tagSci-Fi & FantasyCinderlove Ch. 02

Cinderlove Ch. 02


The king knew his daughter would be arriving at any moment and was anxious to see her. A year away was a long time for a parent to not see their only child. The king sat up as he noticed a messenger enter through the side door. "Yes?" he asked eagerly.

"Your majesty, the Princess has arrived," the messenger answered quickly, bowing.

The king let out a sigh of relief. "Don't leave her waiting! Send her in, send her!" he responded with zeal and smile on his face.

The messenger bowed, left the room and reentered with Grazia, Leywis and Mikona in tow.

"Father!" Grazia ran by the startled messenger and to her father, a huge smile on her face.

Guiseppe jumped up, grinned and hugged his daughter. "Welcome home, Grazia! I'm glad you made it back safely!" he said as he sat back down in his throne. "I hope everything went well on your trip." He glanced curiously, from his daughter to Mikona. His gaze returned back to his daughter, anxiously waiting an answer.

"Everything was fine, father. Well, mostly, except for all the hordes of princes who were vying for a way to my throne," she chuckled before turning serious. "Other than that, we were fine, father. Mikona and Leywis kept me safe and I experienced much of the world. It was worth the year long journey."

The king leaned back in his throne with a relieved look on his face. "Good, I'm glad! Hopefully, you will be staying home for a while now," he teased as he reached out to hold his daughter's hand. "I've missed you so much."

"As I have missed you father." Grazia came up the dais and sat down next to him. Her throne was just as uncomfortable as she remembered it to be.

Guiseppe chuckled slightly. "You will grow used to it, my daughter. What plans do you have next?"

"I thought to rest and then in a week, head back out and go west. I've seen the north and the east. I now wish to see the west. I love our home here in the south, but I want to see everything I can before I'm forced to remain in one spot."

Guiseppe sighed. "I really wish you would stay home just a little longer. I understand wanting to see all the land, but you don't have to rush right back off." He glanced over to Mikona. "Surely, you can talk some sense into her, Mikona?" he pleaded.

"I've tried, your Majesty. She is determined." Mikona smiled at Grazia.

"Father, I will be confined soon enough to a man that you will most likely choose for me. Can you not understand why I wish to be free as long as possible?"

"We understand, my daughter, but you are a woman grown. It is time to stop playing adventures as would a child. Your people need you as do your father and I," stated Queen Lianice Regalsky as she glided into the throne room from one of the connecting side rooms.

Grazia frowned. Her mother was always nagging at her to behave like a lady. Her mother was everything Grazia was not: graceful, polite, good with words and patient.

"Mother!" Grazia moved from her throne and went to her mother's side. She curtsied, though she hated it, and then hugged her mother. Ceremony always came first with her mother.

"My Queen, I will be leaving within in the week," Grazia began but was cut off by an imperious wave of her mother's hand.

"You will do no such thing, Grazia! In a month's time your father is throwing a ball in your honor. YOU will be attending."

"But!" Grazia was properly horrified. Not another wretched ball! The last time had been three years ago and she'd made such a fuss about being forced to attend it that her father had given in and said no more balls. She gave him a betrayed glare.

Guiseppe gave Grazia an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, Grazia, but your mother and I both agree. You should be here for your own ball. I know I said no more, but I was so glad that you were coming home, it struck me as a spontaneous celebration. Now, you will be there I trust?" He waited for an answer. "Grazia?"

She chewed on her bottom lip, unladylike, but she didn't care. She sighed in defeat. "Yes, father. I will be here."

"Good!" Lianice clapped her hands together. "We must get started making your gowns at once. The ball will cover three days. And we are going to invite all eligible males royal and of the merchant classes, who have wealth, of course."

Grazia blanched and looked ill. Mikona hurried to her side. "My lady?" she whispered.

"Get me out of here, Mikona," Grazia hissed.

Mikona nodded and cleared her throat. "Your majesties, if it pleases you, we are all very tired from our journey. We would like to bathe and relax, if we may?"

King Guiseppe eyed the two of them before letting loose a sigh. "Very well. You may go. But remember, you will have to attend the ball." he said calmly.

"Yes, Father." Grazia was not happy but she didn't argue. She would try again later, to reason with her father when her mother wasn't around to interrupt. She loved her mother dearly, but she was never going to be a "lady." She curtsied and she along with Mikona fled the throne room.

