"Ok, you can do this," Zara told herself as calmly as she could. "You have to do this. Edan gave you permission. He knows. It's over; it's done. And Victor? He's a decent man. Any woman would be lucky to have him. So, accept it. Life is not what you may have dreamt it to be, but you are still pretty lucky."
But no matter how many times she repeated those words to herself, she just couldn't convince herself of their validity. Turning her back to the mirror, she picked up the last letter she received from Edan - the letter she first read more than a month and a half ago. The coded message was as beautiful as any piece he had ever written her. It was sweet, caring, pure poetry. The true message however was heart-wrenching. He told her to leave him. No, worse than that - he left her. Though she wrote him three times since receiving the heartbreaking letter, she received no responses. Looking at the crumpled piece of parchment that had been read at least two dozen times, she read the hidden message with tears brimming in her eyes, yet again:
"I am sorry, my love. I cannot let you go through with this. Your brother will turn fourteen in half a year. If you are not at least engaged to someone by that time, your dad can declare the throne Ryce's. I cannot let you do that. Do not throw our kingdom to that monster. Know I will always love you, but sometimes, love is not enough. This is one of those times. Marry someone else. Bear many children. It is ok. I understand. Truly, I do. Forever yours, Edan."
The only part of the letter that was not written in code was the farewell. Though the message was covered in tear drops now, she remembered seeing tear drops on it when she first opened the message; that was how she knew something was terribly wrong. Edan was not an emotional man. He had his heart cut out long ago. So, if his words forced him to break down, then Zara was hopeless on her own. No, she was not an overly emotional person, but she did show emotion quite a bit more than her lover did.
Now, though, none of that mattered. Edan cast her off. He did it beautifully, to be sure, but that didn't change the fact that he did do it. Remembering her three letters she had sent with Jax in reply to Edan's message and then remembering how each time the Messenger returned having only the returned messages unopened but with Edan's initial to prove that he delivered them, she grew furious.
How could Edan do this to me? To us? She screamed in her head. She tore open her armoire and cast every single dress that Edan had ever seen her in to the floor. Picking them up, she ripped them apart - she tore the sleeves off, ripped the beads and jewelry dangling from the collar and casted them to the floor. For that first week after the third returned message, Zara went out of control. His words cut her so deep that she had to rid her room of anything that reminded her of him. The only thing she could not get rid of was the letter he wrote to her that caused the whole mess in the first place.
Looking back, that was a good thing. Because as time went on, that letter allowed Zara to learn why Edan was doing this (or at least, why she thought he was doing this). And from what the princess could infer, it was to save Xamalie a terrible fate - the fate of her brother inheriting the kingdom. That realization brought Zara slowly back to reality. It started with completing the most basic tasks - like bathing, having her hair brushed, and her clothes laid out by Kayla, her handmaid.
Once she got a grip on those basic tasks, Zara then got to work trying to select a man that the king would approve of. She had certainly been offered many by her dad over the years. When she had it whittled down to three, she called to Jax for help. Jax was one of the only people that she had ever met who would tell her exactly what he was thinking, no matter what the situation. If she asked Jax for his opinion, then Zara knew that what he gave her was what he believed to be the right decision.
"My lady, you want me to do what?" Jax asked, giving Zara a startled look.
"I need to find a husband. You know these men and you know me. Tell me which one would please me the most."
For a while, the two of them just sat in silence, staring at each other intently. Just when Zara began to give up hope, Jax spoke: "Well, in my opinion, you would despise Lance Tovell because he only speaks about himself or his many victories. You don't seem to like that."
Giving Jax a small smile, she affirmed, "Correct. I do not like that."
Looking back down to the names, Jax thought very carefully. After ten minutes more had passed without him saying anything, he finally glanced back up to Zara. "What is the strongest character trait you want your husband to have?"
Zara thought carefully before she answered the question. The thing she liked most about the man that she had fallen in love with was that he was independent. Well, that and he didn't like his dad. She could certainly relate to him on that. But his independence was probably the strongest tie she had to him. He was not afraid to go off on his own, to live on his own, or even to die alone, as had been made abundantly clear by their recent break-up. She respected that strength more than she thought possible. However, she could not ask for someone like Edan - because if she did, then ultimately, he would fail in her eyes. Because no one could be as good to her as Edan had been. What she needed was someone who could understand that he was not her first choice . . . someone who could understand that and be ok with it.
Turning her attention back to Jax, she told him solemnly, "He needs to be able to understand."
If it were anyone else, they probably would have asked what she meant by that. But it wasn't. It was Jax. A man that could get the hidden meaning behind a statement quicker than anyone she had ever met. Nodding that he understood, he pushed one name towards her. "That's your man, then."
Then he left. Without another word, he just stood up and walked out of the room, leaving one name pushed in towards her. Once the door closed, Zara reached tentatively toward the name. Picking it up, she read, Victor Rosenthal.
