Like A Lady
"You have to get married."
Mother's even voice said to me. Her words hung in the air, and my mind completely washed blank. I opened my mouth to say something, but no sound came out. Five seconds passed by, with only the sound of faint murmuring floating about the Throne Room. I blinked, and lowered my eyes to the pink, checkered, tile floor. Five more seconds of silence. I peeked up to the side, at one of the grand, Romanesque pillars.
"Amser?" She called to me. But my mouth remained still, and my eyes remained transfixed on the grand pillar that stretched upwards to the clear, glass ceiling. I followed the candy-cane patterned stripes that snaked around. A fuzziness fogged up inside my head, like how steam from a bath would to a mirror.
I stood in the Throne Room coated with pure, white chocolate that was laced with the finest sprinkles in all of Candy Land. The ghost of mother's voice bounced around in the air, murmuring and whispering from time to time. Goosebumps popped up on my arms and a shiver crawled down my back. I fixated my eyes on the sparkling chandelier crafted from a million grains of pure sugar that dangled above me. Sunlight streamed in from the crystalline windows and danced off of the individual specks, creating small dots of rainbows that flickered and trembled throughout the room.
"Amser." Father's baritone voice sliced through the air. I tore my gaze away from the room and fixed my eyes onto his face that loomed far away from my own. I craned my neck back a bit to look at his form resting upon his throne of milky white. His eyebrows were scrunched together, creating lines that creased his forehead. His gold-speckled eyes burned into my own and they churned with an emotion I couldn't name. The paleness of the smooth dais he sat on heavily contrasted with his coffee-brown skin. His kinky, pink, cotton candy hair that matched my own was cut close to his scalp, and on top of his head, a glimmering crown of lollipops sat.
I licked my dry lips, and opened my mouth.
"No." I stated. My voice came out steady and calm. Crossing my arms, my half-lidded eyes flicked onto mother. The corners of her lips turned downwards, and she scrunched up her nose. Like father, she wore her bubble-gum hair short. The fuzzy fog that had settled suddenly dissipated, and clarity gripped my mind.
"What did you say?" She straightened her back, and leaned a bit towards me.
"I'm not getting married. I'm still too young." I said. She sighed, and brought a hand to her forehead.
"Dear, you're seventeen. You'll be an adult next year."
She peered down at me with her eyes of gold. My eyebrows snapped together.
"Seventeen! I'm seventeen! Do you not hear the 'teen' inside it? Teen equals child!" My fists were clenched, and I huffed. Mother sniffed, the displeasure in her expression deepening. She straightened her back.
"No, you're not a child anymore. It's about time you take on your responsibilities as a princess." She stated.
I stomped my foot into the ground.
"What responsibilities?! Getting all dolled up so people can swoon over how pretty I am?!"
"Amser!" Father's voice boomed like lightning across the room, and he shot up into a standing position. I flinched. A shadow veiled his face, accentuating his eyes that glowered down at me. I bowed my head, focusing on the ground once again.
"Your duty is to serve the people." He said in a softer voice. A rustle of his clothes. Peeking up, I found him sitting once more.
"But marriage? Couldn't it wait until I'm twenty-two? I thought I wasn't supposed to be married until then." I lifted my head. Mother and Father both stared at me with blank eyes.
"No." Mother said.
"Because we need to ease the tensions between the Strawberry and Vanilla Provinces." Father answered. My eyebrows knitted together. I opened my mouth, but before I could speak, mother raised up her hand.
"Lord Francis and Lord Gavin will arrive tomorrow. They will be staying for three months." She said. My eyes widened, and my mouth dropped open.
"What?!" I took a step back. I glanced at my mother, then to my father, then back to my mother again.
"Don't shout. It's unladylike." Mother sighed while shaking her head at me.
"Why didn't you tell me sooner?!" My fists curled up into tight fists. A slight quivering possessed my entire body. Father's head turned away from me, and his eyes fell to the ground.
"Because it wasn't your decision to make." He said in a soft voice. My mouth twitched upwards, and I threw my head back. A wry chuckle escaped from my lips. Mother's eyebrows shot up. I threw my hands up into the air.
"Wow. Wasn't my decision to make. Right." I let my hands fall and slap the side of my thighs, and the subdued thud disturbed the still air. I looked up to my right and blinked away the sting in my eyes a couple of times while shaking my head. I whipped my head around to the left.
"Did you hear that guys?" I called to the guards clad in white-chocolate armor. Their eyes remained fixed ahead of them, away from me. They stood on each side of the entrance to the throne room, which was a gaping arch without a door. In their right hands were giant, silver forks. I placed one hand on my hip, brought my other one up to the side of my mouth, and raised my voice.
