The Four Suitors
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Being courted by four suitors to claim the crown wasn't part of this princess's plan.
The Four Suitors
by Sophie Jupillat Posey
Genre: YA Medieval Fantasy
Quick-witted and confident, Princess Laetitia of Avaritia always gets what she wants—until her 17th nameday ball. The King and Queen, believing marriage will rein in their daughter’s rebellious nature, surprise the Princess with not one, but four suitors: a philosopher, an astronomer, an artist and a necromancer. If Laetitia can’t learn at least one suitor’s craft and prove herself to be a worthy wife, she will lose her crown—the one thing she cares about most.
Laetitia irks her suitors as much as she can while learning as little as possible about them—and their so-called “crafts.” But when she and Sir Blaxton resurrect one of the many peasants who have died recently from an unprecedented disease, the corpse’s cryptic words about his death set them on a race to find answers: What is the disease? How is it spreading so quickly? And why is it affecting only the peasants?
As Laetitia tries to find answers, she uncovers a web of corruption with a stranglehold on her kingdom. Like it or not, she’s going to need the help of all four of her suitors—even if they end up putting their own lives on the line.
A few days later, Laetitia was woken from a troubled sleep by the messenger. She got up with a start as a plaintive voice repeated over and over again, “Princess. Princess. Priiiincess Laetitia. Princess. Wake up please.”
“What?” she shouted, taking a moment to untangle her hair from under her elbows.
She looked around blearily, hoping to see her servants, but none were in the room. She groaned and got out of bed, dearly wishing she had a dagger to stab the messenger in the face. And where were her servants? She was supposed to have servants with her at all times. She would have a stern talking-to with them as soon as she was done with this dunce.
She walked to her bedchamber door, making a mental note to severely punish whoever had left the door open, strode to the messenger and asked, “What?” so loudly, spit flew out of her mouth.
He flinched, but didn’t wipe away her spittle. He did, however, give her a letter.
“It’s from Dr. Jolland, Princess. I know it is an urgent matter for you, so I came as quickly as I could.”
She almost tore open the letter as she broke through the seal. Her pulse raced. Finally, some good news! Finally, some breakthrough. Finally, she could start feeling like a suitable heir to the throne again: efficient, calm and controlled. She could start helping her people, she could finally ease her conscience.
She unfolded the letter and started reading.
Princess Laetitia, I appreciate your efforts in reaching out to me, but unfortunately I can be of no help to you. The body you and Sir Blaxton have given me has no disease that I can find. It might be a skin blemish or disorder. I don’t think I would worry about these sores if I were you. I have disposed of the body.
Laetitia started and read it again. She turned the letter over and back again. She stared imploringly at the messenger.
“There was nothing else?”
He shook his head.
“This is unacceptable!” she burst out, wanting to dissolve in tears. Instead, she threw the letter on the floor and stamped on it with her bare feet. The paper crunched satisfyingly under her heel.
“Please leave,” she said. “And you can tell Dr. Jolland that he can chew on a moldy potato.”
With a scowl on her face, Laetitia went back into her bedchamber and walked round and round in a circle. The one person she’d been counting on, whom she’d trusted, had turned out to be a miserable failure. It was as if he hadn’t even tried. Worse, he’d gotten rid of the body. How would she be able to find out what exactly caused the sores if she had no body? If Sir Blaxton, who wasn’t a physician by any means, had detected something off about that corpse, then Dr. Jolland should have been able to glean a little something. It truly felt like all the adults in and around Avaritia had lost their minds and skills. Laetitia was at a loss. She had to let Sir Blaxton know about this disappointment. And she would have to see if there was something she could do. Maybe it was time for her to go into all the villages in Avaritia and ask questions instead of simply observing. She had to get some answers quickly.
She chose a flame-red houppelande from her wardrobe and put on the sturdiest boots she could find. Over and over she cursed her servants in her head, annoyed at having to dress herself. She hadn’t had to dress herself ever. She could do it, of course. But she shouldn’t be forced to suffer through her servants’ laziness.
