Long and cumbersome were the swaths of silk, satin, and lace her handmaidens and servants reverently stuffed into the carriage, tears streaking their faces as they sobbed their last farewells to the little princess who was little no longer. The sun was shining, the open carriage laden with heaps of spring flowers, golden daffodils and royal violet pansies contrasting beautifully while sending sweet aromatics skyward, not dissimilar to the incense burnt with the sacrificial lamb on the Vernal Equinox in the villages surrounding her father’s keep.
The spiritual grove lay only miles into the North Wood; she could walk the path blindfolded, and, indeed, could find her way without nary a path, having spent many holidays in her youth; first playing among the ancient oaks and benign Will-o-the-wisps, growing older and wiser to sit near the elders, silent throughout their dances and rituals, and as initiate into the wyld faith of the North. She could recall where the carriage would stop just as it had for her two elder sisters, excepting this time it would be she who walked the dogwood path alone; the narrow trail covered with petals of half decayed flowers, the sweet aroma mingling with the tiniest scent of death. There would be a death of sorts once she crossed the petals and reached the bare circle under the oaken branches; she would stand there, before the eyes of man, gods, and earth, no longer a child, yet not quite a woman, and a small part of her soul would mourn the death of her carefree days as a child, days spent as the apple of her mother’s eye.
She would mourn the grove, her home apart from the children’s quarters in the keep, the clean, moist air that ever lingered after the morning’s mist had been banished by the forceful rays of the sun, the cool shade of the afternoon, and the wind whispering sweet nothings as she followed the trail of some hart or hare. The feel of the wyld between her toes, in her hands, tangled in her hair she would miss more than all the silken petticoats, pearl broaches, and satin slippers combined. She may have slept, fed, and studied within stone walls covered by ancient tapestries, and warmed with brilliant fires in hearths as great and tall as the king, himself, but her heart and soul thrived in the quiet bustle of the wood, among the gatherers and hoarders for winter, the pollinators buzzing about on their queen’s errand, and the chirping discussions of migration, family, and perhaps even love.
A silent and solitary tear escaped and slid down her face, hidden under a veil of lace which pooled in her lap as the carriage rolled over the dirt road. Her fingers idly toyed with the embroidered flowers in the veil and those matching on her ivory dress. Her hair, which she had been warned countless times throughout the morning not to fiddle with or even to touch, had small white flowers braided within, through, and atop her long, dark tresses to the point of causing such a weight on her head she worried of moving about lest she tip and fall, crashing down to the detriment of her reputation and to the laughter of any and all who saw. Such embarrassment would fill the gossip mongering old ladies who traded such news about, as merchants would trade needful bits such as string and soap, for years to come traveling down the generations until she was only remembered for an awkward moment in time. “Princess Caiomhe,” they’d say, “Indeed, a true beauty with a stone’s weight of flowers in her hair, that is, until she looked to her left, leaning a bit too much, and fell in the mud like a pig in slop, unable to stand until those around her finished their snickering and pulled her to her feet.”
Too soon the carriage stopped, the driver turning about, offering a sad smile and a hand to help her down to the soft dirt covered with even softer petals. She stared, unseeing, at the path before her, a flowering tunnel. Hearing the murmurs of those gathered, she froze, unwilling to take the first step. After spreading her train behind her, the driver, whom she’d known from infancy, laid a hand on her shoulder and met her icy blue eyes with his own of honey brown, offering a steadfast faith in her that she didn’t have for herself. He spoke; she watched his lips move, but her ears and mind were in the near past listening once again to the overheard whispers of anger between her mother and father. Her mother, her champion, the sole heart who would dare speak for her against the king, arguing against all reason for him to delay the union, she was too young to marry. All knew of the king’s temper and wrath, yet she alone braved the tempest for her daughter, knowing the cost might well be a communion with those who adorned the spikes above the main gate.
Since then, her mother had only subdued smiles and glances full of pity and shame for her. Her cause was lost like a fallen leaf torn from the ground in a harsh autumn’s gale. She did her best to smile in the present, yet she had never learned to school her features, her emotions and heart plastered on her face and in her eyes for all to see. Thinking if only she could bare her feet to the ground, she might be able to glean some amount of strength of her beloved earth, she took her first hesitant step into the tunnel and on towards fate.