Author: Witch Fu
A sudden noise startled the vigilant prince from her surveillance. Slapping a hand to the ground to remain upright, Willow took an appraisal of her surroundings. The groggy memories of the previous night floated to the surface as she back-handed the moisture from her mouth.
Judging from the pain in her neck, she had postulated in that position for only a few of the night's hours. As she stood, the morning sun warmed her side and fell as if it had just awoken. Stifling a yawn, the prince began her journey to the chambers she had missed the night before.
Eyes hanging heavily, her mind wondered to the long night, and how she had thankfully seen none of her father-king. Again, as of many times in the night, she was astonished at her reckless protection of the newly arrived princess. Her father could arrange for many a solution for so troublesome a daughter-prince. And surprisingly, the idea of punishment only brought a sense of boredom. She had been threatened, made to submit and kept from every possible outward joy from a young age. Could any reproof really be all that bad? Male or not, the king needed her; needed her to be alive, at least, for show.
Even as she felt the safety of such thoughts, she knew that the king could do much more. It was expected that a future king see battle in the older monarchies. Although at this time no battles raged with which the English king was affiliated, pilgrimages could be seen to send the prince on. The king would not be responsible for the dread and surprise of any ambushes thereof. Yes, danger was something imminent; the prince had learned that well.
But she also knew that the king was in a rather precarious position. That he with a posed prince, female as they come, could be the subject of many negative and quite possibly kingdom-toppling murmurings. Willow knew this, and yet also thought that her father would not fly readily to this conclusion, that he would insist ultimate control. This, Willow had never had a reason to be bothered by. She would be educated and molded to the law of the land's satisfaction, but someday she would be king. And as such, her subjects of the kingship could be made to understand her position and follow her forth. It certainly sounded simple, easily executed, but if her bride were to bare a son, Willow would be a very succulent target of assassination by her father. No proof of a non-male prince, no threat.
Willow smiled at the thought of being a threat. "Grrr."
A noise to her left startled her from her thoughts. Looking toward the sound, she saw a scullery maid covering what appeared to be a smile attached to a laugh. A laugh directed at Willow herself, no less. As the maid scurried from sight, Willow blushed a deep red. "And where must I be coming from in last night's apparel...?"
Willow turned the corner of the wing. With stiff and heavy limbs, she shuffled into her bedchambers. As the door closed, she stifled a yawn. Her overlarge and welcoming bed seemed to frown at her as she moved towards it, as if admonishing her last night's inattentions.
As fatigued as she may have felt herself to be, her heart leapt at the thought of resting her sore muscles on plush pillows and downy blankets, their sympathy much needed.
For all of her night's discomforts, however, Willow was not out-put in the least. Had her fathers decided that he would visit her bride on that night, what could she do but stand by? She knew that she would do nothing of the kind, would not simply stand by, but what authority did a prince have over his father-king, let alone a female prince?
Knowing that she was there, no matter how unthreatening, made her feel better. Her unexplained emotions towards Tara would, Willow decided, remain that way. She felt protective. So be it. She would take that as it came, and do as she must to maintain it. Sometimes the explanation took from the symptom, and this particular ailment didn't bother Willow in the slightest.
A sudden thought struck the prince: Tara was alone. Just as alone as she herself was. Possibly more so, for even Willow had Alex. Perhaps Tara had never had anyone that she could find respite with.
A glimmer of hope, hope that maybe Tara and she could become confidants swelled in her heart. The implications sent delightful shivers of excitement throughout her frame. A warm, unfamiliar comfort spread within her, and she smiled broadly. "Maybe I won't be as alone as I once thought..."
Sleep quickly took the tired prince. No sooner had the last thought formed before she had succumbed.
And no later did Peter enter. Clearing his throat in distinct annoyance, he stood stiffly at Will's end of bed. Trying a second time, louder, hoping for a suitable reaction, Willow woke with a start,
The room now held two decidedly grumpy people in occupancy.
Up until this moment, Willow had always thought little of Peter's freedom in entering her room unannounced, scheduling her no time to herself, the freedoms he took everyday with everything. She had always thought him a dutiful and helpful, if not annoying, man. But at this, the culmination of her lack of sleep, lifelong stresses and the completion of a very far-reaching task, her marriage, she decided on the spot that certain thing simply had no other option than to modify. She knew that she would have to be firm about it.
"Peter," Willow said, looking to continue.
"My lord," Peter stepped in, "it is with surprise and dismay that I should find you here. You are a wedded prince, now. And as such you must attend to certain tasks prescribed of your status and situation. I hope to find you roused and ready for the tasks of this day by end of rushlight. I will be available to inform you of those tasks."
Patiently sweeping the vestiges of sleep from her eyes, Willow looked toward the man servant wondering at his position. For her, the class system meant little more than the unavoidable circumstance at birth. But for those that lounged in nobility or longed for it, class was god-ordained. To anyone of that mind, a mere advisor born of a peasant, or little better, speaking to his prince with such command would set ill to the stomach and would certainly cause scandal. She had taken his orders for so long. Would it not be easier to simply acquiesce?
