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Snow was everywhere, and yet it was a desert; there was no darkness but there was no light. The trees somehow glistened at night and were haunted by day. Nobody dared cross the border, and nobody knew why. That is, nobody but her. She had a smile of powder that crumbled like dust; lips of brick and oceanic eyes. Her auburn hair remained matted and lifeless.
There it was; the border, as the edge of its baked brick wall was lined with the strangest of roses…. They shone the color of a ripe peach, and by this she was fascinated. Slowly she would reach for the flower’s delicate petals just to see it wither away. Again, she reached for the spiraling vines and emerald leaves, and again before she could touch the flower, it would wither away.
The sky changed just then, and what had once been an ice desert transformed into a meadow of green; the clouds parted to allow the sky to unleash its storm of petals, and all around her began to flood into a peach lake. Thorns sprang from the Earth like an apple falls from a tree; effortlessly. None of this would she note. No, she just continued to reach for the roses as they turned to ash, like an instantaneous burst of flame, which did not exist.
This was when he woke up. Drenched in his own sweat, with a throat sore from screams. His mind was stuck on her face, the delicate and modest look that she held kept him revisiting every moment of this night-terror. Never during life had he seen her so at peace, though he did not truly know her, he had to admit. Still, he knew every line of her face, each feature was memorized. He knew the dimple on her cheek and her puzzled expression. Sure, he may not have met her, but she still remained a part of him.
When he saw her she was always dressed in rags, an old doll pulled protectively against her as she would demonstrate the actions that had never been displayed before her. She would hide her tear ridden face in the dolls hair when things refused to go right, but this she would do in secret when she swore that nobody was watching. Yet, Harland Prince always watched over this innocent child. He promised himself over and over to someday save her from this terrible fate.
Constance. That was her name, as if anyone would actually know. She happened to be ‘the lowest of low’ in the eyes of most. She suffered through poverty; she was fatherless and clumsy, always running into people. Harland, however, knew everything that nobody else could see. He spent his life in a daze, always with Constance on his mind.
Three heavy knocks pulled Harland from his daze, though he hardly stirred at its sound. Again, three more knocks and he released a sigh of resignation.
“What is it?” His voice bellowed.
His servant replied in a raspy voice, “Your guests, sir, they are waiting,” He paused just then, probably in hopes that Harland would expect no more explanation, “they are in the dining hall.”
Harland sighed once more, “Aye, Abe. Have them wait a moment more.”
“My Lord,” Abe replied, “they’ve been waiting very long. How may you court such a Lady if—”
“Yes, Abe.” Harland cut him off, “You must be right.”
So right, in fact, that Harland hurriedly dressed himself and combed his fingers through his thick, brown hair. He took three steps at a time on his way to the dining hall to meet his future bride. Genevieve Blackman was a wealthy maiden, the daughter of a chivalrous knight and the Lady of a far off land. Genevieve was brought up in the lap of luxury, raised to only speak when spoken to; Harland noticed her eyes fixated on her lap as he approached the family. Her mother’s eyes like daggers were ripping through him violently.
The flamboyant Lady shouted to him, “Oh! How lovely of you to join us, kind Duke!” The sarcasm did not escape him.
Her husband then chimed in emphatically as he rose, “My Lord, we have been waiting patiently for your arrival!” He clasped his hands together with his final breath, and lowered his head out of respect. Harland returned the favor and nodded toward him.
He took his seat at the head of the table and folded his hands on his lap. Genevieve’s eyes rose for a slight moment to meet his, before dropping back to a napkin that she fiddled with beneath the table. Harland hardly knew this woman, however as such a powerful man he should have a lovely Lady to rule by his side, or so he was told. Sir Blackman and his Lady were the epitome of what Harland was supposed to be.
“Do you often leave your guests waiting?” Lady Blackman snarled.
Harland grinned slyly, bowing his head. “Only the most respectable ones.”
The Lady laughed, “In the presence of a king I fear you would not show for a meal at all, in such a case.”
Sir Blackman brushed off the harsh remarks before addressing Harland, “Is your Father, Lord, joining us?”
“I’m afraid not. He has been summoned by the King.”
“Aye. That is noble cause to excuse him, though he shall be missed.”
Harland nodded out of respect.
Throughout the meal, Genevieve did not speak once. Harland was baffled at how she could just allow others to decide her life without saying a word. That’s when it hit him, that he too was allowing his father to decide his fate. Steffen Prince III was a powerful man indeed, so powerful that he even had pull with the King. He needed to prove that his son was worthy to inherit his own land, which he had fought for as a knight in the King’s army. He was more than just a title, his name was earned.
Harland, on the other hand, was born into his name, he had no choice in the matter, and unlike his father it was not a name that he desired. His name kept him from the one person who he truly loved. A beautiful girl with emerald eyes and a dimple on her left cheek. He imagined how he could hold her and save her from the mother that couldn’t afford to protect her, as she wandered the streets to feed the child. He tried to convince himself that she would understand why he couldn’t be there, but he knew that in reality no child could forgive a father so cruel.
