From beneath the cove
by Merrique Lynn Richelieu
The sky was cobalt blue. The wisps of clouds were pushed along the sky eastward to a neighboring kingdom. This kingdom was larger than some, but only because of the mountains to the north, the ocean to the west, rolling plains to the south, and a life-giving river to the east so large twenty ships could sail side by side with no fear of catching another.
Several people waited with the Prince of this fair and gentle land. He stood tall in a cream-colored coat, his eyes searching the horizon to his left. It was warm but light enough with the gentle autumn tinting the air and leaves a light gold.
Today was the next to last day before the Sabbath. The Prince stood still and quiet. He was contemplating the time. Or the journey ahead. Maybe even his destination.
“My Prince?” asked an attendant. He looked down. Eyes made bright by the western sun met his. “My Prince, are you certain you would rather not wait inside?” she asked him.
“No,” he said, “I would rather wait here, Maria.” She nodded and held her hands in front of her, her deep red hair kept in a loose braid. “Where is it that we go, my Prince?” she asked him.
“Maria! How many times must I tell you?” scolded a man to the Prince’s left. She jerked her head down, “I am sorry, Lance, but I do not know my indiscretion.”
Lance folded his burly arms over his chest, “I apologize, my Prince. This humble commoner does not know better than to engage you in conversation.”
The Prince smiled. “Lance, settle down,” he said calmly. “Maria has every right to ask, seeing as how she is coming with me.” The Prince put his hand on the man’s shoulder, “I need a woman’s eyes to let me know if there is a person there who wishes me ill or is trying to deceive me with their beauty.”
Lance, a big man with strong arms and a broad chest shook his head. “But then should you not take one of the older maids rather than such a child?”
The Prince look down, a light blush on his nose. “The truth is that… if I were to take one of them, would they not cast such a distasteful eye upon the establishment before even seeing its door, Lance? If I took a man, he would be at the same disadvantage that I so clearly am. An old man would talk too much, and one your age would be like taking my father.”
Lance’s hands lost their grips on his massive arms. He looked shocked, but almost as if he would laugh.
“I see you are becoming wise, my Prince,” he said. The Prince suppressed a smile. “No,” he confessed, “I am merely too shy. It is hard for me to wait here, knowing where I must go and where I must spend the night.”
Maria stood stiff. The wind picked up and chilled her throat. The skirt of her dress flitted in the wind as she realized where it was that she would accompany the Prince. Maria licked her lips and swallowed hard. “Then, may I ask, your Highness, why me?”
The Prince looked down and saw her green eyes dart up to his face only to fall back to the cobblestone.
“I want to see if this place is true,” he sighed. “A bordello that boasts it can make your deepest dreams come true, that your most tender desires will be within your grasp…”
“You are open, Maria,” he said to her. “And you are honest. As honest as your face is flushed and your hair is red.”
The sound of pounded iron lightly bumping along stone came to his attention, and to Maria’s. Lance took the Prince’s gaze.
“It is a beautiful carriage!” Maria chimed. The Prince looked down, “Yes, it is. And for them to send one to take us there…”
“One would think they were doing our Prince a favor,” Lance scoffed. The Prince nodded half-heartedly. His eyes were on the carriage and its rich wood and gilded carvings. This carriage was freshly carved and stained. The leaves of his proud land’s forest framed a border of strange creatures. A man with goat’s legs playing the flute amongst beautiful women. Another of a centaur and several cherubic fauns at his flanks. “It is truly beautiful, is it not, Maria?” he asked. “Yes, my Prince,” she whispered.
Two horses, one pale and the other red, walked past him in iron shoes. Prince saw that the driver wore a lime green suit, and his attendant one in pale mint.
The attendant leapt down without a sound coming from his polished boots hitting the stone and he opened the door to the carriage and bowed his head, “My Prince.”
The Prince took Maria’s hand. She looked up, afraid; then she caught a sour rage clouding Lance’s brown eyes. The Prince smiled, “A prince is no man if he enters before a woman he invited to accompany him.”
