The Isle of the Lost (Page 34)
“Yes, but about the meeting…”
Audrey laughed again, and it was a tinkle of fairy bells chiming in the wind. Ben realized then that she hadn’t heard a word he was saying.
Maybe it’s better this way. She doesn’t understand what I’m going through, and I don’t think she ever will.
Audrey must have seen the frown on his face, because she paused to take Ben’s hand in her tiny, perfectly manicured fingers. “Don’t worry about it, Ben—everything will work out. It always does. You’re a prince, and I’m a princess. This is the land of Happy Endings, remember? You deserve nothing less than everything your heart desires. You were born to it, Ben. We all were.”
Ben stopped in his tracks. He had never thought about it like that. It was implied, certainly, in everything they did and everything that was done for them. But to hear the words themselves, from such beautifully shaped, perfectly pink lips…
Why us? How did we luck into this life? How is that fair? To be born into a life without a choice in the matter, without the freedom to be anyone else?
She laughed. “Don’t stop now, silly. I have something to show you. Something perfectly perfect, just like today.” He allowed himself to be pulled—like any good prince in the hands of a maiden princess—but his mind was still far away.
Is this all there is?
Is this even what I want for my life?
They had circled the garden, and now Audrey led him into a secluded patch of wildflowers. A beautiful picnic was laid out on the grass amid the blossoms, in a woodland vale filled with all manner of happy forest animals nuzzling, chirping, and hopping all about. “Isn’t it amazing? I had half the groundsmen and three cooks working on it all morning.” She leaned in to nuzzle Ben’s cheek. “Just for us.”
She pulled him down to the embroidered silken blanket. Her initials, intertwined with those of her royal parents, were stitched into the fabric beneath them. The gold silken thread sparkled like sunshine in the grass.
Ben smoothed a loose curl away from the blush of her rosy cheek. “It’s lovely. And I thank you for it. But—”
“I know,” she sighed. “I didn’t bring any cream cakes. It was all I could think about when you mentioned them. I do apologize. But we can sample a good seventeen sorts of other pastries.” She held up one shaped like a swan, with chocolate wings. “This one is sweet, don’t you think?”
She all but cooed at the pastry. Ben pulled away.
He shook his head. “But don’t you ever wonder if there’s more to life than this?”
“What could be more than this?” asked Audrey with an uncharacteristic frown. She put down the swan. “What else is there?”
“I don’t know, but wouldn’t you like to find out? Explore a little. Get out on our own and see the world? At least, see our own kingdom?”
She sucked chocolate off her finger, and even that was distractingly cute. Ben wondered if she knew it. He suspected that she did.
Then she sighed. “You’re not talking about that awful island, are you?”
He shrugged. “Maybe. Don’t you ever think about it? How weird it would be to live trapped in one place? Under a dome?”
It was, in fact, the first time Ben could ever remember seeing his princess’s princessy feathers ruffled. She wasn’t even pouting now. She was practically almost nearly slightly irritated.
“Perhaps, darling, they should have considered that before undertaking a life of evil and villainy—which could only lead to an eternity of punishment.”
Now Ben was intrigued. He had never seen her like this, and wondered for a moment if he didn’t prefer it. At the very least, they were finally having a real conversation.
“You have to admit, an eternity is a rather long time.” He shook his head. “They’re captives, Audrey. At least here in Auradon, we can travel anywhere and everywhere we please. They can’t.”
Audrey smiled brightly. “Yes, which reminds me. I told Aziz and Lonnie we would be visiting them today. Carriage picks us up in an hour.” She leaned forward, touching his chin with her fingertip. “Time for a new topic. Almost a whole new world, you could say.”
But Ben had a stubborn streak in him that wouldn’t give it up. “Don’t try to change the subject, Audrey. Come on. Don’t you wonder about them at all?”
Audrey sat back, shaking her head. “No. Good riddance. Mother says one of them tried to put her to sleep for a hundred years! After she’d already spent her entire childhood in foster care and protective custody! My own mother! And then that same horrible woman turned into a dragon who tried to kill Papa.” She shivered. Audrey must have had heard the story more times than she cared to say, Ben understood, but she’d never mentioned any of it to him before today.
He didn’t blame Audrey for not wanting to talk about it, and he softened his voice now, taking her hand.
“Her name is Maleficent,” said Ben, who had studied his fairy-tale history. His mother had read the old tales to him, before he could even read himself. “She was the Mistress of Darkness, the most evil fairy who has ever lived.”
Audrey’s frown deepened. “Don’t say her name here,” she whispered. It was practically a hiss, she was so upset. “She might hear you—and curse you! She takes away everyone and everything my family loves.”
Now it was Ben’s turn to smile. “No way—that dome will hold them forever.” He leaned forward. “And who exactly does your family love?”
Audrey smiled in return. One blink, and the storm in her eyes was gone.
“My family loves all who are good and kind and deserving of such love, Your Highness.” She held up her delicate hand, and he kissed it obligingly.
I shouldn’t give her such a hard time, Ben thought. Not after everything her family has been through.
“Dance with me, sweet prince,” she urged.
Ben stood up and bowed. “Happy to please my lady.” Dancing in the forest was her favorite thing to do, he knew.
Ben held her in his arms. She was beautiful. Perfect. A princess, who was in love with him. And he was in love with her…wasn’t he?
Audrey sang softly, I know you, I walked with you, Once upon a dream…
It was their song, but this time, it caught him off guard.
With a start, Ben realized he didn’t know her. Not really. He didn’t know her soul, her dreams, and she didn’t know his. They didn’t really know each other.