Mandra was a sweet, attractive girl of fourteen, with long, honey-colored hair and bright brown eyes. In the summers, her skin was often splattered with subtle dots from being in the sun. She dressed well, favoring thick, fashionable garb in whites and creams as her school wear. She was known for her shyness.
Prince Jaimin didn’t know Mandra well, even though she was in many of his classes in the Royal Academy. Jaimin had just turned fourteen himself that summer. He was quite handsome with his dark, curly hair, eyes almost black, and fit body, but he had about him the awkwardness of someone getting used to a body with a shape and—to be frank—some features, functions, and feelings he wasn’t yet fully familiar with. He was in the middle of a growth spurt that was helping him reach the stature of his female classmates. Socially and emotionally, however, as were many of the boys his age, Jaimin was a few years behind the girls.
Such is the way of things at fourteen. And, in the royal court of the kingdom of Arra, it was also the way of things that girls that age would clump together in packs and engage in complex social behaviors that were opaque to the boys. Boys tried to enjoy the hobbies and activities that made them happy, but were finding the mysterious society of girls, and the appeal of certain girls, harder to ignore.
Jaimin already had his special girl. Her name was Nastasha, and no, she wasn’t his girlfriend, but she was indisputably his best friend. Nastasha was gorgeous at fourteen, nearly as tall as she was going to get, with a lovely face, brown eyes, and a train of perfect light blonde curls that dropped well below her waist. The daughter of the high general, she could afford to dress very well, and she did. Nastasha was an ambitious student with little free time—but what free time she had she spent with Jaimin.
One day, in the Royal Academy’s dining hall, a girl named Mora pulled Jaimin aside. Jaimin had no idea what to expect. He didn’t know Mora well either.
“Mandra likes you,” Mora said. “She likes you a lot. She wants to know what you think of her.”
Jaimin, instead of answering the question, looked past Mora to see if he could spot Mandra in the dining hall. He noticed her quickly. She was seated at a nearby dining table with her hands over her face, peeking out through a crack between her fingers, and all of the other girls at the table were staring right at Jaimin.
“Well?” asked Mora, smiling and clearly enjoying this.
“I… uh, really don’t know Mandra that well,” Jaimin replied, honestly.
“Great! You can get to know her. She wants to meet you alone. This will tell you the time and place.” Mora shoved a folded note into Jaimin’s hand. He looked back at Mandra, who now had her head down on the table, with several of the girls patting her on the back.
“All right,” Jaimin said. “But alone means alone. I don’t want you or any of those other girls anywhere nearby.”
“Deal,”said Mora, and she walked back. Jaimin left the dining hall, avoiding his friends the rest of the lunch period.
Nastasha had warned Jaimin that he was becoming the target of the affections of every girl in the court, and this could be dangerous. But Jaimin was quite excited, albeit a bit nervous, about his meeting with Mandra. When he unfolded the note, the scent of an exquisite perfume met his nose. The note had a time written on it in neat, girly handwriting, and a set of detailed walking directions from his room to some random place in the Royal Academy. Jaimin wasn’t sure where he would end up.
The time Mandra had set was an hour before dinner, on Sixth Day, which was the following day. Nastasha had been buried in her studies, and Jaimin hadn’t had the opportunity to tell her about his task, nor was he sure he wanted to. He followed the directions carefully: turn at the end of this hall, ascend these stairs, follow the corridor, up more stairs, etc. The Royal Academy was abandoned at that hour, with everyone getting dressed for the communal meal. The last instruction led him into a science faculty lounge, where several comfortable couches were arranged for professors to pine, ponder and converse. And there, seated on one of the couches was Mandra. Alone.
Her face brightened when she saw him. She sprang to her feet, and she almost seemed to melt with joy. She wore a lovely dress—pure white, with plenty of lace. She had on formal white leather shoes like she was going to a fancy dinner. Jaimin noticed that her hands were shaking.
Jaimin felt powerful and strangely confident. He walked straight up to Mandra, maintaining eye contact the whole time. And when he reached her personal space he entered it. After all, she had invited him. And if what Mora said were true, Mandra had a substantial crush on him. All signs were pointing to this being true.
“Your Highness,” she said.
“Mandra,” Jaimin said. He liked how her name sounded. “Your friends say you have feelings for me.”
“I dre…” she said, and stopped, breathless. But she found her courage and went on: “I dream about you when I’m awake and when I’m asleep, and when I can’t sleep, which is often. I hope you haven’t caught me staring, but I can’t get you out of my mind! My word, I can’t believe I just said that.”
Jaimin’s heart quickened. He didn’t even know his girl, and yet he seemed to be everything to her. How could this be? He could have approached this cautiously, but Mandra was so appealing he stepped closer. He reached out, and ran his hand softly over her cheek, and around the back of her neck. If this was a game, Jaimin had chosen to play. And he was all in.
