8 Years Later
Luce Brigantia rounded the corner of the labyrinth, the skirt of her gown in her hands. Today was the announcement of Prince Henry Rennier's coronation date, and every courtier wanted to be in attendance. Although the event had started fifteen minutes ago, Luce had been walking the palace labyrinth. She was recalling how young she and Henry had been when they first met.
Luce's father was one of the few royal advisors that Henry's father, King Alphonse, trusted. Luce was five when she was first introduced to the prince. At that time, Henry wasn't interested in being friends with a girl, but as the years progressed, the two had become incredibley close. That is, until Henry had begun his royal training. There had always been formalities- curtseying and general respect were a must- but now, it seemed that pure obedience was the requirement. Luce understood; Henry was meant to be king, and that came with rules. But that didn't mean she liked it.
It was the sundial in the center of the labyrinth that had caught Luce's attention. She was late, everyone would think she had skipped out, and now she had to run. Luce finally reached the entrance to the labyrinth. She wrenched open the gate and raced towards the palace in the distance. She stopped for only a moment to remove her shoes, and then continued barefoot.
She ran across the grounds, past the stables, through the gardens, and finally, reached the entrance to the east wing of the palace. Luce rested against the wall while wiping sweat from her forehead. She needed to compose herself; it would not do to be seen in such a state, especially at a royal announcement. Once she caught her breath, Luce slipped her shoes back on and bent down to adjust the latches. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a splash of yellow. Luce turned to see a cluster of dandelions.
Immediately, memories of Annabelle flashed through Luce's mind. Laughter, a hard punch, Annabelle's hair ribbons, gushing blood. Luce leaned her back up against the wall and wiped away a stray tear. Luce tried to avoid thinking or speaking about Annabelle most of the time, but occassionally something would remind her of their friendship and the horrible day that it ended.
When Annabelle appeared at her mother's side at Cecilia's party, her new dress stained in grass and blood, her mother immediately grabbed Annabelle's father who took them both to the nearest healer. The healer re-adjusted Annabelle's nose, a procedure that Luce was sure was very painful. Once Annabelle told her parents about Cecilia, Kheelan, and the other children, her father returned to the Morova's estate, demanding repercussions. Of course, Cecilia denied that anything had happened the way Annabelle had said. According to Cecilia, Annabelle had purposefully hit her nose with a rock and had created the entire story to get Cecilia into trouble. Annabelle's father disagreed. Offended by the insinuation that Cecilia could do anything wrong, her parents promptly fired Annabelle's father and made it clear that they would no longer be purchasing any of her mother's clothing.
After word got out that the Morovas were no longer purchasing clothing from the Rivkas, all of the province's residents refused to do so as well, save for Mr. Brigantia, Luce's father. Eventually, Annabelle and her family had to leave the province, hoping that they would be able to find work in another, but to no avail. Finally, the Rivkas were forced to leave the Kingdom of Cetique and embark on a journey to a neighboring kingdom, the name of which no one could ever find out. Except for Luce and her father, no one ever seemed to talk about or worry for the Rivkas, but when they did, each comment was different in regard to the Rivka's new home.
The last time Luce saw Annabelle, she was being helped by her father into their small carriage. Luce wanted to beg them not to leave, to apologize to Annabelle, but all she could do was stare on gravely. Annabelle spared only one glance towards Luce. Her nose was not longer swollen or black, but there was a fine line down the side of the bridge where the healer had re-adjusted it. Luce remembered feeling empty inside. She felt responsible for Annabelle's injury and subsequent move. She felt like crying, but all she could do when Annabelle looked at her was give a slight wave. It went unreturned.
The touch of a hand on her shoulder brought Luce out of her reverie and caused her to jump. She turned to see Cecilia Morova.
"Sorry to frighten you, my lady," Cecilia said slowly, "But you'll miss the rest of the announcement if you don't go in now."
