Roses and Swords By Mari
"Are you ready?"
I flipped my chestnut hair over my shoulder. "Yes."
I turned to look in the mirror. A long white dress flowed down my body and brushed the floor.
The skirt was spotted with golden thread that had been sewn into roses and leaves, giving the dress texture.
Half of my hair was twisted into little braids that ran along the back of my head while the other half was curled and hanging down past my bare shoulders.
My shoes were covered up by my flowy dress, but they were golden heels that added at least three inches to my height.
"Give me a twirl," said Annalise.
I spun around, my dress and hair flaring out.
"You look stunning, Quinn."
Annalise grabbed my shoulders. "Just remember why you're there."
I nodded, then gave her a quick hug before going outside to greet my carriage. A footman rushed to open the door for me.
I stepped inside the dark oak compartment, the door shut, and we were off.
I turned around and looked out the back window. Annalise stood at the bottom of the steps, waving. I lifted my hand and waved back. There was no turning back now.
Finally, the castle came into view, looking even more magnificent than I imagined. Tall white towers reached up for the clouds, painted pink by the setting sun.
I could see streamers and brightly colored banners covering the exterior.
The carriage came to a stop just by the foot of the steps. I was hit by chilled night air as I stepped out.
Head up. Act regal.
I could almost hear my instructor snapping at me. I straightened my posture. Eligible princesses didn't slouch.
My feet stepped up the uneven stones on the stairs. Anyone else might have been worried about breaking an ankle, but I was trained for this.
I passed many young women on my way up the steps, but one of them seemed a bit different from the rest. She was hunched over, and wore a black cloak instead of a gown. Her hood concealed her face from view. I tried to get a closer look, but then she disappeared into the crowd.
I stepped through the double doors at the top of the steps. Up ahead, I could see brilliant lights and hear fast-paced music, seemingly pulling me across the threshold.
Torches lined the walls, casting strange shadows as they flickered. The velvet drapes had been pulled aside to allow the dying sunlight to stream through the broad windows.
A band played frantically in the corner.
"What's your name, miss?" a man asked me. He stood just inside the ballroom.
That wasn't my real name. But I couldn't tell them my name was Quinnlyn Whitlock. Not before what I was about to do. It was essential that no one could trace Cassandra Henrix's deeds back to me.
That is, if I wanted to remain alive.
The man nodded at me. "Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Lady Cassandra Henrix!"
All eyes turned to me. The music stopped. All was silent.
I strode towards the staircase with purpose. One hand glided down the banister while the other held up my skirt. I kept my eyes on the crowd, searching.
There he was. My vision tunneled. Right in the middle was a young man, no older than twenty. He wore a royal blue coat with a crisp white shirt and dark pants.
His eyes were wide, trailing me as I made my way down the stairs. Prince Colson. The subject of my mission.
My instincts began to take over. It was just another assignment. All I had to do was seduce him, get him alone, and when the time was right, slit his throat.
He pushed his way through the crowd until he reached me.
"Excuse me, Lady Henrix?"
He bowed. "Prince Colson, at your service."
I curtsied. "Your Highness. It's a pleasure to meet you. Call me Cassandra."
He smiled. His teeth were white and straight, his smile perfect in every way. He reached for my hand. I gave it to him.
When he pressed it to his lips, I thought I felt something stirring in my stomach, but I dismissed it as nerves. I had every reason to be nervous.
After all, if everything goes as planned, I will have assassinated the heir to the Kingdom of Asterin by midnight. The corrupt king was dying, and he had no other children.
We would get a new leader, untainted by King Amos. The kingdom would be saved.
If everything goes as planned, I will be the hero of Asterin.
He released my hand. "May I have this dance, Cassandra?"
Colson smiled at me again, that amazing smile, and held out his arm. I took it, and he led me onto the dance floor.
His hand moved to my waist. My stomach tensed instinctively as he pressed his hand to it. I could feel the warmth of his other hand through my glove.
The music was somewhat fast. I swayed and stepped in time with the beat, recalling the dances I had learned during my preparation. We moved as one as we glided across the marble floor.
"What do you like to do in your spare time?" he asked.
"I like to take walks in the forest."
"And why is that?"
"It makes me feel free."
Colson gave me a small grin. "I wish I knew what that was like."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not allowed to go anywhere. My father always has someone watching over me." He scowled.
"I'm sure your father has your best interests in mind."
"'Colson, son, someday you'll be in my place, and it is of utter importance that you know how to write calligraphy'," he said in a perfect imitation of King Amos.
I giggled. It was sudden and startling. I couldn't remember the last time I had laughed, let alone giggled. Had I ever giggled in my nineteen years of existence?
"Why won't you look at me?" he asked after some silence.
It was true. His fingers on my waist seemed to leave electrifying sparks, which didn't help my rapidly beating heart.
"I'm a bit nervous too."
"What, Prince Colson Gallio, heir to Asterin, nervous?"
"I must confess, I'm not very good with people." He bit his lip.
"I think you're great with people," I said, smiling. It was a strange sensation. I hadn't smiled genuinely in quite some time.
My hands were hot and sweaty in my gloves. I backed away, pulling off my gloves, stashing them in a pocket in my dress.
"If you'll excuse me," I muttered. "I need some air."
If he was a true gentleman, he would offer to escort me outside. I would have him alone. I could practically feel my knife burning in my dress, concealed in a hidden pocket.
"Come with me. I know a perfect spot." He held out his arm.
I took his arm and allowed him to guide me up the ballroom stairs.
