Tatania is tired of living in her sister's shadow but doesn't know about Princess Anna's dark secret. Bound by a sacred oath, Anna's struggles to live a double life that can never be her own.
Described as "Sense and Sensibility meets Ever After with ninjas," Arabesque is full of action, romance, intrigue, and betrayal.
Since I've always been super paranoid, Arabesque was officially copyrighted in 2009. Duplication or use of this work in any other form is prohibited by law.
The king had required Tatania and I to attend nearly all of the Council meetings upon our return to Acacia City, after which we were usually summoned to the king's study to discuss the various intricacies of the Council of Magistrates. Tatania, as usual, did not seem to enjoy instruction in the field of politics; in fact, she nearly began to doze off.
"Tatania!" the king scolded.
She blinked her eyes sheepishly. "Yes, Father?"
He shook his head and threw his hands into the air. "I see you are as enthralled by this topic as ever you were. Go on, get to bed."
She danced over to him, smiled impishly, and kissed his forehead. He hugged her, then waved her off. "Bah! Away with you!... But do not forget that you will be expected to fulfill your duties tomorrow. Our guests expect a gracious hostess."
Her prancing stopped and she winced.
"I also expect you to be a gracious hostess," he added almost sternly. "Remember what you have been taught by Lady Elena."
The king moved adjacent to the door Tatania had exited so despondently. General Ashenhurst and his son, Henry, came inside the room.
The general and son had matching sandy blonde, curly hair and dark brown eyes. How long had it been since father towered over son? I had not noticed that Henry was, by several inches, the taller of the two.
They bowed first to the king, then to myself, then were seated.
It may have been weariness, the travels of the prior days had been exhausting, or the tedious strain of politics, but Henry gazed at me, in my formal finery, quite curiously. I say curiously but it was not a look of curiosity, rather his extended attention in such a setting as this was strange to me. His eyes studied me quite intently until the others' voices drew him away.
The king and the general both expressed their relief and happiness that we had returned safely to the capital. Then they proceeded to relate events that had occurred in our absence.
Most of these events appeared to be of small consequence, such knowledge was necessary to understand complexities of politics in Acacia City.
The Lady Thayne had apparently had dealings with Lord Willard. Sir Doyle and Lord Standish were as thick as ever they were. Lady Nedra's allegiances were currently unknown, but she may have been in agreement with Lord Chester's extremely vocal opinions. I had gleaned much from the long council meeting.
"The political climate feels normal, but an unconfirmed report from one of our agents was particularly concerning," General Ashenhurst frowned. "One of his informants admitted to hearing rumor of a plot to incite unrest and chaos in the kingdom. If this report is to be believed, it may be that we have a faction inside Acacia City itself bent on overthrowing the government."
The king turned to me, uncharacteristically wringing his hands. "That is why I was so relieved when you and Tatania arrived. The safest place for the heir to the throne is here, in the castle."
He turned to the general and his son, and in a tone I'd rarely heard, nearly shouted, "She must be protected!"
He paused for a moment, calming himself. "Your communiques from Lichthaven were indeed a relief when we first heard of this faction. Were there any events or intelligence of an unusual nature that you were unable to relay when we met less privately last night?"
"No, you majesty; all was truly as quiet as I have reported." Henry replied looking mildly shocked. "Is there any immediate danger to the princess?"
"We do not believe so, but caution is always prudent, " said his father. "This may all be revealed as folly, however His Majesty feels that...." He looked at the king, who looked again at Henry.
"How is her training progressing?" he asked abruptly.
"Very well, your majesty; Princess Anna is naturally talented and very skilled...." Henry broke off and glanced at me almost guiltily.
"What is it, boy? Out with it! The safety of the kingdom is at stake! This is no time to spare feelings! Are her skills adequate?" The king demanded.
My face felt hot and I held back the tears that threatened to come. Of course my training was not complete, it could never be enough...because I was not enough.
Henry's fists clenched, but he said calmly, "No, your majesty. She is very proficient in skill and technique, able to best me with almost any weapon, in any situation, but she lacks practical experience. I have not any solution for it that would maintain the secrecy that you require. She would either need to face scored of sparring partners or the heat of battle to gain what she needs."
We all remained silent as the problem plagued our minds.
I did, however, feel some relief. Henry had not judged me to be as incompetent as I felt. Was I truly as proficient as he claimed or was it a merciful attempt to spare me? I knew that he was compassionate enough to risk it, but as far as I knew, he was always honest.
After several minutes of heavy silence, Henry spoke. "There is one possibility, though I hesitate to mention it."
"Out with it, boy!" The king said irritably, then sighed. "Forgive my rudeness. My family and kingdom's safety weighs heavily on my mind, but that is no excuse for being impolite. Henry, you and your family have served the crown faithfully and most competently. I would greatly value ideas you may have."
"Your majesty, do you plan for me to continue as I did at Lichthaven Park?"
