A creeping blanket of thick grey mist hovers over Cyberia palace, adding to its already gloomy appearance.
Situated in Archivea, a quiet leafy suburb of the Kingdom of Cyberia, it stands, ghostlike and eerie, at the top of a winding gravelled driveway lined with gnarled, towering trees. Parts of the west wing have subsided and, to the outside world, the once majestic palace now resembles a historic relic, shrouded in an air of mystery.
The once meticulously maintained gardens with their magnificent flower beds have long gone and, like a frail old man once vibrant, strong and handsome, the palace has succumbed to the ravages of time. Its ancient walls are covered in thick crusty layers of bird poo, testament to flocks of birds who, over the years, have nested and raised their young in its eaves.
All is quiet, except for the cooing of the wood pigeons that sit in the eaves surveying their damp domain, while pheasants wander aimlessly, squirrels scamper and rabbits hop in and out of their underground tunnels.
As the mist descends, the forlorn facade of the palace slowly fades from view, until a single beam of light from a downstairs window, is all that is visible …
“You have got to be kidding me?”
“No, Eemay, I have never been more serious in my life. It is royal protocol,” my father explained. “A Charter put in place many years ago, to protect the monarchy and the people of the Kingdom.
“So, this royal summons is to tell me that when I reach eighteen I will be expected to marry a prince and settle down?”
My parents just stared at each other in tongue-tied silence, Mum’s delicate, elfin features reddening by the second, and Pop’s mouth opening and closing like a goldfish.
We were gathered in the draughty drawing room of the old palace. I had guessed it was about something pretty serious, particularly as they both looked so stiff and stony faced, but I was certainly not prepared for the bomb-shell they dropped.
After a lengthy pause it was Pop who eventually broke the silence. “Look, Eemay, should we die or circumstances change, you have to be ready to step up to the throne at a moment’s notice.”
My throat tightened in sudden panic. “But you’re not going to die, you’re both fighting fit.”
“Do I have to spell it out? You never know, we could both be involved in a fatal accident and you are the sole heir to the throne of Cyberia.”
Tears welled in my eyes. “OK, I get all that, but why the rush for me to find a prince?”
Pop stood up and began pacing the drawing room, raking his fingers through his, wiry dark hair, his forehead etched in deep furrows.
“Please, Emmy, we are finding this very hard,” Mum intervened, her hands visibly trembling and her face a picture of abject misery. “We’ve been putting it off for as long as we dare, but you will soon be eighteen and we have a duty to inform you of your royal obligations. We really should have told you sooner, and believe me, we have tried many times, but could never seem to find the right moment.” She lowered her eyes, unable to meet my gaze, a single tear gently sliding down her cheek.
“But you still haven’t answered my question.”
She tried to compose herself, shuffling in her seat, pushing back a few strands of her immaculate short blonde hair and taking a sip of tea, before launching into a hurried explanation. “Royal law stipulates that every successor to the throne of Cyberia, at no later than eighteen years of age, must choose and marry a royal prince (or princess), ready to become the next King and Queen, who will hopefully produce an heir for the next generation.”
In a split second, panic turned to raw anger. “Oh I get it now! Because I’m unfortunate enough to be your only child, I will one day have to take a job I don’t want, with a prince I haven’t yet met and might not even like, just to produce an heir to the throne?”
“Now you’re being hysterical,” Mum warned. “We would never, ever force you into a relationship. We both want you to have a happy life with a prince of your choice, and will do everything in our power to help. I know it’s hard, but you have to accept the family you were born into, we must follow tradition.
Pop’s face softened. “Your mother is absolutely right. Don’t forget, it was exactly the same for me, and look how happy we have been all these years. You’ll see, it will be an exciting new adventure, one we will share with you. What do you say?”
“It’s not fair. I hate being ‘Princess Eemay of Cyberia’, I just want to live a normal life without all this royal rubbish. In fact, I quit!”
Pop again went through his tongue tied goldfish routine, searching for the right words. But like a well- rehearsed double act, Mum stepped in.
“I’m sorry Eemay, you can’t - it’s not an option.”
“But what about Uni?”
This time, it was Pop’s turn. “You will still be able to go to University. Lots of students fit in their education around busy and varied lives these days.”
“So I can’t quit?”
“Absolutely not. You have royal blood coursing through your veins and you have to accept your heritage. I know you can, because I did, and you’re my girl.”
Feeling angry and frustrated, I stomped from the room, slamming the door behind me with a thunderous crash.
As the light from the downstairs window was extinguished, in the twilight, the palace disappeared under a cloak of dense, damp cloud.