Next morning Maria, Imogen's servant, knockes on my door to inform me that my parents wish to speak with me.
I nodded my head at her that I understood and I'll be there. Bowing, she left Emi to get ready by myself - at my own request. Pulling on a velvety maroon gown that swept the floor and sleeves that touced my wrists, paires with velvety maroon pumps, I headed to my parents room a floor above the one I was staying in.
Knockng gently in their room door, I waited for the 'come in' before I opened the door and stepped inside.
Imogen was by the fireplace, readying tea.
My father was sitting to the side writting something, possibly a letter to Fernando asking the situation in Mangandaall.
Maria was busy arranging Imogen's and father clothes on the wardrobe.
"Zigra, darling, come in, come in. Why are you standing by the door?" Imogen called with fake enthusiasm, motioning me to chair by her side. Then she nodded at Maria , who bowed - seperately - to the three of us and scrambled out of the room.
I stepped out of the way for Maria and closing the door behind me, I sat down beside Imogen. She smiled at me in the same forced kindness she had in front of Queen Caitlynn Waldrifrid last night. I think maybe she was mad... at me or the situation she was placed in, I didn't know. I only knew that it can't have been pleasent pretending to be someone she is not. Especially when everyone thought she was her sister and she was dead.
Right, that day, we all pretended that Imogen Radoslaw died and my mother, out of the goodness of her heart adopted her sisters two sons.
How else would we explain Ilarion Radoslaw's and Felan Radoslaw's constant stay in Sterllinghall Castle? Besides, father named Felan as the count of Merrywether Mansion. We wouldn't have been unable to explain it if he wasn't part of our extended family.
"Tea?" Imogen questioned, holding a cup up in question.
I nodded my head, glancing back at my father - who was done writting and was nealy folding the paper.
"Are you alright Zigra?" Imogen asked suddenly, pausing making tea, to look up at me with a worried expression on her face. Nothing fake. She looked truly worried about me.
I blinked at her. What brought this on?
"I'm fine." I answered her in an monotone - as usual. Then looking up at my father, who was paying attention too our conversation as well, I asked, "Is something the matter?"
I asked this looking back at Imogen. Though I kept my face expressionless, careully blank, inside I was wondering what was going on. Confused at this line of questioning. Why was Imogen and father suddenly worried about my well-being? I'm not telling they Usually weren't, but when nothing had gone wrong... why would they be so worried?
"Oh, darling! It's nothing to worry about." My father said, joining in on the conversation as he walked over to us and took a seat right beside me. "You were missing for most to the ball last night, this is so unlike yourself, we were just wondering if everything was alright." He added, taking my hand in both of his and patting it in a fatherly way.
And just like that, I felt something lodge in my throat. I blinked back my tears, taking a deep breath to keep my face as emotionless as it always was.
I and my father hadn't sat back and talked like this for years - since mom died, more like it. He emersed himself in work and tried to pretend Stavita was still alive, well and kicking - ignoring all the mishaps that Imogen did, pretending she was back in Kehallanspike Hall and not replaced his beloved - and very dead - wife.
"I was there the entire time father. I tend to bend with the background most of the time." I told him, instead, my voice monotonous and none of the choking feeling made prominent by my tone.
He sighed a tired, what-will-I-do-with-this-girl sigh, that seemed to weigh him down.
I didn't want to be a burden to my father, but in this situation, I didn't know what was weighing him down to help. I could only tell that what I said was bothering him.
"Didn't you enjoy the ball?" He asked me softly as Imogen handed both of us our tea.
Graciously accepting the procelain couple with a nod of my head, I turned ball to my father.
"I did." I answered him and he winced.
He again sighed, and sat back in the chair, taking a long sip from his tea cup. He mumbled something under his breath that sounded to me like, "Formal, so very formal." Though I wasn't sure what he meant.
Keeping his empty cup on the table in front of us, he gently patted my head.
"Where did you disappear to after dancing with Prince Vasilios?" He questioned, a small smile tugging up his lips. Until he smiled, I hadn't realised how haggered he look.
Clean cut and well shaven, smart and handsome enough of woo women even in his late forties. It wasn't anything with appearence that made him look haggered. It was how less he smiled, how tired he looked, how he immersed himself in his duties to his dukedom to hide the grief eating away, from the inside.
"I was feeling rather tired after our long journey, I didn't have a time to get some rest before the ball. And the wine was making me feel rather dizzy, so I retired for the night." I explained to my father, leaving my empty cup on the table, beside his.
"Are you feeling better now?" Imogen asked, her hands slightly brushing through my hair, smoothing it over - not like there had been a strand out of place, but you never know.
"More rested than last night Dutchess." I replied politely, nodding my head in consent.
I could feel my father studying us, watching us interacting like a strangers and not like mother and daughter. But that didn't matter, we had established a system for the last Seven years he had been absent from mine and Harriette's life. A system that couldn't be easily changed.
"Good. I don't want you leaving early again." Imogen told me as she turned back to her own tea.
I knew our conversation was over, this was her way of dismissing me from there chamber.
