Author: Witch Fu
Willow walked at a slowed pace to her father's throne room. She hadn't been given the reason as to her requested presence. She had learned to take orders without qualm, but not without thought. She had grown very keen in her silent observations, her training seeing to her silence. Such a meeting had not occurred for nearly five years, and it struck her to think the number.
She had not seen her father, not seen anyone, save her tutors and sevants, in the entirety of her production as prince. Few knew of her existence, and fewer still knew of her secret. The dark secret of this castle, kept behind closed mouth, and eye. Being unknown to king and kingdom held quite the advantage. Princes of her age were flaunting about the coutryside, wasting time flirting and acting cavalier. She had much more important matters to attend to, and was most certainly grateful for the relief in such sport. She had often pondered the idea that seeing as the only people who knew of her were in this castle and a few selected kings had heard wind of the secret prince, if she were to disappear, there would be no one to miss her.
As she approached the guard to her father's hulking chamber doors, her appearence changed as fluidly and as unmistakably as the guard who shifted his weight to free the door.
Her posture became the definition of perfection. Her chin level with the ground, hair trimmed precisely to the line of her jaw, with a bored look immovably placed on her features. Her creative hands, who had penned for hours the comely frustations and wonderous beauties of the world that she had seen to paper, were held strictly while seemingly relaxed at the lower of her back. Her stride was that of sureness and pride. No wide-eyes of a child scanning the room with excitement. Only the faux-proud and taught line of the young prince's sure stride.
Reaching the base of her father's throne, she looked to the old man nearing sixty, and inclined her head respectfully. The king looked tired, too used to life with its nuisances. Peering down at Willow, the king conceeded a smile, which was soon quelled.
Clearing his throat, he croaked, "Turn about, William. Let me see thee."
Clenching her jaw in faux exhasperation as she was taught, Willow lifted her arms out to her sides, circled once, before returning to her aforementioned stance.
A strong silence eminated from the young prince. Many years of sports and achedemics had fashioned her into a taugh whip of underlying power and witisism. She excelled in every challenge brought before her, never givng voice to complaint. With striking determination, she mastered the disagreeable task of horseback riding. While she distrusted the beasts, she was the cleanest cut figure on the mount, surpassing even the best of tutors. She read almost non-stop in her spare time, leaving her so well prepared for her lessons, that oft times, she discussed rather than learned during her study sessions.
She had an incling about what her father had in mind to discuss with her this day. She was nearing sixteen, and soon she would be introduced into court. When exactly that was to occur, was to be the topic of this meeting.
"William, my boy, you are nearing the age to be properly shown to the world. A man of society should produce himself by this time, and I think you ready. Your birthing day approaches on the fourth moon, and I am even now making arrangements for your unveiling. In a grand ball of magnificent proportions you will be introduced as William the fourth Prince of Surrounding Northern England. The guests will be numerous and very influential. Many of whom will play a roll in the future of this kingdom. I needn't stress the import of your perfection."
Stiffly, Willow answered, "Of course not, father."
Again the king smiled, this time grimly. "Good, good. You may go. And William, remember my words."
"Father." Willow inclined her bow as she stepped back to retreat from his lordship. Exiting, and out of view from all, Willow sighed and lossened her muscles. A smile appeared on her freckled face, making it considerably brighter than it had been in her father's sight.
"A ball! Dancing! There will be so many people there! More than I have seen in a lifetime..."
She felt the urge to dance on the spot, and this reminded her of a very comical dance that someone close to her did on occasion. He looked as though he were trying very hard at it when he performed it, never failing to bring a smile to her face.
She remembered their meeting, also a comical affair.
Five years earlier:
"Archery?" the young Willow quiried. She had just ended a confusing first lesson of english, when she was told her following lesson would be archery.
"I shall be permitted to weild a bow and quiver?" she thought, delighted at her newly found adventure.
She followed Peter out to a courtyard, prepared with standing targets, rows of equiptment, and a tall, broad-shouldered bearded man. A few of the leutenants of Northern England's army were there, though Willow knew not of their rank, practicing their skills with dull "twang"s sounding out over the yard.
The tall man stepped forward, hard-faced and serious. He bowed slightly to Peter, and with even more rigidity, to Willow. A low gravely sound emitted from the man's lips,
"Gracious Prince, I am Alexander of Harrisburg, Captain of the Archery division in your father's fine army. I would be well-honored if you would accept me into your service as instructor at arms." As he stopped, he did not rise, his head lowered, body bent, he remained completely still.
Willow didn't know what to do, but she did know that she would have no problems at all learning from this striking figure of a fighter. Without thinking, she cleared her throat to assume the basso that she thought up to use, now that she was to be prince, and answered,
"I would have no other for the task, Captain Alexander of Harrisburg." And with that, she bowed to him slightly, hoping maybe this would make him straighten.
