Chapter One – The Letter
A beautifully decorated white, elegant envelope stares enticingly at me, decorated with gorgeous golden swirls and a golden rose seal. My hands hold onto it delicately as if it is made of glass and I run my finger gently over its waxy seal. Within this paper cage is my confession, a letter that I, Princess Elissia Osiera, wrote directly for the eyes of the Rebel Prince. For many moons now I have longed for this letter to be delivered from my heart to the Prince’s hands but my efforts are always fruitless. My lips separate and I let out a soft sigh realising that this longing is just a childish dream, slinging the envelope gracefully like a discus onto my king-sized bed before throwing myself down next to it. The Rebel Prince, the leader of the Rebellion, such a title fitting of such an elusive man. The ideals he and the rebellion seek are the same ideals I believe so deeply in, but who am I trying to fool? The true reason I am trying to gain contact to the Prince is for my own selfish reasons. I believe only that black-cloaked Prince can take me away from this castle-like cage. Despite my royal blood, I am nothing but the key to the throne for the lucky suitor to whom I am betrothed. My hands reach up and brush through my long, smooth, amaranth hair, trying to ease my frustrations.
A stern knock at my door forces me to my feet, I scurry, grabbing the small envelope and hiding it within the golden sash around my waist. I pat myself down swiftly and adjust my hair, with a quick gentle cough I call out "You may enter," formally. Immediately I recognise the young man suited in shining silver armour, a white tunic and matching trousers. The Knight's long golden cape draped behind him and his tamed, mid-length, sandy gold hair sways exactly the same way. Rylell Demorhyde, the Verse Knight Captain. I catch the sight of Rylell’s deep azure blue eyes soon to notice following close behind him is my father, the King. Yet another blond man, apart from his long hair is darker towards the roots, almost brown, with his neatly trimmed brown stubble that he seems to wear as an accessory. Seeing my father sends a wave of distress within me, causing my eyes to avert to the floor. No doubt my father is here to criticise me as per usual. I make sure that my posture is perfect and my gestures delicate like a beautiful flower, fitting of a young princess. My father studies me, golden eyes glaring up and down, his eyes focused on searching for any imperfections in my appearance. An elegant, silk, ivory dress clings to my skin, emphasizing my maidenly body shape, but the dress flows out gracefully at the bottom, allowing movement. A golden sash is wrapped around my waist and childish pink lace decorates the elegant gown, matching my amaranth hair. He does not look particularly pleased; do I have a hair out of place? I must have messed it up when I was lying down. The silence is killing me. I start to feel increasingly nervous and knot my fingers together hoping it will calm me.
"I am highly anticipating it." I respond, unsure if I am expressing my honesty or not. This will be my first formal and social event, the first time I will be seen in public. I will be expected to socialise and to dance, and I must confess dancing is a skill I unfortunately have not.
My father looks defeated; he rubs his hand against his stubble before giving in, "Indeed, you have a fair point. Very well, Demorhyde shall keep watch from a far."
“Thank you, Papa! Sir Demorhyde!” I respectfully cheer and bow my head. It seems so peculiar being so formal towards him when my father is near. Since Rylell was once my personal knight we are well acquainted, it was only at the beginning of the year that he obtained his promotion to Captain. I can see Rylell hide his smile as he turns away from me and walks back towards the door, and my father begins to follow behind him.
“Demorhyde will return within several hours and escort you to the ballroom. You will then be free to do as you wish,” my father informs me as he leaves the room. Rylell gives a brief nod and closes my bedroom door. Inspection over, I fall carelessly down onto the soft bed, cradling my arms reassuringly around me, I intake breath and sigh with relief. Not even a statement of ‘happy birthday’? I scowl to myself but then again being inspected by my father is never a pleasant experience; he expects me to be a vision of complete perfection, just as my mother was. Yet, my thoughts are far from the ball, this Rebel Prince has dominated my thoughts so often for the last few weeks. I close my eyes and in hopes to forget about the Rebel Prince, and the ball, if only for a moment.
“Don’t worry. I arrived here early,” Rylell comforts. “I was going to wake you.”
“Oh, I see.” I raise myself from the bed and immediately, I am conscious that my hair must be a shambles, "Do you watch me sleep often?" my voice conveying a weak hint of sarcasm.