* * *

In the throne room Leywis stayed at attention, waiting to give his report to his king.

"And what do you have for me Leywis?" Guiseppe asked.

"Your Majesty, we had no trouble during the journey itself. We did, however, have a problem when we entered the city."

Guiseppe raised an eyebrow. "What kind of trouble?"

"A young man was shoved from the crowd and into the path of the horses. The Princess' stallion almost trampled the poor fellow."

Guiseppe closed his eyes and shook his head. "I wonder why she didn't mention this? Is he alright?" he asked curiously.

Leywis grimaced. "He was rather dirty, and I couldn't tell if he had injuries. Mikona did heal his hurt shoulder. I will admit I've never met someone who was that eager to get away from the Princess' company. Although to be fair to the young lad, I think maybe he was more embarrassed that he'd caused a scene. At least that's the sense I got from him. He also dropped his purchases in the street. They got damaged and the Princess ordered that we replace them. So I did, your Majesty."

Guiseppe scratched his bearded chin in thought. "Hmmm. I see. Alright. Keep me up to date on any further happenings. I hate it when my daughter keeps things from me."

"I don't think she meant to forget. She is, after all, tired from the journey though she would never admit such things aloud," Leywis explained.

Guiseppe looked at Leywis for a moment. "You are right, of course. Nevertheless, continue to keep me updated."

"Yes, your Majesty." Leywis bowed low and left his monarchs. He was still pondering the enigma of the young man named Antoni.

* * *

Antoni finished the preparations and began to set the dining room table for dinner. He breathed a deep sigh and went to notify his stepmother and stepbrothers that dinner was ready.

Kyros and Jatin were in their mother's room, singing her praises and complimenting her on her gown which she had once again changed. The dark blue color made her blue eyes glitter.

"I hear his footsteps. Open the door for your stepbrother," Denimael ordered without once looking away from the mirror and her reflection.

"Yes, mother." Jatin hurried to the door and opened it with a sneer. "Get in here, Cinderfool."

Antoni had his hand raised to, but lowered it and stepped forward as Jatin had told him to do. "Dinner is ready and the table is set. I shall be waiting to serve you," he said, his voice slightly cracking.

"Well, I'm glad to see you can actually do something right," sneered Kyros who subsided at a look from Denimael.

"Very good, my stepson. Go, we will be down in a moment."

Antoni nodded, slowly turned around and headed out of the room to return to the kitchen until summoned to serve dinner.

Denimael made him wait twenty minutes before she and her sons seated themselves at the dining table. She rang the bell and prepared herself to find fault with the meal.

Antoni carried the food into the dining room and began to set it out, starting with his stepmother. He filled each plate and sat the food in front of the diners. He stepped back and waited to be excused.

Denimael made sure to check the silverware before cutting a piece of meat and taking a bite. She scrunched up her face and with swift and accurate force, knocked the food off the table and to the floor. Juice from the food splattered all over Antoni's clothes.

"Is there something wrong, mother?" Antoni tried to sound concerned as he braced for the tongue lashing to come.

"Are you trying to poison me, you ungrateful wretch!" Denimael fanned herself and looked ill. "This meal is unacceptable! Prepare something else. Now, Antoni!"

Antoni bowed low. "Yes, mother." He grabbed the plates and food off headed back to the kitchen.

Kyros and Jatin snickered but then both got up and followed Antoni.

"Well, Cinderfool, you messed up again," Jatin jeered.

Antoni didn't say anything. He sat the plates down along with the dishes of food. He began milling about the kitchen, trying to string together ideas of what to fix.

"Look, brother, not only is he dirty but he's feeble-minded as well. Can't even answer when spoken to." Kyros' tone had a malicious undercurrent to it.

Antoni didn't stop moving about. "I hear you fine. I'm just working to prepare your dinner," he responded, still wandering about the kitchen.

Kyros gave Jatin the signal and the two brothers cornered Antoni, forcing him to stand in one spot.

"Do you think you're better than us?" growled Jatin who jabbed a finger in Antoni's chest.

Antoni looked Jatin in the face. "Considering that it takes two of you to corner me alone, I must be," he answered, frustrated with everything. He knew he would likely suffer another beating, but at the moment, he just didn't care.

Jatin appeared stunned and Kyros guffawed. "Aren't you the bold little piece of baggage!" Kyros pulled back his arm and let a punch fly right into Antoni's stomach.

