Next morning, I woke up before my sister and took out the elegant long trousers with a white fabric shirt which had a blue bodice sewn on it. I wanted to put it on after breakfast, so now I just put on simple trousers and a shirt. I was getting washed and dressed when Alana was woken up by the noise.
‘Have I overslept?’ She asked quickly.
‘No’ I calmed her down immediately, ‘I woke up very early. We still have plenty of time.’
Alana and I went downstairs for breakfast, my sister still looked like a boy.
After breakfast Alana withdrew to the bathroom, her long hair had dried since yesterday evening. I packed everything and got dressed quicker than my sister. I was sitting on my bed quietly waiting for her.
My twin sister took a long blue velvet dress from the bag which had a white stripe on the edge of its long and downward expanding sleeve. It was a perfect match for the white belt which was sewn on the dress. The dress at the top followed my sister’s shape, showing a slight décolletage and from the waist, it was constantly expanded. I had not seen Alana’s hair down recently, but her thick blonde hair reached to the bottom of her waist. She made a braid from the side of her hair to the middle. Her blue eyes which were inherited from our mother were shining in her tanned face.
‘You are very pretty,’ I said to her honestly when she seemed to be ready.
‘Do you think so?’ She asked, ‘I didn’t want to overdo it, but many people leave their hair hanging free. I saw it yesterday.’
‘It is good. Let’s try to eat lunch before someone is coming for us,’ I said.
‘Who knows when we will get dinner there,’ She smiled.
Catering should have been a part of the hospitality, I hoped that this rule had not changed.
We went downstairs to the almost empty inn; the innkeeper and her son were cleaning the tables. The boy couldn’t hide his surprise in front of my sister, I just smiled.
‘You had too pretty face for a boy,’ the woman said to my sister with a short laugh, ‘are you going to have lunch?’
‘Yes, we are,’ I said.
The boy brought us our lunch timidly, Alana just smiled at him.
‘Have you started to drink the tea?’ She asked.
‘Yes,’ the boy said, ‘I’ll drink all of it.’
‘I’ll come back next week to see whether you are getting better,’ my sister said, as she always did.
‘Thank you for doing this for me,’ the boy said.
‘It’s the least I can do.’
We had just finished our food when a man in a royal coloured tunic appeared at the door.
‘Your carriage is waiting for you,’ he said, ‘we will take care of your belongings and your horses.’
‘Thank you,’ I said.
Alana said goodbye to the boy and followed me and the man to the greeny yellow coloured carriage which stood in front of the inn. The carter in front of the carriage had the same uniform as the man in front of me.
‘Madam,’ the man helped my sister up to the carriage.
‘Thank you,’ my sister said while I followed her.
The carriage started to move and went up a beautiful well-kept, grassy hill before we passed a huge iron gate. The beautifully crafted iron fence marked the beginning of the royal estate. We were able to look out of the carriage, guards were walking close to the fence a couple of meters from each other. When the carriage stopped, servants helped us to get off and guards indicated to us to follow them after we had shown our invitation card. The brown tower stood just next to the castle on the top of the hill a couple of minutes’ walking distance away.
In front of the castle, there was a small circular ornamental lake which was surrounded by young trees. Near the lake, carriages were waiting on the pavement just after their arrival.
‘Please follow me,’ one guard said to me.
As I was the guest, both of us expected that people would talk mainly to me, as Alana is only my companion. The guard opened the entrance for me to go inside, Alana stepped in behind me.
The foreground of the castle was a large space with two flights of stairs leading up to it on both sides. In front of us, there was a closed, huge double door. Just as we thought, the castle was lavishly decorated, all in yellow and green. On the walls, royal portraits were carved in wood. Between the doors and the stairs, carved wood sculptures stood on pillars. The guards stood near the walls, sometimes I saw a servant dressed in yellow coming out of a door. The doors were almost invisible having the same colour as the walls. If the servants had not moved I would not have noticed any of the doors.
In the foreground, apart from us other people were waiting. There was a family with a five years old girl, two boys of our age, and a man of Gaina’s age with his wife. I was taller than anyone and broader apart from the man who came with his wife. Everyone dressed similarly to Alana and me, but we still felt like outsiders. According to learned etiquette, Alana stood just behind me, but if she said something quietly, I could hear it. I wanted to introduce myself to the others, but they didn’t show any interest, so we waited quietly.