"No, Princess. Believe it or not, I have more significant duties."
"There was me thinking your only duty was to watch over me," A forced laugh leaves my mouth before I change the subject "What time will it be starting?"
"The event has already begun, but there's no need to rush, you are the birthday girl after all." Easy for him to say,
"My father will be most displeased if I am late, Rylell," I sigh, staggering my hands around in my drawer searching desperately for a hairbrush. Suddenly Rylell moves himself away from the wall, and I hear the steel tips of his boots clang against the marble floor as he approaches me.
Rylell guides me through the seemingly endless hallways of the castle. All the candles are lit, glowing gently with a soft ember, illuminating the normally dark corridors. The castle truly is elegant this evening. The servants have been slaving all day to make the castle shine like it is and their efforts truly do show. To be honest it is rather impressive, this has to be the first time I have witnessed the castle in such a beautiful gleam. Due to my isolation, my father always locks me away in my room during these formal gatherings. I am anxious but a small excitement wells within me; ever since I was a child I have adored the ballroom scenes within the scripts and stories I have read, so I am eager to see the Grande hall and take in some of Serethe’s finest hospitality. Rylell stops at the large double doors and places his hand against it. “Don’t stray too far. I will be stationed up here on the balcony." Rylell informs me, I roll my eyes at his formality "I mean it, Princess. If you stray I will come and collect you. Remember that,” His tone firm almost as if it is a warning and in reply I nod my head reluctantly, watching as he opens the door that leads onto the Grande hall balcony. I run past him and lean against the banister. The Grande hall looks decadent and much bigger than I remembered. The ballroom is decked out in beautiful golden drapes and stunning white lights. The floor is tiled black and white checker that from up here looks almost like a chess board. Beautiful piano music echoes though the room and the melody is heavenly on my ears and the smell of mixed expensive perfumes is strong but delightful. I gaze down in amazement at the lavish ballroom floor, just how many people there are dancing? They are all well-dressed in beautiful and elegant gowns and suits, I feel rather under-dressed compared to most of them. The abundance of gold, brown and white mix together like a beautiful painting in my mind. I gaze around and notice several couples and groups on the balcony area having sophisticated chats in what is considerably peaceful compared to downstairs, yet they seem tense in the presence of a Knight of Verse, or perhaps it is my presence that has made them like this? With one last glance at Rylell, I curtsy and make my way to the ballroom downstairs. My hand glides across the railing as I use the other hand to lift my dress slightly. Never had I imagined these gatherings to be such a beautiful yet formal place. As I reach the bottom floor, a servant immediately seizes me and offers me a glass of the fancy white wine on his silver platter. I grasp a glass by its stem and pull it away from the platter, giving the servant a gratifying nod of the head. Not that I am allowed to drink wine, but surely it would be rude to say no, correct?
Hours seemingly pass by effortlessly, just as the wine glasses do as I lounge around near the pillars. I spent the hours just watching the nobles dance. The nobles have passed me by with nothing but sour looks. The smile that covered my face when I entered the ballroom had already faded out by the reality of the situation. Out the corner of my eye I catch a sudden glimpse of cold black in this sea of white, brown and gold; it grabs my attention immediately and pulls me away from my thoughts. My posture alters from casually leaning to formally up right as I move my head eagerly around to see if I can catch another sight of the rare occurrence. The ebony shade is revealed to be a man, a tall man with a sleek-yet muscular figure and sturdy long legs, dancing elegantly with a lady, who in comparison to him looks completely ordinary. The man is wearing a smart formal black suit, the coat of the suit has sunglow yellow stitching and a tailcoat attached, his amber waistcoat mostly hidden underneath. He too like many others is wearing a mask; an elegant mask of ebony with a gold strip decorating the top of it and alternating yellow and onyx feathers attached. All I can see is his obscure, chartreuse green hair. I am drawn, I simply cannot help but stare at him, his dancing is so eloquent and precise. Suddenly his eyes cross mine and we are gazing deeply into each other's eyes for a brisk, magical moment. The expression on his face is hard to read due to the cover of the mask but he seems surprised. My focus stays on him remains on him until the musical score comes to an end, bringing the dance to a halt, and the man bows graciously to the plain woman to whom he was dancing with. His view returns to my direction and a smile pierces his sculpted face. A pink shade covers my naturally pale cheeks with a gentle blush that rather compliments my hair, yet I avert my eyes and attempt to look away. Was he smiling at me? Curiosity consumes me and I find myself turning around to explore if anyone is stationed behind me and notice a gathering of beautiful masked women located near the wall behind me. A sigh of disappointment leaves my lips and I revert to my original position. The black shade is now stood directly in front of me, towering over me like a shadow. It catches me completely off guard yet he has a sweet smile fixed firmly on his face. He seems much taller up close; I just barely reach his chest. The man bends his back and reaches his hand out to me, what a gentleman.
