14. Just Like Fire
The events that happened moments ago seemed like they had accorded hours before. The King had called out some guards—without having to expose himself—to take the two men into custody. And as for the girl, she was escorted back safely to her home, after she had thanked the hell out of us.
However, I was still struggling to wrap my head around the fact that the King and I were walking side-by side in this crowded place looking as normal and civil as we can get.
He didn’t send me any glares or threats or looked at me like I was nothing but a mere pest underneath his royal boots. In fact, he looked rather stressed, even though he tried desperately to hide it. But I can still tell how tensed he was from the way his shoulders stiffened. I didn’t know if it was from him wanting to find his sister as quickly as possible, or something else entirely.
Either way, I was no different. My body was filled with tension as well for having to walk right beside him. Sometimes, our arms would brush against each other whenever the place was too crowded and immediately my skin turns into electricity, and I can’t help the shiver that escapes my body.
I honestly felt like I was suffocating with just being near him, trying to kick away all the memories about that night, and focusing on finding the Princess.
I didn’t realize that I was too into my thoughts, and that caused for my face to hit what seemed like a brick wall, but it was only the King’s back for he had stopped in his tracks suddenly.
“Ow!” I exclaimed, wincing and rubbing my nose. Why the hell did he stop all of a sudden?
I didn’t say anything, I just stood on my tip toes to look over his shoulder and saw nothing. Only a bunch of chattering people were ahead of us, and I tried to locate someone who looked like Princess Lis, which seemed that was what he was doing too.
“Lis!” I heard him call out and his body jolted forward, rushing to a figure dressed in a rather similar cream-colored cloak whose back was towards us. For a moment, that cloak made it look like I had suddenly gained a replica, but when that person turned around and I caught a glimpse of her short brown hair, I knew that was Princess Lis.
“Gabriel.” She smiled warmly, walking slowly towards her brother who didn’t match her speed. She carried a white basket filled with different things that she had apparently bought, and I noticed they were mostly books, pots, and autumn dresses.
The King placed his hands over her fragile shoulders, and I couldn’t help but note the worry in his eyes. And that was the first time I had seen the King show another expression other than anger or a scowl.
“Where the hell were you? I was looking for you everywhere!” His tone wasn’t furious, but there was some hardness laced with concern.
“Oh, don’t worry, Brother. I’m fine, and I can handle myself. Also, I managed to buy some things without having you whine about it,” she, with her usual calmness, answered him with a playful slap to his forearm. He rolled his eyes, grunting as he removed his hands from her shoulders.
I just stood there—awkwardly if I may add—and stared at my feet until I heard a faint gasp and I looked up to see the Princess looking past her brother’s large frame and having her eyes settle on me.
“Lydia! You’re here as well?” Her eyes twinkled with pure delight as she moved away from the King and walked towards me. Definitely not the same reaction as her brother when seeing the sight of me.
I was taken back a little when she hugged me, squeezing my shoulders tightly. I managed to return her hug with an awkward pat on the back. I still wasn’t really used to her out of the blue display of affection, not that I was complaining, but it still hadn’t grew on me.
“Did you buy something nice?” She pulled away, smiling as her eyes looked over my empty hands.
“Just a book and something nice for Luxus.” I patted my large bag which rested over my waist, indicating that I put them there.
She nodded, giving me another blinding smile as she clapped her hands together. “Oh I just love these fairs! My brother,” she waved her hand, gesturing at her brother with a roll of her eyes, “thinks that they’re unnecessary since I have servants who buy things for me. But I keep telling him that I’m a big girl and I can buy things for myself just fine.”
She raised her voice when saying these words, as if intentionally wanting him to listen. Which he did, that is, but his only reply was an annoyed grunt. That seemed to be his reply for everything.
“Well, now that you’ve bought the things you wanted, can we go home?” he said, clearly irritated as he stepped beside his sister with his arms folded across his chest. He looked down at her with narrowed eyes. Geez, someone didn’t like shopping.
He was acting like a total whiny teenager. Then again, when did he ever act otherwise?
“Actually, I still have some few things I didn’t buy,” the Princess announced, giving her brother a look that said she wasn’t going to tolerate his impatience and she’s going to have her way in the end.
He groaned, running his hand all over his face. “By the Gods! What else do you need?”
“Hmm,” she pretend to think, which made a slight smirk appear on my face when seeing that the King was growing more vexed by the second. “Bras! I forgot to buy bras.”
I pursed my lips, my cheeks becoming cheery red as I tried not to laugh out loud at the King’s bulging eyes. Distracting myself elsewhere, I put a hand over my mouth for if I looked at the King’s stunned expression any longer I would burst out.
“What the hell do you need these for!?” he lowered his tone, almost hissing.
“Oh, you know that David likes those lacy ones. He adores them!” I couldn’t hold it anymore, not after the Princess said that to her brother’s horrified face. I broke into a fit of giggles, trying to hold them back but they only came out as loud cackles. I looked everywhere but the Princess’ amused face and the King’s annoyed one.
