Mark Edward Jackson II
The relentless summer rains battered against the window pane, for the past two weeks, not leaving room for the sun to shine, and kept matching the turmoil inside Mark’s heart.
He was the only remaining member of the hierarchy, with no parents or siblings to assist him. He bore the sole responsibility of leading the kingdom and ensuring a peaceful and prosperous rule for the 450 families living in their idyllic land, filled with verdant forests, cascading waterfalls, and misty mountains.
He had no experience in governing a country or dealing with its politics, and relied on his father, the King, to guide him even after his retirement. However, he now found himself alone and without anyone to turn to for assistance. He was unfamiliar with the inner workings of his nation and the land that was his home.
He stared out at the grey sky, lost in thought as his mind replayed the words he had heard earlier that day. A friend had spoken with conviction, trying to offer comfort, but those words felt like empty promises to Mark.
“Maybe I’m cynical,” he mumbled to himself, a wry smile tugging at the corners of his lips. The idea of finding solace in clichés seemed like a distant fantasy. He took a sip of his lukewarm coffee, its bitterness echoing his own emotions.
“I don’t think any of that stuff works for anyone who is truly broken,” he continued his voice barely above a whisper. He wasn’t one to easily confide in others, preferring the comfort of his thoughts.
As he leaned back in his chair, he let his mind wander back to happier times, to a version of himself, he felt, he had lost. He had once believed in second chances, in the power of redemption and renewal. But lately, life had chipped away at that belief, leaving him feeling like a shadow of his former self.
He glanced at the clock on the wall, realizing that time was slipping away. With a sigh, he stood up, his chair scraping against the floor. The room felt colder, and lonelier, as if the storm outside had seeped into his very being.
Mark walked to the door, his hand on the doorknob. He paused, his gaze falling on a faded photograph on the wall—a snapshot of him and his family, arms slung over each other’s shoulders, smiles genuine and carefree. The memory of that moment felt distant, like a scene from another person’s life.
His family had given him the best education, and with his hidden identity, he had almost a normal life like any other student and had a good share of friends and fun in his college life. His parents never bothered him with state affairs or talked to him about it. He never knew what all things to undertake as a King, what are his duties, and what the affairs of the state were of interest to him.
Though he knew one fine day, he would have to take over, and always thought that day was far off, he never sat to learn things from his father and assumed there was enough time to discuss and understand what to do as the ‘King’.
He never knew at that time, that suddenly both of them would disappear from his life and never come back. Now that he was being crowned and holding the highest position in the country, he wanted his father to advise him on what was right.
To make matters worse, he had to be married to someone before he assumed office, it was one of the clauses left behind by his father. He never knew who that someone would be or if it had to be with another country, as in a treaty or he could marry a commoner or someone he has fallen in love with. The question of being in love looked like a distant dream.
He must find someone for now, who can stand beside him for things to go further. He was determined to get a wife, before his coronation and then go ahead with the tasks on his hand one-by-one.
A certain woman with delicate features, waist-long dark hair, and emerald green eyes, haunted him. The old bookstore woman, who stood before him without fear and talked to him with great grith and demanded an answer, kept daunting him, to go and seize her for himself.
When he went to the shop, the next day to check on her, he saw a man about the same age as her but couldn’t learn any details about her life or the man.
He didn’t know whom to turn to, of course, his friend Marcus was there for him, but other than that his heart longed for a confidant with whom he could share all his thoughts, without any binding. Marcus, being the general´s son, had boundaries with him and couldn’t be completely open. Marcus also understood the binding of Mark and that’s why their bond was so special.
Mark wanted to bring her into his world and keep her there. He seemed to be smitten by her. When he had come up with his predicament to Marcus, they had staged together an act to make the woman take steps towards gaining his friendship. But, it ended with a small gesture of thank you nothing more. They were at loggerheads not knowing what to do further.
They had staged a fake burglar at her shop and Mark had gone to her shop to drop his phone number, it was a risk but, he was willing to take it so that he could build his relationship slowly. But, she had never responded to the phone number and the play didn’t go further.
“So you might as well be who you are,” he whispered, his voice carrying a mix of resignation and defiance. It was the one piece of advice that seemed to resonate, a glimmer of truth among the well-intentioned words. Mark realized that embracing his flaws, his scars, was a way of reclaiming his identity.
