I took a sip of tea, sitting across from the Mother. Was it okay to call her Mother? I supposed I had to accept that as the truth. She was my Mother as long as I was in this new body. I was Prince Caleb, and she was my precious mother. The two of us ate those dry biscuits and sipped tea. It was a day later, and with time to rest, I was able to move around much better.
“Would you like one?” I asked, lifting a biscuit.
Kemala walked up to me shyly, and then took the biscuit with her mouth, not even trying to use her hands. Only then did she back off and use her hands, chewing the rest in a way considerably less dignified than the way that Mother would have done it.
Mother grimaced. “You treat your sister far too forgivingly.”
“I told you, Mother, I do not believe Kemala was the one who poisoned me.”
“I believed this too, but I did not wish to bet your life on it.”
“Yet, upon targeting her, you lessen your guard from the threat of others, if even unintentionally. You might tell yourself, well, we already have the person who did it, so we don’t need to concern ourselves. Is that not a greater bet on my life?”
Mother’s eyes flickered for a moment, a realization shooting through her mind. When it came to my safety, she was at her most obsessed. I realized that I had a lot more sway with her than I initially realized. However, it always came down to my safety. If I could frame things that way, she quickly folded to any requests.
“I see… it seems my child is growing quite insightful with time.” She said, her expression not angry, but amused.
Kemala seemed to breath easier with her words. She had a bit of fear of her mother. Perhaps there was a time when the feeling was the opposite. She had feared me and leaned on her mother. However, when she grew to her most desperate, it was Mother who abandoned her and me who brought her from the dungeon. In Kemala’s mind, this perhaps had flipped how her brain worked.
As we continued to sit and drink tea, a servant walked up and whispered something to Mother. She nodded carefully, and then straightened her back as she gave me a look.
“It seems we have a visitor.”
“Oh?” I put down my tea and turned to the door.
It was the first visitor I had ever experienced since I had my second reincarnation. I was very curious as to who would be visiting a prince like me. Probably not someone who knew Caleb. If it was someone who knew what he was like, he definitely would have avoided him. Rather, it would probably be someone new.
The door opened, and a small girl walked in. She was wearing clothing that was a bit revealing, like a solid version of the transparent clothing that the maid staff wore. Her hair was done up in dozens of braids with beads interwoven in. When she walked, the beads clicked with each step. As she approached, I could tell she was about Kemala’s age. In fact, the two looked similar, like they might be cousins.
When the girl looked at me, I could see panic, fear, and just a bit of reverence. I didn’t know what this was about, but it was clear that she knew who I was. Was she another person I had terrified as my sociopathic other? Did I need to work up the ability to also win her over? She fell to her knees, prostrating in front of me. Kemala had a strangely displeased expression on her face.
“Father…” The word came from her mouth.
“My son, she is your child, Veronika. Perhaps you should rise and welcome her.”
Daughter my ass! She was thirteen years old. I’d been like 4 or 5 to be old enough to have her! This was clearly bullshit being landed on me!
“Her Mother?” I asked.
Mother’s smile slanted a bit. “That woman… has left this world.”
One thing I had grown familiar with when talking to this woman. I knew when she was holding something back. If I had to guess, Veronika was father’s daughter. Perhaps, there were circumstances where it wasn’t appropriate for him to have the child. Thus, they had the woman jump on top of a 5-year-old boy and told him he made a baby. Well, it was possible I was just being paranoid here, but this was the kind of world that started to make someone paranoid.
I stood up in front of this girl who was supposed to be my daughter. I supposed I could treat her like I treated Kemala. That would be fine. I kneeled down and put my hand on her head. The girl stopped shaking for a second and looked up. I patted her affectionately and gave her a smile. It was a smile I had worked on quite a bit when I was Clyburn. Now that I had a different face, I didn’t know if the smile was as effective as it once was.