"Apparently, marriage isn't my decision to make!" I said.
"Amser!" The rustle of mother's silk dress.
"Don't you guys think that's funny?" I continued speaking to the stone-still guards. A stomp of feet down the steps where the two Thrones were perched at the top.
"Hey guys? Did your parents make you marry at seventeen too?" A hand grabbed my wrist, wrenching it away. I turned my head towards the source, and found mother's eyes stabbing into mine. Her lips twisted downwards.
"Stop that this instant!" She spat in a hushed whisper. I squinted my eyes. Her fingers tightened around my wrist, and the usually dark skin around it started paling.
"I'll stop if you cancel the whole marriage thing." I said. She sighed, loosening her grip. I drew my wrist into me and rubbed the numb area with my fingertips.
"We can't. We have to maintain the peace in Candyland, and...you're just a tool. That's the duty of a royal. There's...there's nothing we can do..." Her words trailed off, and her eyes dropped down. She wrapped her arms around herself. I blinked, and bowed my head again. My heart quickened when I fully grasped what she was saying.
"No!" My voice was shaky.
"I'm sorry. You don't have a choice, and neither do we. We can't risk having another violent outbreak again." My ears muffled out her voice, and my breathing hitched. A fist tightened around my heart and stomach.
"No! This can't be happening!" It was happening to me again. I need to get out of here. They can't see what's happening to me. They can't know about it.
I whipped around and started bolting towards the entryway. Both of the guard's eyebrows shot up in unison, and their eyes widened. Before they could block me with their forks, I ducked and slid under their arms. Once past them, I shot up and continued thundering forward, down the Grand Hall. I pumped my arms and legs as fast as I could. The distant yells of my parents stirred the hall behind me, but I ignored them.
I concentrated on just one thing: getting away. That helped my brain delay it. The pit in my stomach tightened, and the dizziness started spreading across my brain like poison.
I flew down to the end of the hall, and jerked around the corner. I caught a glimpse of my twin Butlers, who were in the exact same position from before I entered the Throne Room. Pierce and Thorn both raised their eyebrows when they saw me flying down the hall.
I sprang past them, and continued sprinting, nearing the exit.
"Run! Be freeeeeee!" Thorn called out.
"You idiot! We have to stop her!" Pierce said.
I left through the back door.
Go to the Rose Garden. I urged my body, and it obeyed. When I opened the back door that lead to it, sunlight momentarily blinded me, but I bolted down the cocoa path anyway.
It was coming. It sent tremors and goosebumps all across my body. Cold sweat exploded on my forehead. Hot and cold flashes crashed over my body, and I gasped for air. My heart thrashed about.
I did, despite feeling like water was being shoved down my lungs. Without turning my head around once, I kept clawing my way past bushes and trees like a prey being pursued my its predator. But the ground lurched up and side to side, it sloshed me about like a small ship on stormy waves. I nearly lost balance many times, and my legs were being dragged back by imaginary hands. My lungs and heart felt like someone lit them on fire.
I'm going to die. No words left my mouth, just raspy breaths, and it wasn't because of the running. My mouth continued gulping and gasping for air, but even so the drowning sensation only intensified. It was happening. The next upheaval of the cocoa floor caused my foot to get caught onto my other one. I winced when some air was knocked out of me, and my lungs tightened more from the impact. Some of the pebbles scraped my exposed arms, and the faintness in my head intensified. My stomach and heart lurched about, and my eyes widened as my body froze up. The world shook under my feet. Red and black flashed before my eyes.
Imaginary hands seeped through my veins, poisoning me with uncontrollable, seizure-like shaking. I whimpered and gasped for air. The ground opened up its bloody jaws and sucked me in. I screamed. Only air came out. My stomach lurched about, and several times the sick feeling rose up to my throat, making me gag.
My mouth screamed, but the hands covered my mouth, nose and eyes. Silence. Red and black. Red. Black. Hands. My chest tightened, as if the hands were trying to squeeze them for fun. The world kept on spinning, and spinning, and spinning, the ground kept on shaking, and shaking and shaking. Only air came out when I shrieked. The hands clenched my stomach tighter than it already was. My heart thrashed about like an enraged beast would against its cage, as if it was struggling to tear through my skin with its fangs and leap out to its bloody freedom.
Get out! Get away from this body!
Hot and cold flashes. Sweat. Shaking. Gasping. Black. Red. Black. Hands.
I'm going to die...
