Finding Love

Messy raven black hair. Sky blue eyes. A smile that brightens your spirit like fireflies on a summer night. If only… but that was two years ago. Why was I still thinking of him? He’s probably forgotten all about me…

“Lily.”

But what if he hasn’t?

“Lily!”

I snapped out of my reverie. “Huh? Oh sorry, I’m listening.” 

I was thinking of Vincent again. I slowly come back to the present and review the situation. I was meeting a suitor, something that had become a much more often occurrence since my eighteenth birthday. I am the only daughter of the King and Queen of the Kingdom of Arelia, and according to family tradition I must marry before I turn nineteen. So far, not so good. My dear parents try desperately to find a husband for me, but with no avail. None of these men I can love, and I cannot marry someone I do not love. The last suitor was the Duke Nerenburth’s son, Alfred, whose ugly face looked like that of a monkey’s. This one, Lord Kevin, will cease talking of himself when the sun decides not to rise. 

“…and the dim-wit thought he could outrace me- imagine! Everyone knows I am the best horseman in the kingdom!”

            I sighed discreetly and took the opportunity to look around while Lord Kevin was caught up in a self-promoting story. We were in the palace courtyard, and his father the duke was inside the palace discussing jousting with my father the king. Over on the far side of the palace there was a beautiful garden, gated by heavily vined brick walls, so the inside was not visible from where I was sitting. My grandmother said it was built before the palace itself and tended up until the last days of her life. She told me that if one were to whisper a question to the garden, it would whisper an answer back. My parents always put that off as superstitious. To the north of our home was the forest where I would ride horses and talk with my former friend, Vincent, until the day he stopped coming two years ago. I didn’t realize it then, but I loved him, although I could never marry him because he was a peasant. Besides, he must not have loved me if he could just up and leave me like that.

            Not too soon, the meeting with Lord Kevin drew to a close. At dinner, my parents looked at me with faces that seemed both anxious and hopeful. My mother has a round figure and flames of greying red hair that compliment her green eyes. My father is very tall and muscular still from his jousting days with a salt and pepper beard.

            “So?” my mother asked.

“No.” I answered. “After two hours, his only observable trait is narcissism.” We all laughed at this. 

“But what will I do now?” I asked them. “We’ve been searching for a year and a half, what if I don’t find anyone?”

“You will,” my father replied, but I could tell he wasn’t too sure.

After dinner I went to my bedroom and shut the door to block out the noises of the maids gossiping. A few tears slipped down my face. I was a failure. I need to get married; my nineteenth birthday is in a few months. Why can I not bring myself to love anyone at my station? But no. I mustn’t discourage myself so. I find someone I love, or I can learn to love them. After all, I am a princess.

I decided I must go to the forest for the last time before I would move on and focus my attention solely on finding a noble husband and discard any thoughts of Vincent. I wait until I do not hear the chattering of the maids and slowly open the door, softly step through the corridor, and steal away into the night. I reach the forest and look around. Not a soul. I reprimand myself when disappointment wells up within me. I was expecting him. Animals rustle the bushes, making a sound as if laughing at my misfortune. I make my way back to the palace and up to my bedroom where I sleep deeply, my dreams fading memories of Vincent and me on horseback, riding through the trees.

Weeks pass, and I have a meeting with another suitor, Lord Eric. I meet him at a park in town. After we introduce ourselves, we carry on in a pleasant conversation. 

“So, what do you do with your free time?” he asks me.

I am pleasantly surprised with a question focused on me for once, instead of conversing with someone who sees me as an audience for a recitation of personal deeds.

“I prefer to read, draw, and knit with the maids, but best of all I like riding through the meadows on horseback. And you?”

“I usually hunt, fence, and go to jousting tournaments- just to watch, but I am practicing so that I may go up against the great Sir Gawain. My brother laughs when I talk about it, but I practice so much, I may have a chance.”

“I think so!” I respond. This is going smoothly. He is handsome and a pleasant conversationalist, and I could see myself coming to love him… like I do Vincent… or not. When I get home, I tell my parents that I like Lord Eric.

“That’s wonderful!” says my mother.

“I knew it!” exclaimed my father. “I knew you would find someone eventually. You just needed time.”

The next month goes by and I continue to see Lord Eric. The fifth time I see him, we meet by the meadow at the edge of the town. We talk of family myths and drama, leaving us laughing all afternoon. When it is time to leave, he gets up and kisses my hand.

“Lily,” he says. “You must be a magician, when I look at you everything else disappears.”

I laugh and smile, but inside I am uncomfortable,I can tell he says that out pure flattery, he is not genuine. He has a way with words, and I feel that he is trying to manipulate me into liking him more.

That night as I sit on the side of my bed, my mother comes in and sits beside me. 

“So,” she asks. “How is it going with Lord Eric?”

I pause for a moment. How I want to tell her about how hard it is to love someone other than Vincent! But my nineteenth birthday is in two days. If I am not engaged after that, I will have brought disgrace upon myself for breaking family tradition. “Still going well,” I reply to her. “What was it like when you met father?” I add, hoping to steer the conversation in a different direction.

My mother talks for a while. As she is leaving, she stops. “Oh, and Lily?”

“Yes?”

“Forget about your forest boy.”

I give a slight jump. How did she know I was still thinking about him? I shouldn’t be so obvious. Why can’t I forget? Once again I remind myself: he is in the past. I worry that I may never forget him, that I will be stuck with Lord Eric while still in love with someone else. When she leaves, I heave a great sigh as if I could breathe out all my troubles. No, I can forget. I will marry Lord Eric and I will be happy.

