Note: This is a draft.
Mindelyn Ramsey has spent her life working to be the proper heir to her father’s kingdom, Zephyr. Despite that, her pension for danger and adventure has always gotten her into trouble. With a new baby brother on the way to upstaging her as future heir and a war on the horizon, Mindelyn’s life is on the verge of major upheavel, and her best friend, Zedia, is there to flip the script even more.
It was over. I was on my back in the prickly grass as her knees dug sharply into either side of my rib cage. She had one hand pressed firmly against my chest as the other held a blade to my throat. Her cascade of brown hair fell around my sweaty face as she moved toward me. I felt her warm breath as she drew the blade swiftly across my neck.
“Gotcha!” she cried, her sneer breaking into a bright smile. I huffed in irritation, bucking my hips and throwing her off. She easily rolled over into the grass and sprung to her feet, sheathing her practice sword in the holster at her hip. I stood, collecting my own practice sword, which had flown from my hand a while ago.
“What’s that, the fifth time I’ve beat you today?” Zedia laughed as she tucked her long, mahogany locks behind her ears. “You’re slipping up, My Lady.”
I grimaced at her, which made her smile grow even brighter. She knew I hated it when she called me t.
“Yes, well, you have been at this for longer than I. One day, I will be the one with the blade at your throat,” I told her. I looked down to assess the damage. My lacey white and yellow floral print gown was grass stained and torn in several places. I could feel rips in my corset on either side. Great Mindelyn, I thought to myself, Mother’s going to ship you off to a convent after this stunt.
“Madam’s going to kill you,” Zedia said, echoing my thoughts as she walked over to examine the damage for herself. She picked up my arm and traced the scrapes and grass burns with her fingertips.
“Not if she does not see it,” I countered. I looked up at the sun, which was still hanging high in the blue gray sky. “We still have time.”
“You know, being your whipping girl is not that great, so if you could avoid getting in trouble for this, that would be appreciated.”
“I know, I know, I am trying to avoid that as well.” I paced around the small clearing that Zedia and I snuck off to occasionally, when Mother was busy, and Father was in council. It was deep within the forest outside the palace gates. Here, no one would see us. Here, I was not the immediate heir to the kingdom of Zephyr and Zedia was not my Lady-in-waiting and my whipping girl. Here, we were not weak kittens who pranced prettily. Here, we were warriors-in-training who dreamed of a life of adventure in the snowcapped mountains beyond Zephyr’s furthest borders.
Suddenly, an idea came to me. I quickly darted beyond the tree line.
“Stay there. I have an idea,” I called back. I moved deeper and deeper into the trees, only about a five minutes’ walk. There was another clearing with a small brook that flowed through the center. Swiftly, I removed my dress and waded into the lukewarm water. The deepest point of the brook came up to my waist and once I reached it, I repeatedly submerged myself, getting rid of the dirt and grass from my braided bun and cleaning the soil out of my scrapes.
When I had emerged from underwater for the fourth time, I saw Zedia ripping off her servant’s tunic at the grassy bank.
“I told you to wait,” I complained, as she obnoxiously splashed in beside me.
“And miss out on a celebratory cool-off after I kicked your butt, no way!” I shook my head in exasperation.
“How are we going to explain the both of us being wet. And please do not suggest we claim it rained in one spot in town again. I think that excuse is getting old with Mother.”
“Oh, ye of little imagination,” Zedia said, combing her fingers through my hair to presumably dislodge a bit of stray dirt. “I’ll just say you were attacked by a washer woman, or you tripped over a fisherman’s bucket, or-”
“Alright, I get the point,” I said with a laugh.
Once the both of us were somewhat clean, we redressed quickly, seeing that the sun was moving lower in the sky. I turned my ruined gown inside out. Zedia, dressed in her tunic, looked at me in question.
“It looks strange, I know, but unless Sandor and his men have suddenly become adept at women’s fashion, I’ll be able to pass through the guards with little trouble.” Zedia shrugged. She had learned long ago not to try and talk me out of my exploits, hence the reason we were here in the first place.
“Well, while you were splashing around, I took the liberty of stashing the weapons.” I nodded in thanks at her as I straightened out my tattered gown. I looked out at the brook. With there being no girls splashing around, it moved sluggishly in the glow from the fading sun. Little black insects with their lacy wings hovered lazily over the undulating water.
“I just wish I could stay here,” I said wistfully. Zedia said nothing. I turned to observe her reaction to my words, as I have expressed them to her many times, and found that she was looking at me intently. Her green eyes met my brown ones and for a moment we were one in the same. The moment was sluggish like the brook but felt electric like the blood coursing through my veins when I dodge one of her sword thrusts. Then, the moment faded.
“Ready to go, My Lady?”
