I was running along some streets in my home town, wearing just t-shirt and running shorts. Just think of the freedoms I was exercising during that half and hour. The freedom to go where I wish, when I wish. The freedom to wear what I want, when I want. The confidence that I was relatively safe, that I had the right to defend myself and call for law enforcement should it be necessary. Even the fact that I was showing my calves and arms is something that not every person in the world has the right to do.
And, of course, freedom of expression through speaking, writing, art, media and thought. So, as a writer, musician and a person who thinks on occasion, this is for every single person who has worked and sacrificed to make my life possible. I hope I can continue to improve our world and ensure my children have the freedoms I have enjoyed.
Cousin of the Crown
By: Elisabeth Treble
The malcontent between Terran and Gulin simmered after that. I pained me to see it, to know that they had loved each other. It helped to shore up my resolve which had been slowly and steadily eroding under Terran’s eyes and hands in the grand hall. I had even thought of where we could meet, flushing as it crossed my mind. I avoided that part of the palace like it was infested with snakes. I would not let Lahdel and I fall victim to what Terran and Gulin had. Even if Gulin didn’t realize what it was.
I threw myself back into the company. If I wasn’t lead, I sang chorus. If vocal exhaustion forced me out of that, I would work long into the night on costumes, sets, anything to keep me out of the palace and away from the princes. I felt bad for Lahdel, left alone.
She came sometimes to watch me work. But her heart wasn’t in it. She was falling under the same depression I was. Lonely, heartsick, homesick.
Terran stood one day at breakfast.
We all looked to him, our little family party, the king and queen, Henry, Gulin, Lahdel and I. Terran stared at the far wall.
“I am leaving.” He said firmly. “Father,” he made a little nod to the king. “Needs someone to go to Dyyfed. I have offered.”
I put my hands in my lap to hide their shaking.
“It is my place.” Gulin countered, his voice as cool and distant as Terran’s. “Your place is here. With your wife.”
Terran’s eyes flicked to Lahdel. “I must beg your leave, Lahdel.” He said formally. “I feel it must be me. This treaty is most important.”
“Of course,” Lahdel said with admirable composure.
“You could always go with.” I couldn’t believe it was my voice, but it was.
“Oh, no,” Lahdel said, smiling. “I would be such a nuisance. Go, Terran, and come home quickly. You will not have time to pamper me. And I do so hate sailing.”
We all laughed, falsely and shortly.
And just like that he was leaving. The next day he stood by a horse, ready for the short ride down to the ship set aside for his voyage. Lahdel and I watched as he spoke with a few men, leaving last minute instructions. He came over to us and I faded back.
I stared at the ground as he talked with Lahdel. I didn’t hear what he said, for which I was grateful.
I hitched a smile on my face. “Safe journey, your highness.”
“I will miss you.”
“And I you, Prince Terran.”
He lifted my hand and kissed it, his eyes on mine. I drew my fingers back carefully, so they wouldn’t tremble and give me away.
“Don’t work too hard.” He said, a smile on his lips, the first I had seen in weeks. How could he let his control go now?
“I won’t,” I promised.
“Will you sing for me when I return?”
I blinked, my heart searing in my chest, clawing to get out. “Of course. I will always sing for you.”
He nodded and went to his horse. Lahdel came and gripped my hand.
We stood and watched as he rode out the main gate and down the approach, finally turning and disappearing behind a low wall. Lahdel sighed, squeezing my fingers. I helped her inside, taking her upstairs to rest.
He was gone. I felt oddly relieved. I knew I was safe from acting on my wicked impulses. At least until he got back.
Then everything went to pieces.
It was two weeks after Terran’s departure when Lahdel put her fork down suddenly, pushing away from the breakfast table. I jumped up and hurried after her as she ran from the room. She dashed out into a garden, her face in her hands. I sighed, steeling myself to comfort her. I did not expect to find her throwing up into a bed of flowers.
“Lahdel!” I exclaimed, rushing to her. “Lahdel, whatever is the matter?”
“I’m sick,” she said pathetically, her skin beaded with sweat.