Finally, she put on her circlet and made sure not one curl was out of place. She wanted to look as regal as possible. She must be poised and cold, no matter how desperate she felt inside. She marched out of her room, her hands flat against her thighs. She went to the solar first. It was empty. Laetitia blinked as she came into the solar and walked out again, unsure where she wanted to go. She then went through the bed chambers, the kitchens, pantries, gatehouses, guardrooms, oratories, boudoirs, storerooms, and ice houses before coming to the main wing with the apartments. The castle was surprisingly empty. Where was everybody? Where were the king and queen? Her servants? It wasn’t a sacred day that she knew of. Laetitia’s suspicions spiraled out of control.
The rising and falling of voices floated out from one of the apartments. She stood in the hallway, indecisive, then she crept her way to one of the apartments on the left side, the Galunarian apartment, if she recalled correctly. That’s where the voices were coming from. She heard her name and the sound of multiple male voices. She frowned. She recognized an exotic accent and a clipped cadence she knew all too well. Sir Blaxton and Sir Durriken. What were they discussing so privately? She tiptoed closer and crouched by the door, making sure to make no noise. She brushed her long hair away from her ears and focused.
Sir Durriken’s voice, angry and flustered, made its way to her, his cadence even more short than usual.
“Never in all my life have I had such a difficult student. She has no creativity, no spark of curiosity. I have to drag her through my lessons. I know full well she’s not learning. She still doesn’t know what the difference is between a comet and an asteroid. She handles the telescope, the astrolabe, the compass like an ape. An honor to be a suitor for her. Pah! The prestige of being an astronomer for a kingdom like Avaritia is nothing to laugh at. If the princess and I were to wed, this whole affair would have been worth it. But after so many months… I have no desire anymore to continue. She is like a child! Plus, the equipment this kingdom has is deplorable. Avaritia is many things, but serious in astronomy it is not. I am going to have to go back to my kingdom. Bring my own equipment.”
Laetitia reeled a little, and had to steady herself so she wouldn’t fall and make noise. A child, was she? Her kingdom deplorable, was it? She wanted nothing more than to storm in and slap him full force in the face. But it wouldn’t do. She hunkered down, and then she heard Sir Blaxton speak.
“She has learned from me a little, I think, but she still hasn’t been able to perform any ritual on her own yet. She is still, in my eyes, woefully unprepared. She has taken to necromancy like a fish to a tree. She has no skills, no aptitude for this respectable art. She is skilled in other realms, though. I think there is more to her than meets the eye. I remain her potential suitor, but I am not sure it would be prudent for her to practice necromancy. I wouldn’t mind keeping her company, but not with such an arrangement.”
Sir Lancelot spoke then.
“Surely you are being hyperbolic. I know the princess can be trying, but surely she must have learned something from one of you. She is quite formidable when she wants to be. Just because she doesn’t show it, or balks, doesn’t mean she hasn’t actually learned. She is a sharp woman, though she does act like a child sometimes. She is young yet.”
Laetitia tried to ignore the blush that crept up her face and to her hairline. There was a moment of silence and shuffling feet, and then Sir Aelfraed spoke up.
“The princess has learned well with me. She doesn’t like it, but she will get over that in time. I have had many apprentices who hated philosophy at first, but then came to love it, because it challenged them. The princess loves a challenge, and in her discourses with me, she has rhetoric, firm argumentation, a mind that’s open to countless arguments. She is a good pupil, despite her flippant attitude.”
Laetitia could have choked on her spit. What was he saying? She never would have guessed Sir Aelfraed would speak well of her, especially considering how she’d treated him recently. No matter how irritating he was, she had to admit that she did admire his optimism.
“That is exactly what I mean. She fought me at first, too, even though I know she loves art. I think it is an affectation. I think under that spiny exterior, there is something more. Strength and resilience, yes, but an empathy and creativity that is striving to come out. Do not give up on her. Plus,” Sir Lancelot chuckled, “it would make it all too easy for me to win, if you all give up so easily.”