‘Welcome everyone,’ a tall, slim, dark-skinned woman came out from a hidden door and stood in front of us.
She had a yellow dress which was like my sister’s, but it was not made from velvet.
‘My name is Tarla and I’ll help you with the introduction to the royal family. We will enter through the double doors and you will stay next to each other in your arrival order,’ she said, ‘western province,’ she looked around, the boys raised their hands.
Tarla went to the other side of the room and showed with her arms where the boys should stand.
‘Miner’s province,’ Tarla continued, the well-built man raised his hand.
Tarla came closer and showed the place for the couple where to stand.
‘Eastern province,’ she said, the family raised their hands.
Tarla indicated the place next to us.
‘Southern province,’ she said, I raised my hand, ‘You stay where you are currently standing,’ I nodded.
‘Is it clear so far?’ Tarla asked and everyone nodded enthusiastically.
‘When the royal family enters everyone should bow slightly,’ she said, ‘don’t do a big bow, just a slight one. The guests should stay at the front, every companion should stay behind them. The families mustn’t say a word until the guest introduces them,’ Tarla explained the rule that we already knew from our mother.
‘What should we say?’ The father of the girl asked.
‘Every guest should thank the royal family the invitation in his own and his family name, saying where he has come from, what he does for a living and then he should wait for the greeting from his majesty, Prince Veron. After the greeting from his majesty, Prince Veron, the family should make a step forward next to the guest and they should thank the Prince for the invitation as well. The Prince will greet everyone one by one. Is it clear?’
Everyone nodded but this time it was not so convincing.
‘Let’s starts,’ Tarla said, ‘Don’t keep the royal family waiting.’
The woman walked to the door and the rest of the people followed her like a herd. Alana was walking behind me following my steps. My mother had taught this to both of us, in case I needed I would have been able to walk behind her following her steps.
The guards opened the door, everyone took their place.
The room was smaller than I thought, the colours and the wall were decorated the same as outside. Three green and huge velvet chairs stood a few meters in front of us on a pedestal with two steps. This room must have been a small reception hall. Tarla arranged the families behind each other, but in our case, she just passed by. Alana was not visible for sure, my wide back completely hid her. The sound of a handbell gave a signal that the royal family had arrived.
An invisible door opened behind the chairs and the royal family entered.
The Prince seemed to be a little older than me and he was quite tall but shorter than me. He had a slim but muscular body and dark-blond hair. He dressed similarly to me, but he had a green tunic with gold stripes and the royal coat of arms was embroidered on the vest. The Prince was followed by an auburn haired woman of our parents’ age in a green silk dress which had a similar shape to Alana’s current one. This dress also had gold stripes with an embroidered royal coat of arms. The Queen was followed by a girl who had the same dress as her mother, but she had short red spiky hair. The Princess was only a few years younger than us and she carried a velvet pillow with cat on it which looked very thin and ill.
We bowed slightly, one of the boys from the west almost fell. He had to take a step forward to keep his balance. After a few seconds I stood up, Tarla coughed gently showing everyone to do the same by standing near the wall in the same line with us.
The Prince stood up from the middle chair.
‘I’d like to welcome every winner from the provinces, I’m Prince Veron,’ he said, ‘I’d like to get to know everyone, please introduce yourselves.’
According to the rules of etiquette the Prince stayed standing, Tarla looked at the western boys.
‘I’m Jonal your majesty. I’m a baker from the western province,’ the boy was thinking about the sentence, ‘and this is my younger brother, Honal.’
The younger boy made a step aside, Tarla indicated that it was not correct. Based on our knowledge the Prince should have greeted the guest before the family, but it already didn’t matter. The boys even forgot to thank the Prince for the invitation.
‘I’m treating both of you as my guests for the next couple of weeks,’ The Prince adapted to the situation, the royal family didn’t show any disappointment because of the mistake. The Princess petted her cat, the Queen sat quietly.
Tarla waved to the man from miners’ province. The man was short but extremely strong.
‘I’m Kunal from miners’ province, your majesty,’ the man waited for the Prince.
‘I’m treating you Kunal as my guest for the next couple of weeks,’ the Prince said the official sentence.
‘This is my wife, Nataya,’ the man said, and his wife took a step next to him.
