Authors: Cege Smith
By Cege Smith
Copyright 2012 Cege Smith
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No matter what she did, the voices in Angeline’s head wouldn’t stop despite the fact that the moment that would define her the rest of her life was just around the corner. She felt lost, even though almost every waking moment of her twenty-year-old existence should have prepared her for what was to come. She was sure that the moment those gathered for her Ascension saw her they would all know the truth; she was a fraud and a liar. The voices whispered and gurgled and she couldn’t make them stop. But she had never felt so alone.
Stupidly she wished that he was there, but he couldn’t be. She knew that. Just knowing that he was close by would have calmed her nerves. It was a childish desire and it rankled her that she had come to depend on him so quickly. Queens didn’t have the luxury of always waiting for someone to come to their rescue. Her constant companions were duty, responsibility, worry and guilt. These were a queen’s emotional captors, especially when it came to making decisions that affected all of the people that she had been born to protect. Now that her father was dead, there was no one left to make those decisions but Angeline.
A Robart had sat on the throne of Altera for as long as anyone could remember. It was a duty her family had willingly accepted. But the mirage that Altera was still a prosperous and safe place was nothing but a shiny veneer. Her land was sinking into a darkness that could spell the end of days for everyone. Her people didn’t see it yet; the surface just was just beginning to wear thin. Angeline knew, and it was a secret that she had to hide until she found another way; her current options were grim.
Angeline stared deeply into the mirror in front of her. The dress she was wearing had been custom made in three days. The lace veil that would be brought down from the crown of her head to cover her face was her mother’s. The heavy jewels that circled her throat had been part of a treasure trove an ancient ancestor had brought home after the last mighty battle that secured the Robart bloodline as the rightful rulers of Altera.
Her hand reached up and lightly brushed the tiara on her head. It didn’t seem real. The deep violet hue of the rich fabric of the dress matched her eyes. Her long black hair had been tamed, temporarily in any case, and twisted into a tight bun at the base of her neck. It was giving her a headache. Her pale skin seemed almost translucent and accented the dark circles underneath her eyes. But it wasn’t long days spent sequestered at her father’s bedside that had robbed her of her naturally rosy glow and caused the sleepless nights that haunted her. No one would know the real reason though; her cover story had already been carefully spread. She knew that anyone looking at her would see the vision of a queen, but she had no idea who she really was anymore.
Little more than a month ago she had been so sure of herself and her destiny. She had been ready to take on the world and rule her kingdom as her father had—with kindness but force when necessary, just as he taught her. That was before she knew the truth; everyone she had ever trusted had been lying to her. Even though she understood they thought it had been necessary, those lies had set in motion a series of events that would destroy Altera as it existed today and would certainly take her down with it. Even
had lied to her.
In such a short time, he had turned her world upside down.
. She wanted badly to hate him, to deny that he had any hold over her. But he did. Just as everyone had lied to her to protect her, she was now lying to herself about feeling anything for someone who had burst into her life and left it just as suddenly. She barely knew him. It was especially soul wrenching because she was set to walk down the marriage aisle in three days. She was promised to someone else, someone who had lied to her just as insidiously. Altera law required that in order for a woman’s bid to the throne to be recognized, she needed to be married. It was an old and outdated law, but one that needed to be fulfilled in any case for her to change it now. Clearly the Robarts of old had never considered that their precious bloodline would end with a woman.
Her attendant, Elise, appeared by her side. “What’s so funny, Majesty?”
Angeline saw in her reflection that her lip had curled up in the corner in a smirk. She tried to think of a lie that would make sense. No one could know what she was really thinking. “Nothing, Elise. I was just thinking of when I was little and would dress up and crown myself queen. Do you remember playing that with me?” Angeline saw the young woman flush.
“I should never have done something so imprudent, Majesty. You were always so kind to me that it was easy to forget my station when we were young,” Elise said as she stooped to straighten Angeline’s train.
Angeline turned and caught Elise’s hands. “Elise, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to offend. Today is a big day for me and I am nervous. My father’s passing was so unexpected, but I hope he would be proud of me today. He always said that I had too much of my mother’s impatience to ever stand still long enough to have the crown actually set upon my head.”
The words were true. She felt like her childhood had disappeared as she ran from one obsession to another. Birds. Astronomy. Swords. Magic. She hadn’t had many friends as a result, but she didn’t think she missed much. Even then she couldn’t stand the posturing of the noble children and their parents who clearly wanted to gain favor with the king by associating their children with the young princess. The children of the servants had been better playmates, when she could get them to play with her at all.
