Young Adult Fantasy
The Isle of Apples
A bitter chill clung in the air as winter began to shift into spring. Frost still hung heavily to the late blossoming trees, even as the sun rose overhead, refusing to melt much as the Wintertide rejected the bloom. Dark heavy clouds continued to come down from the high mountain, with no sign of relenting. As her nursemaid would say, Ostara had seemingly forsaken the rebirth.
In this place, there was a castle that sat high up on a hilltop surrounded by a vast apple orchard, called Pravia. It had been her home since birth, which she was preparing to leave behind. She had no choice in the matter, as she was now betrothed. Hopelessness and dread filled her with such a fierceness, Rhiannon could scarcely breathe.
From the stool on which she was told to stand, the weather outside held Rhiannon’s vision, but it was her mother’s high booming voice which commanded her attention.
“You’re pinning it too high,” Lady Caroline said, sweeping across the room to where the circle of seamstress and maids were fitting a dress to her. Her mother, a petite woman with dark hair and eyes, features of her northern Scottish heritage, shook her head and gestured with a finger. “No, that won’t do. Lower still.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” came the obedient reply.
“And her hair,” Caroline began, thinking out loud. Clicking her tongue, her eyes narrowed and she hummed in thought. “I think we should pin it back. Leaving it down over her shoulders gives her far too innocent a look.”
Barden, the dressmaker, stepped up to Rhiannon. Taking her long, dark locks in his hands, he pulled it back away from her shoulders into a knot at the base of her neck. “Mm, yes. I do see what you mean.”
“Now, if we were to….” Her mother’s reply faded as the dressmaker’s hands let go of her hair to adjust the pearl white material more tightly around her chest.
White. She was dressed in white.
Intricate stitching over lace and silk that ran through her fingers like water. Soon the bare, fair skin around her neck would be covered with jewels and pearls, and atop her head would sit a crown made of gold. Adornments she never cared for would no doubt feel heavy with burden and injustice. All for a day every young girl looked forward to. The dress, the dancing, the guests looking at you in awe as you walked up for the man you loved to take your hand in marriage. Rhiannon closed her warm, brown eyes as Barden’s hands moved down to adjust her corset. She inhaled sharply, as the strings tightened around her once again and pulling away her attentions, attempted to remove herself from this place. Recollecting a time when she was little more than a child, attending the wedding of Princess Anne and Prince Philip.
She’d been so young when she whispered to herself, “Look how beautiful she is,” and “I can’t wait to be in love.”
But that was years ago, when she was naive enough to believe that everyone who married had been given the chance to fall in love. Looking back now, she could see that Anne and Philip had been a special case. They, unlike many couples, were never forced to marry, not for riches or thrones, or in Rhiannon's case, a preservation offering. A bargain made in the dead of night between kings, one king on the verge of losing his country and the other wrought with grief and anger over losing his most beloved queen.
Opening her eyes, she stared forward seeing nothing and everything all at once. Her dark brown eyes dropping slowly, focusing on the intricate lace and pearls of her dress as her maidens fussed all about, hemming the dress to fit her perfectly while her mother barked out orders.
“No, no. Stop. You’re doing it wrong,” Lady Caroline scolded, and gestured with a wave of her hand that had the young blonde seamstress step aside. Walking up to Rhiannon, her mother took the lace corset and pushed the bodice down and back, making Rhiannon’s bust ever more prominent. “There, you ignorant girl.” Caroline narrowed her eyes at the seamstress, making the girl blush crimson before stepping back up beside the queen and making the necessary adjustments. “The way you were covering her up made her look like a child. And she’s not. She’s a woman about to be married.”
Caroline’s dark painted red lips smiled widely around at everyone. Rhiannon could feel the tension in the air, the looks of pity and sympathy from the ladies gathered around her, all no doubt thinking the same thing as she. She was far too young to be marrying their king.
Though she was a woman by the Goddess, just now seventeen, her soon-to-be husband, however, was more than twice her age.
In the face of this, Rhiannon kept silent. What more could she say? She’d already begged, pleaded with her father until she could no longer speak but for all the importune on her part, it did no good. Only gained her a bruise across her cheek from her mother. One she’d worn for days on end until the king arrived, and it was only then that her mother had covered the dark mark with a glamour spell.
There was no use in begging any further or running away for that matter. In addition to the punishments Caroline used to keep Rhiannon in line, there was also the fact that her mother was one of the few left in their land gifted with magic. A sorceress was what many of the subjects of their land called her as her mother despised being called a witch.
“Witches are poor, useless things. The only power they possess is what magic they can brew from herbs they gather with their filthy hands,” her mother would say to her with her nose scrunched and her mouth twisted into a grimace that resembled one who had just taken a bite from a lemon. “Sorceress are trained, educated in the ways of the old.”
Rhiannon disagreed, though she kept her mouth tightly closed. What she wouldn’t give right now to be a witch. She’d draft herself a potion to rid herself from feeling anything. Even more, she would gladly hand over all the jewels of her future husband’s kingdom to be numb the rest of her days, or escape this life she had been cursed to lead.
Unfortunately for her, Rhiannon did not possess her mother’s “talents.” Not really, anyway. What Rhiannon did have, her mother and father only used for their own selfish gains. It was her nursemaid who told Rhiannon the Goddess had blessed her with enchanting beauty. That was her talent as a sorceress. Her gift, if that was what one wanted to call it, helped persuade many Lords and Counts alike to donate more than generously to her father’s kingdom. And over the years, they’d gotten by on these offerings, but money was running out in her country and to keep using Rhiannon would be dangerous. There was word Rhiannon had become a topic among social circles around the kingdom, more and more people began questioning the suspicious nature of the young princess’ visits with her father. Questioning not only her ties to the old religion but her virtue as well.