"You lied to me, then?" I realized.
"No! I said you couldn't leave," he insisted, raking a hand through his hair. "I just want you to be my wife," he added, softer. "Is that such a horrible request? It won't be an emotional relationship if you don't want, only a political one. Please, Allison. I'm begging you."
"It's kind of horrible. I understand your reasoning, but I've had to give up my home, friends, and family, and now you're asking me to give you my freedom too? It's a lot to ask, especially since I only just met you this morning."
"Not freedom. You are welcome to go wherever you want in this world. I cannot stop you."
I sighed. His cerulean eyes glimmered, pleading me to accept his request. "Well, if I'm not going to get out of this place, I might as well make the most of it," I surrendered, looking over at the flower on the windowsill.
Kalin followed my gaze. "Why is a weed in a vase?" he asked.
I shrugged defensively. "I thought it was pretty."
He laughed. "Well, I guess that is as good a reason as any. Come, I have something you may enjoy." He held out his hand.
I took it cautiously. "What kind of something?"
He laced our fingers together. "It's something Vanoa isn't fond of. It's also a surprise."
"I'm guessing her and I don't have too many things in common, so I'm all for it," I replied, tugging a little on my hand.
He seemed to ignore it and again led me down the massive corridor. "Your education of Evendiria and the culture and language will be forthcoming. We have an excellent staff of professors that we employ for family. I had early on made the decision to let you adjust for around a quarter cycle – what humans call a week – and then you will begin training. The book that her Royal Highness gave you will answer any questions you have in the meantime.
"Up until then, I highly suggest you immerse yourself in the culture – have Elnia take you around the district her father governs. She may not be a perfect tour guide, but she can tell you the basics." Kalin half-smiled. "And if you really decide you do not wish to stay here, I'm sure something can be arranged. I will notify the servants that anything you wish is yours from now on. My future princess will not be unhappy." He lifted my hand and pecked the back of it, leaving my cheeks burning.
Kalin swung a large brass door open and I was instantly overwhelmed with color. Every shade in the world it seemed was spread out, draping the walls and heaped in mounds. Thousands of yards of silken material lay strewn about everywhere and ribbons the consistency of water flowed in piles and on spools around the room.
"In public, yellow and blue are nobility colors. Purple is the color of mourning. Orange is usually worn by commoners, and red and green are typically widely found. I leave you with an expert on this." He smiled hopefully and shut the door behind me.
A tall, thin woman with a tight silvery-green plait reaching almost to her waist emerged from somewhere as I looked around in wonder and as I saw her, she bowed. "Hullo, milady," she drawled in a thick, vaguely Russian accent. "I haff been informed uff your coming. Please, com sis vay." She walked behind the shelf and I followed her to a tailoring pedestal.
"So… what's your name?" I asked, trying to ease my nerves.
"If milady must know, my name is Arusus." She gestured to the pedestal and I stepped onto it. She took my measurements in silence, and then she disappeared through an opening that I hadn't even seen. She came back holding a shimmering gold fabric and a golden-green lace. "The lasse goes vith your eyes. It complemens se gold."
I nodded vaguely. I had never been really big on fashion. So far, though, Arusus seemed nice enough. I could definitely learn a few things from her. She followed up the gold and green by bringing in a whole bunch of other fabrics.
After an hour or so, Arusus assured me that she had planned out an entire wardrobe in her head. She also informed me that she would be working full time for the next few days to put life to said creations.
Vinnick, Elnia, and I strolled around the garden. Elnia and Vinnick were virtually floating in their own little world, flirting and tittering away as I marveled at the variety of flowers I had never seen before and the magnificent upkeep of the flowers I knew in my world. I bent down to take a closer look at my new favorite flower, the Pearl Sun, in all of its buttery yellow glory.
When I stood up, Elnia and Vinnick had gone and I was left by myself in the middle of a hedge maze. Fortunately, we hadn't gone too far in and I was able to get out rather easily. I guess I went out the wrong way though, as I was standing in front of a large, rather ugly, misplaced door. It had huge iron rings that could double as doorknockers and handles and was partially obscured by another really tall hedge wall.
I looked around warily and tentatively took one of the iron rings in my hand. It was cool and heavy and felt smoothed by age.
I suddenly was being guided away by Vinnick and Elnia, who appeared at my sides. "You Highness, if I may, that is an extremely bad idea." Vinnick said in a rush, placing a hand on my upper back and steering me away from the door.
Elnia had a similarly worried look on her face, and she placed a hand on my arm gently. "You must understand, Highness, that while the royal family and some of the palace workers know you are here, there are also many who do not. If you were to go down into– "
Vinnick cut her off. "Just try to avoid that place. It is not for a lady such as yourself."
I blinked. "If I'm not mistaken," I began slowly, "Kalin said I could go wherever I wanted. He said I was free to do as I pleased."
The two exchanged panicked glances. "Yes, well, perhaps he did. It's just… you need special clearance to go down there during the day and–"
Vinnick cut Elnia off again. "It would not be wise to go down there at your present state. You have been recently removed from your own surroundings and if you were to…" he trailed off and sighed. "Please, Highness, understand that we are not permitted to give you a full answer about this. As your companions, we just ask that for now, you do not venture into that awful place."
I nodded. "Alright. I'll talk to Kalin about it. I guess."
They gave twin sighs of relief and exchanged glances. "Thank you, Highness."
Later that night, I stopped at my closet door. "Kalin?"
"You know about the door in the garden?"
He froze, bending over the bed, about to put on a shirt, and he slowly straightened up, plastering on a smile while his brows crinkled in confusion. "Erm, yes. What about it?"
I made my voice light and airy. "I was just wondering why Vinnick and Elnia were so adamant about me not going in there. After all, you did say I could do whatever I wanted."
"I… I did say that, didn't I? Well. Um."
"What's in there, Kalin?" I asked softly, walking toward him.
He backed up a bit. "Allison. I can't… it's not up to me to tell you."
I stopped. "Not up to you?"
"Her Royal Highness. Princess Vanoa. She's the only one who can grant clearance."
I was caught off guard. "Vanoa? Why her?"
"She had it commissioned! I don't know why. My mother allowed her to."
"There must be something good in there."
"Allison?" he said warningly.
I sighed. "Alright."
"Please don't do anything unintelligent." Kalin advanced and kissed me on my forehead. I stiffened, his lips soft on my skin. "You must stay safe." He cleared his throat and a blush blossomed on his cheeks that was deeper than mine. "I want you to stay safe."
I realized that he was still not wearing a shirt and that his hands were resting on my shoulders. I looked up at his face, and he was giving me a worried and slightly weary look, his blue eyes the color of the sky.
He shook his head, a sad smile hanging on his lips. "I am so sorry for everything." He grabbed his shirt off the bed and brushed past me. I turned and watched him go, suddenly confused.
"Kalin?" I asked.
"I will be back in about an hour." He hesitated, looking at me imploringly, and left.
Dizzily, I sank to the floor. The world went black.