Review replies for Chp. 3:

Sealednectar- OH MY GOD! Someone actually LIKES my descriptions! I adore your "detailed" comment. Reviewers have complained to me about being overly detailed and describing things too much. It is so refreshing to see someone actually enjoys my over-detailedness!

Awaiting impatient person- A.I.P! Irony is totally my thing. Or, at least, I hope it is. I love irony. Lovey lovey love it. Hence the Bast thing. Anyway… so WHAT if I make him "too cool"? Deal with it. I mean, I love you and you rock, my darling A.I.P. And btw, awesome that you agree with me on the school front. Homework totally sucks. Especially when it gets in the way of writing.

Ileana DuBaer- I started off wanting only to do this in Ella's POV, but as you can see, I've changed my mind. And I'm so glad that I did. It seems more people would like to get two sides of the story… yay! Thanks for reviewing!

Anywien- :snorts: Only you would find a competition guy for Char "shexy," Anywien. And I meant that as a good thing. I don't want everyone hating him! (As reply to your review for Addicted to You: Yes, you are reading more than one of my stories. You're also reading that 1-800-where-r-u story I wrote, which I previously haven't updated since last summer. :blows raspberry: )

Sarah- :beams: Aw, you made me blush. Those were very lovely compliments, dearie. :D

Terriah- Oh, WOW! After I read your review, I was like, "Oh my godddd! She said more than "kewl" for once!" Yes, I was beginning to get the impression that your list of vocabulary for reviewing extended to only one word. Kidding, kidding…

Taj- I'm so honored. Yay, someone else likes my detailed-ness. And I totally understand about the can't stand her liking someone else and then wishing that she would too… I feel the same way. Why that is, I shall not tell, cos that would ruin the whole love triangle that'll ensue later on. (And I love your fruit carts idea. I imagined Ella tripping over one and spilling all the fruits… and Char then finding her with her face in crushed applesauce. I encourage you to do an one-shot or create a whole story based on it. Haha… a whole story on fruits carts… sorry, got a lil carried away…)

Latinaheat- You heart EE, and I heart you for reviewing.

queen-of-sapphires- Actually, the chances of her meeting all those animals are plenty since she is in a FOREST, where wild animals roam. I have never actually been to one myself, but I think it's safe to assume that they indeed reside there. I do realize that this isn't Snow White, but Ella does have a rather gentle personality, and the animals understood that she was in pain, and they were just trying to comfort her. And actually, it's not irrelevant to the story. That bunny/ferret wasn't just a bunny/ferret; it'll play an essential part to the plot later on. Sorry you didn't like it, but it had to be done. :)

Pointy Objects- What's so exciting about her going to Bast? Oh oh oh, I get it... riiight... yeah, actually, I kinda do... um... well... my idea of exiciting has GOT to be different than yours... haha... this reply doesn't make any sense... but that's okay... cos I don't think you mind... do... you?

Dream Chaser- Aw, you think so? Thank yous!

Lisa- Okay! I tried my best. This may not be, um, as soon as I could have updated... but well, at least I'm being blatantly honest. :smiles:

A/n- Wow. I actually updated in a month. During the school year. That has GOT to be a record for me…

Chapter 4

Char's POV

I paced the hallway, my hand clenched into fists at my sides. The doctor had been in the chamber with my father, tending to Mandy, for at least half an hour already. What could be taking him that long?

I chewed on my lower lip, something I rarely ever do, but at that time, I was just so darn nervous to care. Mandy was Ella's best friend. I couldn't bear to imagine the devastation that would cause Ella if some horrible injury or disease befell Mandy on her behalf.

Finally, finally, the doctor existed quietly, and Father soon followed suit, closing the door with a small thud behind him. He looked tired and worn out, even more so than usual. His body hung almost like a skeleton in his exquisite robe and clothing. His face was wrinkled, and the slightest shade of gray appeared in his normally raven-colored hair. Ordinarily, Father seemed the mirror image of a hard-working, diligent ruler that hadn't slept in weeks. But at that moment, he seemed… well… he seemed like a ghost, he was so pale and weary.

"Father," I said, rushing up to him. He looked surprised to see me there, as if he would have thought I'd have left by that time already or something. "How is she? How is Mandy doing?"