He opened the door, stepping into the corridor that stretched ahead of him. The demons might always be there, but perhaps, he thought, with each step forward, he could push them a little further away.
As he walked, the storm outside seemed to relent, the rain now a gentle patter. And somewhere deep within him, a spark of determination ignited—a whisper that said, maybe, just maybe, he could find his way.
Emily Bridgeton Rutherford
Emily was an owner of a small old bookstore, unmindful of the struggles of the Prince of the land or the troubles he had. She was immersed in her troubles and didn’t know how to navigate them. She didn’t know what was right or wrong anymore.
The old bookstore had always been a sanctuary for Emily. Its shelves, lined with volumes of forgotten tales and well-loved classics, offered a refuge from the world outside. But today, as rain tapped softly against the windows, even the bookstore’s familiar charm couldn’t dispel the shadows that clung to her thoughts.
She had to somehow protect the shop and also keep the house attached to it. She had no place to go apart from this and not only it was hers, but it was also the only thing her parents left to her. In their time, it flourished so well with so many people walking in and helping her father build this bookstore, and the money that came in, brought them not great pleasures of life but kept them going on.
Now, with the advent of the internet, mobile phones, and various applications, printed books have lost their good old charm and people have taken to other forms of reading. The art of having an extensive library in their humble homes has become almost negligent and old-fashioned.
There are a few people who still are dutiful to the reading from books, who came in search of the old classics, literature and other stuff. These people were becoming rare. Somehow, Emily had been holding on to the bookstore apart from her freelancing, part-time editor and ghost-writing jobs.
She didn’t want to sell the bookstore, come what may, She had memories of her dad and mom, and her best times of growing up were in that bookstore.
She had lost her parents in a tragic fire accident that seemed to envelop the bookstore and the house, her dad had tried his best to save the books, the store and the house. In the struggle to save, he and his wife were enveloped in the fire and it was too late to save them.
They left the world giving the girl her bookstore and the memories attached to it. It was a devasting day for her, she would also have been engulfed by the fire, if she had not gone for an excursion, far away from the home. So the poor girl couldn’t even have her last words with her parents.
She was completely broken and Alex was the only person, who accompanied her and slowly saw her pick up bits and pieces of her life and go on. Almost after a year and a half, she slowly returned to finishing college, picking up the pieces of the bookstore and house, and mending it. She was reluctant to leave the place for better opportunities, as that place had all her memories.
She didn’t have anyone else in the town and only one friend who stood by her and did almost what he could from his side. The thoughts of Alex had conjured him up.
The bell above the door tinkled, and Emily looked up to see her friend Alex walking in. His presence brought a small smile to her lips, a ray of light on the gloomy day.
They had shared enough late-night conversations to know that life wasn’t always as simple as happy endings.
Sitting in the cosy reading nook at the corner of the store, they shared stories of their struggles and doubts. Emily’s fingers traced the rim of her teacup, lost in thought.
As they continued talking, the rain outside gradually subsided. Emily found herself taking solace in the stories they shared, realizing that her doubts were not isolated. They were part of a universal journey, a tapestry of human existence.
Hours passed, and as Emily and Alex finally left the bookstore, a hint of sunlight broke through the clouds. It was a fleeting promise of better days to come, a reminder that even after the storm, there could be moments of warmth and light.
Walking side by side, they knew that the road ahead wouldn’t be without challenges. But armed with the strength of their friendship and the wisdom of shared experiences, they faced the future with a newfound resolve to be true to themselves.
Some days ago when she had been robbed of her meagre earnings in the bookstore, she had complained to the police. But, nothing happened, and then one day a royal-looking young man, older by a few years came and inspected the place, assured her that things were being looked into and would surely get her money back. He appeared to be the owner of the entire land, including the piece she stood on, also being authoritative and a problem solver.
As he had said, within days, the money was returned by the police, saying the burglar had been caught and imprisoned.
After that incident, the face of the guy lingered in her dreams. Sometimes it was a nightmare where he was the thief, stealing from her repeatedly and returning the money within days. Other times, she dreamt of romantic encounters with him. She couldn’t understand why he affected her so deeply and kept appearing in her dreams.