However, he could not control who he had been born to, just as she could not control it. An illegitimate child would not suit a Duke’s reputation, nor would it suit his family. Harland shuttered at the thought of the family he was about to create with a divine woman that he did not love.
The days passed before their marriage in a blur. He contemplated whether he should tell his future wife of his affair, and his daughter, but as he knew her not, he could not trust her. What if she would tell her father in order to escape the betrothed marriage? Genevieve had to have some mind of her own, even if she would not voice it.
He tried to look upon her lovingly once they married, but it took time for him to even adjust to sharing his chamber with another. She did not speak much, only an occasional word or two. Never did she ask anything of him, and this made Harland feel like a poor husband who she did not trust. He decided to surprise his wife with flowers being sent to her while he went to meet his father one day. After this, he arrived home to a painting of the roses lain upon his pillow.
Baffled he exclaimed, “I did not know you to be an artist!”
“Aye, my Lord. It may not be as sweet as the real rose, but I felt I should do something in return—”
Harland felt a pang of guilt that she could not accept his gift, “There is never a need to return any favor. I do it only to please you.”
“And I am pleased.” Harland never did notice her sweet smile until then.
As the years passed, his love for Genevieve grew, he never forgot his sweet Candace; he only plotted ways to get her to be in his care. However, with time she did grow into a lovely maiden. Any man should be crazy to not to accept her for the beauty that she was. And men did look, yet without a dowry attraction was worthless. Harland knew that he could not outright claim Candace as his daughter, and so he searched for ways to assist her.
When his first child was born with Genevieve, the thought finally the thought hit him. He would send his man to retrieve her and offer her to be a nanny to his son. With this, he would take her in as his own and offer a dowry to wed her. The plan seemed flawless, and it seemingly worked out that way. He sent for her, she arrived and accepted the offer with enthusiasm, “I can finally send back money to help my dear mother!” She had said.
It wasn’t until he saw her up close that Harland noticed the premature lines that appeared on her brow, and the yellow that had started to threaten her teeth. He dressed her up in the finest of gowns, even as she would insist that it was not necessary. She actually admitted that it was a bit odd to bestow such gifts upon a nanny. With this Harland withdrew a bit and searched solely for a husband. He did not think of Genevieve’s curiosity, for he never considered Pandora’s little box.
“She’s a lovely girl,” Genevieve remarked one day, “It’s a miracle that you found such a child as worthy as she from the streets.”
Harland scowled at his wife, “Is it so wrong to offer a child help?”
The Lady smiled at her husband lovingly, “Nothing wrong with that at all, my Lord.”
Harland continued to write his letter which he planned to send the King in request of a knight ready to marry. “You know,” Genevieve began, “she looks oddly familiar, kind of like someone I know. I feel it.”
Her husband brushed this off as a woman’s dream, and continued to write.
“Ah, yes,” She continued on, “She has that nose that crooked nose. And her thick hair falls in such a manner; I swear I’ve seen someone quite similar. You know, my Lord. She reminds me of you.”
Harland stalled, just long enough for his wife to read his face.
“Fear not, my Lord, for your secret is safe with me.” Genevieve rose and left the room where Harland sat with his thoughts.
So understanding was his wife, Harland thought, that he, too, should accept his situation. He found himself walking through the halls to find Candace. He followed her voice which sang a lullaby to his young son. There she sat, his lovely daughter holding the brother that she did not know was hers.
Harland looked at her with love that he no longer kept hidden, and Candace sensed something that was wrong.
“My Lord?” She asked.
Harland broke into tears as he fell to the floor, “Call me not ‘my Lord’ but call me ‘father!’” His voice bellowed. “I beg you, sweet child, understand my words, and forgive me of my sins! I should have taken you into my arms long ago!” Harland continued on begging until he noticed that it was far too quiet, while his daughter remained all too still. “Candace, sweet child, speak to me!”
“My Lord,” She began, “You are no father of mine. My father was a rotten man, he refused my love. You would do no such thing!”
So naïve was his sweet daughter, “But I did, Candace. I refused you out of pride, and for that I will never forgive myself.”
Candace looked upon her father and broke into tears. “I refuse to believe it!”
“My child, I know that I have wronged you—”
Candace put the child in his bed sound asleep and embraced her father, “I will never forgive you for what you have done to hurt me, but I will never forget what you have done for me.” A kiss upon his brow left Harland with a joy he had never known.
Harland Prince had finally earned his name, and the respect of his father who claimed to already know of Candace long ago. Finally, Harland Prince was worthy to be heir to the thrown he had acquired, yet he did not know of life the way that he father did, or his daughter. When the time came, Harland Prince passed his responsibility and honor onto his daughter and her husband, who she found with the love in her heart, not the money in her father’s name. Only she could know of the love needed to rule his land, and only she was brave enough to wield it.
Nobody dared cross the border, and nobody knew why. That is, nobody but her. Candace knew why people would not cross it’s brick edge, for even she was once afraid to climb over the wall and discover her dreams.