‘I’m Nataya, your majesty,’ the woman said.
Tarla sighed as they forgot to thank the Prince for the invitation, but she showed that it was enough.
‘I’m treating you Nataya as my guest for the next couple of weeks,’ the Prince said the official sentence automatically.
Tarla gave a sign to the father from the east. The tall man had darker skin, but he still could not be compared to the southern people.
‘I’m Doran, your majesty, I work as a carpenter,’ he said, ’thank you for inviting me here,’ he said proudly as he didn’t forget to thank the Prince for the invitation.
‘I’m treating you Doran as my guest for the next couple of weeks,’ the Prince said the official sentence again.
‘This is my wife Tila, and my daughter Dorana,’ the man said, his family took a step next to him.
The mother did a clumsy curtsy and the girl just smiled. Alana gently touched my waist showing that we were next.
‘I’m treating you Tila and Dorana as my guests for the next couple of weeks,’ the Prince said the official sentence again.
I took a step forward exactly as it should be.
‘Your majesty, I’d like to thank you for the invitation, my name is Aleron and I’m a blacksmith from the southern province,’ I said calmly, Tarla’s smile showed me that our mother’s teaching followed the rules of etiquette.
‘I’m treating you, Aleron as my guest for the next couple of weeks,’ the Prince said again.
‘I’d like to introduce my twin sister to you, her name is Alana,’ I said, Alana took a step next to me at the same time together with her name.
My sister bowed her head slightly and did a graceful curtsy.
‘Your majesty, I’d like to thank you for extending your hospitality to me, I’m Alana,’ my sister smiled, she too had remembered our mother’s teachings well.
Alana waited for the Prince’s greeting, but nothing happened. The Prince stood quietly not saying a word. Alana stood quietly as well, Tarla blinked towards the royal family. From what we knew, if the Prince did not greet Alana personally like everyone else, it would mean that he did not accept my sister as his guest and Alana would not be allowed to stay in the castle with me and she would have needed to step back behind me now.
After a few extremely slow and awkward seconds Alana glanced at me and made a move to step back behind me.
‘I’m treating you, Alana, as the guest of my son, Prince Veron for the next couple of weeks,’ the Queen stood up, but she had already started to say the sentence seated.
‘Thank you, your majesty,’ my sister said and stayed next to me.
The Queen glanced at her son, who coughed quickly and took a step forward. The Queen sat back down in her chair.
‘Tarla will walk everyone to the apartments which will be yours in the upcoming weeks. Everyone will have a servant, they are waiting for you in front of the apartments. I’m expecting everyone for dinner,’ the Prince said, the Queen and the Princess stood up.
We bowed slightly, everyone did it better than the first time. The royal family left the room, Tarla came to our group.
‘Practices will be in the mornings and as his majesty’s guest, you must spend the mealtimes with him. The rest of the time you are free. If you need anything, please let your servant or the guards on the corridor know. Please follow me,’ she said and went up the right-side stairs.
From the stairs, we turned right to a narrower corridor where guards stood only a few meters from each other.
‘Has the etiquette changed?’ My sister asked quietly, while we were following the group.
‘I don’t think so,’ I said, ‘the Prince greeted everyone apart from you.’
‘So, I’m the only one who is not welcomed,’ she said, ‘here neither,’ she sighed.
‘For sure there is an explanation,’ I said to her nicely.
The corridor looked like downstairs, the doors were almost invisible on the greeny yellow walls, the sculptures and the carved pictures were used as decoration. At the edge of the corridors, I saw some handbells hanging from the walls. From what I heard from my father they are used in case of emergency and at least two bells can be found on each corridor. The corridor at the end turned further but we stopped in the middle. Between the guards, young girls stood by each door, I quickly stared at all of them. Tarla stopped next to the first girl.
‘Western boys,’ she said to the boys who stared at Alana more and more openly.
Maybe I’ll be a traitor because I’ll punch one of the Prince’s guests soon.
‘This is your apartment; the servant will be at your service,’ Tarla said to the boys, they went into their rooms.
Walking along the corridor, Tarla showed the apartments one by one to everyone. Just like during the introduction we were the last.
‘Southern twins,’ she said, ‘this is your apartment and she is your servant.’
