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28.) Golden Boy

When I opened my eyes I was looking into Ember’s sleeping face, she curled so peacefully under my thick red comforter. Her thick dark lashes rested peacefully on her pale cheeks, and her dark hair sprawled itself over the pillow. I wonder at what time last night she crawled into bed with me. Was it when I was slow dancing with her brother? When his hand traced a line down my neck...I shook my head to disperse any of those thoughts.

“Ember?” I nudged her, the light coming through was bright and inviting. “Wake up.” Her eyes shot open, and jumped, as if she forgot she’d climbed in bed with me. “Woah, you ok?” She laughed and slumped back onto the pillow, smiling a warm smile at me.

“These beds are so big, and I got lonely. I hope you don’t mind?” I waved her off, I didn’t mind at all. As long as it wasn’t because she was afraid, I don’t mind. “Your room is all red and lusty, I picked the wrong one. Mine’s all...pastel pink.” She wrinkled her nose in disgust and I laughed, the sound echoing in the canopy bed.

“Good morning ma’am-oh.” Phoebe had knocked and come in, a breakfast tray in her hands, at the sight of Ember and I under the blanket her cheeks turned red. “I’m very sorry miss’s, if you’d wanted a room together I would have set that up..” her eyes stayed on the ground as she set the tray on a small table and backed away from us.

“Oh, no. It’s not like that,” Ember said hurriedly, pulling herself out of the covers and crossing the room to the tray. “I came in early this morning to chat with her, she’s just my friend.” Was Ember, tongue tied? Graceful, confident, Ember? It’s true, her cheeks turned red as she felt the need to explain. They looked at each other for a moment, and I found myself feeling like I was interrupting something.

“Thank you, Phoebe, for the breakfast.” I said, a bit loudly, this seemed to remind her of where she was.

“Y-yes of course, um. Miss Ember, I’ll bring your breakfast in here as well? Be right back.” Phoebe left, and I turned to Ember with an accusing look.

“She made you bashful!” I whispered loudly, but Ember cleared her throat and waved me off.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I climbed from my bed and grabbed the cup of coffee, sipping it smiling. I wouldn’t push on this, but I know what I saw. Ember was more flustered by the pink haired woman, than she had been by the handsome soldier that had given her flowers yesterday.

“Here is your tray, Miss Ember, I layed out your morning gown on your bed.” Phoebe spoke quickly now as she came in, cat Nova at her feet. Ember thanked her for her breakfast, Phoebe nodded and went to my wardrobe, pulling out a light green dress and hanging it.

“Oh, do we have to wear dresses?” I asked, my mouth a bit full of food. Phoebe looked at me confused, her blue hands clenching in front of her chest.

“You mean, can you wear pants?” I nodded, as did Ember. “No, Queen Margaret does not permit women to wear pants. I understand where you come from, that is normal, unfortunately while you’re here you will be asked to wear dresses.” Phoebe seemed genuinely sorry, so we just nodded again and she left.

“Ugh, the layers.” Ember moaned, handing me not one, but two dresses I needed to wear at once. The undergarment was sleeveless, white, and cinched in the back. “We’re supposed to wear these as underwear I think? Hell if I know.” Nova perched on my bed and purred, I wonder how she feels about all the dresses.

“Pretty, prized, ponies.” I grumbled, downing the rest of the coffee and removing my nightgown. Normally I’d be nervous at them seeing me undressed, but they’d seen me like this already. I stepped into the white gown and let Ember tie the laces, before slipping into the green gown.

As angry as I am to be paraded, I can’t help but admit the gown is beautiful. It’s a two layer dress, so silk brushes my legs as I paced the room, but tulle fabric is the top layer, flowing down after cinching in my waist. It’s off the shoulder, the tulle short sleeves helping to show off my bare collar bone. The back has some light brown back straps, Ember laces them silently.

“You look beautiful,” Nova said quietly, I hadn’t noticed her transformation. I smiled in response, staring at myself in a golden floor length mirror. Ember came over and brushed my hair, humming as she did so. It made me think of my aunt, and my eyes water a bit.

