Arabesque: Chapter 13
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.
Nora and Tatania managed to confine me to my bed, if not my room, for days after I had regained consciousness. They were relentless in their efforts to keep me bedridden. The entire palace was informed that I had taken ill after a riding accident, so I could not leave my room without concerned servants and courtiers informing my wardens.
I usually avoid complaining, but I have never known such boredom. Although Tatania provided an endless supply of books from our library, I was restless. I needed to see Henry. Why had he been so kind in his recitation of our battle? Was he truly recovering? Did he suffer any permanent injury? Did he retain any memory of our encounter? Would he remember what I had said?
I was finally released from my imprisonment, only to find that Henry had "gone to the country," which meant he had been taken outside the palace walls to recover in order to avoid the suspicion of both of us "taking ill" at the same time. It was another full week before his return, and I thought I would go mad.
This anxiety hardly escaped Tatania. "Now that Henry's back, would you like me to fetch him for you?" she teased. "I'm very good at fetching things now, books especially. I think it may be my calling in life."
"And to think it took this long for you to discover it," I snapped.
She grinned, probably assuming my mood was a sign of vitality due to her stewardship over me. "Yes, quite a pity. Just think of all the time I spent worrying over how useless I seemed. To know would have been such a comfort."
We walked the terrace path, far above the gardens. The gardens were carpeted with the new growth of spring. Its scent wafted up to us. My eyes wandered as I tried to enjoy its beauty.
"...and just when I was about to catch him, Alec came bumbling along and snatched him. Now he's even more insufferable! He claims to have rescued me. Rescued me of all things! I could have chased down a runaway horse on my own, without his help. Once Bella had calmed down a bit he'd have listened to...Anna?"
My glazed eyes snapped to her. I tried to remember what she had been saying, something about Sir Alec and her horse? I muttered an excuse, and convinced her I was listening, an ecclesial skill in surviving politics and court life.
I watched the path past the gardens, to the outer wall, then beyond, searching, although I doubted I would find him there. Would he be pleased to see me recovered? Did he wish to avoid contact with me? Would the king assign a new training companion to me? I doubted that Henry would make such a request, his sense of honor and duty would forbid it. If he was reassigned, it would be the king's will, not his own.
"...honestly, he had no business catching me in his arms like that! I could have recovered on my own. I always trip during a ball, everyone knows it. He didn't need to draw attention to the fact! Now he jokes that I am a damsel in distress and looks for any excuse to humiliate me."
She froze. I looked, altered by the sudden silence. Sir Alec was approaching.
"Uh-uh, not happening," she hissed, then practically ran in the opposite direction. She mouthed a goodbye as an afterthought.
"Princess," Alec bowed. "Was that not your charming sister just then?"
I nodded. "Yes, indeed, but she felt ill quite suddenly and has taken to her rooms."
He shook his head. "What a pity. I hope she has not caught the same malady that befell your highness."
That is unlikely, I thought. "No, I do not believe so." I forced a smile.
"That is a relief. The entire palace prayed for your swift recovery. I am pleased to see you so well, but I must admit, I have been concerned that the Lady Tatania would take ill as well, and then the court would be deprived of yet another it its jewels."
What a strange man, I thought. His remarks were either blisteringly sarcastic or disturbingly sincere.
Before I could reply, a warm voice pricked my heart. "Your highness," Henry bowed. Sir Alec."
I couldn't speak. I nodded stupidly.
"Henry, my good fellow, so happy to see you've returned. How was the country? Make any decent conquests out there?"
Henry stared blankly. His glance shifted to me.
"Oh, how daft of me. You can hardly speak of such things in the presence of a lady. Please forgive my thoughtlessness, Princess."
Neither of us replied. I tried to be still, not to fidget. Henry shifted from one foot to another.
"Yes, well, I have things to need to attend to," Alec said, breaking the awkward silence, then took his leave.
I glanced at Henry, my head bowed. He was staring at his feet. He looked up, I looked back at the intricately tiled floor. I absently noticed the tile pattern was nearly as complex as my emotions.
This is ridiculous. This is Henry! You've been waiting to see him and now, will you not even look at him?
My chin to raised, my eyes met his own. I blinked to clear my head. How could simply looking into those dark brown eyes completely disorient me?
"Princess Anna," he started, his voice unsteady. I held back an involuntary sigh as he said my name. What was wrong with me? "Would you care to join me for a stroll through the gardens? I am told there is a particularly beautiful blossoming of Acacia this year."
"Of course, Henry."
As we walked, I wanted to study him, but forced my eyes to the wall instead. I concentrated on the stonework. I had never fully appreciated how intricately the palace was decorated. The geometric arabesques of the wall and ceiling were even more complex than the tile. I had, of course, studied the history of the palace's architecture, but had never given it thought beyond those lessons. The square was a prominent repeating pattern. To my people, this art form had practical and religious meaning. The square represented different aspects of life and nature. It was to remind us of balance in our lives. Balance between man and nature, between our time and pursuits, family and work, recreation and obligation. If any side was not balanced, the structure would become unstable.
How like my life. Balance seemed unobtainable. Even now, I sought distraction rather than facing my fears. My fists clenched.
We did not speak until we reached the gardens. I am certain they were even more beautiful down among the flowers, but I hardly noticed.
Henry walked quietly beside me, his familiar scent filled my lungs and muddled my senses. Surely he could not mean for us to continue our association in silence.
I braved a glance at his face. A breeze had blown a lock of hair across his eyes, hiding them from me. I held back my hand that itched to sweep it away.
He gestured to the Acacia grove at the heart of the gardens, had we truly been walking that long?
"They are quite beautiful," I acknowledged and looked at him from beneath my eye lashes.
He was looking at me. "A beautiful sight, indeed."
Had he meant me or the blossoms? I could not ask such a question.
He cleared his throat awkwardly and asked, "Are you well recovered, your highness?"
"Yes, thank you. And yourself?" I asked politely.
The stiffness of our interaction was excruciating. This man had saved my life, and I his. We had each confessed our love. Why could we not talk as easily as we once had? I longed for the easy comradery we had once enjoyed.
"I am glad to see you recovered," I said. I could not continue so stiffly. "You were not quite so well when last I saw you," I teased, hoping he would acquiesce.
"Nor were you," he laughed. "The last I saw of you, you had obtained a nasty gash to the back of the skull, and looked as fierce as a lioness guarding her cubs."
I smiled, "And when saw you last, you were delirious with fever and looking a bit more ragged."
I bit my lip. His fever...did he remember?
"Yes, so I have been told."
"You do not remember, then?" I asked.
"Bits and pieces, yes."
I swallowed. "May I ask which bits and pieces?"
"I fear to answer, you may think me a fool."
"I have never thought you a fool, Henry." Oh how I loved the taste of his name on my lips.
"That may change yet," he hesitated, then looked so deeply into my eyes that I was sure he saw my soul laid bare. "I scare remember, but one image remains irrevocably in my mind. An angel came to me, the most radiant of the heavens. She washed my fever away with her tears, bound my wounds in her glory, and comforted me with the most precious and tender of kisses."
I studied my feet. He remembered much more than I had expected.
"An angel, you say?" The heat in my cheeks betrayed the false calm I tried to exhibit.
"Yes, I would think it just a dream but now, long after I have awoken, her parting words still sing sweetly to me. I would have her know my gratitude."
Not begging my leave, he softly took my hand.
I felt the unsteadiness of fever once again upon me. His dark eyes held the deepness of the heavens. I was lost to them.
He lifted my hand, pressed it gently to his lips, then departed.
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