“Ho ho, keep speaking like that, my friend, and we are going to think you actually are in this for love,” Sir Durriken said.
“Aren’t we all, in some aspect or another?” Sir Lancelot said.
A thick silence rolled in like a morning fog, and no one spoke for a few minutes. Laetitia was about ready to slink off to the gardens when Sir Lancelot spoke again. She listened to his warm voice, letting its timbre gently soothe her anger.
“We all came into this with certain expectations. We had heard some of the more…virulent rumors about the princess’s temper. But we had also heard about her beauty, her intelligence. Temper is an impermanent thing. But intelligence is something inherent.”
“Right, so right you are,” Sir Aelfraed chirped. “It’s one of the most important things a person can possess. And the princess is fiercely intelligent.”
“The princess is indeed intelligent,” Sir Lancelot agreed. “We have been chosen by the king and queen, and accepted the conditions of their Royal Accord. We are meant to teach her. Teach her what we love with the most ardent passion: our hard-acquired skills. I didn’t go into this just for the prestige of teaching an heir to the throne of Avaritia. I went into this to share my love for something and to perhaps win the princess’s heart. Or at least try. I think you are being a little unfair to the princess.”
“I understand what you are getting at, Sir Lancelot, but she is impossible. You’ve witnessed her tantrums! She doesn’t have an ounce of control. You can’t possibly want to marry a woman with the temperament of a child, who screams every time something goes wrong,” Sir Durriken said.
“The princess might have a lot on her mind,” Sir Aelfraed murmured.
Laetitia craned to hear more.
“Everyone has a bad day, my friend,” Sir Lancelot said. “Tell me, instead of complaining so much about the princess, try to think of something positive about her.”
Sir Durriken grumbled.
“Come now, there must be something,” Sir Lancelot chided gently.
“Even I have something positive to say about her,” Sir Blaxton said.
“She…she has a childlike wonder about the stars. She has no interest in anything else about astronomy,” Sir Durriken said at last.
There was a burst of laughter and some clapping.
“Well now, my friend,” Sir Aelfraed said, “you can’t blame the princess for that. I wouldn’t feel much interest in your tools and instruments. I find your skill fascinating, but to me, it may as well be alchemy. I don’t know how you do it, and I’m not sure I’d want to know. Despite that, we’ve been friends for a long time.”
“Sir Blaxton, what do you find charming about the princess?” Sir Lancelot asked.
“Her tenacity. She has incredible willpower. I have had students in the past raise the dead with me, and they vomited. Or they ran. Or they radiated so much fear it almost overwhelmed my concentration. She did it with all the resentment and stubbornness we have all picked up on. But she did it. She is a strong woman.”
“I suppose I could modify my teachings a little bit,” Sir Durriken admitted. “Instead of focusing on arithmetic astronomy of computus, perhaps I can focus on astronomical compilations and theories.
“There’s a good fellow! But remember to woo her,” Sir Lancelot said. “You are there to teach her, but also to win her heart. Treat her as a lady, princess and student.”
The other three agreed, with varying levels of enthusiasm, that they would keep the competition alive. As much as Laetitia appreciated Sir Lancelot’s words, it was a disconcerting feeling to hear herself being talked about in such a manner. She hadn’t gone through such a spectacularly wide range of emotions in a while: she’d been insulted, she’d been complimented, she’d been praised. She’d never explicitly realized that not only was she embroiled in a contest of wits and knowledge, but also a contest of the heart. It was a foreign concept. Never had she learned that choosing a consort would have anything to do with affection, much less love. As a little girl, she’d sometimes fantasized she’d find her Prince Charming, who would then become her king. That he’d be a man she could appreciate and who would understand her. But she’d given up on that fantasy after reading the history books on the various monarchy lines on the continent. Being a monarch left no room for love. Love was a thing for the lower classes, for the peasants, who had no rules to follow, no obligations of state to fulfill.
