Sunlight is streaming through the stained glass windows of the dining chamber when the princess arrives. The large double doors close behind her. The king is not here yet; she sighs an inward sigh of relief, making her way towards one end of the mahogany dining table. The legs of the heavy gilded chair scrape across the carpet as she pulls the chair back and takes her place. Her legs dangle from the edges. Leaning her arms on the table, she looks up at the stained glass windows, admiring the way the sunlight makes them glitter. Her gaze moves to the high ceiling, painted with elaborate but fading designs. She closes her eyes, revelling in the warmth and serenity of the moment.
Bang. The princess is jerked out of her reverie as the dining room doors fly open. In marches the king. His crown glints in the sunlight as he strides across the room. The princess hastily stands up. An attendant pulls the king’s chair back and he takes a seat at the opposite end of the table. The princess bows in a low curtsey, clutching her dress in clammy hands. Adjusting his taupe robes, the king acknowledges her presence with a curt nod. She returns to her seat as the doors open once again.
Breakfast is served. Both of them eat in silence. Occasionally, the princess glances at the king, dreading a disapproving frown or a hostile gaze. The king, however, keeps his eyes on his plate, occasionally pausing to admire the numerous, bulky rings adorning his fingers.
At last, as the princess is finishing the remainder of the meal, the king looks at the girl sitting across from him. She is hidden behind the various floral decorations on the table, but he catches glimpses of her shining, auburn hair and luminous dress. She handles herself stiffly, careful not to slouch or lean her elbows on the table. Just as she should, thinks the king grimly.
He remembers the day she was born. It was the middle of winter and snow coated every surface outside. When the maid opened the chamber doors and announced the birth of a princess, he roughly pushed past her into the queen’s chambers. The queen lay on the bed, gingerly holding a baby wrapped tightly in a woollen blanket. The girl’s eyes were wide open, fresh tear drops nestled on her cheeks, glistening in the candlelight. They were hazel, just like the woman who was holding her. Her mouth was small, delicate; her lips were like two flower petals. Her hands were curled into tiny fists. The king looked down upon her, and it was as if the frost from outside filled his heart. He stormed out of the chambers, slamming the doors behind him.
He clears his throat. The princess looks up, startled. Immediately putting down the cutlery, she stands up and lowers her gaze to the floor. The king places his cutlery down as well, preparing to speak.
“What is your age?”
His voice booms around the room, ricocheting against the walls, ceiling, windows and her ears. Her heart thuds against her chest; she prays that he can’t hear it.
“F-fourteen,” she stutters. Her voice is hoarse and the reply comes out as a whisper.
“Speak louder.” He commands.
She hesitantly clears her throat. “Fourteen.”
His icy blue eyes are fixed on her face as he deliberates this piece of information. “That is what I thought,” he lies. “Well, I have decided. You are to get married this month.”
© Sohini Kumar