She always felt the need for a girlfriend to discuss things with her. She couldn’t discuss certain things with Alex, though he was a good childhood friend. She was a little hesitant to talk about her dreams of a fine-looking man. She didn’t know how to share this with Alex, so she kept things to herself. As with her thoughts, she knew she had to find a solution to the bookstore and house.
One day, the royal guards came to announce the arrival of the prince, in the middle of the day, to her bookstore.
She was perplexed, as to why would a prince visit her store. She didn’t know what to do, luckily Alex was with her. He stood up to face the music and with so many guards running to the bookstore standing on either side of the pathway, changed the demeanour of her meek bookstore.
She kept looking at the doorway for the entry of the prince, but nobody of that stature entered the bookstore, She was partially disappointed but at the same time, she wished the prince didn’t see her in these rags of clothes, she was wearing.
She wondered why was she disappointed. What made her think, she had to be beautifully dressed for the prince, she hadn’t seen him and had no intentions of getting into the palace or anywhere near him to catch a glimpse of him.
After what seemed like half an hour or so, someone of rank in the guards came in and addressed her, “My Lady, the Prince was here to talk to you in private about a certain engagement for you. But, at the last minute, he was pulled to do some work. He left after leaving a letter addressed to you. Hope, you can read it and send an answer, whenever you are ready. Just let us know at this telephone number, and someone will come to pick up the message.” – saying thus, they all receded at once and without traces of them being there.
Bewildered they both looked at each and Alex eagerly looked at the envelope in her hand and asked her to read the contents. More bewildering and magical was what was written in the letter, the Prince had asked for her hand in marriage to him.
The prince didn’t show up in person, but his letter indicated that he knew about her humble beginnings and was willing to support her with the Bookstore and House. The letter also mentioned that he would agree to any terms she might have for the marriage that was to take place should she choose to accept his proposal.
Alex was as usual the devil’s advocate and told her right away, “Don’t Emily. Don’t even agree with this, it sounds weird to me. He might be a prince, but you don’t have to agree to it? What if turns out to be not the way it is and you land yourself in trouble.”
She replied, “Why are you jumping to conclusions? Nothing is set in concrete, yet. Let’s look at it from the perspective of an opportunity to solve my problems once and for all. I know, there are a lot of ifs and buts to it. We haven’t seen the prince, in question. We have to see him and then decide. Let us not rush into things.
I know, you have spoken in the good interests of me. But, let’s also think positively. Will a man of such a high position, will do something frivolous and make a fool of himself? He must have thought through all the consequences and then come to this decision right? And of all things how does he know my whole life situation, it beats me.”
After that incident, she sent her message to the prince and said, she had accepted the whole thing, on just one and only condition that she would keep the bookstore and house in her name. The prince would have nothing to do with that piece of land and it would never be exchanged for anything. Though Alex wasn’t happy with her decision, he was silent and assured her that he would support her even if things went south.
Hearing, that Emily had agreed to his proposal, Mark was too busy with solving the problems at hand and whenever he agreed to meet her, he had to go to attend some work. Without meeting her in person, he had to fix a date for marriage, he had also to tell the officials about his marriage and also control the turbulence of marrying a commoner.
Without meeting the prince for even once, in person, Emily was starting to doubt her decision and kept wondering if the whole thing, was just a scam. She didn’t know what to do or whom to turn to and debated within herself if she should attempt calling the number again and send a strong message about wanting to meet the prince, come what may.
The news in the papers, kept talking about the hardships of the prince, his coronation, and his marriage as a surety for the right of his birth, to adorn the throne. With days came more news of the Prince running across the country to shut the rumours or shun flames of hatred, the Prince was struggling to be everywhere and at every incident that was happening, trying his best to even out when things were not going, as he wanted.
The press couldn’t also give her a good decent picture of the Prince. The pictures of him were always partial or shot from a distance, so they were not clear. Emily thought to herself, She didn’t want to burden the Prince with her thoughts, but she didn’t know what else to do and talking to Alex, only confirmed her fears.
Then one day, a messenger came in and said, “The Prince wants to speak to you before your wedding. You can meet him on the coming Saturday at the mountaintop overlooking the ocean. A chauffeur will drive you up there.”
Emily kept quiet as her mind had a thousand and one questions to ask, the messenger was not the right man to pose all the questions, so she gently nodded her head as if in agreement with what was just said to her.