She called a red haired girl who stood near our door. The girl was younger than us, and the same height as Alana. The servants had yellow A-line dresses made from a simpler fabric.
‘Hi,’ Alana offered her hand to the girl, ‘I’m Alana and this is my brother, Aleron.’
The girl bowed, as the Prince’s guests we currently outranked her, but by birth, we were in the same rank.
‘I’m Maina,’ she smiled and opened our door, ‘Each of your packs had been moved here, hopefully, you will like it.’
Alana hurried into her bedroom, I followed her slowly. Our apartment was huge, I saw three doors from the lobby. In the lobby, there were sofas with chairs and a coffee table just as Shirela had back home. From what I heard from my mother it was a drawing-room and should be used to entertain friends. From the drawing-room, one bedroom opened to the right and one to the left. In the middle, in front of the entrance, was the bathroom, which was built like our bathroom in the south. Alana’s herbs stood in the bedroom on the left, the swords were in the room on the right. Both bedrooms had a huge bed, cupboard and a chair with a table and a dressing table. Everything was green and yellow but without luxury.
Alana checked her herbs, I looked at the swords.
‘Every plant is here, and they are completely intact,’ she said with a smile as she came back to the lobby.
‘Can I help you with anything else?’ The servant asked.
‘Could you please bring a jug of boiling water every morning and evening?’ Alana asked, ‘please just leave it next to my herbs on the desk.’
‘Yes,’ the girl said, ‘of course. If you need something, please let the guards know.’ She turned to the entrance to leave.
‘Could you please show me a library?’ Alana asked quickly, ‘I assume, there is more than one.’
‘Yes, there is one on this floor,’ Maina said, ‘if you are ready, I can walk you there.’
‘We can go,’ Alana said, ‘Do you want to join us, Aleron?’ She asked me, I nodded.
I had nothing to do, at least I could look around. We left our apartment and followed the girl towards the bend at the end of the corridor.
‘Miss Alana,’ a loud voice echoed along the quiet corridor, we turned back and nodded.
The Prince and his sister with the cat on the pillow walked towards us, but as the meeting happened accidentally nodding was enough, a bow was not needed. This kind of official greeting from the Prince towards my sister was very polite, but in these circumstances, it was not needed at all. Either the etiquette had slightly changed during the past years, or there must be something that I’m not aware of.
‘Where are you going?’ The Prince asked Maina.
‘I’m about to show them the library on this floor, your majesty,’ Maina said timidly, she wasn’t used to talking to the royal family.
‘I’ll walk them,’ the Prince said, ‘you may go.’ Maina nodded and went further along the corridor.
‘I’d like to apologize for my behaviour, Miss Alana,’ the Prince turned to my sister, ‘After a lot of speeches, I experienced a dry mouth and couldn’t say a word.’
‘Thank you for the apology, your majesty, I’m happy to accept it,’ my sister smiled and offered her hand to the Prince for a hand kiss according to the rules of etiquette.
The Prince looked at Alana’s hand and afterwards looked up at my sister, but he didn’t move. After a couple of seconds, Alana pulled back her hand.
‘Come,’ the Princess broke the awkward seconds, ‘follow me.’
We followed the royal siblings quietly. Maybe I would become a traitor one day by punching the Prince’s face because of his impolite behaviour towards to my sister. I looked at my sister and I saw that she felt not being welcome here. After the bend, we met only a few guards and even fewer people. The decorations on the wall became rarer as well. The Princess opened a normal door.
‘We are here,’ she said and went inside, followed by her brother and by us.
The library was as huge as our apartment. Next to the entrance, two columns stood only in a meter away from the door. Previously that was the place for the guards, from behind the columns the guards were not visible from the library and the guests weren’t bothered by seeing them. Ceiling tall bookshelves stood near the walls throughout the library with a huge wooden ladder on both sides. The sun shone through the ceiling tall windows in front of the door on the other side of the library. In the middle of the room desks with chairs stood randomly.
Alana walked around sometimes blowing off the dust from the books.
‘Master Sifun,’ the Princess shouted with a laugh.
From the back, a huge thump could be heard and after a few seconds a very old, short and thin man appeared next to the windows. There must be a short aisle just in front of the windows, behind the shelves. The man looked like someone who had just woken up and he had a yellow tunic like every man in the castle.