Luce nodded and followed her to the throne room. She stared at Cecilia steadily. She looked much different in servant's clothing. Cecilia Morova, a member of one of the most prominant families of Cetique, was now a servant in the palace. About a year ago, Princess Raisa received three letters from Mr. Morova. The letters declared Mr. Morova's love for the fiteen year old princess in depth. Naturally, Princess Raisa told her father. The king found the letters to be disturbed and, although out of character for Mr. Morova, very inappropriate.
Subsequently, Mr. Morova was stripped of his regal title and given a choice, despite his claims that he was innocent. He could either remain in the kingdom as a pauper, or work for the palace as a servant. Mr. Morova, however, chose a third option and left Cetique under the cover of night. Whispers throughout the kingdom suggest that he went across the Grave River to the neighboring kingdom, Forella. Mr. Morova's actions left the family shamed. His parents shunned him, and, convinced that they were partly to blame, refused to help support his wife and daughter.
This left Mrs. Morova and Cecilia to their own devices. Having no family to speak of or a hint of a working background, Mrs. Morova was forced to sell most of her belongings, as well as Cecilia's. Eventually, they were working as servants for the families they used to associate with. After word of their misfortune got back to Princess Raisa, she took pity on Mrs. Morova and Cecilia. She invited them to become palace servants. Although the job would be similar, it payed slightly more and included more comfortable housing. Mrs. Morova and Cecilia accepted and had been working at the palace ever since.
"Here we are, my lady. If you go in now, I'm sure no one will notice," Cecilia whispered while looking longingly at Luce's deep blue gown. Luce knew that Cecilia hadn't known a dress that nice in a long time, and despite everything that had happened between them, despite what Cecilia caused for Annabelle, Luce felt sorry for her.
"Thank you, Cecilia," Luce said genuinely. Cecilia met her eyes for a moment, but then lowered them and curtsied, a movement that was far too practiced for a servant. She left as Luce quietly slipped through the side door of the throne room. She slowly worked her way through the crowd, trying to get a better view of Prince Henry, just like everyone else.
After a few minutes of maneuvering, Luce found a decent spot. She watched and listened as King Alphonse read the names of his ancestors off of a list. Princess Raisa stood loyally at her brother's side. Luce's eyes fell on Henry. He was standing by the throne, one arm strategically placed behind his back. His handsome face was serious, except for the small grin that played on his mouth. Luce smiled. She knew that grin well. It was his genuine grin, the start of a dazzling smile. Luce felt her heart begin to beat slightly faster, but she tried to ignore it. Finally, after reading off the last of the names on the list, King Alphonse looked up at the crowd.
"It pleases me greatly to see all of you here," he began, "As you know, we are here to announce the date of the coronation of Henry Rennier, Prince and Future King of Cetique. The date has hereby been set for the fourteenth of May, exactly one month and a half from today. To celebrate this pivotal occasion, a ball will be held on the same date. Here's to the reign of the future king!"
The room erupted in applause. Prince Henry let his arm fall from his back and waved to the crowd with the other. Princess Raisa backed away, allowing her brother to enjoy the occasion. Henry caught Luce's eye, and flashed his dazzling smile. She returned it with a laugh. The applause began to die down. King Alphonse, Prince Henry, and Princess Raisa began to take their leave, a signal that everyone bow or curtsy in respect. As Luce lowered herself, she heard one lone pair of hands applauding. It started softly, but soon turned into a loud crack that reverberated off of the walls. Slowly, the King, Prince, and Princess turned around, along with all of the courtiers and servants in the throne room.
There were slight gasps, and whispers began to break out over the crowd. The applause slowed down as Luce made her way through the courtiers. She glanced to her left and saw Cecilia looking from the side door that Luce had come through. Her face was almost white. Luce furrowed her brows. What was going on?
Finally, Luce came to the front of the crowd and pushed her way from behind two people. In front of her stood a figure about her height. The woman wore a dark red gown with crystal beading. Luce widened her eyes. Even though she had lost weight and had grown her hair out even more, Luce immediately knew without a doubt who stood in front of her, meeting her eyes. She took one step forward, reaching her hand out, as if the figure might disappear.