“Could you at least call me Mindelyn until we reach the forest edge?” I snapped. “You know I hate that.”
“No. I might slip up, and don’t you remember how I’m actively trying not to get whipped?”
I groaned and shook my head. Then, I snaked my arm with hers and we picked our way down the path leading west back to the palace gates.
“Mindelyn?” The harsh inquiry caught my attention. I looked up from my wild boar and potatoes to stare at Mother. Her face, brown and accentuated with rosy cheeks and jet-black ringlets, was pulled into a disapproving scowl.
“I apologize, Mother. My mind has been a-flitter this evening.” I pushed my food around on my plate uncomfortably. My mind was back with Zedia. She ate with the other servants in Zephyr’s Great Hall. I thought about how they ate stews full of various things that Methuselah could get his hands on. I wondered if she had gotten into another argument with the new stable boy, who made it a point to tug sharply on her hair every time she passed him. I wondered if she was still thinking about that moment in the woods like I was.
“Your Father has been distracted enough. I do not need my daughter going the same route,” Mother said. Behind her disapproval, I could see a tiredness and worry deep in her eyes; the same brown as mine. I nodded, looking up to stare intently at her.
“how was your day in the castle, Mother?” I asked, hoping to steer the conversation where she wanted it.
“It was quite lovely actually. I oversaw some renovations being made to the great room and the private gardens. The stone paths are outlined with Marigolds the most beautiful shades of gold and crimson. I’ve spoken with the cooks and ensured a great feast and a melee would be in place for King Allister’s arrival in a fortnight. I’ve spoken with the royal tailor about your gown, and I really think you will adore it. I also took some time to leave the palace today and speak to some of the people who have concerns since your father has been unable to.”
“Mother, have you talked with Healer Anne about all of these activities? All this work is not good for the baby, I’m sure.” I said, nibbling at my bread nervously. Mother’s pregnancy hadn’t been an easy one. She had several close calls. The entire kingdom was worried for her. How they longed for their king to have a son who would hopefully challenge the silly girl to the thrown when he was of age.
“You worry too much, Mindelyn. I am fine, and your little brother is perfectly healthy.” I nodded, not wanting to push the conversation any further. I was sorry I’d spoken of it. My stomach churned and I scrambled for another topic of conversation.
“Why has father been so consumed with council, Mother?” I asked tentatively. I knew the answer I would receive but I had to try.
“Mindelyn Ramsey, that is no concern of yours, and you know we do not discuss such matters at the dinner table. Goodness, you are more and more like your father by the day.”
“it’s just that he has spent more time in council than he usually does. Is something wrong?” I paid close attention to Mother’s face as I asked. The worry and fear that had been lingeringly present for most of the conversation was at the forefront now.
“it is nothing for you to worry about, child. Your father is doing what he needs to do; something you could take a few notes from.” I sighed, letting it go for my Mother’s sake, but the fear in her eyes still haunted me.
That night, after Zedia and Coleen, (my other lady-in-waiting) had prepared me for bed, Father called at my door.
“Oh Father, let me put on my day clothes,” I said, scrambling out of bed. I was dressed in a nightgown that flowed past my ankles with a satin bonnet cradling my damp hair, and I would never hear the end of it from Mother if I presented myself to Father in such a garment.
“No, dearest child. This cannot wait. Formality is the least of my concerns. My hands hovered above my drawer as my room door swung open. I shut the drawer and turned to face Father.
King Brodwell Ramsey was an impressive-looking man. His hair was shorn sharply against his jaw line, only a shade or two darker than his ochre skin. His eyes were a piercing black that stared into everyone he spoke too with icy precision. His beard was long, stopping above his bulging chest. He wore his council attire, a black robe edged in white gold and the crest of Zephyr embroidered in blood-red thread over his chest.
“Good evening, Father.” I curtsied. He rolled his eyes impatiently at me, and a smile tugged at the corners of my lips. While Mother was a woman of decorum and order, Father was a man of getting to the point. Of course, he had to exercise decorum in everything he did. Being the ruler of Zephyr required it of him just as being the heir to Zephyr required me to behave as a girl befitting of my status. But we were very similar and the rules chafed our nerves.
“Come sit with me, Mindelyn. We have much to talk about.” He gestured to my bed and I sat with him seated next to me. I fidgeted nervously. I rarely saw Father, and when I did I felt like one of his subjects more than his daughter.
“How have you been, Mindelyn?” he asked. I looked up at him in surprise.
“I… I have been well, Father.”
“Has your Mother been keeping you busy? I know with the baby coming, she has probably been-well let’s say a little more frenzied these last few months.”
“Yes, but I was allowed to go for a walk with Zedia this afternoon,” I said. My face lit up just thinking about the fun we’d had. She had even teased me about it as she combed through my hair, which still had dirt and grass hidden in it despite earlier swim.
