Laced With Love

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    Once upon a time, there were twelve princes, each more handsome than the one before them. Throughout the Scandinavian lands, the women were all over them, their dreamy eyes, their bold figure, and their seducing smile. There were endless lines of beautiful princesses being offered to each and every single one of the twelve princes. The King was more than eager to match them all up to assure the throne is continuously offered to somehow from his line.

    But the princes would have none of that. They would always oblige to host parties and meet up with the young, “wonderful” women, but they would never once try even to start a conversation with any of them. Besides, they all had someone else in mind. Let’s just say they took more interest in the forceful thump of a big pair of black boots rather than the sharp clicking of a thin, red pair of high heels.

    Every night, if you slept next to the prince’s room and waited in silence, by the time the clock strikes midnight, you would here soft sounds of boot heels knocking onto the tough wooden floor. Twelve pairs of them, to be exact. You might also hear the slight giggle of a bright, young prince, the youngest of them all, Matheu. The excitement would be a complete opposition to his conserved—and even distant—personally in those hosted events. Of course, the palace was huge, and no one ever needed to sleep that close to the princes; the king wouldn’t allow it.

    Each morning, the King would come in to observe the princes, always to find their boots ordered neatly on the side. This morning, all of them sole scratched and worn out; each one more than the one before them. As though they had been out all night running around in those boots. The king was elated. His sons must have learned to go hunting! But how did they learn to do so when he never taught them. He figured he’d have to interrogate his sons with that one.

    “Lady Elaine, these are my sons. Sons, this is lady Elaine. She is here as a guess along with her twelve daughters. I would like to personally introduce you guys to one another. I’m sure you guys will get along very well.” The king gestured to the twelve, awfully young princesses sitting nicely in a line next to their mother, lady Elaine.

    Matheu could barely contain his eye roll. Yes, they were all beautiful and the one at the end of the line—he assumed was the youngest and would be paired with him—looked so carefree and innocent, but they seemed no different from the hundreds of women he always found himself being introduced to.

    “How was your trip here?” the king asked lady Elaine politely.

    “Oh it was great, sir. Wasn’t it girls?” Lady Elaine turned to the girls with a strict look.

    “Yes, sir” the girls all answered in unison. So united, so scripted, so… fake.

    “How about you, my sons. How was your sleep last night?” the king. If the king noticed the sudden hitch in the youngest’s breath, he didn’t bring it up.

    “It was great, sir. We all had a very good night sleep,” the eldest spoke up sturdily. But if you payed attention, you would see him rapidly tapping his foot under the table out of anticipation.

    “Really?” the king arched an eyebrow.

    “Really sir,” they all replied in unison—a little too quickly.

    “Then tell me, how is it that the brand new boots I had ordered to be made for you are already worn out? I haven’t seen any of you wear it out yet.”

    This time, all the princes remained silent. None of them choosing to speak up at all for a long time. All the princesses kept their head down, but lady Elaine seemed immensely interested.

    “Um, sir…” there was a sturdy voice coming from the left side of the king’s throne.

    The youngest pair of bright eyes lifted up abruptly, and immediately widened. Those eyes were almost like pleading eyes looking straight at the soldier as though they knew each other. Lady Elaine, who has been staring intently at the young princes didn’t miss this sight, and that only fuelled her curiosity.

    “Officer, have you not been trained properly! You do not interrupt a conversation I am having,” the king raised his voice, barely keeping it from becoming a whispered shout.

    “My apologies, sir.” The soldier was just stepping back to his spot.

    “Stop. What must you have to say that has you breaking the rules?” the king questioned.

    Matheu was fiddling furiously, debating whether or not to jump up and get the king’s attention. He decided to go against it, hoping that he made the right decision.

    “The princes were out hunting last night with a group of officers, including myself, sir,” the soldier spoke quietly but steadily.

    “Ah, just as I had thought. Very well, I’m assuming that those soldiers all have shoes as worn out as yours and my sons’s?” the king spoke as he observed the destroyed boots on the soldier’s feet. The king questioned no further his sons’ actions.

    He turned to his right to order the other soldier to start a search in order to find the group of officers that taught the princes to hunt. His sons were finally becoming a man; the man he would trust to leave his country with.

