She had been dreaming, that she was in a place other than the deep, dark dungeon of the ogre. It had been another room of darkness, but of a gentler kind.
Then there had been a light.
Geometric lines and edges, that were soft.
A sweet hum, melodic.
Then her eyes opened.
She took in her surroundings; the first thing she saw was a spacious ceiling made of clean stone, painted white with the black points of many tiny stars.
She blinked a few times, moving her sore neck to her left and right.
She had awoken in a fine, restful bed with silken sheets, comfortable pillows and blankets. More than that, she was in a cozy room with walls painted in gentle blues and other lulling colors. Next to her bed on the opposite wall was a tall window, which overlooked to an expansive forest and clear sky.
Maybe her dream hadn’t been a dream at all.
She pulled the blankets off of her and stiffly stood up. As she moved her blonde waves, she saw that she was wearing a long, silken night gown. She gently moved to the window and looked out and saw besides a forest, a small town, bustling in the afternoon light. People were strolling between stalls, carrying goods, dressed in simple clothes and busily talking to each other and the merchants they encountered.
Truth, it wasn’t a dream!
“Wooh!” Aline cried, throwing her arms in the air and jumping up in excitement. She went back to her bed and rolled around on top of it, clutching the pillow and laughing hysterically. Tears of happiness were welling up in her eyes. For the first time in a long time, she was smiling and so, so happy.
She was free!
She slowed her excitement though and stopped rolling on the bed as she started putting her memories back together.
Wait, where was she and how had she gotten here?
She remembered running from the burning house and-
Aline’s senses were suddenly alerted as she heard the door to this room suddenly open. She quickly turned her head and saw an older woman, dressed in the outfit of an attendant staring in at her.
“Oh my goodness!” the lady cried while Aline jumped out of her bed. “Don’t be afraid, cherie!” said the attendant.
“Who are you?” Aline asked.
“I am Henriette, handmaid to King Grande and his son, Prince Beau, the young man you rescued. Do you remember?” The woman’s voice was as sweet as rose petals dipped in honey.
Aline calmed herself, but still looked at the woman warily. Then she remembered her run through the forest, a deep pool and a young boy at it’s bottom. She remembered diving in cold water and seeing nothing but dark depths and the distant shape of the boy.
That was it.
“I… I remember some.”
“Good, good. Now, stay where you are, the prince would like to see you very much.” Henriette gave a big, sweet smile, while moving a gray bang from her eye. “Don’t worry dear, you are safe here. Oh, and there are fresh clothes for you in that cabinet there. We’ll knock before we come in.” And with that, Henriette closed the door, and Aline heard a few shuffled footsteps of the old lady walking away.
Aline stood there for a moment, swaying. She turned her head and saw a mirror, and saw that she was still in her sleeping gown. Next to the mirror was a large dresser, which after she opened revealed many fine clothes. She grabbed a turqoise dress, an additional cloak and fixed her hair before sitting on an adjacent chair.
Yes, she remembered much now.
She remembered her encounter with the tiger and the promise of her rage for a way out.
She remembered the ogre exploding in a wreathe of fire before her.
And she remembered carrying with her the chest that held her mother Aurore’s heart.
Immediately, she began furiously searching the room for the chest. She had carried nothing else with her during her escape, but had the prince left the chest back in the forest?
“Are you looking for this, cherie?”
Aline, who had been looking under the pillows she had just been sleeping on, turned her head to the doorway. There before her was the boy from the forest that she had saved from drowning, dry and dressed in fine accoutrements. And in his hands was the chest. Behind him was an exasperated Henriette.
Aline eyed him carefully. He was handsome, with dark hair that fell in fine bangs. He had somewhat small eyes, and his cheekbones were well shaped. Once she was sure of him, she remembered some of Aurore’s points on civility. Aline smiled and gave a tiny curtsy.
“Um, bonjour my dear. My name is Beau.”
“The prince of these lands,” chimed Henriette spoke behind him. Beau looked back at his handmaid, cheeks slightly blushed. “Yes, Henriette, I just didn’t want that to be the first thing I said.”
Henriette swatted the young man’s ears, causing him to flinch in pain. “Prince Beau, your cheeks should be redder than that! Cherie, I’m so sorry, I told you we would knock first but this young man was so excited to see you that he barged right in!” Henriette’s frown at the young man was scarier than the kindness of her face would have led you to believe.
Aline giggled, for she found this exchange humorous and a relief compared to what she had just been through.
“It’s fine, sweet Henriette, I had already changed. Then, Aline’s gaze became strong and her attitude serious. “Prince,” she began while clearing her throat. “May I take my chest back?”
