Growing up, I would read stories about princesses and wonder, were they ever sad? Yes, they were brave, yes they were beautiful, but did they ever feel like me when I cried? Did they ever go down on their knees and pray to God, for him to take the pain away?
Ana did and so did I.
Chapter 1: She Who Expels the Light~PART 2
Her terror born before the cock’s call, Anayissa rouses from her nightmare before the grey sky yields to the pink-gold fan of dawn.
Talons. It is like slowly, yanking out snug talking inside of her head. The throbbing pain blinds her until she can only see white.
Her body locking in an onslaught of imaginary terror, Ana jumps up her from her bed, the vertigo slamming into her.
Nausea curdling her stomach, Ana forces down the vomit crawling up her throat as she desperately grabs for her comforter as her knees collapse.
Her vision slowly beginning to clear, Ana gasps for breath as she had been drowning. She is safe. Ana begins to shake in relief at the realization that she is safe.
The front of her body collapsing forward on her bed, Ana wants to sigh in relief as her hot, sweat-slick skin comes in contact with the cool sheets. The buzzing sound in Ana’s ears begins to irate her after a moment of catching her breath.
Taking a few, measured deep breaths, like a doe, Ana rises on shaky legs. Leaning on her bed to support herself, Ana pushes back the hair that has escaped her braid, from her face.
Ana absently rubs at her eyes as she scans the room for lingering horrors. Relieved to find naught, Ana plops gracelessly back onto her bed.
The wispy canopy casing her bed in sheets of slippery fabric reminds Ana of spider webs. Turning on her side, Ana protectively wraps her arms around her middle. Thoughts plague her mind as she stares out towards her bedroom window. The brass frame is wrought into a contemporary design that seems so out of place in her regal finery. The bent metal catches her eyes as she hears a chorus of groans and sighs as the castle rouses. From below, the first floor where the castle workers reside with their families or live in dormitories, the faint vibration of boots stomping out winking fires reaches Ana’s ear from her tower. Accustomed to the habitual cacophony of sounds in the morning, Ana closes her eyes as she narrates the lives of the workers down below.
Cook will have already commanded her underlings to knead the dough before the sun peaked from the horizon. Her quick and cautious hands will be handling a knife as she chops and slices the fruits and vegetables. Like a conductor, Cook will watch with a keen eye as she orchestras the flow of events in her kitchen. The laundress, weathered and dull with her wrinkled hands, will be sorting through today’s collected washing. Her hands expertly expunging stains and smudges, she sings the same tune around this time, her voice carrying through the hallways. The maids, ranging from age ten to eighteen will bustle through the hallways, sneaking quietly into rooms to stroke fires and leave trays of teas and scones. Ana’s own personal maid, Matilda, a young girl of thirteen, has already hastily entered and exited Ana’s, utterly unaware that her mistress is beyond sleep.
Laura will all but be dragging Julia out of bed by now. The latter pleading for a few more minutes of sleep, Julia will put up a good fight as clings to her pillow. Eventually losing the fight, the pair of girls will be making their way up from the servant’s wing to Ana’s apartment, located in the highest tower. .
The monotony of the day stretches unappetizingly before Ana. Each day is horribly similar to the last. It is as if she is an actress in a scripted play appearing as a secondary character to her own story.
With absolute certainty, Ana knows she will break her fast at then, following a quick touring of the gardens before the sun reaches the seat of the afternoon sky. When the clock strikes noon, Ana will rush to share tea with the Queen. The smile that graces her lips from conversing with her mother will soon slip away as one-thirty approaches. Before her reprieve at three, Ana is tutored along with her female cousins in the library. Her eyes dry with boredom and exhaustion by five, Ana will most likely forced to join the formal supper with Lord Hangard from Jumb’e in attendance. His horrid son, Lord Ahmed-Malik, will have tried to feel up Ana’s thigh by 5:15. As time dribbles by, Ana and the other ladies in attendance will be expected to depart to the parlor room around 6:00. While the men unbutton their pants and loosen their ties to relax as they enjoy their Frysessa imported brandy and cigars, Ana will suffer through polite conversion until she is able to slip away to her rooms.
Hearing a soft, polite knock on her door, Ana fixes her face into a pleasant mien.
Opening the door, Julia pokes her head in. The dark-haired girl smiles warmly at Ana as she greets her, “Good morning, princess.”