‘Princess Velina, Prince Veron,’ he bowed, ‘I was just packing in the warehouse at the back.’
‘No problem,’ the Princess smiled, ‘Our guests, Alana and Aleron will come here in the next couple of weeks, please help them in everything.’
‘I will, your majesty,’ the man bowed, Alana and I shook hands with him before he went back to the warehouse.
Probably he wanted to clean up what had just collapsed before his arrival.
My sister took a book from the shelf and put it on a table. It was clear that she planned to sit down to read.
‘Today is a lovely day outside,’ the Princess said, ‘come and join the rest, they are already in the garden.’
‘My sister and I will happily join you,’ I said with a smile.
My sister looked at me and put the book back on the shelf, the royal siblings just smiled.
As I had accepted the invitation as the main guest meant that Alana as my companion needed to join us as well.
‘So, let’s go then,’ the Princess said and left the library.
The Princess went back to our corridor and walked down the stairs, we followed her quietly. She planned to go out of the main entrance and afterwards to turn back into the garden. The Prince overtook his sister, Princess Velina slowed down to walk between Alana and me. She held the velvet pillow and sometimes petted the unfortunate little animal. The cat was supposed to be grey coloured, but his fur was missing in patches and if I saw correctly, he had one foot missing.
‘Did you come from the south?’ The Princess asked Alana.
‘Yes, your majesty,’ my sister smiled, ‘it was not a short journey, we were the last to arrive.’
‘I hope that your apartment will be comfortable,’ the Princess said.
‘It is perfect,’ I said.
We followed the Prince to the garden, which started at the side of the castle on the opposite side of the tower. The castle could be bypassed by a wide paved pavement, but at the side of the castle we turned on to a well-kept road. The park was covered with green grass and next to the road nice trees provided shadows for the benches between them. On the other side of the road hedges and trees were planted as far as I could see. We arrived at a circular place which was part of the widened road. The circular place was surrounded by benches and trees, on one bench a lame old lady sat with a small dog by her feet and drew something. A stick leant next to her on the bench. The male guests stood near some huge stone tables with other men, the female guests played with a ball with other women in a couple of meters away from the tables. The women dressed like Alana, the men dressed like me. A few meters away from here in the same rest area servants and guards spent their free time, their clothes showed their roles.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and bowed to the royal siblings but after a quick gesture, everyone continued. The girls were the Princess’s companions and the men were the Prince’s companions. They either came from a noble family or the royal family expressed their gratitude to them with this gesture.
The companions were there to give company to the royal siblings and they always lived inside the castle.
‘Attention, please,’ the Prince said, everyone looked at him, ‘Everyone has already met with my guests here, let me introduce to you Alana and Aleron who have come from the south. They will be my guests for the next couple of weeks as well.’
The men introduced themselves to Alana and gave an air kiss on her hand, I did the same to the women. After the greetings, a tall handsome brown haired man with brown eyes stepped up to the Prince.
‘Are you joining in the game, Prince Veron?’ He asked and indicated the stone table.
‘No thank you, Baron,’ the Prince stepped away from the table handing his place over.
‘I’ll join in,’ the Princess put down the pillow on the ground, the cat limped off for a while.
The small dog raised his head, but he didn’t move to catch the cat. The Princess had a thick leather strap around her wrist with a wooden medallion of the tree of fate showing that she was a fortune-teller too. She must have been the personal fortune teller of the royal family. The Men nodded and stepped away from the table.
‘Alana,’ the Princess asked my sister, ‘Do you know this board game?’
One of the Princess’s duties was to help entertain Alana, as she was the only unmarried woman guest.
‘I don’t, your majesty,’ Alana said, ‘we saw this board game during our journey, but we don’t play it in the south.’
‘I’ll show you,’ Princess Velina said and she stepped up to the table with Alana.
Almost everyone stopped what they were doing and joined around the table. I followed my sister, I saw everything over her head anyway. A picture frame lay on the huge stone table with a bag in the middle. On the frame, there was either a loop or a socket shape pointing to the middle of the frame. The loop was exactly the size of the socket.
‘The game is very simple,’ the Princess smiled, and she sprinkled the wooden pieces from the bag on to the centre of the frame. The pieces were different from each other, on one side of the piece there was either one socket or one loop or nothing which fit to each other.