“Oh, of course,” said Beau, as he actually stepped towards Aline and placed the chest before her. Aline took it and as she did so, Beau reached into his pocket and gave her a familiar dark key. Aline took both, walking back and putting them under her pillows. That would have to do for now. After this, she looked at Beau.
“Did you?,” and as she spoke, she motioned to the spot that hid the treasures. Beau shook his head.
“No, of course not, and I kept chest and key with me at all times. No one else but me and Henriette know of it.” Aline’s shoulders dropped in relief, deeply exhaling.
“Merci beaucoup,” was all she could say.
There was a moment’s pause.
Beau stepped forward. “My good friend, what is your name?” Aline blinked, then gasped as she realized she had not introduced herself yet to anyone here. She immediately stepped forward, taking the prince’s hand and looking him in his dark eyes.
“Je m’appelle Aline,” she said, her naturally melodic voice sounding lyrical as she spoke her name. Behind her eyes, she thought about how long it had been since she had heard, let alone spoken her name.
The prince looked into her eyes, then squeezed her hand. “My pleasure,” he whispered.
They barely had a moment to say anything more before loud, angry footsteps could be heard. Aline and Beau turned around to see a tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in splendid garments suddenly in the doorway. He had long, dark hair, a long beard and the same eyes as Beau. Aline could immediately tell that this man was Beau’s father. But whereas Beau’s light eyes held a gentle incandescent shine to them, his father’s eyes radiated fury.
“Boy!” he roared like a wyrm. “Why are you here right now? Why aren’t you hunting right now?”
“Grande, please,” Henriette began before the king looked down at her, swords of impatience stinging into her vision. Henriette, now forcibly humbled, then meekly silenced herself. Beau then stepped forward.
“Father, please, I was just coming to check on the girl who saved me. Remember? I had my guards bring her up here. Her name is Aline.”
The king huffily regarded Aline, but he managed to take a single, calming breath, his cheeks losing only a hint of their red sheen.
“Yes. Yes, thank you. Sincerely, I thank you. Please, come to dinner tonight.” He didn’t necessarily sound sincere, but Aline graciously nodded in acceptance. The king immediately returned his attention to his son.
“As I said, you should have been hunting by now! Our handmaids would have taken care of this vagabonde, and you could have met her in the evening once you were done.”
“Father, I couldn’t wait until then, I owe her too much. And as I’ve told you before I-”
“You what?” the king growled menacingly, interrupting his son. Beau suddenly stopped any action. Gulping, he quickly flicked his head to look at Aline before returning his attention to the king, straightening himself.
“I hate hunting!”
With a surge of speed, the king stepped forward and slapped Beau across his face. The smack was loud and Beau immediately clutched the cheek that had received the blow. He stared at the ground, trying to fight back the sting he felt before it brought on his tears.
“My prince!” Henriette yelled as she rushed over and gently reached down to inspect the spot. Aline walked to Beau, resting a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it to let him know he was all right.
“Go down, get your musket and make up for the time you’ve lost,” the king hissed. “No son of mine will be allowed to be weak,” he said before turning around, his robes trailing behind him like a lizard’s tail. But as he walked away, Aline turned her attention to, stabbing at his back with her coldest, iciest stare.
“King Grande!” she roared a challenge with so much bravada, the king did stop and turn to face her, his visage belying a crease of open surprise. Though he was much bigger than her, Aline walked forward with no fear felt at all to impede her steps. How dare this man strike his own family! She stepped to him, to let him know this fact. But when she had summoned the breath-
She felt nothing.
Aline gasped, suddenly short for air as a cold rush crashed across her spine, chest and forehead. A sliding feeling was felt in her gut, for in her mind, she had reached forth from there to pull out her own fury. But where there should have been a fire, a heat, there was an emptiness that brought a feeling of weightlessness to her entire frame.
The consternation of the tiger prince.
She stumbled, and the king’s gaze regained it’s edge. Aline looked up at him, and he now seemed immensely intimidating to her. And his blooming rage felt as though a hot desert wind had blasted her in the face, causing her to stumble back.
“I said you were invited to dinner. Don’t make me take my invitation back,” the king spoke, grabbing and ruffling the hem of his robes. “Boy, follow me.”
Aline could only wobbily stand there, as she felt Beau walk past her. She saw he was still clutching his face. But he briefly turned to look at her. Somehow, he was smiling.
“Let’s talk later,” he managed to quietly squeak out before he followed his father out and down the hall.
Aline was still weak, but she felt the kind grip of Henriette lead her to sit at the edge of the bed, touching Aline’s forehead to check her temperature, wiping away beads of cold sweat. So distraught was Aline, and in a cold daze, she didn’t even hear Henriette say she would come back with some cold water for her to drink.