The room was quiet and still, filled with an air of expectancy. In its centre, Princess Alyura de Silva sat quietly in a grand bed draped in silken sheets. She was staring vacantly out the window to her right, her mind racing with turbulent thoughts.
A sudden knock at the door pulled her blinking back to reality.
“You may come in,” she called out.
Two maids ventured inside quietly, immediately dipping into a bow.
“Good morning, Your Imperial Highness,” they chorused in unison.
She stared at them coldly, her crimson eyes giving her pale face a deadly aura. They would not dare raise their heads without her permission. She regarded them silently for a couple minutes, enjoying their obvious discomfort, before finally speaking.
“You may prepare my bath,” she said, her voice soft, “but first, call for the tailor to bring my dress.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” they answered and quickly exited the room.
Pulling back the covers, she climbed out of bed and padded over to the window. It was a beautiful day. Birds flew to her looking for breakfast, their song filling the air. Breathing in deeply, she tossed her head back admiring the sky. A soft breeze caressed her face, causing her silver hair to ripple gently around her.
A knock sounded again, this time accompanied by a low voice.
“Your Highness, may I enter?”
She turned towards the door, recognizing the voice.
The door opened, and an elderly woman walked in.
“Good morning, Your Highness,” she said, smiling at the princess.
Princess Alyura smiled back, a rare occurrence for her. Countess Olivia was the only person who could put her at ease.
“Good morning, Countess,” she said. “Come let’s sit at the table. I will ring a maid in for some breakfast”.
The countess chuckled.
“Are you trying to find an excuse for me to sit down, Your Highness?” she teased. “These old bones aren’t ready to quit just yet!”
The princess shook her head, her smile widening. Grasping the countess’s hand, she pulled her gently to the tea table. The countess sat down as the princess pulled a chair out for her.
Alyura then rang a bell, and a maid opened the door.
“Bring each of us plates of breakfast,” she commanded.
Bowing her head, the maid withdrew, shutting the door behind her.
As Alyura sat back down facing the countess, the old lady reached out for her. She grasped the princess’s hands in her own soft, wrinkled ones.
“Today is your big day, your majesty,” she said smiling brightly. She squeezed the princess’s fingers. “You will finally become our crown princess. Your mother would be so proud.”
Alyura looked down at their grasped hands, trying to quell the rising emotion in her chest.
“Would you do me the honor of preparing me tonight, one last time?” she asked.
The countess’s eyes filled with tears, and Alyura looked away, uncomfortable. Trying to regain her composure, she gave the princess a wobbly smile.
“It would be a privilege, Your Highness”.
The maid returned then, her arms holding a tray laden with fresh fruit, eggs, baguettes and tea. Placing it on the table, she began pouring the tea, when all of a sudden, a guard came
rushing into the room. Alyura stood up in shock, knocking the teacup over.
“How dare you enter my room without my permission!” She exclaimed, her eyes burning with rage.
Realizing his mistake, the guard fell to his knee, bowing his head.
“Forgive me, Your Imperial Highness! I did not think!” His voice shook with terror.
She stalked up to him, like a viper about to strike. Her face had gone stark white with anger.
The countess was at her side in an instant, attempting to diffuse the situation. She lightly grasped Princess Alyura’s elbow, then slid her hand down, gently intertwining their fingers. The princess stiffened, then visibly relaxed.
“It’s alright, Your Highness. The door was left open. He will not repeat it again.”
Olivia turned towards him.
“Why did you come!” she demanded.
Alyura glared down at him.
“I-I came to deliver a message from the Emperor,” he stammered. “He summons Your Most Imperial Highness to the garden.”
“Your message has been received,” Alyura said coldly. “Leave.”
He bowed his head lower, then scampered to the door. The maids who had gone to prepare the bath walked in as he hurried out.
“Your bath is ready, Your Imperial Highness,” they chorused.
“Keep it for me until I return from the Emperor’s garden,” she said “Come now. I must get dressed”.
They bowed again, and walked over to the princess’s wardrobe to select a dress for the day.
