Entertaining soldiers was not normally part of Princess Siana Daucus’ favorite duties. She did as she was told, put on one of her favorite dresses (pink, with a tulle skirt and a belt with florals made of jewels) and a tiara, as was expected of her, and then went to go sit in the ballroom to await the unit’s arrival with her father, William Daucus, King of the Nastur Kingdom. The guards of the castle stood at her side, donning their dress armor. It was light metal, easy to move in and not heavy, a milky white color for aesthetics. The war was basically over now, after the Battle of the Green Bed, the princess had been told, and so the knights were relaxed. They were celebrating and honoring the soldiers tonight.
There were whispers at the princess’ side as the knights gossiped together. Viola, with the bobbed hair and green eyes, leaned over and whispered behind her hand to her companion. “Did you hear how they did it? Apparently one of the soldiers used the unit’s ration of food to lure animals from the forest into the enemies’ camps. They had an advantageous spot while our troops were stuck out in the open in the landscape bed, but…”
The other knight’s eyes shot open wide. “He used their food rations?” he nearly shouted. The knight, Cera, had trouble staying quiet at all times, but especially in battle. His hair was growing out from a buzzed shave, a strawberry blonde color.
Siana chuckled at the pair’s banter. She had heard this story before from the guards and knights and women who waited on her. The rumors were travelling fast throughout the kingdom. It was surely a story to be told tonight during dinner, she assumed.
But Viola shook her head. “She,” she corrected.
That was a detail that had been left out of many of the renditions Siana had heard over the past days. She tried not to tilt her head and listen much harder at the conversation between the two beside her.
“The soldier was a woman. They call her Venus Flytrap. My friend wrote me immediately after it happened. Apparently, they were so outnumbered it was death either way.”
“Well damn,” he mumbled. “Sounds like it, but using their food? She must be insane.”
“You’ve never been on a real battlefield, Cera,” Viola scolded. “You don’t know what it’s like.”
He huffed next to her, and she chuckled, straightening her back.
When the chamberlain brought in the military unit, the king and the princess greeted them with authority. The general led them into the throne room, a long purple cape tied to the uniform he was wearing. There was lace trim on the double-breasted shirt, and a belt with a sword cinching his waist. The man had a beard and a handsome, friendly smile as he bowed to King Daucus and Princess Siana.
But rather than the general, Siana was looking to his right, at the slim, icy looking woman standing next to him. Her grey eyes were trained straight forward and looked like a tumbling storm from where Siana sat on the throne. The soldier’s chestnut-colored hair looked like it had been recently washed and styled and pinned half-up at the back of her head for her trip to the castle. Though Siana expected the soldiers to be a bit rough, any cuts or bruises this woman had must have been covered by the long sleeves and armor she was wearing—it was a slim and flexible leather over her torso and legs, and a metal breastplate that looked more for show than protection. Unlike her general, she had no weapons on her except for the fists clenched at her sides.
As the general regaled them with the story of their battle and glorious win, he introduced the woman at his side—Camellia Matis. Venus Flytrap. The woman who was responsible for putting an end to the war and saving the people of the Nastur Kingdom.
The soldier didn’t even raise her eyes when the king praised her.
When they sat for the feast, the general sat her next to himself. The king sat at the head of the table, and to his left was the general and the next seat was Camellia Matis. On the king’s right was an empty seat, where Princess Siana would normally sit. She’d skipped the seat to sit across from the so-called Venus Flytrap. Viola had teased her for it in passing, saying she knew Siana would set her sights on the soldier once she saw her, but Siana ignored the gibe in favor of the pretty company in front of her.
The banquet hall was made of polished marble with gilded details and decorated with hanging floral baskets for the event. Several members of the unit had awed at the beauty of it, and Siana had even seen Camellia’s eyes wander over the room to take it in. Most of them had quickly set their eyes on the food instead once it was brought out. There was an impressive spread tonight of main and side dishes set out for everyone. Many of the soldiers filled their plates more than once with meat and breads and vegetables. Siana heard it had been a long time since they had eaten well, and it would possibly be the only time many of them would eat as well as this. And yet…
“Camellia, was it?” the princess ventured.
Her food was nearly untouched. When the soldier looked up from it, at this distance, Siana thought fondly that she looked more like a scared cat than a stormy fighter. “Yes, Your Highness,” she answered gracefully, lowering her eyes again.
Siana smiled, leaning forward. “It’s okay. We can speak normally,” she said. “Please, look at me.”
She slowly raised her eyes.
“Is the food not to your taste, Camellia?”
Her face was steady. “The food is amazing, Princess Siana. I’m afraid I am not hungry. I apologize if I’ve offended you.”