Every wooden piece was the same size and had the same loop or socket on them like on the frame.
‘Four players should sit on four sides of the table,’ the Princess said, ‘everyone takes five wooden pieces from the bag and puts them down inside the frame, connecting it either to the frame or to another piece. You can put a piece anywhere inside the frame. If you put down the last piece, you will win. After every round, we take a new piece from the bag and give away one to our neighbour. As the pieces fit each other and every piece has different shape and there are more pieces than needed, every game will be different. The pieces have two sides, one marked with red, and one with blue. The first player decides which colour we need to use throughout the game. If you cannot put a piece down, you may pass. I’ll tell you the rest during the game, are you ready?’
‘I think so,’ my sister said with a smile.
‘We are waiting for two more players,’ the Princess looked around.
‘I’d like to join,’ I said, ‘can men play together with women?’
‘They can,’ the Princess smiled, ‘but no one likes to play with me, because I know how everyone will move.’
‘I’d like to give it a try,’ I said curiously and with me being in the group Alana could be less shy.
‘I’ll be the fourth one then,’ the Prince smiled and joined us.
The girls stood near the long side of the table, we stood with the Prince on the short one.
‘You can start, Alana,’ the Princess said, Alana took five pieces from the bag holding all in her hands, ‘You have the right to put down the first piece.’
My sister fitted a piece marked with a blue line to a loop on a frame.
‘You should use the blue marked side of every piece from now on,’ the Princess explained, ‘Aleron, you are the next one.’
I took the pieces from the bag and put down one on the frame. My move was followed by the Princess, the Prince finished the round. Prince Veron blocked the empty space near Alana’s piece into a corner, from now on only one exact type of piece could fit there. At the end of the round, we passed one piece to our neighbour. Alana passed it to me, I passed one piece to the Princess, the Princess passed one piece to her brother and Prince Veron to my sister.
Everyone stood around us and looked at the game quietly.
‘Be careful, Alana,’ Baron broke the silence, ‘try to take the piece out of the bag, which will fit on the closed space.’ He showed the space on the corner.
‘Maybe I’ll be lucky,’ my sister said as she took a piece from the bag.
With every round, the game became harder. Even if I planned my moves, everyone could change my plans. The Prince seemed to be a good strategist. He was unpredictable, and he left more and more blank spaces where only an exact shape would fit in. Our father had taught me some strategies, but I didn’t know this game. During the game, Baron kept advising my sister, but Alana made decisions by herself whether it was good or bad.
For the last round, only two spaces left empty, my sister filled in one and everyone else passed.
‘I’ll finish the game then,’ Alana said with a smile and filled the frame with the last piece.
‘Congratulations, Miss Alana,’ the Prince said and smiled at my sister.
‘Thank you for the game, your majesty,’ Alana bowed.
‘You have a lucky hand,’ Baron gave an air kiss on my sister’s hand, who followed the rules of etiquette and allowed him to do it.
‘Next game,’ the Prince said, three boys stood by the table immediately.
I stepped back to my sister.
‘Well done, Alana,’ I said with a proud smile. I gave her a kiss on her forehead, it was allowed for siblings.
‘It was easy to win,’ she said, ‘I received both pieces,’ She nodded towards to the Prince with her head, ‘I’ll tell you later.’
‘You don’t have to,’ I said.
I started to understand what could lie behind the Prince’s weird behaviour and it was definitely not the etiquette as it hadn’t changed. The boys were playing with the board game, my sister joined the girls to play with the ball.
‘I have been waiting for you for a long time,’ the Princess whispered in my ear, ‘I was very curious about you, the traitor, although I imagined you differently.’
‘Do you know, your majesty?’ I asked hesitantly.
‘I’m one of the few people who knows about the prophecy which caused the disease of the tree,’ she smiled, ‘Shirela informed me about your departure.’
‘Does your brother know about me as well?’ I asked.
‘Apart from me no one from the royal family knows it,’ she said, ‘our council decided not to share it with anyone. We don’t know much about the prophecy and the tree got sick as well. There is no evidence about your future activities and we never make any judgement in advance. We cannot refer to any rumours.’
‘Could you please inform Shirela about our arrival?’ I asked.
‘I already informed her,’ she said, ’I enjoyed the game, ’she laughed, ‘at last, I couldn’t predict anyone’s move.’
