“What do you think of this place setting, dear?” Queen Siren asked her son, Henry, as she pointed to a set of dinnerware placed out in front of her. Siren and her young daughter, Piper, were circling around an oblong dining room table admiring different formal place settings that had been laid out for them to choose from, while Henry was slouched in a chair at the head of the table, staring off into space. He had been lost in a daydream and completely missed his mother’s question.
“Henry? Darling?” Siren repeated softly. Henry snapped out of his train of thought as he turned to face his mother.
“I’m sorry?” he said, furrowing his eyebrows and sitting up. Siren took a deep breath, clearly a little annoyed that Henry hadn’t been paying attention, but she did her best to hide it as she plastered on a fake smile.
“The place setting. What do you think of it for your coronation?”
Henry glanced at the one she had pointed to and dismissively waved his hand.
“That’s fine. Whatever you guys think.”
Siren could feel her patience wearing thin, and she put a little less effort into hiding her annoyance this time.
“This one will be perfect,” the queen said to one of the royal event planners that had been standing back a little as she waited for the royal family to make their selection.
“Alright,” Siren said to Henry now, a biting tone to her voice, “now the menu.”
Henry groaned as he slumped down into his chair again.
“Mother, we’ve been doing this for hours. My coronation isn’t for another month, can we please take a break?”
Siren clicked her tongue as she crossed her arms over her chest.
“I realize that, but we still have a lot to do. It takes a lot of planning to put an event together like this, you know.”
Henry rolled his eyes but remained silent. Siren started discussing different menu options with her two children, but Henry tuned her out as he got lost in thought again. In all honesty, he would rather be anywhere but here. He didn’t like being reminded of his impending coronation. He knew for a fact that he was not cut out to be king. He had been watching his parents lead (and by his parents, he mainly means his mother) since he was just a young boy and he knew he would never be able to live up to her legacy. On top of that, the kingdom was trying to rebuild after the epic battle with the sorcerer, and Henry wasn’t sure he was the right person to take over such a considerable task. He tried to focus his mind on other things while his mother continued to drone on about something or other pertaining to his coronation party. His mind immediately went to the same place it had been going for the past several weeks; to the boy in the blacksmith’s shop. He was abruptly dragged out his daydream once again as he felt someone sit down next to him.
“What are you thinking about?” his little sister Piper asked quietly enough so their mother wouldn’t overhear. Henry noticed that the queen was now standing on the other side of the room with the event planner, going over something on the planner’s clipboard.
“Uhh…nothing. Why?” Henry answered hastily, hoping his sister wouldn’t press the issue.
“Because you had the goofiest smile on your face,” Piper responded in a mocking tone, “You looked so stupid.”
Henry frowned a little as he stood up.
“Whatever. I’m going to the marketplace for a little while,” he announced to the room. Siren and the black-haired woman next to her stopped their conversation to look at him.
“Henry, we’re in the middle of something here,” his mother said, her tone sharp. Henry just rolled his eyes.
“You know I don’t care about this stuff. Besides, I trust you and Piper. Just go with whatever you think is best.”
His mother sighed heavily but she knew to try to argue with him would futile. He had been resistant to planning this coronation from the very beginning.
“Fine, but be back by dinner time. And don’t forget, you and Piper have your fitting tomorrow. Don’t think you’re going to get out of that one,” Siren replied, her expression serious.
“Yes, ma’am,” Henry responded in a defeated tone as he started towards the door. He took a huge sigh of relief once he was out of the room. He was thankful he was going to get a few hours away from the coronation planning, and butterflies formed in his stomach as he thought about exactly where he wanted to go.
The marketplace was hustling and bustling with shopkeepers manning their booths trying to pull in customers and customers hurriedly making their way from place to place. A few kids playing various games were running at full speed, weaving their way through the thick crowds. Henry smiled to himself for a moment as he watched them. The marketplace smelled of cinnamon and sweets from the nearby bakery. Henry strolled along as he took in the various sights and smells. As he passed a booth with various jewelry, he noticed a young girl no older than eight or nine in a ratty dress and no shoes eyeing a pretty necklace hanging in the middle of the jewelry display. He made his way over to her and knelt down beside her so they were at the same level.
“Hi, sweetheart! What’s your name?” he asked.
“Lucy,” she answered without taking her eyes off the necklace.
“It’s nice to meet you, Lucy. I’m Henry,” he responded. “Which necklace are you looking at?” She pointed to a silver necklace shaped like a heart with a blue jewel in the middle. “Wow, that’s very pretty! Would you like to have it?”