From behind Julia, Laura enters with less grace and more authority. Her blonde curls pinned close to her head, Laura carries a basket of fresh linens to the coffee table.
Plopping down on the couch, the blonde handmaiden begins to organize and fold Ana’s laundry. Without looking up from her work, Laura mutterss, “Good morning, princess. I see that you had another eventful sleep.”
Still in bed, Ana dimly realizes that her sheets are twisted in knots by her feet. Self-consciously reaching down to straighten the bed sheets, Ana hears Julia sigh from the doorframe before walking closer to the bed.
Sitting at the edge of the bed now, Julia takes Ana’s hands between hers. Her summer blue eyes flashing with concern, the brunette murmurs, “Princess, another nightmare?”
Continuing to ignore the pair, Laura mutters something that Ana cannot hear.
Glaring at her friend, Ana pulls away from Julia’s gentle hold and looks away. “Yes. They are always the same. Nothing new.”
“Princess, you have been unable to sleep fully for weeks. This is a matter of concern. You should not brush it off so nonchalantly.”
Laura mutters something else under her breath.
Clenching her fists, Ana rises into a kneeling position. “Is there something you would like to say, Laura?”
Ignoring Julia’s stressed face, Ana glares at the blonde girl while she remains absorbed by her work.
Her hands fishing through the basket now, Ana watches as Laura presses her thumb into the seam of towel. Rubbing her thumb up and down the fabric, Laura distantly replies, “You brush off your nightmares as if they are normal. As if it is normal to dream of death and suffering every night. You know what the King has planned for you and the stress is obviously getting to you.”
“Laura!” Ana hears Julia’s horrified gasp from what feels likes miles away.
Her words ring true but it does not mean that it does not sting like thousands of bees. Falling back on her knees, Ana’s vision becomes blurry once again. This time, not from vertigo but from the truth, that crawls up her throat like vomit. Waiting to expunge from her lips, to finally be acknowledged that the King has been eager to arrange a marriage for her.
The room is silent after Ana breathes the command. Eyes dry as she stares at a random spot on the carpet floor, Ana dimly hears the whispered hush of the door shutting.
The King. Arrange. Marriage. Marriage. Arranged. By. The King.
Namieé was forced into an arranged marriage. Her eyes used to be clear like glass. They shattered before Ana took her first breath. She stopped crying a while ago. She clutches her womb now like a lifeline. Will it hurt?
Ana does not remember when she fell back in her bed and began to start rocking. Holding herself, Ana tastes the salt from her tears as she continues to gaze at the carpet.
Emotions hold Ana down like an anchor. Wishing she could be become adrift and lose herself completely in the sea of her sadness, Ana closes her eyes and wishes she were already tired and could escape her thoughts through sleep.
Can a person’s head and heart become disconnected?
Ana’s head feels fuzzy. Like her thoughts and emotions cannot filter properly. Like trying to funnel a pile of goop into a small hole, Ana’s movements even mimic the feeling; her motor skills have even become sluggish. Her heart, what heart?
Heavy. Ana feels heavy all over. Cursing the slow, torturous pace of life, Ana pretends to listen to her tutor as her emotions overwhelm her.
She is drowning. Her head is bobbing up and down as she fights for breath. What happens when she tires? When she gives up?
Glaring balefully at the clock above the library’s wall, Ana is tempted to lean forward, take her hand, and wind the big hand forward.
A cavernous room that always smells like aged books and stale air; the library had once been Ana’s safe haven throughout the years. Escaping her father’s disapproving eyes and her mother’s bruised ones, Ana would bury herself in books until she was later found asleep in one of the plush chairs. When she was child, she foolishly believed she could escape both mentally and physically into the pages of her stories. Wishing she could become the heroine of one the fantasy novels she ate up like spun candy, Ana would hold the book up to her heart and pray with all her might she could live in one them.
But Ana unfortunately grew older and with the breaking of the yoke of childhood, came the realization of the foolishly naivety of youth. Looking up at the shelves of books, pregnant and bursting with texts and novels, Ana feels almost betrayed by reading now.
No longer viewing reading as an escape from reality, it has become a reminder of her limitations and the facets of her reality.