The king nodded.
"Does his majesty also mean for me to continue gathering intelligence in Acacia City and the palace as well?" Henry asked.
General Ashenhurst burst in, "What do you?... No! I'll not have it! We'll not risk her safety in this manner!"
The king paled slightly, then folded his arms, sitting a bit straighter. "Yes, I do. Our operatives are stretched to their limit. We need more reliable eyes and ears. Hmm... I understand your meaning, but is she truly ready for such an undertaking? Very well, however, Anna's safety must be your priority."
Belatedly, the king turned to me. "Anna, do you understand what is being asked of you?"
My palms sweated and I tried not to shake. "Yes, your majesty."
He took my hand. "Are you sure, my dear? I'll not ask this of you if you have any doubts."
"Yes, your highness, I am sure." Each word sounded as a hammer to my temple. What had I agreed to?
My feet shifted, my eyes flit about. I pulled my hooded cloak closer. The rough, thread-bare cloth was foreign to my pampered skin.
I was to rendezvous with Henry just outside the palace wall, just after dusk, at the beginning of true night. I willed myself to stillness. Henry would come, and I was hardly in any danger so near the castle.
A muted footstep stirred the pebbles behind me. I swung my stave into a defensive stance and faced the shadowed figure.
"Easy, your highness, it's just me." Henry held up his hands, palms out.
I breathed deeply and tried to relax. "Henry," I nodded.
"Forgive me, Princess, I did not mean to startle you." His shadowed face became clearer as he moved closer, it was lined with concern.
"I was simply being cautious," I said stiffly.
"Your highness, if you feel uncomfortable with this assignment...if you have any hesitations at all..."
I squared my shoulders. "Not at all, let us proceed."
In the waning light, it was not difficult to travel unnoticed to our destination. We entered the Raleran district, the former center of Acacia City. This area had once been known for beautiful gardens and lavish estates. Drought and famine several years before my birth had dried the wells, and the Raleran was abandoned to rot.
We entered what must once have been a cathedral, but through age and neglect, it was hardly recognizable as such. Henry informed me that if ever we were separated, that I was to return here and he would find me.
He led me through the dusty chapel to a small room. Neatly stacked crates lined the wall beside a large barrel. "Supplies," he explained. "Water, bandages, salves, clothing, food...There has been more than one time that a place like this has saved my life. I hope we're being a bit over prepared, but I'll take no chances with your life."
We entered a courtyard surrounded on all sides by the church, a perfect and private place to spar. I caught a grin creep onto my face. I might enjoy this freedom. The church was larger and much nicer than any location we'd trained in before, and while it was in the heart of the city, its size made it vastly more secluded. Perhaps this would be one place where I could try to be myself and begin to create my own happiness.
I turned to speak to Henry, not realizing he was close behind me. I crashed into him with a thud and would have fallen if He hadn't grasped my shoulders, steadying me.
"Have a care, princess. Would you have me fail before the task is even started?"
"Oh! Please forgive my clumsiness. I am not at all myself at the moment."
"Not at all," he said, his strong hands still held me firmly. "Of late, I've been out of sorts as well, but only when I am with you, it seems. Indeed, I hardly know what to do. Most of the time, I'm afraid I'll trip over my own bootlaces or tangle my sword in my cloak..." He trailed off with a laugh, his eyes searched mine.
What could I tell him? My heart pounded wildly, yet I felt at home in his arms. Besides Tatania, Henry was my dearest friend. In many ways, he knew me better than she did. I felt my heart long for him, but I knew it was not to be freely given. The crown princess was not free to do as she wished. Her heart was subject to the whims of the state. Duty demanded that I remained aloof and separate until my future was decided for me.
His warm hand brushed my cheek. My eyes closed. It was a quiet, yet feverish warmth that threatened to consume me. The deep breath that I took was not calming in the way I had hoped. I had inhaled his scent, the aroma of horses, well-oiled leather, and liniment. It was intoxicating. I fought for coherence.
"Henry," I begged, moving back slightly. "My obligations...I cannot..." I muttered helplessly.
In truth, a single word, one more soft touch, and I would be lost beyond redemption. I yearned for it and pleaded for release from it concurrently.
His hands dropped to his side and he stepped back as if he'd been struck. "I understand, your highness," he said standing stiffly. "I apologize for my misconduct. It was terribly inappropriate, and not my place to behave in such a manner... I don't know how such a ridiculous notion entered my head. A soldier and a princess... You're right, you deserve better."
"Henry," I started, shocked at his misinterpretation. "My duty...my... I have no choice...It's not...I am bound..." I stuttered, fumbling as I sought to explain.
"I understand, you highness. I will respect your station and your wishes. You will never hear another word of this." He said with a shocking tone of finality.
I sat on a splintering bench, attempting to settle myself. I tried to lock my heart as tightly as he had just closed the subject. Henry was right. It was time for duty, not self-indulgence.
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