Maria nodded and stepped into the carriage and sat opposite the Prince. The attendant, whose eyes were olive and whose skin was as pale as an ermine’s, closed the carriage doors, and shortly after, the carriage began its journey.
The Prince sat in silence, watching Maria search for a way to see the young attendant again.
“So you saw it too, Maria?” the Prince asked. Maria paused and looked behind her. “He had an ermine’s ears,” she whispered, “I know I saw them! And his eyes. I have never seen the dark parts of someone’s eyes be black slits before.”
The Prince smiled, “So my eyes did not deceive me. I can only hope that this is not the last bit of magic I see tonight.”
He cast his eyes on Maria. Her pale blue dress was cleaner than the one she usually wore. The seams were straighter, and her apron was crisp, freshly washed and lined with lace.
“Notte Fantasia,” the Prince whispered. Maria looked up, “My Prince?”
“Notte Fantasia,” he repeated. “They come from a kingdom in the south. It is the name of the bordello. It boasts magic… not dances or music, but magic and dreams.”
They sat in silence. Maria had given up searching for a way to see if the boy truly had the ears of an ermine. The Prince took the invitation from the inside of his coat and held it to the light of the perfumed beeswax candles.
“If you do not mind me asking,” Maria said quietly, “Why did you choose me?”
The Prince set the invitation on his lap. “You have a way of putting others at ease,” he said quietly. “An honest establishment would welcome your curiosity. One with intentions to hide would scorn you and leave you in a room alone.”
Maria nodded. “So, it is important for me to be on the watch for you, my Prince?”
The Prince nodded, “Yes, Maria…” He lingered on her face. She looked very determined now.
“My Prince?” she asked. The Prince closed his eyes and leaned back into the seat of the carriage, “I was only thinking that you look happier now than the first time I spoke with you.”
Maria’s eyes went wide. Her lip trembled. Her green eyes grew moist, “You remember, my Prince?”
He nodded and opened his mouth to speak. The carriage came to a stop and the carriage doors opened.
A tall man in a red hat with a stout peacock’s feather held out his hand. “What a surprise! The crown prince himself has come.”
The prince smiled. “Yes…” he paused. “My father was unable to come, so he sent me in his place. I hope that I am a worthy substitute for my father: the King.”
The man in the hat smiled, his eyes sparkled like the stars in the blue of the newly fallen night. “I am pleased and honored to have you here, your Highness. It is a wonderful surprise. Please come this way with your maid.”
“Ellanise,” he called. A young woman, wearing stockings and tall-heeled shoes walked up and took his arm. She used her delicate, long fingers to comb back a tress of his black hair behind his bronzed ear. He kissed her shining tapered nails.
“Yes, Master,” she purred. The master smiled and ruffled her white hair. “Ellanise,” he said kindly, “would you look after the Prince’s companion while I take him through the Labyrinth?”
Maria felt Ellanise slink in front of her and take her arm. She stole a glance at the Prince who was being taken by the master of the bordello. Ellanise whispered into her ear, “The Labyrinth only sounds intimidating…”
The Prince’s wide eyes caught hers as he was led up the stairs through a pair of large, red, double doors. Maria stood with Ellanise. The woman smiled and pressed her bosom to Maria’s arm, “Your Prince will be fine.”
Maria flushed. She looked at Ellanise. Her eyes were amber and orange, and like the ermine boys, the dark parts were long slits. Ellanise led Maria to a smaller door on the side to a long corridor.
“Would you like to see the Labyrinth, Maria?” she asked. Maria sucked her lip. “How do you know my name?” she asked Ellanise. Ellanise led her to a room with a dozen small, circular tables. Ellanise led her further still to one hidden by several bushes in brass-colored pots with bright purple leaves. There was a beautiful teapot and two small cups and cakes waiting for them.
Ellanise sat down and motioned for Maria to do the same. She pursed her full, painted lips and lifted her teased hair from the sides of her head. Maria covered her mouth and stared.
Where an ear would have been were two bell-shaped ears, trimmed in creamy, orangey fur. Ellanise let her white hair fall to frame her face. “With my ears,” she confided to Maria, “I can hear everything for a mile. Even your heart.”
