I sometimes feel trapped from behind my facade. It is tiring. It is necessary. I am a walking liar. i am a thief.
Appearance is vital for Ana. If people were to know the true that lurked from behind her eyes, would they run screaming or come to her aid?
Standing before her mirror, Ana wishes nothing more than to take her hairbrush and throw it against the transparent surface.
That satisfying crunch: if she were to walk over them, the shattering glass would cut into her skin like diamonds. Crackling under her feet, the smooth skin covering the delicate arch of her heels, would split open, blood bursting through the wounds like a geyser.
Blood would stain the priceless rugs, would seep through and ruin the wood. When the maids later come to clean the mess the silly princess made, will they find the secrets beneath the floorboards? The journal entries, which have stacked too high, to the point of bursting? Because they are illiterate, the maids will be unable to understand that they were too late, to salvage the real mess.
Instead of giving into her impulses, Ana finishes brushing her hair and gently places the finely handled brush back on her vanity. The quiet, simple knock of the brush against the wood reminds Ana of the hollow feeling inside of her. The brush is heavy: unnecessarily carved from ivory.
Lost in the tangled webs of her thoughts, Ana almost misses the polite knock on her bedchamber’s door.
Looking back up at the mirror, Ana surveys the steady, almost resilient look in her eyes. Nodding at the image, Ana forces a small smile on her lips as calls out, “Enter.”
Her ladies-in-waiting spill into the room like oil. Bustling into her spacious rooms, Julia and Laura enter her bedchambers with soft, gentle smiles. Both girls dressed in fine garbs that refine their status, Ana admires the sparkling headband in Julia’s brunette hair. A Name Day gift from Ana, Laura, in contrast, wears the same headband around her wrist. Opting to her wear her blonde, springy curls around her pretty face, Ana watches as the spare wind sift through the room, tangling in the curls that rebelliously reach past her shoulders.
Glad for the distraction from her own thoughts, Ana smiles weakly, “Laura, Julia. How fare thee?”
Hauling a large, folded mound of Ana’s linens, Laura drops off the load and begins to organize it on the edge of Ana’s bed. Opting for a more atypical greeting, Laura responds, “That loudmouth Bridgett, swears she is going to be promoted to parlor maid. She is a scullery maid for a reason; unnoticed and away from all decent people.”
From the other side of the room, folding her own pile of linen, Julia gasps, “Laura!”
Ana cannot help but laugh at the brunette’s horrified expression.
Uncaring, Laura snorts and turns her attention back to her task. “Tis true,” she continues, “I swear whenever she recounts a lecherous story, she purposely raises her voice at the most scandalous parts. To be quite frank, all matters of her speech are scandalous. She acts like we do not already know she is loose with her skirts.”
Clutching her chest in mock horror, Julia says, “Laura, my God! Where did you learn such language?”
“From Bridgett, of course.”
All the girls break out in laughter.
A bubble of happiness settles with Ana as she smiles with her friends. Pleased that her mood has lifted, Ana settles in her favorite armchair and pulls of out her diary. Julia begins to hum. Laura worries her lip as she looks at the window from time to time.
Ana turns to Julia. “How fare thee, Julia,” sending a sly look to Laura, Ana continues, “I assume your day has been less…shocking.”
“Yes, princess. Father came to visit. We had a lovely time chatting in the courtyard. He sends his warmest regards.”
Ana smiles warmly. “See Laura, that is how you conduct a normal conversation.”
“Humph. Normal is for the birds. We live in the cesspit of drama and ill-fated romances. It is almost impossible to not acknowledge it when I can’t even visit a chamber pot without stepping over a pair of servants snogging.”
“Laura!” Julia fights back a round of giggles behind her hands.
Shaking her hand, Ana would have gone back to her journaling until she thought back over the blonde girls words. “Ill-fated romances? I thought everything was going well with Maurice?” Ana likes the blacksmith’s red-headed son. Well, more like Ana likes how adoringly the blacksmith’s son looks upon Laura. Such devotion in his eyes; warm with unfettered love for the lady-in-waiting, Ana is truly surprised that there could be trouble in paradise.
“Humph. It is nothing. Everything is fine.”
“It does not appear so.”
