The palace gates yawned wide, allowing prince Drykar and Synnefro out into the world of commons. It had been two days since the prince left the palace – ever since Miraea had arrived here- and he decided that it was time to meet with the commons again.
Every week he was wont to ride the streets to hear the citizen’s woes and share their joys. There was always a huge mob gathering in the main centers to glimpse the prince and converse with him. There were children, showing him their newest treasures and women wanting to share their lives with the prince, a few bringing him food they had cooked (although the food had to first be tasted by a soldier he bought along, by the royal decree) and then there were men who would give him gifts and talk to him of their work life. He would spend the evening celebrating their lives and solving their problems. In return, the people loved him as their own kin.
Behind the prince and his friend rode another horse carrying a sack of jewels, gold, clothes and sweets to distribute among the commons.
Every five minutes, on the way to the city square, someone would stop him asking his favor or wanting to present him something. Once, a scruffy and unkempt little boy in a tattered grey shirt approached the prince, asking him to buy his jute bags.
“Do you learn, child?’’ he asked, to which the child shook his head sorrowfully.
The prince drew him closer. “ Do you want to?”
The child nodded fervently. “ I want to learn alchemy. And I also want to learn the science of stars; I heard the princess, queen Vinanya reborn could read the stars and tell their stories.”
The prince nodded. Astronomy and alchemy. Then he told the child to meet him at the palace the next day at noon and gave him a palace token for the guards to open the gates. The guards knew that everytime the prince went to meet the people, the following day would be punctuated with commoners visiting his special noon courts to get this job and that education.
The boy smiled, then asked, “Are you going to wed the veiled princess?”
Synnefro laughed from behind him. “ Would you want to help in the wedding preparations?” He jested.
The boy’s eyes lit up. He nodded enthusiastically. Prince Drykar patted the boy’s cheek affectionately and proceeded to the city square.
By the time they had reached there, the gravel clad open space bordered with shops, inns and other facilities teamed with people. The next two hours passed in a blur of words amidst them.
By the time he rode back to the palace the sky overhead had turned a deep grey mass of stiring clouds. A moist, early evening air washed over them. There had been so much that the commons had told him today- the merchant had a new daughter, the baker’s mother was dying of consumption, Jacelyn the beauty had found a new job as a dancer; she had even dances for him.
But with every little cityside gossip he heard something of the new ‘ veiled princess.’ ( that had been one of his secret expectations when he rode into the city today) She had helped heal someone’s festering leg wounds, bought a little girl cake and gifts for her birthday, helped newly wed Mrs.Maaza clean her house and sort things out, and she was a wonderful story teller with so many fascinating tales about her father’s land far south, that now, almost every little child had made it an ardent dream to visit Jador Nest once grown up.
Many young boys had also confessed their love for the princess and begged of the prince to bring them together (?!) A few complained about her veil concealing the best of her beauty. But all in all, it was the rumour of her being Queen Vinanya reborn that made the commons take to her so much. They looked at her as their old saviour queen and all she had to do was play the part.
Soon, prince Drykar and his friend rode back through the palace gates followed by their goods horse carrying all the gifts from the commons – today he had received a brass sailor’s watch; a steel dirk with a saphire pommel; a cake of straberries and caramel; a gilded chain; a cream and blue satin cape; and a painting of him and the veiled princess together,drawn by a little boy, which was his favorite.
As Synnefro took to the kitchen with a grumbling stomach, prince Drykar made his way upstairs to his father’s room. He knocked at the door, asking to enter, and when his father bid him to enter, he opened the door… and there was the princess Miraea, weaving something by his side.
“ Greatings father, I didn’t know you were busy,”
His father waved a hand in front of his face, “ oh, I’m not! Young Miraea here makes an enchanting company.
“ Un- usual. There were many new stories I chanced upon today.”
His father nodded, clearly uninterested in knowing, himself. “Wonderful. So where are you headed to now?”
The prince’s eyes darted towards Miraea. Today she wore a skirt of purple silk beneath her black shirt, completed with a purple veil embroidered in gold.
“ I was planning to spend some time with my bride, Princess Eira, sire.”
“Good,” his father remarked. “ I was going to tell you just that. I am happy you are taking to her.”
The prince nodded tersely, and left the king’s privy with his leave
He found his prospective wife in the balcony, looking down at the garden in the last red slivers of evening light. The breeze carried the sweet scent of confectioneries and the fragrance of lilacs.
He breathed in deep, walking up to her back. “ The view is beautiful from here, isn’t it?”
She spun around. “ Prince Drykar… I didn’t notice you come in. Yes, it is lovely out here.”
“ Me and Synnefro used to play the prince and the dragon here once.”
“ And pray, who was the princess you desired to rescue?”
Cedra, he thought, though he hadn’t even know her then. But out loud he only shrugged and quipped, “queen. It was always a queen; the queen of shy red roses.”
Princess Eira’s eyes glinted with mischief. “ Sadly the prince wouldn’t find me as shy.” She slipped her hands through his and inched closer
On one side the presence of this girl so close to him disturbed him and on the other it brought him back to Cedra, to those days when they would sit for long on one of the fallen logs and stare in silence at the stars, hand in hand, her head often on his shoulders.
“ Nevertheless, in mine own state there were many young lads wishing I was their young red rose. It used to wear me, all those princes visiting my father’s court, who took to me immediately. Not half of them were worth even my glance!”
But the young girl was convinced of her own flawlessness and went on for the next half hour about all those men who had courted her and all the kings and preachers and crones who had talked of her skill and sharpness of mind.
Soon, the prince let himself slip into daydreams, resurging every now and then to politely nod at her boring self boast and smile or ask a thing or two.
He himself was back in time, an year ago, to all the days he spent among the cow keepers, dressed in brown flax coverings tied around the waist with a hempen rope and simple cotton pants, searching for his cow keeper girl. In simple clothes, she always outdid him. In silk and samite too…
Cedra showed him how to milk a cow and feed it. Sometimes she directed the cow’s udder in his direction and got him sticky with white milk. Except, this time, when he rubbed the milk of his eyes and stetched his hand forth to pull her hair, it was princess Maera in her stead; veiled, clad in a black shirt and silk pants.
He blinked the vision away and caught Princess Eira staring at him with owl eyes. He returned the stare stupidly. And then she frowned.
“ Have you even been listening?” She suspected.
“ Yes, yes…I have.”
“Okay. So what do you think?”
“ About what?”
She squinted. “ About… yesterday’s court?”
“ Oh yes, the court! Well, I liked what your father said about taking Cleveavenwillows unexpected, about sending soldiers in the guise of merchants to receive us from within. His experience speaks, no doubt, but I personally agree with princess Miraea. With river Werna originating in Cleavenwillows, it’s best we remain in their good books. If we were to loose, our men would suffer from water scarcity,” Drykar finished elaborating his opinion.
Princess Eira shot him the dirtiest of glances. “ I was asking about
With that she stormed out of the balcony without even glance backward.
“ No princess, I-” she had vanished already. – was too preoccupied with all the royal tasks, he finished in vain.
Night had fallen already. From deep inside the city a lone bird cooed to him. Well, he thought, Miraea is neither ugly nor a sorceress.
To be continued…
© 2019 Sahana Narendran