Young Adult Fantasy
The Isle of Apples
“But I do not love the king,” Rhiannon murmured to herself from the stool she was made to stand upon.
Looking out the large open balcony, Rhiannon Romando watched as dark, ominous clouds came down from the mountains of her home, the home she was preparing to leave behind. After years of being paraded in front of suitor after suitor, she was now betrothed. Though she was a woman by the Goddess, just now seventeen, her soon-to-be husband was more than twice her age. Hopelessness and dread filled her with such fierceness, Rhiannon could scarcely breathe.
Admittedly, a small part of that could also be the corset the dressmaker forced her into.
Her stomach twisted violently just thinking about her coming union. What more could she say? She already begged, pleaded with her father until she could no longer speak, but for all the entreat on her part, it did no good. It only gained her a bruise across her cheek from her mother. One she wore for days on end until the king arrived, and only then did her mother cover the dark mark with a glamour spell.
“You’re pinning it too high,” Lady Caroline said, sweeping across the room to where the circle of seamstresses and maids were fitting a dress to Rhiannon. 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 from the maids before bowing in expediency.
While her mother may not have seen it, the fear in the seamstress’s eyes was poorly hidden. It seemed the rumors about her mother made it beyond her own realm. In addition to the punishments Caroline used to keep Rhiannon in line, there was also the fact that she and her mother were one of the few left in their land gifted with magic. A sorceress what many of the subjects of their land called her as her mother despised being called a witch.
Rhiannon caught her mother’s eyes and held them. She could still remember Lady Caroline’s words from when she was young. “Witches are poor, useless things. The only power they possess is what magic they can brew from the herbs they gather with their filthy hands,” she 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 knew better though.
What she wouldn’t give to be a witch. Rhiannon would draft a potion to rid herself from feeling anything. Even more, she would gladly hand over all the gold and jewels of her future husband’s kingdom to escape the life she’d been cursed to lead.
“And her hair,” Caroline began, thinking out loud. Clicking her tongue, her eyes narrowed, and she hummed. Rhiannon could only imagine what her mother would suggest. “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 hair in his hands, he pulled it away from her shoulders into a knot at the base of her neck. His small, round eyes took her in, slipping from her hair further down making Rhiannon’s jaw clench. “Mm, yes, I do see what you mean.”
While true Rhiannon did not possess her mother’s “talents,” what she did have her nursemaid called her enchanting beauty. Her power gave her the ability to captivate not only their eyes but their minds as well. Her gift from the Goddess her parents used in their favor to persuade many lords and dukes alike to donate generously to her father’s kingdom.
Barden snapped his fingers at one of the seamstresses who continued her adjustments while another pinned up her hair. Soon her bare neck would be covered with jewels and pearls, and atop her head, a crown made of gold. Adornments she never cared for would no doubt feel heavy with burden and injustice. She inhaled sharply as the strings of her corset tightened around her once again.
Be still and breathe, she told her herself. Pulling away her attentions, Rhiannon 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. 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.
“No, no. Stop. You’re doing it wrong,” Lady Caroline scolded, gesturing with a wave of her hand that had the blonde seamstress stepping aside. Walking up to Rhiannon, her mother took the dress and pushed the bodice down and back, making Rhiannon’s bust ever more prominent.
Rhiannon’s cheeks flooded with heat. “Mother!”
“Quiet, Rhiannon.” Her mother continued adjusting the bust this way and that until finally satisfied. “There, you ignorant girl,” Caroline chastised the young seamstress. “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 looks of pity and sympathy from the ladies gathered around her, all no doubt thinking the same thing as her. She was far too young to be marrying their king.
“Oh for the-” her mother’s voice snapped Rhiannon’s attention back to the here and now, and Rhiannon watched as Caroline paused, catching her tongue from uttering the name of the Goddess. Had Rhiannon been the only one in the room, her mother would have taken the Goddess’ name without a second thought. But the room was filled with maidens and King Hector’s personal couturier, all of whom were faithful to the Christian God. “Rhiannon, hold up your chin and stop looking so sullen,” Caroline chided while taking Rhiannon by the shoulders and gripping her tightly. “Have you forgotten you’re going to be a mother soon? Will you teach the princess these behaviors?”
Rhiannon held her mother’s eyes or the briefest of moments before settling back on the view of her kingdom. Had she forgotten? If only she could forget. Raising her chin, Rhiannon answered, “Of course not, Mother.”
Her voice was hollow even to her own ears yet her mother was not bothered by it.
“That’s my girl.” Caroline smiled at her and raised her hand to rub her thumb across Rhiannon’s cheek. To an outsider, one might believe this to be a gentle moment between mother and daughter, but for Rhiannon, it was a reminder, a dark painful reminder. Caroline turned her attention to the mirror across the room where she gazed at their reflection. “Soon, my dear you will be queen, and we will never have to worry again.”
Rhiannon reluctantly looked to the mirror and stared at herself in the wedding dress. She let her eyelids drop closed as she inhaled. You will not cry, she commanded herself. Not now.
Rhiannon would wait until later that night when she was alone. On the night before they left her home to journey to another. Only then would she let the tears she’d been holding back fall.