Laura glares at Ana now. “My father is being stubborn about the betrothal. He was going on about how he didn’t send me here to be a lady-in-waiting to wed ‘common folk’. I explained to him that his father is the Head Blacksmith for the castle, not some random hamlet, but he will not listen.”
Julia says nothing. Normally, the brunette would have gone over to her best friend and offered a hand or a kind word, but she sat unwontedly to the side. Her eyes downcast, Julia wrings her hands.
“He is stalwart,” Laura continues. Her eyes are hard now with anger. “He refuses to give his blessing.”
“Then you do not need it.”
Laura whips her neck around at Ana’s words.
Moistening her lips, Ana looks down and bends the edge of the page she was writing on. Flicking the paper with her thumb, Ana traces over her words. “You do not need it, Laura. If he disinherits you, you will always have a place her in the castle. An army of angry, disapproving fathers could never threaten that. And if he cannot approve of a man who loves you and would rather you be bound to someone with status and be miserable in turn, then you do not need his blessing.”
“Ana!” Laura cries. Her eyes are soft now.
Laura is the most interesting female Ana has ever met. One only needs to look upon her, with her straight back and direct gaze to see Laura’s strength. It is uncommon for a woman to posses such strength. No, it is unwelcomed. Men sneer at Laura and call her “stiff” and “unwomanly.” Women are just awful. They judge her, mock her, and envy her.
Those who do not know Laura would assume she is cold and unfriendly. She does mean to stand so tall and appear so resilient. No, it is just who she is. And beneath the layers and layers of sheer, unrelenting loyalty and wiseass comments, is a young girl who is scared.
Ana may know nothing about strength but she does know plenty about being scared.
Her eyes beginning to sting, Ana leans over and takes a healthy sip of tea. “As I said, Laura, you will always have a place by my side. Have no fear.”
The blonde girl surveys Ana. There is love in the other girls eyes; evident as the blue sky. Laura has never mastered the skill of expressing feelings but its unneeded. It is like words are useless when one can simply look into Laura’s eyes as see every thought and emotion in the depths.
Smiling softly, Ana turns back to her journal.
Writing now with an uncharacteristic vigor, the calm, peaceful interlude is interrupted by animalistic bellows that shake the stone walls of the castle.
Having taken a sip of her tea when the first bellow was uttered, Ana chokes on the hot tea in shock. Her throat burning as she hacks out the liquid, Ana feels a pair of hands pounding her on the back.
Thankful, Ana takes a grand, healthy breathe before turning her neck and looking into the shocked eyes of Julia and Laura.
Having dropped her teacup in her disbelief, Ana notes how the brown liquid had slipped over the edge of the table, splattered across the surface like blood.
“Princess?” Both of her friends stare at her with worry.
Instead of reassuring them, Ana stands up and rushes over to the window.
“What was that sound? It sounded like an animal dying?”
The courtyard before her, Ana searches for the source of the distressing sound. Julia and Laura join her. The shrieking continues. The ends of Laura’s curls brush Ana’s arms, causing the gooseflesh to rise.
Ana will never forget the sight of the solidary, grubby man thrashing and screaming like a demon. From his appearance, Ana can only presume that her is either homeless or one of the People of the Forest. A group of people, who choose to voluntarily exile themselves from contemporary society, the People of the Forest have taken the Namaste Forest as their home. Considered backwards and barbarians, Ana is still unsure why the King allowed the People of the Forest to annex themselves. An enclave for the ones who do not necessarily “fit-in” with modern society, Ana can only assume that her father considers it almost a blessing that any “backward” individual can leave society rather than possibility taint his “normal” citizens.
Banishing materialistic things that they deem have corrupted the Mycean people; the People of the Forest have taken a more earthy and transcendental outlook in life. Their community is based on the principals of providing for oneself, teaching the ways of self-love and positivity, and because they are deemed pacifists, they do not join the wars or battles, even when called upon by their King. The last clause was the hardest for the King to allow but in exchange for that faction, the People of the Forest must be tried before the King.
With closer inspection, Ana notices that the man is older, dressed in ragged, homespun clothes, which are spattered with muck, dirt, and ghastly unmentionables. Hair in disarray, eyes wild, the man does not paint a pretty picture as he fights with a caged animal’s vigor. The strain of the castle guard’s faces is detected from her perch.