The name sounded so familiar . . . and then it hit her - she grew up with Victor. He was from Xamalie. She hadn't seen him in years - the last time they had been together had to be when they were nine or ten, but still, she did vaguely remember him. Of course, it would be hard to forget him completely - he had stood up for her on one of the last times they were together.
That day was about a year before the king introduced Zara to the Xamalian public. They knew he had a daughter, of course, but no one had ever seen her. And while she was playing with a group of kids while her dad was trying to get more recruits, she made the remark that her home was huge. All of the other kids stopped playing and looked quizzically at her.
"Huge?" one of the boys asked. "What is 'huge'?"
"Like, big, right?" one of the girls supplied, looking to Zara for confirmation.
"Yeah, like big," Zara agreed easily. "You can see my home from here."
The kids all look startled by that statement. "From here?" another boy asked, looking around for a big home.
"I don't see any homes," the first boy said, kicking some dirt in Zara's direction. "You're just kidding."
"Am not!" Zara argued, clenching her fists. Pointing straight at the castle, she repeated, "My home is right there! I live in the castle, stupid! I'm the king's daughter!"
Immediately, pretty much every kid around her started laughing. There were two that did not: Kayla, who now served as Zara's handmaid and Victor. Their responses were so unexpected that Zara still remembered them, years later: they shut up and bowed to her. No one had ever shown her that kind of respect. Truthfully, she didn't know if she really wanted anyone to show her that amount of respect. But right then, with all of the other kids laughing at her, their response was perfect. As soon as she saw this act of reverence, Zara snapped into her princess duties. Asking both Kayla and Victor to rise, she promised them that as soon as she was revealed to the lands, she would not forget their kind act on that day. Obviously, Kayla's reward was much more prevalent in the public eye, as she was chosen to be Zara's handmaid. But she had rewarded Victor time and again, as well, even if he did not know it. Though they had not seen each other in close proximity since they were ten, Zara had seen him on several random occasions in the town square; when he was taking his turn at swordplay or getting some award or another. The last time she had seen him was when he was named the Commander of his latest troop. That was just a year ago. From what she could see, he had grown up well.
Zara didn't understand why it was so impossible to place his name when she read it at first. Perhaps it was because most of the recent times she had seen him, he was not being address as the only thing she knew him as - Victor - but rather, by his last name, Rosenthal. Whatever the reason, Zara knew that he was a good man. She also knew that he would understand that she had another lover; one that she truly loved. But Edan wasn't here anymore - he made that abundantly clear a month and a half ago. Zara needed to move on. Clutching the heartbreaking letter from Edan as well as the slip of paper that she had gotten from Jax yesterday, she walked out of her chambers and headed straight for the king's room. The king was usually in his bedchambers for his meals, so that was where Zara headed first. When she knocked on the door, she heard her dad yell, "What the hell is it now, Tasny? Or does the door being shut not mean 'leave me the fuck alone'?"
Ignoring the harsh language, Zara called out, "That doesn't mean that for your daughter, does it Father?"
The loud clatter of dishes and the chair being pushed back suggested that it did not mean that for her. Opening the door, she entered the bedchambers and saw King Avery Samra, her dad, scrambling to his feet to get the door for his daughter.
"Zara," he stammered, "please forgive me. You know that you are always welcome in my chambers. I just wasn't expecting you, that's all."
"I know, Father," she nodded, taking a seat across from the king's chair. "And I am sorry for the short notice, but I have an urgent matter for you that needs pressing immediately."
The quizzical look that her dad was giving her was not unexpected. Zara and the king had not spoken of anything for years. In fact, the last time that Zara could remember speaking to the King about anything remotely related to the fate of Xamalie was three years ago when he tried to set her up, yet again, with a pompous jack ass.
"Father," she began again, "I know whom I want to marry and I have come here to ask you to bless the marriage."
Those words hardened the king's look much too quickly.
He's probably remembering the last time I spoke those words . . . back when I was too foolish to know better.
"You have, have you?" he asked, his voice quiet.
"Yes. I wish to marry Victor Rosenthal, and I am here to ask for your blessing."
Her dad could not hide the sheer surprise from his face. "You want to marry Victor Rosenthal?"
"Yes, your Grace," she nodded, lowering her eyes.
"The kid that grew up here, in Xamalie's capitol and just got promoted to Commander?"
"Yes, Father," she repeated, looking him in the eye now. "That is the Victor Rosenthal I mean."
For a second, Zara wasn't sure which way her father was going to go with that announcement, but when his face broke out into a huge grin, he stood up, slammed the table, and proclaimed, "Yes! I will bless that marriage a hundred times over!"
"Of course! I will send out news to Victor at once and as soon as he returns to his city, we will have the biggest gathering that anyone has ever seen!" Throwing his arms around his daughter, he looked her in the eyes and said steadily, "I have never been more proud of you than I am in this moment."
That is certainly true, Zara thought, but kept the words silent. Instead, she told him, "Thank you, Father. I will wait for that day in earnest."
Without another word, she left his chambers, still clutching the letter that Edan had sent her a month and a half ago.