When my laughter toned down after a few seconds, I lowered the hood on my head and bit my bottom lip to supress the laughter that threatened to come out once again. I cleared my throat. “Sorry.”
Peeking through the strands of hair that fell over my face, I saw that the Princess had a wide smile at my reaction and the King just clenched his jaw, shaking his head then turning his face away from me. I also couldn’t help but notice that his eyes were darker when he turned away, as if they were fogged with something that I couldn’t exactly get my finger around.
“Well, now that we have this settled, let us be on our way. Come on, Lydia.” I was a little alarmed when the Princess linked her arm with mine and started guiding me forward.
“Uh…” I tried to protest but she cut me off, showing me one of her many reassuring smiles.
“Don’t worry, it will be fun!”
“Gods, kill me!” That was about the third time we heard the King say under his breath. The first was when Princess Lis asked the merchant if her bra size—which now I know is A-32—was available. And the second was when she asked if she could try it on in one of the changing cabinets.
Anyway, she now bought her third bra and she still wanted to buy an extra one in case David didn’t like the other one. I was almost pretty sure she was doing that to piss her brother off, like she was giving him some kind of punishment or something. And might I say, she was doing an extraordinary job at it.
“Oh, stop complaining! We never have this kind of quality time at the palace, and this fair only happens twice a year so don’t lose your royal pants over it, alright?” I swear she sounded like a mother scolding her child.
But what surprised me most was that the King didn’t say a word. He just shut his mouth whenever she would give him an earful about his whining, and continued to be unwillingly dragged behind us. And I wasn’t going to lie, it was kind of fun to watch.
“What do you think about this?” She picked up a cute pink bra with flowers printed on it.
“It’s pretty.” I shrugged a shoulder.
She put it back down and raised her eyebrows at me, though I couldn’t see them properly because of the hood that covered her forehead. She put a hand on her waist. “You have said that about every bra I showed you.”
I let out a small laugh. “That’s because they’re all pretty.”
She shook her head and continued to inspect the pile of bras laid neatly before her.
To be honest, the last thing I expected to do this evening was going bra shopping with none other than Princess Lis and the King of Imarnia. Though, I didn’t like that he was so near me, I actually kind of liked the feeling of going to the market with someone who wasn’t a cat or a drunk man. And by someone I was referring to the Princess.
Even though I mostly just followed her around and gave my opinion with a smile or saying that whatever she chose was pretty, it still felt nice. Well, apart from the grumpy King walking behind us.
“How about this one?” She lifted a black lace bra, holding each strap with her hands and waving it at me.
“You already bought a black one.” I reminded her.
“It’s for you, silly. I think it would look great on your skin tone.” She placed the soft material on the skin above my chest, tilting her head as if to picture the combination of the colours.
I felt my cheeks heating, awkwardly moving away as I caught the King’s eyes lingering at us with sudden interest. And that only caused for my blush to deepen.
Why the hell does he look so interested right now? Can he just go back to his complaining and give us all a favour?
“No thanks, I don’t really—“
“Oh hush! I’ll buy one for you. Now, let’s see,” her eyes traced down to my chest area, roaming over there for a few seconds. “I think we’re going to need a much bigger size.”
That made my face burst in embarrassment, lowering my head as the blood came rushing in my cheeks. And what made it worse is that I knew the King was listening to every word.
I don’t know why that made me so uncomfortable even though he had seen—and touched—every inch of my body.
“Princess, that’s not really necessa—“
She cut me off again, giving me a look. “Would you just let me do something nice for you? Please?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “And I told you to call me Lis.”
“It’s really not necessary...” My voice was so low I wasn’t sure if she had heard me or chose to ignore me. Either way, she had already paid for the bra and put its bag in the basket.
After what seemed like eternity, the Princess finally finished her shopping tour. But apparently she still didn’t want to go home, because she had asked for her brother to buy one of those caramel apples.
“No!” he snapped.
“Gabriel, stop being a child!” She narrowed her eyes at him.
“You said we would leave after this,” he retorted.
“But I’m craving some dessert!” Apparently, she wasn’t going to back down from this either.
“You can have some in the palace.”
They glared at each other for a long, silenced moment. Neither one of them refused to retreat from their position. Eventually, it was King Gabriel who gave up. “Ugh, fine!”
I couldn’t help but smile in amusement at how childish they were. They acted more like children than royalty to be honest. But both were stubborn as hell, that’s for sure. It seemed like those two were more alike than I thought.
“Two caramel apples, please,” he said to the man behind the sweets shack, mumbling underneath his breath as he pulled out a coin bag and paid him.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with him today? Usually, he would buy me the entire market if I wanted to, but he’s being unreasonably grumpy today,” Lis remarked from beside me.
Maybe he just wants to stay as far away from me as possible? I wanted to say that but I left it as a lingering thought.
The King handed Lis the caramel apples and she handed me mine. I nipped on my delight, liking the taste of sweetness that nuzzled at the tip of my tongue.
