Chronicle 1, Part 1, Year 1668 – Oath
“Father, please,” I begged for the hundredth time. “Mother wouldn’t—”
“Don’t speak of her!” he roared, his voice rolling from the throne at which he sat, then through the room full of gold marble. His guards were armed, his priest was present at his side, and I couldn’t bring my eyes to meet his.
My mother fell ill last year and passed away. Since that day, my father turned into a man I didn’t know. He turned cold. He became heartless. He was no longer kind or patient, but rude and unpredictable. I hoped the kingdom hated him like I now did.
I learned my lesson not to cry in front of him or anyone that would report back to him, so I kept composed with my eyes to the floor.
Crying was a weakness, and my father wasn’t a weak man.
I opened my mouth to beg once last time and he quickly shut me down.
“Do not speak! You’ll marry the day after tomorrow. You’ll fulfill your wifely duties and give him an heir,” he paused. I kept my eyes down and hands clasped in front of me. I was barely sixteen, and my father betrothed me to a man three times my age. I was to meet him the day after tomorrow when I took my vows and gave myself to him. My stomach hurt just thinking about what that meant.
My father broke my heart for the last time when he said, “I’m done with you.” Dismissing me like I was a nobody.
I bowed, turned, and walked with my head held high down the corridor and to my chambers, ignoring everyone I saw.
I dismissed my lady maids, locked my doors, and ran to my bed. I pulled out the clothes I hid, that lay under a soft brown cloth, and quickly changed. Every piece of jewelry was removed, the flowers in my hair lay crumpled on the floor, next to my elegant shoes as I dressed in rags thinking of what lies ahead of me.
The single tear that fell was ignored as I ran to my window and unlocked it.
“Hurry up, Princess.” I smiled at Henry’s words and reminded him I was no longer a princess. He handed me my new boots and said, “My father’s waiting at the tree line, just as we planned.”
Henry, the love of my life, helped me onto the other side of the banister, just as I practiced several times before. Night had fallen but I knew where to place my hands, as the roses were in full bloom. I quickly placed my feet to the ground and Henry jumped a few feet down to meet me. He placed a quick kiss to my lips that held a promise of a new life. A life for the two of us, away from the castle and the King. I was Henry’s, as he was mine, and we were in love. I would not marry the man my father promised me to. Mother would never allow it, but she wasn’t here so I was following through with what she would want me for me, and this new life, she would want for her one and only daughter.
Henry grabbed my hand and we took off running before the guards came back around. We had everything planned with the help of his father, a butcher in our land, and we would make our escape. His father had a horse waiting for us and we were leaving on a ship making its way to the other side of the ocean. America. I had heard so many great things about America. We would have the life we were meant to have because this life, the life I was stuck in now, wasn’t mine any longer. In a way, my life ended when Mother’s did. I did love my father because he’s my father, but he’s no longer the father I wanted.
I had no one.
Except for Henry.
I would always have Henry.
We ran fast, holding hands the entire time.
Just before we reached the tree line, Henry fell at my side to his knees. I leaned down, saw the bloody arrow sticking through his stomach, and began to cry.
“You must go,” he choked out.
“Get up,” I told him. “Please, Henry, we’re almost there.”
I didn’t dare look back down at the arrow, the pain on his face was enough to witness.
“Go to my father, Princess.”
“I won’t leave you.”
“Best if only one of us dies tonight.” He fell back so he was sitting on his legs and reached for my face. I kissed his lips softly; our tears mixed and I heard death in the forest. The Archer. I heard my father had the best archer money could buy.
“I don’t understand how they knew.”
“I have only you.”
“You have yourself, Othelia, and that’s more than most people.”
His eyes were barely open; his breathing began to slow and he begged me to run. He begged me to live a life for the two of us. Leaving him was harder than anything I’d ever experienced. I’d known him since my first trip outside of the castle when I was ten years old.
I heard a noise to my side and I placed my last kiss on his dying lips then I took off running. With a lump in my throat and my heart breaking into a million pieces, the trees cleared and I saw Henrys’ father. No words were needed. He looked behind me and raised his brow in silent question, taking in my tear-stained cheeks. Still, I gave the slightest shake of my head, unable to do more or form words that would convey my deepest sorrow. He knew Henry would no longer accompany us abroad.
We mounted the horse, my pulse picked up as the horse weaved in and out of the trees, and I held on tight. Tears blurred my vision and I let them fall down my cheeks unabashed. I would freely mourn Henry in the darkness of the woods. We rode in silence through the woods, the briny air becoming stronger as we neared the docks. We rode the rest of the way in silent mourning.
I slid off the horse when we got to the boat dock and did my best to tuck my hair down my shirt. Everyone in the kingdom knew what I looked like, that my hair was golden blond and hung down past my bottom. Henry’s father, Jacob, would claim me as his daughter. Other than that, Henry had planned our lives out. We would live together. We would be happy. That was all I knew when it came to this escape plan.
I should have asked more questions, but I trusted Henry and he said he would take care of us. Now, I had to depend on his father, and myself.
You have yourself, Othelia.
My poor Henry.
“Come on now,” he said pulling me behind him on a weak board that lead us from the dock to the boat. The board creaked under our weight slightly, and it was enough to make me hurry my steps. “Keep your head down.” I kept my eyes downcast as I let him lead me to the end of the ship and down below the deck into a room full of barrels. I could hear babies and children crying, some laughing; mothers singing to their children or huddled in murmured prayer. Men in tattered rags, pulling ropes and securing passengers, yelled across the ship to one another. Young men carried sacs of meal, with an occasional crumb tumbling down their backs. I lifted my hand to block my profile and quickened my steps.
“Back here.” We passed several more and at the back of the ship, in a dark musty corner, he pulled the lid off one and gestured for me to get it. “You’ll fit.”
I leaned over and peered inside.
“People know who you are, Princess.”
I ran my hand over my blond hair.
“We’ll take care of that after we leave dock.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant, but when he put his hands out to me, I went to him. He lifted me and placed me into the barrel, and I slowly slid down with tears in my eyes.
“My boy died so you could live.” I knew he was upset, we both were. He didn’t say it like he held me responsible but to remind me that this was my chance. Henry gave me this and I couldn’t lose it.
I had to hide.
I had to change everything about myself.
I had to live.
I felt the ship move, the barrel shook but didn’t fall over. I had to be strong for Henry or his sacrifice would be for naught. I curled into myself, wrapped my arms around my knees, and rested my cheek against my arm. What use is a new life without Henry? How will I make it in the New World without him?
“Hurry up,” Jacob said when the lid to the barrel slid open. My cramped muscles burned but I stood and he lifted me out of the barrel. He showed me the restroom and handed me a small knife. “This is for your hair.” He patted me on the shoulder in comfort. “You have ten minutes,” he said walking away.
I knew he would guard the door, lest anyone find me in such a compromising position. Ten minutes would scarcely be enough time to do what I needed in order to shed the last of my lineage. After taking care of my most basic needs, I quickly began sawing off my beautiful locks. The first slice brought my hair to mid-back, though surely that would still keep me recognizable. No, if I was going to make it; if I was going to start fresh like we had planned, I had to make sacrifices no one would make.
Pounds of gold silk hair covered my feet when Jacob’s pounding on the door became incessant. I opened the door timidly and met his eye, giving him back the dulled blade.
He slowly took in my short hair and smiled. I ran my fingers over my two-inch-long hair, a style reserved for males. “Well, at least we don’t have to worry about anyone mistaking you as the princess any longer, now do we?”