Amir had always been fond of spring. It was a time of warmth and light, of rebirth and new beginnings. He was enjoying this particular spring, especially, because he was as far away as possible from that ogre of a man he called 'Grandfather.'
He loved his family. Truly, he did. His parents cared about him and supported him in everything he endeavored, offering him encouraging words at each turn even when he felt himself a failure. His sisters... He loved them as much as – if not more than – any other brother would their siblings, but a part of him always felt he failed them, somehow. In particular, he had not been around as much for his younger sister as he would have liked. Being the only son born to his parents, it was his duty to learn all he could about things such as proper governance and international relations. He still felt it was a bit overly much, being that there were eleven others who were set to inherit the throne above him, but it was the way of their people to be sure that all young men within the royal line up to the twentieth position received a complete education in preparation for one day taking over the duties of the current king – otherwise known as to Amir as his grandfather.
The old man was as traditional as they came, and made sure the old ways were preserved as closely to the letter as possible. That was why, after a single youthful indiscretion, Amir had been colored as the least favorite of his seventeen grandchildren. Amir didn't mind so much, as his parents had long since forgiven him for his actions and he wasn't anywhere near as close to his grandfather as he was to his more immediate family, but whenever there was any sort of royal gathering the king always sought him out and made a point to badger him about how he wasn't living up to the 'expectations of a prince.' Amir always wished he could openly disagree, wanting so badly to point out the fact he'd done more for trade and commerce in his homeland than all of his cousins combined, but to incite a public argument against the king's word was still considered an act of treason whether it came from a commoner or his own flesh and blood and he would not bring shame upon his parents for a second time in his life.
"Are you enjoying the view, Master Amir?"
The prince turned to his companion and gave him a small smile. Sanjay had been brought into the home by his parents shortly after the incident to serve as his personal companion and servant.
At first, he had resented the slightly older boy's presence, seeing him as nothing more than a glorified babysitter, but as the two of them got to know one another better they had become the best of friends. Sanjay was like the brother he'd never had, someone he could talk to about things no one else understood concerning the pressures of his life without having to worry about receiving a lecture on the importance of his duties in return.
"This is such a beautiful, peaceful place. It is truly purifying for the soul."
"Indeed, Master Amir," Sanjay agreed, offering a gentle smile of his own. "We were right to choose this town as our subject."
Amir nodded. "I agree. An excellent choice."
Silence fell over the pair once more as Amir looked back out over the valley below, a small sigh escaping his lips. Sanjay had been instrumental in helping him make his latest escape from his oppressive life in the royal court, having brought to his attention an article in a travel magazine about a small town which had recently been brought back from the brink of death in less than two years thanks to the help of a young farmer. He'd been intrigued by the story and wanted to learn more about how this person had been able to achieve such a feat in such an amazingly short period of time. His family had been reluctant to allow him to go look into the matter, but then Sanjay had stepped in and assured them that he would accompany him on his trip. Their reluctance, Amir knew, had been his own fault. The previous year, he'd impulsively left home to go evaluate a bazaar he'd heard about from a traveling merchant. While he'd learned much and met some very interesting people, his sudden disappearance had caused a mild panic within the ranks of the royal family. He hadn't told anyone where he was going or how long he intended to be gone – not even Sanjay – so when he finally returned in the fall to celebrate his father's birthday he'd been met with a combination of relief and anger... and yet more disappointment.
"I'm sorry, Sanjay," he told to his faithful servant, his eyes falling closed as he bowed his head in shame.
"What for?" Sanjay wondered, blinking in confusion at his sudden apology.
"For what happened when I left last year," Amir explained. "I never should have placed you in such a position."
"There is no need for you to apologize," Sanjay assured him, offering another kind smile. Amir shook his head, finally turning to him with a troubled frown on his face.
"I do need to apologize," he argued. "Because of my callous actions, you were severely reprimanded."
"I deserved it, Master Amir," Sanjay replied, his head now lowered into a shameful bow. "I neglected my duties and allowed you to leave the country without first making the proper declaration of your intentions. I hold no ill feelings toward you, though. I was merely glad that you were able to return safely from your journey."
Amir's expression softened and he turned to his friend, reaching up to place both hands upon the taller man's shoulders. He waited until Sanjay's eyes met his, then smiled at him.
"You don't always have to be so kind to me, Sanjay," he gently reprimanded him. "You're allowed to get angry every once in a while."
"But if I raise my voice to you-" he attempted to argue, but Amir cut him off.