    “I am beyond words. Sons, I am so very proud of all of you. As a result, I would like to give you all, as well as the kind officers, a pair of brand new boots. This time sturdier so that you can go hunting with ease.”

    The princesses all seemed to soften, seeing the masculinity of the princes. Lady Elaine, however, was still staring at Matheu, and still feeling slightly uneasy about the words of the soldier. She even saw the quick and shy glance between Matheu and the officer who spoke to the king earlier. She felt something there that she could not yet grasp.

    Lady Elaine was not one to wait patiently. She had always been the one to take action to get what she wants. Besides, how else would she have gotten her daughters to be having breakfast with these princes?

    She makes her way to the sorcerer’s hut in hopes that she could help carry the plan. Once she told the sorcerer her doubts, the lady chuckled. Chuckled lowly as though she knew exactly what was going on.

    “You have a great eye Elaine. Tonight, pretend to be asleep as the princes walk past your room. At midnight, wrap yourself with this cloak of invisibility and follow the princes quietly. You will find your answers then. This is all I have to say to you.” The sorcerer roughly handed the cloak to lady Elaine before ushering her out of the hut.

    Once the door shut right in front of her face, lady Elaine stood still for a while in slight confusion before deciding she would follow the sorcerer’s instructions.

    That night as lady Elaine tucked her daughters into bed and ordering them to wake up early tomorrow to impress the king. She quickly went back to her room she had conveniently chose to be the closest to the princes’. She abruptly shut her eyes once she heard the boots turning round the corner. There was a soft knock before her door creaked open and then gently closed back up once the princes saw that she was fast asleep. She waited impatiently until finally, the clock strikes midnight.

    Lady Elaine hopped down from her mattress, remembering to be quiet. She tiptoed out of her room grabbing the cloak and wrapping it around her slim body. She listened tentatively outside the princes door until the sounds of hushed giggles were considerably far. She creaked the door slightly apart before squeezing herself through.

    She tried to follow the sound boots through an elegant bushed maze, almost losing the princes all together a few times too many. The youngest, Matheu was always the last in line. Lady Elaine followed closely. Once she was very close and accidentally stepped on a twig, creating a light crackle to erupt. Matheu’s head jerked back as he seemed to stare at her for a while before furrowing his eyebrows and turned back, jogging slightly to catch up to his brothers. Lady Elaine let out a soft sigh before following them again; this time, leaving a little more distance.

    Then made it through the complex maze to be met with a beautifully lit lake. There lay twelve row boats, each with a strong male figure waiting patiently. Where exactly are they going hunting? Lady Elaine was now even more full of curiosity. All the princes hopped into the rowboat while smiling in a suspiciously friendly manner. Lady Elaine followed the youngest prince and wobbled into the rowboat as well. All the while making sure the cloak wouldn’t fall off.

    “Matheu… I hate to distress you like this, but I think you ate too much cake after dinner,” the soldier stated teasingly.

    “I’m awfully offended officer. Why would you say such thing?” Matheu raised his voice higher, pretending to be offended but giggling at the same time.

    “I am finding it awfully hard to row this half-broken wooden boat tonight,” the soldier imitated Matheu’s accent as he said the word awfully.

    “Shut up, Peder. I bet your just so weak and sore from last night’s dance that you can’t even row a boat anymore,” Matheu scoffed.

    “It’s definitely you. I heard they served chocolate cake. Do I recall you drooling over some fudge chocolate cake last time we had a conversation?” Matheu laugh echoes through the lake.

    Lady Elaine was taken aback at how close they seemed. This is not a soldier-prince relationship, it’s almost like a friendship, or even something more. Matheu’s laugh was one she had never heard. In fact, now that she really thinks about it, she really hasn’t heard any of the princes laugh; truly laugh. Sure, there were chuckles here and there but never has she looked around to see all the princes beaming widely. Does hunting at night do this to men?

    The rowboat slows and gently knocks against the wooden pier on the other side of the lake. Lady Elaine jumped and let out a small squeak. That made the prince turn around once again, only to stare straight through lady Elaine before shaking his head with a chuckle and proceeding to jump out the rowboat, dragging the soldier, Peder up with him.

