Oriana stared at her reflection as her handmaiden, Bella, braided her long blonde hair. It felt like she had been sitting in this same seat her whole life. Always waiting. But now that the wait was almost over, there was a pit forming in her stomach. What if she wasn't ready?
"Were you thinking about something like this, m'lady?" asked Bella.
Oriana looked at the elaborate braids, twisted in almost the same way her mother wore them. Her whole life she had done exactly what was expected of her. Now, if things went as planned, she'd marry Prince Rixin. The only problem was that she wasn't sure if things would go as planned.
It had been years since she had last seen Prince Rixin. Even so, it wasn't easy to forget the fact that he hadn't seemed interested in her at all. They had just been children then, but she'd still noticed the way his eyes seemed to gravitate to Bella instead. She looked up at her handmaiden.
"Actually, I was thinking about trying something a little different." If she wanted the prince to notice her, she needed to do something bold.
"What did you have in mind?" asked Bella.
Oriana thought about it. She had hoped Bella would just come up with something. Then she remembered how Bella used to wear her long, dark hair in loose curls. Oriana had always thought it was so beautiful. "What if we try more of a crown of braids with some soft curls?"
"That would look lovely. Let me see what I can do." Bella began to undo the braids.
Oriana watched as her appearance started to transform. She knew she was overthinking things, but she couldn't seem to stop. Last time she had seen the prince, she had been going through an awkward stage. It was no wonder that Prince Rixin hadn't given her the time of day. But she wasn't the girl she used to be. And she was certain the prince wasn't the same boy. She had heard the stories about his skills with a sword and his reputation in the joust. Just thinking about Prince Rixin's eyes on her made her pulse race. She remembered his smile and how it lit up his whole face. And his laugh. She bit the inside of her cheek.
Oriana still had almost two weeks to perfect her hair before the prince would arrive for the joust, but she couldn't help but feel like it wasn't enough time. She needed to calm her nerves, and playing with her hair was the only thing that seemed to help. She had to look perfect. It was easy to remember his smile and laugh. But time changed people. What if he wasn't the same? What if he wasn't the one? She bit her lip. That wasn't really what she was worried about. She was terrified that she wasn't the one he wanted.
She looked in the mirror to see Nesta, her youngest sister, skipping into the room. Oriana breathed a sigh of relief, happy for the distraction.
"I'm hungry," said Nesta.
"But we just ate supper," said Oriana.
"I know. But Papa finished eating too quickly. I didn't even get to the whole left side of my plate."
"How about we sneak down to the kitchen after Bella finishes my hair?"
A huge smile spread across Nesta's face. "Okay." Then her smile turned quizzical. "Why are you doing your hair after supper?"
"I'm just trying a few new styles."
"For the knights competing in the joust?"
"No...just...to try." Oriana bit her lip. Nesta was too intuitive for a six-year-old.
"Are you really going to marry Prince Rixin?" Nesta asked as she twirled around in a circle, her long skirt lifting around her the way she enjoyed so much.
Oriana's spirits sunk again. She shook her head and turned toward her little sister. I hope to Arwin that he'll ask for my hand. "Don't be ridiculous, I haven't even seen him since we were children."
"But I heard Mama and Papa talking about your betro...betroth...betroval?"
"Betrothal, m'lady," said Bella.
"Don't encourage her, Bella." Oriana turned back toward the mirror. Her stomach had been twisted in knots all day and this was making matters worse. It wasn't as though she hadn't heard the rumors. She just thought they were a little premature. Nothing was set in stone yet. Really, it was out of her hands completely. It was up to King Ivan, if he was even still alive. He hadn't made a public appearance in years, not since the death of the queen. Now he just sat in his castle all day doing Arwin knows what. Some people said he reads books all day. Others claimed he ate children. Some people even whispered that he was dead. Whether or not the king was alive, it wouldn't hurt if Prince Rixin wanted to marry her. Surely the prince would have some say in his own future.
"I heard he's very handsome," said Nesta. She continued to twirl around until she got too dizzy to stand. She fell to the floor. "And he is the prince."
"And I heard he's the best swordsman in the realm," added Selina.
Oriana looked up to see Selina walking into the room. Selina was her younger sister, but only by two years. Ori and Nesta had gotten their mother's blonde haired and high cheekbones, while Selina had the misfortune of being stuck with their father's dull brown hair and strong chin.
"Now you're encouraging her too?" asked Oriana.
"I was merely stating a fact. He's coming here for the tournament, after all. Just be yourself, you have nothing to fret over," Selina said with a pat on Oriana's shoulder. "If you follow Arwin's path, all will go as it should." She gave her older sister an encouraging smile and then turned to her younger one. "Now, Nesta, it's time to practice your stitching. Sister Morel will have a fit if you show her another crooked seam." She held her hand out and helped Nesta to her feet.
Oriana smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. It didn't matter if Prince Rixin was handsome or the best swordsman. She hadn't seen him in years. She didn't even know if they'd have anything in common. Things were already working out grandly for him. She just wasn't sure if she had any part in his life.
Bella finished the final twist of Oriana's hair and held up a mirror. "How is that, m'lady?"
"It's the perfect hairstyle for sneaking some chocolate out of the kitchen." Oriana winked at Nesta.
Nesta laughed and dropped her needle and thread onto the floor.
"Nesta!" said Selina as she picked up the discarded items.
"Oh, one day I hope I get to marry a prince too," Nesta said as she rested her hands on the arm of Oriana's chair. "Hopefully he'll eat slowly enough so that I can finish my whole supper."
Oriana laughed. "One day I'm sure you'll find your prince. Until then, Selina is right. We must both behave ourselves." She tapped the tip of Nesta's nose.
"Well, maybe we don't have to behave ourselves too much," Selina said. "Some chocolate does sound good right about now."
Oriana glanced once more at her reflection before standing up. The curls looked romantic. They somehow made her look innocent yet more grown up. She suddenly had new confidence. Maybe everything will work out for the best.
"Come on," Nesta said and slipped her hand into Oriana's.
Nesta's laughter was contagious. Oriana couldn't help but smile too as her sister pulled her down the hall with more strength than she realized Nesta could muster.
"Shouldn't we clean this up first?" called Selina before giving in and running after the other girls.
Oriana needed to stop obsessing over things beyond her control. What was there to be nervous about, really? Oriana had a great life here in Arwin's Gate. Besides, there would be plenty of handsome knights and lords at the tournament. Just the thought made her stomach twist back into knots. She only had eyes for one lord. She had been smitten with Prince Rixin since the first moment she saw him. Please let him feel the same way about me now.