He let out a pent-up sigh, squared his shoulders, and turned to regard me with an unreadable expression. "She's in fine condition. It seemed that she tired herself out from one thing or another. Right now, we'd best let her rest some more."

The relief I felt at his words was beyond explanation. Even I didn't think I could ever care so much about the condition of a maid that never even spoke one single word to me before. But since the maid happened to be the closest friend of the woman I love… I guess that could be the exception.

"I know that you're concerned about her and feel somewhat responsible," Father continued, sounding a bit more serious. "But Charmont, I hope you realize that you have neglected a whole roomful of guests downstairs. What will they think of you now? They came here, many from towns far away, hoping you'd fall in love with their inner beauty and choose them as your wife. You have disappointed them. You have disappeared from their sight without so much as an explanation or an apology. What, my son, do you think they will feel about their future ruler now?"

Instantly, I felt my face flush with color. I had forgotten all about the ball and the guests waiting eagerly below. When I returned to the palace, the only thought that occupied my mind was to get Mandy to a doctor as soon as possible. And when I did, all I could ponder over was how she would turn out to be. Not once did I think back to the horde of women I had waiting for me.

"I'm sorry, Father," I murmured, eyes downcast. "It just slipped my mind. I was feeling so guilty about being the cause of Mandy's collapse that I wasn't thinking of much else. I'll go down now and apologize."

I was just turning to go when Father put out a hand and stopped me. "Don't bother. Your mother has already made the necessary apologies for you. The ladies have been informed that you had a quite urgent matter to attend to. Most of them have by now left. They were displeased, of course."

I hung my head in shame.

"I trust you have learned your lesson, Charmont," Father informed me, his deep blue gaze penetrating directly into mine. "You can never again let your people down like this. This isn't the behavior of a future ruler. Don't give them any more reasons to doubt you or impeach your manners."

"Yes, Father," I said. And to make up for my behavior, I said the one thing that I never in my life thought I'd hear myself say willingly: "Do you wish to host another ball for me? For me to choose a future wife?"

Immediately after those words left my mouth, my head felt dizzy, unconnected from the rest of my body. I had no desire to again undergo the torture of being polite and courteous to superficial women who only want me for my crown. And besides, I knew perfectly well who I wanted my future wife to be. There was just no more need for another ball. Truth be told, there wasn't even any need for the first one.

But I had to say that. It was an unspoken requirement that I pay for my actions.

You can imagine my relief when Father's reply was a "No. That won't be necessary."

"Oh," I breathed, elation coursing through every vein in my body. Did that mean they didn't expect me to find a spouse in the next, say, month?

"I agree, Father," I went on. "That really isn't necessary. I already know who I hope to marry anyway."

Father arched his eyebrows and looked at me skeptically. He took a step toward me. It was then that I realized we had been standing there, having a conversation, for almost fifteen minutes. The doctor was still there. Upon meeting my glance, he hastily bowed to my father and me, bid his good-byes, and left.

"So," Father said, resuming our conversation. "You were saying?"

There was something different in his voice. His tone contained something that I'd never heard before.

"Well, I was saying that I've known all along who I wish to marry. I love her with all my heart, but I really don't know if she feels the same. I would think so, but… " I drifted off for a moment, lost in my thought about Ella. But Father cleared his throat expectantly, and I quickly proceeded my ramblings. "Well, I think there is something she is hiding from me. Something that prevents her from telling me how she truly feels about me. Or maybe she wants more time, more time to understand her real feelings and discover her true identity. Either way, she's… gone. And I'm willing to wait for her. To wait until she's ready to confront me."

There was a strained silence in the air for a few moments after I finished expressing my emotions. I had been looking at Father the whole time, but after my last word I'd dropped my gaze to a spot in the corner of the room, feeling a bit embarrassed, but satisfied all the same that I'd managed to let my true feelings out in the open. All that was left to do then was to see how Father would react.

I sneaked a glance up at him. At first, I thought he hadn't heard my speech, for his expression was blank and void of any energy. But I dug deeper, and as my gaze intensified, I was able to deem that what was on Father's face wasn't a layer of indifference; it was obstinacy. It was as if he knew I'd come up with something like this, and he was ready. Ready to do what exactly, that part I wasn't so sure about.

"Um, Father?" I asked tentatively, reaching a hand up and laying it on his shoulder. "Please say something."

He shrugged my hand off. "I knew this was going to happen."