She leaned in. “Are you sad?” she asked. “You face looks calm,” she purred as she arched her back bit by bit until her breasts hovered over the cups of warm tea. “And your eyes almost look brave… but your heart is beating so fast it could break if you are not careful, Maria.”
Maria swallowed hard. The Prince remembered her from before, when spring was fresh and only daffodils dared to emerge in the brisk winds.
She looked down at her tea. Maria could see the garden she had run too reflected in the light of the candles. Lance had always been hard on her. He would yell at her. He would scold her over any little thing he could find. He was very kind to the other girls and she could not fathom what she could have done to make him so irate.
Maria remembered being terrible nervous. She was doing her best to hold a heavy tray of glasses. He had put twice as many on her tray as the others and she had to hold them above her breast. She was afraid of dropping them. These were the Prince’s own glasses. Gifts from kings and queens of the northern lands.
Lance’s hard stare was bearing into her. She stumbled and the glasses flew into the air and she fell along with them. She had cut her hands and torn her dress and she looked at the shards in her hands and arms.
Lance was right at her side in seconds. He took his heavy paw of a hand and slapped her across her cheek. Maria remembered the pain and the shame. She had run from the kitchen. She had run far from Lance. She knew it would only be worse for her when she returned, but she could not stay there. Not for all the gold in the kingdom, could she have stayed.
She ran until she saw a gazebo and held out her hands as she sought solace there. She was weeping. She had left her home next to the beautiful ocean because her family felt it was a good chance for her to find a husband of good status. She regretted coming here. She hated it here at the palace. So many of the older people here were mean to her. In addition, Lance was cruel, very cruel.
“Are you alright?” yelled a frenzied voice. She looked up from her bloody hands and squeezed her eyes shut. “No,” she wept, “but please… Don’t send me back there! He’ll hit me again, so please…” she cried.
The voice hushed her. “I would never,” he said sweetly, “but please, tell me what happened to you.” She brought her hands to her apron, “I tripped and broke the prince’s glasses… I knew there were too many. But if I told him, I would be in trouble again.”
The man took her to a seat and clicked his tongue as he took her hands gingerly in his own before she took them back to her breast. Maria shook her head, “I cannot allow someone to get in trouble because their clothes are dirty.”
The man took a clump of hair from her face and gently lifted her chin with his fingertips. He waited until she opened her swollen eyes. “I have never seen hair so red,” the young man said, “or eyes so green… are you from the north?”
She shook her head. “I am from the coast…” she said. The man reached into his pocket and took out a handkerchief and a pair of tweezers. “Hold still,” he said, “so that I can make sure all of the glass is out of your hands.”
She handed him her hands and saw that his clothes were beautiful. They were in the lightest colors of cream and only a few shades darker than his flesh. He gently took her left hand and began his tedious work.
“What is your name?” he asked. She had said her name quietly, but his eyes went wide and he repeated it, “Maria… it sounds like music… even magic…”
She had flushed. “You speak so beautifully… Are you a friend of the Prince’s?” she asked. He shook his head, “Still, I know him. What do you think of him?”
She looked down, “Nothing. I am from the coast. Until a few months ago, I did not know that there was a king or even a prince. Also, I have never met him… Lance believes I would disgrace him if the prince saw my clumsiness… so I am not allowed anywhere near him or the King…”
“It sounds as though Lance is extremely strict with you,” he had said. “Does he make it so that you find this a place that gives you such grief that you weep until your eyes are red?”
She nodded. “I wish that I could go home,” she whispered. “But I was sent here so that I would no longer be a burden to my mother and her new husband.” The man ran his fingers over her hand and arm to make sure her skin was free from glass.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he told her. He had such a sincere tone that she believed in his words. “Do you like it here at the palace?” she asked.
He pressed his lips into a thin line. “Only rarely,” he said in a hushed voice. He took the scarf from his neck, wrapped it around her arm, tied it, and began his work on her right hand. She looked at the satiety in his frown.
“I hope that you find something good here,” she whispered. “Though we may not see each other again,” she said sadly.