“Come, dear one.” I urged her, dipping my hand in the cool water of the pond and wiping it across her face. “Let’s get you upstairs.”
She was trembling, her lips dead white. The maids and I got her settled, propping her up and giving her cool water to drink. She smiled weakly at me.
“Don’t worry so, Alea,” she said, squeezing my hand. “I’ll be well…soon. You’ll see.”
I canceled my appearances for the next week, calling in my understudies. Lahdel urged me to go, but I refused to leave her. She was already so weak and pale. If she did not heal quickly, she would do herself real harm.
“How is she?” Gulin asked softly.
I blinked awake, dozing as I sat by her bed. She was sleeping well, but she continued to bring up anything we gave her.
“Better, I suppose.” I said, yawning. “She hasn’t had much of a fever, which is a blessing.”
“Yes,” he said, his eyes on Lahdel’s face. “But is she recovering?”
I shook my head, bewildered. “Every time I think she’s better, she gets sick again.”
“And how are you?”
I smiled. “Fine. Just tired. She frets; it is like trying to keep a monkey in bed.”
“I can spell you,” Gulin offered. “You need to get out. The sun has been shining, but you’ve missed it.”
I laughed softly. “Tomorrow, then, you can come and try to keep her amused. You are so very good at it.”
His eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“She likes you, Gulin.” I said, laughing at him now. “Couldn’t you tell?”
He blushed and looked away. “Do you need anything more tonight?”
“No, thank you.”
He left, shutting the door softly.
Another week wore away. She was still ill, better, but not able to eat more than a few sketchy mouthfuls each day.
“I don’t understand,” I said, growling with frustration. “What is wrong with you?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that!” I scolded her. “Buck up, you silly goose!”
She didn’t look up. “Could I speak with you, Alea?”
The room went still, the already quiet tasks of her attendants silencing. Then they stood and left, dipping little curtsies.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, moving to sit on her bed.
She took a deep shuddering breath. “Alea.”
Slowly, she leaned forward until her forehead was pressing into my shoulder. “Alea, promise me you won’t hate me.”
“What?!” I squawked. “Lahdel!”
“Promise, Alea. Swear you’ll still love me.”
“Of course I love you.” I told her, grabbing her arms and giving her a shake. Resentment sparked inside me. Hadn’t I proved my love for her? Hadn’t I proven I would put her happiness above my own, above the man I loved? She couldn’t know, but it still made me seethe. I thrust it back. “Lahdel, tell me what is wrong.”
She didn’t answer, her breaths grating. “Alea, I have done something terrible.”
“How terrible?” I asked, snorting.
“I…I am pregnant.”
My nails bit into her arms before I could control myself. “That’s wonderful news!” My voice said lightly, exultant. “Lahdel, why-”
“It isn’t Terran’s.”
It isn’t Terran’s.
To this day I cannot describe what I felt in those moments, what an overwhelming rush of relief and fury, of desperate hope and shame. I pushed her away, holding her at arm’s length. My fingers had left marks in her skin, so tightly had I gripped her.
“Whose is it?”
“Can you not guess?”
I snatched my hands away. She put her face in her own hands. I stood; the floor felt very far away, remote
Gulin’s head snapped around as I slapped him, my palm stinging with the force of my blow. The room went silent around us.
“Alea!” he exclaimed, appalled. “What-?” he choked off, seeing the answer in my eyes. He closed his mouth, setting his teeth. He jerked a nod, admitting it to me. I left, not seeing anything, not seeing the dozens of courtiers staring after me as I stormed from the grand hall.
Lahdel was still sitting in her bed, her head in her hands.
“What are you going to do?” I asked finally.
“I don’t know.” She said. She wasn’t weeping. If she had cried I would have struck her. “No one knows, but you and…”
I took a deep breath. “You have ruined everything.”
She nodded. “Terran will know. He has never touched me. He didn’t even kiss me at the wedding. He never wanted me! I don’t know why!”
“Because he wants me!” I snarled, my voice harsh. She jerked her head up. “You selfish chit! What have you done?”
I squeezed my eyes shut, shutting out the image of her white face, her horrified gasp.
“Alea?” she breathed. “What do you mean?”
