Loneliness was an old friend to Pandora. Ever since she was a child, clinging to the skirt of her mother’s gown, she had always been…
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Loneliness was an old friend to Pandora. Ever since she was a child, clinging to the skirt of her mother’s gown, she had always been alone. Sure, she had countless people around her; various tutors, hand-maidens, guards. None of them filled the lingering void of loneliness that followed her through her years. The only one who could was her mother.
Only, that tiny sliver of happiness passed.
As a small child, before her mother, Queen Catalina, passed, there was no gaping void that left her begging for some semblance of meaningful company. Everything she did was at her mother’s side. She would run through the vast gardens of the palace, joyful shrieks filling the air. Grass stains would cover her dresses, mud streaked across her cheeks as her chest heaved with laughter.
The death of her mother tore open the abyss that haunted Pandora, the silence of the palace almost unbearable.
Her father was a cold man, too busy playing King to acknowledge his children, aside from Atlas; he was the heir after all.
Pandora had long since become used to the silence of the palace, memorized every footfall and echo the empty halls gave. So when Gregory, the King’s Advisor, came knocking on her door, surprise coated Pandora’s face.
“You may enter,” she called out, eyes trained on her reflection, focusing on the door of her chambers.
“Your Highness,” Gregory began, bowing as was custom whenever faced with a member of the Royal Household, “Your Father wishes to discuss a matter with you.”
Pandora lightly shooed away her maid, turning in her seat to stare at the other man, confusion breaking through her usual calm expression. “He does?” She asked, smoothing out her gown as she stood. “Do you happen to know why?”
“No, Your Highness, but I do believe the matter is of upmost importance.”
Nodding her head, Pandora floated past Gregory, squaring her shoulders and refusing to let even one drop of anxious bleed into her body.
“Enter,” a deep voice commanded.
“Father,” Pandora said, bowing her head, keeping her eyes on the ground beneath her.
“Pandora, take a seat.”
She did so, delicately placing her hands on her lap. Pandora glanced around the room, noticing her two sisters seated, as was her older brother. Atlas wore a gaze of boredom, legs strung over the arm of his seat.
“We have guests joining us in three sunrises, King Arwan of The Kingdom of Otril, and his children, Princess Alene, Prince Atticus and Prince Abraxus.”
Pandora tilted her head, unsure what it had to do with her. “It..will be a pleasure to host them, Father,” she carefully said, keeping her tone neutral and calm.
“I would like for one of to become close to Prince Atticus; it would do good to have an ally in another Kingdom, lest the Kingdom of Kabrya decide to start another war,” he spoke to Pandora and her sisters, a serious look in his eyes. “If one of you can secure his attentions, our Kingdom will continue to thrive.”
Pandora shifted her gaze to the large bay window that looked out over their kingdom. She doubted she would be such a person for the job; her beauty could barely rival her sisters. While they inherited her father’s dark eyes and even darker hair, their eyes sharp in both shape and emotion, she was more softer. Her eyes, though their shape sharp, held a softness. Her hair, rather than a dark blue, almost midnight, instead took on a pale blue hue that was almost grey.
Her mother called her unique. Maisley and Medina called her strange.
“But Father, Prince Atticus is intimidating. All the ladies of our Kingdom and Otril say so,” Medina piped up, unafraid to speak out of turn.
Their Father turned to face Medina, his face impartial. “Then you must gain some courage, Maisley,” he said, before turning away.
“I am Maisley, Father,” Maisley frowned.
“You both look the same, therefore, share names,” Their Father sighed, not paying attention anymore.
“Why am I here then, Father?” Atlas spoke up, his words bringing a smile to the King’s lips. Atlas sat behind their Father’s desk as though he already owned it. As though he was already the King.
“Because you will be assisting me on political discussions with King Arwan and Prince Atticus.”
Atlas did not hold one ounce of diplomacy, and Pandora dreaded to think about what was to come. It would be a miracle if he didn’t cause a scandal or two.
“Father, would you not rather myself or Maisley? We are far more so—,” Medina was cut off, their Father’s hand raised and a scowl overtaking his face.
“Atlas is better for the role than either of you,” he said, his voice taunt with anger. The King gritted his teeth, fists clenched by his sides. “Remember your places, daughters.”
Pandora shifted uncomfortable at the thought, letting her gaze shift to the large bay windows that decorated her Father’s office, drowning out the shrill voice of her brave, or idiotic, sister.
It depend on which way she looked at it. But talking back to their Father in such a way..Pandora almost feared for Medina’s life. Almost.
“I said: End of discussion,” their Father bellowed, slamming his fists against the desk, the action vibrating against the floor.
Pure, cold fear coiled down Pandora’s spine. She quickly seized to her feet, eyes wide with panic.
“Medina, let it go,” she hissed, wishing her older sisters would just keep their heads down. At least she did in moments like this, when their Father’s face reddened and his hand itched for something softer to strike.