"Raising your voice is not how a proper servant treats his master, I get it," he said, rolling his eyes a bit. "That's the way things are at home, I know. We're not in the homeland right now, though. Even if we were, the one person I don't mind standing up to me is you. I trust you, Sanjay, and I know you only ever have my happiness and well-being in mind."
Sanjay blushed, bowing his head to hide the smile which was slowly forming upon his lips. "I am your faithful servant, after all, Master Amir."
"You're my friend, Sanjay," Amir corrected with a light chuckle, causing the other man to look at him in surprise. "Above all else, I consider you as such."
"Th-Thank you, Master Amir," Sanjay stuttered, the color in his cheeks increasing, and he squeezed his eyes shut to hold back tears of what the prince hoped were happiness.
A loud noise suddenly startled them both, and Amir looked down from the hilltop where they were standing in search of its source. It had sounded like a person making some sort of growl of frustration, but they had been the only two people traversing the mountain that morning – or so he thought. Sure enough, though, he saw a woman approaching the spring below them. She appeared young, with blonde hair that had been pulled up into a single tail which reached nearly halfway down her back and fair skin that was currently very red in the area of her face. She was dressed plainly, wearing a cream-colored top and faded blue denim pants which fell just below her knees along with a pair of hiking boots. Amir also noticed that her hands were clenched into fists at her sides and she seemed to be grumbling angrily to herself, which explained the noise they had heard.
"Who's that over there?"
"That is Miss Adelia," Sanjay informed him, his attention also focused upon the young woman. "She is the central figure in the expansion of this town."
"Really?" Amir said, blinking in surprise as he looked to his companion.
"Master Amir, why don't we go and talk to her?" Sanjay suggested with a smile.
"Good idea," Amir agreed with a nod. "I'm quite interested in what she has to say about this town."
"Shall I do the talking?" Sanjay offered, but Amir shook his head.
"No, I'll do it." Sanjay bowed to him and began heading back down from the knoll they were standing upon, but he reached out to stop him. "Actually, you wait here."
"Are you sure, Master Amir?" Sanjay asked, his eyes widening slightly.
Amir chuckled. "I'm fully capable of holding a conversation on my own, Sanjay."
"Very good, Master Amir," Sanjay relented, giving him a bow. "I will wait here."
Amir smiled and patted him on the shoulder as he passed by, then made his way down to where the young woman – Adelia – was standing at the edge of the spring with her eyes closed. He watched her silently for a moment, observing the way she was attempting to work the tension out of her own shoulders while rolling her head from side to side, and momentarily wondered if maybe he shouldn't bother her at this particular time. His mind was soon made up for him, however, when she opened her eyes with a sigh and noticed him standing there watching her.
"Um... Hi," she said, flashing an awkward smile, and Amir felt his heart skip a beat.
"H-Hello, Miss Adelia," he stammered, his usual charm and finesse replaced by an uncharacteristic sense of unease. He quickly cleared his throat and recomposed himself before continuing toward her. "Are you out for a walk today, too?"
She narrowed her eyes at him and tilted her head slightly to one side, stopping him in his tracks. After a moment, she shook her head and frowned slightly.
"Do I know you?" she asked, shaking her head once again as if to answer her own question. Amir blinked a few times, then finished making his way over to her with a chuckle.
"Forgive me, it was rude to not introduce myself," he apologized. "I understand you have already met Sanjay, but I have only just arrived this morning."
He indicated where Sanjay was standing, watching the two of them, and she looked up and gave him a small wave, which he returned with a blush.
"That must make you the prince, then," she concluded, turning back to Amir. "I never thought this place would ever see royalty living in its midst, but hey... whatever floats your boat."
"I am Prince Amir Ranjiit Raj Singh," he introduced himself, crossing his right arm over his chest and bowing deeply to her. "And I apologize if I surprised you, just now. I was merely out for a walk with Sanjay and when I saw you over here I thought I would have a word with you."
"Sure," Adelia replied, shrugging and placing her hands in her back pockets. "What can I do for you, Your Highness?"
Amir chuckled. "First of all, you can simply call me Amir," he instructed her. "I may be royalty, but we are not in my homeland. As such, I require no formalities be used when addressing me."
"Okay," she agreed, nodding. "Amir it is, then."
His heart fluttered once more when he heard his name upon her lips, but he did not lose his composure this time.
"Sanjay told me that you have been central to the restoration and expansion of this town, is that correct?"
"I guess you could say that," she said with a nervous little laugh, her cheeks turning a pale shade of pink.
