Ever since everyone in the palace knew of her arranged engagement to the Crown Prince of Anatolia, her close friend, the palace doctor, and famous court heartbreaker, Arden, started acting inexplicably different toward her. Struggling to catch up with all the responsibilities in her life, courtly and personal alike, Katie found an escape in the company of the prince and in her time with Arden. Will she be able to get used to courtly life, or find another place to call home?
The light knocking on her bedroom door roused Katie from her sleep. She jumped from her bed and hurried to her door to open it, cussing under her breath as she did so.
“Wow, you’re a light sleeper,” Shirley remarked, smiling. “Good morning! I hate to break it to you but you need to be ready soon.”
“Diplomatic visit, got it,” Katie nodded. She allowed Shirley to enter, darting to her bed to make it, but stopped midway, turning to face her aunt’s attendant. “Miss Shirley, how is aunt? I heard she collapsed yesterday afternoon but I couldn’t visit her.”
“The Queen is feeling better. She’s still a bit pale but she said she wouldn’t miss meeting with the guest today,” Shirley replied as she entered the room, balancing the contents of the silver tray in her hands.
“What’s so special about them anyway?” Katie muttered. Her eyes widened when she realized she said something she should not have, her eyes darting left and right. “… uh, I mean that in the most respectful, diplomatic manner,” she smiled sheepishly. “I thought the King of Anatolia is just here to discuss political affairs with my aunt.”
“Technically that’s true,” Shirley chuckled. “I can’t exactly discuss anything the Queen told me in confidence so you’ll have to get your answer later,” she clapped once and gestured for Katie to sit for breakfast. “I’ll help you get ready. They’ll be arriving shortly.”
Katie sat on her bed, quickly making it with ease. “By the way, I’m sorry you have to take care of me, too. I know you already have your hands full with aunt getting sick.”
“Don’t worry about that too much, it’s my job!” Shirley poured Katie a cup of tea. “I’ll take care of you as long as I’m here. I just hope others will learn to be friendly. I mean, even if you haven’t been here a while, you’re still the Crown Princess!”
Katie looked down at the tea in her cup, staring at her reflection in the still liquid. It had been six months since she entered the palace and became the Crown Princess. Even so, no one wanted to approach her. Most simply avoided her but some who were assigned to her were hostile, especially when she was anointed as the heir. Shirley, aside from the Queen, was the only one who was friendly towards her… but mostly because she was friends with Shirley’s niece before she came to the palace. With all the animosity from the palace staff towards her, Katie eventually chose to take care of herself instead; making her own bed, preparing for festivities alone, sometimes even having to teach herself the courtly ways. From Shirley’s perspective, Katie’s life had probably gotten harder and more tiring. The palace life had only added to her responsibilities.
If I weren’t friends with Amy before I came to Aelysia, would Shirley be hostile towards me as well? Katie thought to herself.
The slightest shift in the image being reflected on the surface of the tea made Katie jolt, causing ripples on the surface of the liquid, erasing the image. Shirley noticed Katie’s reaction so she asked what was wrong.
“Oh,” Katie glanced up at Shirley, then back to her tea. “It’s nothing. For a second there, I thought I was imagining something.” She stood and carefully placed the cup on the cart, “I’ll go ahead and take a bath.”
“Alright, I’ll leave your breakfast here. I’ll also choose your outfit if that’s alright. You can change the items if you don’t like them,” Shirley replied.
“Thank you. Again.”
“Stop thanking me, please. Just give me a present or something if you want to make it up to me.”
Katie entered the bathroom to take a shower. Shirley walked to Katie’s closet, flipping through the small amount of clothes inside. Of course, to a normal person, it would be quite a number of clothes, but it still didn’t cover a wide range of events. Lately, even though the newly anointed Crown Princess tried hard, she still couldn’t get used to the life of a royal. The hostility from the other staff wasn’t helping either. Shirley was aware of how much time Katie spent alone, locked up in her room. She wasn’t oblivious of the fact that Katie would complain about everything to herself. Katie was astute enough to know the reason why they were acting that way… which was probably why she couldn’t say anything.
She probably believes she is in the wrong… Shirley thought, blaming herself for not speaking up about it. This is the best way I can help her. If she needs someone to run to in this palace, she can come to me.
Katie came out of the bathroom later, smoothing out any folds in her navy-blue, ankle-length dress. Shirley blow-dried and styled her hair as she scrolled through her phone.
