THE PEASANT GIRL
By Anonymous, Eureka, MO
Chapter FourCaerus woke up to a loud banging. He untangled himself from the sheets and stumbled to the door.
“Wassamatter?” he slurred, shaking his head to clear his mind.
Onaje’ stood in the doorway.
“Congratulations,” he said. “Half the city is now gossiping about how Prince Caerus brought a young girl to his chambers in the palace last night.”
“Wait, what? That’s impossible! I didn’t tell anyone but . . . that b****!”
“Yes. That b****,” Onaje’ said dryly.
Caerus brushed past him and stormed down the hallway.
“I would suggest putting some clothes on before you further solidify your lascivious reputation,” Onaje’ called after him.
Caerus ignored him.
“Dreeza!” he roared when he reached the harem. “Dreeza!”
Heads poked out of doorways as he strode towards Dreeza’s apartment. He swept aside the curtain door-hanging and found Dreeza helping the little girl put on jewelry and makeup.
“Dreeza!” he barked.
The little girl jerked nervously on the stool but Dreeza completely ignored him.
“Some women like to wear gaudy colors on their lids,” she said calmly, “but I prefer more earthy tones, and your skin certainly looks better with this brown than that blue.”
“Dreeza!” Caerus bellowed again.
“What, Caerus?” Dreeza snapped, throwing him a lazy glance.
Caerus dragged her up by the front of her dress.
“Why did you do that?” he snarled.
“Let go of me, you sick animal. You know perfectly well why I did that.”
“Maybe so you can know what it’s like to have everyone constantly speaking about you behind your back. Oh, I know all about it. You all use me night after night and then speak about me as if I were nothing but pig sh** for the rest of the day and I’m sick of it!”
She flung the necklaces she held in her hands to ground and shoved him.
“Get away from me! Don’t touch me again!”
Caerus slapped her. She tried to hit him back but he grabbed her wrist in his hand, twisting her arm painfully behind her back.
“Let go! Let go of me, you ba*****!” she screamed.
He gripped her jaw, bringing her face up to his.
“I can do whatever I want to you whenever I want, and you know it,” he growled. “You’re nothing but a harem wh*** and nobody cares if you live or die.”
Dreeza’s jaw trembled beneath his hand. He could feel her pulse beating wildly in her wrist. Slowly, he released her. She stumbled backwards, clenching her fists at her sides.
“You think you’re going to make a good king, huh, Caerus?” she hissed. “You’re not. You’re going to bring this nation down, and you’re going to go down with it. And I’ll stand and watch and laugh.”
Caerus glared and then roughly grabbed the girl, who had curled into a corner and was crying silently.
“Come on!” he said gruffly when she resisted. “Come on!”
He brought up his other hand to lift her up and she flinched, her body shaking violently. Caerus immediately felt chagrin for his actions. He took a deep, steadying breath and then scooped the girl up in his arms, carrying back to his chambers.
“Pervert!” Dreeza screamed after him. “One day you’re going to be alone, Caerus! Alone in your bed, a lecherous old man with a penchant for little girls! Does that make you happy, Caerus? Are you happy now?”
“Are you ready to be an ugly old wh*** who no one wants any more, Dreeza?” Caerus shot back. “Are those frown lines I see? And you’re only nineteen. God, you’re going to be hideous by the time you hit thirty.”
“I hate you, you ba*****! I hate you!”
Caerus returned to his chambers, dumped the girl onto the bed whimpering and crying, and then drunk himself into a stupor, passing out on the floor.
* * *
“You know, my respect for you has hit rock bottom at this point.”
Caerus cracked his eyes open, peering into Onaje’s face blearily.
“Why are you always here when I wake up or am hung over?” he groaned, rolling onto his stomach. Suddenly he sat bolt upright.
“Where’s the girl?”
“Please don’t tell me you still don’t know her name.”
“What’s her name, Onaje’?”
“I don’t think you deserve to know.”
“Please tell me her name.”
“Layla. And Exi. And Keona. Where is she now?”
“In the care of my wife.”
Caerus took a deep breath, rubbing the back of his aching head.
“Thank you, Onaje’.”
“I’m taking her back to her home today. Try to find this mysterious Keona.”
“By the way, the Jarzac embassy went home yesterday. Perhaps your father found a way around a political marriage.”
Caerus felt his heart leap in his chest.
“Do you think so?”
“No, not really, but it’s worth a shot.”
They both chuckled.
“Onaje’, how did you meet your wife?” Caerus asked suddenly.
“The way most courtiers meet their wives: we had an arranged marriage. I saw her for the first time on my wedding day. The most beautiful, terrified little girl I’d ever seen. She’s twelve years younger than me, you know.”
“But you have such a happy marriage,” Caerus said, perplexed.
“Of course. I love Minah.”
“How can you? You were forced to marry her?”
“Does an arranged marriage automatically disqualify true love?”
Caerus shrugged. He didn’t want to think at the moment. His head hurt too much.
“I’m going down to the baths,” he said.
“You don’t want to say goodbye to Layla?”
For a moment Caerus couldn’t remember who Layla was.
“Oh . . . uh, no. I hope you find her parents.”
He staggered to his feet and started off for the baths.