“Not that one,” she said as they brought forth a dress in crushed blue velvet. “I want something light and airy”.
Reaching back in, they produced a light, pink, summer dress, with sleeves half way down to the elbows, and a white flower pinned on one shoulder. She nodded her approval and they brought it over. She stood with her arms up as they slid it up and over her shoulders.
Alyura then walked over to her vanity table and sat, as the countess came up behind her, pulling her hair into a simple bun. She placed a jewelled tortoiseshell comb at its base.
Then pulling out a circlet of pearls, she clasped it round the princess’s elegant neck.
“You look beautiful, Your Highness,” Olivia said as she stood up from the vanity table.
Alyura smiled, as she looped her arm with the countess’s and walked with her out the door. The maids fell into step a short distance behind them.
When they reached the stone steps to the garden, Alyura turned to the maids.
“Go and keep my bath ready and waiting.”
They bowed again, and left.
“Your Highness,” the countess whispered, patting her arm, “Please don’t argue with the Emperor. He cares for you deeply”.
Countess Olivia had known the princess from when she was a child. She had been a kind hearted girl, before fate dealt her a cruel hand. She regretted not being able to stop her transformation into the ruthless rebel she was today.
The princess had faced numerous struggles, and she pitied her lonely plight. She was facing the world on her own at a very young age.
Princess Alyura pursed her mouth, and looked away.
“I will keep that in mind.”
Olivia smiled encouragingly. “I will be waiting for you in your rooms.”
She quickly wrapped the princess in a swift embrace, bowed, and walked away.
Alyura turned towards the entrance to the gardens. Steeling her gaze and straightening her back, she made her way towards the Emperor. He was sitting under the shade of an oak tree at a small garden table, silently drinking tea. With his wavy salt and pepper hair stirring slightly in the breeze and his stance and demeanor assertive and powerful, he looked every bit the powerful ruler. His age did nothing to mask the strength emanating from his powerful physique.
His dark crimson eyes – a feature they shared – looked towards her and crinkled up at the corners, as she crossed the stone path.
Approaching him slowly, she nodded her head in respect.
“My greetings to the emperor”.
“My greetings to the princess,” he answered back, smiling slightly. “Come,” he gestured to the empty seat in front of him. “Join me.”
Walking stiffly to the chair, she sat down, folding her hands in her lap.
“Why have I been summoned?” she asked.
The Emperor chuckled.
“Maybe I just wanted to have a conversation with my daughter,” he said.
She looked at him silently, her face impassive. Daintily, she lifted a cup of tea to her lips.
He sighed, seeming to slightly deflate.
He rubbed at his jaw.
“Tonight, you will be crowned, and will resume new responsibilities as Crown Princess.”
She looked up at him sharply.
“I am aware of what my duty entails.” she said.
He opened his mouth, but she cut him off.
“You do not need to worry about me father.”
She placed her cup firmly on the table. “I will hold myself accountable to my responsibilities.”
She met his gaze.
“Will that be all, Your Majesty?”
His eyes misted over and he suddenly looked very sad.
“I wish your mother could have been here to guide you”.
His words caused a sudden pang in her heart, and she stood up in a rush.
“Father, I must take my leave. I have many preparations to make for tonight”.
The Emperor looked off into the distance, lost in a memory.
She stood waiting, fidgeting slightly. She needed to get out of there.
Finally looking back at her, he nodded.
“You may go,” he said.
Relieved, she inclined her head, and turned to go when he grabbed her hand. She looked back at him, caught by surprise. She did not remember the last time he had touched her.
“Alyura, you must not continue on this path you’ve chosen,” he said, his eyes bright with sudden urgency. “There is only darkness in the end!”
Shaking her head, she looked down.
“It’s too late.” she said quietly.
Just as suddenly as the emotion had appeared in his eyes, it disappeared, leaving her to wonder if it had been there at all to begin with. He let go of her hand, and looked away.
“May providence be with you,” he said.
Taking this as her cue, she bowed her head again, and turning round, walked back into the palace.