Serefina - 3
I moved along quietly, padding through the halls. I snuck a sideways glance at Brooks, wondering where we were going. He walked next to me, clutching my arm tightly.
Shifting my attention to the floor, my gaze wandered to his long legs. Frowning, I noticed his gait was uneven. A second look at his body overall showed hints of scratches and bruises that were not there yesterday.
That, plus the fact that Brooks was walking so heavily meant one thing: he was hurt. I looked at him suspiciously.
“What?” he asked. Drat, he caught me looking. “Nothing,” I replied, trying not to sound anything but cheerful. Which was hard, considering the circumstances.
“Nonsense. Whenever you act like that, there is always something. You aren’t fooling me. You never could. Now, are you going to tell me, or are you just going to keep moping about like a dog without its mate?”
I blushed. He was right. There was never anything I could hide from him. Not even when we were kids. Though that was a weird comparison.
Sighing, I looked him straight in the eyes. “Fine. What happened to your leg? And don’t give me any of the usual crap. Were you fighting again?”
He turned away to avoid my question. That was a mistake. A new scar on his jawline caught my eye. Reaching up, I brushed it with my thumb.
Brooks flinched at my touch. Scowling, I scolded him. “You were fighting again weren’t you? ****** Brooks! What I did I tell you?! Father is going to kick you out if you keep this up!”
At this he smiled. “Now that is something that he won’t ever do.”
“And why not?” I glared at him.
He chuckled. “Because out of me and you, I’m his favorite. He’d throw you out in a heartbeat if he had to choose.”
“Ha! Like he would throw out his only daughter! You must be dreaming! You aren’t even his son!”
Smiling softly at me, he tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “No, you’re right. He would rather throw me out than you.” His voice mellowed out as he regarded me thoughtfully.
My cheeks colored some more, and I jumped back. “W-w-what are you doing!?”
Brooks grin was lopsided. “You’re so cute when you stutter Princess. Makes me want to tease you some more.”
“W-what are you talking about? I d-don’t stutter. And stop that! “
“Stop what?” He questioned innocently.
“You know what.” I glowered in his direction.
His grin grew. Turning away, he replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Humph.” Crossing my arms, I huffed and started walking faster. “We should get going.”
He sobered up, smile fading. “Yes, we should.”
One more time I turned to him. “And Brooks, don’t think you’ve escaped my question. We will continue this conversation later.”
A few minutes later had us in front of the Great Hall, the reception hall of the castle. “The King will see you now.” A page opened the doors of the Great Hall.
I gulped hard, nervous despite myself. Years of training tended to fly out the window on formal occasions such as these.
Arm in arm, we walked down the long, harvest-gold carpet that led through the Great Hall, all the way to the throne of the King and Queen. My mother and father.
We stopped before them, Brooks discreetly tugging on my arm to get me to curtsy. As we rose from our bow, I noticed something amiss. There was a strange atmosphere in the air. A…tension that wasn’t there before.
The moment of suffocating silence was broken by my mother. She smiled warmly at us, pulling me into a hug.
Brooks of course, being my guard, stepped politely off to the side, taking his position amongst the lines of guards along the wall.
“Darling, you look beautiful in your new dress.” The Queen cooed. Eyeing her husband pointedly, he hurriedly joined in the praise.
“Of course she does. She takes after her beautiful mother, does she not? With my eyes of course,” he proudly stated.
“And your stubborn pigheadedness,” Queen Selena commented wittily. A few coughs sounded across the room, laughter covered up by those listening.
I almost laughed as well, giggling quietly. “Of course Papa. And Mama, though, I don’t want to admit it, you’re right. But it’s like Papa always says,” I cleared my throat, assuming a gruff voice. “I’m just a chip off the block.”
It was something my father often said, and my silly impersonation cause more chuckles to reverberate around the room.
After the laughter died down, my parents put on serious airs. “All joking aside,” my mother began, “There is a grave issue we need to discuss. It involves your….marriage availability, amongst other things.”
I almost choked on a stray giggle that escaped. ‘…What? What do you mean?”
Their smiles had faded, and a deep sorrow seemed to emanate from their eyes, my father’s especially.
“Sweetie,” he began, “You know we have been putting it off due to your request. But you are finally of age, and you have a responsibility to your kingdom. We know you won’t like this, so we did the best we could, but there is another factor pushing our hand.
“War is threatening our kingdom. You know we would not ask this of you if it were not unavoidable. But a new army threatens our peace, and we need as many allies as we can gather. Now this is not something we thought about lightly. You, Serefina, are our precious daughter. Neither I nor your mother wish this for you. But it is what must be done. I myself am not taking the easy way out. I was once the best general in the kingdom. And I shall be so once more.”