Medina whipped around to her with poisoned eyes, a sneer on her lips. “Go back to staying silent like the little sheep you are,” she taunted.
Pandora’s eyes widened as the familiar blow came across her sister’s cheek, a wince shuddering through her. Maisley immediately ran to her twin, catching her before she could hit the ground.
“Out! All four of you!” he shouted again, and Pandora did just that, refusing to stick around.
The rest of the palace stilled, becoming unnervingly silent. The servants and house-maidens all stared as she practically sprinted down the hall, her dress threatening to trip her up.
The third sunrise couldn’t come fast enough.
As sun shone brightly in the sky, the Royal Household of Zeral awaited the Royal Family of Otril’s entourage. Pandora fought the urge to fidget, her stomach churning, most likely with nerves. Her father had put such a heavy weight on her shoulders. What if the Princes despised her? From what she had heard, both Prince Abraxus and Prince Atticus colder than their Kingdom and Otril reached freezing temperatures most days.
The crunch of the gravel snapped Pandora out of her panic, a shiver reverberating through her body. Most people had fight or flight instincts. Pandora had neither. In situations such as then, freeze was all she could do.
The carriage came to a stop in front of the Royal Family, the trim regal and elegant against the soft blue of the exterior. It was befitting for the Otril Royal Family. They were wealthier than Zeral, almost double the amount than the entirety of her family’s vaults. However, Zeral had an advantage. They were the only country with Zeralnite, a precious metal that was almost unbreakable; and every country wanted a piece of it.
As the doors opened, Pandora let out a soft breath. No one could ever compare to Princess Alene’s beauty; not even the outreaches of the Gretabra mountains, where all but the most divine flowers grew, could ever compare to the striking gold eyes and intricate gold wisps that decorated her soft peach gown. Pandora felt plain next to her in her nature-inspired gown — a sage layer above what reminded Pandora of mud. It clashed greatly with her pale blue hair. The odd one out, her sister Maisley had whispered nastily to her.
Next to descend from the carriage was Crown Prince Atticus, his eyes as sharp as his jaw. They were as cold as the colour too. From what Pandora could remember in her studies, which wasn’t a lot, Prince Atticus was a military man through and through. Everything had to be run in top order, and there was no room for mistake. Pandora pitied whoever married him. The very thought made her snicker.
Her first glance at the final Royal sent a shudder down her spine, a pleasant shudder non the less. The gossip was true after all, she mused, Prince Abraxus rivalled even the stars above. Hair like snow, and a temperament just as icy, Pandora could feel chill even a few feet away. She bowed as she did to the others, barely paying attention to what her father spoke.
“Your Royal Highnesses,” he began, shaking Prince Atticus’ hand first, then kissing the back of Princess’ Alene’s.
Pandora tried to hold back her wince at the action. The small action went against the Otril customs — no man, except for the woman’s husband, or relative, may touch her as such. Alene seemed to school her expression, but Pandora spotted the barest hint of a twitch, and the tension in her shoulders.
“I humbly welcome you to the Imperial Palace of Zeral,” her father continued, mind-numbingly oblivious to the mistake he made. “May I introduce my daughters,” he said, his smile as fake as his jewels, Pandora snorted to herself.
The two princes and princess walked towards Pandora and her siblings. They exchanged bows and curtsies, and Pandora practiced the greetings she had learnt in her studies. Surprise coated the Otril Royals’ faces, as thought they had expected their customs to be blundered and forgotten.
“You are the youngest daughter, correct?” Atticus asked, his voice clipped and deeply accented.
Pandora kept her eyes down as she spoke, head bowed. “That is correct, Prince Atticus.” She glanced up, but still refused to make eye contact. “I am Pandora; it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Your complexion does not match your gown,” was all Alene said to her, not unkindly however. It still made Pandora flush in embarrassment as their attentions passed to her older sisters. Abraxus gazed stayed on her, his gaze piercing and almost uncomfortable. She wished he would look away.
Pandora kept her eyes on the tree line ahead of them, body tense and counting the seconds until she could leave.
After the various greetings, both families began making their way into the palace, her father and Prince Atticus loosely talking, Princess Alene made small talk with her sisters and Prince Abraxus remained silent, walking behind them. Pandora was the last, besides the staff who stayed a few feet behind her.
She allowed herself to become lost in thought, her feet slightly dragging as her mind entertained her.
“Do not take what my sister said to heart,” Abraxus quietly said as he sided next to Pandora, “she does not possess what one would call tact, nor a filter.”
Pandora glanced at him in surprise, unsure what to say. “I…”
“You seem to be the only one who respected our customs, I respect that.”
“It did not seem polite, otherwise,” she managed to say, her eyes drifting to the ground again. “You are our guests, we should treat you with the respect you deserve.”
Abraxus seemed to smile at that; it was more of a twitch than a smile. “I appreciate it, Princess Pandora. As do my siblings, I am sure.”
Pandora remained silent as the prince walked away, her thoughts running rampant. It was going to be a long night.
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