The first thing Gwendolyn liked doing in the morning was watering her plants.
It was almost like a hobby to her. Aside from the garden she tended outside of her quarters, she had also taken the liberty to fill her chambers with potted plants. Gwendolyn would throw aside the long curtains and allow the sunlight to filter inside. She liked watching her plants sparkle in the light. If she was fortunate enough, she would sometimes spot a rainbow.
Today was no different. Suppressing a yawn, she dutifully watered all the plants in her chambers. There were so many of them — indeed, she could hardly see the walls due to the creepers crawling around and small flowers sprouting in random places — that it would usually be time for her breakfast by the time she was done.
She had woken up quite early today. The sun wasn’t up yet, and the faint rays fought for dominance at the horizon. Gwendolyn smiled. She could spend some more time in the forest today.
She got dressed quickly, and then took her time to tie her long auburn hair into a braid. She would prefer not to do so, as every moment wasted meant less time she would get to be in the forest. But she had no choice, for her hair usually served as a nuisance whenever she ventured amongst the trees. The last time she had gone there with her hair free, it had taken her around half a day and four maids to extract twigs and leaves and bird droppings out of her thick curls.
Her feet padded softly over the stone floors as she descended the stairs and crossed over to the lower end of the castle, where the servants’ quarters were located. As usual, she didn’t have to wait long before Mirabelle appeared before her, fully dressed and face beaming. She gave an exaggerated bow and said, “Good morning, Princess.”
With a smile, Gwendolyn reciprocated her action. “Good morning, Hunter.”
Mirabelle laughed, poking her in the ribs. “That’s enough theatrics, Gwen. Shall we go?”
This was something she liked about Mirabelle — she didn’t insist on addressing her as the Princess unless she was doing it to tease her. She had no siblings, and there were very few boys and girls of her age living in the castle, most of whom were far too afraid to even utter her name, lest they should offend the King and Queen. But Mirabelle didn’t mind. She was the only one in the castle whom Gwendolyn could call a friend, even though Mirabelle was a year or two older.
Gwendolyn nodded and they exited the castle together, heading towards the forest that spread out in the east side of their little kingdom. They were an unlikely pair — Gwendolyn dressed in flowing green robes, her hair long and neat, and her face bright with luxury and care, whilst Mirabelle wore a dark red tunic and breeches, her hair cropped short and kept from her face with a piece of cloth tied around her forehead. She held a spear in one hand and a net in the other. A knife hung from her belt.
“Congratulations on your betrothal, Gwen,” Mirabelle said with a smile. They crossed the edge of the forest and were immediately enveloped in an odd silence punctured only by the hesitant twitter of birds. Gwendolyn noticed how her companion went alert immediately; her fist tightened around the spear, eyes sharp and focused.
“Thank you,” she muttered. So they knew. Her mother had come into her chambers only last night to break the news to her. It was surprising how quickly it had spread. But the Princess being wed was a joyful occasion — she supposed it wouldn’t really be that bizarre if the entire kingdom knew by now.
“Ah, a rabbit!” Mirabelle’s voice pulled her out of her thoughts. They had stopped walking so that she could examine one of her traps, although Gwendolyn was barely aware of it. “That should last for a while.”
“The traps are cruel,” noted Gwendolyn. “The poor rabbit must have been so frightened all night.”
Mirabelle didn’t meet her eyes as she muttered, “You know you don’t have to come to the forest with me every day.”
Gwendolyn didn’t like the idea of killing animals and she feared how easily her friend could drive her spear through unsuspecting creatures. But she had little choice in the matter, for it was Mirabelle’s way of feeding her family, and she was paid well for her kills.
And yet Gwendolyn came to the forest with her every morning. The sight of blood splashing over Mirabelle’s tunic was repulsive to say the least, but she enjoyed her company, she loved the stories she told, she loved watching her talk about her favourite books. When they took breaks and Mirabelle would set her weapons aside, Gwendolyn loved to admire her courage, her hair, the way she dressed. When she was younger, she had asked Mother if she could have her own tunic as well, but the horrified shriek evoked by her question had extinguished any desire to be like her best friend.
She was now seventeen. She was old enough to have suitors, just as she was old enough to realise that the way her body reacted at the sight of Mirabelle wasn’t normal. The butterflies in her stomach, her dry mouth, an intense desire to abandon her chores and sit and talk with her all day — it didn’t take her long to associate these actions with those described in the books she read. Except, in the books, the heroines would feel this way at the sight of a handsome prince, or a particularly striking merchant new to town. Never were these feelings used in association to a woman in tunic and breeches.
Thus, Gwendolyn swallowed her nausea and stayed by Mirabelle’s side. She ignored the blood in her clothes and the carcasses hanging from her belt, and chose to focus on her smile and her muscular arms as she threw her spear. Mirabelle was beautiful, even without rich gowns and jewels in her hair.
“This is for you, Princess.”
Gwendolyn shook out of her reverie and looked at Mirabelle’s hand. A large yellow flower lay amidst succulent green leaves. “If you return to your chambers now and plant it, it may live.”
Gwendolyn accepted the flower, touched. She did not want to leave. This could very well be her last trip to the forest with her best friend, for after she was wed, she would be taken to another kingdom, away from everything she knew and loved. She wanted to make the most of it.
But Mirabelle had already turned away, her eyes flitting over the treetops in search of potential prey. She turned around and made her way out of the forest. Her time with Mirabelle may have been cut short, but she needed to save the flower. It was her last gift from Mirabelle and she meant to keep it.
As she left the forest and emerged into the sunlight, the flower in her hands seemed to glow just a little bit brighter.
Nadira Tasnim is a Harry Potter obsessed math-nerd who loves watching psychology videos in her free time.