“But I’m just seventeen! Barely of age! You promised me we would wait till I was at least nineteen! And that I could choose who I marry! That’s what you told me!” I could not, would not, believe my ears. They were forcing me into an arranged marriage, and I had no say in it, whatsoever? I knew I was being selfish, but I did not know how else to react.
“Now Serefina,” my mother started. “You know we would not do this if we had a choice.”
A chill ran down my spine, and realization hit me like a brick. Holding more protests, I directed my trembling voice to my father. “Wait, what do you mean, “once more”? You’re not- I mean, you can’t-.” I took a deep breath before blurting out, “You’re leading the army again?!”
He hung his head, slightly abashed. “I am afraid so. But do not worry. They could not touch me then, and they will not be able to now. I just need a little practice, and I will be just as good as I was back then. If not better!”
My father, King of Aegravear, one of the greatest generals in the history of our kingdom, had made up his mind. I could see it in his eyes. There was no changing his decision, but I had to try. He was far from his prime, despite his youthful appearance.
“N-no! You can’t! Papa, what happens if you…if you….” I could not bring myself to say the words. They were like a taboo, as if saying them would make certain that it would happen.
Then they were spoken, and it felt like a seal of death stamped on my father’s precious life. “If I die?” Papa’s voice softened. “My little Fire-phoenix, death will come for me eventually. I want to be able to choose how I die, whether it is on the battlefield with sword in hand, or with you and your mother at my bedside.” He smiled kindly at me, but I did not want to accept it. The loving nickname he had given me when I was a child did nothing to ease the blow.
My mind reeling and heart breaking, I stumbled back a step. “This has to be a dream. This isn’t real, is it? It can’t be real. You wouldn’t do this to me.”
Shaking my head frantically, I continued to try to persuade them to do otherwise. I would not be able to live happily if I was forced to marry someone I do not love. It goes against my grain. It goes against everything I was taught.
Every lesson, every scolding, every speech. In all our earnest talks, my parents told me to listen to my heart. Follow it and don’t lose my way. No matter what trials I face, no matter how right or wrong something may seem, just listen to my heart and it will tell me what to do.
I wanted to listen to my parents. I knew this was the right thing to do for my continent. It was my duty to protect Aegravear. So how could my heart be telling me this is wrong, when I truly believed that this was my duty as the princess of these lands? How could something so right be wrong? I was torn.
“That’s enough Serefina.” My father’s stern voice overpowered my weak protests. He pulled his shoulders back to stand at his full height and puffed out his chest.
As he fixed me with a severe look, I gulped. “Now listen to me young lady. You are Princess Serefina Seyirune Aenens, daughter of Aiden and Selena Aenens, rulers of Aegravear. It is time you act the part! It is your duty to both your parents and your continent to marry and take the throne. To rule the continent with a steady and fair king by your side.
“I will not let this kingdom fall because of your childish whims! Your ancestors and I have worked too hard for that to happen. Now, you will either do as I say and willingly take up your role as Princess Serefina of Aegravear… Or you will leave me no choice but to make you marry him by force.”
I gaped. Papa had never yelled at me before. No matter what foolish trick I had pulled, nor how many times I had run. He had never yelled at me, touched me, or even lost his cool. I was his precious daughter, his Fire-phoenix.
My vision blurred, tears forming. Call me childish or silly, but I could not keep myself from yelling back, “Well then what happens when I take option three?! What happens if I choose not to take a marriage arrangement against my will?! What parent forces their child, their only daughter to marry some, some pretentious jerk from another continent! I’ve never even met the guy! How am I supposed to love a womanizer who will end up seeing other girls behind my back?!”
Their faces betrayed their shock, and I laughed erratically. “That’s right. I know who it is. Out of the few continents we have yet to ally ourselves with, only one of them has a prince my age, eligible for marriage. You think I haven’t been keeping track? That prick is the only prince out of a crib who is not already engaged, so he is the only available suitor, no matter how old I am.
“Most other continents already have plans for their royalty. Deoseazan’s second eldest princess is marrying the Zistolyn prince in three months. Okladell’s princess is only three years old, yet she is engaged to the baby Aeddore prince, who isn’t even out of the womb. Oh, and by the way, they are having twins.” I was hysterical at this point, emotions taking over all reason.
By now, tears were streaming freely down my face. It felt like my whole world was closing in around me, boxing me in. I could not move, I could not breathe, I could not think.
Then something unexpected happened. The room spun, my breath quickened, and my vision turned black. As I lost consciousness, I felt a vague heat spreading throughout my body.
Then, to my surprise, I woke up seconds later, only to find myself surrounded by a raging inferno. What shocked me even more was that the flames were not just surrounding me, but actually coming from my body.