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  • Rhea Abuhl

The Story of Princess Cora (full)


Preface:

It was in a time of war, that this story takes place. There was strife between two very powerful kingdoms, and there were so many deaths. It got so serious, that men at the age of 16 were dragged into battle because there was a shortage of soldiers. This tale is told by me, a princess whose father; King William II, and brother; Victor, were fighting for my kingdom, my brother being only 17. In the early morning one day, it was time for desperate measures to be taken to protect our land. My mother; Queen Susan woke me up, even though it was still dark outside, and she told me it was time to go to the neighboring kingdom to beg for the end of all the fighting. The day before I left, however, news reached us that my brother had fallen. My mother was racked by grief, and my father came home to heal before returning to the war, which took many weeks, as he had been brutally attacked. We spent a couple of days mourning our loss, and the losses of our people, for both sides of the battle were losing many good men. My father said that he had actually seen Victor’s body being trampled by the oncoming forces, and that he’d had to watch helplessly. They were dark days, when my kingdom never knew whether it was the last time we’d see our husbands, fathers, brothers and sons again. Determination soon took hold, and I realized that, for any happiness to remain, this war had to stop. Too many people were dying. That’s where I shall start this story.

-

Chapter One:

“Cora! Wake up.” My mother’s voice jerked me back into reality, saving me from any more of the violent nightmares that had tormented me since the war started. “What is it?” I asked blearily, rubbing my eyes to get them back into focus. As they adjusted to the dim lighting of my room, my mom came into view, hunched over me and holding a thick- looking satchel. “It’s time for you to leave.” She told me, urging me out of bed and handing me a set of trousers and a tunic for me to wear. “Dress quickly, and use the cover of dark. There is a map, provisions and a more formal change of clothes in here for when you arrive, ok? I’m sorry you can’t take a carriage, all of the footmen are currently... occupied, as are the horses, but I’ve managed to snag you one for this morning.” I nodded, then realized she couldn’t see me, and replied with; “Thanks, mom.” Then, pulling the clothes on, I took the satchel from her and tried to head for the door, but she beckoned me back and forced me to wait – somewhat impatiently – as she did my brown hair into a loose braid. “There. Oh, and Cora dear? Please be careful, ok?” “Yes, mom.” I hugged her tightly, and she followed me out the door. I squinted out of the first window we walked past, and the eastern sky was slowly but surely lightening, meaning dawn wasn’t as far off as I’d thought. Once we exited the castle through a side door and entered the stables, I saw only one horse, and it was nearing the line that separated ‘pony’ from ‘stallion’. It was lean enough, with the right build for swift riding, but it looked well-fed. With it’s dark-brown mane and coarse white fur, it definitely demanded its own kind of affection though. I gave it a gentle pat on the nose, and it responded with a quiet whinny. A soft sniffle destroyed the silence, and I turned to see my mother wiping her eyes. “Forgive me, Cora, I just don’t think I’ll see you for another long while.” She said, and I had to hug her again. Though I did not say, nor show it, I too was very nervous and scared. I was only 15! I couldn’t take on a foreign king! Sighing, I pulled away, mounted my new horse, and offered her a small wave before taking off into the chilly darkness that awaited me, along with many other trials I had yet to come across.


My trip took me many days, and each day brought its own delightful bundle of worries. One day it was for my father, having to care for my mother but also healing himself. The thought of the Queen alone in the castle when the King went off to war again made me want to turn back home immediately. But I had a job of my own. Finally, I neared the border of what I thought was the kingdom I was targeting, and my hopes were fortunately confirmed. I entered the nearest inn to change, and then continued on cautiously, with the hood of a dark cloak my mom had included in my satchel drawn low over my eyes, and leading a very inconspicuous horse. To its credit however, the horse was very well behaved. Many onlookers shamelessly stared, and I didn’t mind very much, but I did have to admit to myself that a small crowd really was a little too much attention. Finally, I beheld the gates of the largest structure in the city, the King’s palace. After a short and to-the-point conversation with a guard stationed there, the enormous gates swung inward permitting me to enter. Then, purposefully striding across the courtyard, I crossed the threshold into the throne room.

