Needless to say, the Queen was thoroughly displeased with Cael’s request, which was more like a demand. Cael had forced the Queen to permit me to study with the other nobles’ sons. If she didn’t agree to his terms, Cael had slyly suggested that rumours of my being educated would spread.
          Perhaps, I had always undervalued education, taking it for granted, and so, I was left with another season to contemplate about my actions. The new school year did not start until winter; thus, I had to wait. During this wait, the Queen still taught me, but I could feel her animosity. I had disappointed her. From the way she spoke to the way she looked at me, I knew that she harbored frustration. I could understand if she expressed anger and sadness, yet her annoyance could only mean one thing. She was annoyed that I had almost ruined her plans. I knew her plan for me to marry, yet intuition told me that there was more. What else did she have in mind?

          Even when the day came for school, she didn’t visit me. Marie helped me into a boy’s attire, which consisted of a pair of trousers, brown leather boots, a beige dress shirt, a chocolate plaid vest, a long navy peacoat, and a wool cap to tuck in my hair.
          “Voila,” Marie declared and then pushed a full-length mirror for me to examine my new appearance.
          Ironically, this was also the first time I had ever seen my new self. The Queen believed that mirrors were lethal for young ladies. She claimed that many became infatuated with themselves and then only focused on improving their appearances instead of their studies. I begged to differ for I believed that they were equally important, but of course, a child had no little say.
          “What do you think?” Marie squeaked.
          I stared intently at the small figure ahead of me. I was probably shorter than the average ten-year-old girl. What I lacked in height, I was compensated in appearance. I had inherited the Queen’s foreign beauty and the King’s regal facade. Taking the cap off, I examined my hair. I had her straight, raven black hair, except mine curled inwards at the end. I had her fair complexion and apple red cheeks. I had her large, single eyelids, but the King’s shade of eyes. Mine were edging closer to the green spectrum, myrtle in colour. My nose too resembled the King’s, straight, yet with a small, hooked bump at the bottom. A nice button nose.
          I should have been happy with my features; however, all I could feel was sadness. This was someone else. This wasn’t me. I walked forward to touch the reflection in the mirror. The other figure mirrored my moves, except in the opposite way. She and I both reached out. She and I both blinked together. She and I both gazed at each other with a grimace. We hated each other, but we were one and the same.
          I don’t care who you are or what you are. I just want to be with you.
          Hearing his voice again, I wanted to sob if I had remembered how. Instead, I weakly smiled. “That was excellent of you.”
          I grinned at the panicked Marie. I had taken too long to react. A single reaction, I learned, could be decisive. What I did affected what others did or thought. To be constantly aware was the means of continued existence. I was now completely aware of what needed to be accomplished. If I wished to live, then I would have to fully obey the Queen. To do that, I had to be meticulous. After all, who was I without an authoritative figure?
          Not old enough. Not knowledgeable enough. Not wealthy enough. Not famous enough.
          I was still dependent. Just like a flower, I would feed on water, light, and fertilizer. Then, I would wait till it was time to bloom. When the time was right . . .
          Now, it was time for school, time to face new problems.
          The classroom reminded me of a church with its wooden rows of seats running side by side a straight pathway leading to a podium and a board clipped with paper-like material. As I stepped into the classroom causing a ruckus with the opening of the doors, rows of heads turned to see me. These boys were already waiting for my arrival; it was instinct to search for a familiar face in this room full of strangers. To my relief, Cael stood up and headed in my direction to welcome me.
          “Do not be alarmed my colleagues,” he proclaimed. “He is only my far away cousin.”
          “Why don’t you introduce yourself?” the teacher, who I recognized as the Sorcerer, beckoned me to the front of the class. Leaving Cael’s side, I followed the Sorcerer’s order.
          “I . . .” I looked at the sets of eyes, stuttering, “I-I-I am Ren.”
           That was the name I managed to say. It seemed safe to create a completely contrasting name, yet it seemed unsafe to utter a familiar name. No one was supposed to know about the other life. I could only blame my unimaginative and nostalgic self.
          “Ren, you may take a seat beside your . . . cousin, Cael,” the Sorcerer informed.
          Cael sat three rows away from the podium and to his right were two other boys. One appeared to be around his age and the other was probably Verrill. To his left was an empty spot closest to the path way, so I filled that seat.
          As soon as I sat down, Cael whispered, “I’m glad you could come . . . Ren. I have to say you have chosen a nice name for yourself.”
          “Say Cael,” the boy with tanned skin and chestnut eyes sitting right beside him croaked, “I never knew you had a cousin.”
          “I never knew until a few days ago.” Cael pretended to focus on the Sorcerer’s lecture by staring ahead. “Apparently, Ren has been living in the countryside for all his life.”
          The boy tried to muffle his laughter. “Is that so? Well, we better show you around. Isn’t that right, brother?”
          He nudged the quiet one, who now glared through his round shaped glasses.
          “Trenton, now’s not the time for play,” he grumbled under his breath and jotted more notes down onto his notebook.
          Trenton groused and flashed a grin at me, “Disregard Verrill! He is always this bland. Cael and I can show you round. There is much to do outside of these castle walls!”
          I showed my joy with a smile, but I couldn’t help noticing Verrill’s grimness. He could be the hardest to know, yet the easiest to read within these castle walls. Before I could analyze further, the Sorcerer used a wooden stick to smack the top of Trenton’s head. “There won’t be much to do outside at this rate,” the Sorcerer chimed.
          This prompted the class to snicker at Trenton, who was groaning while rubbing the top of his head. In an instant, Trenton had already retaliated by jutting out his tongue. I smiled at him, happy to know that there was someone who only cared for amusement. A simple life. A simple boy. Innocence at its finest. Innocence was enthralling since Cael lightheartedly slapped Trenton’s back and even Verrill couldn’t resist scoffing, which was perhaps his best attempt at a smile.
          This group should not have been too dangerous. At least I could relax by Trenton's side for he wasn't the sort to pick at words. Verrill also seemed too apathetic to even care, which meant that I only had to be wary of Cael, who was proving to be eccentric. Without a clue as to what he wanted from me, I understood that I had to cooperate with him. However, even camouflaging could be challenging, especially when this environment was unsuitable for my appearance.
          My eyes now met Cael’s, and he greeted me with a devious smirk. This had to have been a game for him, a game for a bored, imperial brother, or so I thought.
Chapter 11                                                                            Chapter 13


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