The autumn air was rich with fragrances, colours of gold and auburn coated the mountains in the distance just the same as the ground below. Rei Casimir, Princess of Marlowe, sat alongside her childhood companion Felyx Talisman, with their feet nestled in the fallen leaves. There was a gentle hum in the background, the chirp of wildlife and the gentle purr of running water. Rei and her friend had often made time to escape from their lives of duty, finding a quiet place amongst nature. Geraint Peredur was the only one who knew where to find them, and he would often accompany the pair for the sake of safety. On this day, Geraint had taken the opportunity to hunt nearby, leaving the two to their thoughts.
The sun glared down at them, the heavy rays reminded Rei of her envious siblings, who always looked on with great desire and spite when Felyx would ride past on his steed, swooping Rei up by the waist. She blinked at the sun, squinting at her friend. Felyx was very handsome, with broad features and unusually light hair. As a child he had been very ill, and his birth had almost killed his mother. No one had believed he would live long, though in time their doubts quelled and instead became questions of parentage. His mother, Mae Talisman, had come to Marlowe as a wealthy merchant’s daughter, she had established her life there without ever marrying, and bearing only one bastard child. Some said Felyx was the son of an Oracle, a divine being that was the bridge between their world and the world of magic. In her younger years, Rei had once thought of him as her one true love, the man she would eventually marry. That was until her father abolished marriage. Over time Rei and Felyx had grown closer as friends than anything more, and she was a little older than him.
“This could be one of the last times we can do this,” Felyx said. “Mother tells me the King is searching for someone to sell you to.”
Rei gulped back her words of outrage. The king had made many changes in the years since her mother was unable to bear him a son. He had started by simply taking a mistress, who soon became a concubine. Then several concubines later, he had made a law declaring women the same rights as cattle, to be traded for breeding purposes only. Rei had even heard of places where men would go for pleasure, and paid the women for any resulting offspring, essentially buying those children to become their heirs. Felyx had reasoned it was a lot cheaper than having to pay for the care of the mother as well as the child.
“I think he’s started to catch on, Nyssa tells me she saw men peeping around soiled sheets.” Rei confided, “We can’t continue to lie that neither of us bleed.”
Felyx’s face soured a little, “He’s that eager to auction off his daughters?”
Rei was the eldest child of King Conri and Queen Reina, who was allowed to hold her title as queen for pity’s sake. Her younger sister was Princess Nyssa, with only four years between them, and then there was the youngest of them, Princess Eirian, with an eight year difference. “I don’t want to believe what they all say, but as time goes by I see less of the man I called father and more of the Frenetic King.”
“What am I going to do Felyx? I can’t live as some ill-treated concubine, to any man, noble or not!” Rei said as she watched the light from his eyes fade a little, blurred by his confusing thoughts.
“Run away?” He ventured. “Marry some commoner, technically you will be contracted to him regardless of your father’s power over you.”
“Few still practice marriage.”
“And the longer you wait the less will.”
Rei tightened her hands into fists, “If I ever marry, I will marry for love.”
She grimaced as her friend laughed aloud, “You sound like a little girl, Rei. I thought you’d grown out of that nonsense.”
“Nonsense?” She growled in response, “Who was that sour little boy screaming for knighthood at the top of his lungs? You’re only a year younger than I and you claim to have aged so much, barely two years ago you were begging my father to take you on as his Squire.”
“And he cruelly told me I was not fit to be a knight of any kind, and that I would be better off book keeping for my mother, and he was right.”
Rei felt a wave of guilt as she heard the sadness in him, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be like that.”
“I think it is necessary for us all to grow out of our dreams.”
A twig snapped behind them, and both jumped a little. Rei looked over her shoulder, waiting for the tall figure of Geraint to appear, instead she was greeted by a cold unwavering stare. The boy looked to be about sixteen years old, with a mess of coal black hair and eyes of ice. He was dressed in leather, with the look of the wild about him.
Felyx was on his feet in moments, stepping in between the new arrival and Rei. “What do you want, stranger?”
The boy was a lot taller than Felyx, with strong legs like tree trunks. He looked past Felyx coolly, his gaze falling on Rei. “You’re the daughter of the King,” he said.
Rei lifted her head and put out a hand to Felyx, who grudgingly helped her to her feet. The boy’s eyes were locked to her, and Rei felt flushed as she wished he would look away.
“My concern is my own to determine, stranger.” He spoke with venom, his eyes finally leaving Rei to turn on her companion. “Who are you?”
The boy went to take a step, but came to a quick halt at the sound of bow locking into place. Rei watched in horror as he looked to the side, and quickly jumped backwards to avoid the sharp pinch of the arrow that shot toward him. The arrow hit a nearby tree, the shaft shuddering from the impact.
Geraint Peredur appeared in the clearing, his vibrant red hair gleaming in the sunlight. Geraint was perhaps a fraction taller than the boy, and most definitely matched him in muscle and stature.
The stranger smiled quietly to himself, bowed his head, and backed away into the trees. Geraint did not wait for the boy to disappear before ushering the others to follow him. They headed back the way they had come. Rei hitched up her dress in silence as they all trod through the forest, she did not recall exhaling till the sight of the horses ahead.