Peter sucked in a great amount of air, and the captain did straighten, but with a strange unreadable expression on his face. Willow was smiling proudly, although she did wonder at Peter's raction. The captain's knitted brows came apart abruptly before looking to Peter.
"He shall soon know his place and actions, Captain. In that mean, take him into your instructions, and teach him well."
Peter left without looking to Willow, and she wasn't sad to see him go. She didn't understand him, but she was to be shown the way of the bow! Looking to the Captain again, Willow beamed.
The Captain gave a puzzled grunt and motioned with his head to the tables behind him.
"Come, young prince, today you learn an art!"
Something in the way the man regarded and spoke to her, assured in any part that he was to be a good man to know. A fine, stong teacher, who would prove wise and capable.
The table that grew in her vision was spread with well-made bows, all of different lengths and thickness, the strings were of different make than the uniform hide-strings. She hadn't seen weapons this closely before, and was awestruck at the power she saw at a glance. She reverantly ran her fingers over the smooth wood of a nearby bow, as her eyes scanned the table hungrily.
She wasn't sure how long she had been looking when a noise distracted her thoughts. Out of the corner of her vision she saw the Captain turning towards where the sound had registered. She saw the tail-end of a very clumsy fall, the remnints of which were strewn bows and the small body of a boy.
The Captain sighed greatly as he looked to the spectacle. He walked over to the pile and picked out the boy, standing him up with the sure grip of his mighty-looking arm. As the boy was set down, he dusted himself, giving Willow the time to look him over. The dark blonde hair of the lad was shagged, too short for nobility, too long for pesantry. His hawk-like eyes spoke of his affinity for mischief and trouble-search.
The Captain cleared his throat with purpose. When the boy did nothing but look dumbly at the strewn weaponry, the older again cleared his throat before baratone shook his larnyx,
"Wouldn't you like to introduce yourself to my newest charge, Prince William?"
The boy looked up in surprise, but there was something in his eyes that Willow and never seen before: laughter. His eyes shown, smiling with them as though they held a secret. He bowed in a friendly way, not at all scared our starched like everyone else did. His actions were relaxed and easy. He cleared his throat in mock dignity before proclaiming,
"Tis an honor to meet the great Prince of our land. I am called Alexander." With a wink he added, "The 'of Harrisburg' is reserved for my father."
The captain cleared his throat uncomfortably before addressing his boy.
"Back to your chores then, son. You've quite a work load this day."
Alexander looked up with a woeful expression, obviously not looking to his work with any enthusiasm. As he stalked off, he gave Willow a final 'bow with a wave attatchment' as he would later come to coin it. He also shook his head free of the dust that had been resting among his hair. She looked on in surprise as the hair slowly revealed itself to be of a deep-brown or black color.
Willow's day was becoming too interesting to absorb. Archery, an interesting young man, what possibilities these things held!
As Willow's presence of mind returned to her, she smiled at the thought of that meeting. The idea of finding a friend hadn't crossed her mind before. How was she to know what one was? She was separrated from everyone or her age completely, with only the occassional person to 'talk to' that was decades her senior. Her books became her companions, her studies became passions. She learned to soak up new information with such a lust that her tutors would quite often stand agape as she grasped the information far sooner than they had. (though they were likely not to admit such a devastation) This had been the commonplace for so many of her years in the castle, of the years of her existence, that at times she was caught off-gaurd by how many years had actually accrued. She had decided on that day of change so long ago not to look at who she was, but what. Her role in the kingdom was all that mattered to her father, or anyone, who was aware of her. She was used as a tool, vowing to be a spectacular one. There must have been a reason the only thing that sepparated a prince from a price was 'n'.
The gift she had been given, the gift to serve her father, her people, was staggering at times. She knew she would do her best, and occassionally wondered if a woman would be up to the task. For all of her years as an excelling champion in her studies, while knowing full-well that she was a woman, she was still subject to wonder at her own ability. She was, afterall, barraged with the idea that women were far inferior to males, as everyone was, and it took its desired effect. Of course, there were infamous female rulers such as Mary Queen of Scots, but they were all so vilified, it was hard to see any good. The anxiety lasted only seconds as she consolled them with the remembrance that she was only the front, the viewed end of the kingship. She would make no decisions, rule over no one but herself, and even that was subject to the king's demands.
Despite her fears, her day of test was in the beginning stages of its planning. All the world was to know of her now. The unexpected, secreted prince of a powerful country was a commodity worth bargaining for. She knew herself to be no more than a commodity. But was that not the place that she was born to? If she had been raised to be a "woman" she would have no power or say. It was no different in this path. Seen, when the time was appointed, but not heard. Even when she ascended to the throne (a thrilling thought even in its pointlessness!) she would not have command of any activity in her kingdom. She would only be the pupet to her father's strings. It could be worse as she often thought. She could be forced to wed someone that would dominate her physically as well as mentally. Due to her position, when she was to marry, her bride would never see her, never talk to her, and certainly never preform any marital requirements.