Walking past their small group, a group of scholars and academics silently pass by. Their eyes bright and focused as they absently trace the leather bound texts, Ana wonders what drives their passion for reading. Do they crawl out of their book-infested homes to immerse themselves in this dimmed and candlelit cerebral splendor, happily?
Focusing back on her lesson, Ana looks over her tutor. An impossible being with an even more impossibly tedious voice, Ana’s tutor is a distinguished man in his pressed trousers and camel collared vest. His shoes shiny with care and his hair combed smoothly over the thinning spots, Ana’s tutor is the type of man who enjoys endlessly reminding Ana and her cousins how trifling it is to waste his time to educate females. The esteemed, Master Gregory Frankliedge was one of the top students in his graduating class at Prestige University in Keys. Attaining his doctorate in anthropology and strong concentration theology, it is only natural for Ana’s tutor to her praise for his academic achievements by why does he believe that his education puts him above others?
Each session with the male does test Ana’s legendary, finite patience.
His haughty voice pouring over Ana like sticky honey, Master Gregory reads from a dusty anthology of writings from great Mycean philosophers with a sardonic twist to his lips. As if mocking the ancient philosophers, as if wishing he could take a pen and scribble out the author’s words and insert his own. Ana grits her teeth as he skims the pages with rough, uncaring fingers.
Even though Ana does not retain the same joy of reading she once had, the blatant disrespect of the ancient text makes Ana desire to rip the book from his thin hands and bludgeon him over the head with it.
Despite her tutor’s many, many, many fallbacks, Ana does, in a small way, value his lessons.
In Mycea, women are discouraged from receiving a more sophisticated education. Universities and colleges close their doors to women applicants, despite their academic credibility. Common women are lucky enough to even earn the privilege to learn how to read and write.
Because of her rank, Ana possess a luxury that no women in her country have access to. And because of that, Ana sits through her tutor’s boorishness. Ana would feel like a cad even if she were to miss one lesson. How many girls go to sleep wishing she could aspire to be more than what they are told what they are supposed to be?
How life would have been drastically different for her if Ana had been born male. The first-born and a male as well? Ana would not be surprised if her father would through a daily party for her if that were the case. Ana would have been able to attend the Universities in Keys and would have also had the ability to learn along aside striving academics like Master Gregory.
Not alone in her hatred of the supercilious male waving his hands passionately as he mocks Myceans great philosophers, Ana’s cousins, Madeline and Melanie, sit back and absently look at the wall and play with their hair.
Identical down to their russet red hair, the smattering of freckles across the bridge of their pert noses, and hazel eyes that at this moment, appear more brown than green, the twins sometimes join Ana in the tutoring sessions.
Ana has never been close with her female cousins. Unaware when the disconnect began but also wondering if they ever connected in the first place, Ana wishes the girls would turn their heads and acknowledge her.
It feels strange for Ana to view them as “family” but she does which she had the luxury to go over to them and share her thoughts, worries, and fears with them. Would they turn her away, like they have down in the past or laugh at her?
The twin’s eldest brother and Ana’s favorite cousin, Caleb possesses his own tutor. As the current heir to the throne, Ana’s Papiee, the King, believes it is prudent to teach Caleb separate from the women. Believing his education will suffer in the audience of Ana and his sisters, the King had laughed when Ana asked why Caleb could not join her sessions.
“Because, Anayissa. Caleb will be our country’s future King. We cannot jeopardize his education. We men take academics and education very seriously. Now, go back to your dancing lessons.”
So terrible. So horrible. So hurtful that Ana is deemed undeserving of an opportunities because lies betwixt her thighs. But what lies betwixt her thighs defies logic.
Women are magic. Women give life. So why do men, like Ana’s father, disregard women like they are unworthy?
Despite her tutor’s incessant voice, Ana does, in a very small way, value his lessons. Not all women have access to a formal education, so Ana would never take advantage of the opportunity that so many women are remised of.
“We will be concluding today’s lesson with Cristobel Agadel. Once a noteworthy Mycean philosopher, Agadel had the potential to be named one of the greatest of his time before he befell to madness.”
“Madness?” Ana queries.
“Yes, your Highness. Madness. His research and theories were once so astoundingly cohesive and profound with levels of acute soundness. His works have been published in 22 languages and his research has even reached countries past the Four Kingdoms. It is a shame that his lucidity declined so rapidly with age. Towards the end, his research had become so illogical and ludicrous that he died a laughingstock.”