‘I’ve heard about the fact that the Prince’s future is obscured,’ I said.
‘Veron loves it very much,’ the Princess laughed, ’he teases our parents that if they do not leave him alone, he will never get married and the royal bloodline will die. I assume you know, that the Prince needs to get married to become a King. My father wanted to retire last year already, but Veron is still in the middle of the selection process.’
‘Why did you not tell him anything about his future wife before the fact that the Prince’s future is obscured?’ I asked.
‘Because it was always uncertain,’ the Princess said, ‘many women wanted to become Queen and my brother never refused any applicants,’ she laughed, ‘With time it became more and more uncertain and I didn’t want to make the same mistake that happened related to your prophecy.’
‘I’d like to get to know the background of my prophecy,’ I said.
‘Just swim with the tide,’ she suggested, ‘the tree is leading your destiny, we just cannot see that. As you are here, everything will become clear over time.’
‘My sister doesn’t know anything about this,’ I said.
‘I’ll respect that,’ the Princess promised.
‘Thank you, your majesty.’ I nodded.
The Princess picked up the pillow with the resting cat, I went back to the board game. The Prince stood in the same place, and instead of my sister, his friend, Baron stood next to him. Baron’s hands were full of wooden pieces. The two other men at the table had a similar quantity of wooden pieces in their hands as the Prince had. My sister came back with the girls, as Dorana, the little girl had become tired and everyone had finished the ball game. Everyone joined around the table to watch the board game. Only a couple of spaces were not filled by a wooden piece in the frame, I assumed that all of them were in the Prince’s hand.
‘Baron,’ my sister asked with a smile, ‘What happened? You are standing on the lucky side of the table.’
‘Maybe you took the luck with you,’ Baron smiled trying not to drop any piece.
‘It seems, yes,’ my sister laughed.
The Prince looked at my laughing sister and lost his attention.
‘Prince Veron,’ his friend said standing at his other hand, ‘please take my wooden piece.’
‘Yes, of course,’ the Prince said and gave away quickly one piece from his hand to Baron.
‘Thank you, Prince Veron,’ the man said happily and put down the piece in one missing space.
‘As you can see, Alana,’ Baron said, ‘you brought back the luck.’
The Prince looked very disappointed as he wanted to destroy Baron in the game.
‘I didn’t do that,’ Alana smiled, ‘this luck was given to you by his majesty in the form of a wooden piece.’
I was right, the Prince had every piece, and he put all of them down one by one in rounds while everyone else passed. Everyone congratulated him, including my sister.
‘It was a very generous gift from you towards Baron, your majesty,’ my sister smiled.
‘I thought I could support him a little,’ the Prince smiled to my sister.
My sister’s appreciation made the Prince very happy, I became almost certain about my assumption related to the Prince.
‘It was very selfless,’ my sister said kindly and bowed to the Prince before she came back to me.
‘Everyone should go inside,’ the Princess said, ‘it is dinner time soon.’
The group walked inside while Tarla was walking to us from the castle. Apart from the guests everyone else walked into the castle following the royal siblings. Two girls held Baron’s hands, one couple walked arm in arm.
‘From today everyone eats the meal together with the royal family,’ Tarla said, ‘We don’t have much time, so I’ll tell you only the main rules. No one talks or says anything until he or she is asked a question by the royal family,’ Tarla said, ‘If you are asked, please put down the cutlery, and give a short answer.’
‘Anything else?’ Jonal the baker who was the same age as us asked. He became more and more confident with every hour spent in the castle, ‘I’m hungry.’
‘Watch the southern twins,’ Tarla said and looked at us, ‘they are aware of the right behaviour.’
‘I watch one of them quite often,’ Jonal moaned, Tarla looked at him disapprovingly.
‘Go back to your apartments, the servants will walk you to dinner,’ Tarla said.
The group walked back, Alana walked together with the girl and her family in the front, I dropped behind with the baker boys. The boys were shorter and thinner than me. During as I walked between them, I hugged their shoulders.
‘Boys,’ I said, ‘We are friends, aren’t we?’ I asked kindly.
‘Yes, yes, we are friends,’ the younger one moaned.
