The Maiden's Request (Part 1)

Henrik adjusted the silken robes sticking to his lanky frame. He hated the elaborately decorated silks he was forced to wear in the imperial palace of Chienhu. The wools and leathers of his native Rikenvatten would have been more comfortable, were it not for the oppressive heat and humidity of this foreign country. Servants walking in the hallway bowed to him as protocol required. He tried to ignore the strange looks and suppressed whispers as he passed. He thought after a couple of months the novelty of a Rikenvatten in Chienhu would have decreased. A crash down the hall caused all heads to turn. A young maid in soiled robes desperately collected the now-empty bowls and food rolling away from her silver tray. Above her, Grand Secretary Li yelled about her clumsy nature.   This was not the first time Henrik had seen the Grand Secretary lash out at servants when there were problems. The louder his shouts, the more likely it was his fault. By his overreaction, it was more likely his failing eyesight that led to the accident and not the maid.   Henrik quickly stepped into a smaller side hallway to escape. Pressed against the red wall behind one of the large golden pillars, Henrik watched the Grand Secretary shuffle past, brushing crumbs off his sleeves. Henrik avoided the Grand Secretary as much as possible. The Grand Secretary’s distrust of foreigners was well known—and Henrik struggled to hide his disdain towards him.   “Hiding from the Grand Secretary again, Henrik?”   Henrik turned to find the princess sitting on a padded bench, playing with two golden meditation balls in her hand. His heart skipped a beat at her warm smile. He quickly bowed to hide the color rushing to his cheeks. “Good morning, Princess Jing.”   She leaned forward and whispered, “I don’t blame you. I try to avoid the old dragon whenever I can as well.”   “I apologize, Princess, I meant no disrespect to the Grand Secretary.”   “He enjoys finding reasons to complain where none exist. Anything new needs extra scrutiny. You and your horses are as new as they come. He prefers to be carried in his litter, no matter how slow his porters are.”   She paused, and Henrik looked up. Once they locked eyes, she continued, “I’m glad that Father likes new things. I have him to thank for our meeting.”   Henrik bowed again. “I’m honored by your words, Princess.”   “Please, I’ve told you to call me Jing when my father is not around.”   Henrik’s heart gave another leap. “I don’t know if that would be appropriate, Princess.” It was Henrik’s turn to lean in and whisper. She leaned forward to accept it. “The walls have ears.”   Princess Jing laughed and stood. “And that’s why I’m going out to the pagoda by the lake. Would you care to escort me?”   “I wish I could, Princess. I am to prepare the horses and carriage to collect Lady Nevena for tonight’s banquet.”   She clasped her hands with excitement. “How wonderful! Do you know why she is coming?”   “I do not. A member of the Fairy Council may request anything of any royal across the realms without explanation.”   Jing pulled on her long black hair flowing down the front of her white and gold silk robes. “It is wonderful when she comes but her aura wreaks havoc on my hair.”   “Your hair has always looks nice.” Henrik fumbled the words while studying the patterns stitched on his shoes.   Jing smiled as she tilted her face to keep viewing Henrik’s. “Have you met other fairies? Maybe some from Rikenvatten?”   The smile left Henrik’s face. “Yes, I’ve met my share of fairies. More than I care to remember.”   Princess Jing tilted her head. “I would love to hear that story, if you would like to share it.”   “Maybe another time, Princess.”