“I know your father would wish you well today, Majesty,” Elise said as she bowed her head. She looked at Angeline from head to toe. “Your fiancé is going to be very proud of you today too. Everyone in court is excited to be part of your Ascension. We’ve never crowned a queen like this before; we are watching history in the making. And you look lovely.”
Angeline snorted and looked back in the mirror. “You’ve been in court long enough to know that my fiancé has many motivations, Elise. I think it’s clear what his motivation is now.”
“He is eager to marry you, Majesty, and give the kingdom new heirs,” Elise said.
Angeline shook her head. She adjusted her skirt to avoid looking into Elise’s eyes. “He never liked me, even when we were children. No, I think Malin has other things on his mind.”
“He will be a good king, Majesty, and despite what you say, anyone can see how much he cares for you. He didn’t sleep at all while you were missing. He led many of the search parties himself,” Elise said quietly.
Everything inside Angeline railed at the idea that her life wasn’t her own. The other thing that queens did not have the luxury of was love. She had accepted her fate long ago, thinking that the idea of soul mates was the stuff of fairy tales, something that was illogical and therefore not for her. Meeting Connor had made her question almost everything that she believed in. But when you were royalty, someone older and wiser than you chose who they thought you should marry, and there was no choice in the matter. Her father had picked Malin.
“I can’t believe how accepting everyone is of him now, considering he never really endeared himself to the people. My father was so worried that everyone would not take to him,” Angeline said.
“That has changed over the last few years, Princess. The Chief Advisor was often the one who held audiences even while the king was here in residence. He has shown himself to be wise and fair. It is a good match,” Elise said as she started picking at Angeline’s gown. “Everyone agrees that your father made an excellent decision. You are securing the Robart lineage for years to come.”
“Not exactly in the way that he expected,” Angeline hissed. Her father would turn over in his grave if he knew what was going to happen now. Angeline had failed him.
“There has always been a Robart on the throne, and there always will be,” Elise said, reciting a line that was common in Altera. She seemed unflustered by Angeline’s tone.
On one hand, Angeline wanted to stomp her foot and scream, but on the other, she wanted to leave the titles and her throne and run. The crazy voice in her head said that if she gave up Altera, she may be able to convince Connor that there was a possibility that they had some kind of future together. The thought was so intoxicating that she had to will herself to stand still.
Then in the mirror she watched the huge double doors behind her begin to open. It was time. Once she was queen, she would have no choice anymore. And that thought made her want to break something
“Majesty!” she heard Elise yell. “Are you hurt?”
She thought her vision had blurred, but then realized it was the mirror. It was broken. She looked down at her hand. It was covered in blood, which started to drip onto the brilliant violet gown. She wished for a different time or a different birthright. But most of all, she wished for Connor.
Full darkness was an hour away when Rhone called that they should stop for the night. Angeline was disappointed that they hadn’t made better time, but the snows had been heavier than expected that winter, and even though spring had arrived it wasn’t warm enough to fully thaw the mountain passes yet. She had hoped to be back in Brebackerin, Altera’s capital city, by nightfall. She didn’t relish the idea of spending another night outdoors. Traveling with a group of soldiers meant she was confined to her tent every evening for the duration of the trip.
“What have they been teaching you in that convent? How to go soft?” Rhone scoffed when she had asked about continuing on. “I’m not going to risk my men or our horses because the princess misses her feather bed.”
Rhone had known her since she was born. The fact that she was the princess and heiress to the throne didn’t impress him.
“That’s not it at all. I’m worried about my father,” Angeline said, crossing her arms. She hoped that the twilight hid the flush creeping up her neck. She wouldn’t admit there was some truth to his words. “You did say that he was dying and that he sent you to bring me home as soon as possible. I am merely trying to do as my king commands.”
Rhone glared at her from under his heavy grizzled lids and then grunted and spun away. Angeline was angry and worried at the same time. Rhone had been the Chief General of her father’s army for more than thirty years. Like it or not, she needed men like him to support her Ascension when her father was gone, which appeared to be happening sooner rather than later. Even sequestered away in the convent hadn’t prevented the whispers from reaching her ears that many of her people considered her soft and spoiled. She blamed her father for that, having been the one that sent her away from the capital. Three years out of the people’s eye was a long time. She had her work cut out for her to change their perceptions.