In a moment of decision, Willow allowed herself to understand that he was no more her dictator than a common serf would be. And she was quite done with his ordering and relentless attention. She was ready for her own freedoms.
"Peter, your prince is tired," she accentuated the word prince, "I do not wish to be disturbed until midday at earliest. All of my duties shall be attended to at another time. I will have you announce yourself previous to your entry into my chambers from this moment onward. I will insist that you remember your position in my presence."
If Peter felt shocked or surprised in any way, the rigid lines of his well-controlled face declared none of it. With a slight bend at the neck, he produced a smallish cough. "My lord will do well to remember that my 'prince' you are not. You were made to bear the image but not the rite." His nostrils flared with self-righteous accomplishment, and he continued, "Your duties shall be attended to as planned. Your father, my king, demands adherence. Adherence to my well-planned activities befitting of the prince that I made you. You are little more than a decorative piece in his majesty's court, required to be of a specific use, not to be considered in terms of it's own inconvenience, and certainly not have orders taken from it." As he finished, his self-appreciation reached its peak, chest boomed outward, his head readjusted smartly. At the lack of immediate response, he cleared his throat and made movement to exit the room.
It was Willow's own turn to clear a little used throat as of late. "Peter, you are my subject. Prince or princess I may be, the difference it makes is little. For the fact remains that I was born of your king, spurned from his very loins. There is little doubt as to whom the authority goes in this room. As to my lack of certain anatomy, I must play the part without it. So must you. To fully portray my father's male heir, you must truthfully see to it that you are the devil's own copy of a male heir's man servant and take no liberties to the contrary. You made me, say you? Then pray, who learned and penned so many lines, became adept at riding, archery, posturing and other princely duties? You succeeded with your duty ordered by my father, because of the abilities that I am supposed not to have, being of the fairer sex. You have accomplished what my father commanded, I am now the prince he sought me to become. There remains no other duty for you now but to attend to my needs. And of consequence," Willow made to straighten the sheets surrounding her with obvious intention to remain there, "those who would see me today will naught but understand the supposed exertions of a honeymoon's night might but leave their prince in a day's worth of rest. I have preformed the task that I have been bred and raised to carry out. Leave me to some semblance of peace if this is to be my only wedding and last night my only wedding night."
Willow had never spoken aloud to Peter of her female state after that day so many years ago in the courtyard, when the change had taken place. The words were biting and almost painful in her ears, the undercurrent forbiddance to utter such words was well manifested in the young prince, and surprised both parties. Up until this day, she had performed her tasks with willingness if only to please an unappreciative father. She now knew of his intentions, not bringing them closer together but using her for a purpose, only to discard her when the time is convenient. Later it had become about what was best for the people of her kingdom, but she knew very well that in playing for certain freedoms she would not jeopardize the lives and happinesses of her people.
Peter stood for a moment, considering and still. He looked tired. There were many thoughts behind his motionless eyes. He looked up, nodded once, and was gone; something uttered from beneath his breath as he exited.
With Peter absent, Willow let out a ragged breath. That was the singularly most defiant act that she had ever discharged. She shook slightly, and she was full of trepidation. She knew her father would know of the event very shortly. But she also knew that what she had said was correct. She had power, to a certain extent. And she would use it to better her situation and, hopefully, the princess Tara's as well.
A small smile touched her face, she lay back, and was momentarily asleep. Dreams of daring rescue and the fair princess Tara stayed with the prince throughout the night.
Tara awoke feverishly. Her sleep had been fitful and infrequent. Her mind raced with the possibilities of last night's happenings, or rather the lack of them.
The prince had danced with her first, last and only on the night of their wedding. Was he a foolish boy? He had walked her back to her room, seemingly eager to retire with her, as his previous actions would indicate. Was he pleased with my appearance?
Then, he had left abruptly. Did he intend on returning, but did not get the chance? Or did he, in fact, have no intention of returning at all? Her insecurities swam, did he like her or not? Was he too nervous? Did he know what to do? Had he done that before, and become bored with it? Or did it simply not hold the interest of this boy of 16 years? Were the rumors true about his lack of experience?
This boy, her husband, was unknown to her. She could base none of her perceptions, and could therefore draw no conclusions. She was left for the remainder of the night in unknowing tension. His arrival both expected and not, his intentions a mystery.
Tara scoffed at herself. So many nights she had spent, worrying, dreading the moment when her new husband-prince would take the authenticating portion of their union upon himself. And now, when it did not come at once, as planned, she worried further. She would take this opportunity as it arrived.
She would try for sleep, and hopefully the world that she stepped out into the next morning would make a little more sense, would match more appropriately to the one she had been so rigorously trained for. Though he had been unreadable, Tara had taken to his kindness. She had seen it, held it, and it calmed her to remember it. Unexpected as it may be, she grasped it with whitened knuckles, fearing its possible future absence.
