank you.”
I slipped out of the party quietly and walked to the terrace. I had a lot to think about. On one hand, Lariet was safe and that little hussy was out of town. On the other hand, Lariet obviously didn’t fell the same way I felt about him. I sat on a bench and stared at the night sky. It was two days ago that I was staring at the same sky and first saw Lariet. It seemed so long ago. So much had happened.
For the fourth time in those two days, Lariet walked up behind me.
“I noticed you left early. Are you all right?” he asked.
He sat down beside me. “Is that what you were hiding from me?” he asked.
It told him everything that had happened that afternoon, leaving out the small fact I was in love. When I was done, Lariet sighed heavily and hung his head.
“You were the only one who saw through her act. What got you suspicious? And that still doesn’t explain why you avoided me most of the day.”
That was it. I couldn’t lie anymore. “Lariet, I have to say something.”
“Yesterday, I knew I didn’t like Sarafina, but I didn’t know why. Then I realized I didn’t trust her with you. Then I wondered whom I would trust with you. But there’s no one- except me.” This was it. “I love you Lariet, and not as a best friend or anything. I want to be with you.”
Lariet was silent. The face I could always read like a book was blank.
“Well, say something.”
“Thank goodness.” Lariet said, and then he kissed me. While I admit that it was enjoyable, and I was lathe to pull back, I was completely and absolutely confused.
“That deserves an explanation,” I said.
Lariet smirked, “Yesterday when we when to get Sar- that woman and the bandits attacked, it concerned me how little I was worried about her. If I really loved her, I should have charged the bandits head on. The very thought of life without her should’ve terrified me. It bothered me until tonight. When you got hurt, nothing else mattered. I was horrified at the possibility of losing you. I realized I couldn’t live without you. Then I knew I loved you.”
“Thank goodness!” I shouted with joyful tears in my eyes.
I threw my arms around him, and when we kissed again, I swear the stars got brighter.
“Well, it’s about time!” came Queen Gwen voice behind us. We looked to see her standing there looking overjoyed.
“I must say when you said you were proposing tonight, I got worried, but now that I see you’re proposing to the right girl, I’m fine. I had always hoped you two would end up together. Go ahead, ask her; I’m not getting any younger!”
Lariet smiled at me, “Well, will you?”
“Now how do you get off asking a question you already know the answer to?” I playfully snapped back.
We all laughed, then rose to rejoin the party, and I was at Lariet’s side, from now on.
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