The throne itself was large, intricate and- very shiny! It hurt my eyes to look at it, probably encouraging the bowing of the head in respect, but I really didn’t care, and I decided on showing him so. The throne was set towards the back, centered against the wall, and with small steps onto the pedestal upon which it sat. Below it, to the right from where I stood, there was a smaller, less designed, white throne, or chair really, probably for Stewards. “My Lord and King.” Immediately, at my hailing, two of the guards stationed at regular intervals and beside the large double-doors came rushing towards me, taking my arms behind my back and yanking my hood off. I didn’t mind it in the slightest, I had anticipated such a greeting. But instead of asking me who I was or what I wanted, the king asked: “With what authority do you come before me, so dressed, and demanding audience? Why don’t you show proper respect or greeting to someone higher than you?” Merely because I did not want our meeting to go awry, and because in the near future I was instructed to beg... I huffed as quietly as I could, then sank to my knees and lowered my head in proper respect. The guards released me, but stood as sentinels next to me. “Better.” The king responded, obvious sneer dripping off of his voice in cascades. “Your name?” He commanded. “Cora.” “Full name, missy.” Corrected the guard on my left. I gritted my teeth. “Princess Cora, then. Of the kingdom you’re currently besieging!” Before those words left my mouth, I knew I had very possibly crossed a line. “Leave her be.” Said the king, withholding the guards on both my sides from dragging me away because I had been rude to the king. “Come nearer, child.” I obeyed, though somewhat cautiously, nearing the throne upon its pedestal. The figure upon it was draped in ridiculously fancy fabrics and a heavy-looking velvet cape, lined with furs and other kinds of majestic linens. He was surprisingly young, with the small exception of his eyes, which looked ancient, clouded with hidden worries and private thoughts. His hair was close-cropped and deepest brown, and his cheeks were strangely sunken in, but that did, while making him seem slightly foreboding, also increase his attractiveness. I placed a bet right then that I would meet ladies who would be very jealous to realize I had been granted audience with the king. Suddenly, as of me approaching, he rose from his seat and stepped down to the ground in front of me. Hoping he didn’t notice; I took the smallest step back. Though I appeared completely confident and rebellious, inwardly I was still mightily intimidated, and he knew it.

And I could tell.

And I hated it.

“Well, princess Cora, what is it you came here to ask of me?” He began taking slow steps around me, as though examining me for my potential. In fact, in the light of all the dulled finery around me, I hoped from the trip, my gown and overall appearance hadn’t depleted, for my own sake. It was common knowledge in this type of kingdom, that if you did not only approach the ruler in your utmost finery, it would be seen as disrespectful. At that time, I had put on whatever my mother had packed with me, in this case, a soft, green gown with so many layers of tulle that I almost did not know what to grab when going up the stairs to his throne room. The bodice was tighter than what I was normally used to, and rimmed with tiny, sparkling jewels, but then again, I didn’t normally dress this finely. The sleeves and neckline were rimmed with expensive laces, and I still had my dark cloak hung loosely around my shoulders. To the best of my ability, I had arrayed my hair in what I thought looked acceptable, but then again: I hadn’t brought any mirrors, so it would be fair to say: I was REALLY nervous. Especially when I had to answer his question with honesty. “I was ordered here to ask- plead- for the war to stop, and for you to accept an armistice... my Lord.” I finished, somewhat lamely and tripping over my own words, but you really couldn’t blame me for the predicament I was in. Even the smallest slip would convince him of my unworthiness, and-

BOOM, there I go, getting landed into prison. That would certainly do nothing to help my homeland either.

At my reply, the king burst into laughter, to my intense discomfort. “Plead?! That doesn’t sound much like pleading to me. But then again, we may have different views on the definition. Here, I have a proposition for you. You’re a pretty one, you can have that. So, if you want me to stop the war, you’re going to have to stay here for the rest of your life, with me.” I objected, but he held up a finger, and I fell silent immediately. “Those are my terms.” He added. “Take them or leave them.”