The girl frowned as a longing look flashed in her eyes.
“Yes, but my family cannot afford it,” she answered wistfully. Henry just grinned as he stood up.
“That’s okay. I can,” he said as he picked up the necklace. The girl finally looked up at him, a puzzled expression etched across her face. Henry pulled a few gold pieces out of his pocket and handed it to the shopkeeper.
“Keep the change,” Henry said as he smiled. “Thank you, your majesty,” the shopkeeper responded gratefully. Henry then turned and handed the necklace to the little girl. The little girl’s face lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Oh, thank you!” she exclaimed as she threw her arms around his waist. Henry chuckled.
“You’re welcome! And here. Just in case you happen to find a nice bracelet to match,” Henry said as he handed her more gold pieces. A wide smile spread across the girl’s face as she beamed up at him.
“Thank you, sir!” she said before running off calling to her parents about the pretty necklace the nice man bought her. Before he was out of earshot Henry could hear the mother saying “Honey, that’s the prince,” and Henry couldn’t help but smile to himself a little. He continued to stroll through the marketplace, stopping at almost every booth to buy at least one thing from each. Once Henry had visited every booth, he decided to visit the same place he had been visiting every day for almost a month. He opened the door into the blacksmith’s shop, where the only light source was a roaring fire that was currently being used to heat various metals. On the opposite side of the room, metallic weapons of various sorts were on display. A young boy around Henry’s age was working near the fireplace, and he looked up when he heard the door open. Even though his eyes looked tired from working for so long, his face still lit up at the sight of the prince.
“You’re back,” he said as he subtly tried to wipe the sweat off his forehead. A piece of his light brunette hair flopped down in front of his eyes, and Henry thought his heart might beat out of his chest. He took a few steps forward as he sheepishly grinned.
“Yeah. I uhh…hope that’s okay,” he stuttered out.
“Of course it is. You’re always welcome here.”
Henry could feel the heat rising to his cheeks and he was hoping that the room was dark enough that the boy wouldn’t notice.
“Thanks, Jasper,” he responded. Jasper grinned as he grabbed a broom and started to clean up. Henry had met Jasper a few weeks ago when he stumbled into the shop one day, and he had been enchanted by him ever since. He had decided impulsively to commission a sword from him, even though he had never picked up a sword in his life and he had no idea how to wield one or if he would ever really need too. It became their routine that Henry would visit him at some point in the day, under the guise that he was just checking to see the progress of his sword. Little did Henry know, Jasper was taking much longer than he normally would to finish it because he enjoyed having Henry stop by just as much as Henry enjoyed being there.
Henry sat down at the same table he always sat down at on the left side of the room. They remained silent for a while, with Jasper sweeping up the shop and Henry staring off into the distance, lost in thought. After a while, Jasper started to notice that Henry was being uncharacteristically quiet, and he looked up to see that the prince had a wary expression on his face. He stopped sweeping for a second and called out to him.
Nothing. The boy didn’t seem to notice that Jasper had said anything at all. Jasper’s forehead furrowed as he leaned against the broom.
“Henry!” he called out again, a little louder this time. Henry snapped out of his train of thought and looked up at Jasper with a puzzled expression.
“What’s going on? You seem like you’re a million miles away today,” Jasper asked. He leaned the broom against the wall closest to him and then went to sit down across from Henry. Henry began to run his fingers over a nick in the table as he sighed.
Jasper crossed his arms on the table in front of him as he leaned in closer.
“Penny for your thoughts?” he said with a lopsided smile. Henry glanced up and met Jasper’s gaze. His blue eyes were sparkling in the orange glow of the firelight and for a second Henry forgot what he was worried about.
“It’s just my coronation. It’s approaching so quickly. I don’t think I’m ready for any of this,” Henry said as he stood up and ran his fingers through his hair. Jasper tried to focus on what Henry was saying instead of how adorable he looked when he did that. Jasper opened his mouth to speak but Henry cut him off.
“I just need to forget all this stuff for a while. Just go somewhere where I’m not reminded every ten seconds about the coronation or the planning or my birthday. Someplace quiet.”
Henry looked down at the floor as he began to pace. Jasper waited for a second to see if Henry was finished was talking, and once he assumed that he was, he held up his finger and opened his mouth to speak again.
“What are you doing tonight?” Henry asked before Jasper had a chance to make a sound. Jasper just shut his mouth as she placed his hands down on the table.
“Nothing,” he said simply.
“Ever heard of the pixie crystal river?”