Genuinely curious, Ana asks, “Why was his writing considered illogical and ludicrous?”
Ana’s participation must have shocked him because he paused for a moment before speaking. Flipping through the anthology, Master Gregory stops at a particular page. Nodding as he quickly scanned the pages, the tutor looks up, “He published the Introspective Musings on Monarchism,” opening the face of the text and placing the book on her desk, he continues, “Your Highness, his entries battled the constitutions and foundations of our country, especially narrowing his gaze on the aristocracy. Agadel claimed that we should dismantle the aristocratic class, which would ultimately impact our form of government detrimentally.
‘The government is corrupt,’ he once wrote. Agadel declared that it is solely benefits the wealthy and stifles the growth of the middle class, which is the majority. ‘We should resort to the ancient beliefs,’ he wrote, ‘the pagans may have had it right all along.’” Ana followed along as her tutor followed the philosopher’s writing. “Agadel,” Master Gregory continues, “also brought up this absurd idea of a republic government. Such a sick, sick man. As if we could simply throw away hundreds of years of tradition and learn how to govern ourselves?”
Looking down at the anthology, Ana’s eyes trace the philosophers’ neat, script. Wouldn’t a madman’s handwriting be more jagged and disjointed?
Ana raises her head from the text as she dares to ask her next questions, “Is the government flawed? Should we not give more rights to the common folk?”
Master Gregory stares at Ana in utter disbelief. His mouth gaping open like a fish and dull, brown eyes wide, Ana’s tutor throws his head back and laugh. Looking behind her, Ana notes that her cousins are also joining in the tutor’s laughter. Always staying true to etiquette, Madeline and Melanie daintily laugh from behind their gloved hands.
Her face feeling hot, Ana presses her lips closed as she turns back into her seat.
“Ha!” Master Gregory shakes his head as the smile continues to remain on his face. “Human nature is such a trifling thing. How can we give power to the commoners when they have never studied at the knee of an esteemed tutor? Have yet to read the classic texts? Naught attended the academic splendor at the Universities in Keys? To understand politics, one must reach the particular caliber of learning. To claim that the populace could ever truly comprehend, is sincerely ludicrous.
“We take time to educate the public. If we start implicating an education program for the youth or even offering night classes for adults, I am sure we could see improvements. If we give them a chance–”
“Education is a weapon, Your Highness. You would too understand this if you were born male and could hold a seat of power. Education is a raw material that can sculpted and hewn into a weapon in the wrong hands. It can, in various degrees, unravel the natural order of our country.”
“Seriously, Ana?” Madeline’s exaggerated sigh fills the air. Melanie’s swift input follows along with her twins, “Have you gone made like Agadel, too?”
The twins look to one another before releasing a vexing chorus of giggles.
Ana is sure that her face has become almost as red as a tomato by now.
Ana looks down at her desk in humiliation. Not raising her head when Master Gregory continues his lesson, Ana instead, reaches for the discarded anthology and reads along to the text as her tutor’s voice drones on.
Opening the text, Ana follows along to Agadel’s fine, meticulous script:
When we limit the public, we silence the whole. When we quiet the words of the suffering, we lose the ability empathize. When we turn away from the weak, we disregard where we once began.
From the prowling tiger to the single, swaying blade of grass, many will claim and make the mistake that the predator is in power. Yes, in the animal kingdom, the dangerously beautiful cat is amongst the strongest and stealthiest, yet it is the blade of grass that grows in abundance. For every tiger roaming the wilds of Frysessa, there are a million blades of grass known to this world. To silence the voices of the grass, is to silence the majority, which is preposterous indeed.
The peasants and commoners wake each morning to the shrill call of a cock, their need for providing for their families pushing them to get out of beds and to work. Toiling the fields, the mills, the streets, the sea, threads, the peasants and commoners are the backbone of society, supporting the useless fat of the aristocracy. Immersing themselves in their own laziness, the wealthy sit back as the silenced, powerless underprivileged work to make them richer.
Do my words not strike disgust into your heart?
Ana traces the philosophers’ words as a flurry of thoughts and questions shroud her mind. Was Agadel truly a madman or treacherously lucid?
