The Polaris Villa, largest of the royal apartments, was ablaze with light. Inside, throngs of regal people, exhibiting their luxurious clothes of silk and chiffon, pirouetted to the rhythm of Monsieur Colet's violin, obeying his every stroke. The king, from his elaborately-decorated throne, watched with the utmost delight. So far, the celebration was going well. The guests seem to be pleased with the decorations of the Diamond Hall. The banquet table was well-visited, too, what with its variety of the choicest Britannian dishes. Duke Ulysses Sandrelli, a music enthusiast and terribly hard to entertain, never ran out of praises for the hired musician from Paris, France. The women were pleased with the flowers of the garden. Truly, this was another success.
As Charles di Britannia scanned the satisfied crowd, he caught sight of his old companion, Count Adriano da Campione of Italy. He had not seen him for many years because of the conflict between Britannia and the Euro Universe, although they had communication every now and then. The count was extremely popular for his discovery of the gold mines in Italy, leading him to be the richest man in the E.U. He acquired all his wealth in less than two years, establishing himself as one of the most formidable businessmen in the world. Charles had longed to set up an agreement with the extremely prosperous count. Immediately, he stood up, gathered his robes, and strode up to where the gentleman was positioned.
"Adriano, my friend," He said, extending a hand. "It is a good thing you have come."
The count shook hands with the emperor. "Why would I refuse your handsome proposal, Charles? It is but right to accept such a comely offer. I most certainly could not decline."
"Of course." The king said, smiling. "Now, where is your daughter?"
"Here she is."
A young girl of fourteen approached the two gentlemen. She was wearing a gown embellished with tiny jewels from the neck down to the hem. Her eyes were a lovely shade of purple with thick eyelashes. Her silky, black hair was arranged in a tight bun, secured by an elaborately-wrought crown, just above the nape of her neck. Her skin was perfect, as white as a pearl, and her smile disarming. She moved with the grace of a swan and the flitting of a hummingbird. She stood beside her father and looked up at Charles bashfully.
"Buona sera, Emperor Charles di Britannia. Mi chiamo Sofia Veronique da Campione," She gave a graceful curtsy. "Piacere."
"She is a very intelligent girl, mio amico." The count boasted in his Italian accent. "She plays the piano and the harp. She can speak five languages: Italian, English, French, German, and Russian. She is also knowledgeable in the fields of science, literature, mathematics, and world history. Additionally, she is a skilled cook, an art most women have long forgotten. Well," He asked, amused by the fascination in his friend's eyes. "What do you think, Charles? Is she worthy of your son?"
"Very worthy." The emperor replied. "My son would be greatly pleased by your gift."
"Insolenza, mio padre!" A voice behind the emperor suddenly said. "You treat her like she is merchandise, as if you are buying a mere slave."
"Your son, I presume?" Adriano asked, poison in his tone. "I recognize the rudeness."
Charles merely nodded. "This is Schneizel el Britannia, my second son."
A boy, about the same age as Sofia, came up to them. "Como sta?" The prince inquired, bowing. He stood beside his father. "I hope you are having a good time, signore."
Count Adriano da Campione did not like the look of the young prince at all. To him, the prince was arrogant and rude. But because Schneizel belonged to the infamous Britannian royal family, the count would gladly welcome him to his family. To Adriano, money and power were everything. He would risk everything, even his own daughter, to obtain his dream.
"We are good, prince," The curtness in the count's tongue was evident. "Until you came."
"Oh, signore, were you insulted? Forgive me. I did not mean to offend anyone." He bowed once more to show his penitence. "In Britannia, we give women high respect. I am very sorry."
"I could overlook that, prince." The count replied coldly.
Charles placed his hand on his son's shoulder. "Schneizel, why don't you take Sofia outside? I'm sure she would love to see your mother's orchard."
Schneizel bowed once more and obeyed his father, taking Sofia's little gloved hand in his. The count was astounded. In his family, couples are not supposed to hold hands unless their engagement was made formal. Charles, on the other hand, seemed to be very pleased with his son's actions.
"Quite hasty, I must say." Adriano said with bitter contempt and sarcasm. "Our tradition disdains such practice! Your son has inherited too much of you, Charles."
"I take it as a compliment, my friend." The emperor replied with a smile as he filled two goblets with wine. "Your daughter, on the other hand, has not inherited anything of you. She takes after her late mother, doesn't she? It would be dreadful if she fell heir to your impatience. For that, I am thankful, Adriano. I am more than happy to accept her as part of my family."