She smiled and gazed into his light, blue eyes, “We may not see each other or speak with one another again, but I hope that we may. You are the only one I have met here who is kind. And I want to see you happy the next time we meet.”
The man smiled at her, “I hope so too, Maria.” He worked quietly and towards the end, he slowly ran his fingers along her wrist and carefully pulled out the last few shards. He wrapped his handkerchief around her hand and arm.
“May I have your name so that I can return your handkerchief and scarf to you?” she had asked shyly. The man had smiled and his blood tinted his cheeks, “Charles. My name is Charles.”
“You must like him,” said Ellanise. She held the Prince’s handkerchief in a ball in her palm. She gripped it tightly. It was always with her. Its presence brought her such joy that Lance was a trial she could bear. She attempted to return it, and wept for the loss of the comfort this link bought her. He refused it with a smile.
She had thought he had forgotten he had given her this and the scarf. Perhaps it was not true. He remembered her. She had no scars to prove that meeting happened. That the wind floated around them both. Now she clutched it tighter, forgetting when she could have taken it from her pocket.
Maria looked up and saw than Ellanise had brought a second teapot to the table and that the steam was drifting to the table.
“I haven’t said anything,” Maria whispered. Ellanise smiled, “But I can hear it, Maria.” She leaned in, “I can help you. Here… anything can happen, but only at night.”
“We only see dreams at night,” Ellanise purred, “beautiful dreams, dirty dreams, forbidden dreams…”
“What do you want to see,” she asked Maria. “What dream do you wish to have?”
“Maybe you want to sleep with one of our workers…” she pondered. “No… they would be too much for someone as delicate as you. Perhaps…”
“N—No!” Maria exclaimed. “I… I could not do that,” she insisted. Maria went to the back of her chair. Ellanise smiled and patted Maria’s white knuckles.
“Of course not,” she agreed. She paused and smiled, “You want to sleep with the prince!”
Ellanise smiled, “I’ll make sure he doesn’t know it’s you, Maria! It will be perfect! Maria, I’ll—”
“No!” she exclaimed. “I can’t do that… I cannot lie to the prince! I won’t deceive him!”
Ellanise was quiet. She watched the tears stream down Maria’s cheeks. She ran her finger across Maria’s cheek and sucked on one of Maria’s tears. She let the taste of Maria’s sorrow coat her tongue. “But it’s killing you,” she stated.
“Just the thought that this is a bordello…” she continued, “and that right now he’s getting closer and closer to the end… Towards his desires… He will act on them… The dream will call too strong for him to stop.”
Ellanise licked her lips, “You want him, you want him so badly… You want to sleep with him so much it’s killing you…”
Maria looked down at the cup and saw the refection of a tiger in the tea. “We’ll use magic on you,” Ellanise said kindly. “We’ll help you, Maria. Magic and dreams… They come out at night.”
“I suppose I can help then,” sang a soft voice. Ellanise turned around sharply, “Nightingale. Can you make her one of your kin, only for tonight?”
Nightingale nodded. She took a bite from a hard dinner roll into her small mouth. “I can but she must hide her name. No one can call her by her name. And only for one night.”
Ellanise looked at Maria, “Nightingale will help you… She is the most beautiful one here… She can do anything.”
Nightingale had sharp, black eyes, and feathers were woven into her brown hair. Underneath her tresses were wings folded to her back. She took a feather from her hair and walked up to Maria. She held it out, “Maria… do you accept my gift?”
Maria bit her lip. Ellanise took her hand and clutched it in her own two, “It’s okay, Maria. Just say yes. Think of your prince. If he must be with someone tonight, why can’t it be you, Maria?”
Nightingale leaned in and hummed, “Dreams are their strongest at night… and even music has its own magic once the sun is down… So, Maria… What will it be?”