Her cheeks turned rosy and her mouth fell open a bit. She actually looked pretty cute. Would my other daughters be this cute when they reached her age? I really couldn’t wait to find out. As I continue to pat her head while her smile grew, I suddenly felt a dark aura behind me. I looked back to see Kemala watching the pair of us while biting her shirt. Ah… it appeared I made her jealous.
I stood back up. “I’d like to see a bit of the world outside this palace.”
Something about seeing my daughter sparked that sudden desire. Perhaps it reminded me of the free feeling I had with Charlie. Perhaps it had me yearning for my children who were like a world away from here. Either way, I didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes I had made as Clyburn. I didn’t want to be a shut-in. I was in an exotic land, and for the first time, I wanted to take advantage and truly see this world.
Veronika lifted her head a blinked as if she didn’t understand what I was saying. As for my Mother, she smiled and nodded.
“I think that is a wonderful idea. My dear, how about you go get ready. I’ll get your procession prepared.” Mother nodded.
Procession? I didn’t understand what she meant as I went and dressed up. I decided to bring my daughter and sister along though. I wanted to endear myself and grow closer to them. Although I didn’t know Veronika very well, I didn’t think a young girl like her could be that bad.
“Please warm up to her. The two of you should lean on each other. It helps.” I offered advice to Kemala in private.
She nodded, although I wasn’t sure if she was really accepting what I said. She might have just been agreeing with me for the sake of agreement. I shut my door and changed into something more formal for going outdoors. There were many guards, and they looked a lot more serious than the police force that had protected me in Amaryllis. Perhaps this life was a little bit safer than my previous life.
I followed along as we were ushered out of the palace by the staff, only to find myself being seated on a palanquin. It was motorized, thankfully, but rather than visiting the town, it was more like we were barreling through it. With a car out in front and people along the sides cheering, it turned out to be a parade. Kemala and Veronika looked excited though.
The city was colorful and lively. There were a lot more colors and a lot less cold in this country. The buildings were more open and concentrated on shade rather than coverage for a rough winter. Where Amaryllis had a muted, rainy feel, this place definitely gave me an exotic feel. Still, everyone outside was a woman. Many pointed or cheered excitedly. They were just as excited by seeing a man as they were about seeing the prince.
Pictures were taken, and I even did a few poses with my family. Mother wouldn’t devolve to that kind of behavior, but I think she truly enjoyed watching over her children as they played around. Perhaps, there was a chance I could reconcile her relationship with her daughter in the way I couldn’t with Morgan and her daughters.
It was at the point while passing an intersection, that my eyes happened to fall on a face and freeze. There was a woman standing in the crowd. She stood out in particular because her skin was pale white. Her hair was cut short, and her face was a face I would never forget in a million years.
Ashley. Ashton. It was the girl who I had been roommates with for an entire semester. She had supposedly died in my arms. Yet, here she was, standing about a hundred feet from my palanquin, barely paying attention to my procession. Rather, she was touching various fabrics at a certain stand as if she was shopping. Her spare hand was on her stomach, which was bloated as if she was pregnant. My mind blanked out for a few seconds as I stared at disbelief.
The woman turned and began to walk away. “No… Ashley.”
I stepped forward and lept off the palanquin. Grabbing a scarf, I wrapped around my head and dived into the crowd. Most people didn’t even realize what was happening until it happened. My sister and daughter were standing at the front, waving their hands, while I slipped off the sides.
“Caleb!” Mother’s voice shrieked.
I cursed, but I couldn’t reveal myself now. The crowd contained so many colors that I was lost in an instant. I pushed myself through as the guards started trying to comb the crowd. People started disbursing and a few even became angry. However, my eyes caught her familiar short hair over the crowds. I pushed through the last major grouping of women, earning a few curses while I was at it, and then raced towards her direction. I left the chaos behind me. I cursed as I glanced back.
I saw her. I definitely saw her! This wasn’t a dream. I was completely awake. Why would Ashley be in this city? Why was she pregnant? We had sex, but that was only the one time. She couldn’t have been pregnant. My dreams though, and her dying words. Shit. Shit!
