A warm breeze of spring air flew into the courtyard and gently tousled Ava’s hair. She sat on a bench that overlooked the garden. The castle’s walls surrounding the courtyard were starting to cast long shadows on the grass, indicating the setting sun. Ava cherished the afternoon sunlight that hit her face. It wasn’t often she was able to escape the guards’ attention and get time to herself. She closed her eyes and tried to live in the moment.
A soft flutter sounded beside her. When she opened her eyes, she saw Ovo, her animal companion resting on the bench beside her.
“I was wondering when you were going to come back,” Ava smiled. She reached over and lightly stroked the bird’s delicate black feathers.
“I tried to distract the guards and servants as best as I could. Unfortunately, I couldn’t divert them all One approaches momentarily.”
Ava sighed. Her moment of peace alone was gone. She stood up just in time to see a guard with his animal companion following close behind come through the threshold of the courtyard. Their eyes met and immediately the guard was bowing. “Your majesty. The King and the Queen request your company at once.”
Ava glanced at her companion. She could tell that he was just as curious as she was. “Did they say anything else?”
“No, Princess Ava.”
She nodded. “Very well. I suppose you were ordered to escort me?”
“I was, Your Majesty.”
The guard and his companion, a light brown coyote close by the guard’s heels, led the way down numerous hallways and turns, lit by torches mounted on the wall. Ava felt Ovo land on her shoulder.
He squeaked in her ear, “What could they possibly want now?”
Ava stifled a chuckle because she knew the guard would not be able to decipher what her companion was saying. “Whatever it is, I’m almost certain it can wait until after dinner,” she whispered.
After a few more moments of walking they reached the Grand Hall. The throne where Ava’s parents: King Joseph and Queen Amelia sat and watched over the entire kingdom of Elmwood. The guard and Ava emerged in the room and with a bow the guard and his coyote were gone.
“Ava, darling, have we magnificent news for you,” Queen Amelia said cheerfully. She rose out of her chair and quickly petted her jaguar companion who was seated next to her. “Your father and I have been in communication with King Peter from the kingdom of Woodpine. Unfortunately, he has fallen quite ill and will soon pass away. That is why he is offering his son, Prince Arnold, to take your hand in marriage in an effort to unite our two kingdoms and to show a token of peace.”
Ava could feel her stomach twist and her heart drop. She exchanged a glance with Ovo and he seemed equally as surprised. The world around her was spinning and soon she felt lightheaded. Marriage? Can this be real? Why was I not told before now? Thoughts were running rampant through Ava’s mind. She tried her hardest to calm herself down.
Her father, King Joseph, smiled warmly at her. “This means that when we pass, we know the kingdom will be in good hands.” The owl seated on the arm of his chair hooted in agreement.
“I have your wedding dress all picked out too. Ava, you’re going to absolutely love it. I can’t wait until you see it. Prince Arnold should be arriving soon,” she glanced to her side. “Hence the note the messenger has sent just now. After Prince Arnold stays for two weeks, you’ll be ready just in time for the wedding!” She seemed to notice the slight discomfort on her daughter’s face. “Ava, darling, what is the matter? You haven’t said a word.”
Ovo’s feet shifted awkwardly on her shoulder and Ava gulped nervously. “I-I was just not expecting such news so suddenly,” said Ava. She was at a loss for words.
“You are excited, aren’t you? This is quite a big deal. The last thing we want is for our child to be unhappy on her wedding day.”
Ava didn’t know how to feel. She was only sixteen and all of a sudden was thrust into a major milestone in her life. All of her life she was told that she was going to marry someone, a prince most likely, have many children and rule over the kingdom of Elmwood. However, she never really thought about what all that meant. Despite the negative thoughts swimming around in her mind, she tried her hardest to stay positive. Maybe it won’t be so bad.
It was a few days and Ava was once again away from the guards who seemed like they needed to keep watch over her all of the time. She sat in her room on a window seat looking out at Elmwood Village. A book was sprawled out across her lap and Ovo was seated by her feat. The sun came in and lit up the room perfectly. Ovo’s red wings shined brilliantly. It was just then, Ava noticed a group of people advancing down the main pathway towards the main gate into the castle. It didn’t take her long to determine who they were. A number of guards on horses made their way towards the castle’s gates.