Maria licked her lips. “Please,” she whispered. She began to think of another with the Prince; even Nightingale could be the one. She did not want to deceive him, but she did not want to know that he was with another woman. Even though she was only a commoner, for one night she could…
She felt a feather against her lips, “Sleep…” Nightingale began to sing. Maria’s eyes closed slowly and her body became weightless. She fell back and landed on the softest of pillows. She heard Nightingale sing again, “Sleep…”
Ellanise watched as Maria’s hair grew into feathers hued as deep as fresh blood and she watched the young woman’s skin glow as the blood rushed to her skin to hasten her changes.
She turned to Nightingale, “I thought I would have had to beg you for your help.” She lifted her thin arms over her head and let her hair fall behind her plush ears and she smiled and stretched until her shoulders popped.
Nightingale shrugged and watched Maria change further into a cocoon of bright red down. “I could feel her trepidation,” she chimed. “I could feel that even though she wants her nameless Prince… though she wants to be by his side, she feels that as a commoner it is only a foolish wish…”
“It’s almost as though she’s trapped…” Nightingale continued as she took a silver book of cigarettes from behind her folded wings. “Humans are so pitiful… They cannot fly, they cannot leap from trees. Big, plain bodies with eyes clouded by the dust and salt in the water. They’re trapped below the waves, their feet glued to the ground, their arms reaching toward a bright sun they can never grasp…”
“But you helped her,” Ellanise whispered. She paused and watched the down molt from Maria’s pink flesh to reveal soft, bright pink skin. “You lifted her from the sea bed. But why, Nightingale?”
Nightingale lit her clove-filled cigarette and took a long drag, blowing the white smoke towards the chandelier. “It is only right for her to dream,” she said calmly. “Even plain, clumsy humans should be allowed to dream, even if only for a night, let her dream.”
Maria slowly sat up and rubbed her eyes. She was lying on a bed surrounded by layers of silk film. She could see the flicking flames of pink, peony scented candles beyond. She could only make out a few dark shapes along the walls.
She rubbed her face and saw that she was wearing bands of red gold around her wrists. She touched her skin and felt a thin, silk dress that revealed most of her naked body. It was a dark silk with only lace to cover her breasts.
She flushed and tugged at her hair. It was a little like Nightingale’s now. Only the feathers were woven into her thick tresses of scarlet hair rather than throughout. Nevertheless, she could feel little feathers along her hairline. It kept her bangs from her face. She swallowed hard and reached for a pillow to cover her bare, pink, naked legs.
“My Prince, are you certain you are alright? You’re still shaking from the Labyrinth,” whispered the Master of the house. Maria froze and sucked in her breath.
“Yes,” said the Prince. “I want to see her, please, show her to me. I cannot wait another moment! Please!”
Maria heard the urgency in his voice. It was cracked and harried. Two shadows stood outside the bed she was laying on. She sat up slowly and tried to peek through the gossamer.
“My prince,” whispered the Master. “Are you certain this is what you truly want to do? After what you’ve seen…”
“I want to know the truth here… I want to see a dream…” said the Prince in his agitation. “I came here to see my dream… Please,” he begged, “deny me no longer!”
The Master shortly left. Maria let her breath come out in low rushes as the Prince slowly made his way to the bed. She took in a deep breath as he drew back the silk.
“What,” he said with wide blue eyes colored like the sky over his kingdom, “a surprise… Truly…”
Maria stepped from the bed, “Your Highness, please, if you wish, I can get another—”
He grabbed her shoulder to stop her. The Prince gently shook his head. “I apologize,” he whispered. “You are simply so beautiful… The Master here told me of your great beauty. I am only so fortunate that it is true…”
She tried to pull away but he held onto her. “Has no one ever called you beautiful before?” he asked her as he pulled her close. She looked up then down at him. He gently lifted her chin so that her eyes met hers and she tried to look down from his piercing, wondrous gaze.
“Beautiful,” he said again. “You are so beautiful,” he whispered as he pressed his lips to her. She melted into him, his hands wandering along the small of her back. His nails gently scratching the soft flesh of her throat. The Prince’s lips kissed the ruby marks left behind. “Such soft hair,” he whispered.
He took her hand and kissed it. She felt her skin grow warmer. She grabbed his shoulders to bring him closer to her. She was only a maid. No one would ever have to know. This was her dream. No one could take this from her.