Letting out a curse, I continued chasing after her. Old habits died hard. I wanted to start a new life, but I wouldn’t be happy until I fixed my old one. This put me in a very precarious situation stuck between those two worlds.
At this point, I was a professional at blending in and looking the part of a woman. Men were so rare, that they wouldn’t see a man unless they were looking at me. In that way, I could hide in plain sight. My quickly passing figure left without anyone noticing. Did I see her turn a corner? I must have. I couldn’t lose her at this point. I turned around another corner, but this time, she was nowhere to be seen. My rapid steps finally slowed down and I spun around.
I had gotten myself good and lost. The crowds of people were gone, and now there was only a handful of people here and there. Furthermore, I could tell this wasn’t a good area of town. After living years among the elite of this world, I may have a skewed view of what was poor and what was rich, but I didn’t think I was wrong on this.
Looking into a backyard, I saw a clothing line with clothing hung up that resembled what I had seen on various women. Looking around, I jumped the fence and grabbed the clothing. Finding a hidden area behind a trashcan, I completed my disguise. The deadliest thing for me right now is if I was discovered as a man. Therefore, I fell back on my old tricks once again.
Heading back into the street, I started carefully asking people about a woman with pale skin. There couldn’t be that many in the city. Lyra, Ashley, and that probably accounts for half of them. I also asked where the palace was. I would search for Ashley as long as the light was out, but in the end, I’d return back the palace if I couldn’t find anything. The palace wasn’t exactly hard to see either. Keeping it rising in the distance as my direction, I continued to move about the city.
I had no money, so I didn’t try to shop at all. Most shops lined the streets and were on carts. I saw very few stores that weren’t on wheels in the local area. Most women wore a blouse and skirt, which revealed their belly buttons and looked somewhat tropical. As for men, it was anyone’s guess where they hid in the city.
“Did you hear, the prince disappeared during an impromptu parade?”
It had only been a few hours, and I was already hearing rumors about myself.
“Sounds very suspicious. Many suspicious disappearances come from that palace. I do not trust the royal family.”
“Take a look around. Women have been getting snatched off the streets. Girls have been going missing left and right.”
“What is the royal family going to do about it?”
“I don’t know. That Prince Caleb may be good looking, but I hear her is quite hateful toward women.”
“Well, I heard…”
Such conversations were going on across the porches of various homes at this moment. I sighed a sky starting to get darker. Not even a hint of a fair-skinned girl with short hair.
“Outside of the palace? Not likely!” Was the kind of answer I would receive.
Mother would certainly be upset. Given her nature, she might even find some way to blame it on my sister and daughter. It looked like I had to go home and face that wrath. I finally gave up, turning back to the palace.
“Hehe… what do we have here?” A voice suddenly came from behind a corner.
A rough looking woman walked out. In her hand was a bat which she was slapping in her hand. Soon, more women began to show up, a total of five in all. This seemed a bit familiar to me. This was like when I was kidnapped by Primrose. Except, these women were a bit older, and a bit uglier. I could only think of one possibility.
“Lipstick Lesbians…” I said the word before I could stop myself.
“Hehe… she’s pretty and smart.” The woman chuckled.
I had always heard about the concept of roving bands of lesbian women ready to bring down other women. That usually meant rape, defilement, and sometimes worst. If they attempted those kinds of things with me, there was something they were bound to notice. Worst of all, lipsticks were notorious man-haters, If they found out that I was a man, the consequences could be even worse.
“Ladies…” I lifted up my hands. “I’m sorry, I have nothing that you want.”
“I’m not sure about that,” One of the girls laughed.
“How do you know what we want?” Another asked.
I immediately tried to bolt, however, they had me surrounded. I made it three steps before something hard struck me in the shoulder. I let out a curse as I fell to the ground. Brooke would assuredly be ashamed of my performance here. I stood back up and tried to swing a punch, only to be stuck again. Three more hits followed and I was on the ground, unable to get back up. I thought the beatings would continue, but the girls instead dogpiled me and tied me up, making sure to gag my mouth so I couldn’t cry for help.
