As i stepped out onto my balcony, the ruffled skirt of my dress rippled in the evening wind. On mild nights like these, I liked to duck out of my chambers and onto this tiny terrace that stood above the orchard. It was so easy for me to find peace and contentment out here. Inside the castle, I often felt trapped, but when I could escape to this little ledge outside my bedroom, my spirit soared.
Now the scent of pear trees wafted through the air, and the stars above me glittered like moon dust, but I was anything but content. My cheeks and neck were blotchy from stress. When my head wasn’t throbbing, my heart was beating so hard I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath.
All because of a man I could not stop thinking about – and a man who was also a Pendragon.
“Oh, be some other name,” I said as I watched a comet’s tail streak through the sky with a brilliant white light. “But if this Pendragon swears his love to me, I will no longer be a Tragor.”
There was a sudden noise in the orchard – perhaps a lark flying from one tree branch to another – but I ignored it, too lost in my thoughts.
“Oh, Arthur, If you went by another name, I would adore you no less. But can either of us dismiss the facts?”
Another sound came from the ground below. This time, it was louder and caught my attention. I briefly peered down into the darkness, wiping a stray tear from my eye. But I saw nothing out of the ordinary.
“It is impossible to ignore or forget the history between our families. The stories I have heard about how my uncles have brutally slain your cousins. The vicious Camelot raids that Merlin protected me from again and again.
“My heart is not prejudiced, my dear, but my mind—“
“Is as alluring as your face,” said a booming voice from within the orchard’s walls. “And as sharp as your wit.”
I stumbled back a bit, completely stunned by the abrupt interruption.
“Who’s there?” I asked.
“Apologies, my lady, but I heard you speaking on your balcony and could not spend another moment in silence,” the voice replied.
I covered my mouth with both my hands. This was so embarrassing.
“Identify yourself, please, sir.” I approached the terrace banister and leaned over so I could have a closer look.
A gentleman stepped out from behind a lattice fence in the far corner of the orchard. He came into view when he took off his hat and gazed up, the moonlight striking the familiar and flawless contours of his face.
I would have been thrilled to see it was Arthur, had I not just made a total fool of myself by revealing all of my feelings. What a disaster.
“I can only imagine what you must think of me,” I said, my voice quite timid. “Now you know I’m a Tragor, and you have seen me talking to myself like an idiot.”
Arthur placed his hat back on. “I have no ill will towards you, Scarlett. And I don’t care what either of our families have done to each other. I only want to make you happy.”
“How did you find me here?” I said with a smile so big, my cheeks hurt a little.
“It was by chance,” Arthur said, his eyes never drifting away from me. “But from now on, I will no longer leave our fate up to the whims of the universe.”
My smile suddenly began to fade. “I’m afraid our fate is doomed, my lord, regardless of how I feel.”
“Why is that? Because I’m a Pendragon and you’re a Tragor?”
“Yes, of course.” I bowed my head sadly. “How can we ever get past that?”
“Sweet Scarlett, I personally have never taken the life of any Tragor,” Arthur said eagerly. “And I am certain you can say that you have never struck another person, whether a Pendragon or not.”
I nodded in affirmation, although I knew that in three days, I would be expected to do far worse than that.
“Then why must we judge ourselves by the sins of our fathers? Why must we hate because they hate? Our love, Scarlett, should be as free as we allow it to be,” Arthur reasoned.
“Our love,” I repeated, my heart dancing.
“Oh, Scarlett, please don’t be doubtful,” Arthur pleaded.
“It is not that simple.” I wished that I could let my emotions run wild, but one of us had to act reasonably.
“What else could come between us?”
“What else? I’m turning into a sorcerer! In three days, no less.” I looked directly at Arthur to see his reaction, and much to my surprise, he was unfazed.
“If you were turning into a fish or a monkey or a chicken in an hour, I would not care,” Arthur said, smirking.
“That is absurd.” I laughed in spite of myself. “And I do not know how you can find this funny!”
“I do not understand it either. But absurd or not, when it comes to these feelings I have for you, the last thing I want to do is ask questions,” Arthur said.
Then he got down on one knee, and added: “Except for one....Will you marry me?”
I felt like my whole body was weightless, and that any moment now, I’d float up into the clouds.
“I pledge all that I have and am to you.” Arthur continued to talk as I remained in a daze.
Out of the blue, a night-pitched voice arose from within my chambers. “Scarlett! Miss Scarlett!”
“One moment, good nurse,” I yelled over my shoulder. Then I quickly looked down at Arthur, who was still on one knee beneath my terrace.