She stood looking at the retreating shadow of the man, who just passed the message and dropped onto the corner chair in the bookstore. She didn’t know what or how to make sense of this whole bizarre happening in her life, but she was determined to face it with full force.
Alex kept asking her to not agree to the bidding even if he was the Prince, but she somehow couldn’t resist the offer laid before her and was determined to see how the whole thing turned out.
She had not seen the Prince, in person and this was a chance to see him and then she could decide, she didn’t do any harm to anyone or promise anyone anything.
The Prince himself is giving her another chance to undo things. So, she looked forward to the meeting on the mountaintop.
“Serves us better to just keep barrelling forward and hope the demons can’t keep up,” she remarked, a mixture of weariness and determination in her eyes.
Alex leaned back in his chair, his gaze fixed on the window and said “You’ve got to navigate through those shadows, Emily, and maybe in time, they’ll become less daunting.”
His words hung in the air, a lifeline in a sea of uncertainty. Emily looked around the bookstore, the shelves of stories seeming to hold secrets of their own. She realized that each worn book was a testament to the human experience—full of triumphs and heartaches, just like the people who read them.
She stepped into her room and got herself ready for the meeting. She had her mind in knots sometime back, but with those strong words from her friend, Alex, she stood taller and dressed in the finest clothes she had and waited for the car to arrive to take her to the destined meeting.
She got into the car and the drive to the mountaintop was so picturesque that she almost forgot what her trip entailed and was lost in the scenery and the view from the mountaintop.
She got out of the car and had to walk up a long narrow pathway, ridden with withered grass that looked golden with the setting sun, throwing colours of different shades of red, orange, violet and yellow, it looked so heavenly.
At the end of the trail, there was a white gazebo, adorned with flowers of pink, lilac and purple, it was so beautiful. She walked up to the gazebo, went around it, and in the centre there was a cute little white bench, an aesthetic-looking coffee table, with some steaming coffee pot and some delicacies laid, on it.
She looked at the horizon to find the setting sun with all its glory and could even hear the waves on the shore, hitting against the rocks. It was terrifying but at the same time there was a calming effect to the whole set-up and the fact that the whole place was decked up for the special meeting with her, had a total romantic feel to it.
It didn’t look like a man-made setting, but a spot made in heaven with angels, weaving their magic and making it a splendid place to meet her supposed future husband, the Prince himself.
She sat on the bench, completely lost in the mesmerizing beauty of the place. Suddenly, she heard someone clearing their throat. She turned around and found a stunning man standing behind her. His strong arms held behind him, deep-set ocean-blue eyes, neatly combed and styled dark hair, broad shoulders, and a stern facial expression that suited him perfectly. When he spoke, his voice was so powerful that it reverberated in her bones.
She looked closer, the man was none other the man who haunted her in her dreams, who had given her some nights of nightmares and some nights of romantic escapades. He was standing there in flesh and bones, and he was talking to her, but she couldn’t hear anything, she felt transported to another realm, as if it was a dream and just looked at him with her mouth slightly gapping, as if to say so many things to him but the words just jumbled and didn’t make sense.
He responded, with a slightly louder voice, “Emily, are you fine? Are you in any kind of discomfort, do you need any help? Do I have to call someone? Don’t scare me, please answer me?”
Regaining her composure, she replied “No, no…not necessary, I am fine, my Lord”
“Oh! Please, you don’t have to be formal. I wanted to meet you so that we can speak to each other without any hesitation and I want you to speak your mind with no restraint so that I know. Be seated and tell me, are you really fine with the…ah…” he took a pause, put his hand at the back of his head and pulled it across his neck as if he was a little embarrassed to talk about it…and then straightening himself to his full height, looking straight into her eyes, “..are you fine with the marriage?”
She looked down at her lap and kept twirling her fingers till it ached and then she looked once at him and then again bent her head and remained silent.
He continued, “If you fail to talk and remain silent, I wouldn’t know what to say. I know, it has been a bit bizarre, a royalty reaching out to you to seek your hand. But trust me, I am too pressed for time and in this ride for the people and the country, I represent. So, unless you speak your mind, and rest the turbulences of my mind, I can’t proceed with anything else.” Saying thus, he moved to the other end of the bench and came face-to-face with her, with his brows narrowed and raised, in a confused look.
