CHAPTER ONE: "Prince Darben of Onus"
Her hands held the small infant's face to the flickering light of the lantern; there was now no mistaking what she saw. It wasn't a shadow created by a flash of lightning cast by the raging storm outside. Her delicate face twisted with disappointment. She had given birth twice before, yet never had she witnessed such a blight upon a child like this; especially a prince from her own womb. The womb of the very beautiful Queen Dedra.
Even his cry was unusual. It wasn't the reflective, forceful wail that announced his arrival into the world, but an unbearable, high-pitched protest, which proved difficult to tolerate. Queen Dedra seemed to refuse the instinctive nature of all mothers to cradle the crying infant close to her bosom, but rather was holding the babe dressed in swaddling cloth in her weary hands like a heavy, burdensome stone, falling inside herself, rummaging among relics for a treasure chest of compassion. Unfortunately, the well of her heart didn't run very deep.
She was pained with disappointment.
Searching for something within as she beheld the 'stained' face of the cursed cherub, hopeful her eyes could find something to adore. Had she been born a poor citizen of Onus maybe she would feel differently. Not all women were fortunate to have children, and of those who could, many died in the act of giving birth. Frail, young, malnourished bodies unable to withstand the trauma of childbirth being to blame. She would be angry with the 'gods' had she believed in them. But she wasn't a peasant born of low grade, she was a queen, and kings don't marry beautiful princesses for beauty alone, but also in hopes of having handsome and beautiful heirs.
Without so much as a look at her servant Louisa, the truculent queen slowly placed the crying infant back into her unsuspecting arms. Unsure of what to make of the queen's actions, a baffled Louisa held out hope for her queen. She just gave birth , she thought. Surely she suffers from stress and great fatigue.
"Your Grace, he is still a babe; there is time still."
But the naive smile of a young woman considered too old for marriage, only fit to remain in servitude to the crown, couldn't possibly understand. None of them could. Peasants! So critical of the The King and Queen. Try once to walk in the constrictive attire of Royalty.
She recalled the well-pleased smile of King Omron after the birth of Prince Omron II, and the jewelry he so graciously bestowed around her neck, commemorating the happy occasion. She recalled also the night he paced anxiously outside of her chambers at the arrival of Princess Octavia. His eyes couldn't drink deeply enough of her beauty. Now, it appeared his eyes had had their fill, at least that's how it seemed. Maybe his eyes had had their fill of her as well. Absent this night was the sound of feet pacing outside of her door.
They could never understand what it was like to be a beautiful queen.
Despite Louisa's words, the queen held to no such lofty delusions.
"Remove him from my presence," she ordered curtly. Louisa's gentle smile receded into an awful sadness as her eyes slowly fell upon the face of the child whose crying had subsided. The babe was now silent, and the queen observed with envy the comforting arms of Louisa wrapped around him. If there was a young maiden more suitable to providing loving care for her child, it was Louisa.
The young maiden's sheer beauty only rivaled her own. But it was the order of things. She was born into servitude, and her common blood was never to mingle with that of royalty. Beauty had many advantages, but overcoming servitude wasn't one of them.
"You can never marry, Louisa," the queen whispered, staring out into the blackness of night. "No children shall ever pass through your womb. However, this night, I have given birth in your place." Her bottom lip quivered. "Maybe my heartache will bring you joy," her voice cracked.
With her eyes, Louisa questioned those of the midwives, who were just as dumbfounded as she. Had the child been as handsome as Omron II or as lovely as Octavia, would the queen have been so generous with the fruit from her very own womb? Charity from the King and Queen was never expected, but charity of this magnitude was unheard of. She wasn't a nurse, just a simple servant performing her duties to the crown. While holding the child close in her bosom, an obvious question came to mind.
"Your Grace, the child will need care. Seeing that I have never given birth, how shall I handle such a delicate matter?"
The raging storm outside the lofty walls of the Castle of Onus mirrored the storm of bitterness that swirled just as unpredictably within the queen's own heart.
"Find him a breast to suckle upon among the peasants, and he shall be placed under your sole care," she said. With her eyes, she beat back the judgmental glares of the two midwives. Old, silly women. Who were they to judge her?
"However, because his blood is royal, he shall be treated as such. Is that understood?"
It appeared that even charity was conditional. Rolling over onto her side, her back faced Louisa holding the child.
"Now you all may leave me; I need rest," she ordered.
The two caregivers mournfully looked over at a bewildered Louisa before bowing to the queen and exiting the chambers, followed slowly by Louisa, cradling the newborn in her small arms, when suddenly she was struck by something and turned back.
"Your Grace, bid me to trouble you once more, yet, what shall we call the child?"
The madness of gods and old folk tales. If they were true, this night, they had cursed the queen. A flash of lightning illuminated the simple tears that ran down the face of the most beautiful queen as she silently gazed out into the night sky. She closed her eyes.
"Name him 'My Misery,'" she whispered. Now the gods shall be responsible for his care.
Louisa's heart sank within her. She grabbed the lantern before bowing, slowly leaving with the child from the chambers.
She arrived at her quarters just down the hall from the queen's. Maybe the queen will have a change of heart by morning, she thought. She placed the child on her humble bed. Louisa held the lantern close to the infant's small face, examining the scar more closely.
"It's not so bad," she whispered. The sweet face was interrupted by a scar from the bridge of his nose to his forehead, on the right side. She lay next to him on her stomach, slowly placing a kiss upon his 'darkened' cheek as her long, brown, curly locks covered the face of the babe. Her eyes weighed the pitiful things around her rather quaint quarters. She felt embarrassed. Not even the queen herself had ever been inside her quarters.
Surely, such meager accommodations were not befitting of a prince. Her face hovered above the infant's. "My lord," she whispered softly, "I have very simple things, and my means are not much. But to you, I shall give my all."
The sleeping child appeared to stir, responding to her voice. "What shall be your name?" she pondered greatly as she watched him sleep.
Usually the King himself would announce the child's name, which would have begun with the letter 'O'. But this was no longer meant to be. But what difference did it make what name she gave to the child? If the king did not approve it, she would have to change it. Suddenly, a name came to mind. It was the name that belonged to someone she had once cared for dearly, but whose blood was much too rich to be mingled with that of a servant girl.
She softly rubbed his darkened cheek with her index finger. "My Prince, I shall hereby name you, Prince Darben of Onus."
She took covers and placed them over the child, noticing that the storm outside the castle had passed. She walked over to a window, looking up into the many stars that adorned themselves around the moon, shimmering like jewels on the Queen's crown. At just eighteen, Louisa, at times, displayed the curiosity of a child. The light of the moon shone brightly in her face as she turned to look at the still infant, fast asleep. Her eyes darted back and forth as she tracked the fast moving beams of light.
"Look, my prince," she whispered excitedly at the appearance of shooting stars.
Her youthful face was aglow with wonderment. "The gods have made the stars dance for us," she beamed with joy. Only the gods could have made the heart of the queen so generous.
She now lay at the foot of the bed, curled up next to the child. She touched him once more. If this had all been madness, then surely it was a mere dream. A servant girl given a prince to raise as her own.
She was too excited to sleep as, with heavy eyes, she watched the sleeping infant next to her. She could not take her eyes off of his wonderful face. Slowly, she drifted off to sleep.