Antoni buckled over in pain. His hand landed on the counter, and slid to an empty skillet. Not taking time to think, he grabbed the skillet and swung it in one sweeping motion, hitting both brothers across the face. Taking his moment, Antoni took off running out the door and didn't stop to look back.

Kyros and Jatin landed on their butts, howling in pain. They couldn't muster the energy to get to their feet to give chase. Instead, still bellowing like wounded bulls, they ran to their mother to tell her the news.

* * *

Mikona glided through the castle's halls on silent feet. She was on her way to meet her brother for their ritual night hunt. It was the one thing she had missed while on the journey with her beloved Princess. She sensed her brother before she saw him.

"Leywis, trying to pounce me when you know I can 'hear' you is so silly," she chided her older sibling as she rounded the corner to find him lounging against the wall, with his bow and quiver of arrows in his hands.

He laughed. "You may have gifts, sister dear, but remember they can't always protect you from harm. So, shall we go hunting?"

"Yes, let's do." She shouldered her quiver and lovingly caressed her bow.

Leywis laughed and the two of them left the castle and headed into the forest.

* * *

Antoni finally stopped running to catch his breath. He had no idea how far he had run, but knew it had to be quite the distance since he was surrounded by nothing but forest. He looked around him, trying to see if he could place his location, but had no luck.

Antoni took another breath now that his heartbeat had slowed. He continued walking on, the skillet still in his hand. Around him bushes rustled and the night forest creatures gave voice. The pale light of the moon lit portions of the ground.

He clutched the skillet tighter in his hand and looked around him at the woods. His eyes darted from one side to the other and back again, trying to keep a watch on everything around him.

A loud crash to his left and then a deer bounded from the brush and right in front of him. It paused for a second to look at him and then it ran away.

Antoni took a moment to catch his breath after being startled by the deer and then continued going forward. He knew that if he kept going he would eventually come out the other side.

"Halt! Who dares trespass on the King's woods!"

Antoni froze, glancing around for the source of the voice. "I-I'm just a simple subject who got lost and is...is looking for his way out."

Into the clearing stepped Leywis and Mikona, both had their bows aimed at him. It was Mikona who recognized him first and lowered her weapon.

"Brother, it's the citizen from the marketplace!"

Leywis studied Antoni for a moment before, he too, lowered his weapon. He stared pointedly at the skillet in Antoni's hand. "Pray tell, what are you doing in the forest at this time of evening?"

Antoni stared at the ground before answering. "I was running from.....well I was just running and ended up getting lost." He finally noticed the skillet in his hand and just smiled slightly. "I...I was...cooking," he said meekly, pointing to the skillet.

"Right," Leywis drawled.

Mikona giggled and turned it into a polite cough. She walked up to Antoni and stared into his eyes. She frowned. "You're hurt."

Antoni stepped back slightly. "I'm-I'm fine. It's nothing to worry about." Antoni held a smile on his face.

"Liar," Mikona stated. She glanced over at Leywis. "His hurt speaks to me. It is more than 'nothing' as he puts it."

Leywis gave Antoni a sharp glance. "Lying will get you thrown into a cell. Answer Lady Mikona truthfully."

Antoni sighed. "Yes, I am injured, but it's nothing you need to be worried about. I'm used to it and you've done so much for me already today," he answered hesitantly. "I don't need anyone concerned about me."

Mikona exchanged a look with Leywis. "Everyone needs someone to worry about them. It keeps us human," she told Antoni. She reached out and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Just like we all need a warm touch to let us know we are safe." Gently she poured some of her healing magic into him to take the edge off his pain.

Antoni stood and let her do as she wished. He was not going to argue further. He felt his pain begin to ease and he smiled. "Thank you. Perhaps if I could burden you for another moment, I was wondering if you could show me how to get out of here?"

"I will show you the way out, citizen. My advice to you is not to come here again at night," Leywis warned.

Antoni felt some relief. "Thank you, once again. I really appreciate your help."

"Come, lad, let's get you back home." Leywis waved to Mikona who only smiled and vanished back into the forest without a sound. He took the lead, making sure to keep only a foot between him and Antoni. "Now that my sister is gone, why not tell me the real reason you are out here."