“I am okay with the marriage, my lord. But…”
“Please, address me by name, Mark. I would like, you to address me by my name. Sorry, to break your thought, continue.”
“I want to understand, why I was chosen and need a clear explanation.”
To this, he just smirked and said “…of all the questions, I was expecting, I didn’t assume you to start with this particular question.” he finished with a laugh.
Within, a few moments of stillness, nothing to disturb the rhythmic ocean waves down, the lone cries of the bird, both of them lost in each other, and the world resuming its task undauntedly, leaving them alone in their own heaven, the moments ticked away.
He broke the silence, “You are right. Why you? Now, how do I answer it? Let me think. It is not that I don’t know the answer to it, I am rephrasing my thoughts in a sequence, so that when I answer that particular question of yours, whatever I say to you doesn’t look hollow or make fun of you.”
She kept looking at him fuzzily as if whatever he said, didn’t make sense to her.
He continued, “I happened to pass by your shop sometime, and I fell in love with your passion for books, the way you treated your customers and the entire demeanour of you as a person.
I saw that there was this overwhelming need in you to cater to the needs of the customer, suggesting books, give them titbits about the book, not revealing the plot of the book, make it attractive to them and then leave them to decide for themselves.”
He glimpsed at her and continued, “Remember the man, who came to pick a cookbook?
Before recognition could dawn on her, he continued “…Don’t ever think I didn’t need the book, but the way you made me think of it as a necessity for me, I brought the book and also let my heart linger there for long…I wouldn’t say, it was love at first sight but I did have the urge to know more about you, get close to you, and the need to make you mine…I wasn’t sure how or what to do and then this whole thing of me being married fell on to me, and I needed a wife. So, you automatically was my first choice and here we are.”
They looked at each other with so much reverence and when he heard that she had agreed to the whole scenario of marriage and willingly given her to him, he couldn’t resist himself. He moved closer to her and lifted his hand to move the strand of hair that was blown away by the crafty wind that kept blowing it across her left eye, how much ever she kept pulling it behind her ear.
He delicately held the silky strand in his hand, feeling it and pulled it behind her ear, he moved his fingers featherlight across her cheek and traced it along her cheekbones and jawline, pausing a second before he did something absurd that would turn the moment into something dangerous.
She closed her eyes and slightly turned her head so that she could rest her cheek gingerly on his palm. The warmth radiating off his palm was so comforting. He held her like that for a second longer and moved his other hand and held her face in his hands and looked at her dearly. She slowly opened her eyes and looked at him, fondly.
His thumb throbbed to move it across her lips, but he restrained himself, in a heavy tone told her, “I wish this wasn’t our first meeting and I could do what my mind wants. Alas, I have to wait.”
To this, she knowingly blushes and bends her head. He couldn’t find any difference between the shades of colour of the setting suns reflection on her cheeks or the colour of her blushing.
She heads home after wholly accepting the marriage. She was still doubtful as to how Alex would react to it. She only had him to talk to or have an argument with, whatsoever she has accepted the marriage, she gets to keep the Bookstore and the house in her name. What else she needs, even down the lane, if there are differences in her marriage, she can go back to her old life with ease.
The celebrations began in the country, every street and every house was bustling with celebration and happiness, people were overjoyed with the marriage and coronation of their Prince and were eagerly waiting for it to happen so that they could have a new Queen and King and go back to minding their lives.
There was so much events around the marriage, every girl dreamed of such a dreamy wedding for themselves and some grew jealous of Emily, hoping they were in her shoes.
Emily was oblivious to all these and in her ‘Dreamy Prince World’. Finally, she met the man of her dreams, she was happy that he was a man of his word and took immense care so that she had all that was required for the marriage and sent her all the help he could, without making it overwhelming for her.
The agreed day of marriage came and Alex would be person who would give away her hand, in marriage to the Prince. Emily looked exquisite in a beautiful dress, and Alex had teased her how the Prince would not be able to see his vows, looking at how beautiful she was. To that, she just blushed and kept smiling.
The marriage took place at the same place where they met for the first time, and that place looked even more magical. It was fairy-tale like how they both beheld each other and everything around them coming together in an alluring way as if the heavens bestowed its blessing on the couple, enveloped them in ever-lasting happiness and love, forever and ever.
“Long Live the King and Queen” – said the whole nation in unison.
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