The Loveless Princess
Princess Anette doesn't love her fiancé, Prince Everett, and despite constant assurances from everyone around her, knows she never will. It's not that he's terrible, it's simply that she doesn't love anyone, or want to be with anyone, the way the rest of the world says she should.
But princesses must marry princes. She's expected to have her proper happily ever after. So Annette tries her best to be happy in her new life—until she catches her husband with the stable boy, and in a moment of anger wishes Prince Everett would just disappear.
And then he does.
"Anette, please, see reason," her father said, rubbing his forehead in exasperation. Her mother took his hand, holding it tightly as her brow furrowed.
"There isn't any reason to be seen," Anette snapped. She stared at their intertwined hands, watching the light glint off her mother's wedding ring as she continued in a softer voice. "I won't marry Prince Everett. I don't love him."
"You'll come to love him in time, darling," her mother reassured her.
Anette shook her head. She would never come to love Prince Everett. She had never felt any love or desire toward anyone, so what made Prince Everett so special? Since she was small, she had always been confused by love and by desire. What were those two emotions that everyone around her seemed to have, that made them so sought after?
"You're wrong," she told her mother, an edge to her voice that made her mother's eyes widen.
"Anette!" Her father slammed his fist against his armrest. Anette flinched slightly. She didn't expect her father to strike her, but the movement and the loud tone of his voice were like the back of a hand all on their own.
"Dear," her mother murmured to him, and he sighed, settling back in his throne.
He was understandably tired from arguing. The debate between her and her parents had been going on for weeks, ever since it was announced Princess Anette of Thalor and Prince Everett of Estar were to be married. Anette refused to be married off to a man she had never met, but she couldn't do much. Already it was the day before the wedding, with Prince Everett arriving from Estar any hour and servants bustling around the castle making preparations. No matter what Anette did, she couldn't stop the decision. It wasn't hers to make.
"Anette," her father said again, his voice low and deliberate. "Do you really think you'll never find love? That you'll never find happiness?"
Anette bit her lip. She clenched her fists, grabbing handfuls of her gown and twisting the pale green fabric. She was silent, not trusting her voice. It would waver somehow, she knew. It would crack or shake and betray her feelings. She wanted to shout at him that she didn't want to be married, because why on earth did marriage mean happiness?
It would do no good, though, no matter how much she tried, and so she kept quiet.
"Please, darling," her mother begged, "this marriage must happen, for the good of our two kingdoms. Prince Everett is a lovely boy. He will take good care of you." Her voice cracked, and guilt filled Anette, ugly and sour. "We only want the best for you."
"I promise you, my daughter." Her father squeezed her mother's hand. "You'll be happy."
Why must I marry to be happy? She thought again, letting go of her dress and trying to smile. She cared for her parents very much, and couldn't bear the thought of either of them getting any more upset. Her mother's eyes were wet and shiny, and her father kept shifting uncomfortably.
"He's really a lovely boy," her mother said again, wiping her eyes. "He's close to your age, and he has quite a handsome face. I hear he also enjoys riding. He spends much of his time in the stables."
Anette perked slightly at the mention of riding. Despite the fact they were marrying, she knew little about Prince Everett. She didn't talk to very many young men. But the expectant looks on her parent's faces made her sink back down. They thought if she and Prince Everett could find some common ground, she would be less opposed to the wedding.
She smoothed the front of her dress, wanting to cry. Something so simple wouldn't make her love someone.
Anette shoved her feelings down and nodded, unable to speak with everything welling up in her throat. Her parents immediately perked up. Her mother clapped her hands together in delight, while her father's eyes gleamed with happiness.
"Oh, my darling." Her mother stood and embraced her. "I know you'll be happy with him."
Anette wanted to ask what she should do if she wasn't happy being married. She kept quiet. Her mother brushed her hair from her face, beaming. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement, the laughter lines around her eyes appearing. "Come with me, darling. I want to see you in your dress once more before the ceremony." She took Anette's arm and led her away, chattering on about how happy she was.
