Vivian woke with a jolt, and the last pieces of her dreams floated away like dust particles in the sunlight. Red, curly locks rested gently on either side of her face as she turned to look at herself in the large ornate mirror. She rolled to the edge of her bed and slowly lowered her feet to the floor, feeling the weight of sleep calling her back to the sheets. A knock at the door helped her to her feet.
"Come in!" She called. Ophelia, her chambermaid, entered quietly. Ophelia's short brown hair was pulled into a tight bun wrapped with a bright red ribbon which provided a pop of color to her otherwise beige outfit. A sprinkling of light freckles framed her kind, wide brown eyes. Ophelia shut the large hardwood door behind her and Vivian reached out her hands,
"Oh, Ophelia, it's you! Your timing is impeccable, will you help me pick out something to wear?"
"I mean... Yes, though your father has requested your presence in the throne room posthaste," Ophelia stuttered with a sense of urgency in her voice.
"Did he say why?" Vivian was taken aback by her demeanor.
"Only that it is an emergency and I am to pack your things for travel."
"For travel?" Vivian gasped. She had never left the palace grounds in her twenty years of life. Something had to be terribly wrong for her father to be suggesting that she suddenly leave.
Ophelia pulled back the large red curtain in her chamber, revealing a line of colorful dresses.
"Did he say what I am to wear?" Vivian moved to stand beside her, looping her arm through the crook of Ophelia's right elbow.
"As always, something to complement that fiery head of yours," Ophelia pulled a light-weight royal blue gown and tan over-coat.
"I'm really going to leave?" Vivian wondered aloud as Ophelia began tying her into the gown. White lace hugged the edges of her shoulders. Her skin was swiftly covered by the over-coat.
"I'm not sure what is going to happen," Ophelia said softly as she braided Vivian's hair.
Vivian stared into her own dark green eyes in the mirror. In the reflection she saw a mixture of fear, excitement, and confusion befitting the situation at hand. She couldn't help but feel that something must be wrong in order for her father to send her from the kingdom. Where would she be going? Would she be alone? Ophelia's small, fair fingers twisted her braids into a neat wrap behind her head,
"Your father told me to send you by the kitchen for something to eat on your way, but that you mustn't stop to eat it."
"Eat while I'm walking across the palace? That would be just inappropriate!" Vivian looked back at her friend, who shrugged,
"Perhaps in normal conditions."
Vivian left Ophelia in her chamber, packing dresses and hairpieces into large satchels for travel. She made her way through the hardwood and stone halls toward the kitchen. Sunlight peaked in through the windows on the East side of the hall, warming the cold stone floor under her thin flats. She carried the blue fabric of her dress in her hands so that she could run.
Thoughts swirled through her head. What could possibly be happening? She suddenly felt hurt that her father had been dealing with some sort of emergency without telling her. Her older brother, the heir to the throne, was usually the only one that was involved in such matters, though she was consistently interested.
Smells of cinnamon and yeast wafted through the air indicating that the kitchen was growing near. As Vivian approached the doorway, the small red wooden door was cracked open and she could see the glowing light of the wood-burning stove stretched out into the hall. People were whispering, or speaking softly. Vivian pressed herself against the cold wall, hoping to overhear anything that would provide greater explanation for her circumstance.
She lifted her dress to avoid it scraping across the floor and inched toward the sliver of light. Peeking around the corner she could see two people, standing incredibly close. The woman facing her was the chef's assistant, Mary, a small woman about her age who was training to serve the royal family.
Vivian leaned further into the doorway to see with whom Mary was conversing so intimately. The distance between the two individuals closed swiftly. Vivian watched as a slim man, no, a woman, pressed her lips against Mary's and held her head in rough hands. The mystery woman wore a white men's linen shirt tucked into brown canvas pants. Her long blonde hair was tied into a ponytail behind her head. No wonder Vivian had mistaken her for a man, dressed in that fashion. A heat rose in her cheeks as Vivian watched Mary lean into the kiss, wrapping her arms around the taller woman's waist. It was at that moment that she realized she was probably seeing something that she shouldn't be.
Mary opened her eyes for a brief moment and happened to lock her gaze straight onto Vivian's. Her eyes widened in shock and Vivian felt herself mirroring the surprise and embarrassment. She pushed on the blonde woman's chest with force, though it didn't seem to move her as she chuckled.
"Princess," Mary gasped breathlessly, "My lady, I apologize! I did not realize you were there."
Vivian stood fully in the doorway now, her hands on the door, frozen and unsure of what to say, "I didn't mean to intrude."
The blonde woman turned, and striking gray eyes met her gaze. She remained perfectly calm and un-phased by Vivian's sudden intrusion. Her casual mood made Vivian feel even more out of sorts.
"I'll take my leave then, princess," she smiled, flashing a set of beautiful white teeth. Her face had patches of dirt as if she'd slept on the floor, but somehow it was almost charming on her sun-kissed skin. Vivian watched her exit, bewildered.
Mary called out to her as she stepped toward the door, "Luci... I..."
Luci turned, standing right in front of Vivian now, "That's alright, Mary, I can always come back." Luci grabbed a bread roll from the table and bit into it, turning back toward Vivian. Vivian realized, in her awe of this odd woman, she was blocking the doorway.
Luci didn't wait for her to move, turning to the side and stepping past Vivian, smiling as she held the roll in her teeth and proceeded down the hall. Vivian turned back toward Mary, who was as red as a tomato. Not having shared many conversations with Mary, Vivian decided that it was probably best to forget the five minutes prior, and simply take a roll from the plate.
Mary looked as though she wanted to say something, but Vivian just smiled at her, took the roll, and headed out. She internally screamed at herself as she walked away. Why didn't she say anything? Why did she have to eavesdrop? She settled within herself that she would only enter rooms loudly in the future... Which was a perfect decision to make as she stood outside the throne room doors.