And so was she. She lost control, reached out, and pulled Jaimin’s face to hers, planting his lips on hers. He had never kissed a girl before. He found Mandra’s lips surprisingly soft, like tiny pillows, and the wetness of her mouth tasted subtly sweet. When she surprised him further and got clever with her tongue, he lost all feeling in his body. He was floating. This was incredible!
“Hmm,” she muttered, and she pulled away, as if someone had yanked her away. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry!” She looked horrified she had been so forward. Tears were forming in her eyes.
“No,” Jaimin said, holding her at the waist now. “That was amazing. Don’t be sorry.” To prove he was sincere, he kissed her again. This time it was more controlled on both of their parts. He inhaled the delicate floral scent of her hair and skin, and the wonderful sweetness of her wet lips once again.
“I suppose we should get to know each other better,” Jaimin said afterwards. She was furiously wiping away her tears, embarrassed that they were dribbling out.
Mandra was a sensible, interesting girl. She and Jaimin sat and spoke until it was time to leave for dinner, sometimes kissing when the mood struck them, just to reassure themselves that what had just happened was real. They spoke a bit about what he liked to do, and what she liked to do. Finally, when it was time to go, they made plans to go on a walk in the hills after dinner, as that time of year the sun stayed up quite late.
Jaimin didn’t want to face his friends at dinner, or her friends, so he ordered the servants to bring him dinner in his room. He thought it would be best to leave the castle unnoticed, so he arranged to meet her outside the castle, at the southeast corner of the moat. Of course Jaimin’s personal guards would follow, as they always did, but they would stay out of sight.
Mandra was a little bit late because she had taken the time to change into a more practical outfit. When she arrived at the meeting point she smiled, and Jaimin smiled back, and they walked together on the road around the eastern side of the castle. They chatted as they walked, having a good honest conversation about Mandra’s favorite subjects and her best friends, and what she enjoyed doing, and when it was that she had started to become infatuated with the prince. Mandra was forthcoming and held little back. Prince Jaimin, used to candid conversations with Nastasha, said whatever came to his mind without restraint.
They didn’t wonder about the future, or what anyone would think. They just enjoyed themselves.
“Will the guards see if we kiss?” Mandra asked him.
“Probably,” Jaimin said, “but they are bound to secrecy by tradition. We should wait until none of the townspeople can see us, though.”
Jaimin knew of some walking trails northeast of the city that they could spend some time on and still make it back to the castle by nightfall. Once they reached the trailhead, they took a chance nobody else was out on the trail, and they began to hold hands.
“This is my dream,” Mandra said, beaming. “Just like in my dreams,” as they walked on. They stopped to kiss a few times. “I want this to continue,” she said, “but if it doesn’t, I want you to know you’ve made my dreams come true.”
Jaimin thought this was exceptionally touching, and regretted that he didn’t have an equally deep sentiment to express, having only known her a day.
They ascended a steeper part of the trail, where the path narrowed and ran along a cliff face where the coastal mountain range met the northern forest. They had to walk single file just for a bit before the path would widen again. They got to a spot where a recent quake had brought down some gravel piles.
“When Mora gave me your note and saw all your friends staring at me,” Jaimin said, “I didn’t know how to react. I honestly wanted to run and…”
Suddenly Jaimin heard a whomp! behind him. He spun around, and Mandra was down, sliding on the gravel and scrabbling for a handhold, about to go off the edge of the cliff! He lunged for her, but she was pulled away quickly by gravity. As her body bounced down the cliff face, she screamed weakly a few times. He heard a crack! when her head struck a boulder on the forest floor, where she finally landed.
Jaimin was frantic. He ran back, and it took him a while to get to a place where he could descend into the forest to reach her. When he got to her, two of his guards were already there. One was holding her head steady, and the other was calling for help in his communicator. Jaimin knelt by her.
Poor Mandra’s eyes were stuck wide open in pain and shock. Half her face was scraped and dirty, and there was blood leaking from the side of her mouth. Being a mender, Jaimin’s first instinct was to place his hands on her shoulders, and tune out so that he could repair whatever damage she had suffered. But when he drew near her, she reached out suddenly and pulled his head close to hers. She was dying, but he knew she wanted one last kiss.
And he gave her one last kiss. A small one, good bye, and he saw her loving gaze turn icy cold and vacant as her breathing stopped. He tuned out, and when he entered her body as a mender she was already gone. Her neck, skull, and many other of her bones had shattered.
As he woke up, tired from his mending trance and utterly distraught, he tasted her blood on his lips. He licked it off with his tongue and swallowed it. He wanted to keep it. It had been part of her.
And Mandra would always be a part of him. This girl he’d only really known for a day would have a place in Jaimin’s thoughts forever.