---

I stood there, utterly speechless with shock. Words kept coming up, but they refused to form coherent sentences. “I- me?? How- why?” Finally, my brain and mouth submitted to working together! The king gave a small, slightly suppressed snort, and I assumed he was talking to me, when he turned to the guards behind me, who still stood as still as statues. “Did you hear that? All other women here would have been leaping up and down, squealing with downright glee, perhaps even have given me a kiss! This girl here has only managed to look half shocked, half horrified!” He laughed, and gave me what he thought was a smile, but it did not reach his eyes as fully as I would’ve liked... Why was I even thinking about what I would’ve liked?! I still was only capable of staring at ‘His Royal Highness’, and he was too busy studying me back to continue the conversation, until I took another stab at forming sentences on my own. “I wouldn’t know why, your Majesty.” I hastily added, hoping he hadn’t caught my slip: I was still getting used to the fact that he was royalty. He of course, did not, and answered with: “Like I said before, you’re too pretty a flower to not join the bouquet.” This time I couldn’t keep in a snort, and then a few snickers. “Did you just call yourself a bouquet?!” I laughed again, then fell silent, hoping that he wouldn’t kill me for that, but seriously, a bouquet? Implying that he is ‘beautiful’?!! No thanks. I’m more than certainly good. “You still haven’t replied to my terms.” The king noticed, as he made his way back to his throne and sat back down, somehow able to look both amused, and judging at the same time! “I was hoping you’d have forgotten, your Grace.” I muttered, silently vowing never to trust luck again until it proved itself to me. Then, taking a deep breath, I decided to try thinking out loud. But before I could start, the king interrupted. “Oh, stop with the formalities. Just call me something else, you seem creative enough.” I gave him my most prominent eye-roll, but he didn’t seem to get the point. Then I said; “Well, sir, you can count on me then losing all formalities, and forgive me for hoping you’ll get seriously offended by my blunt truth and chuck me in the dungeon, because that is truly better than being with you. Matter solved. You’ll then excuse me; I’ll be going to my cozy little prison room!” I stood still a little while longer, holding his gaze as I tried to catch his reaction. He gave me a smirk, but carried on being silent, as if waiting to see if I’d really go through with my threat, and yet he did not call for guards to arrest me either. “Soo, you’re NOT seriously offended?” I asked hopefully, wondering if so, what on EARTH I was supposed to do now. His smirk widened, and he responded with: “I most certainly am not, my dear child. I am merely impressed by your obvious lack of fear! So, no. I am definitely not going to ship you off to the prison, why did you think I hadn’t done that before if that had been my intention. Had I chucked you out just like that, it just proves that I’m really not suited for a wife, not mentioning the fact that you clearly have not depleted your stock of obnoxiousness in the slightest, so I’ll have to practice patience.” I didn’t have any thoughts whatsoever about that, nor could I have! I just stood there, unable to conceal my incredulousness at his complete honesty with me. Finally, I declared the conversation a complete failure, and said: “Well, umm, thanks? To your...demands, I shall consider them for a short time, if you don’t mind. Plus, I think I deserve at least a goodbye-” “I don’t think that will be necessary, or available.” He interrupted, to my great annoyance. “What do you mean? Where do I stay?” He gestured vaguely at the walls around us, and I suspected he meant any of the quarters open. “What I mean, princess, is that you – henceforth – are not allowed to leave this place unless by my leave.” I bit back a snarl, but did as he wished, following my guards as they led me to my rooms. Right as I was about to exit the throne room by a door off to the right, he called over: “Do make sure you’re there for dinner tonight, Cora. Or I shall be very disappointed.” He put major emphasis on the last word, his tone darkening significantly. This time, I couldn’t fight off a shudder. This was definitely going to be an adventure.

