The Two Princes
“Don’t go home today. Come with me to the castle,” Sia told Sophie at the end of the day. She knew Sophie was childishly bad at loosing and would be crying her eyes out if left alone.
“I have work to do. Since I wasted today, I have to check on the captains tomorrow,” Sophie said. “I also need to prepare for my next match.” She could not have looked into King Suffle’s eyes after her defeat.
“You can go back tomorrow,” Sia insisted.
Sophie stubbornly declined her request and went home. She had scarcely closed her door and the waterworks started. Dark thoughts clouded her. What was she if not an excellent sword-fighter? There was nothing left in the world for her. All her life she had wanted to be a fighter, the best she could be. She was not born into power or money. She wasn’t social, she wasn’t a schemer like Neal. She was neither the witty one nor the pretty one. All she had hoped was to be the gritty one. She had no other redeeming quality for her. She was a calm person only because she channelized all her anger into the fighting. She would go insane without it.
Sophia pondered over her life this far.
The only reason she had gotten the starcrest was a lucky chance. She was in the guardians because the prince was impressed with her fighting skills. Everything she had, she had given to her work. The future looked dark to her.
She cursed the day she had suggested the idea of the tournament to the prince. In everybody else’s eyes she was a loser. But the highest level of pain was inflicted by the fact that the prince would be thinking about her as the person who started a championship just to lose it. She looked wistfully at ‘Happiness’.
There was a knock on her door. She wiped her tears and composed herself the best she could. On opening the door, she found Charles floating outside. She was astonished.
“I didn’t think you knew my address.”
“Are you alright?” Charlie asked entering the house.
“Why won’t I be?”
“Exactly,” he said. “I only came here because Si was threatening to. I told her you have only lost a match. It’s not the end of the world.” He paused. “It’s a competition. Somebody has to lose. To sum up, I didn’t want her to travel in her condition, so I came.”
“Sorry about that,” Sophie said. “I know you don’t like to travel.”
Charlie shrugged. “Well, I was in the grounds already, so not much of a deal.”
Sophie was grateful. It was good to have a known presence near her. Charlie was the only person other than Sia who could have made her feel better.
“That’s a nice painting,” he said looking at Happiness.
“Much better than mine.” He had recognised the painter.
“Have I seen it?”
“No,” Charlie said grinding his teeth, “and you never will.”
“I gather it’s not flattering.”
“I’m sleeping in it.” He frowned.
“Mine’s gluttony, yours is sloth.” She smiled.
“I feel like I don’t see you enough since Si left.”
“We are not children anymore,” Sophie said, “I have a job in the grounds now. And you are married.”
“How’s your job going?”
“You never got to have a proper meeting with Alex,” he said.
“You should throw a ball.”
“Splendid idea. We’ll do that before Si leaves,” Charlie said, “but right now we have more important stuff to do.”
“You need to practise for your fight. I will be your partner.”
A sudden flow of happiness drenched Sophie. Even if she had nothing else, she had her family.
“I know a place we can use,” she said.
BmShe guided him to a nearby field.
“Perfect place to practise,” Charlie commented.
They practised for a while and then took a break.
“You are as good as ever,” Charlie said leaning on his sword for support. “What happened in the arena?”
“I don’t know,” Sophie said. “They were so many people. And they all were staring at me.”
“You just got nervous.” Charlie touched her shoulders. “It’s okay.”
“I’ll try not to think about the audience the next time.”
“Don’t do that,” Charlie advised. “The more you try to forget, the more you’ll be thinking about it. Just be happy that they are there. The reason you are on the stage and they are in the audience is that you are awesome. Be proud. Be arrogant. Give them something to remember, because the crowd tends to forget.”
“Nobody is going to remember what happened today or tomorrow or any other day of the event. These things happen every day. Unless you do something so good that they have no choice but to remember it. Why do you think I built a big star at the top of our arena?”
“To make people remember,” Sophie said with a grin, “that we are the most splendid family there can be.”
“Exactly,” the prince grinned back. “Now you go win the championship and I’ll go win my bet.”
“Bet?” Sophie raised her eyebrows. ‘Why do these royals are always betting?’
“Alex thinks that Rhythm will win the tournament. I don’t.”
“I have got to have a meeting with Alex. She needs to know better than to bet against me,” Sophie said in a silky voice.
“That’s what I’m talking about. Be that,” Charlie said. “Now how about another match?”