"Tch." The count hissed, displaying his quick temper. "I am glad to be rid of her! She could not even preserve the name of da Campione! She is a useless wench! She who robbed her mother's life..."
"That is all in the past, my friend." Charles said, placing a hand on the count's shoulder and offering him the other goblet. "Let us forget and rejoice in the magnificent future!.. As kinsmen!"
The count took the goblet and smiled. "As kinsmen!"
A toast was carried out and the two men laughed, knowing now that their goals are one and the same: money and power.
"Well, Charles, I must be off now." The count stated, as soon as he finished his drink. "I have business to attend to. I presume I could leave my daughter in your capable hands?"
"Of course, Adriano. Of course." The emperor said, smiling. "It was a pleasure to meet you again and also your beautiful daughter."
"The pleasure is mine, Your Highness."
Bowing, Count Adriano da Campione left. Charles di Britannia resumed his seat on the throne, watching the crowd with a lighter heart.
- - - - -
It was the 16th of April 2004 at exactly 7:06PM when I first met him. Fancy that I still remember the exact date and time! Of course, one could never forget such a moment when you finally meet the person you will spend your whole life with. Yes, I was but a child of fourteen then, but all of this ran in my mind as he led me to a place in his mother's orchard which no one knew about: the place where he reads books, eats stolen pastries fresh from the royal kitchen, and keeps his treasures. All this he told me in that one night while he played with my hair, which he had removed from its previous style. (I was angry at him for doing that, for I loved to be made up, but soon my anger was appeased by his soothing words. He had a way with it, after all, for in less than a minute after meeting each other, he already knew of my every little secret.) He said that he never breathed these secrets to any other person but me, not even to his dear mother. I was honored, of course.
The more he spoke, the more amazed I grew at this boy with the curly, blond hair. He could make me laugh, cry, and irritated with just a word from his beautiful mouth. As a matter of fact, he made me love him. When he said that I was the loveliest maiden he ever laid eyes on, I believed him. I couldn't resist, because I also knew in my heart that he was not the type to flirt with other women (which remains true until now). So I gathered my courage and told him that he was also the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. It was something I had longed to say since I met him. It was true, but he laughed at me. I was appalled at his reaction that I burst into tears. He stopped laughing immediately and told me to cease crying. He even handed me his precious handkerchief and wiped my tears away with it. (To this day, that token is still in my jewelry box.)
"Don't you cry again, Sofia." Schneizel said as he patted my cheeks dry. "It isn't becoming of a lady."
I couldn't reply because of the lovely heaviness I felt in my heart as his fingers touched my face. I could discern my cheeks turning scarlet at that moment, for he smiled impishly and blushed also. He withdrew his hand.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Were you embarassed?"
I shook my head and he looked relieved.
In that one night, Schneizel showed me the world, just like Aladdin did with Princess Jasmine. He told me stories and legends about Britannia and the neighboring countries. He took me on a tour across New Zealand. We swam with the fishes in California. We hunted together in the Canadian wilderness. He took me to a lively festival in Brazil where I learned about capoeira. We led an expedition to Mt. Everest. Although I was skilled in geography, I never got to see these places with my own eyes. I only saw them in pictures and books. Being the only child of a power-hungry count, I was never allowed to go out of the manor's grounds. My father kept me inside the house and never took me out with him during his trips around the Euro Universe. He insisted always that women belonged inside and not outside, where the world was ravenous and overrun by evil. But I knew why: He hated me. He hated me for killing my mother - the mother I never knew. He would not say it to my face but I know that my father, the powerful count Adriano da Campione, wanted nothing to do with me. He loathed me with all his heart. He educated me for the sake of giving me away to be married to a rich and powerful family. He took care of me for power. My father must have thought that I did not realize this, but I did. And I blame myself everyday... Until that fateful evening. Schneizel revealed so many things to me that I was more spellbound than ever.
It was all clear to me then. He is my Romeo and I am his Juliet. He is Orlando and I am Rosalind, hiding from the world in the Forest of Arden. I am Catherine Earnshaw and he is my loyal Heathcliff, lovers to the end. I could ask for nothing more but to stay with him forever. I could tell that he felt the same; the look in his eyes betrayed his heart. The way he kissed me that night revealed his true emotions.
I am content.
But the people around us were not.
- - - -