The meaning of this, however, was not a pleasant one. Her mind would often not allow her thoughts to dwell on what was to become of the woman she was destined to marry. In order to make the heir legal, a true descendant of kings, her father would take the duty upon himself to impregnate the vessel, Willow's Queen. It sadened her that she, herself, would never know love, but more that her queen would also never know it. Forced to bed her husband's father, her husband mysteriously unsuitable.
She remembered back to the first conversation she had had with her favorite tutor on the subject. She had never thought of the idea of being bound to another girl in holy matrimony before. The idea shocked her at first, her realization dawning on her with curiously undisturbing conotations. She was to say "I do" to another woman! A catholic priest would unite the two women in the eyes of god himself!
"Giles, what if she finds out?" She exclaimed excitedly to said tutor, panick seaping into her voice. She had started calling him thus after finding out his birthplace. Giles, Northern England. "What if she is to see me changing my clothes? Or worse still, bathing!"
Willow had worked herself into quite the fluster. This was all too much. Giles cleared his throat, in slight discomfort with the topic as he tried to answer, "Well, I suppose she'll-"
"She'll write a correspondence immediately to her family and the throne of Northern England will be no more!" Gasping at the implications, Willow started to pace briskly.
"Now, Will, I hardly think-"
"We'll be hung!" Non-plused about the address, as they had reffered to eachother so familiarly for years, Willow had cut him off once more. "All of us. No one will be spared, not you, not even her! All will be assumed to have known and contributed to such a heresy! Oh, Giles, what are we to do?"
Giles stood up and caught up to her frantic pace, stopping her with a gentle but firm hold. "Think rationally about this, Willow. Have you ever heard of a kingdom having a girl for a prince?"
Willow frowned in surprise, not expecting the question, "Well, no, of course not. No one has-"
"Of course this has been done before! There have been too many times to name where a young person of the royal house took up the identity of a needed role to keep things running smoothly. But you never hear of such things because they do not want you to.
"Your father is the most powerful man in the whole of England. In the whole of Europe if the world knew of you, England's 'prince'. But all that can be destroyed by a sentence. The woman whom you are to be wed with shall be scrutinized for any behavior denoting her knowledge of your identity. They will not hesitate to dispose of her, should she prove aware. Besides all that, you two will nary see eachother from the moment you are officially joined, on. Your fears are not justified, Will. Calm yourself."
As Giles summed up, clearing up any question of her marriage, Willow slowly sat at her desk and resumed a normal breathing pattern.
The knowledge that she would be wed to the Princess of France was quite obvious to anyone aware of her existence. They were, by far, the most powerful and influential countries in the known world. No others stood on even remotely as solid ground as that of France and England.
The question as to what Willow's father thought about such a union was still under speculation, however. No one doubted the power that would come from such a union, but the power would be shared, and neither king would be pleased with that. The union to a smaller country meant control, especially to William the third, whose son would have command by marriage over the princess of that land. Thinking on this, Willow spoke up, "How many years would you say the Princess of France had?"
Giles mused a moment before stating slowly, "I believe she has twelve years to your fourteen."
Willow fought back the urge to gasp. Tara would be her age right now at the time of their marriage, if they were indeed to be wed. She would probably be scared to death. She knew that she, herself, would be frightened. It was not as though she was unaware of the common age for young girls to be given in marriage, but the idea, putting herself in that position brought the reality to frigid clarity. The day would be defining for both kingdoms. The most powerful marriage in many years.
Once again, finding her thoughts wondering, Willow's presence of mind came to. The ball would mean meeting all the possible mates for her kingdom. She was instructed not to shut out the possibility to even one of them. She would be told to flirt with them all, while keeping her dignity and making no room for misunderstandings. The night was looking as though it was to be the singularly most complicated, frightening and exciting night of her life thus far.
Sighing, Willow made her way toward her class in refined etiquette. Wesley was a vision of gentlemanly quality, complete with high-pitched yelps when scared. (a discovery Willow made with the right timing and insect) He was so fascinated with himself that Willow had oft avoided many lessons that she already knew better than he (but for which he would insist on teaching at any rate because he would always know more than her) by simply mentioning a rare looking book of his, or perhaps his wonderful apparel. But on to class she went. This would be a very busy lesson, seeing as she now had the ball to prepare for. Her veins were electric with excitement. The ball. Her steps were noticably light and brisk. "I hope my French is adequate." she mused.