    There lay a beautiful, large patio; all lined with shiny black and white checkered tiles. There were flowering trees engulfing in the patio. The flowers went from a light, blush pink to the deepest, darkest navy. It was truly beautiful. The lamps were lit around the patio with twinkling lights tied to some of the lower hanging branches. The lights reflected down upon the lake, shining back the reflection of the happy princes—in the arms of the soldiers! Hold on, this was a hunting lady Elaine was definitely not familiar with.

    Lady Elaine sat and awaited some action, but all she got was a slow waltzing music and twelve pairs dancing to it gleefully. The eldest prince had always been the most modest of them all, and that shown through in his dance. He and soldier were moving in time very smoothly and comfortably, all the while smiling at each other. The other pairs were no different, moving to the music—some apparently to their own music—and giving their partner shy glances, laughs, or short whispered conversations.

    That statement stays true until Matheu and Peder. Matheu was still young and never showed interest in practicing to dance with the women. This was different. Matheu was still not very much in time, and got a lot of the moves wrong. He seemed quite stiff for a waltz, but all Peder did was laugh and held him through every move. Once in a while, there would be something along the lines of an “ow!”, following swiftly by a “sorry…”. But then there would be laughing, each time seemingly louder than the one before, and they would resume just as though that hadn’t happened. Lady Elaine was stunned. If any of her daughters danced and messed up as Matheu did, that would surely destroy any chances of being in line for the throne.

    There was a low and radiating gong after what felt like days, and the princes finally did their last bow before running back to the rowboat. Lady Elaine was quick to figure this out and so she made sure she was in the boat even before any of them made it. She was once again in the youngest’s rowboat.

    “That was the most fun I’ve ever had!” Matheu stated.

    “You said that last night,” Peder signed out.

    “I know, but every night it just feels better and better.” Matheu shrugged and spoke in his own defence.
    
“Yeah, same.” Peder turned to smile at Matheu sweetly. There was something in his eyes that lady Elaine couldn’t pinpoint.

    “I’m telling you, sir. King Philip. I promise. I saw them, dancing with the soldiers! All night long!” Lady Elaine was almost screaming, finding it hard to compose herself when the king wouldn’t listen to her.

    “Unbelievable! How could my sons be dancing with a soldier! How could they be dancing with a man! That is simply impossible. Dances only occur between a man and a woman, never a man and a man. I simply cannot see it.” The king tried to reason.

    “But it’s true, sir. The princes were all dancing as the woman while the soldiers were the man of the dance,” lady Elaine spoke softer. Hoping to persuade the king.

    “But they are men, they cannot dance as women do! Besides, I’ve never taught them such thing,” the king stated with furrowed brows.

    “That is my question also. But I can assure you I am telling the truth. I wouldn’t be able to make up such thing as bizarre as this,” lady Elaine pointed out.

    The king still seemed to question her.

    “It almost felt like… like they were in love, sir. Like a real husband and wife would be,” lady Elaine added softly.

    “Stop this instant! How dare you accuse my sons of such thing. How dare you accuse them of loving a man as a woman does. My sons are not peasants! They do not decide with such stupidity. It is not possible for them to fall in love with men, that is just against the law,” the king raised his voice while slamming his fist onto the marbled table.

    “You and your daughters will pack your bags and leave this palace by noon. I do not want to see your face again.” The king turned away.

    “Wait! Wait, sir.” The king turned back around hesitantly.

    “I shall return tonight and bring you back evidence of what I have seen. If then, you do not believe me, I and my daughters will leave the palace, never to return.” Lady Elaine knew this was a strong promise, but she had no other choice if she wanted her daughters to marry the princes.

    “I shall be waiting tomorrow.” And with that, the king stomped out the room.

    That night, lady Elaine followed through to find the exact same people, in the exact same order, with the exact same rowboat. The patio looked no different, except the tiles were scraped clean after last night’s dance. When did the soldier’s even have time to do such thing?

    As she had passed through the maze, she decided to break of a little twig with a single cherry blossom gently hanging down from it. This was not a flower that could be found around the palace ground, or even anywhere around here at all. She knew this would be good evidence that they were not spending any of their time on the familiar grounds of the palace.

    Lady Elaine debated whether or not to take the water from the lake, but since she didn’t have a container and the water seemed pretty much like any other around the palace, she decided that would not be good use.

