No one knows what the future beholds—except The Fox.
Delaney stared unamused at the card in her hand, which she had been tricked into picking by the elderly fortune teller before her. He had dropped a stack of blank cards and asked for her help picking them because apparently, he was unable to bend his back. But as soon as she picked the first card, it had formed an image of the rising sun in its center and The Fox was excited to read her fortune.
In fact, his inability to bend had vanished as soon as she picked the first card. He had picked the rest of them right after tricking her. He was not called The Fox for no reason.
"You have good taste, My Lady." He cleared his throat before taking back the card and proceeding to read her fortune. "Your life is about to take a major turn. The kind that's permanent."
She thought back to the rising sun at the center of the card and wondered what about it signified a major change. Was it a good turn? Since it was the sun and not some horrifying star, it should be good, right?
"What about the bad?" She questioned. The Fox was known for reading two parts of one's future, but he had only stated one of hers.
"That was the bad." He shuffled his cards. "Do you want to try again?" She shook her head.
"I thought so. The result would be the same nonetheless. Good day, your highness." He turned to leave the garden.
"Wait. What about the good?" She reached out, but he was gone. Just like that.
"I should find it, shouldn't I?" She mumbled to herself as she plucked a white rose out of its stem. The Fox liked messing with her mind. It was puzzling how much free time he had in his hands.
"My lady, it's time." Delaney nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard her hand maiden's voice as she had been deep in thought. It took a moment to remember what it was time for.
"Of course." She lifted her skirt slightly to avoid tripping on its hem as she left the garden, and braced herself to meet whatever suitor her parents had brought this time. He was going to be the twelfth this month. Her parents were getting more impatient as the days went by. They couldn't wait to marry her off for wealth and power and not even her promise to lead the kingdom to prosperity could get them out of her hair. She was a princess and a princess's place was to be seen by dukes and princes before finally marrying into a kingdom of her parents' choice for material benefit. Her opinion regarding her life didn't matter to anyone. Not even her parents. If anything, they couldn't wait to get rid of her.
She had frequented this side of the castle a little too much in the past month. It was the King's private garden and was recently known to be the place where she was introduced to her suitors.
The knot in her stomach felt unbearable and she couldn't wait for it to be done.
"It will be over soon, my lady." Remarked Sianna. Her handmaidens, Sianna and Ylvia, were the only ones who understood just how much she dreaded marriage. She tried to smile and failed, so she slowed down to buy herself a few seconds for a word with her handmaidens.
"I'll miss you."
"We don't deserve such an honor, my lady." Answered Ylvia, but neither of them could hide the happiness on their faces.
With a last glance at her handmaidens, who were also her closest friends although they kept denying it, Delaney walked into the gate that had just been opened by a guard, the one that led to the last place she wanted to be.
"Her highness, Princess Delaney." The King's butler introduced her when she arrived at the table where they were having a tea party.
The first thing she did was glance at the stranger at the table who was probably her suitor. Cold. Was all she could describe him as. He didn't look happy to be here either and seemed to be lost in his own world, as though he was not part of the conversation.
The introduction a moment ago was definitely for him to hear but he didn't seem to have paid attention to it. He didn't even glance at her, taking his tea as though she didn't exist.
'Now there's a rude one.' She thought, wondering who the man was. He had striking features with the strangest golden eyes she had ever seen—but she had only seen them on her way here and it was too brief to gauge their exact color. His presence was intimidating or at least she was intimidated. She wanted nothing more than to rush back into her chamber and stop making a fool out of herself.
Alas, it was not her decision to make and her parents, King Reginald and Queen Penelope, would do everything to make this harder for her.
"Do you like her?" Asked King Reginald, directing his question at the suitor.
He finally looked up, nearly startling Delaney. He took his time studying her from head to toe, making her almost speak up in discomfort before he joined her parents in acting as though she was not there.
She was infuriated by his remark. Initially she had wanted to make an appearance and go back to her room but she couldn't help speaking up. "With all due respect, I am a smart princess with sufficient knowledge and multiple talents. What do you mean I''ll do? "
"Delaney!" Queen Penelope glared at her.
On the other hand, the man at the table looked interested in hearing her out. "And how would your knowledge and talent help me?"
Rage boiled in her heart as she spoke up, looking directly into her suitor's eyes. "I know a lot more about politics than you'd expect. I can rule. But you know the rules, a princess's place is to be seen and not heard."
The King and Queen couldn't be any more embarrassed.
"Since the two of you are getting along perfectly, we can go ahead and start planning your wedding." King Reginald continued, making Delaney shoot her gaze at him in shock.
Did he just say wedding?
"A wedding?" She was flabbergasted. She didn't even know who he was! No one had bothered to introduce him to her even though they should have. They were treating her as though she was not at the table with them.
"You don't have to worry about anything. Everything will be planned by your mother and you only need to look your best and be there." King Reginald sounded as though he was reassuring her but she knew better than that. He was warning her not to meddle in this.
The more she looked at her suitor, the more she found him terrifying. He looked like a king but she didn't recognize him. Was he a newly crowned king who had overthrown the previous? She couldn't decide how likely that was but he was definitely not someone she should ever want to get close to.
"I don't want to marry him!" She protested. The sooner she got out of this, the safer it would be for her.
"It seems like I need to have a word with your governess." Queen Penelope was displeased by her attitude.
"Show your future husband around, Delaney." King Reginald ordered. It was not up for negotiation and she didn't want to stay at the table for a minute longer so she led the way.
As soon as they were out of her parents' earshot, she turned with a glare. "Just so you know, I am going to put an end to this. This wedding will not happen"
"That's no way for a princess to speak." He chuckled, infuriating her more than her parents already had.
"Why aren't princes ever told what to do or taught how to speak?" She muttered inaudibly.
"Maybe you should ask your ancestors that." He caught up with her, making fun of her annoyance. "Princesses have every right to express their opinion in Itrusia."
A chill went down her spine when she figured out who he was. Darius, the king of Itrusia. Just how badly did her parents want to get rid of her, to want her to marry the king of Itrusia? She badly wanted to tell them off but then she realized just why they didn't immediately tell her who he was. He looked nothing like she would imagine the rumored Itrusian king to look like but it made sense.
"Are you dissatisfied with my identity?" He asked behind her. She wasn't sure how to answer that and didn't need to, because he beat her to it. "The feeling is mutual."