‘But to deceive him in such a way,’ she wept. A tear fell from her cheek to land on his nose. He looked up, “Have I hurt you?”
She shook her head. His eyes went wide, “You truly do look like her… You look so much like Maria…”
He kissed her again and laid her gently on the bed. Maria’s mind began to race, ‘Beautiful… He thinks I’m beautiful… Does he truly think the real me is beautiful…’
He kissed her and slid his hand beneath her dress to cup her tender breast. She let out a moan and the Prince looked up, almost afraid. She lost her words, but her wet mouth sanctioned his actions as she left kiss after kiss along his brow.
He swallowed hard and lifted the hem of her dress. Her soft, pink skin was glowing more and more with hot blood rushing to fill her flesh. He undressed her in haste and opened his lips to take in her puffy, pink nipple. Her hands gripped his shoulder as the waves of blood clouded her mind.
‘Please,’ she prayed. ‘Stop… I can’t… Never stop…’ She sucked in the air from the cold room, “Please! Never stop…”
The Prince did and the cold air chilled her sensitive skin. She looked down as saw her nipple had become a dusky nub. The Prince let her catch his gaze and he smiled before he began to lick her left nipple until it too was taken into his mouth.
‘I’m Maria, right,’ she asked herself. ‘Please… let this be Maria’s body he touches… I want to remember his lips… I never want to forget… even if I am not really Maria…’
The Prince looked at her, “Would you take my coat and jacket off?” She sat up, her hands shaking as she undid the pearl buttons of his coat. She leaned in and smelled his sweet cologne. She pressed her cheek to his, she slid his jacket down to his wrists, and she opened his shirt and kissed his bare skin.
She left small stains of red on his pale skin as she kissed the valley of his strong chest. She inhaled the clean, spicy taste of the skin of his stomach. She kissed lower and lower until she reached the fabric of his pants. He stood.
“My Prince?” she asked. He looked down. The Prince slowly undid the buttons of his boots and pulled his pants over his thighs, casting his uncertain glance over her.
She was suddenly aware of her own nudity. Instead of feeling shame, she felt only the longing that had grown since she had first heard his voice in the garden. The longing that had blossomed in her heart before she knew he was the prince.
His skin was flushed now, almost as pink as hers. His hands were reaching for her and she took them in her own, looking into his eyes. His face grew red and licked his lips. “My Prince,” she said, “how may I please you tonight?”
He looked down, his words caught in his throat. She looked down and saw that his shaft was hard and growing right before her eyes. She flushed but could not look away. She reached out, touched it, and felt it stiffen beneath her ghosting touches.
She watched the Prince’s eyes close and his mouth parted in a moan. Maria’s hair fell as she lifted herself over his lap and her long hair tickled his bare thighs. She swallowed hard and licked her lips. She kissed the head of his member and slowly swallowed it until the fleshy tip bumped against the back of her throat.
She felt his anatomy harden yet again as she swallowed down the Prince’s musky taste. She ran her tongue along the underside of his member and brought her lips closer to the head. She licked around the base of head and swallowed again, this time faster.
The Prince began to writhe and she repeated the motions, each time taking in more and more of him into her hot, wet mouth. Her soft lips left his flesh and he panted. She inhaled his scent and took his sack into her hands, licking it as well. She was searching for encouragement from his body and she found it.
“Wait,” he said as he took her lips and nibbled them. He slowly lifted her up over him and slowly set her upon his quivering flesh. She rested her head into the crook of his neck and let her body position itself above him.
He slowly slid into her and her green eyes went wide as she yelped. The fullness was almost too much to bear.
The Prince let out a heightened groan. “He never,” he rasped, “He never told me you were a virgin…”
He took her further down, listening to her moans and pants as he filled her. Gravity took her further. Her eyes locked with his. Both of them were shivering with desire. He kissed her again and again. He gently pressed his hips into her. She looked into his eyes. She kissed his soft lips. He littered her neck with hot pools of desire that would cool to purple come morning. Her breath hitched. Maria’s lungs struggled to fill with air.