There was a sudden knock at Eva’s door. A servant poked his head inside and said, “Princess Ava, your mother and father request your presence at the main gate at once. The prince from the kingdom of the Woodpine approaches momentarily.”
“You ready for this?” Ava asked Ovo.
“No, but neither are you. So I’d say we’re about ready as we’ll ever be.”
They made their way up to the gate where the horsemen and guards were riding alongside a horse-drawn carriage. One of the servants opened the door to the carriage and Prince Arnold emerged. The look of pure surprise must have been evident because Eva was at a loss for words. On her shoulder, she felt Ovo flutter his wings in shock. Prince Arnold had to have been at least twenty years older than her. He was probably just old enough to be her father. He wore what looked like very expensive and luxurious clothes with shoes that Ava guessed to be very extravagant. After Prince Arnold, emerged a male lion companion with a well-groomed and neat mane.
King Joseph stepped up to Prince Arnold gave a respectful bow. “We welcome you to the kingdom of Elmwood. I am King Joseph and this is my wife, Queen Amelia.” He noticed that Ava had just arrived and said, “This is my lovely daughter, Princess Ava. Soon to be your wife.”
Ava felt butterflies in her stomach and her her heart started beating rapidly. All of a sudden, she just wanted to fly away. Prince Arnold seemed to be inspecting Ava. He slightly frowned and said suddenly, “I imagined her taller and a bit older. However, I suppose she will have to do. Ava will make a wonderful addition to my family.”
Ava looked at Prince Arnold in shock and then back to her parents who were beaming at the prince. It seemed the king and the queen were unaware of the insult that Ava was just given.
“In two weeks time she’ll be just that. But for now, welcome again! I will have a servant take you to your bedchambers,” King Joseph gestured to a gathering of servants that stood behind them.
Looking up, Prince Arnold scoffed. “This is the whole castle? Surely this can’t be it. How do you all fit inside and still call yourselves royalty? This is truly appalling.”
Ava frowned. Not only did he just insult her home, he also just insulted many generations of ancestors who ruled before her. She wanted so badly to speak up, but she knew it wasn’t her place to do so.
“Granted, it is small. Especially compared to your castle in Woodpine. However, we call it home,” King Joseph said as he and Prince Arnold gazed at the castle in front of them.
“My castle in Woodpine must be three times the size of this one,” Prince Arnold muttered. His lion made a disgusted face next to him.
“It don’t think it’s small,” Ovo chirped in my ear. His tone was angry.
Again, Ava’s parents did not seem to be affected by Prince Arnold’s remarks. “Ava, darling, why don’t you join Prince Arnold on his way to his bedchambers. You might as well start getting to know him,” King Joseph told Ava.
There was nothing so far that Ava liked about Prince Arnold. He was rude and condescending. What made it worse was that her parents were completely charmed by his seemingly good-nature and the fact they had found a husband for their daughter.
“Father, I don’t believe that is the best idea. I-”
“You really shouldn’t talk to your father that way. He is the king after all,” Prince Arnold said.
Ava was to stunned to say anything more. Ava, Prince Arnold, and the servant silently made their way down the halls. She noticed the way the prince and his lion walked down the hallways, silently judging everything they saw. She noticed in particular, the scoff on his face whenever he didn’t approve of something.
“How do you all fit in halls like this? They’re so tiny,” Prince Arnold jeered.
“He can’t keep getting away with this!” Ovo cried in my ear. His red wings flapped in anger and annoyance.
Ava nodded at her companion. “Excuse me, Prince Arnold! I’ve lived in these halls my entire life and never once complained about their size. Just because there is something you are unused to, does not mean you must insult it.”
By that time, the group had reached the doors leading to Prince Arnold’s bedchambers. They came to a stop and Prince Arnold gave Ava a disapproving look.