My hair had grown quite a bit in the last month, it now brushes the tops of my shoulder, hair the color of cinnamon. The conditioner here makes it look even more shiny than usual, I don’t mind it.

“Ma’am? A summons,” Phoebe whispered as she poked her head back into my room. “Oh, that color is lovely on you.” I’d noticed that as well, the light green made my freckles on my cheeks and shoulders more vibrant, and my eyes somehow even more shocking.

“A summons?” Ember asked, peeking the paper she held in her hand.

“Yes, from Prince Theodore. He’s asked if you’d meet him downstairs, for a walk around the premises.” My heart thudded a bit, golden boy wanted to walk with me? Probably because I’m oh so important.

“Ooooh, pretty boy wants to go on a little stroll.” Ember mocked, and Nova laughed at the remark. I reached and smacked her lightly on the shoulder, resulting in more laughter.

“Quiet you!” I scolded, but I was smiling too. It seems I wasn’t the only one who noticed his dashing good looks. Even so, I slipped on the white flats that Phoebe pulled from under the dresser.

“She’s not the only one, I heard whispers that two soldiers were looking for Miss Ember, and Miss Nova.” Ha, I’m not the only one being courted it seems.

I waved goodbye to my friends who seemed in a rush to get ready now, and followed Phoebe out of our sleeping quarters and down the stairs. “What does he want with me?” I asked Phoebe quietly, she looked at me sideways, I noticed her eyelashes were white.

“Ma’am, I believe he wishes to show you the magnificence of our lands.” Oh, so to brag basically?

“Fine, don’t tell me what he wants then.” I teased, and her cheeks went a little red. At the bottom of the stairs stood Theodore, he looked at me with gleaming eyes, a hand raised; ready to take mine as I neared. The shirt he wears today is also a light green, I try to pretend we’re not matching, and white pants.

His eyes, mossy and beautiful, take me in as I step down the steps; I try to be careful as to not slip and fall. My heart races a bit, looking at his upturned lips. He really is rather ravishing, painfully so.

“My lady,” he said politely as I finally reached for his hand, he gently put it on his bicep and began walking me away.

“Prince Theordore,” I responded, sounding very unsure. How are you supposed to talk to a prince? I didn’t even talk to boys in high school, let alone a prince that is very easy on the eyes.

“Please, only my father and our help call me that. Theo.” Him saying that made him somehow much more personable, it made my chest hurt less. Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but this feels almost like a bit of a date. A date with a guy I don't know?

“Alright, Theo, but you need to call me Astra.” He smiled down at me, his blonde hair falling across his cheek. I bet he knows he looks like that, I’m sure he knows that just his smile makes women struggle to breathe.

“I was hoping you’d accompany me on a garden walk?” His voice is low, and hopeful. I try to smile back, try to make it seem natural and flirtatious. If this is a date, and his smile is so inviting, I should put effort back into it I figure?

“I’d love to,” I said back, and he guided me towards the exit. His hand, still resting on mine on his arm, is a little cold.

“I know this isn’t the most gentleman-like statement, but you do look very lovely.” Before I could smile a thanks, or even return the compliment, he stopped walking and clenched his face. “Not that you didn’t look nice before? The color is nice, it’s uh-”

“Thank you, Theo.” I cut home off, putting him out of his misery. I had known what he’d meant, it seems as though he was just as nervous as I was; he’s just maybe a bit better at hiding it. He smiled and let out a sigh.

“My apologies, I’ve just been very excited to meet you.” Oh, another one. I lived a whole life oblivious as a whole other world told stories of my future successes. “The garden waits,” he pushed forward through the blue and white hallways until we finally exited a small door; entering the vibrant green outdoors.

Bushes of flowers lined both sides of the walkway as we made our way down a stone path. Made up of all colors, the flowers are in full bloom. With the hand not on Theo, I reached and allowed my fingers to touch the soft petals.

“Peaceful, isn’t it?” I nodded, looking out past the garden to the lush pink sky and fluffy clouds, the clear lake, and the deep colored mountains.

“Must have been cool to grow up here.” I commented, thinking of my own home, dull in comparison, or the Umbra Realm, dark and dying. Theo finally released my hand, moving it gently from his arm, giving it a kiss.