Sophie was not present in the arena the next day, but Prince Philip was. The opening event was his sword fight with King Suffle.
Prince Philip had not been concentrating on the match. Instead, he had been searching for a starlite face, the same he had been looking for, ever since he entered this empire. He had even missed the events of the previous day for that.
The prince lost the match and took his seat next to Sia. And then he found the face he was searching for in the least likely place, among the human crowd, sitting next to Princess Marya. A thousand emotions flew through his mind. A moment of confusion was followed by denial, shock, anger, jealousy, disgust, hurt, relief, curiosity, determination, guilt, irritation, hope, trust, anxiety, fear, embarrassment, horror, stress, interest, doubt, shame, happiness, frustration and some other feelings.
“Who is he?” he asked Charlie even though he knew.
“That’s Neal,” Charlie said, “The human prince. Haven’t you seen him before?”
“I think I have.” Philip gritted his teeth. He had never met Neal. Even during the peace negotiations, starlites were with starlites and humans were with humans. Only his father, the king had met Neal.
Philip decided to confront his wife at night. His sour mood all day was attributed to his loss.
“I saw Neal today,” Philip said to his wife that night.
“What did he say?” she asked.
“No, I did not meet him. I just saw him.”
Sia looked at his grave face with a confused expression. “We all did.”
“I had seen him earlier.”
“So?” Sia’s eyes narrowed. She could not comprehend what he was trying to say.
“When you met him in the orchards.”
“Oh!” Sia rolled her eyes. “Is that why you have been acting so weird?” She put her hand on her hip. “And here I thought you were freaked out by the pregnancy.”
“I thought that you were having an affair,” Philip defended.
“Aw,” Sia cooed, “it’s so cute that you got jealous.”
“Right now I’m confused.”
‘It is a confusing tale,’ Sia thought, ‘but I can’t tell you the real story.’
She said, “I’ll tell you as much as you need to know. Some secrets are not mine to tell. And they don’t concern us.”
“There was a messenger for you who refused to give the message to anyone but you. It was from Neal?”
Sia nodded. “I gave my reply that I will talk to Neal in the orchards. Neal would have been in trouble if anybody knew he was in our kingdom.”
“It would have been considered hostile.”
“No, I mean here. He didn’t want the empress to know.”
“He is in love with a girl. Nobody can know about it.” Philip understood that the girl was not someone the empress could approve.
“I can’t help but feel sorry for princess Marya,’ he said. “She is still hoping for him.”
“Still, no one can be more pathetic than Neal. You should’ve heard what he had to say.” Sia remembered the day. “I wanted to slap some sense into him.”
“I saw you going in all secrecy to meet a man and when I saw you embrace him, I didn’t think I had anything left to see or hear. How could he have come there?”
“The messenger could fly. One human is not that hard to carry. The trees provide ample oxygen to breath. It’s not that high for humans.”
“I thought that I had seen a starlite. Why did he come to you? For help with his love story?”
“Yes, but not the kind that you are thinking. The girl still does not know.”
“Star be damned,” Philip said. “It is pathetic. He is a prince. What girl would say no to him?”
Sia ignored the question. “This championship was his idea, actually her idea. And he wanted me to execute it.” Sia said, “His gift to her. It’s pretty stupid if you ask me. What has he done in all this? It may as well be my gift to her.”
“When you put up the idea, I was sure you only wanted a chance to meet your lover.” Philip turned pink and looked at the floor.
Sia planted a kiss on his cheek. “You have to meet Neal. So that he can know what pain he has inflicted on you.”
“He could have gone to Charles.”
“You don’t understand. He needed a woman’s point of view. And besides I’m friends with the girl.”
“How many humans are you friends with?” Philip thought that his wife liked humans too much. She was on great terms with Princess Marya too.
She chuckled. “You’ll be surprised.”
“He could’ve sent a letter. Why did he travel so far?”
“He was so excited.” Sia smiled radiating some of the excitement. “He couldn’t wait to tell me. He wanted to do it personally. But then, he has always been like this. Once a thought enters his mind, he has to do it then and there, without a moment’s delay. He won’t think of his discomfort or even others’.”
“I can’t quite understand these love struck humans.”
“Me neither.” Sia gazed into those grey eyes which were filled with happiness after so long.
“Who is the girl? Do I know her? Is she from our country? She isn’t Princess Marya, right?”
“No.” She laughed. “But I think that you have met her.”