by Clara Howard ’20
His Royal Highness Aidan William Rothschild, Crown Prince of Collarch, was royally pissed. And anyone who could hear or see him walking down the hall knew to remove themselves immediately from his path. His sister, her Royal Highness Princess Brianne Aislinn, winced as she listened to the heavy fall of his booted footsteps against the ancient stone floors. She hiked her skirts up a bit higher as she hurried to keep up with his longer strides. But with Brianne’s eyes fixed on the ground to avoid tripping on the uneven stones, she missed Aidan’s abrupt stop in front of the doors to their parents’ suite of rooms. “Oof,” she exclaimed, her voice muffled by the scratchy wool of her brother’s greatcoat.
“Sorry, Bri,” he said, glancing at her over his shoulder, his face softening a bit.
“No worries,” she replied, scratching at her nose. “But, Liam, it can’t really be that bad, can it?”
Aidan’s brows knotted back together. “You don’t understand what he’s asking me to do.”
“Oh please, it’s the same thing he’ll be asking me to do in a few years, and likely Keira and Torin, too.” Brianne couldn’t quite keep the impatience from her voice.
Her brother shook his head and nodded to the royal guards standing near the doors. One of them bowed his head and pushed open the heavy oak door. A footman on the other side held it open as the royal siblings crossed the threshold.
Their parents’ private sitting room was a large, open space, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a grand fireplace, its hearth sculpted by the one of the early kings of Collarch as a gift for his new bride. As a child, Brianne had loved tracing the dips and ridges of the fearsome creatures and the beautiful faeries carved into the stone while her mother wove stories of magic, warriors, and dragons. Though she and her siblings had grown too old for faerie stories, Brianne could still swear that sometimes she thought she saw the creatures move in the flickering firelight.
In front of the hearth, the fire banked slightly in the afternoon heat, sat Her Royal Majesty Queen Fiona Mairéad, her wild red-orange curls unbound and left to cascade over her shoulders and back. Her eyebrows, a shade slightly darker than her hair, shifted up in question at her two eldest children. “Hello, my loves. What—”
“Mother, he can’t make me do this. You have to get him to change the order,” Aidan interrupted, his voice rippling with barely-restrained fury.
“Ah,” the queen replied, her eyes softening a bit. “Liam,” she began, calling him by the name only his immediate family used, “surely your father explained the situation to you.”
“Of course he did,” Aidan bit back, throwing himself onto the couch beside their grandmother’s empty rocking chair. His gaze lingered on the thin layer of dust that had started to gather on the armrests before he turned back to their mother. When he spoke again, his tone was slightly more measured. “But that doesn’t mean I agree with his reasoning—or even understand it.”
“It’s just a suggestion, Liam. It’s not as though Father has already promised you to her,” Brianne broke in, still surprised that her brother was so angry about the whole thing.
“Yeah, it’s slightly more complicated than that, Brianne, so if you could just keep out of it—”
“I was in that room too, William, and it didn’t sound remotely complicated to me—”
“Probably because you were too busy staring at Father’s new Hand the whole time to pay any attention,” Aidan retorted.
Brianne gasped, her brown eyes widening with outrage. “Get off it! I was not staring!” she tossed back, her ears burning a bright red as her cheeks flushed a rosy pink beneath her freckles.
Aidan smirked, his object won, and leaned into her face. “You were too. In fact, is that
a spot of drool on your bodice, Bri? Think it’ll come out in the wash?”
The princess snarled at her older brother and reached for something to hit him with or throw at him. As her fingers closed around the seam of a pillow, their mother spoke and the siblings froze. “Brianne Aislinn, if you in any way attempt to inflict bodily damage on your brother, I will instruct Lady Quinn to resume your embroidery lessons post haste.” Brianne growled and opened her hand, dropping the pillow and leaning back against the cushions of her chair. Aidan smirked again, but quickly swallowed it as their mother addressed him next, Fiona’s honey-golden eyes blazing with authority. “Aidan William, your King has given you an order which he and I expect you to follow—as is your duty as Crown Prince.” Aidan caught her stare and held it, and Brianne saw that he was struggling to control an impulsive answer. Slowly, he tilted his chin and bowed his head, submitting to the royal command in their mother’s voice. Fiona sighed, and Brianne watched as their mother shifted closer to Aidan. The queen reached out and grasped Aidan’s hands in her own. “Liam, your father likes this plan as little as you do. But he’s got no choice. A bargain was made, and the King of Nesrea did not follow through with his end. Your father has already been generous enough in granting the Nesreans more time than had been originally agreed.”
“But why must the price of their treachery be my freedom?” Aidan’s voice held a tinge of pleading that Brianne had never heard before. “And what about the Nesrean princess? Are neither of us to have a say in our own futures?”
“You’re forgetting that your sister has a point, too,” the queen replied. “Nothing has been fully promised. And besides, perhaps you’ll suit,” she offered, shrugging a thin shoulder, her fiery curls shifting with the movement. “‘Tis not so dire as you believe, m’love.”
After a long moment, Aidan nodded once, but Brianne caught the flash of resignation in his eyes before he retreated into himself. He squeezed their mother’s hands and stood, dropping a kiss on her cheek. “Perhaps you’re right, Mums.” He turned to Brianne, one hand still gently clasping the queen’s fingers. “I’m sorry, Bri. I won’t tease you about the new Hand…”
“…anymore today,” he finished, grinning at the growl that escaped Brianne as he chucked her under the chin. With a final smile to his mother and sister—one that Brianne thought didn’t quite reach his eyes—Aidan left the room, his hands settling deep in his pockets.
“Mother,” Brianne whispered, turning to see the queen’s gaze on the doors through which Aidan had just strode. “Mother, is this all more complicated than a simple marriage contract?”
Fiona looked at her daughter and smiled tightly. “Of course not, love. Aidan merely wishes for more independence. Now, come,” the queen coaxed with a softer smile. “Tell me why you were staring at the King’s Hand this morning.”
Brianne groaned and fell back against the pillows, cursing her brother’s big mouth.