Even as he fights each step, he still has breathe to screech with total abandon. The whole castle must have heard his screams. The thought crosses her mind as she hears the answering calls from the wild animals imprisoned in the menagerie. Like calling to like, Ana mutters to herself.
Shifting uneasily from feet to feet, Ana turns to her friends and finds a gleam of curiosity reflected in their eye. Without speaking, Ana nods her head and the girls head off to investigate.
The girls prowl through the hallways. The castle is abuzz with excited whispers. Ana catches a hushed conversation between a pair of maids. The younger, with strawberry-blonde curls fitted in her linen cap, whispers, “That is the one! The man who attacked the family in Chelsea!” Her eyes are wide with enthusiasm.
“How did they find him? I heard he lives in the forest like one of those filthy People of the Forest.” The older girl, with freckles and sand-colored hair, sneers.
“I do not know. Hopefully they sentence him with haste. He is tracking in so much filth, it will take hours for the scullery maids to remove the mud from the rugs.”
Stepping past the pair, Ana turns back to look at Laura and Julia. Pleased to see her excitement matched, the gleam of interest bright and brilliant in their eyes, Ana continues to lead the way.
Women are not allowed in the Throne Room during political affairs, sentencing, and honestly, anything fun or worth a damn. Even at a young age, Ana had thought it was a silly rule. She had grown so jealous that her older cousins could watch as prisoners were brought in and tried so instead of being thwarted by the rule, Ana had found a covert way to peek into the proceedings.
Having become an expert on remaining unseen throughout the years, Ana and the girls duck their heads as they slip past the small hallway adjacent to the Throne Room. One by one, the girls rush over to the storeroom. Opening the door, Ana’s nose curls as she is welcomed by the old, musty smell.
With a practiced flare, Julia shuts the door and Laura turns and goes off into the corner. Removing the large painting of an amiable landscape, Laura gently places the painting against the wall. With a determined drive to her steps, Ana steps up to the wall and begins to remove the six, loose bricks. The bricks fall easily into her ready hands.
Dropping the bricks gently onto the floor, Ana indifferently wipes the dust from her hands on her skirts afterwards.
Laura and Julia join her by the hole in the wall. From their vantage point, Ana can spot the back of the priests head, the guards, and the growing crowd of finely dressed men in attendance.
The three girls pause. Leaning back and sharing mischievous, satisfied smiles with one another, Ana turns her head in time to witness her father, the King of Mycea, arrive with grand pageantry.
Entering the room, the sea of people part fluidly, the King’s tulle cape licking the floor with each step. His baring both masculine and elegant, the King carries himself confidently and unfazed to the throne, his crown, that has been passed down since the First King–King Daniel Rhyse de Cliousa, rests handsomely upon his brow.
The whole room holds its breath until he situates himself on the ordained throne. A dramatic pause as the King looks across the room–as if he accessing for danger or using his power and influence to remind the people before him that he is their better–Ana is unsure. His Secretary, Sir Bartholomew, stands cool and poised beside the King. Pausing to swiftly lean over a whisper in the King’s ear, the Secretary’s cool eyes remain on the doors. Ana does not have any love for the man. His slicked back black hair glistening in the sunlight peaking from the windows, his reptilian dark eyes have always made Ana nervous whenever he focused his attention on her.
“Bring in the prisoner,” The King voices is clear and direct. King Henry does not waste his breathe with pretty words and eloquent speeches. An unexpected and wholly ironic aspect, it is amazing that the same man who loves to hear himself speak, also has a level of modesty, especially in a position that does not necessitate it.
A titter arouses as the castle guards open the door. The filthy man from earlier is in chains and being dragged by a pair of burly guards. The man’s rags are rotting. His hair is matted with dirt and other unseemly things. From the grimaces in the crowd, Ana can only imagine the horrible smells emanating from the prisoner.
The same, piercing howls, erupt once more. Above, the chandelier shutters. Ana is tempted to cover her ears as his screeches become shriller.
