“Your Highness!” The voice is sharp and slightly grating. “This titled thief is allowing his cows to graze on *my* land-“
“-it’s not his land, Your Highness!” The second voice had a lot more boom to it. Boom, which expects you to recognize its name, even if you’re a princess. “The land belonged to my family for seven generations!” Second Voice shot First Voice a look of pure, unmitigated scorn, baring his buck teeth in the process. The buck teeth are hereditary in his family. It’s a distinctive trait of House…it’s right on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t remember it.
It’s hard to remember anything in this hot, stuffy room. The only windows are air slits. Light comes through them, but it’s a sleepy, afternoon light. Such a light makes it hard to stay awake.
“Your Highness, this prating pratt’s claim to the land ended, when my sister’s cousin married his father’s ward,” First Voice said, with strident authority. He waved a roll of parchment, which he held in his hand. It was depressingly thick. The light flashed on his many rings. They dazzled my eyes. “This thief, himself, signed the agreement!”
“Where?” Second Voice demanded. Of course he had to ask where. I had a dreadful feeling it was right in the middle of that parchment. I needed to remember his name. I couldn’t just think of him as Second Voice.
“It’s right here!” First Voice said, as he began to unroll his parchment. Of course, the significant part was in the middle. “I, Henry of Clear Waters, agree that House Vinegarten has exclusive rights to the land, including grazing, cultivation-“
“I never agreed to any such thing!” Buck Teeth snarled, looking even more outraged than before. I needed to remember his name. Buck Teeth was not an improvement on Second Voice. “There was never any such declaration in the parchment I signed!”
“Your signature is right here!” First Voice waved parchment at him, sending it rolling in different directions. “It’s in the sixteenth paragraph of the agreement between House Clear Waters and House Vinegarten! It specifically states that any kin to the heirs of a noble house, whom marries another is now one with the land, one with the blood, one with the heirs…” His words are oddly hypnotic. I can feel my eyes closing, even though I need to keep them open.
One with the land, one with the blood, one with the heirs. I force my eyes to open. The air is starting to sparkle. It’s only sunlight, coming through the window slits, shining through the dust. It still looks magical. It reminds of my tower room, where I will go to escape from my duties, as soon as I get a chance. One with the blood. Her lips are blood red, as they smile at me.
I stare at her, surprised to see her, here and now. She raises a snow white hand to touch my face. I thought she only appeared in my dreams. Her hand is cool, but soft. I close my eyes, enjoying her caress.
“Your Highness!” The touch of her hand is gone, as I open my eyes. Buck Teeth and Second Voice are both looking at me with expressions of expectant impatience.
“Go on,” I said, doing my best to sound regal, like my royal father. He would never have fallen asleep, when his subjects were talking to him. For that matter, my mother wouldn’t have, either. She might have been selective, about what she chose to listen to, but she wouldn’t have fallen asleep. Lord Gerald Hargreaves, my father’s closest friend and advisor, would never have fallen asleep. He would have remembered everyone’s names, too. I was a princess. It was my duty to listen, not fall asleep, when they needed me to hear their concerns.
What was this constant need to nap of mine? I’d sleep long enough, once I turned sixteen, if my curse came to pass. This was a thought guaranteed to make me sit up straight.
“I believe I’d just proven that the land belongs to me, I mean the Vinegarten family, Your Highness,” First Voice said pointedly. Vinegarten. He was a Vinegarten, part of one of the oldest families in the realm. This particular Vinegarten wore more jewelry than the rest of them combined. “This upstart from Clear Waters cannot allow his cows to graze upon our land, without the express permission of my family.” First Voice didn’t even bother to hide his smugness, as he shot Buck Teeth a trumphant look.
“It’s an outrage!” Buck Teeth snarled. No, his actual name was Lord Clear Waters, although I couldn’t remember his birth name. “For years, it’s been prime grazing land! The Vinegartens will ruin it, by planting vineyards!” His teeth were more pronounced than ever, as he scowled. “They have quite enough vineyards!”
“Is that what House Clear Waters thinks?” Lord Vinegarten countered. “Our wine is being served at tables all over, beyond the realm-“
“Which is exactly what the Vinegartens are,” Lord Clear Water said, with a sneer. “Glorified wine merchants.”
“How dare you!” Lord Vinegarten cries. He drops the scroll to advance on Lord Clear Water. Fortunately, I can see Lord Gerald moving from his seat in the court. I hadn’t even noticed him, he’d been so quiet. “The Clear Waters would be glorified peasants, if they hadn’t intermarried with us!”
“Take that back!” Lord Clear Water snarls. His sneer is gone, as he lunges at Lord Vinegarten. It takes most of the court and several guards to separate them. At least my urge to sleep is completely gone.