"Fascinating," Amir remarked, his voice coming out in a breathy whisper. He then cleared his throat before continuing. "You must be around the same age as me, I'm guessing. For someone so young to have accomplished so much in such a short period of time... it is truly impressive."
She blushed even more and looked to her feet as she began toeing the ground, reaching up to rub the back of her neck in an embarrassed fashion. Amir heard her mutter something, though he couldn't make out the words. Her posture, however, told him that she had likely denied her actions having been anything worth making a fuss over.
"I'm being quite serious," he assured her. "In fact, that was what I wished to discuss with you today."
"What do you want to know?" she asked with another shrug, looking back up at him. Amir swallowed when her blue eyes met his, his mouth suddenly turning very dry while his palms began sweating. His heart was hammering in his chest and he felt very hot all over. He vaguely wondered if perhaps he was falling ill, though he knew that wasn't the case.
"I was wondering... What... is the most important thing when making a town? In your opinion, of course," he asked, hesitating at first before the rest of his statement came rushing out all at once.
Adelia smiled and got a thoughtful look on her face as she turned to gaze at the spring, and Amir watched her as she considered his question. After a brief silence, she looked up at him and he held his breath as he waited for her answer.
"I guess I just look at what's already here and do my best to match it," she told him. "I mean, I grew up in the city and I always hated it whenever they'd destroy a park to make room for another apartment complex or some office building."
"So rather than focusing on just being more convenient, you take nature and the environment into account, too?" Amir surmised.
"Something like that, yeah," she replied, nodding.
Amir smiled. "I think that must be what makes this such an easy place to live. It's no wonder, then, that you've had such success in revitalizing the town."
"It's not just me or anything I've done," Adelia insisted. "The people here are nice, and while I try to preserve the nature around here as best I can it's not like I can really take the credit for what's already here."
"True," Amir agreed, still smiling at her, "but you are the very heart of the restoration, from what I understand, and I am willing to bet that you are a large part of why people find this town so endearing."
"If you insist."
"You have certainly given me something to think about," Amir told her, and she blushed and looked away from him briefly before meeting his eyes once more.
"Thank you, Yo-... Amir," she corrected herself, and he nodded and smiled at her.
He looked back over his shoulder to find Sanjay standing just behind him and blinked in surprise. He'd asked his friend to wait, and Sanjay never went against any of his requests.
"I am sorry for interrupting, but we still need to get you settled into your new home," he informed the prince, offering him an apologetic smile.
"Ah, right," Amir said, nodding. He'd forgotten that he had yet to actually make it to the house which had been built for him and Sanjay to stay in while they were living in the town. He knew that he really needed to go there and assist Sanjay with unpacking the belongings he'd brought along with him, but he was finding himself reluctant to leave the company of the young woman before him.
"Perhaps we could talk again soon?" he suggested as he turned back to her, and she bit her bottom lip a bit before nodding in agreement.
Amir reached out to her and she pulled her right hand from her pocket, holding it out to him in the manner one would for a friendly handshake. He smiled and took her hand in both of his, bringing it up to his lips as he bowed his head, and placed a kiss upon the back of it. He lingered for a moment, enjoying the feeling of her soft, warm skin against his lips, then stood back up and smiled at the sight of her blushing face.
"I look forward to meeting you again, Miss Adelia," he told her as he slowly released her hand, his voice quiet and slightly deeper than usual.
"You two have a nice day," she told them as they turned to leave, Sanjay offering her a polite bow before following in Amir's wake.
Amir couldn't stop smiling to himself as they made their way down the mountain, his mind lingering upon the young farmer. Her eyes were the same color of blue as the spring sky, her hair the golden color of the sun, and her skin reminded him of the finest silk and fresh cream. She was the opposite of nearly every woman who had been presented to him as a potential bride, and yet he found himself attracted to her more than he'd been toward any of them. There was more to it than her appearance, though. He could sense her spirit in her eyes, could see the kindness and compassion there. Coupled with what he knew about everything she had done for the town in two short years, he could tell she was as dedicated as him when it came to helping others and making their lives better.
"Your mood seems much improved from earlier, Master Amir," Sanjay remarked. Amir stopped in his tracks and turned to him, a content smile lighting up his face.
"It should be," he said, looking off in the direction they had come. "I just met my future bride."
He chuckled at the stunned look at Sanjay's face and gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder before continuing on his way, humming a happy little tune to himself.
In his joy, he completely missed the harsh glare Sanjay sent back in the very same direction they had come from before rushing to catch up with him.