He took her, rocking her back and forth with such force that she grabbed onto his shoulders to keep from falling. He grunted, coming closer to climax. She felt wave upon wave of electricity in her blood as her body fell into synch with his.
He exploded in a rush and held her close. A child from the kin of the birds, she was his and he was her first. He could almost believe in the dream now that she was naked.
Aside from her rosy skin and the feathers holding her hair up, she looked like any woman. Her hair redder than blood, her flesh pink and wet. And lips moist and willing.
He ran his hands along her cheeks and touched her trembling chin. “Are you okay?” he asked her. She nodded for her loss of words. He picked her up in her arms and separated himself from her. He felt the chill of the room and his longing came back.
The Prince laid her upon the bed again. He slowly spread her legs and she shielded herself with trembling fingers. He smiled and she lifted her hands, exposing her carnal treasure to him. The Prince kissed her thighs, each time he felt her muscles twitch with excitement. He looked up at her. He felt himself grow hard again as he stared at her soft breasts and tender neck.
He climbed on top of her, kissing her. He licked her neck and ran his fingers along her most sensitive peak. He rubbed against it and pressed his fingers further down and into her inviting mouth.
She let out a moan and wound his hair around her fingers. The Prince swallowed hard, pressed his stiffened shaft against her moist entrance, and moved his body further and further up until he could see only her eyes.
She could feel him piercing her. Maria looked up and watched him close his eyes. The shaking in his back gave way to long, hard thrusts that took her back to the ocean of her home.
She felt the sun’s rays upon her flesh again. But it was the Prince’s hand. She could feel a warm breeze but it was the Prince’s sweet breath. Maria felt the water envelope her skin.
It was the Prince’s warmth. The Prince’s body. His skin, his bare, beautiful skin against hers. Each thrust sent her deeper and deeper into the ocean. The sun’s image blurred by the waves she reached up and touched her Prince’s face.
“Charles,” she whispered. She felt her body go numb from her head to her toes, “Oh Charles, my dear Charles.”
Maria woke to the lightening morning sky. She looked at the Prince. She wondered who he had really made love to. She wanted to know if it was because she looked like Maria that he took such pleasure in her. But she was afraid. Soon the night would be over, and this would only be a dream.
It would be her one and only time with the Prince she had come to love. The Prince she served dutifully every day. Not even Lance could take away the joy she felt whenever the Prince cast his gaze upon her when she brought him his supper.
She had hoped he remembered her. But his eyes would go back to the table, back to the King and his court. However, not even that could mitigate her joy. He was as radiant then as he was now in the glow of his release.
But she had deceived him. Maria looked at her hand in the darkness left behind from the smoking candles. ‘With this hand I brought you great joy, my Prince,’ she wept silently, ‘but this is the hand that has lied to you for its own pleasure…’
She saw a hand take hers in the dark. A warm, strong hand. “What troubles you?” the Prince asked her.
She swallowed her tears. “Who is it that I look like, my Prince?” she whispered into the darkness. The Prince sat up slowly, “Maria,” he said sweetly. “She is my companion. I watch her prepare my breakfast in the morning. During my days she is never far behind me… and in the evenings, she keeps me company with her warm smile and her constant presence…”
Maria felt tears trickle down the slopes of her face to her full breasts. The Prince continued, “There are times when I see nothing but duplicity… But Maria never lies. She only watches over me.”
“How do you know?” she asked. The Prince looked in her direction. His face was masked by the darkness.
“She prayed that I might find something in the palace that would bring me joy,” he said. Slowly, the light from the new dawn lit his features. His blue eyes shown like diamonds. “Thanks to her,” he whispered, “I have.”
“She is honest,” he said. “Part of her beauty is how kind and bright her eyes are when she gazes upon me. She called me kind once when she told me that she would be happy if she and I ever spoke again. That alone made her beautiful.”
He took her hand again and held it, “Thank you.” He leaned in and whispered into her ear, “Thank you, Maria.”
