Chapter 4 Part 4 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
The Princess Edmerka raged in her room, throwing anything within reach at anyone within range. "Why must I do anything he wants me to! He doesn't care in the least about me, so why should I care what he wants!"
"I'm sure I don't know, miss, don't blame me!" cried her nurse. "The King merely said it's time for you to come talk to him and 'face your future,' I think is how he put it!"
"I don't want his future, Olka! I don't want to marry this week's favorite, I don't want to enter the Sister's Temple--I want out of this place! I want to be left alone! Go away!"
The sound of broken crockery followed Olka down the hall as she ran to Edmerka's father and prostrated herself: an oversized, gray dumpling dropped on the floor at his feet. "Begging your pardon, Your Majesty, but the Princess is in a rage again. Nothing satisfies her. We bring her your presents, and she throws them at our heads! Now she says she wants to be left alone. Please tell me what to do, sire."
King Frederik pinched the bridge of his aquiline nose, and glanced at his young wife, demurely embroidering at his side. She dropped her needle long enough to brush her long fingers across his hand, until he returned her intimate smile. "What does she intend to do," he said to Olka, "move to a cottage in the woods by herself? Amma bless me, she's a Princess! She can marry or go into the Sister's service, and I'd rather she marry. Without an Heir of my own, I must depend upon her to have a son, and soon, if I can find the right husband for her. Who'd take such a shrew!"
"It's only a matter of time until you have an Heir yourself, my lord," said the Queen, taking his hand in hers. "Perhaps if your daughter gives us some peace, we might...strive toward that goal."
Frederik gave a short-lived grin. "Edmerka hasn't given me a moment's peace since her mother died. What do you suggest, my love?"
"I have three brothers, you know," she said, stroking his palm deftly. "It would please me greatly should Edmerka become my sister as well as my daughter. Perhaps an extended visit to my family?"
Frederik shivered in delight. "Olka, pack Her Highness's trunks."
And so the Princess found herself bundled off far to the west to her stepmother's family, strangers all. "At least she's only sulking," Olka said to the captain of Edmerka's escort. "How much longer?"
"We should finish the journey late tomorrow," he answered.
But as they approached their destination the next day, the Princess caught sight of a Traveler encampment, its bright caravans in a half-moon to one side of the road. She cried, "Stop! I wish..." To roam the world like that, she thought. Free, stopping where you wished when you wished and moving on in your own time, never bowing to anyone else's demands. With that kind of freedom, it wouldn't matter whether anyone loved you or not. The caravans spoke of all that. "I wish to have my fortune told," she said.
"Oh, Your Highness, whatever for? They're frauds and liars. You won't learn a thing," said Olka. "Besides, we're almost to your mother's people."
"She is not my mother, and you will stop!" said Edmerka. The captain called a general halt. Edmerka climbed down from the carriage, and marched into the camp, Olka and the captain trailing reluctantly behind. "I wish to have my fortune told," she announced to the raggle-taggle band by the fire.
An otherwise handsome young man with rusty hair and one wandering eye separated himself from the rest; the captain put his hand on the hilt of his sword. The Traveler men instantly pulled their own steel and took a step forward, tense at the young man's back. "Travelers never ask for trouble, sir," he said, "but when it finds us, we're more than able to send it on its way." The captain frowned; he moved his hand, but gestured minutely for his men to come up a pace toward the camp. The young man signaled his own men; they sheathed their swords, but never let down their guard. "Now, then, my lady," the young man resumed as he fixed the Princess with his good eye, "a fortune, is it?"
"Are you very sure that's what you want?" said a creaky voice. In the doorway of a red caravan stood the oldest crone the Princess had ever seen, bent and gnarled.
"Yes, of course I'm sure," snapped Edmerka. The old woman beckoned her into the murky caravan, and shut the door. Edmerka stooped to keep her head from hitting the low, curved ceiling; she gathered her skirts close to her, though the caravan appeared to be well-ordered and clean. The crone folded out a tiny table attached to the caravan's side, its legs barely held together with wooden pegs, and offered her a seat on a barrel.