"Hold still, Princess."
"But it tickles!" giggled Cassandra biting her lip as the elderly seamstress adjusted the measuring tape around the princess‘ narrow waist. The woman frowned, scowling behind her glasses as she took the final measurement and quickly noted it down on her paper filled with the scattered scrath of hastily noted numbers.
Queen Elitha looked up from her reading, bemused, "Dearest, please hold still."
"I am done," the seamstress set aside her pen and began to gather her things. "The gown should be done by the end of the week."
"Thank you," smiled the Queen. "Oh, wait. Could you measure her for a new corset…?"
A knock sounded on the door, alerting all three women to attention. A messenger slipped inside, standing at the doorway. "I am sorry to disturb you, Your Majesties, but I have a letter from Prince Alezander of Navarn for the Princess."
Cassandra turned her eyes curiously to her mother, whose face formed into a discontented frown. "Prince Alezander of Navarn? But what would he want with me?" Cassandra inquired. The seamstress snorted, still arranging her things.
"You may go, Madam Lerraine," Queen Elitha said sternly, beckoning for the messenger boy to come further forward. He leaned to hand her the letter, but she shook her head, "It is my daughter’s letter."
Hesitantly, he turned toward Cassandra, offering the paper. She briskly took it, not watching as he bowed and made his departure, leaving mother and daughter alone. Pausing, Cassandra stared at the lettering which formed her name in such neat, elegant hand.
Cassandra set herself in a chair, placing the letter in her lap briefly to look up at her mother, brow furrowed. "What would be want with me, Mama?"
Cassandra ran from her mother’s sitting room, from the maze of halls, past all the maids and guards who curtsied and bowed to her as she went by. She didn’t care, clutching the unopened letter firmly in her hand as she hurried from the palace itself and into the fresh, outside air.
She passed by the garden paths where she had so often played, across the green to where the stable stood. The smell of hay and sweet molasses grains, the warmth of horse flesh greeted her as she made her entrance. A few stable boys moved from her way, somewhat alarmed by her sudden appearance, all done up in her grand gown and fine, neat hair. They should have been used to her visits out to their domain.
"Sam!" she cried out, continually ignoring them all and making her way to a stall front, leaning her body against it and staring over. His familiar face looked up from the work at hand, holding a pitchfork as he cleaned the soiled bedding.
"What is wrong, Your Highness?" he replied, concern marking his expression, hinted in his brilliant blue eyes. He straightened his tall, wiry figure, attempting to straighten his dirtied shirt. He was much taller then her, several years advanced of her.
She thrust out the letter, holding it to him. "I cannot read it," Cassandra declared, her voice breaking, tears framing her eyes.
Sam put aside his pitchfork, slipping out of the stall. "I know you can read, Your Majesty…," he began, coming to her side, quickly glancing at all the staring eyes of the other stable workers, their gaping faces.
"No, Sam, I don't want to!" she cried out.
Instantly, he took her by the arm, leaning in close to her. He brought his lips to her ear so that only she could hear, "Come, let us go to the attic were no one can watch."
Raising her chin, she started off down the hall, finding her way to the ladder and easily climbing up the rungs with Sam close behind her. She flung herself onto a bale of hay, still staring at the unopened, sealed piece of parchment.
Carefully, the stable boy sat himself opposite of her, too glaring at the object in her hands. "So…what is it, Cass?" he muttered.
"You read it. I can’t." She held it to him once more. Carefully, her friend took it, looking at the pristine, perfect paper warily.
"Do you know who it is from?"
"Yes," whispered Cassandra, wrapping her arms around herself.
Glancing at her from beneath his lashes, he inquired, "You sure you want me to open it?"
He sighed, breaking the perfect seal. Standing, he unfolded it as he moved closer to her placing himself just within her arm’s reach so that he could read more softly. He furrowed his brow, frowning at the words before him, and then reached up and ruffled his loose hair, colored a dusty auburn. Clearing his throat, he started:
"Your Majesty, Princess Cassandra of Aedryn,
We have not met before, but I have heard much of you. Five years from now, we are to be married."
Sam paused, looking sharply up from the letter. "Is-is this true?"
She closed her eyes tightly, laying her head against the hay. "Yes."
"But that-that is ridiculous! How did you not know until now? Why do they do this to you? It isn’t fair! It is cruel--!"
"Keep reading, Sam," Cassandra commanded. Softening her voice, she looked up to meet his eyes. "Please."
Sighing once more, Sam shook his head and continued, "I do not understand much of it myself, and do not agree with it. Though I have been told that it is my….Cassandra, what is this word?"
She straightened herself, leaning over to look at the words. "Obligation."
"…my obligation being royalty and the good of our nations, and I am sure you have been told the same. There seems nothing either I, or you, can do about this. Thus I begin this correspondence, so perhaps there will be some cordiality between us, so that we may learn to know one another as our destinies inevitably intertwine. If you wish it, this may continue, or you may decide never to reply, at least for the time being. I can understand if it is the latter.
My wishes of good health and mind for you and your family, best regards, and all of my sincerity,
Prince Alezander II of Navarn."