---

Chapter Two:

I arrived at my rooms, and they took up a lot of space, and really looked more like a huge room with smaller rooms branching off of it, and like a shop selling laces, heavy drapery and jewel chandeliers had exploded in it, covering almost all of any surfaces with its merchandise. I was ready to run away screaming from the masses of wealth displayed in this place I was to be living in. Honestly, this place was richer than what we had at home! Well, actually, let’s just say we had the same amount of money, but these guys decided to spend it all on elegance. Suddenly, interrupting my train of thought, a maid came running up, and one of my shadows, the one on my right, whispered instructions in her ear. By her facial expression, I could tell they were talking about me. Sure enough, after a moment, the plump, good-natured maid waved me over and gave me a smile. “Ah, yes. Hello dear! I will be your maid during your stay in these rooms. First a bath? It’s all ready and steaming for you.” Reluctantly, and for the sake of her exuberant attitude, I followed. Glancing back for the briefest of seconds, I saw the guard that had guided me here and had stood on my right nodding in respect to the other one, and exiting. Thankfully I could finally have some quiet. Before, I was completely and utterly overwhelmed, a feeling I had not had for a very long while. And it left me feeling out of place, and scared, and unprepared and- We both know I can keep going.

But I knew that the duty of my kingdom must always come first, so I also gathered that at some point either today, or tomorrow, I would have to tell the king that I would stay here. For now. We entered the bathroom, my maid and I, and I beheld a steaming bubble bath there, as she had said. I turned to the young woman before she could scurry off and do... maid things... and asked: “What precisely is going on? No one has - as of yet - told me anything! And I don’t think it very wise to be in the dark.” The maid nodded solemnly, and told me: “His majesty wanted dinner with you, miss. We’re to get you prepared. Hurry up now, or else it’ll get cold!” “Excuse me?” I demanded. She gave a laugh: “The bath!!”, and began rummaging around the cabinet on the other side of the (rather large) bathroom. Returning with several soaps, shampoos and scented lotions, she heaped them all on the side and helped me unbutton my dress, removing my cape and throwing it aside. Though she tried to hide it, I caught her scrunched nose at it, and supposed she had never before seen something so dirty. I bit back a smile. Then she turned away, as of my bidding, and I hastily climbed into the bath, covering myself with the bubbles. The process began.

Afterwards, warm and relatively cozy in my bathrobe, I let myself be forced into submission and be relentlessly spritzed with perfume. Honestly, it was overkill. But, as a faithful, good little child, I stayed silent. Then, she walked briskly to the closet for a dress. Truthfully, if I had been allowed, I would’ve worn tunic and trousers, but it was not to be. She returned with a lovely dark red gown with a long, shimmering train, and LOTS of layers of silky fabric, but it really was beautiful. It even came with complete golden linings and designs throughout the skirt, which flowed out from my waist down to the ground in waves. I struggled into it with the help of the kind maid who kept up a series of complements, comments and encouragements concerning the dinner.


