Chapter 21



Cassandra rose before them, eyes dutifully forward. Her face appeared a little drained - if from anxiety or lack of sleep - but, otherwise, she was a vision of near perfect beauty. Alezander was stricken with how much more womanly she appeared even now, seeing how little time had passed, and how handsomely she held her adult form. She was especially lovely in a maginificent dress of ivory, pearls in her hair glistening like cream tear drops.

"It is my great pleasure to finally welcome you home, Princess," began his father. "I trust your journey was uneventful and your hosts obliging? Lord Ian served you well last evening?"

"Yes, thank you, Your Majesty. Lord Ian was very generous, as were all the hosts who catered to me so kindly," Cassandra said formally, seemingly unnerved by the king's icy stare.

King Alezander seemed pleased enough with her answer. "Surely you have met my son, Crown Prince Alezander."

She turned to allow the Prince a direct curtsy of his own. "Your Highness," she murmured, looking up at him through her thick lashes.

"Princess," he returned. "It is very good to see you have arrived here safely and healthy."

"And my second son," the King gestured sweepingly in the younger man. "Prince Daniel."

Cassandra proceeded with the same pattern, bowing smoothly and offering a respectful, "Your Highness." He replied with silence, offering only a curt nod as answer.

"Lastly, my eldest child, Princess Nara."

She stood and the two princesses bowed methodically to one another.

"What a great pleasure it is having you here, Princess Cassandra," Nara smiled gracefully. "As family, we will be spending considerable time together, time in which I hope to learn more about you."

"As will we all," Alezander's father said as Nara returned to her seat. His cool glare, which had never moved for a moment from Cassandra, caught her fullest attention. "From this day to that of your wedding and beyond you shall be one of us, act as one of us, conform to our custom as proper. Every action of yours will be an action of the Crown, seeing as you will be Queen at the side of my son." His voice was an order, his words a father's stern lecture. "I trust Lady Edwina has taught you well over the years, as proven by your first impression.  But we will learn more about you in the coming days. We will monitor you closely as to decifer the true personality of your nature."

Cassandra swallowed nervously. It was as if he was just waiting for her to fall. "Of course, Your Majesty."

He nodded sharply, "From here you will be taken to your new chambers , where you can rest and prepare for your presentation ball this evening. This will be the first of your many tests to come. You are now dismissed, Princess."

Prince Alezander watched his betrothed bow once more before leaving through the large doors from which she came.

"I do not like the way you spoke to her Father," Nara chided after the Aedryn Princess' departure. "You were very condescending. As if you were giving orders to a lowly scullery maid."

"You have no say in how I address any person, of any status!" snarled her father. "It would be best for you to keep silent."  He waved a careless hand, "You are all dismissed."

Pouting firmly, Nara stood as to march from the room, only to catch herself on the throne. She wobbled uneasily.  

"Nara?" Alezander moved forward. Her eyes seemed lost, her color considerably pallid. He softened her fall by timingly catching her limp arm just as she sank to her knees.  A flock of people, servant and soldiers, came in a rush to relieve the Prince of the lifeless doll that was his motionless sister.



The End

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