I met her eyes defiantly. “Terran does not want you. He loves me.”
I did hit her then, leaping across the room to smack her. She stared at me, her mouth open, her hand over her red cheek. “Alea!”
“Terran is mine!” I hissed at her. “How dare you lie to him? Do you know what he’s given up for you? His own brother? How dare you betray him?”
“And what about you?” she cried, pushing at me. “What have you done? How long, Alea? How long have you lied to me?”
I was panting, my vision going fuzzy. I forced myself calm, the urge to scream and laugh bubbling up, smothering every other feeling.
Lahdel was screaming, hysterical. “That’s why he never came to me! It’s your fault! How long? How dare you come to me and comfort me, when all along you were-were-!” She choked, sobbing into her hands.
I glared at her. “I have not betrayed you, Lahdel. Terran and I were never together. Because of you.”
She shrank away as I hammered at her, my voice hard and merciless. “Because of you, Lahdel. I stepped aside; I gave up everything I wanted, so you could marry Terran, because it was my duty, your duty, his duty! You broke my heart! It was killing me, knowing why he was hurting you. And now you-” I couldn’t say it. I broke off, whirling away.
Gulin was in the doorway, looking in on us, a scowl twisting his face.
“Is it true? Terran wants you?”
“Yes.” I said, sneering at him. “And I love him.”
Gulin closed his eyes for a moment, and then shut the door behind him. “Alea-”
“What are you going to do?” I demanded. “What were you planning on telling him?”
Gulin didn’t answer, but looked to Lahdel. “Lahdel?”
She shook her head, shuddering. “I cannot hide it anymore.”
He nodded. “We have to tell my parents.”
“No!” Lahdel gasped. “No, we can’t! Please, Gulin!”
He spoke slowly. “We’ll tell them it is Terran’s.”
Gulin turned to me. “Alea, it is the only way.”
“I will not-”
“Alea.” He said sternly, looking so much like his brother I bit my tongue. “It must be thought Terran’s. You know why.”
“You should have thought of that before.” I snapped back. Lahdel flinched; I ignored her small whimper of protest.
“Do not blame Gulin,” she pleaded. “Alea, please-”
“I can and I will blame Gulin. And you, you self-centered-”
“And what about my brother?” Gulin snarled, advancing on me. “What blame do you lay at his feet?”
“He has done nothing! We have done nothing!”
“Liar!” He shouted, deafening in the bedroom. “Do not lie, Alea. I saw how he looked at you! How he touched you!”
“You knew?” Lahdel demanded, moving to grip Gulin’s arm. “You knew he loved Alea?”
“I should have known.” Gulin spat. “I should have seen it.” He gripped his hair in his hands. “Good God, what have I done?”
My fury dimmed as he sank to sit on Lahdel’s bed. She pressed against him, crying, pleading with him. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, still staring blankly at the floor. I backed away, then turned and fled to my own room.
I could hear them talking. Their voices twined around each other, whispering, hissing through my chaotic thoughts. I tried to think, to figure out what to do, but the only thing I could focus on was my own heartbeat and his name, over and over.
Terran. Terran. Terran.
What was I going to do? What would I tell him?
Rage and joy surged within me, leaving me gasping. And fear, deep, cold, petrifying fear. It was over now. Terran would never accept the child as his. He would never lie about it. He would break the marriage and send Lahdel home in disgrace. It was only a matter of weeks. Weeks, and then we could be together. Until our peoples ripped each other apart.
I got up, weak, but determined. I knew what had to happen.
Gulin was still sitting on her bed, her head resting in his lap.
“Tell your parents it is Terran’s.” I said hollowly. He watched me with blank eyes. “When he comes home, we will decide what to do then.”
Gulin nodded slowly. “Alea.”
His face tightened. “I am sorry.”
I turned away, disgusted. Lahdel was still crying, hiding her face.
“I’m going to bed.” I said over my shoulder. “Do not bother me until morning.”
I lay still in the darkness. I heard Gulin leave. Lahdel cried for hours, until her voice broke and she fell asleep.
Finally, mercifully, darkness pulled me under and I slept as well.