    Once they made it to the patio however, she spotted a tiny piece of a broken tile. This would surely be proof as to where they have been. No hunting ground were lined with checkered tiles. But she still had no idea what she would take as the last piece of evidence, to really show that they were in fact dancing with the soldiers.

    “You look great today… unlike any other day” Peder spoke shyly while averting his gaze from Matheu, but then quickly added a snarky remark before smirking.

    “Shut up. I always do, thank you very much.” Lady Elaine could see that Matheu was trying his best to hide his blush.

    She was jealous; jealous on behalf of her daughters. Why wouldn’t Matheu look at Amilda the same way? Amilda was her youngest and had always been her favourite. She would listen well and follow the order without any questioning. She wouldn’t speak unless asked to. She would do anything the king or the prince asks of her. She was the definition of a true lady, born to serve her husband. Here this soldier was, making remarks against the prince and laughing even louder than he is; grabbing the princes hand and dragging him around; teasing the prince about his weight; intentionally rowing the boat unsteadily to almost tip the prince off. What better did this man have against her young woman? Men shouldn’t even be with men at all! This was all so wrong!

    At the end of the night, they were saying their goodbyes. Matheu and Peder seemed extremely close and seemed to keep magnetising towards each other as the night passes. While the others are already heading to the rowboats, the two stood in the middle of the patio.

“Hey, this was the—”
    
“the most fun you’ve ever had, I know.” Matheu blushed as Peder finished his sentence for him.

    “Yeah,” Matheu whispered.

    Then, all of a sudden, Matheu had turned and gave Peder a quick peck on the cheek. It was simple and fast, but it couldn’t be missed. Lady Elaine almost wanted to tear out of the cloak to scream at them. To scream at them for doing something so wrong, so against the law. The prince was meant to be with a princess, not a soldier! And the soldier is meant for a palace maid, not the prince! But she knew better than to reveal herself.

    Both Matheu and Peder were blushing madly. As Matheu was turning and almost running towards the rowboat, Peder pulled him back until their chests were touching. They stared into each other’s eyes for a while. The eyes melting and falling in love with each other all over again.

    “This is so wrong. If father ever finds out…” Matheu spoke softly.

    “I’d be the first to die.” Peder chuckled. He started to lean in anyways.

    Before anyone could even comprehend, their lips were on each other. And it stayed for a long while. A little too long for lady Elaine’s patience. She had to tear her eyes away before she broke and screamed out at the two.

    She could still hear the giggles of both of them as they headed for the rowboat. She really didn’t want to be on the same boat as them, but the rest had already left. She felt filthy, to be in the same boat as some unlawful little boy and an unmanly soldier. But she had no other choice.

    “Hey, Matheu,” Peder spoke.

    “Yeah?”

    “I know I sound like a hopeless romantic, but I was thinking, I always want to feel like there’s a part of you with me at all times. I was just thinking, you know what? Never mind.” Peder shook his head.

    “No. I want to know.” Matheu reached to place his hands on top of Peder’s.

    “Do you want to swap shoelaces. So we would always have each other’s shoelaces even when we’re wearing our own boots.” Peder immediately looked away, ashamed.

    “Aw. You are a hopeless romantic. Let’s do it! This would be the cutest love story ever!!!” Matheu was shouting giddily.

    As they exchanged shoelaces, Matheu placed one behind him while threading in the first one. Lady Elaine, thinking fast immediately grabbed hold of it. Surely, this would be the evidence she needed to give to the king. Although the boots were very similar, the shoelace of a soldier and a prince were slightly different. One was black while the other was navy blue.

    “What? Where’d the other one go. I can’t find it. It must have fallen into the lake. I’m so sorry!” Matheu seemed so guilty.

    “It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it. It’s just a shoelace. Just, you know, have fun explaining why you lost one shoelace!” Peder stated, and they both laughed, like they both weren’t nervous about the consequences.

    “I’m telling you sir! Is the evidence not enough?” Lady Elaine questioned the next morning.

    “I’ll have to talk to my sons before making any assumptions. Thank you lady Elaine, you may now leave,” the king spoke sharply.

    Lady Elaine knew better than to fight, so she left with a curtsy, keeping her head low.

    “Sons, how was your sleep last night? I’m sure you didn’t go hunting. We only went last afternoon,” the king asked, trying his best to get the truth to slip out.