“Shirley, what do you think it would take for others to think better of me?” Katie asked, her eyes glued to the phone in her hands. “Aside from, you know… exploding a meteorite hurtling towards Earth with my mind-powers.”
Shirley laughed. “I guess the best way is to earn the approval of the reason why they are mad at you in the first place.”
Katie groaned and blew air out of her mouth. “I haven’t even seen my cousin in person. I doubt anyone would like someone who stole what was theirs originally.”
“Katie, you know the throne was supposed to be yours before she was even anointed. You don’t need to worry about the validity of your claim, okay?”
Katie absent-mindedly tapped the side of her phone. “I’m just worried nothing will change, that’s all. Especially when you leave for home.”
Shirley paused. So that’s what has got the princess worried these days.
After finishing her breakfast, Katie joined Shirley when she left the room. They parted ways in the foyer with Shirley heading to the kitchen. Katie sat at the bottom of the marble stairs, watching the staff run about, fully focused on their tasks. She noticed subtle changes: the flowers changed from a warm, fall arrangement to that of a cooler, winter arrangement. The Christmas decorations were now present, the tall, lavishly decorated Christmas tree standing to the right of the stairs.
Katie pushed herself up to stand and walked around the foyer to test if she could walk properly in her high- heels. She wrinkled her nose when she felt her calves burn, the only reminder of how intense her training was yesterday. Still, she tried to mask the pain on her face, but the wobble in her steps betrayed the image of grace she was trying to portray.
“Sometimes it’s very refreshing to see a not-so-graceful princess.”
Katie spun on her heel and spotted the origin of the voice at the top of the stairs- a slender figure wearing a white sweater under a black trench coat. She felt his bright, blue eyes on her even as he descended the stairs, his charming smile never fading.
“Arden,” Katie curtsied in greeting. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“It has been a while, hasn't it?” he nodded, “I was boarding my flight home yesterday when I was informed of the Queen’s episode. I rushed here as soon as I landed,” Arden knelt before Katie, gently taking her hand in his, planting a kiss on the back of her hand. He stood and gave the princess a brief hug. “I feel so sleepy,” he chuckled, “I was just about to grab myself a cup of coffee, do you want to come with me? I heard the Queen gave you permission to go outside but you never seemed to use it.”
“I… don’t want to go out right now,” Katie smiled half-heartedly. “As much as I want to join you for coffee though, I’m actually out here because we have guests.”
“Ah, yes, the King of Anatolia,” Arden nodded, understanding. “Although, to be honest, I don’t see why you have to join your aunt if they’re going to be the only ones talking after the fact. Your lectures start around this time.”
The doors to the foyer opened and a pair of people entered the palace- a middle-aged man and a younger man- accompanied by a pair of people dressed in black suits following behind them.
“I see now,” Arden gripped Katie’s forearm and pulled her in, close enough for him to whisper into her ear. His usual cheery voice deepened as he whispered: “Change of plans. I’ll bring you coffee later. You might want to brace yourself here.”
He released Katie’s arm and she was suddenly too aware of the distance he had placed between them. Ever since they met, she had always felt like she could be amiable with the young doctor, and he was always the one who could easily put her guard down. However, the moment anyone else enters the picture, she could feel him instantly put up a physical and metaphorical distance between them. She didn’t like to doubt their closeness, but it was these times that she was close to thinking that way.
Katie kept her eyes on Arden as he bowed gracefully to the other party. He turned to her, giving her a wink before leaving. Now noticing that she was alone in the foyer, Katie felt panic rise in her gut when she realized her aunt was still not present and she had to entertain the guests alone.
“Alaster!” Her aunt greeted them from the top of the stairs. “I’m so glad you made it!”
Queen Victoria descended the stairs and gave the elder man a tight, friendly hug. Katie smiled from her spot, glad that her aunt looked well in spite of her episode yesterday. The elder man named Alaster laughed heartily. He stepped aside and beckoned for his companion to come closer. The younger man approached and stood in front of Katie. He showed a smile that didn’t reach his eyes and held out his hand for a handshake.
“Alexander Piper,” he introduced himself, “Crown Prince of Anatolia.”
“Katie Arabella,” Katie shook his hand.
“Aw, don’t you look so perfect together,” her aunt remarked, giddy. “I can tell that the engagement is the first step for you to hit it off!”