Weeks had passed since I'd set out to confront Salina. The same amount of time since I had seen Kayla. Her tutors and her duties as a servant were keeping her busier than ever. I missed her, like an ache I had never felt before, it made me feel nearly sick.
I thought back to the conversation I'd had with Salina.
I had knocked on her door. Salina answered it herself, which surprised me until I remembered that Kayla was her servant, and I had sent her to become a princess. When she saw me, the princess’s expression became one of joy, then suspicion, then anger, in rapid succession.
“It's you,” she said. Her voice was no longer shrill, but hoarse and tired sounding as if she’d been crying, and all my annoyance and disgust at her evaporated.
“It's me,” I replied.
“You didn't bring me anything,”
“Have you even brought that?” Salina opened the door and let me into the room, where she sat down at the dressing table, and fussed with her hairdo, refusing to look at me.
“It's time I was honest with you, princess,” I began.
“You were seen in a closet with another girl,” Salina interrupted me. “Everyone's been talking about it, even if it's not to my face. You never loved me like you love this other girl,”
“Enough! I never wanted to come to this stinking planet in the corner of a galaxy no one cares about! I hate it here! I hate the food, I hate the language! I hate the native people!”
I was speechless. I hadn't thought much about why she had been so unpleasant.
“Then why are you here?” I finally asked. She laughed shrilly at me, unwilling to meet my gaze.
“Duty. Training. The same reason you were sent here, you know. Does she know, this other girl, why you were sent here?”
“I am here to take over control of this planet, and someday, rule my father’s empire from here.”
“Ha!” Another shrill laugh. “Wake up and smell the flowers you’ve been shoving on me.” She pushed a half-wilted bouquet into my arms. “You’ve been banished here, same as I have. Your father thinks you’re a disappointment!”
“That’s not true!”
“It’s true and you know it,” Salina shot back. “Now, get out of my room.”
I found myself outside her door again still holding the dead flowers. What was I to do? Salina was right, there was nowhere else for her to go. I would have to work out some kind of appeasement, to keep her happy here, and keep her father from starting a war with mine. I walked away, down the hall, cursing myself, and my father for the position I was in now, at the end of the line, the end of the rope.
That was weeks ago. Today, I was standing in the royal chambers with three advisors, discussing the inevitable, ever closer, wedding, and I could feel a headache pulsing behind my eyes. Things were changing too fast, and yet, they weren’t changing at all. The only thing that had changed, was me.
“Look, I am not going to marry Salina,” I said after my head was spinning with colors, flowers, foods, and other planning paraphernalia. The advisors acted as if they hadn’t heard me. But things were different, I would be brave. Instead of backing down, I gritted my teeth, and said, louder. “I’m not going to marry Salina,” I said it with a force of will I had never shown before. I quickly restrained a smile, as they slowed to a stop, to look at me.
“I suppose you think you’re going to marry this, human girl, then?” My father’s economics advisor said, “The one the entire castle is still twittering about.”
I found myself gritting my teeth again. “I cannot answer that. I have not asked her yet.”
“But you plan to?”
“No! I—“ I stopped. “I can’t say.” I left the room. So much for new-found courage. My rule here was an illusion. I had no real power here, and everyone knew it, but suddenly, it didn’t matter any more. The only thought that I had was of Kayla. There was something about her that made my head spin. It made me want to give her everything, no matter the cost. I would give her the empire if she asked for it. I wanted to give it to her, even though she hadn’t asked for it.
I ducked into a bathroom, and leaned against the counter, gripping its edges with my hands. In the mirror, I could see myself, for what I was.
An outsider, dressed in finery, but it was clear that I did not belong to the heritage that had built these walls, and covered them in gold. I was part of something far more cruel, and more selfish. The humans had enslaved each other, but their reach never extended beyond the surface of their planet. The Empire stretched across three galaxies, where my people had conquered and enslaved so many races. These humans were different. They were intelligent, wise, beautiful, and diverse. Their influence was small, but their strength… Kayla’s strength…
We kept them locked up, kept them subdued, oppressed. I may have saved Kayla and her brother from that life, but there were millions that still suffered.
“When I am king, I will change that,” I muttered. If I became king, which would only happen if I were to marry.
Salina, who I had sent to spend some time in a palace in what once had been America, popped into my head again. She was my father’s final choice, and I would not be allowed to marry any other person than her.
Unless… No. Kayla wouldn’t agree to it. Not this time. She’d agreed to every other crazy scheme I’d come up with, but, this time, I couldn’t bear to ask her. Not without really proving to her— Proving what? That I loved her? Couldn’t she see that I did? That every thought of her set my heart pounding. Ever since the party. We had been so close. I could hear her breathing. Could she have heard my heart beating loudly in my chest? What could I do? How could I convince her that she could be a queen? An empress. If only she—
I had to see her. I was going crazy thinking around in circles. I headed for the servant’s quarters.