Later that evening, as Ana endures another tiresome formal dinner party, she cannot shake her thoughts about Agadel and whether or not the government is indeed corrupt.
Observing the dinner party, a gaggle of society’s richest and most supercilious, it seems almost laughable that Mycea is entirely dependent on men who care more about their lineage and attaining more wealth to sit on while thousands outside the castle walls are scrabbling for the bare minimum.
It is customary for Ana to sit back and watch as the ton talk about nothing but their money and their land. The men are all the same: bragging about their wealth, their investments, and their eligible daughters. The women are the worst. Eyes glazed over with boredom and idle malice; it is horrible fate to be a woman in high society. One false move and you will bring everlasting shame to your family, your blood, and your value in society’s eyes.
The King loves formal dinner parties. It is another way to showoff the country’s success. Ana has seen plenty of guests taken aback from the castle’s splendor. Walking throughout the hallways, the aristocrat’s eyes will gleam with pride and envy as they take in sights that seem almost unreal, like a painting.
Ana cannot blame them for being so transfixed by the beauty of Castle Bastille. Even when there were times Ana wished she could escape, she could almost find peace walking throughout the castle, her hands tracing the walls as she thought of her ancestors who walked through the same halls.
Looking down at her plate, Ana grimaces down. Ignoring the perfectly proportioned food that is meant to be gracefully eaten, Ana absentmindedly scratches the surface of the engraved china and is pleased when her nails makes a sharp, shrill sound. Digging her nail into the plate, Ana imagines it cracking and slicing her hand open. Her blood would gush out hot and ready to stain her skin, the table, and the man’s lap adjacent to her.
What would Lord Ahmed-Malik do? Would he pretend everything is okay and follow proper decorum? Will he beg his father to reconsider Ana’s hand after seeing his potential betrothed grinning insanely with a bleeding gash?
The stretch of the dining table seems to go on forever. Polite conversation lacking any depth slips through Ana’s ears as she fights down the temptation of taking one of the forks and stabbing out her eardrums. From her peripheral, she can see Lord Hangard, Viscount Toulouse, and a smattering of other important courtiers engaged in conversation with the King. Sitting at the head of the table, Ana’s father is relaxed and smug as he watches the women and men around him vie for his attention. Like a majestic emperor leaning back on a cloud of pillows, the King eyes dance back and forth as if watching a sport.
“Is the pheasant not your liking, princess?”
The dinning set is new. Ana had listened to the Queen ramble on about the decision of purchasing new cutlery and china. The King is normally adamant about tradition and loving the ability to brag about eating off of three hundred year old plates, but after looking over the fabulous, imported design, the King allowed Ana’s Namieé to proceed.
The plates are truly individual masterpieces. Some bear small, looping whirls and others are splattered in splashes of vivid hues licking up the rounded edges. The cutlery is charming, matching each plate’s design with whimsical images engraved on the handles.
The nameless artisan hails from Frysessan. A country shrouded in mystery, anything from art, fashion, and even technology has set the trends for contemporary Myceans.
The demand for Frysessan luxury goods has skyrocketed. The peculiarity of the country’s silence adds a level of taboo to the goods, which the aristocracy has soon become obsessed with.
“Princess Anayissa? Your Highness, are you faring well?”
Jolting from her thoughts, Ana stalls her staring contest with her plate.
Lifting her head, Ana meets Lord Ahmed-Malik’s worried and handsome eyes.
“Pardon, Lord Ahmed-Malik. I was lost in my thoughts.”
Nodding in agreement, the Earl’s son points at Ana’s plate. “You are looking pale, you should eat. If the pheasant is not to your liking, the zucchini is superb. That is one thing I look forward to when father and I visit the capitol, the food never fails to astound me with each bite. Well,” sliding his eyes over to Ana, the young Lord attempts to send her a charming smile as he continues, “not the only thing I look forward to seeing.”
The food on Ana’s plate appears to be staged. As if someone painstakingly took the time to set up for not only oral appreciation but also aesthetic. A pretty picture, a canvas bearing the weight of perfection, Ana pushes down the urge of taking her knife and ripping open the zucchini like a surgeon.
Lying diagonally and wrapped snugly in strips of salty, greasy bacon, the pheasant is perfectly seasoned and is surrounded in glaze of a cranberry sauce. The red sauce stains the plate almost crimson, appearing to be a pool of blood about the neatly dressed dead poultry. A boutique of steaming vegetables accompanies the bird. Lifting up her fork, Ana dispassionately stabs the prongs into the stem of the broccoli.