Siana waved her hand. “You haven’t. I want to make sure you’re okay,” she said, tossing her own black hair over her shoulder. “The soldier that saved our kingdom and ended the war early with her amazing strategies not even our general could think of.”
A blush of red crept across Camellia’s cheeks, and Siana couldn’t stop a small smirk. She circled the rim of her glass with a finger as she leaned onto the table.
“Tell me—how did such a pretty girl end up as a top soldier in our army?”
She exhaled a laugh. Siana was relieved to see a crack in the ice—Camellia’s laugh was soft, and her smile was a shy, pretty thing. It felt like the rest of the table, her father and the general, the other soldiers the rest of the court was entertaining, all of it faded away, paling in comparison to the beauty that Camellia brought. “Your Highness,” she began, her voice light and melodic, “it is a long and boring story. It wouldn’t interest you.”
“You earned the nickname Venus Flytrap with your plans in a war that saved my people and you think I wouldn’t be interested?”
When Camellia laughed, she covered her mouth with her fingers and her eyes sparkled.
“Well, fine,” the princess decided. “If you don’t want to tell me, perhaps you would tell me what your plans are now that the war is over?”
The soldier’s delicate hand fell from her mouth, her eyes rounding in surprise.
“What?” Siana asked, upset to have ruined whatever it was that was between them. “Have I misspoken?”
The ice fell over the soldier’s face again, and she consciously straightened her back. “Your Highness,” she began tactfully. “The war is far from over.”
“I thought the other country’s forces were decimated,” Siana replied haughtily. “Everyone in the castle has been telling me that our kingdom can’t be beaten now.”
“That is true,” Camellia said. “However, there are several rebels in the Gladioli people. There’s borders to secure and repairs to be made throughout the kingdom where your Nasturtium people have suffered because of our battles…”
Siana felt a chill run through her body, despite the warmth of the room.
Camellia’s brow furrowed. “Surely Your Highness must know this. The Nastur Kingdom has been involved in many battles, many wars since your father took over and—”
There was a clatter to Camellia’s right, and Siana saw a flicker in her eyes, a twitch in her arm she had to physically restrain as she turned to look at her commanding officer. Siana watched her father and the army general’s cutlery clatter onto their plates in front of them.
“Camellia, we are here to celebrate our victory,” the general said. His voice was a rich, commanding tone that sounded out of place in the castle walls. “We were invited as a courtesy of King Daucus.”
She looked at her commander and then, slowly, at the king seated at the head of the table next to him. “My apologies if I spoke out of turn, Your Majesty,” she said softly, bowing her head and body accordingly.
“I asked, Father,” Siana spoke suddenly. “Don’t fault our star soldier for answering her princess’ question.”
She flashed a pretty smile that Camellia didn’t dare to look up at, and the king relented. He could never say no to his daughter, reaching across the empty space between them for her hand. The king ended the dinner with a few generous remarks and asked Siana to see off the unit as he waved over Viola and Cera.
The chamberlain was leading the group out, offering them the floral décor as goodwill and good luck. As Siana moved to follow, she heard her father speaking to the knights.
“Keep a close eye on that one…” he was saying in a low voice, his eyes surveying the unit.
The two gave an affirmative answer, and Siana took two of the hanging baskets from her chamberlain and went to the head of the group. At the castle gates, she bowed deeply to the general and the soldier, Camellia, at the front.
“Thank you both for your service to my kingdom,” she said. When she rose, she presented the baskets. “We have given one to each soldier you’ve brought with you. It’s Queen Anne’s Lace, in honor of my mother. They can be replanted and eaten, if you desire.”
Camellia took the basket and lifted it to her face. “This isn’t poisonous?” she asked.
Her commander shot her an incredulous look, but Siana smiled.
“It could easily be confused for it, but it is not,” she answered. Siana took Camellia’s hand and kissed her fingertips in a show of gratitude. “I would not poison the woman who has saved my people and opened my eyes to how much work needs to be done still.”
Camellia swallowed, silent, but allowed the princess her ministrations.
“Please let the kingdom know if your unit should need anything from us,” she finished, dropping Camellia’s hand. It hovered, for a moment, in the air, before she let it fall to her side.
“We must get back and begin preparations,” the general said. “Thank you for your generosity, Your Highness, and extend our gratitude to your father, the king.”
She nodded once and curtsied, a hand over her heart. “Of course, sir.”
They marched out of the walls in formation before, she imagined, breaking away into a less formal walk and talking amongst themselves as comrades do as they returned to their camp. The princess returned to her own quarters, shooing away her ladies-in-waiting and undressing herself to prepare for bed. She wanted to be alone after tonight’s activities. If every soldier was as intriguing as that one, she might not ever mind entertaining them, she thought, drifting off to sleep.