Eventually, it diminished into nothing. Eventually, the hands that strangled me in their grasp loosened their fingers and slithered away. Eventually, I wasn't drowning. I wasn't gasping for air. But still, my body shook as if it had been electrocuted. Small twitches still traveled across my body, and the memory of it left me feeling numb.
My finger moved a bit, and my breathing evened out. I released a shaky breath, and my eyes finally cleared up. Cream-colored clouds floated across the strawberry-milk sky. The pounding of my heart diminished, until they were no more but soft, subdued murmurs.
I still remained on the ground, gazing up at the clouds. An eerie sense of calm crashed over me, erasing any traces of it.
"Princess Amser!" Pierce's voice broke the spell of quiet. I lifted my head. The twins were jogging towards me, and so I sat up. And then stood up. They stopped right in front of me as I started brushing off the stray specks of cocoa dust. They bent over to rest their hands on their knees.
"You...shouldn't...scare us like that..." Pierce panted between breaths. He glanced up, revealing his green eyes laced with concern. The darkness of his skin gave the illusion that they were glowing. They narrowed when they flickered to the small scratches on my arms, and the wild nest of curls that sat upon my head. His eyes reminded me of a black cat.
"As always, I'm impressed by your speed." Thorn raised his head up too. He shot me a lopsided smile. His face was the perfect reflection of Pierce's. Thorn stood up ran their fingers through their charcoal hair. Pierce also straightened his back, and he eyed the stray couple of cocoa specks that lingered on me.
"Why were you on the ground?" He asked. I shrugged, trying to act natural.
"Fell while I was running, didn't bother getting up." Couldn't get up, actually.
Pierce pursed his lips and furrowed his eyebrows together, but said nothing more.
"Anyways, what did you do this time?" Thorn asked with a smirk. He crossed his arms while tilting his head to the side.
"What?" I arched an eyebrow. I cleared my throat, and straightened my back.
"Oh c'mon, you always get in trouble. So tell us, whaddya do?" Thorn winked at me while lightly jutting me with his elbow. Pierce swatted Thorn away from me.
"Stop acting so rude towards the Princess." Pierce shot Thorn a scowl, but Thorn's grin didn't falter.
"She doesn't mind, right?" Thorn turned his head towards me. I sighed, and offered him a slight smile.
"I didn't do anything this time." I rubbed the back of my neck, and looked to the side.
"Is something wrong, Princess?" Pierce said while leaning forward a bit. I felt Pierce's stare on my skin, and turned back around with a wide smile curling up on my lips.
"Nah, it's nothing." My shaking voice betrayed me. The twins both looked at each other in unison, and then shot me narrowed-eyed glances.
"Amser, we've been your butlers since we were kids. I think we know by now when you're lying." Thorn crossed his arms. He looked at me expectantly, with one eyebrow raised.
"I'm not lying! Really, I'm fine!" I chuckled while looking away.
"Princess," Pierce said in a warning tone of voice. His furrowed eyebrows created a deep crease between them. I wiped off the smile and focused my eyes to the ground.
After letting a few moments of silence to pass by, I opened my mouth again.
"I...have to get married..." Even without looking, I knew that they both wore shocked expressions on their faces.
"Huh? Why?" Thorn asked.
"Don't Royals usually marry at twenty-two?" Pierce asked. His eyebrows scrunched even closer together. I shuffled my feet, folding my hands behind me and bowing my head.
"Yeah..." I muttered.
"But you're seventeen," Thorn remarked.
"I know...but tensions between the Strawberries and Vanillas are only getting worse..." My words trailed away. Silence hung in the air. Neither of us looked at each other. Thorn finally broke the quietude by sighing.
"Why can't they just fix their own problems?! Why does Amser have to get involved?!" Thorn crossed his arms across his chest.
"Because she's the next queen." Pierce stated.
"But I still don't get it! How is marriage gonna fix some stupid rivalry? Why do the Strawberries and Vanillas hate each other anyway? Who do they think they are?! The Montagues and Capulets?!"
"Marriage is like a game. There's a winner, and that winner would be the suitor that the princess chooses, which is either the Vanilla Lord or the Strawberry Lord. The winner in this case would be the next King of Candyland, which would calm down the side he's from. "
"Alright, so Amser has to choose one of the lords. But wouldn't the one she doesn't choose get all butt-hurt? Wouldn't the other side just throw a jealous fit of rage and declare war or something?" Thorn gestured towards me while looking at Pierce.
"No, because the losing side would receive a steady flow of resources as compensation from the king and queen." Pierce answered.
"Huh?" Thorn slightly tilted his head to the side, one of his eyebrows still arched. Pierce huffed while placing a hand on his hip.