"Oh, I've been so excited for this day ever since you were born," her mother said as they climbed the tower to Anette's room. "I always wanted a daughter, so that before her wedding I could comb her hair and help her dress."
Anette was silent, and her mother continued to talk. She kept going on and on about how happy Anette would be and about how wonderful married life was. Her mother said she'd never been happier than when she was married to Anette's father, and that Anette would no doubt find happiness with Prince Everett.
"Mother…" Anette started as her mother sat her down in front of the mirror and began to brush her hair. "Are you sure I'll grow to love Prince Everett?"
"Of course, darling. You two will be a wonderful couple." She reassured, her cheeks flushed and eyes excitedly bright.
"But what, darling?"
"Remember what you told me, when you were a little younger than me now, and you liked a serving boy who worked at the royal table?"
Her mother pursed her lips, but she nodded. "He had lovely golden curls and bright blue eyes. I gave him a kiss behind the columns one night."
"Did you love him like you love father?"
She blinked slowly, but she shook her head. "No, darling. It was just a passing thing." She smiled faintly. "Besides, he was a serving boy."
"But you liked him."
"I suppose. Why do you ask?"
Anette hesitated. She had never felt something like that towards anyone, serving boy with golden curls and bright blue eyes or otherwise. She had never looked at a person and thought she would like to kiss them. Her maids sometimes gossiped about boys, but it had always confused her. What was the point? What was the attraction? Why gossip about boys when there were so many other things to talk about?
"I've never felt like that toward a boy," she admitted, her voice barely audible. Her mother's look in the mirror made her regret saying anything. Her mother gripped her shoulders tightly, her eyes suddenly serious.
"What about girls?" her mother demanded, an edge to her voice Anette wasn't familiar with, nor did she understand the reason for it. "Do you feel anything toward girls?"
"No, mother," she said honestly.
Her mother relaxed. "You mustn't scare me like that."
Anette frowned. "Why does that scare you?"
Her mother pursed her lips again, focusing intensely on brushing Anette's hair. Anette winced as the brush ripped harshly through a tangle.
"You're betrothed to a prince. You… It's not…" She took a deep breath slowly, shaking her head slowly. "Anette, you're a princess. And princesses, of all girls, must love boys."
"What if I don't love anyone?" Anette burst. She felt so angry and frustrated with it all. She wanted to reach out and break the mirror in front of her and scream, but rational thought overpowered the urge.
"You'll love Prince Everett," her mother said firmly, the tone in her voice signaling an end to the conversation.
Anette bit her lip to hold back tears again as her mother continued combing her hair. The room was silent, the absence of words heavy and stuffy.
Finally, her mother set down the brush, sighing. "Anette, dearest. You're young, and you've not known many suitable boys. Your grandmother had trouble with love as well. She never met another person until she was eighteen, when her husband found her and rescued her from that awful tower."
Yes, but she was actually in love with her husband. Anette nearly said, but she kept her mouth shut tight.
"Your father and I want the best for you. We decided that Prince Everett was the ideal match for you. He is from a famous lineage, you know. His great-great grandmother could feel a pea under a hundred mattresses."
Anette didn't say anything more. Her mother hummed a tune as she helped Anette dress, but the room still bristled with tension. Anette allowed her mother to help her into the white dress that had been made when the marriage was first announced. She kept her face passive as she slid the white fabric past her head, but inside she was screaming and raving. She didn't want to be married. She knew, deep down, that no matter who she married— boy or girl, golden curls and blue eyes or otherwise, she would not love them. She didn't feel it was possible.
She stood in front of the mirror, taking in the white dress and the silver crown pinned tightly in her hair. She wanted to rip the dress apart and throw the crown out the window. If she weren't a princess, she wouldn't have to marry. But her mother stood behind her, beaming and her eyes filling with happy tears, and Annette stood still. It didn't matter what she wanted. This was what her parents thought was best. So she must marry the prince.