"What?" I said, alarmed.

"I knew this is what it'd end up being. You claiming that you're in love with some girl," he shook his head and sighed, long and slow. "Charmont, you have got to learn that you are a noble. A prince. You can't afford to wait around for someone who perhaps will never return your feelings. You, future king of this great country, just cannot afford to wait. And for a girl, of all things."

I could see he wasn't done. There was more. But I had to cut in. "Father. You don't understand. She isn't just a girl. She's special. She's one of those one of a kind, once in a lifetime type of girls that not everyone has the good fortune to meet. And I love her and want to marry her, for her possession of inner beauty is just as plentiful as her outer beauty. Can't you understand that?"

"This isn't a matter of what I can and cannot understand, Char," Father's voice was higher now, bordering on a bellow. "Future kings cannot take the chance of marrying someone he thinks he loves. He has to make a life with someone who will bring him the things kings need. And a mere girl he meets on the street just isn't going to do."

I couldn't believe those words were spouting from the lips of my father. My father, who has always been this considerate, tolerant, kindhearted man? Why would he even suggest such a thing as marrying for anything but true and genuine love?

Sudden anger surged through me. I glared up at my father. "What was the whole deal with balls then, if you didn't want me to marry just 'anyone?' Was the whole thing a joke? Was it all fake? Huh?"

"Charmont." My father held my gaze in his own. His eyes were stone cold, reflecting the hurt of being yelled at for the first time by his one and only son. Nonetheless, he went on. "I told you, I knew you wouldn't choose anyone from the ball. I threw it for you, well… just in case that you actually do. Which you didn't, so I was inevitably correct in my assumption that you'd view the whole thing as a waste of time and not even bother to take part in it."

My mouth automatically flew open, ready to argue that I'd slaved over getting prepared for the balls and enduring those three nights of torture. Before I could, Father silenced me with a finger and continued; "Please meet me and your mother in my study in five minutes. We have something important to discuss with you."

And with that, he was gone. In a flurry of majestic robes, cold glares, and even harsher words, the father I'd once known disappeared from my life, leaving me with someone who doubtlessly has never once known love, and the wonderful powers it can bring.

I stood before my parents, my hands behind my back, my head erect and held high. Mother was seated in a sofa near my father. He himself was at the chair behind his desk. They both stared at me for a moment, not saying anything. Whether it was because they were nervous, or because they didn't know how to start… I didn't really care. The silence wasn't even bothering me much.

Mother clasped her hands together and placed them on her lap. She got up from her seat and came over to me, surprising the heck out of me as she gave me a motherly hug. The first one I'd gotten in years. As she drew back, I noticed the unshed tears in her eyes, waiting, just waiting to cascade down her face at any minute. Father lifted himself from his chair also and started to pace the floor of the room, his motions seeming disturbed and jerky.

For the first time ever, I understood what actions speak louder than words means.

"Oh my god," I breathed out, staring from Father to Mother, and then back. "Tell me you're joking. Tell me you're not serious!"

And with that, Mother dissolved into a mess of tears and sobs. Father hastily came to console her, but it was no use. No matter what, Mother couldn't stop the crystal clear, salt water from escaping her eyes.

He turned to me. "I'm sorry, Charmont," his head drooped. He actually seemed genuinely apologetic. "But it had to be done. If I let you continue with your infatuation, then you'd be old and gray before you came to your senses. And by then, no one would want you. For yourself, that is. Plenty of people would still want you for your crown and riches. None would want you for what's inside."

"But isn't that what this is?" I asked, trying in vain to keep my voice down. "You're setting me up with someone who doesn't love me for me! We've never met before, so there is no way she can possibly love me for 'what's inside.' She merely wants the title of Queen. I can't believe you, Father. I can't believe you would sink this low. I can't believe you would do this to me. I can't believe you would arrange a marriage for me."

My voice was no longer high. It was by then dangerously low, for I was speaking through clenched teeth. I was uttering words I'd never thought I'd utter to my father, the King. I was saying words I've never even thought about saying, for goodness sake. But of course, I've never thought that my father would do this, something so awful and just so darn wrong, either.

"Charmont, calm down," Father said, frustratingly patting Mother softly on the back. "This isn't the end of your life. I know you'll like Brita the moment you set your eyes on her. She is just the most precious girl."