And now Sir Lancelot was trying to make this about love? She admired him deeply, she enjoyed his lessons more than she should, but he was an idealist. She ignored her racing heart, the fantasy of living somewhere with Sir Lancelot, just the two of them, enjoying beautiful scenery and making art together.
She stood up from her crouch, smoothed her kirtle, swung open the door and marched into the room. Her suitors jumped and tried to look everywhere but at her.
“You are all idiots,” she said, struggling not to giggle. How very satisfactory to surprise them for once.
“Were you eavesdropping?” Sir Durriken asked, putting his hands on his hips.
“Yes,” Laetitia said glibly.
Sir Durriken turned a brilliant shade of puce.
“How much did you hear?” Sir Lancelot asked, his mouth twitching.
“Enough,” she said. “Enough to know exactly what you think of me. You’d rather talk about me behind my back than tell me in person what you dislike about me.”
Sir Aelfraed hung his head, while Sir Blaxton worried at his lip with a bony finger. Sir Durriken’s mouth writhed but he couldn’t say anything. She was pleased to note that his cheeks still bore a striking violet color. Sir Lancelot stared evenly at her, his eyes measured and calm.
“Princess, we didn’t want to hurt your feelings and you must forgive some of us,” he cast an aggrieved glance at Sir Durriken, “who spoke out of anger. Don’t fixate on something said in anger.”
“I know you didn’t say anything too nasty about me,” Laetitia said, “but you all criticized me in some way or another. You call me a child, but you act like children yourselves, holing yourselves up in a room and gossiping about me behind my back, dishing out your petty grievances amongst yourselves.”
“She has a point,” Sir Aelfraed said.
“We are sorry, Princess. We are sorry you heard us discussing you this way. But perhaps it resolves the situation. Now you know how we feel. And we know how you feel,” Sir Blaxton said.
Sir Durriken sighed and roughly got down on one knee.
“I am sorry, Princess. I disrespected you in a way unfitting a lady, much less the future queen. I had no right to talk about you the way I did. Forgive me.”
He bowed his head almost knocking it against his knee. Laetitia walked to him and stood over him, relishing in his contriteness. But as she stood there, inwardly gloating, the fun drained out. She was above this. A queen had to choose her battles wisely. A queen had to acknowledge when she was in the wrong. Laetitia didn’t like to admit it, but she had been a pest with all of them, especially Sir Durriken. She might not like the terms of the Royal Accord, but she had to respect her end of the bargain. Her suitors had upheld theirs, despite the hell she’d given them. Laetitia cringed. Her suitors had more honor than her.
“Get up,” she snapped at Sir Durriken. “I accept your apology. But honestly, I owe you an apology, too. I have not been the best student I could be. I will try to be better, even if I don’t like or understand what you’re teaching me.”
Sir Durriken nodded.
“But you must promise not to talk about me behind my back. This goes for all of you,” she said, pointing to Sir Blaxton, Sir Lancelot and Sir Aelfraed.
“I believe we’ve been served a slice of humble pie,” Sir Aelfraed piped up.
“Yes. I never want to talk about this again,” Laetitia said, flushing. “I have been slacking in my duties with you lately and I want to rectify that. I will devote my attention to you all. But I have a lot of issues on my mind. Not everything is right with my kingdom. You must remember I am the heir to the throne. I can’t abdicate all my responsibilities even if I am your pupil.”
They nodded sheepishly and Laetitia turned to Sir Blaxton.
“I have news of importance to discuss with you. I will have to ask the rest of you to leave.”
“Remember you have your first session with me, Laetitia. We are already running late,” Sir Aelfraed said.
“I won’t forget,” she said coldly.
French-Venezuelan Sophie Jupillat Posey wrote a poem about spring in the 4th grade and started a mystery series a year later. She’s been hooked to creating stories ever since. She studied writing and music at Rollins College. She’s had numerous short stories and poetry published in literary magazines since 2014. She enjoys reading and writing anything from science fiction and fantasy, to paranormal and mystery novels. When she isn’t writing, she is composing music, creating albums, and teaching French to students in Central Florida. She can be reached on Twitter, Facebook, and her website.
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