“I don’t know who you think you are, but I won’t be talked to like that from a princess. I truly expected better from you,” he paused and glanced at the doors. Pushing them open, he revealed one of the castle’s most grand guest quarters. The bedsheets were neatly washed and made and the curtains were pulled to the side allowing the natural light to spill inside.
Despite how nice the room appeared Prince Arnold stood silently for only a moment before saying, “You can’t be serious. Surely, this is some sort of joke.”
The servant noticeably frowned and said, “This was the room King Joseph told me to take you too. Is there a problem? We had it especially prepared for your arrival.”
“Is there a problem?” Prince Arnold retorted in a mocking tone. “This room is so small, Askari and I can barely even fit. You realize that the rooms back in my castle are twice as big as this.” The lion leaped onto the bed and promptly sprawled himself over the covers. “Surely, you must have other rooms,” Prince Arnold said, giving Ava a questioning glance.
Ava had decided that she had had quite enough. “Nothing here satisfies you Prince Arnold, so why should I even bother?”
Prince Arnold suddenly grew more annoyed than he already was. He snapped, “I won’t be taking that tone from my wife. Cherish these two weeks while you still can, because when they are through, you will be married to me and I will not accept this rebellious demeanor.” With that, Prince Arnold slammed the door.
“Dinner will be served in an hour!” The servant called towards the door sheepishly.
As much as Ava wanted to stay in her room all night, she was forced by a servant, sent by the queen, to accompany her parents and Prince Arnold at dinner. Ava was also forced to sit next to Prince Arnold and Askari, who she was mildly intimidated by. The food served by Elmwood’s finest chefs was excellent as always, however, Prince Arnold found something to complain about for every course. He claimed that the numerous number of chefs in his castle would be able to serve something far better and more appetizing. Of course, King Joseph and Queen Amelia were still immune to his harsh remarks; they saw no wrong about him.
“So tell me Prince Arnold,” Ava’s father began when the group was finishing their meal, “What plans do you have for Ava and the kingdoms?”
Prince Arnold smiled. “I’m glad you asked. When we get married in two weeks time, we will move back down to Woodpine into my castle. It’s far more roomy there,” He glanced at Ava beside him, “believe me, you will like it much better than this cramped dusty castle.”Ava dropped her utensils on her plate with a loud clank. She couldn’t believe he had just said that. Glancing at her parents, became even more infuriated. They were gazing at Prince Arnold with hope-filled eyes. They must have been so happy that they were able to marry off their daughter to a prince from a powerful and immense kingdom.
“Now what about when we pass? What will become of this place?” The Queen inquired.
“Not much can be done. However, I will do the best I can. I’ll probably turn it into a military stronghold. I sure hope this place will be big enough for the things I intend,” he explained with a disapproving sigh. Ava looked up at her parents. Again, they were both staring at Prince Arnold with full smiles and wondrous eyes. The lion shook his luxurious mane.
“I’m so happy you’re to marry this prince, Ava. He’s going to take such good care of you,” King Joseph said, grinning at her.
Ava met his gaze and snapped, “Father, have you ever considered that I don’t need to be taken care of? I’m perfectly capable of doing that myself.”
The room was silenced except for a slight audible gasp from Prince Arnold. He looked at Ava in disbelief. “That is unbecoming of a princess and my future wife!” Prince Arnold cried.
Ovo stamped his feet on Ava’s shoulder. “Well said,” he chirped.
“Is she always like this?” Prince Arnold shook his head. “Joseph, you had better straighten her out before these two weeks are through. I’ve only known her for a day and already I can tell this will be a problem. I figure, if you don’t fix Ava’s attitude, I will be returning home to my kingdom without your daughter alongside me.” He abruptly dinner table and stormed out with his lion, Askari, following close by.
That night, Ava sat on her bed, gazing at Ovo who sat at the base of her bed. The moonlight was only the only thing illuminating his small red wings. He was just as awake as she was and knew exactly what was bothering her.
“If you have something to say, say it,” Ava said, impatiently.
“I think you know what I’m going to say,” said Ovo.
Sighing, Ava said, “I cannot marry him, Ovo. I can’t do this.”