Right. As IF. As if my father would call anyone "precious."

"Whose idea was this?" I demanded, glaring from my mother to my father. "Who came up with this bizarre scheme that I was so desperate that I needed an arranged marriage?"

The uncharacteristic words were simply flowing out of my mouth. It was like a dam breaking, releasing all the trapped water. All my emotions, previously pent-up inside, were coming out into the open faster than I could say "Arranged marriage, my butt."

"You will not speak to us in those terms," Father said, his tone cold. "And for the record, it was both of our ideas."

"Well, I simply refuse not go along with it." I looked at Father, cradling Mother in his arms. "No way in this life will I go through with an arranged marriage. That's worse than having to marry an evil, ugly, stupid, wench."

For the first time, Mother spoke up: "It is not worse than anything. Stop over-exaggerating, Charmont. For Heaven's sake, you haven't even met her yet! Your father's right; you'd love her the second you meet her. She really is a precious child."

She smiled at me through her tears.

I glared at her through my anger.

"Mother, how could you do this?" I trained my scowl on her. "How could you manipulate me like this?"

"Don't say that, Charmont. We're not manipulating you," Mother said, wringing her hands. I've never thought you could actually wring your hands until I saw Mother doing it herself. "We only want what's best for you."

"And you think the best thing for me is to make me marry someone I don't love?"

Mother pushed herself away from Father's embrace. "No, of course not. We think the best thing for you is to make sure you end up in a good and happy marriage with someone who WILL in love you instead of spending the rest of your life wondering where your heart is."

"You don't know me at all, do you, Mother?" I laughed, but the sound contained no humor at all. "If you force me into an arranged marriage, I would not live in total bliss with someone you claim will actually be able to love me. What I would do is contemplate all the 'would've been's.' Is that what you want? For me to get trapped and tangled in the past for the rest of my life?"

"Char." Father's voice was a warning.

I whirled around to face him instead of Mother. His gaze was one of total grimness. "Stop talking and sounding as if you know better than me, Father. Stop acting as if you're sure there's no way I can possibly love someone. Stop trying to condemn me for having loved and perhaps being loved in return. You don't know what it's like. You have no clue how it is, loving someone so much that it hurts when you realize that she may not return your affections. You can't comprehend the pain I had to endure when she disappeared from my life. You don't understand any of this, Father. You never have, and you never will."

I was on a roll. I was determined to win this battle with my parents. I was absolutely tenacious on making them see everything on my terms. So before I could chicken out and refrain myself from finishing the rest of my speech on what exactly I thought of their ridiculous scheme, I went on.

"What good could possibly come out of marrying someone I don't love? Marrying someone who won't provide me with complete and total bliss? Marrying someone I've never met before, when out there, there IS a woman I'm crazy about?"

My voice caught on the last few words, and I had to turn away quickly so they couldn't catch me wiping at my fresh tears.

Putting myself out there, freeing my innermost feelings about Ella to my parents was one of the hardest things I had to do. It left me vulnerable, open to any attack. And if there is one thing I absolutely loathe, it is feeling vulnerable.

Revealing my feelings about Ella to Ella was bad enough. I had to endure the long wait for her answer, afraid to death that she would reject me and pierce my heart worse than any sword could. Revealing my feelings about Ella to was someone else was worse. My future depended on their response.

"Well?" I finally opened my mouth and asked, after several excruciatingly painful minutes of silence.

Mother stared down. "Char… I'm sorry," she told the floor.

Father nodded and continued Mother's thought. "You're too young, Char. Too young to truly know the meaning of love. Too young to distinguish what's real and what's not. We're very sorry, but we're sticking by our decision. It is the right one. You'll thank us later."

Staring at them, I felt my soul go up in flames. My stomach sank to the soles of my feet.

I had poured my whole heart out to my parents. Yet it still wasn't good enough.

Walking back to my chamber, I made MY decision. No way was I sticking around to listen to my mother rant about what a wonderful thing she was doing for me. No way was I staying so I can meet this Brita person. I'd made up my mind.

I was going on that quest I'd promised myself to uncover those bare-naked truths. And I was leaving…


A/n- I should be doing my homework right now. I really, really should. But writing this seemed so much more appealing than answering blah questions on the spoils system. AH!

Okay, kiddies, I updated, so now you review!