I awake to the sounds of preparation. I had almost forgotten. My birthday masquerade ball is tomorrow! I dress and get breakfast. The day is busy, and I share lots of preferences on colors to those who are decorating. The cook is making my favorite for tomorrow, tea cakes. As night falls, I head up to my room again. I start to close the door, but I stop when I hear me name being whispered by the maids as they discussed something I could just make out.

“Yes! I hear Lord Eric is going to propose to Princess Lily tomorrow, on her birthday!” 

“I’ve heard that too, I’m not surprised.”

I resume closing the door and process what I just heard. I will be engaged. Tomorrow. If I accept his proposal. But I don’t love him. Could I really be happy with him? Could I really learn to love him? These questions swim in my head until I can bear it no more. I once again sneak out in the night, this time into the ancient garden. I slowly open its rusted gate, and it groans with age. I step in, feeling the strange warmth of the chilling wind, which seems to have all the answers, if I only know what questions to ask. The vines sparkle in the moonlight, speaking of its magical wisdom. What is it I want to know?

“Tomorrow,” I whisper, “will I find love?”

The garden says nothing, but everything in it comes to a general unspoken consensus: yes. Hope floods my heart. 

It is the following evening, and the ball has begun. I am dressed exquisitely in a pink satin dress and my maids have done my long auburn hair into a French braid. I see Lord Eric make his way over, but before he reaches me a masked stranger, seemingly young, around my age, steps in front of me and offers his hand.

“May I have this dance?” he asks, as the music from a shimmery sort of waltz floods the room.

I see Lord Eric stop short out of the corner of my eye, but this may be the last time dancing with someone before I am married, so I decide to acquiesce to the stranger. I gracefully nod and put my hand in his and together we waltz across the room. Up, side, down, side, turning all the way we waltz; I am lost in the music. We dance like a single rose, flouting on a pond; moved by the wind. I look up at the stranger and notice the familiarity of his face shape. His voice too. And- my thoughts are interrupted when the lady near us trips and tumbles into us, sending us all tumbling down. The lady’s fan flies out of her hand and knocks the mask off the face of the boy I am dancing with. When I look at him, I can’t believe my eyes.

“Vincent!”

“Lily.”

“What- how-”

He laughs, stands up, and helps me up.

“I suppose you want an explanation,” he says, and without waiting for an answer, which is very much like him, he goes into a fast-paced story.  “Two years ago, I lived in this part of the kingdom for a while so I could get an education fit for a noble. Yes, a noble. My father was the the Duke of Wigland. While I was here, I met you and claimed I was a peasant to find common ground with a potential friend, who I thought was a commoner. After a while, I realized I loved you, but could never marry you because of your status. Soon after my father died, and I had to leave to the other side of the kingdom to take over his position as Duke. I was devastated to leave you, but I thought it was for the best since I couldn’t marry you. I had been on a month-long hunting trip, but when I got back, just a week ago, news reached me that you were looking for a noble husband. It was then that I realized that you had lied to me about being a townsperson just as I had with you, and I came when I got an invitation to your ball, since it was extended to all nobles.”

When he finished his short speech, he is nearly out of breath and looks at me hopefully. I didn’t know how to respond. This shifts my entire life. Two years of trying to forget Vincent and I am about to marry someone I don’t love, all that changes. The words that the garden confirmed the night before flashed through my head. I would find happiness with Lord Eric; I had assured myself; I will love him. Now Vincent is here, and I feel like a traitor for having thought I ever might love someone else. 

“Vincent,” I whisper. “I love you.”

The sound of “Attention!” made our heads turn to the center of the room before Vincent could reply. It was my father speaking.

“Beloved guests,” he begins, “Thank you all for coming. As you know, my daughter, Lily, is turning nineteen today. According to tradition, she must marry before midnight tonight.”

 Whispers spread throughout the room.

“Having said that, I believe Lord Eric would like to ask Princess Lily something.”

Lord Eric walks over to me, and all eyes turn on us. “Dear Princess Lily,” he starts, “Will you marry me?” He says this confidently, as if he couldn’t imagine that anyone would turn down such an offer from him. 

I glance at him, then at Vincent standing beside me. “No,” I say.

Gasps fill the room. Lord Eric looks shocked, and a little mad.

I continue. “Lord Eric, you were a great friend. Friendly and kind, but I don’t love you. I was willing to marry you anyway only because my birthday was soon, and I couldn’t let my parents down. I’m sure you will find a great partner, and as for me, I finally found the only boy I’ve ever loved.” I turn to look at Vincent. He is smiling. He then walks up to my father. 

“Your Highness,” he says as he bows, “I have long loved your daughter. Upon finding out that we were both of noble blood, I came this way to ask you for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

“So that’s your forest boy,” my mother mutters, not unpleasantly, her eyes look expectant and she looks to my father, who looks shocked. I worry for a minute, then he looks over at me, and a warm smile graces his face. “Let it be, if she so wishes,” he replies.

The words were barely out of his mouth when I shout, “Yes!” and run into Vincent’s waiting arms. An hour later the priest says, “Now you may kiss the bride,” and as Vincent and I kiss, I remember my question in the garden. I now know what it meant, and I smile as I realize I didn’t find love, my love found me.

Culled from blog.reedsy.com by Sephora Hovington

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