She had come to this new life alone, had left her previous kingdom in much the same way. The prince's kindness gave her hope of camaraderie. Perhaps she was expecting the impossible. The marriages that she had seen were all between women like herself, and men like her husband; and they despised each other. To hope for friendship, for less of the loneliness that had so consumed her life, was beyond far-fetched, it was unheard of.
Willow woke with a start. Sitting up in bed violently, and holding her head when the sudden loss of blood hit. Her subconscious mind had stumbled across a very important and overlooked fact, on her part.
What was she to do about the sheets? Had someone arranged for replacements? Had the priests been well paid?
She realized just how little she knew of the plan for avoiding that mishap. She rose; bathed in the drawn and ready bath that had been set out for her, and dressed carefully. Whatever had taken place would surely be done at this time, she merely had to be certain that it was in fact completely taken care of. If it was, she would have less to worry about in a wondering father's eye, for he would not feel himself responsible for satisfying the requirements of legal union himself quite so soon.
The ritual had always brought shivers to Willows skin. The morning after the wedding night, priests were assigned to take into their possession, the sheets that the lovers used. They would examine them, and based on their findings would determine if, in fact, the union had taken place to satisfaction.
While Willow knew nothing of intercourse, what it entailed, she knew from asking too many questions in regard to that particular tradition that after the intercourse, something is left behind. Something 'unclean', a very pink Giles had muttered. That had been the end of that particular line of questioning.
It was very well that she didn't know what was required for intercourse, Willow had reasoned, she would never get the opportunity to experience it for herself. Long ago, she had promised herself that there was little importance as to whether or not this was a normal situation in marriage, she would honor the vows that she was made to take. She would have no outside lover. She knew well that could easily mean she would never have a lover at all.
These thoughts past as she finished up in her dressings. She had chosen a semi-loose fitting shift of cream and hide-string ties, over that she had chosen her favorite riding breeches and doublet of dark and light rich browns. It was her most comfortable riding outfit, and had turned a few of the scullery maid's heads, Willow remembered with a rise of color to her cheeks. She smiled slightly.
Willow's smile faltered. She was thinking of Tara. She would not be able to stop herself from at least a quick exchange with her bride. She was incredibly curious. She realized as the last of her boot fittings cinched into place, that she had known Tara would see her at least once today before she was to redress for their mutual dinner. She wanted Tara to see her in this; wanted to show her princess that she was a desirable husband. "But I can't perform the task of one." Willow muttered. "I will hold your arm, be of useful decoration, but I cannot carry out the task that you will expect."
As Willow straightened, he set her jaw in a hard and straight line. She had been raised a puppet decoration, and for the one person that she wished to be more, she knew nothing else. She wanted so badly to be what Tara needed her to be. They were bonded now, choice or no, to each other. It would be best if they could be what the other needed.
Walking out of her chambers, the prince straightened her dashing ensemble, and made way for the princess's wing.
Peter closed the expansive doors behind him with an eerie silence. The discussion with the king had gone well. When he had walked in, he immediately sensed the king's foul mood. This would make his telling more difficult, but still all the necessary. He excused himself, and related the events of that morning to a bored looking highness.
The king shifted. "Peter, this is grave."
Peter had nodded once, and spoke gently, "Yes, my lord."
Holding his chin between a delicate index finger and thumb, the king mused. "The prince is not without intelligence. This day was fast in approaching, we knew that much. Although," he regarded Peter sternly, "not this soon."
King William rose, and began to walk. He walked towards a stylized map table with compass, ruler and sketch pencil on its surface. He looked up to the great tapestries covering that wall of his large throne room. Their detail was remarkable, only the best for a king. He approached a shinning coat of arms embossed on a shield, its colors and careful creation drawing a gracious eye. Though of little actual use, the freestanding suit of armor that the king next approached, looked to him unblinking, awaiting further orders.
The king sighed. His age would not let him be the man he once was, his power was leaving him. He could see that power in his daughter-prince, his eyes darkened. He would not be seen with such a formidable 'son' and be thought weak. He would send the prince where 'his' usefulness would be in intimating how strong and good the king's own stock was, and simultaneously rid himself of any bucksome adolescent behavior that William might further display.
The king's walk took him back over to the table and map, where he placed a much-used and freckled hand over the whole of England central. "Yes," he smiled to himself, "the prince will be much occupied with matters of the kingdom. And I fear we shall not see my dear son for quite some time, Peter."
Peter straightened at the break in silence. "My king, what would you have me do?"
William looked up with thought in his eyes. Returning to his throne, the king assumed the manner of an unconcerned man. No great worries or troubles seemed to pass through his mind. He gently sat himself down, and looked to Peter again with slight boredom. "You will have the prince come to me. When you leave, send my court back in. Start making the arrangements for his departure immediately." The king absently picked at his lapel. "And Peter," he added.
Peter waited patiently.
"Make certain that as the prince leaves my presence, he will see that the lady Tara will just be joining me for an afternoon tea."