Chapter 2:The Mystery Man
"My lady, it's time to wake up." My nanny's nagging voice pulled me out of my sleep.
"Can't I sleep for a while?" I questioned her in annoyance.
Martha came closer to my bed. "Princesses must follow royal rules and etiquette…."
I pulled the quilt over my head, completely covering my face to delay starting this dreaded day, and spoke, "Etiquette is for those who will marry for the kingdom's sake and make the King and Queen proud. Not like I'll marry anyone ever."
Despite my answer, Martha tried to pull the quilt. "Still, my lady needs to be ready. It's an important day in the palace."
"Not for me," I resisted.
The pull on the quilt suddenly ceased, so I took a peek only to see something that I didn't like.
Martha had stepped back, her fingers twirling and her eyes focused on them. White fog appeared, surrounding her fingers.
"What are you doing?" I asked despite knowing what she was up to.
"My last resort to get my lady out of bed," Martha replied.
I clearly remembered what she did the last time. I was thrown out of the bed, and it was humiliating.
"Wait, wait!" I jumped out of my bed. With a frown, I couldn't help but complain. "I can't believe I'm the princess, and you are the servant."
Martha crossed her arms, and the fog on her fingers disappeared. "My lady, your bath is ready."
When I stepped inside the bath, as usual, Martha stepped in as well to help me.
I removed my sleeping gown and had nothing except for the permanent veil covering the lower part of my face. Despite my reluctance, I gingerly lowered myself into the wooden tub filled with steaming hot water.
"Maybe witches love their children too?" I mumbled.
Martha smiled warmly. "All mothers are the same."
"She wouldn't have abandoned me if she loved me."
"Everyone has their reasons." As always, Martha didn't sympathize with me and took the side of the person whom no one ever saw.
"Leave me alone."
After saying that, I got comfortable inside the hot water tub as I rested my back on the wooden wall and stretched my legs.
Martha left as instructed, finally giving me time to soak. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the warmth on my skin.
After a few moments of brief relaxation, I felt something pulling me down into the water. I gasped as a strange force pulled me away.
My eyes opened in shock, only to find myself no longer in my wooden tub but deep underwater and a tall figure had held my right hand tightly.
I looked around in panic.
Though mild sunlight touched the water surface, it was not enough to clearly see the tall figure's face.
"A man?" I concluded after regaining my senses.
My free hand moved to secure the veil on my face in fear that the mysterious stranger would remove it. The veil in itself didn't matter to me, but it was a reflex of the teaching that I got since I was a child—not to take off the veil and not let anyone else take it off.
However, before I could touch the veil, the stranger caught my other hand as well. He was so close, but I couldn't see his face. The only thing I could notice in the darkness was the glittering tattoo on one side of his neck.
Seeing that tattoo, I screamed inside, my eyes round with pleasant surprise.
I didn't feel scared. Instead, I was excited about meeting him again.
The curiosity to see his face took over my rational thoughts.
I moved my gaze from his tattooed neck to his face. In the darkness, two red irises shone.
I could feel those fierce red eyes staring into mine.
This was my chance to see his face clearly, especially since he continued to grasp both of my hands.
Unfortunately, a distant yet familiar female voice called out, "My lady."
The voice pulled me away from his grasp. When I opened my eyes again, I found myself the same as before; I was inside my tower, soaking in my tub as if I've never left.
"Was it a dream?" I wondered and looked at my wrists.
They had faint red marks, and I could still feel the stranger's touch lingering on my skin. The way he held it so tightly almost pained me.
"If it's not a dream, then what is it?" I thought.
Martha had come in to add scented herbs on the water, and I cursed her in my mind for her bad timing. Because of her, I couldn't see the man again.
"But why was he staring at me like that? Who is he? Does he know me?" Countless questions filled my mind.
I got out of the bath in a while, and Martha helped me don a silk robe.
I sat in front of the dressing table to let Martha do her work on my appearance. From the large oval mirror, I could see our reflection. She started drying my hair while I stared at my veil-covered face. I yearned to take it off but couldn't.
"Am I that ugly to keep my face covered all the time?"
Martha let go of my hair and did something with her fingers. The veil fell from my face onto my lap.
She looked at me through the mirror. "My lady can decide herself."
I looked at my face, not knowing what to think. "How can I decide when I don't know what pretty is?"
"My lady can compare it to the other princesses," Martha referred to the other daughters of my father, my so-called stepsisters.
"It's better to be ugly if my looks need to be compared with them," I retorted.
Martha smiled lightly. "A woman with such beautiful and rare purple eyes, how can she not be pretty?"
"Then why do I always have to cover my face?" I asked, picking up the veil from my lap.
"To protect you, my lady."
"I know, but from whom?"
Martha didn't answer, and there was a silence for a while.
When Martha finished drying my hair, she started to put on makeup on my face.
"Do I even need it? What's the use when no one can see my face?" I mumbled.
"Half of the face they can," Martha replied.
I frowned. "Then only put makeup on half of it."
Martha brought out the newly-arrived gown prepared for today's occasion, which the King sent along with lots of jewelry to match.
Though I was an abandoned daughter, my father, King of Abetha, made sure to provide everything for me.
Since I was young, I had always wondered if he truly cared for me or if his actions were meant to save his face in front of others by showing that he treats his daughter well even though she was a witch. Perhaps, he might not like to embarrass himself if I were to be seen wearing shabby clothes by the rest of the kingdom.
Martha put on the ice blue-colored silk gown on me. The multi-layered gown was long enough to reach the floor, and it had delicate embroidery made using soft silver and dark blue threads on its hems. It fitted my body perfectly; the round neck, as well as the ribbon at the waist.
Lastly, I wore the long-sleeved floor-length outer robe made with a delicate see-through fabric, which was left open in the front to let the gown inside be visible.
Once Martha made sure I was ready, she put on the spell again and tied the veil to my face. The white veil changed its color to match with my ice blue gown.
Even though I had seen Martha cast this spell several times before, it was something I could not do on my own. I wondered if I could do this kind of magic on myself and change my life completely.
I observed my appearance in the mirror—the red-brown hair that Martha combed and set nicely with some jewelry attached to it, my forehead which had a tiny fire-like birthmark in the center, a pair of rare purple eyes with the rest of my face hidden behind a veil, and the expensive gown...
I studied the veil again. Wearing it all the time made my mind remember my face only with the veil, and I kept forgetting how it looks without it.
I turned, and Martha was standing in front of me as if she's waiting to do one last thing. I knew what it was and stayed still.
Martha closed her eyes, mumbled something, and flicked her fingers.
I turned to look into the mirror to watch small patches of dark blue scales with a golden tinge begin to appear. First, they appeared on the right corner of my forehead, then the right side of my neck, and lastly, on the back of my right palm.
"Now I look like a witch's daughter," I mumbled.
My eyes were devoid of any emotion as I don't know what I should feel about this transformation.
Martha instructed, "It's time to leave."
I sighed. "Why do I need these?"
"It's to protect you, my lady."
I glared at her. "Always the same answer."
Sadly, I could never insist on getting answers from tight-lipped Martha. I wished I had something to threaten her and get all those answers, but as of the moment, there was nothing to be done.
"We should leave."
Martha guided my way out.