There are Things You Can’t Escape

Adelle had never conceived of a building as vast as the Imperial Palace. You could stack ten tall men on each other’s shoulders and still the top figure would not be able to reach the vaulted ceilings. Rather than power, it invoked a sense of isolation. It was much like the void her cozy ship had protected her from all these years.

She wanted to skitter back there, to hide beneath the bed covers like a child who has only just awakened from a nightmare. Had she the strength born of her mother’s comforting embrace, she might have been able to face what lay on the other side of those grand double doors.

Two hundred and fifty years she spent dreading this moment. Since the day her father took her aside, set a hand on her knee and explained the deal he made with her mother. One daughter to rule Alphalaura, and one to marry into the imperial family. The only circumstances under which her grandfather, the Emperor, would bless her parents’ union.

Human lives were but a blink of an eye to her people, whose years would number two thousand before death started seeking. Her father reassured her she would have years of freedom, but she saw through his lies. Rather than marry her first or second cousin, they would wait until the dangers of inbreeding past. Bile rose in the back of her throat just thinking of it.

Adelle was well used to grandeur, having grown up in a castle of her own. But it had been vastly different from this one. The walls had been made of grey polished stone. The tapestries had depicted mythical figures in bright pastels. The statues had been whimsical, if stern, and the guards had been all too willing to turn a blind eye when she stole an extra pastry from the kitchen or played with her toys in a busy hallway. Her mother’s doing, no doubt.

Here the walls were polished gold and silver, gleaming metallic in the too-bright light. The tapestries were woven with severe thread, depicting all manner of war victories throughout the ages. Huge statues of emperors and war heroes loomed over every hallway, glaring as she passed, small and insignificant despite her parentage. The guards watched from behind lifeless masks as the double doors opened, revealing her doom.

She refused to survey the throne room even out of the corners of her eyes. The throng of courtiers pressed close on either side of the long, crimson carpet, held at bay only by the armed guards who flanked her. They were like a pack of wolves, poised to rip out her throat, if only the pack leader granted them the opportunity. Her eyes remained fixed on the golden throne, bristling like a porcupine from all its gilded trimmings.

The man who sat upon it looked small, diminished by his grand surroundings, his face twisted with a haughty glare. Adelle’s eyes flickered to the man who stood beside him, serene and dignified in his plain robes. The imperial advisor, brother to the old Emperor, the voice of reason in the days to come.

She glanced again at the man who was to be her husband and found him no less impressive than she had before. He seemed to her a spoiled child ready to flaunt all the power he possessed. Had her father known when he made his arrangement? How could he? Your uncle was the very picture of that royal advisor. Too bad his traits hadn’t bred true.

Her entourage stopped at the base of the stairs. She knew better than to rise. Even the sister of Alphalaura’s queen was expected to respect the authority and sanctity of the imperial family. The advisor swept forward, clearing his throat. His voice echoed throughout the chamber when he spoke.

“Introducing her royal highness, Adelle Hope, daughter of the Imperial Star.”

A hush fell over the crowd. They knew her name. Not as ‘her royal highness,’ redundant heir to a throne now held by her sister, but accompanied by the title ‘general.’ She fought, as her mother had, as her sister and brother had, to keep the imperial family in power, to keep a millennias old tyrant from throwing the galaxy into chaos. But that had been a hundred and fifty years ago. Longer than most people in the room would be able to remember. They had lived in the peace her family sacrificed to win, hearing only the stories of her legendary mother and her two determined daughters.

She was a figure straight out of myth, suddenly impressive to everyone but the spoiled boy sitting on the golden throne, who huffed when the advisor bowed to her, slouching to express his disinterest. “What kind of princess have they sent me?” he sneered. “You look like common fodder, barely even pretty.”

He must have been referring to her pants, the familiar and comfortable military leathers which had been her standard form of dress for longer than his entire family had been alive. She had donned her human form for this meeting, though she wished nothing more than to shift and unleash her claws upon his unsuspecting throat. The Unseen would strike her dead before her claws were fully extended.

Adelle lifted her chin. “Forgive me, most majestic Emperor, I have little of my mother’s legendary beauty. I was endowed with her fighting spirit, while my sister won all of her looks and charm. But I will clean up well enough for your wedding, rest assured.”

An electric spark ran through the crowd, as if half were poised on the verge of laughter, but terrified to let it show. The advisor smirked. The Emperor growled. “Get along then. Return to my sight only when you are presentable.”

She would make that take as long as possible. She strode from the room with her chin held high, ignoring the eyes that followed her, allowing herself to relax only when she reached her room. That too seemed overdone, larger than one person could hope to use, filled with busy tapestries, gaudy curtains and books that were clearly not meant to be read. She flopped onto her too-large, over-stuffed bed in the most unflattering, unlady-like manner possible and released a long-suffering sigh.

Her maid, and oldest friend, flashed her a sympathetic smile as she flitted across the room, opening all the curtains, flooding the chamber with light. At least the gardens were impressive. “It went as well as you could have expected, Adelle, don’t let him under your skin already.”

“He’s been under my skin since before he was born,” Adelle growled, rising slowly to her feet. Much as she wanted to curl into a ball and wait for all this to pass, she knew no such thing would happen.

“He’s young for the throne,” her maid went on, as if she hadn’t spoken. “Too young. Everyone agrees. He’ll mature. Especially with you to guide him. Don’t forget you’re as qualified to sit on that throne as he is.” She paused flattening her cat-ears against her head, a wicked gleam in her eyes. “Maybe even more so.”

Adelle flashed her friend a warning look. “Careful, Mariel, that talk is treason. The Unseen hear all, even now. I desire only to do my duty, as my mother and sister did.” If the emperor tired of him after receiving a proper heir, perhaps she could disappear and finally find the life she’d been denied these centuries. Though she’d have to stick around long enough to make certain her child developed none of the unseemly traits belonging to their father.

“Some duties can never be escaped,” Mariel murmured. The mantra had belonged to Adelle’s legendary mother. She spoke it often in a quiet, somber tone to her daughters, a reminder that the life of privilege to which they had been born required a lifetime of hard work to repay. “Perhaps if your mother had lived…” Mariel did not finish.

Adelle drew a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “My mother faced the challenges given her and forged her own solutions. So too must I.”

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One of the things I love most about these writing prompts is that they let me explore ideas that may not ever see the light of day otherwise. Such as this scene, which is the opening of a side story that might not survive the final reordering of events in the novel series its meant to be attached to. You may recognize Adelle’s legendary mother as none other than Rose.

Please do check out my writing partner’s version of this prompt.

If you’d like to participate, share a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week.

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