Keeping eye contact with the young Lord, Ana takes great pains to drag the green vegetable into the dark, red glaze. The sticky sauce clings to the broccoli until it is smothered in it. Opening her mouth, Ana takes a bite and forces down the urge to vomit as the violent sweetness assaults her tongue.
Looking pleased that she followed his suggestion to eat, Ana’s stomach rolls as he continues to talk.
“You must be excited about the Betroxia Ball, your Highness. The castle does amazing job at hosting the event. Through the grapevine, it has been said the festival is one of your favorites?”
Each time she shallows, Ana can taste the sweetness clogging her throat. “Yes. The season of Betroxia is always lovely but in company of the annual festival and ball, it is truly a spectacular sight.”
“I agree. You should experience the season in Jumb’e, where my family estate resides. You can catch the most breathtaking sight from the parlor. I could always arrange for you to visit, if you so desired it.”
“Father wants me here for the festivities but thank for the generous offer, Lord Ahmed-Malik. I have not visited Jumb’e in years. It would be a gift to see the trees during the heart of the season.”
Jumb’e is the lumber capitol of Mycea. The forests are famous for their towering trees that appear to touch the heavens. Ana cannot help but imagine walking through the forest during Betrixoa, like strolling though a fairytale.
“Yes, for a spell.”
Finishing his next bite, the young Lord gracefully wipes his mouth with the edge of his serviette. Placing the cloth across his lap once more, he says, “Did you ever think of the origins of the table you are sitting at? The seat where you sit? The desk where you write your letters?” The Lord takes his gloved hand and places it on the table. The dark wood looks black underneath the pristine white of his glove. Running his finger down the surface, Ana can hear the scrape of his nails on the wood. “Where there is great beauty, there must also be ugliness,” he continues, “To have one without the other, there would be madness. A balance is always needed. To have the beauty of the great Betrixoa leaves, we must also know how it feels to be bereft of its beauty. That is why we must strip the trees bare and cut the trees down at the end of the season. To be a lumberjack, to be a Jumb’e citizen, the season of Betrixoa is bittersweet because as we marvel at the beauty, we also know what we need to do to sustain it.”
Truly stunned by the young man’s words, Ana is startled from her thoughts when she hears the Queen calling for her.
Looking over her shoulder, Ana realizes that the room had begun to empty when she remained in a reverie.
“Snow cub?” The Queen’s strong voice reached Ana’s ears from across the room.
Spotting her Namieé by the archway leading to the parlor room, where all the society ladies will retire to sip tea or sherry and spread the juiciest of gossip while there men also retire but in the study where freshly rolled tobacco from Jerome is lit and the crack of glasses filled to brim with Frysessan brandy is sipped.
“Snow cub, will you be joining us?” The Queen repeats once more, a thread of worry is evident without looking into her ice-blue eyes.
Getting up from her seat Ana absently folds her serviette and places it on the table. “Yi Namieé,” Ana answers back in the Queen’s tongue.
Ana would have not dared to speak in Aesthan if her father had been present. Her cheek smarting at the reminder of his disapproval of her using her maternal tongue, Ana runs her tongue across her teeth.
It must be ingrained in Suzette’s heart and soul to appear to be so cool and regal and make it look natural. Like breathing. If one did not know the Queen, there are few who do, then one would impetuously assume that she retains zero emotion. That is a lie. A lie that burns through Ana’s bloodstream like fire.
Wrapped in a flawlessly smooth emerald gown, the Queen bares no other jewelry than the tiara across her brow and the diamond necklace that was her wedding gift. The chuck of raw stone is the size of a baby’s-fist.
Her white-blonde hair intricately falling down her back in a series of complicated and simple twists and braids, Suzette detaches herself from the archway and slowly glides to her daughter. Fascinated with stories of the exiled Fey, Ana had always imagined that the forsaken race infamous for their ethereal beauty, would look exactly like her beautiful Namieé. As graceful as a dancer and as devastatingly lovely as a falling star, if one were not observant enough and were caught in the snare of the Queen’s gaze, one could meet the fate of her claws
When a mere feet away from Ana, Suzette suddenly reaches down to cup her daughter’s cheek. Ana meets her mother’s eyes as she assess her. Ana attempts to hide her flinch as the Queen’s extended stomach touches her own.