Doing up the corset, however, she was not as kind. I could barely breathe, but I got used to it a little while later, kneeling outside on my balcony trying desperately to get a lung-full of air. Then she did up my hair in a fancy bun, pinning the last strands with sparkling clips and tying the bun with a pretty red bow. “There.” Cooed the maid, watching me in front of the mirror with shining eyes after a full hour of getting me ready. OK, she could have credit, I’d never looked older... the makeup she had added made me look unrecognizable, but only because of the gold eyeliner. Honestly, she did a very good job. I felt as ready for the imposing dinner as I could. I still hadn’t forgiven the King for his unacceptable comments when we first met. I doubted I’d ever forgive him, even if he had given me this gorgeous dress. Yet now I had no choice but to follow the new guard outside my door to the dining hall. The new guard was a shade younger than the other ones that I had met that afternoon, or so I supposed. I was concentrating too much on putting one foot in front of the other. My hands were shaking more than they’d ever before, so I hid them in the folds of my dress, hoping no one would notice. But of course, my guard did. He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye, and asked; “Are you scared?” “A little.” I couldn’t help but admit. I hadn’t meant to be so truthful, but I guessed it didn’t really change anything. The torch-lined halls were empty and quiet. “I’m sorry.” Came his reply, so quietly, that I strained my ears to hear them. I looked down at my hidden hands and clutched the fabric of my skirt. “What for?” “That you’re afraid, my Lady. I shan’t tell you not to be, for I would be too.” I gave him a small smile, which he returned, before we turned the last, torch-lined corner in front of the dining hall. “Here, sadly, I must leave you. But if you ever need anything, I will be out here, waiting to take you back to your rooms. Ok?” I nodded, my stomach so twisted and knotted with nerves I could barely breathe. It was the king I was dining with, after all. Positioning himself outside the door, the guard gave me another encouraging nod, and I opened it, stepping into the light. Immediately I was bombarded with the sounds of clinking glasses, talking, laughter, music, silverware, and content sighs. The dinner had already begun. I supposed I was a special guest or something, because at my entry, all of the guests rose once they noticed me, and the music halted abruptly. I had probably been in more awkward situations, but at the moment, I couldn’t think of any. Especially when they refused to stop staring. I fought off the flush that was lining my cheeks, and I had never wished to disappear so badly in my life! At the head of the table sat his Majesty the king, and he beckoned me forward and to his left, where there was the only empty seat. Once I had taken my place, all of the guests sat back down, and commenced the dinner again, eating and talking merrily, only occasionally shooting me smiles or simply a glance. One rich duke gave me a nod before returning to his food. Indeed- there was a lot of food, more than I had seen in a very long time. Even as a princess! To my right, the king appeared deep in conversation with a man looking like royalty that sat on his right, but he chose to finish it when he caught me looking over curiously. He then gave me a smile that seemed more like baring his teeth, and it did not fully reach his eyes, again. I was losing hope that it ever would. Very guarded, it seemed. But as I really wanted to keep my status as ‘relatively free’ – as he had not stuck me in the dungeons – I returned it, giving him a genuine one. “Are you doing well after your – ah – settling?” He asked, implying not-too-subtly that I use coded language around the man who was currently eyeing me with an embarrassing amount of interest. My face burned, and I hoped it wasn’t too noticeable as I responded. “As well as one can be, after such an experience, don’t you think?” Quite politely did I phrase those words, and even though he seemed as though he wanted to continue our depressing attempt at conversation, I focused on getting a small amount of food. After all the excitement, I really had lost any endeavor at an appetite, and I was, once again, forced to trust luck again to avoid any comments about it from anyone. But who was I kidding? Obviously, the king’s right-hand had noticed, and called me out on it: “Are you not hungry, my Lady?” He asked, and it took all of my will-power to not smack him across the room. I gave the king a sharp look, hoping to put off responding, but, to my great exasperation, he opted to look concerned as well. For the sake of my place in this castle, I plastered on a sickly-sweet smile, and lied: “Oh, not at all, the gracious king has already supplied me with many delicacies!” He seemed satisfied, as did the king, who rewarded my act with a smirk, and a look that told me we’ll talk about that later. I supposed he just adored being complemented. Talk about an ego- maniac! Quite slowly, thankful that no one was paying too much attention to me, I began eating, hoping I wouldn’t be sick afterwards. The noise became louder over the course of the meal, some noblemen had become dizzy with alcohol, and were raising their voices at each other. I found that unacceptable and awkward, and slouched in my seat, hoping I would escape notice, as they were whistling at some women around the table, and I definitely preferred not to be one of them. But when I glanced at the king, expecting him to echo my disgust, I saw him suppressing a smile at their antics! He must find it amusing...wow. Gross. These people were worse than the ones at home... Noticing my expression, perhaps, the king leaned over: “You don’t approve?”, he said, fighting back a laugh. I had to bite my tongue to keep the snappy retort back, and he noticed. I glowered at him, and replied: “I should be allowed to have some opinions on what is etiquette and what is not, am I wrong?” I added, when he nodded solemnly, obviously faking to give me a false sense of having the upper hand. I sighed, staring at my now empty plate. “May I be excused?” I tried again, hating him so much