Antoni sighed and looked at the skillet in his hand. He thought for a moment as they walked before deciding to answer. "I'm not in a good life. I'm often beaten and flogged if I do something wrong or step out of line." He turned the skillet in his hands. "Sometimes, if I don't do anything wrong, they will make me mess up so I can be beaten. I ran this time after hitting my stepbrothers. I should probably get back so that things don't get worse."

Leywis halted and turned to face Antoni. "Where is your father?"

Antoni stopped, looked down and then out into the forest. "He's dead. He's been dead for quite some time now." Antoni's voice remained quiet.

"I see." And Leywis did see. It made him sad for he remembered a time when his and Mikona's life was much the same until they had been picked to serve in the King's palace. "Have you thought about applying to the castle for work?"

Antoni shook his head. "It isn't my place. I belong at home to serve my mother and brothers."

Leywis put a hand on Antoni's shoulder. "You are not a slave. You are what? At least eighteen years of age? You should be exploring the world, not being beaten and forced to wait hand and foot on your relatives."

Antoni sighed. "Perhaps. But I don't really have anywhere else to go."

"Think on it. There are worse things than trying for a position at the palace." Leywis resumed walking. Before long they stood outside Antoni's home.

The door was flung open and Denimael strode out, she froze when she spotted Leywis. "Captain," her voice oozed charm though the expression she directed at Antoni was venomous.

Leywis schooled his features. "My lady. I was escorting your son home." He turned to Antoni. "Thank you for the cooking advice. I am sure the Head Cook will be able to use it."

Antoni just smiled slightly. "Sure. N-no problem."

"I will be by to check on you in a few days, Antoni. Have those recipes ready." Leywis turned his attention back to Denimael and bowed. "Good evening, my lady."

She stood gaping and didn't say anything until Leywis was out of sight. She rounded on Antoni and slapped him hard.

Antoni stood solid, but stared at the ground. "My apologies, mother," he said calmly, but then raised his head and walked past her into the house.

Denimael was stunned and angry. So her stepson thought he was better than her? She would teach him a lesson. But not tonight, no, tomorrow was a new day. Her mind spinning with devious plots, she went back inside.

* * *

Mikona had been unsuccessful on her hunt. She and Leywis had been unable to catch anything and decided it best to head back for the castle. She had other issues on her mind concerning Princess Grazia and the upcoming ball in her honor. It would be best to check back up on her and see how she was doing. She put away her things and headed for Grazia's room.

Grazia moodily stared at the bath water. Her thoughts were all over the place. This was the third drawing of bath water she'd ordered but it had been necessary. She had gathered a lot of journey grime and that alone warranted a long soak. It was her long auburn blond streaked hair that took the longest to get clean. At the moment it was coiled above her neck in a tight, wet bun.

She was loath to leave the bath tub. She knew her mother was hovering around waiting to pounce on her and once again stress the importance of the ball and why she had to attend it. "I wish Mikona would hurry and get back here," she muttered.

Grazia was stepping out of the tub when Mikona entered the room. "There you are? How was your hunt?"

Mikona stopped in her tracks for a moment as she saw Grazia's gorgeous body, glistening from the water. She quickly gathered herself and stepped forward. "The hunt was unsuccessful, unfortunately. Are you feeling better?" Mikona asked.

"Now that the dust and dirt from the road has been washed away I feel like a new person," Grazia joked as she allowed the servant to wrap a robe around her body. She smiled and walked over to Mikona. "I'm sorry you didn't get any prey but I take it the night air was good to you?"

"Yes, very much so. In fact, we came upon a surprise while in the forest. The young man that your horse almost trampled appeared to have gotten lost and was rather injured."

Grazia froze, caught herself and then shooed away the servant. "I can dress myself. Out!"

The servant hastily curtsied and left the room.

"Come, Mikona, let's go talk where ears won't hear." Grazia strode to her bedroom, the one place in the castle no one entered without an invitation.

Mikona followed Grazia and shut the door. She fidgeted, unsure of where to start first with her explanation.

"Mikona, whatever it is, spit it out. You said he was injured. How?"

Mikona sighed. "He seemed to have been covered with several bruises and bleeding welts, as though he had been beaten mercilessly. I healed what I could, but he was very hesitant to accept the help."

Grazia's fist clenched and she spun away from Mikona. She'd known something was wrong when she first encountered the young man. His emotions were so raw and turbulent it had overwhelmed her empathic control, a first for her. "Where is he now?"

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