“A ball is nowhere for a young lady to be frowning,” He greets me, in his most humble voice. Was I frowning? I suppose I was before this man caught my eyes. I place my hand gently within his and he lays a soft kiss on the back of my hand. He is so striking. The man’s narrow bright green eyes barely visible through his mask, shining like mischievous emeralds.
“Are you alright?” The Earl frowns slightly as he inquires.
“Yes. Forgive me.” I bow respectfully to him and lean against the pillar once more.
“Don’t apologize, you have done nothing to apologize for.” He sighs and brushes his hand through his hair. I feel a little flushed at his genuine concern, even if my ailment is only a slight headache.
“Thank you, Earl Esthien…” I pause, “For dancing with me.”
“The pleasure was mine, young Princess, I would love to dance with you again sometime,” He honestly smiles, my face completely turns red. Perhaps the wine I drank earlier is making me feel like this. It was not too long ago that I was stunned by this glitzy world, but the novelty ran dry fast, just like the wine. Meeting with the misfit Earl has been truly breath taking. The Earl turns to look back at the dance floor; his thoughts appear to be elsewhere. Perhaps he is considering departing now. If he leaves what will I do? The thought I could be left alone again was enough to worry me. Yet why do I trust this man I have just met so much?
“Am I holding you up?” I muster up the courage to say, but still he is looking away from me.
“Not particularly. I’m simply cautious of who is around. There are people whom I would like to conduct business with later tonight.” I take the opportunity to move closer to him, grabbing at his right hand and cupping it with both of mine. It brings his attention back to me and he looks at me slightly confused; somewhat bewildered. I want him to stay with me, at least for a bit longer.
“This is my first formal event, I am rather anxious,” my words soft, my eyes are averted to the floor, I am embarrassed about clinging to this man that I have only just met but he makes me feel safe.
“I know,” He raises his left hand over to my cheek and gently holds it. Can he see how red my cheeks are? I do not care. This hand is comforting, strangely familiar. “Would you prefer me to stay with you for the time being?” he offers. My eyes dart up at him, a look of joy sweeps over my face. I nod swiftly and run into him, embracing him with a gentle hug. I cannot see his face but he seems embarrassed, his heart is beating fast. He places his hands onto my shoulders strictly and creates distance between us by pushing me gently away from him but his hands remain on my shoulders, keeping me in arms reach. “A Princess should never display affection to a man to whom she is not betrothed.” He formally scolds me. I giggle in reply and he cannot help but smile back at my innocence, then releases me from his grip.
“Forgive me, I am truly happy. You really are a fine gentleman, Lord Esthien!” I praise.
"Am I? You sing a different tune from earlier, young Princess." his casual laugh is like music to my ears. He closes his eyes and moves his head closer to mine, whispering, "If I'm honest; I'm rather selfish. It was my intent to stay with you."
"You are a wonderfully bizarre man, my Lord." I blush slightly.
"I am glad you think so, I doubt your Knight would agree." The Earl gazes around once more, scoping the floor and the balcony. “Your Verse Knight has not removed his eyes from us since we started talking.” His eyes locked with the man on the balcony. I look up and realise it is Rylell, of course it is. I feel nervous but I grab the Earl’s black Jacket and tug on it to gain his attention. He slowly draws his attention back to me and I pull him further back behind the pillars to avoid Rylell’s glare.