when he replied: “You forgot the ‘My Lord’, or ‘My King’. Come now, princess. Where are your manners?” He chuckled to himself. I gritted my teeth. “FINE. May I perhaps be excused from your table, Oh Great King That Everyone Has to Pay Attention To, it seems? Where have your manners run off to?” I spat back at him; my fury only slightly relieved at the brief irritation that crossed his face before he relented. “Have your guard take you to your rooms. I shall see you down for dessert and dancing though, understand? Otherwise, you shall be very sorry.” He warned, getting up to scoot back my chair and politely assist me up. Then I curtseyed, feeling I at least owed him that. After that, he did act a little calmer, and resumed conversation with the man on his right. As quickly as I could without drawing too much attention my way, I hurried out of the stuffy dining hall, away from the loud, laughing nobles, into the quiet corridors with fresh air. I breathed deeply, incredibly thankful. I had to force myself to keep walking and to not sink to my knees with fatigue. Right outside however, there seemed to be a slight disturbance. A loud scuffle I was surprised no one had heard, between a man in dark clothes with a black mask and the guards by the door, including mine. The man was saying loudly that he had to see someone, but the guards did not cease. They tried pinning him against the wall, but he was too agile, and rolled away. Suddenly, they all noticed me. They all, including the intruder, froze, and the guards each gave me a quick bow before turning back to the troublemaker, He was, in fact, staring at me as though I held the wonders and secrets of the universe, and after a second, I looked down, unable to hold his gaze any longer. The eyes in his mask fixated on me with an intensity that made my cheeks hot. But before he could say anything, he had his freedom to contemplate; the guards were circling him, trying to cut off all of his escape routes. He caught my gaze one more time, tapping his foot in repeated motions as though wanting to tell me something, but I couldn’t figure it out. Then, before I could ask him about it, he turned and ran away, only giving me a single glance from over his shoulder. Confused, I turned to the guards, four of which had just left in hot pursuit of him. Mine was standing, puffing and mopping his forehead with a handkerchief. “Ready to go up, Lady?” I nodded, still staring at where the man had stood, trying to figure out what was so important... AHA! There, where he had been tapping his foot, there lay a small slip of paper, so dirty that it camouflaged with the ground as though it were a part of it. How he had hidden it beneath his foot was beyond me. “My Lady?” My guard asked again, trying to get my attention by taking a step closer. That reminded me, I only had a small amount of time to rest before dessert and dancing. So, I bent over, picking the piece of paper up, waiting until I was back in the safety and privacy of my rooms to open it. “I suggest you not open that!” My guard warned, his eyes on my fist, wherein lay the message I had retrieved. “Whyever not?” I inquired, pretending to be about to fold it open. It was quite thick; another way I had no idea why I hadn’t noticed it before. “It will hold many lies! Here, give it to me. I’ll take care of it.” He held out a hand, waiting for me to hand it over. But that was one thing that was NOT on my To Do List. “No, thank you. I’d rather open it in my chambers, if that is not against any laws.” Reluctantly, and with a brief look in his eyes that seemed as though he was going to rip it out of my hand, my guard finally extended his arm for me instead. I nodded politely at him, hoping he understood my gratitude, and took it, the letter clutched tightly now in my left hand, away from him. I definitely did not want him to have it, especially if he was going to show it to the king. I wondered why the cloaked intruded had wanted me to have it... maybe I had just arrived at the optimal time. He must’ve known he did not have much time to last. We walked in silence, both of us interested with our own thoughts- or, in my case, theories. When we reached my rooms, my guard bowed, and opened the door for me. When our eyes connected, I gave him a smile.

Heading swiftly to my bed, I called for my maid to loosen my corset a little so I could breathe. To be honest, the trends here felt like they’d sooner kill their females than let them dress normally... Getting back into a ridged posture for Iva, my maid, I opened my palm and took a look at the note, unfolding it. It opened relatively easily, and I stared at the message until everything around it blurred. It was very clean and white, other than the black ink dotting across it in neat lettering. I gazed at the words, unable to wrench away. Slowly, inevitably, I felt my eyes burn, and tears gathered in my eyes, obscuring my vision even further. I stared.

And stared.

And stared some more.

Finally, Iva broke the heavy silence that had settled in my rooms. “Are you ok, my Lady?” She asked in concern. No! No, I most obviously was NOT ok! For the letter read: ‘Has he stopped the war yet?’ And the thing about that, was: Who would know I was sent to stop the war but my family! But that could only mean, the man in the hooded cloak was... my father!


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