    “No we didn’t go hunting, father. We slept very well.” The eldest prince was always so good at hiding secrets. He always felt like he had to hide.

    “Then why again, are all your boots so worn?”

    Again, no reply.

    “Matheu,” the king bellowed.

    “Yes, sir?”

    “Why are you missing a shoelace, and why is the remaining one a dark navy? I recall giving you black laces.”

    Matheu’s breath hitched as he gave Peder a very quick glance.

    “Matheu! Answer me this instant.” The king was shouting at his youngest son.

    “Fine! You want to know the truth father! The truth is that I’m in love with a soldier. I’m sick of having to be introduced to all these women. I don’t love them, I never will. Why can’t you just understand. I don’t want to dance with a woman. I want to be the woman and dance with the man I love!” Matheu was panting at the end. He could hear the loud gasps of everyone in the room. But none was louder than the soldier to King Philip’s left, Peder.

    “You are a disgrace to the whole family. I will not allow such a man in this palace. Should I even call you a man? You are more so a woman than anyone in this palace! You are no longer considered my son! I shall punish you until you learn!” the king screamed as tears fell down Matheu’s face. Peder, trying as much as he can to contain his pain, still couldn’t hold in the streaming tears.

    “Go get my whip!” the king ordered the soldier on his right.

    Right before he was about to whip Matheu in front of all his other sons as well as lady Elaine’s family, Peder runs in.

    “Stop! Stop! I beg you sir. It was me, I was the one who danced with him! I was the one who kissed him! If anyone was to be punished, it would be me!” The king was beyond furious.

    “Very well, I shall whip you both before officer, you are to be beheaded tomorrow afternoon.”

    “Absolutely not!” Matheu interrupted.

    “Matheu! You will shut your mouth this instant!” The king began to whip them both while soldiers were holding them down.

    “Father!” the third eldest prince spoke loudly.

    “What do you have to say?”

    “Matheu is not the only one that has been having an affair with a man. I too should be punished.” The king from at his spot. Shocked.

    The other princes all confessed after each other until all twelve had confessed. And the king no longer had any he would call his sons.

    “Bring me the soldiers! Bring me the remaining eleven who have shamelessly broken the law. They are all to be tortured and beheaded by tomorrow afternoon. As for all of my… sons, this is to remain a secret and you are to each marry one of lady Elaine’s daughter. Understood!”

    All the princes nodded as they winced in pain. All but—

    “No! I will not marry someone I do not love.”

    “Matheu! You have no right to speak.”

    “I have no right to speak? If you say so. You shall never hear me speak again!”

    The next day, the king tied all the princes down in front of the guillotine with their partners head within it. All of them were thrashing and screaming, protesting against the action. But the king showed no mercy, the other soldiers showed no mercy, even the princesses showed no mercy.

    The screaming stopped abruptly, and after that not one could ever hear the prince’s voice again. Just as they had promised, they spoke no longer. They followed the orders. They each got married with the princesses in a fancy wedding, they followed all the procedures correctly. Except of course, the “I do.”

    Some of the princes managed to nod, some broke into tears, but none of them ran away. Matheu, Matheu didn’t do anything. Of course he had to marry Amilda, but when they were making their vows, he looked through her rather than at her. His eyes were stone cold, that was all they ever after that afternoon.

    Lady Elaine had succeeded in getting her daughters married to the princes, but she still would move no further to the throne, because the position of king had to be given to someone else. The princes wouldn’t even talk. There was no way they would be able to rule the country.

    They did all get new boots, and they did wear it during the day as the king had ordered them. Those boots never once got dirty.

    But if you paid enough attention at midnight, you would always hear the quite knocking of boots down a spiralling hall. The princes would switch to their old, incredibly worn out boots. They would make their way through the maze, rowed their boats across the lake, and onto the patio. If you stayed and watched, you would see them all dance across the patio. Holding onto the air as though they were holding on each to a sturdy soldier. And they would use those worn out boots to dance around another pair of worn out boots stood straight atop the tiles.

    If you looked over at Matheu, you would see he was dancing in boots with a navy blue lace, and another without any lace at all. And if you look down at the shoes on the tile floor he was dancing around, well you’ll see that both sides were tide up nicely, with lace bold and black as charcoal.

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