Considering the fact, Alexa couldn't help but think how ironic destiny was.
Would Cordelia's fantastic adventure go unquestioned? And, would the mourning for the young prince overshadow the pressing marriage?
Perhaps that way, her own existence would also fall into oblivion, and she could simply disappear with a modest farewell letter to Lady Cordelia. It was all she wanted the most. Return to her original plan and preferably put a great distance from this realm as soon as possible.
But right now, on a whim of Prince Magnus, she was riding his stallion with him, despite all the nonsense against decency. His men pretended to ignore it.
The best the maiden could do was try to push her body as far as she could from his, and cling to a bundle of clothes she managed to bring with her. 'Spoiled and perverse bastard! Not even in front of your bride, and the news of a brother's death, you could stop trying to take advantage of a girl below you.'
If Alexa were another sort of maiden, she would be on the verge of tears.
Cordelia was still in the carriage, a bit behind with what was left of her entourage.. Alexa noticed that the Prince asked no questions about the events that caused the arrival of the entourage in such strange circumstances at the Holstein borders. That was pretty weird.
At first, Alexa had not linked the facts, but stopping to think, he was a Prince.
According to Lady Cordelia and her old maid had told, she was about to marry Prince Gutard's eldest son. In that region, there were no kings, for they all swore allegiance to the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
As it turned out, heredity also worked, which meant that this man could be Holstein's next ruler.
But he was engaged to a maiden who was neither noble nor beautiful. Apparently, Cordelia was quite rich from what she wore and all the rich bridal apparel her staff carried.
"Speak. Who are you?" he questioned in a hoarse voice. "And what happened? Why is my bride saying you saved her? Why the rags and where are the rest of the people in her entourage?"
"I'm Alexa Zoë Saskia, from the Byzantium's Saskia House," Alexa spoke with a tone of pride and pomp, purposefully. She was betting the ignorant man had no idea, just a general notion of direction and a few stories in his head about Eastern Trade and Crusades.
"The Saskias from Byzantium…" he repeated thoughtfully as she imagined. "And why are you so far from home, fair maiden?" he was as grumpy as Alexa.
And because she took a while to answer, the Prince grabbed the bundle she was holding against her chest and threw it away. The rude and arbitrary action of the arrogant noble surprised Alexa.
"What are you doing?!"
"You're very suspicious, foreigner." With one hand, he grabbed her chin and turned her face to him. "Pretty suspicious. Maybe you don't want to tell me now as we head back to the castle. I suppose you'd rather tell my men," his mischievous smile left no doubt that this could involve pain. Alexa squeezed her eyes, and moved her face away as he loosened his grip on her face. 'Damn bastard!'
"You shouldn't treat me like that, Prince. When you don't know who I am. Look at my situation! Being humiliated by the nobles who should recognize and respect my noble birth, because I'm alone and helpless."
"Lady Saskia," he scoffed, "I will apologize to your family and pay your weight in gold for any offense. But at the right time. Until then, tell me what I asked or, be sure, I'll treat you like a stray dog."
At least Alexa saw that one of the Prince's men caught her bundle on the way.
"Hmm… Kill me then, Prince, if you believe I lie. So far, all I've done is help, but my own situation is only getting worse. The horrible things that have happened to us in the last days are obscene and unnatural. See what I'm getting for saving your bride, the precious Lady Cordelia!"
Alexa showed her bandaged hands once more, knowing that the outer look of the rags was disgusting and pitiful. "My hands burned, it was my last resort to save Lady Cordelia and myself. If there's any nobility in you, look into your heart... Should you treat a noblewoman as you do?"
Realizing that he shifted closer to her, Alexa moved to keep the distance. And crossed her arms in front of her chest, holding as she could the hood drawstring. It would avoid the 'accidental brushing'.
She continued, "Don't worry, you'll have a spontaneous record of all the horror we've been through. Lady Cordelia said I'd be welcomed here as her esteemed friend, but I see that her future husband does not think so."