“I’m very aware of how lucky I am, fear not.” He winked at me, “I try to not let it go to my head.” Oh, surely. I laughed, and watched him walk a bit ahead. I notice he doesn’t wear a sword, as all the guards do. I see them standing by, as if waiting for something horrific to happen.

I have to wonder if Theodore knows about the vamps, he must, since Ashton had been cut up when we arrived. We continued walking, coming finally to the moat of koi fish, I bent down and twirl a finger in the cool water.

“Careful, do not fall in.” Theodore warned, and I straightened to look at him strangely. “I’m sorry. I’ve heard of your time in the opposing Realm, I’m sure water is the least of your worries.” I say nothing and continue walking, honestly unsure of what to do next. I think I’m all mannered out, I can practically feel my kindness leaving.

“Gosh, I suck at this right?” He asked, and I smiled at him softly.

“It seems you make conversation as much as I do,” I mused. “That’s alright, it makes you more likeable.” Raising an eyebrow, I wonder if he can pick up that I’m attempting to flirt. He’s a very handsome guy, and he seems nice enough. I figure, it can’t hurt. It would be easy to fall in love with him, simple. No baggage, no reason not to.

The sun is hot on my bare shoulders, it makes his hair shine like it truly is golden. Hm, golden boy. I have to hold my tongue, to resist announcing how pretty he is. Lord, I suck at this too.

“Maybe we should start heading back?” He offered, after our pause was too long.

“Do you ever have fun, Theo?” I asked him at the same time, and he blinked for a moment as he considered.

“Sure, loads of fun.” His voice didn’t sound convincing, not even the slightest. Theo shoved tan hands into his pockets, looking down at me. A bee flies by, landing on one of the many flowers surrounding us.

“I don’t, sometimes I wish I could play games and have fun.” I stepped closer to him, shocking him, our chests so close that if I were to breathe in too deeply they would touch.

“Oh? What kind of games?” He murmured, his voice low while he lowered his face. I raised mine, our noses brushed for a moment, my breath hitched.

“Like..” I trailed off, my tone as teasing I could manage. “Tag!” I slapped his arm and turned, sprinting back towards the castle as fast as my legs could carry me. Laughing, I could hear Theo let out a cry of surprise before chasing me.

I clutch my dress, holding it so I don’t trip as I sprinted down the cobblestone path. Past the gardiners, the soldiers, through the door into the castle. It was there that the laughing golden boy grabbed my arm and twirled me to face him.

“Tag.” He announced, his face smug at catching me. Theodore smiles down at me, our bodies close once more, his hair touching my forehead. I could kiss him, be bold and do something I wouldn’t normally do. The last month of my life had been me doing things I wouldn’t normally do. Why would this be any different?

His lips dipped lower, but I backed away, chickening out at the last moment. I’d only just met him that day, it wasn’t a great idea.

“Apologies-” he started, but I raised my hand.

“No, don’t. I enjoyed our walk together, truly. I’ll see you again tonight?” A promise, a smile. He took my hand, kissed it lightly, then turned and left.

My heart racing I began my walk back to my room, thinking of our walk. It was nice, I wasn’t lying there. He was nice, his smile warm. Like Ember, that’s who he reminds me of. Ember. Earlier I'd thought it would be easy to fall for him, it's true. It would be as simple as walking, I think.

“We can’t have those ladies asking too many questions.” I freeze, the King’s voice. “Let’s keep them distracted, especially the weapon. It’s good my son invited her for a walk, maybe a young love will sprout.” I press my back against the wall, leaning my head close to the slightly ajar door.

“Are we sure we want them alone together? Is she enough for my grandson?” I presume the grandmother, the queen.

“Of course! He’s the future king, who better to be by his side than her?” My blood feels like ice, my hands sweating. This is ridiculous.

“Do you think they will realize we’re forcing them together?” The king laughs, it makes me feel sick.

“Please, mother, my son is a moron. He won’t realize anything.” Oh, Theodore. Poor, unsuspecting Theodore. Does he know they think so little of him? Do they truly think I am just some prize?

“Let’s just get ready for dinner, and the dance. We need to keep those girls from being too nosey, they needn’t look too close at the details.”

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