“Then don’t. We can fix this.”
Ava starred. “How do suppose we fix this? There is nothing I can do to alter my position. I’m just a princess under the control of her parents.” She looked out the window on the sleeping kingdom. “I don’t suppose talking to my parents would help?”
Ovo suddenly fluttered onto Ava’s shoulder. “Won’t know until you try.”
Summoning all her courage, Ava tore the the covers off of her and stepped out of bed. She lit a candle and crept out of her room. Hearing, a night guard making the rounds around the bend of the hallway, Ava froze. The light cast by a torch the guard was holding was starting to light up the wall.
“He’s getting closer. Ava, we must hurry! We’ll get in a lot of trouble if we’re caught outside your bedroom at night,” Ovo said, on her shoulder. His wings flapped in distress.
Ava crept in the hallway’s shadows. She let the darkness overtake her as she stepped down the corridor.
Managing to avoid the guards on the night watch, Ava finally managed to creep down to her parents bedchambers. She stopped at the doors and listened. Surprisingly, she heard quiet murmuring inside their room. They were still awake.
Ava knocked at their door pensively. The murmuring stopped and King Joseph shouted, “What do you want at such a late hour?”
“Father it’s me,” Ava said quietly.
There was a longer pause this time.The door opened and Ava went inside. Her father stared at her with concerned eyes while her mother was sitting at a desk furiously scribbling something down on paper.
“What is it darling? Why are you out of bed at such a late hour?” King Joseph asked.
“Mother and Father. There is something that I need to discuss with you immediately. I’m afraid it simply cannot wait until morning,” said Ava.
Queen Amelia, who was still writing said, “It might have to, Ava. Your father and I are very busy still trying to arrange the best wedding that we possibly can. I hope that all this will impress Prince Arnold.”
Ava’s face fell. “What about me?” She blurted. “Have you thought about me in this process at all?”
Both of Ava’s parents looked at her quizzically. “Ava, we doing this for you. We just want what’s right for you and to just make you happy,” King Joseph told her.
“I cannot marry him,” Ava said abruptly. She lacked the confidence that it sounded like she had.
There was silence in the room. Queen Amelia finally stopped writing and turned around in her chair. Ava glanced back and forth between her parents.
“What do you mean? What are you saying?” King Joseph stammered.
“I’m saying that I am not happy, father. Prince Arnold cannot be my husband,” Ava replied.
The queen frowned. “Why do you say such things? Your two are meant to be wed. Our kingdoms will be united as one!” Her tone was increasing in anger.
Ava could feel tears welling up in her eyes. She tried her hardest to contain them. “He has no respect for me or our kingdom.” She felt Ovo on her shoulder and a small amount of comfort came to her.
“Do you realize what wonders this will do for our two kingdoms?” King Joseph asked, gently.
She angrily replied, “And do you realize that he is at least twenty years older than me and treats me as if I were a mere child?”
Queen Amelia heatedly stood up from her chair. Her face was red with fury. “You foolish girl. You’re just scared of growing up. Well you can’t be an innocent and protected little princess forever, Ava. I think it’s time you grow up.” She advanced towards Ava until she was right in front of her face. “You are marrying that prince and that is final. I will hear nothing more of it.”
There was nothing else to be said. It seemed like, to Ava, that their minds had already been made and she wouldn’t be able to change them. With a gloomy tread back to her bedchambers, Ava did not even care if she’d been seen by a guard. Sitting on her bed, Ava wrapped herself with the blankets and sheets and stared at moon. Absentminded tears fell down her cheeks.
Ovo soared around the room until he landed on her bedpost.
“I did what you suggested. I tried to fix this. I couldn’t do it,” Ava said while buried in her sorrow.
“It wasn’t you, Ava. It was your parents,” Ovo reaffirmed her.
“Either way. It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing that can be done. This is my destiny.”
Swooping down, Ovo landed on her knee inches away from her face. “Your destiny is what you decide. It doesn’t have to over just yet.”
Ava met her gaze with her companion’s. “What are you suggesting?”