Hauling the man into the center of the room, the guards drop him abruptly. Taking out their swords in the next minute, the convict’s screams halt as their swords touch his neck. Visibly swallowing, the man looks up to Ana’s papiee with fearful, yellowed eyes.
“Green-Moss of the People of the Forest, you stand before your King today for charges of murder, rape, cannibalism, and kidnapping. How will you defend these claims?
“I say, these claims are lies! There is no proof! My people do not adhere to you as our King!” Ana flinches, noticing the man’s mouth. A row of broken, browned teeth with undistinguishable grime, nausea strikes Ana as she focuses on one of his crimes: cannibalism.
“That is false. Your Queen, Heaven-Kissed, formerly known as Esmeralda Fontavlo, signed the treaty forty years ago that recognized Namaste Forest as a independent state that will be judged by me, your king, in investigations of high crimes, which you are currently on trial for.
And with your false accusations of our ‘lies’ and needing of “proof”, we do indeed have proof. I have sent my men to your housing, where they found severed corpses in various states of conservation, human skins and hair fashioned in furnishing, small trinkets from the children you kidnapped, buried bodies of young boys with bruising and cuts, witnesses that claim that they have seen you taking children into your home and hearing screams, and lest not forget the God awful smells.”
The King’s words are heavy with sins, the crimes against the wild man sucking the noise and the life from the room. Ana’s heart drops as she stares at the wild man anew. Just a little awhile ago, there was a seed of pity that sprung as she saw the wild man dragged in chains but after hearing such atrocities, Ana can only stare at the man with unveiled disgust and fear.
Looking back, Ana can see that Laura and Julia share the same sentiments. Laura’s lips are twisted in a nauseated sneer, and Julia, the more sensitive of the three, holds back her sobs with her hand, her lovely summer sky eyes, filled with horror.
Looking back at her papiee, Ana acknowledges that though King Henry may not be the best father, he is a king who can hold his composure, a strength that holds the audience together. If King Henry had trembled, had a slight tremor of fear coloring his words, he would have lost every amount of respect from all the men in the room. Instead, King Henry remains powerful, polished, and almost aloof despite the criminal before him. Looking around the room as best as she can, the men in audience, ranging from rank and age, look up to the king with undeniable respect and pride.
The fugitive is quiet now.
His chains clink as he sways back and forth on his knees. His matted dark hair conceals his face; his ragged clothes are in stark contrast to the elegance of the Throne Room’s tiled floors.
Suddenly snapping his head up, Ana holds back her gasp as blind eyes glare towards the king. The man’s face is old and haggard; a long, uneven scar bisects his left cheek. His teeth are filled down to resemble fangs. The fugitive begins to snarl. The sound vibrating from his chest is menacing. The guards yank the chains back once more as if heeling a dog.
The King is unruffled by the alarming display. Leaning back in his throne, King Henry rests his elbows on his lap, intertwining his fingers. “In normal circumstances, you would have been sent up North to work in the Aesthan Diamond mines but because of your numerous heinous crimes, your savage displays, and the threat you pose to society, your punishment will be adequately just.”
Pausing for dramatic affect once more, the room is a buzz of excitement as the king glares down at the fugitive. “You will be castrated for your crimes of rape, your hands will be cut off for your crimes of kidnapping, your tongue will be ripped out for your lies here today, and you will be publically burned at the stake in honor of the families you have wronged. Please, escort the prisoner back to the dungeons,” The King lifts his hand and waves it at the guards holding the prisoner.
The wild man’s howls are truly demonic now. Expecting the floor to open up to reveal a pit of hellfire, Ana holds onto Laura and Julia as the man fights back with newfound strength. The guard’s strain and struggle as they drag the man back.
“Mycea will burn! You will all get what you deserve! The Earth will retake what you have stolen from it!” he yells.
With his departing words, Ana is left feeling cold. Laura and Julia begin to set the bricks in place, their movements quiet in the hushed silence. Already smelling the scent of burnt hair and skin, Ana turns away from the proceedings, fighting back the waves of nausea that overwhelms her. Allowing her servants to drag her back to her rooms, Ana dumbly follows along, her eyes lingering on the wall as she pictures the criminal’s frenzied eyes.
CHAPTER 3 PART 1