“Ah,” Father said knowingly. I squirmed. “That orphan girl has proved to be more trouble than I thought.”
“She is not, Father. We just walked. We love to roam the town. The gardens are my favorite place.” Father did not look convinced at all.”
“Well, I am here to tell you that you mustn’t leave the protection of the palace from now on. There is danger growing ever closer to our borders.”
“Is that why you have been in council, Father?”
“Yes. The Nomads have organized and are advancing on neighboring kingdoms. Despite their limited resources, they are fierce in battle.”
The Nomads and Zephyr had a long, bloody history. The founder of the group, Odrick Grimwell, was exiled from Zephyr 100 years ago. He organized a group of exiled criminals from neighboring kingdoms. They pledged to wage ware on every kingdom until its people were displaced and stripped of everything. For the last 45 years, things had been relatively quiet, with only a few unorganized attacks that led to swift justice.
“Why are they attacking us now? What are they planning” I asked, leaning in to catch every word. My mind buzzed with possibilities, and battle plans and maps flashed before my bulging eyes.
“No concern of yours. You are a child, and a lady at that.” His tone was sharp as he stared at me.
“Father, my twelfth name day is only six months away and until something changes, I am the heir to Zephyr. I need to know what is happening.” He shook his head firmly.
“All you need to know is that your little excursions with the orphan girl are coming to an end until Zephyr is safe. Do you understand?”
“But Father, I-“
He slapped his open palm against his leg, his eyes narrowing in fury.
“Do. You. Understand?” I nodded sullenly. Father’s face relaxed into a mask of calm. He patted me gently on the shoulder and stood.
“Now that things are established, I take my leave. Sweet dreams my Mindelyn.”
“Good night, Father.”<hr
When the darkest hour of night approached, a soft tap at my window sounded, waking me from a light doze. I quietly sprang from my bed and threw it open. There, Zedia clung to the trellis outside my window. We did this almost every night. She would come at midnight and leave before daybreak. I reached out and pulled her inside. We scrambled to my bed and snuggled into the blankets.
“Father came to see me tonight,” I whispered. I could see the surprise etched in Zedia’s light brown face. It looked almost ghoulish in the moonlight.
“What did he want with you?”
“To tell me to stay in the palace from now on. There are Nomads advancing on surrounding kingdoms, and they may be heading for us next.”
“You mean war?” Zedia whispered in reverence.
“I do not know. From the little Father told me though, I believe that war is a likely possibility. The Nomads have been a constant presence in the Western kingdoms, though they have not presented a threat like this in almost half a century. I wonder what changed?”
“Mindelyn. If this is war, then we’ll have our chance to be warriors,” Zedia whispered, sitting up. She wrung her hands excitedly and her legs shook in anticipation.
“Zedia, that’s foolish,” I scolded, but secretly I was dreaming of longsword strokes and the dance of battle.
“Why? Children go off to war all the time. Remember your old nursemaid’s tales?”
“Yes, but they were nothing more than tales. Truly, war is not like that, is it?”
“Why not? Even in our history tomes, there are poems and hymns of triumph in battle. Wouldn’t you like to have songs sung about your triumphs?”
“Zedia, do you honestly think Father’s going to let me go off to war? Or you for that matter? We are ladies. I am a princess whose job is to welcome foreign diplomats and make garden renovations when Mother is two busy with the baby or too old to do so.” Even saying that was like swallowing bitterroot tea.
“I’m a servant girl, not a lady. If push comes to shove, I’ll be out there. And you’ve never let your duties stop you before. And with your brother, you may not have those responsibilities anymore. Even if you do, who says you can’t be a warrior queen?“
Since I was five and snuck Father’s ceremonial dagger from his robes to play with it in the gardens with my mother’s lady-in-waiting’s son, being a warrior was my dream. I wanted to be a member of the King’s guard but was chastised harshly anytime I’d voiced my desire. When I had met Zedia on a trip to Zephyr’s Festival of Swords at nine, my dreams were revitalized. There she was, dirty and thin with ratty hair that hadn’t been combed nor cleaned in weeks, but she was holding her own against a Rotund man in the Beggar’s arena (a place where the undesirable went during the festival to make a bit of coin). She seemed to float around the man as her wooden sword struck and danced like an angry serpent.
“I am not good enough,” I whispered into the silence. Zedia put a hand on my shoulder.
“You could change that,” she whispered. “You could show them all that Lady Mindelyn Ramsey, heir to Zephyr is more than just a pretty face.”
“I am not nearly good enough in battle and you know that.”
“we’ll get you sharpened up in no time. I have a few people in town who taught me what I know.”
“I am forbidden to leave the castle until the danger has passed”
“Mindelyn,” Zedia said, and I could tell she was rolling her eyes “When has that ever stopped us?”