“Can we go now?” the King asked, his jaw clenched tightly as if he wanted to grab the Princess and disappear somewhere were the plague—as known as me—won`t find them.
She let out a heavy sigh, eyeing her candy for a while before her shoulders slumped. “Alright, let’s go ba—“
Before she could even finish her sentence, a voice I was familiar with boomed through our ears. “Mistress! Fire mistress!” All heads, including some of those who were around us, whipped to the source of the voice that was Aramis Lester.
His short, unusual form made him everything that meant the word ‘noticeable’. The people around us looked at him with a mixture of wonder and confusion as he kept cutting his way through people’s legs.
My eyes widened, not really sure what to feel about his sudden appearance. How in the world did he find me? And how did he even know if I was here?
“My lady, I’ve been looking everywhere for—“ he managed to get his foot caught between a man’s feet and stumbled forward. Luckily, he didn’t fall straight on his face.
“Hey, watch it, buddy! Can’t you see people are coming through?” he snapped at the tall man who just eyed him weirdly, attempting to push him but the man only fell a few steps behind.
“You want some of this, huh?” He fisted his hand and pumped his chest, looking as if he was ready to jump at the poor, confused man any second now.
“Aramis!” I interrupted his mental fight with the defenceless man, bringing his attention to me.
The murderous look he had on turned into a wide grin as he approached me. He was huffing and puffing, clearly out of breath as if he had been running for hours.
I waited for him to regain his breathing, not even bothering to look over the Princess and the King whom I’m pretty sure had the same look as the people around me.
“I’ve searched for you everywhere! You weren’t at the palace so I figured you would be here.” He pulled out a napkin and wiped the sweat off his wide forehead.
“Lydia, you know this...man?” Lis whispered to my ear, her eyes never leaving him.
“Uh…” I wasn’t sure what to answer, but I didn’t need to for Aramis cut me off when his eyes drifted to my two companions.
“Princess Lis, what an honour to meet you!” Aramis grinned from ear to ear, taking her hand in his and planting a kiss, earning him one of her polite smiles.
He let go of her hand, his head jerking up to the towering frame that is King Gabriel. “And King Gabriel, it is an honour to meet you as well,” he bowed, giving the same grin he gave to Lis. The King gave him a curt nod, his features empty of any irritation.
“If I may steal the lady away from you, it won’t take a minute,” Aramis addressed the two royals, straightening his back.
“Of course!” Lis patted my shoulder, pushing me a bit forward.
“Much appreciated.” He smiled up at her.
“Meanwhile, let’s have a look at those cute jewelleries we passed by earlier. Shall we, Brother?” He knew she wasn’t asking for she was already on her way, and he followed behind her with a low growl.
It almost made me feel sorry for him. Almost.
Soon, they disappeared off the crowd, leaving me with a rather jumpy Aramis. He looked like he was in a hurry or something.
“So, what is it that you want?” I asked.
He didn’t answer, busying himself with digging through his leather bag for something. He seemed to have found it, for he gave a small victory cry as he pulled out a piece of paper.
“I wanted to give you this.” He handed it to me and I unfolded it. It looked like a map, with a forest and many pathways drawn and they all lead to a hand-drawn cabinet which had the words ‘Aramis’s house’ written beside it.
“You’re giving me a map to your house?” I flipped the piece of paper, raising one black eyebrow.
“Well, bless your heart, sugar. Of course I am. How else are you going to find my house?” he told me.
“And why do I need to find your house?”
He rolled his eyes. “Because you’re coming there first thing tomorrow. I need to teach you all those things in the book of my master so make sure you bring it, okay?”
He pointed a small finger at me. “And be there at the break of dawn.”
My eyes widened at that. At dawn!? That’s way too early for me. Even Grandpa didn’t use to wake me that early of an hour. “But—“ I tried to protest but he gave me one hell of a death glare that I immediately shut my mouth. Gee, he sure has a large amount of scary despite his form.
“At dawn, you got that?” He still had that finger aimed my way and the only thing I could do is nod rather quickly.
“Great!” His whole face changed from dead serious to bright sunshine. “Now come closer, I want to tell you one last thing.”
I found myself leaning forward, but not all the way where I was bending down.
“Little closer.” He wiggled his fingers, indicating that I do as he said. And that I did, leaning more and lowering my body. “Closer...” At this point I was mainly inches away from kneeling on the ground so we could be at an eye-level.
I didn’t see it coming when he took advantage of my position and snatched my caramel apple away from my grasp.
I gasped as he bit a large chunk out of it, savouring the taste then wiggling his eyebrows at me. “Hey! That’s mine!” I protested.
“These things will make you fat, sweetie,” he said with a mouthful of candy before giving me a side thrust of his hip and turning away. I crossed my arms over my chest, pouting and slightly pissed that he took my apple.
“Oh, and be careful, sweetheart. This place is filled with Wizard Hunters so I would tuck that hood tightly if I were you,” he shouted behind his back, skipping joyfully with my treat in his hand and disappearing somewhere in the crowd.