“My love, if you must leave before you can answer, give me some sign of hope,” Arthur begged.
“Madam! I will not call you again,” the nurse proclaimed in agitation.
The tension in the air had my stomach in knots. I could barely think straight, so the only thing to do was listen to my heart.
“My darling, I must go. And so should you, before one of the guards catches you here. Then our marriage will never see the light of day,” I said.
Arthur grinned and sprang onto his feet. “So then you will marry me. Oh, blessed, blessed night!”
“MADAM SCARLETT!” the nurse shouted once again.
“I hear you! In a moment, I will come!” I yelled back.
“First thing in the morning, I will ask Gaius at the monastery to officiate at the wedding ceremony,” Arthur said quickly.
I had never fought so hard to contain my emotions. “And I will send someone to confirm the plan. I pray sleep will not change your mind, nor mine.”
“Do not make me curse at you, madam!” the nurse bellowed from my bedchamber.
I blew Arthur a kiss and waved goodbye before making my retreat.
“How could you have done such a thing?” Lady Tragor scolded as I sat on the edge of my bed with my hands folded meekly in my lap.
If I had known the nurse had been beckoning me so that I could get verbally assaulted by both my parents, I would have jumped off the balcony and eloped with Arthur right then. But no, I would have to endure their ranting until they were satisfied with my apology for pouring the goblet of wine over Count Mordred’s head. Considering that I was not even a slight bit remorseful, but Lord and Lady Tragor could be there all night. The nurse, fortunately for her, had made a clean getaway.
“I admit, I might have overreacted a little,” I said. “But I had just found out that he and my parents were conspiring behind my back!”
“Do you realise what kind of position that puts us in?” Lord Tragor snapped, his fiery eyes brimming with anger. “Count Mordred is an essential part of our strategy against Prince Leon’s treaty. Now we are at an extreme disadvantage because of you!”
Fuelled by newfound love and a burgeoning anger of my own, I stared down at my father and challenged him.
“Had you told me you were arranging my marriage, then perhaps none of us would be in this situation,” I fought back. “I am perfectly capable of choosing a husband!”
“That has nothing to do with it,” he replied. “I am going to retrieve Count Mordred from the great hall and bring him here so that you can ask for his forgiveness,”
As soon as Lord Tragor stormed out of the room, I sprang up and shouted after him, my poise cracking under the pressure.
“I am so tired of your orders!”
Lady Tragor gripped me by the wrist and spun me around. “And we are tired of your disobedience! Your marriage to Count Mordred –“
“Will be a complete fraud,” I interjected. “I do not even know him, let alone love him.”
“Love?” Lady Tragor almost laughed. “What do you know about it?”
After meeting Arthur tonight, I could have written volumes on the subject of love, but I would never admit that to my mother.
“I could ask you the same question,” I mumbled. But my mother and her exceptional hearing caught every word.
“I know it must seem like I do not love you. Neither I nor your father is able to express those feelings easily,” she replied. “But we care about you, and want what is best for you and this family.”
I lowered my head. The anxiety was finally getting to me. “Then why are you and father hurting me so much?”
“These are difficult and trying times for our people.” Lady Tragor let go of my wrist and lightly rubbed me on the shoulder. “We have to make certain sacrifices to preserve our lifestyle.”
I looked back up at my mother, my eyes glistening with tears. The thought of sacrificing my love for Arthur and all of my principles weakened me.
“Is there no other way to curry favour with Count Mordred? Or am I just expendable, mother?”
Lady Tragor sighed with resignation, but did not speak. Perhaps my pleas were starting to sink in.
I sensed an opportunity to sway my mother, so I took Lady Tragor’s hand and kissed it as though my mother was the queen. I mean she is a queen but not the highest queen there could possibly be in Camelot.
“Please, my lady, be lenient with me. Nothing in my life is in my own hands, and that is completely unbearable.”
After a brief silent pause, Lady Tragor said: “Maybe we haven’t examined all our options with the Count.”
I broke into a hopeful smile. “Does that mean you’ll reconsider?”
Lady Tragor whisked herself away from me and floated towards the door. “It means that I will speak to your father about it.”
“Thank you,” I said with a dignified curtsy. I knew better than to push my mother any further.
“I’ll send in your nurse to help you freshen up,” Lady Tragor said as she exited the room. Once she reached the hallway, she glanced over her shoulder and added, “You still have a heartfelt apology to deliver, don’t you?”
“Yes, Mother,” I said, crossing my fingers behind my back.