How many times would this be that I was kidnapped? Three? Four? I was starting to lose count. Of course, there were the pirate attacked that caused my reincarnation. There was the time with the Primrose. The time was drugged. At least, I was conscious for this one. They didn’t even bother to cover my eyes. I didn’t know if this was because they were stupid, or because they were confident that whatever happened, I’d be unable to do anything about it.
We ended up in an abandoned factory building, and I was pulled through a dirty, dusty building being dragged along by my arms. A few people on the street noticed me being taken. They would have had to. However, they all seemed to look the other way. What if they knew I was a man? Would my situation be better? I wasn’t going to risk it, even if I could talk.
Finally, my restraints were detached and I was tossed into a dark room. I immediately turned back to the door and banged on it. Of course, the door was locked, and there was absolutely no way for me to get out. There was probably no use in yelling either. I saw how deserted the area they had brought me was. I was the prince of a nation. If I revealing myself, surely, a payment could be reached. No, this wasn’t like my old world. Money wasn’t always the thing that drove these people. Was it because they were women? Who knows?
I was pacing back and forth in the cell, muttering such things when I realized there was another person in the room. “Ease up, already, Jeese. You act like you’ve never been enslaved before.”
I looked over at the form, but they were shrouded in darknessl and I could only make out their silhouette. “Enslaved? What do you mean, enslaved?”
She raised her hands up to her neck and I heard a tapping sound. I reached up to my own neck and realized I had a collar on. I immediately wrapped my fingers around it and tried to pull it off.
“I wouldn’t do that…” she said. “These collars are magical. It’d at least take your head with it, and I don’t feel like sleeping in another woman’s brain matter tonight.”
“Damn it…” I lowered my hands. “I shouldn’t have left the comfort of home. This is what I get. But I saw her… I know I saw her.”
I felt like I had to get those words out loud. As if, by saying it, I legitimized my actions. No, there really as no justification. I acted impulsively, and now I was here, trapped in this cell with another woman.
“You got a name, girl?” The woman asked.
“Cale… Callie.” I said, still staring at the locked door. “Do you know what they plan to do with us?”
“Put us to work, probably. That’s what you do with slaves, you work them to death. I should know, I was born into slavery.”
“I-is that so?” I asked, only half interested in her conversation. “Is that why you’re in here?”
“No… I had been free for a while.” She said, her voice sounding strangely familiar to me. “I used to work on a ship.”
“A ship? You mean, like an airship.”
“Yeah… I had to make a delivery. I failed to deliver it, and my employer didn’t take kindly to it. That’s how I ended up in this place. I’ve been waiting for a month while they decide what to do with me.”
“Any thought of escape? You were free once before?” I offered.
“Thoughts? Sure. But my crew is all dead now, so I don’t foresee myself getting rescued any time soon. You should just take a seat and get used to the idea, girl. Face it, you’ve hit rock bottom.”
Finally, I sighed and sat cross-legged across from her. “Alright, your employer sounds pretty dangerous.”
“They were… some pregnant white bitch and her lesbian lover.” The girl chuckled. “I used to be a pirate feared by the nine nations, but damn, those two freaked me out. I couldn’t even get what they wanted with that boy. Probably was the father to her child or something. Well, he was a dickless white boy. Couldn’t even get it up for me.”
The blood started to drain from my face as her voice connected with an image of a woman I knew. She was a pirate with tanned skinned and a crazed look in her eyes.
“Who are you?” I asked, my voice cracking just slightly.
The woman leaned forward, and the familiar face came into the faint light from the window bars so I could see here clearly. “Name’s Captain Angela. Why, are we acquainted?”
I felt like laughing. It was a situation so absurd that I could even imagine it. Other than Ashley, there was one other face that haunted my dreams these days. That was the face of this woman. Now, I was locked in a room with her in the dark.
“No…” I spoke honestly. “We’re complete strangers.”