"The losers get free food and better stuff as a consolation prize." Pierce shot a glare at Thorn.
"Ooohhh..." Thorn nodded his head slowly as he let the information sink in. But then he frowned again.
"But won't that also cause trouble? I mean, what if-" Pierce clapped a hand over his brother's mouth while sighing.
"Thorn, just shut up." Pierce sighed again while turning his head towards me.
"When will the suitors be arriving?" Pierce asked, his hand still covering Thorn's mouth.
"Tomorrow," I said. Their eyebrows shot up at the same time. Thorn stepped aside..
"What! Really?" Thorn glanced at Pierce, whose eyes remained locked onto mine.
"Why didn't the king and queen inform you sooner?" Pierce asked. I shrugged.
"They said that it wasn't my decision to make."
Thorn's mouth flung open. He scrunched up his nose while furrowing his eyebrows.
"They said what?!"
"Thorn, calm down-" Thorn shoved past his brother and took a step towards me.
"Amser, did they really say that?" He demanded.
"Yeah, but it's fine. There's nothing we can do," I wrapped my arms around myself.
"I'm gonna go to them and give them a piece of my mind!" Thorn turned on his heel to walk off, but Pierce grabbed him from the back of his collar and pulled him towards him. Thorn stumbled backwards but regained balance.
"Don't be irrational. Do you want to be fired or thrown into the dungeon?" Pierce glimpsed at Thorn from the corner of his eyes.
"We can't just let her marry some stranger! She's like our sister!"
"Insulting them will only cause more problems. And the Princess is right, there's nothing we can do about this."
Pierce, Thorn and I all released a big sigh simultaneously. We didn't say anything or look at each other for a couple of moments. I took out my necklace that was under my collared blouse, and started toying with it. I ran my fingers across the smooth, rounded edges of the clock at the end of the thin chain. The face of it forever read "three o'clock"; the handles forever hovered over that specific number, frozen in the exact same position for the rest of eternity. The tension and silence vanished when Thorn spoke up again.
"I know!" Thorn planted his fist into his open palm. A wide grin stretched from ear to ear, and a mischievous glint glimmered in his feline eyes. Pierce and I glanced at each other in an uneasy manner. The last time Thorn had an idea, he ended up breaking two plates. And his arms.
"What now?" Pierce asked.
"Why don't you just make yourself seem as unprincess-like as possible?" Thorn said.
"Huh?" I tilted my head to the side.
"When your parents aren't around, you should act all rude and gross like a boy. Just like how you act around us!" Thorn said.
"Gee, thanks." I said in a flat tone of voice.
"Thorn, I don't think a childish idea like that will solve the problem here," Pierce brought a hand up to his forehead.
"But it might work! If the suitors are all proper and stuff they'll be so shocked and disgusted by our Amser that they'll just back off. There must be other ways of making peace, right? And after the marriage thing is cancelled, Amser could be forever single!"
After Thorn finished explaining, I brought a hand up to my chin and hummed a bit.
"That's..." Pierce's words trailed off, and he narrowed his eyes while scrunching up his nose.
"Brilliant!" I boomed in a loud voice. My outburst slightly startled the two, who jumped a bit. A bright smile immediately lit up Thorn's face, while a look of disbelief contorted Pierce's.
"What?!" Pierce rapidly shook his head, as if he was trying to wake himself up from a wacky dream.
"Thorn, you're a genius!" I beamed at Thorn, who looked like a happy puppy.
"I know, right?"
"I'll act like just like a real lady." I rolled my eyes, and a smirk twitched upwards onto my lips.
"Oh yeah…like a lady…" Thorn chuckled while shaking his head.
"Because it's polite, I should compliment them on how much pimples and blackheads they have!" A wide, Cheshire grin curled up onto my face.
"Oh! Don't forget to mention how jiggly their faces are, or now wonderfully stinky their breaths are!" Thorn winked, then wiggled his eyebrows. Pierce sighed, closed his eyes, and shook his head from side to side.
"Or how noodle-like their arms are. Maybe I should even poke their bellies and say: squishy!" I said. We glanced at each other, then burst out laughing.
"Let's make those suitors hate me!" I threw my head back and cackled.
"You should totally burp in their ears!" Thorn gasped through giggles. We toppled over onto the ground, eyes closed shut and hands clutching our tense stomachs. I rolled over from my left to my right, tears stinging my eyes and an ache settling in my abdomen from the uncontrolled chortling.
A slight slap of Pierce face-palming butted in with the sound of our hysteric howls of laughter that rang across the Rose Garden.