“He is keeping a close watch on me.” I explain to him,
"He is not the only one," removing his mask and for the first time I can see his face crystal clear. I am stunned, speechless. His eyes are truly the most gorgeous shade of green I have ever seen. I cannot help but stare, he is handsome “You have been the centre of attention since you arrived,"
"So you noticed too?" I try to hide my frown,
“Hah, well it is the first time you have ever been out in public, Princess.” He sighs before asking, “Shall we head to the terrace?” His idea refreshes me, some privacy away from these people and some fresh air would be great, I nod and smile politely at him. Before we move, he places his black Venetian mask over my eyes and smiles in approval. He bends over slightly to whisper into my ear,
“Black really brings out your beautiful heterochromia eyes. Yes, gold and silver are most definitely well highlighted by black” words that command me to swoon. Once more he is leading me by the hand towards the huge archway that covers most of the right side of the ballroom that leads outside to the terrace that holds a beautiful view of the First Quarter.
The night air is icy cold against my exposed shoulders and arms. In response to the cold, my arms cling around me, hugging myself tightly to keep warm. The Earl walks ahead of me and leans over the terrace balcony, using his elbows to support himself. With an intake of breath, my view glances around to the other nobles, in couples, stood conversing. The nobles are all holding glasses of the sickly sweet white wine and talking in whispers, very sophisticated. I finally decide to head over to the Earl who looks lost in his trail of thoughts. The eyes’ of the other nobles are on us, I can feel it. As I am stood beside him I feel at loss with words, slightly nervous, curious to know what is playing on his mind, causing him to frown, but I am cautious of stepping over some invisible boundary he may have.
“What is that building over there” I randomly point to a building in the distance, all the over-sized buildings of the first quarter are amazing pieces of architecture made with lovely materials such as brownstone and white sandstone. After all these manors must be fitting for the perfect Aristocrats that occupy them with their loyal servants. They look even more beautiful illuminated in the night by the street lamps. The Earl's silence makes me anxious but he eventually answers me,“That’s Regent Daise’s residence.” I continue to question him on random buildings and he continues to answer. As usual, I recognise the names but I have no idea what these people look like. He informs me in brief detail about the families that live in their beautiful abodes, and I am rather envious that he knows so much. Then again, he is the Earl. I bet he has to attend many formal gatherings. Yes, that must be why he is such an amazing dancer.
“Your isolation has been hard for you, hasn’t it?” The Earl suddenly asks me, catching me momentarily speechless.
“Is it really that evident?” I nervously laugh. “My Knight escorts me around like a prisoner. I find myself daydreaming constantly about the freedom I could enjoy outside of these castle walls… away from these royal shackles. I understand that my Isolation is at an end, but I will never have the freedom I desire to pursuit my own dreams. I even wrote a letter, a letter to the Rebel Prince asking for his help yet I know it will never be sent. It must sound silly, I know.” My sudden honest outburst of my feelings leaves me anxious and under the mask my expression holds a frown. The cold is making my shoulders numb, I had not anticipated leaving the ballroom, I wish I had brought my shawl with me this evening. The Earl replies with a sigh, I do not think he has any words to reply with. “Sorry, I did not intend to damper the evening.” I apologise, The Earl shakes his head softly and suddenly stands removing his black formal coat. I turn my head curious as to see what he is doing. In a quick swoop he places the coat delicately around my shoulders and uses it to pull me closer to him. We are now stood face to face, with little proximity between us, closer than we were when we were dancing. The moon is shining elegantly across his face; highlighting his beautiful eyes. The Earl's arms are still holding onto the jacket over my shoulders. I raise my hand and clench it to my chest. I can feel his breath warm on my skin, sending a chill down my spine, making my heart race. It cannot be fair that he should be allowed to make me feel this way.
“Listen to me... Promise me what I tell you will remain only with you.” He whispers quietly,
“A minor inconvenience is certainly a good thing.” The Earl replies with a gentle whisper smiling directly at me. As I follow Rylell back inside, I notice I am still holding the Earl’s mask, I turn back and quickly shout to the Earl who is still standing at the end of the balcony.
“Your mask!” I hold it up as I shout. When he sees it he smirks and brushes his hand through his hair once more. I do not think he cares about the other people on the balcony either; we really are in our own world that is away from this glitzy world.
“You keep it, It looks much better on you” my face lights up with his statement, I stick my tongue out at him briefly and I wave to him. Just before I turn away from him, he mouths 'Happy Birthday, Elissia.' as I disappear into the ballroom. Will he truly send my letter to the Rebel Prince?