Maria pulled back and away from him. She fell from the bed, her legs caught in the covers. She covered her naked breasts, “No! Please…”
The feathers along her brow fell from her skin. The pink film covering her skin dried and turned to dust in the light of the sun. “Don’t look at me,” she begged.
“Maria!” he gasped. “It was you… Maria,” he said as he bent down to aid her.
She freed her legs and covered herself. Maria folded her body in half and pressed her face to the floor. Her feathers fell to the carpet below her and her skin was left a milky white. “My Prince…” she wept, “I have lied to you… I…”
“I could not bear the thought of you staying with another here,” she sobbed. “Ellanise helped me see that…” she cried. “Do not be angry with her or Nightingale… They were only trying to help me…”
“I lied to you,” she wept. “I’m so sorry…” she looked up at him and cast her eyes to the ground, “Do with me what you will, but please do not punish them!”
The Prince bent down to her and lifted her up into an embrace. She fought him, “No… don’t look at me. Do not touch me, please… Stay away…”
He held her close. “Am I still dreaming?” he asked her. He held her close, “Maria, am I dreaming a dream so perfect that it could never be true?”
She paused and looked up at him. “You…” she whispered, “You do not hate me for deceiving you, Prince?”
He smiled, laughed and shook his head. “I lied to you…” he said quietly, “I brought you here so that if the rumor was true… If the magic here was real… That I would dream of you.”
“I thought I could be satisfied with one night with you,” he whispered. “Even if it was only a dream and I would wake in the morning…” he kissed the tears from her eyes. He held her close.
“Last night you called me by my name,” he said. “Only you have ever said my name so kindly,” he whispered into her ear. “The day in the garden, you said my name and it sounded like magic. I felt it was too much, too good, for it to be true.”
She wrapped her arms around him. “I am only your humblest of servants, my Prince,” she wept. He kissed her and pulled away. Their eyes met, “I burn for you, Maria. I desire only you.”
“Is that not enough for you to let me hear you say my name again?” he asked in a small, sad voice. His lips traced the dark marks his teeth had left when his passion had broken the tiny vessels in her neck. “Am I not enough?” he asked.
She pressed her hands into his back. She nuzzled his neck and kissed the bruises along his shoulder. “Charles,” she whispered, “Oh, Charles… What is it that we will do?”
He held her close and touched her pale skin. He buried his face into the reddest hair in the land. “I will take care of everything for you,” he said. “All I ask is that you stay by my side.”
She kissed him and pulled him down onto the sheets. Maria looked up at him. In the silence, he understood.
The Master of the bordello walked along to an open cage with a large, fiery white tigress. He took off his red hat and placed it on his dresser. He shrugged off his red jacket with gold trim. That he hung on a hook of the cage. He opened his collar with a smile and unbuttoned the top three buttons exposing a few light scars and a pale sliver of flesh.
He rubbed the bronzer from his face with a damp towel that was still warm and scented with lavender. This towel always waited for him in the room they shared. It was these small touches that brought a smile to his face.
The tigress rested her head on her arms, opening one eye to acknowledge the man slowly approaching her. She lay propped on velvet pillows before a table. Two empty cups lay neglected and cold upon the small coffee table. A cigarette, still smoldering, had almost burned down to its holder.
He inhaled its sweet scent. He stopped and waited for the tiger to walk up to him. She seemed to smile and he took the spot next to her. Today they were both too tired to stay awake much longer. There was so much for him to do while the night still allowed magic to breathe and bring love to fruition. He had to wait and make sure the Prince and his beloved were well. He smiled. They had their dream. Everyone deserved to dream.
He laid back and looked into her amber eyes with his. “Thank you, Ellanise,” he said to her. He grinned and with a simple slip of the hand, he produced a red rose he placed beside her. She rubbed her soft, velvety nose against his cheek and purred.
He let out a small yawn and felt his body relax into the curve of the bed he shared with her. He smiled at her, kissing her paw.
A small, plain bird landed upon his shoulder and rubbed its feathered cheek against the collar of his shirt, “And thank you, Nightingale. Thanks to you lifting that girl above the waves, I believe this kingdom will become our home.”