‘I’m giving you a bit of friendly advice then,’ I said, ‘don’t be dare to be rude about my sister again and don’t even look at her ever. Is it clear?’ I squeezed their shoulders a bit, it was obvious from their movements and the way they groaned that they felt it.
‘It is clear,’ the older one said.
‘Good,’ I said and left them behind.
We went back to our apartment, Alana changed her blue dress for a purple one with a black belt, which looked like the same dress to me.
‘Clothes are not so different here,’ I laughed.
‘It is easy to follow the rules,’ she said.
Maina knocked on our door, we followed her to the dining room. Every guest arrived downstairs in the dining room at the same time. In the dining room, there were four tables in a rectangular shape where servants stood in the middle and poured water for everyone. The corners of the tables were not connected, the servants walked in and out throughout the spaces. Four guards stood on the corners with halberds, Tarla was waiting for us to help us sit down.
‘You will sit here,’ she showed the long side of the rectangle, ‘please sit down in the same order as you stood during the introduction.’
She asked everyone to stand behind each chair, but she went past us as she had done before the introduction. Alana and I stood behind our chairs at the right edge of the table as it should be.
The companions arrived at the short sides of the tables, girls sat on the left side, close to the baker boys, men sat on our side. Baron quickly overtook his friends and sat down on the nearest chair on the edge of their table taking the closest chair to Alana.
We didn’t even try to sit down, the royal family arrived after a couple of minutes through a door from behind their tables. We bowed slightly, the royal family sat down, we followed them.
The four servants brought soup bowls and firstly they put them down in front of the royal family and after that they put the bowls on our table. Everyone started to eat quietly, Doran next to me tried to copy my gestures, I kindly showed him what I was using to eat and how.
‘Alana,’ the Princess said, ‘what did you do down in the south?’
My sister put down her knife and fork and swallowed what she was eating in seconds.
‘I used to work as a teacher, your majesty,’ my sister answered, ‘I taught children to write, read and count just like my mother did.’
‘Really?’ Baron sounded surprised.
‘Really,’ Alana didn’t understand why he sounded dubious.
‘I’m not saying that you could not be a teacher,’ Baron excused himself, ‘teachers are usually not so pretty,’ he corrected himself with a compliment.
‘In my city every teacher used to be pretty,’ my sister said calmly.
I smiled as my mother and my sister were the only teachers in the south.
‘People have darker skin in the south, haven’t they?’ One of the Princess’s friends asked this who had walked arm in arm with Baron that afternoon and wanted to draw his attention.
‘They have, Dalina,’ my sister answered, ‘but the skin colour does not affect someone’s prettiness.’
‘So, they were not as pretty you,’ Baron was confident.
‘Does skin colour affect prettiness?’ The Princess asked with a smile.
My sister continued her meal without any further word.
‘I did not say that your majesty,’ Baron said quickly.
‘Yes, Baron, you did,’ a friend sitting next to him patted Baron on his back, ‘you ran into that.’
‘I have a feeling, Baron that you were not prepared for our guest,’ the Queen said with a smile.
‘No one was prepared for her,’ the Prince said and looked at my sister.
The tone of this sentence was so nice, that it was obviously a compliment. My sister smiled at the Prince, this contrived compliment pleased her very much. After this conversation, the royal family asked the other guests about their lives and they accepted that the evening will not follow the rules of etiquette.
Close to the end to the dinner, Baron turned to my sister.
‘I’d be honoured, Alana if I could walk you back to your apartments.’
Baron’s offering was an indication a request to court her. If my sister accepted this, it would mean that Baron would accompany my sister to social events. Everyone else could compliment her, but until Alana decided otherwise, Baron could court her.
‘Thank you,’ my sister said, ‘my brother and I will find the way back to our room easily.’
My sister declined the offer, but Baron could try again tomorrow. I would be surprised if my sister accepted any offer on our first day. I looked at the Prince who just smiled quietly at his plate.
At the end of the dinner the royal family stood up, we bowed slightly while they were leaving the room.
The servant girls walked us back to our apartments.
‘Are you coming to the practice tomorrow morning?’ I asked while Alana was dressing in her room.
‘Yes, I’d like to see it,’ she said, ‘I’m curious to see how good everyone is.’
’Do you know that you declined an offer of courtship today?’ I asked.
‘I know,’ she smiled and came out of her room, ‘and it felt good,’ she laughed.