"Where are we going?" I asked once we had escaped the chatter and music.
"Someplace special. You'll see."
Through the double doors, down the stairs, and across the courtyard, towards a clump of hedges off to the side.
A rustle in the leaves. A whisper. “Do you hear that?” I asked. Colson gave me a strange look. “I hear nothing.”
A soft cackle. I whipped around and thought I saw a wisp of matted gray hair, a crooked nose, and a pair of eyes fixated on Colson. I blinked, and then I only saw the hedges. “Never mind,” I said. “Lead on.”
Colson brushed some branches away, revealing an old wooden door. He pulled it open and stepped aside to let me pass.
I crossed the threshold, filled with anticipation.
I was in a secret garden. Towering hedges surrounded the area, completely hiding us from the public view.
I saw fountains and roses in full bloom and crystal-clear pools of water with sparkling objects in their depths, and at the center was a huge willowy tree, with smooth white bark and broad, silvery leaves that shimmered like jewels in the moonlight.
"Do you like it?"
I turned around to face Colson.
"It's beautiful," I breathed.
"That tree has been here for as long as anyone can remember. My father always said that it was planted by a witch."
"I beg your pardon?"
"He said that long ago, my great-great-great grandfather exchanged his firstborn son for a seed that was destined to bring good luck and fortune upon the kingdom. The witch took him away, never to be seen again. I don't entirely believe him."
At some point during the conversation he had moved closer to me, close enough for him to reach out and take my hand.
I didn't realize how sensitive my hand was until his skin came into contact with mine. My hand felt alive, like he had awakened every single nerve with just his touch.
“My father was so insistent that this ball took place on this night. I must admit, I wasn’t on board with the idea at first, but now I’m glad that I gave in.” “Really?" I whispered.
He nodded. His eyes flickered down to my lips.
I hadn't realized how beautiful he was. From just a few inches away, I could see his ebony hair was styled to perfection, not a strand out of place.
His facial features were perfectly symmetrical and angled in the moonlight.
Then I looked into his eyes and saw inky blackness, swirling with secrets and darkness and hints of starlight, shadowy abysses that sucked me in and showed me what it meant to stargaze.
"Are you alright?" he murmured. He was close. Much too close.
I nodded. Butterflies in my stomach fluttered frantically.
And then his perfect mouth was on mine.
It was gentle and delicate and all things sweet, slowly weakening me to my core. The butterflies in my stomach melted away.
But a small voice in the back of my head reminded me of what I was there to do.
No. I couldn't.
But my traitorous hand moved towards the hidden knife. It closed around the cold metal handle. I lifted it up, up, up.
And then slipped it back into my dress. I couldn't.
I jumped and broke away.
"It's just the clock," Colson said with a laugh.
Eleven more rings.
"It's midnight," he told me.
My face fell. I had failed my mission.
"It's my birthday. I'm twenty-one now."
A small smile grew on my face despite my guilt. "Happy birthday."
I leaned in to meet his lips again. But before they touched, a flash of light lit up the sky. Then I heard a cackling sound and people screaming, coming from the courtyard.
Colson and I rushed out of the garden to the sight of an old hag standing at the bottom of the steps. Her gray hair was a ratty mess and her face was covered in warts. A black cloak hung off her hunched frame.
"Where is the boy?" she shrieked.
King Amos stood at the top of the steps, a crowd of frightened people watching behind him. “I’ll give you anything you want! Anything! Just not Colson! Here! I have gold!” He gestured to a group of servants heaving sacks and sacks of golden coins out to the courtyard. “I’ve been gathering it since I heard of the curse!”
The hag hissed. “Yes, I am aware. You have spent years and years stealing from your own people, neglecting their needs, just so you can try to escape the inevitable. You even fell ill from the stress of knowing you would lose your son the moment he turned twenty-one. You have sacrificed everything. But I won’t allow it! I will not accept this. I just want the boy!”
"You can't have him!"
“Your great-great grandfather promised me his great-great-great grandson in return for the tree! Now you must fulfill your end!"
The pieces fell into place. Colson's father wasn't lying about the story with the tree and the witch. Amos wasn't the enemy here.
I stole a sword from a guard standing nearby and charged the witch. She wasn’t taking Colson. Not ever.
She whipped around like she knew I was there and sent spell after spell at me. People screamed from the top of the staircase. I deflected them all with the edge of my sword, sending them flying everywhere, then aimed for her gut.
But I was no longer holding a sword. Instead, it had turned into a daisy. The witch pushed her hand towards me. An invisible force shoved me to the ground.
The witch leaned over me and grinned, showing me her rotted black teeth. Somewhere far away, I heard Colson screaming.
My instincts took over. My knife was suddenly in my hand and then the witch was lying on the ground, the knife sticking out of her throat.
“Cassandra!” Colson was at my side in an instant. He grabbed my hand.
I smiled weakly. “It’s Quinn,” I said, then passed out.
Hello everyone! You may or may not be aware, but @enchantedink and @jinxedquill published a book of love poems and stories called Rosella! I am very excited because my story "Leo" was chosen to be in it!
You can get it for free on Amazon, no card information needed. And it's free to create an account :) I will attach a link in the description! I have it open right now and I just started reading it :D I hope you all read it!
And then they lived happily ever after. Yay :D That last picture is of them getting married in case you couldn't tell. I really hope this makes sense. It's almost 3 AM. I am tired. If I switched over to third person or something accidentally just let me know. I caught myself doing that a few times. Happy National Chocolate Day guys! -Mari <3