“Guards are waiting at the bottom to escort you to the great hall,” Marva told me.
“So I don’t run.”
“So you don’t get lost.”
“Of course. That’s what Father was thinking.”
I breathed in and walked forward. Two steps later, I stood in unknown territory. I looked over my shoulder to Marva. She nodded, and I turned around. Slowly, I walked down the curving stairs. At the last step, twin guards bowed to me. “Your highness.”
I stepped down, and they took up positions beside me. Their chain mail rattled as they led me down the many hallways. People crowded the halls, but they all parted before us. As we passed, I could feel their stares and hear their murmurings.
“Is that -”
“- the princess -”
“Thirteen princes came.”
Then the people fell away, and I could see beyond them to the main door. The door to the courtyard. I had never been there, and I wondered what it would be like out there, in the fresh air and the endless sky.
The guards walked me past it though. A minute later, we stood in front of the double doors to the great hall. Two more guards pulled them open. Through the widening crack, I could see into the hall-full of feasters.
They filled three long tables, and their jewels danced in the light of many fireplaces. But brightest of all were those who sat at the dais. I counted them. The king, his three advisers, and thirteen others. The princes, I thought. The doors opened fully, and the hall rose to its feet as one. The king raised his hand towards me and smiled for his guests.
“I present the crown princess, Ciara of Crosia!”
The feasters applauded, and I took slow measured steps up to the dais. I kept my head high, focusing on the swish of my white dress, but I could feel the eyes on me as I stopped before the king.
I curtsied low. “Father.”