“You can’t let them control your life,” he said. He gazed out the window. “Look at the outside world. It’s so big. There is so much more.”
The sound of Ava’s weeping slowly stopped. “You believe I can get out of this arranged marriage?”
“Won’t know until you try.”
Standing up and walking towards the window, Ava leaned on the glass. She watched as the moon journeyed across the nightsky. The townhouses and marketplaces of Elmwood were dimly lit up. The entirety of Elmwood was dormant.
“I cannot see how it’s possible. Mother and Father seem to be in agreement and I can’t change their minds,” Ava said, glancing back at her companion.
“Well maybe we don’t have to change their minds.”
Ava frowned. “What are you implying?”
“We could have a much different life. You just have to take a risk,” said Ovo. He fluttered his red wings and continued, “Ava, you deserve more from life than what you are getting out of it. You can do whatever you want.”
“You’re not suggesting I flee Elmwood are you? Ovo, I would never survive! My mother is right on one thing. I am a spoiled princess who lives in a castle. In my sixteen years, I’ve never had to fend for myself.” Ava sank on her bed. Leaving the castle was completely foreign to her. She couldn’t even fathom such an idea.
“I’m your companion and that will never change. You know I’m here to protect you as defender and guide you as a friend,” he flew back to the bedpost again. “I may seem small, but I promise I’ll make the best of it.”
Ava smiled at his confidence. “Where would we go? You and I both know that my parents’ guards would never stop looking for me as long as they are alive.”
“That’s a risk we’ll have to take,” Ovo chirped.
Ava was silent for a long time. Deep down, she knew Ovo was right. She couldn’t stay in Elmwood and be unhappy for the rest of her life. However, she was also terrified. On one hand, leaving everything that she ever knew was going to be the biggest challenge of her life. On the other, her life would be completely different and she wouldn’t have to follow any rules.
“I would never see my parents again,” Ava sighed, “Despite everything, I’ll miss them.” There was an immensely long pause. “However, you’re right. I suppose I need to leave.”
As the night wore on, Ava gained enough confidence to sift through the contents of her massive wardrobe. She eventually found a proper traveling outfit, different from the glamorous dresses that she wore on a daily basis. Finding a random satchel tucked away, Ava packed a few essentials for her journey.
The hallways were still pitch black, however, it wasn’t going to be long before the sun would rise once again. Slipping, past miscellaneous rooms and hallways, Ava managed, with great difficulty, to avoid the attention of the guards. It wasn’t until she reached the castle’s stronghold, she could feel a pair of eyes on her.
Turning around slowly, Ovo took off from Ava’s shoulder in defence. He returned, moments later, when he realized the guard and his companion had them cornered. However this person was different. Ava recognized this one. He was the guard she met all that time ago in the courtyard. His coyote circled his legs in anticipation.
“Princess Ava? May I ask what is your business down here? This stronghold area is restricted unless the castle is under siege.” The guard glanced nervously around at the supplies in the stronghold.
She looked at the guard and then at Ovo. “I’m leaving. But you mustn’t tell my parents,” Ava said hurriedly.
“I’m afraid I’ll have no choice. Surely, you of all people should know that no one is to be down here.”
Sighing, Ava reached into her pockets and pulled out an assortment of coins. She went up to the guard, who could do nothing but stare, and secretly placed the coins in his hands. “Please, I beg you. When they ask, tell them you have not seen me all night.”
“Princess Ava? Why are you doing this, if I may ask?”
“I’m starting over,” Ava put simply. She reached to her shoulder and stroked Ovo’s wings. With that, she opened the auxiliary castle door and slipped outside. The sun was just starting to peak from the hilltops in the east. She put up her cloak to disguise her easily recognizable face and set off down a path to the village. Some of the early farmers were already hard at work.
Each step she took, led her farther away from her life. Looking back, Ava noticed her castle was on the skyline. Ovo, who was soaring above Ava’s head, noticed she paused and was staring at her former home.
“It looks much different from out here, doesn’t it?” He remarked as he landed on her shoulder.
Smiling Ava said, “Our adventure is just beginning.”