Welcome to day fourteen of Just Jot It January for 2023 combined with SoCS. Today’s prompt from Linda is ’once upon a time’. It inspired a fanciful piece.
Once upon a time there was a kingdom nestled in the mountains. The Kingdom of Habitable was ruled by a Princess of great distinction. She was not necessarily fair to gaze upon, but her kind spirit and sense of fair play was the envy of the kingdom. The Princess was quite content with her life, but her aging father insisted she should marry to carry on the lineage that had ruled this kingdom for centuries.
It was easy for all the royal subjects to consider that all was well within their walls as the Princess did rule fairly and equitably. But just near the walls that protected the kingdom were the unincorporated lands. The most reprehensible being the small village of Uninhabitable, a once thriving village that had fallen into drought and disrepair.
“The King has called you to his chambers.” Princess Emmalina’s father had been confined to his bed after collapsing on his throne one year ago on a cool September morning.
Emmalina nodded and started down the narrow hallways that would lead to her father. Her mother died as the Princess was born so she never knew a mother’s touch. Her father had always been kind, but he was not a gentle man.
“Please sit, my daughter.” The Princess knew this was not a request but rather an order and bowed in obeyance. “I shall announce a grand ball with invitations to all the eligible men in the village. You must marry.”
The Princess knew she must comply, but thought how to make the entire idea more palatable to her. “My king, my father, I do understand but you know I have two left feet. Perhaps I can offer an alternative?”
Her father raised the bushy grey eyebrow over his left eye. “I am listening.” She was not wrong in her self assessment. He loved his daughter but she was not graceful any more than she was beautiful.
“I would suggest an invitation to all the eligible gentlemen to attend a prestigious horse race on the palace grounds. I would look quite smart in my riding habit and it would give me an opportunity see how well these men care for their steeds. Else how could they care for a bride – especially a Princess bride?” She knew her father would concede because he quite liked the idea of new festivities rather than the tired traditions of palace balls as much as she did.
It was a crisp May morning as the Princess took delight in seeing the preparations unfold below her balcony. Her long black hair had wisps of grey but they were well hidden in the long braids intertwined with pale yellow ribbons. She had no desire to find a husband but she was filled with anticipation of the races. The muscular steeds were so powerful. Imagining their strength as they ran full speed made it hard for her to breathe.
Life was much different beyond the palace walls.
“Lunden! We only have two days to finish our preparations. This is our opportunity to shine.”
Luden’s father would do anything to improve their status. Anything but work that is.
“Father, I have no interest in these games. I do this for you.”
“For me? I am sure the Princess has no interest in marrying me. But you!”
“I am equally as sure she will have no interest in me. I have been a stable boy all my life, and as a grown man, I am still a stable boy.”
It was Luden’s lot in life. After his mother disappeared, his father could barely function. No one knew what happened to her, but Luden hoped she died a tragic death. It would serve her right for leaving them in such a state.
“You are an acceptable man. Not handsome, but not ugly. Your muscles speak when your features cannot. The Princess is not exactly a ‘fair’ maiden, so you have a chance.”
Days later they approached the palace grounds. One thing Luden had going for him was recognition. He was well known for his skill with horses. He had even been brought to the palace years earlier to assist with a troubled birth in the palace stables. Of course he had never been this close to the royal family or their quarters. He was immediately stricken by the vast difference between their wealth and his poverty. It made him angry to be a part of this.
As the day of games and races drew to a close, Luden sat to finally rest and drink from the horse’s water supply.
“You are a fortunate man, Luden.” Luden looked up confused. He knew Bastion well as he attended his stables frequently.
“How do you see me as fortunate? I am exhausted with a long night of travel ahead of me. I have been so hard at work I did not once set an eye on the fair Princess.”
Bastion laughed loudly. “Are you daft? You have been in the presence of the Princess all day.”
Luden was confused then the picture formed in his mind. The woman in the riding habit that weaved her way in and out of the stables all day was the Princess? “That was her Royal Highness?”
“Not only is she the Princess, but I was sent her to tell you she has requested an audience with you.”
Luden smiled. He was not attracted to this woman in the least. She was tall and a bit awkward. She was not beautiful at all. He did respect the way she responded to the animals. What if she had chosen him from all the eligible men there today? Men with more countenance than he would ever have. How does one turn down a Princess?
As Emmalina waited, now dressed in a gown, she hoped this stable boy had not gotten the wrong idea. He was strong, and so gentle with the horses. Not an attractive man of course. The King would be furious but he would simply need to wait for another heir. Or…perhaps she would write a proclamation abolishing the centuries old idea that a bloodline made one fit to rule the kingdom. She did not feel the need nor have the desire to marry. But a friend? A friend might just be what she was looking for.
Written as part of Linda Hill’s SoCS and JusJoJan 2023