The Queen’s eyes will forever remind Ana of howling, winter nights and the thin, thin surface of a frozen pond that with one miscalculating step, could have you drowning and chocking on your frozen screams.
Squeezing her cheek, as if knowing that her daughter’s mind is a million miles away, the Queen slides her thumb down and lifts Ana’s chin. “You are pale, my snow cub. You must rest. You will not be missing much. Much more pointless conversation. As usual.”
Gently pushing her mother’s hand from her cheek, Ana pauses before placing her hand on the Queen’s swollen womb. “Have no worries for me, Namieé. I am fine. I have the North in my veins. Take care for you and the baby.”
A growl begins to rumble form the Queen’s throat. It should have been impossible for a human to make that sound. It should have but Ana’s Namieé has proven time again that she is more, that she is other.
The secrets shared between daughter and mother are unshakeable. Layers and layers of hushed revelations, stories that seemed fantastical yet were indeed fact, and magical truths that seem almost risky to even acknowledge in the quick of night.
So Ana does not bat an eye when the Queen curls her upper lip and a flash of sharp canines appear. The icy winds of her eyes become almost deadlier and the Queen unconsciously leans forward, as if ready to pounce or challenge.
Ana feels an answering growl beginning to brew in her chest. Her hackles start to rise.
“You do not tell me what to, my snow cub. You are yet an adult. You are yet fully matured. Your claws have not sprung. Your fangs have yet dropped. Your eyes have yet shifted,” Queen Suzanna leans closer to Ana until she can feel the hairs on the back of her neck rise, “Do not challenge me.”
Having seen her mother in like this time before, Ana forces herself to relax and break away from the Queen’s eye contact. Between the constant stress the Queen endures with her father and the pregnancy hormones, it is only natural for the Queen to be on edge.
Ana does not take it personally whenever her Namieé challenges her. Instead of returning the aggression, Ana forces herself to take a step back and raise her hands in a nonthreatening gesture. Clearing her throat, Ana says, “I am not, Namieé. I am only concerned because I heard you had a nasty migraine early today.”
Claws retreat. The rumbling growl dulls. With feline quickness, the Queen straightens from her position. Though she appears calmer, she has not yet entirely lost the wild, animalistic intentness in her eyes as she continues to hold her daughters’ eyes. “Sophia needs to mind her tongue.”
Speaking of her personal handmaiden, Ana rushes to defend the servant. “She is only doing her job, Namieé. Caring for you.”
“Changing my sheets and stroking my fire is her own job, snow cub.”
“Queen Suzette! Princess Anayissa!” They both turn their heads at the petite women calling from the doorway. “Will you be joining us in the parlor room?” Lady Herphosa is a stunning blonde with chestnut brown eyes and if looks could kill, she would be dead and bleeding in the Suzette’s jowls with the way the Queen is glaring at her.
Hearing a growl rumble from her mother’s chest, Ana rushes with a hasty response, “Yes, we shall be in there shortly. Thank you!”
Oblivious to the rising tension, the noblewoman grins and walks back out the doorway.
Swinging her attention back to her mother, Ana throws up her hands in frustration. “What is the matter with you? You could have scared Lady Herphosa.”
Looking unimpressed, the Queen stares down at her sharp nails. “She needs a have a good scare. The poor child is as dim as a doorknob.”
Ana sighs and massages the bridge between her brows. “You are truly insufferable, Namieé.”
Pausing from picking her nails, the Queen looks back at her daughter. “Do not worry about me, Ana. The job of a parent is to worry for their child, not the other way around.”
“How can I not,” Ana frowns. “You know I always worry.” Her eyes down, Ana looks down at her mother’s middle once more.
“Like I said, do not worry about me, snow cub.” Her voice reminding her of iron, the Queen leans down to place a kiss on Ana’s forehead. “Go upstairs. Rest and recover from your day. I will have a servant send you a tray of tea and sweets.”
Without further discussion, the Queen turns and walks away from her daughter. Heading to the doorway, Ana cannot help but notice that the Queen’s braid looks like a wild cat’s tail swishing back and forth.
CHAPTER 2: Visions from a Madman