"You make many assumptions and have a fast, poisonous tongue, Lady Saskia. But I will leave it for now. At the news of my younger brother's death, many things surely will change. I'm glad my bride arrived unscathed, apparently thanks to you. We'll start with what everybody has to say." It was Prince Magnus' sour response.
In the distance, they could see the fantastic sharp peaks of Holstein. As Cordelia had said, it was a magnificent kingdom.
"But I have a question, Your Highness, if you will allow me," said the maiden.
"Hmm," he looked surprised, but intrigued enough to hear.
"Why did you drag me out of the carriage if it was the first time we met?" Better to straightforwardly push out the question, Alexa pondered.
He growled behind her back, annoyed, "How could you know, wouldn't you?" The tone of distrust was clear, and of course, Alexa didn't know. But at least she realized that he had reason to suspect her…
"My dear Prince, I have already abused your hospitality by riding on your horse, and not in the carriage with my friend. I have already abused your patience for having, as you said, a fierce tongue and strange manners. Forgive me. I am foreign to your customs. I find it odd that I am riding on your horse with you, just as you find it strange that I have a mouth to ask things out."
"A mouth that you use freely, by the way. But don't think I'll forget you because of the other events. Soon I'll come back to you. Your arrival can only mean something bad."
"Your Highness is quite superstitious."
He took one of her hands, using it to point at the tall buildings they saw on the horizon, and whispered in her ear, maliciously,
"Once you step there, Lady Zaskia, you will see that there are indeed reasons to be superstitious."
The maiden gaped as she approached the city gates. She had seen nothing like it in all her journey west. The sharp peaks she saw in the distance were skyscraping towers, with strange and seemingly impossible structures. They seemed to defy the known architecture and rules of nature. She marveled and wondered how the man could build such vertical things.
As they crossed the gates in a tight group, the maiden looked up to see the ceiling of the tunnel they rode across, with an intricate and very high ribbed-vault. From any point of the city, one could see the towers of the cathedral, tens of meters high. It was vertiginous. Its elongated shapes seemed to drip from the sky into fantastic sharp forms.
The church seemed to be the center of the capital. But from a distance, she could see the silhouette of the castle, set back and surrounded by another wall, on a steep hilltop. Holstein was a seaside kingdom, and its main city of the same name was a large and prosperous port.
"Is the 'Greek Princess' impressed?" teased the prince, close to her ear, "The West has found new routes to what the East has. We no longer need Byzantium or the Venetians."
'I don't care,' she thought, still intrigued by the buildings. Surely this kingdom was more prosperous than she had imagined. Alexa saw standing ruins marking the public sites of an ancient Roman settlement on their way to the castle.
Alexa saw that people were quickly exchanging flowers and festive banners to celebrate the Prince's bride's arrival, for black ribbons - the crapes - and other signs of mourning. The city was not noisy as usual on a busy day of trade and fair, but there were heralds playing funeral instruments across the main streets, warning,
"Our Prince's beloved son died today…" they repeated in a monotonous wailing voice.
Probably because of the signs of mourning or simply because of some decorum, the Prince motioned to one of his men. The knight approached and took her from Prince Magnus's horse to his own.
The Prince then sped up his horse, galloping toward the castle while his men continued to escort Lady Cordelia.
'What a farce!' thought the maiden, not impressed that royal brothers had no affinity. She just came to think it was better to have a plan, a good plan, to keep her identity secret. And perhaps with the help and gratitude of the local royal family, take a ship to England.
But the more she thought about the events of the last few days, and the mischievous expression of Lady Cordelia's future husband, the more she thought the poor Lady was in danger.
'A young prince dies. The bride almost dies attacked by demonic things on the way to her wedding… The groom doesn't seem at all sensitized by any of it… And yet he insinuates to know something… Why did I think it would be a short, quiet stay as Cordelia promised? Uh, let me see… Because I didn't have another alternative? '
Resigned, the maiden rode along with the entourage into the imposing castle of a thousand flying buttresses, ogive arches, and intricate architecture.
Alexa felt a shiver of foreboding run down her spine.
Is the first prince a pervert, or does he have reasons to act this way? Keep reading and find out!
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