The vase shattered satisfyingly as it smashed into the wall, sending razor sharp pieces spiraling in all directions. They landed sporadically with a soft tinkling that was not nearly as satisfying as the first resounding crash. The girl responsible stared at the detritus surrounding her, breast heaving with barely controlled sobs, eyes bright with anger. She looked away and incrementally brought herself under control. Eventually, one side of her mouth curled into a humorless, rueful smirk.
"Well…I guess this is it then. Time to go."
Downstairs, the inhabitants of the castle prepared.
Across the land, a dragon preened before taking flight.
In the center of a bustling town, a jovial guild's preparations for a festival devolved into yet another twenty-person brawl.
Back in her tower, the girl glanced back at the remains of the vase as a familiar knock came at her door. An equally familiar voice called to her through the heavy wooden obstacle.
"Princess….is everything alright? I heard a crash!"
"Everything is fine, Ana…it was just a vase. I'll clean it up." The door opened, revealing a maid.
"No, Princess, please. It is my job," Ana insisted, already getting to work.
The princess looked away and sighed in frustration,
"If you must."
She stalked across the room to her desk and sat, chin in hands. To all the world, she looked the picture of a petulant princess: golden locks falling around her face, full lips pushed out in a pout, chocolate brown eyes staring mulishly out the window. But inside, her mind was churning. She had meant what she said. It was time to go. As she looked across the immaculately manicured gardens, she saw nothing but her prison. The courtiers that toured them, her guards. So she plotted.
Several hours later and the maid long gone, the princess had gathered everything she needed. Tomorrow, she would escape from her gilded cage. As she got into bed, she let her mind drift back to that afternoon: the meeting that had finally galvanized her into action.
The princess—Lucy—obeyed, in a swirl of pink chiffon. She looked across the desk at her father, the King of Argyle and knew that whatever this meeting was about, she wouldn't like it. It was rare for her to be summoned into her father's presence, and even rarer for her to leave an audience with him without crying and breaking something afterwards.
Ever since her mother's death years ago, her father had become more and more distant, until she had finally come to realize that she was nothing more to him now than a pawn in his game of power. He was a good king, by all objective accounts—fair, just, and responsible for their highly prosperous country's rise under his rule. But none of that made him a good father.
"I have arranged your marriage. The final negotiations have gone through, and all that is left is for you to meet your fiancé."
Lucy sucked in a sharp breath. She had been expecting this, but not so soon! She had thought that she might get SOME kind of a say, but apparently, that was not to be the case.
"What…I don't…Who is it?!" she cried, shocked into speech.
"Prince Tristan, of Zinada. The match will improve our access to their ports and therefore our trade options."
Now she flushed with rage. She understood—under duress and strong protest, yes, but the core concept was not lost on her—about marrying to improve the lives of your kingdom, but this? HIM? 'Prince' Tristan was nearly 40 years old, and was well-known to be not only cruel, but categorically unfaithful. He had already gone through two wives: the first divorced in disgrace for a younger, prettier woman; the second killed in childbirth (supposedly) barely six months ago. Lucy, and everyone else, had heard rumors that she had committed suicide, unable to tolerate her life under her husband any longer. Her father's choice confirmed all she had suspected of him.
Before she realized what she was doing, Lucy stood.
"Never. Never, in a thousand years, will you sell me off to that monster! I know you see me as a pawn, but this? I'm your daughter! Does that mean NOTHING? Mother…mother would be ashamed!" she hissed, fists father had just looked at her coldly, devoid of sympathy.
"You will marry Tristan. You will marry him, you will bear his children, you will uphold our family name, and, you will be waiting to greet him tomorrow, on the Day of the Dragon's Gift."
Now, on the eve of her escape, Lucy stared up at the ceiling blankly, feeling all the indignity of the afternoon return. Tomorrow…she double checked the alarm lacrima next to her bed. She would have to be up early to get everything into place. The Day of the Dragon's Gift was always chaotic. Although thankfully, for once, that would count in her favor.
Argyle was a land of peace and trade, and the king had worked hard to keep in that way. One strategy to ensure this peace was allying with a dragon. For the past 50 years, the dragon had come once a year to accept a gift of gold and jewels from the kingdom. In return, anyone that declared war on Argyle knew that they were also declaring war on a fire-breathing beast.
Seven years ago, the aged, powerful dragon that had always come had stepped down, a younger, but no less scarred or commanding, dragon taking its place. Lucy was never allowed to go to the gifting ceremonies—something about dragons always wanting to steal princesses away—so she would be using that time to hide in a crate bound for Hagan, a city on the border of Argyle, near Fiore.
But, she couldn't do that if she didn't get some sleep, and wake up early! Punching her pillow into a more comfortable shape, Lucy drifted into a restless sleep.