Getting to my feet as graceful as I could - being squashed next to my father - I gave both of them a curt now as I slowly retreated away from them. "As you wish Dutchess. Excuse me." I told and waited a moment for them to excuse me before courtesying and exiting from their room, leavung them to themselves.
I was on my way down the stairs to my own room, when I ran into Prince Vasilios and Sir Dwayne.
"Ah, Princess Zigra, just the person we were looking for!" Prince Vasilios exclaimed, as soon as if eyes met over the staircase banister. Unfortunately, he yelled this in front of some ladies - who were obviously here for the ball.
I got many death glares behind the princes and knights back. Besides mentally rolling my eyes, I balantly ignore their very existance as I leisurely made my way down the rest of the stairs, where Prince Vasilios and Sir Vincent were waiting for me.
Prince Vasilios smiled brightly up at me, and I nodded my head in acknowledgment.
"Is there something I can help you with, your highness?" I questioned in a monotone, looking from the prince to the knight. My expression giving notinbg away to what I was feeling inside.
"Actually, were doing you a help." Prince Vasilios grinned cheekily at me, laying his hand on the end of the banister and casually leaning his weight on his hand. His host language spoke volumes about his character. He was being sweet and simply flirtiois with no ulterio motives. He was having fun by making ladies blush tomatoe relief, but not really meaning anything that left his lips.
Had Harriette been here with me, she would have burst out laughing and put the guy down before he cold bat his eyes at her. But then again, she and Prince Vasilios would have gotten along just perfectly fine. As I said, his birth language spoke volumes, and his said thatbhe was an easy-going guy, than was up to any challenge anyone got out for him. And he wasn't a sore losser. That too I could tell by how casually he leaned against the end of the banister, like he didn't care in the world.
I blinked at the prince, not quite understandng what he was getting at.
Sir Dwayne gently elbowed the prince in the side and stepped up for an explanation. "Queen Caitlynn requested your presence in her private parlour on the third floor." He explained to me not inkindly.
I noticed the princes eyes flitting between me and Sir Dwayne with a look of suspressed wonder and puzzlement.
Trying not to take this to heart, or over analyse what was going on in his head, I nodded my head at Sir Dwayne. I also understood what Prince Vasilios now meant by 'they were doing me a help', he merely meant that he was delivering a message to me from his mother. Technicallly, he wasn't doing me a help but his mother, but I didn't have the heart to point it out to him.
Besides, it wasn't any of my problem what he though he was doing.
"Thankyou, I'll be right there." I told Sir Dwayne with a nod of my head in thankx, no smile. I took a step towards my room to hurry past them, but then I realised that I had no idea where I was supposed to go. The only three places I knew was the way to the entrance of the Castle, the throne room and the ballroom. Oh, and my parents room, so four places.
Stopping, I looked back at the prince and knight, contemplating if I should ask.
"Do you want us to show you the way?" Prince Vasilios asked, his voice no longer flirtious, but rather kind and honest. He even held out his arm for me to take.
This hadn't been what I had in mind, I was only hoping they'd tell me the way to the queens private parlour - as I was about to ask - but I guess this could surfice as well. Graiously accpeting his outstreached hand, I let him lead me back the way they came. I thought Sir Dwayne - who it seemed, didn't leave the princes side - was following us, for his footsteps were normally consealed from hearing.
That is what I thought, until Prince Vasilios stopped and turned back. "Hey Vince! Come on man, we don't have all day!" He called, looking back to where Sir Dwayne was still standinhg where we left him.
It was more if a demand than a request, because as soon as he said it, Prince Vasilios started walking again. Curious getting the better of me, I threw a glance back at the knight to see him rolling his eyes at the princes bossiness. Still, he started walking towards at a faster pace to catch up.
I knew he saw me look back, but this didn't bother me for I hadn't been hoping for secracy. I had only been curious to see what the man would do - mainly because he didn't seem like the type of person anyone could boss around, much less the prince.
Still, I had to hide a smile behind my perfected poker face.
I loved the strange friendship between a knight and the prince he was meant to protect. This was a rare as a black rose. And just as beautiful. Unique, but wonderfully built up.
"So, I was thinking," Prince Vasilios started talking, bringing me out of my thoughts. "This is your first time being here in Castlerooke, and since you arrived just yesterday, no one would have been able to give you a tour around the Castle. I was wondering, would you be up for a tour?"
I continued staring at him, not giving him an answer instantly.
He fidgetted slightly when I didn't jump at the chance with a 'yes'. He even glanced back at Sir Dwayne who was following us, though I couldn't understand why my answer seemed to matter so much to him. If he wasn't acting so nervous, I would have surely though he was only asking out of courtesy and not reply meaning a word - like most people.
But upon realising that he really wanted to do this and was an honest request, I didn't have the heart to say no.
"Sure your highness, I'd love a tour." I said, nodding my head as I looked away from him to watch where we were going.
"Great!" Prince Vasilios exclaimed rather loudly, his relief clear in his boisterous volume. Again, I had to hide a smile behind my poker face, for he was acting like a teenage boy than the future King of Vensilvania. This meant, that I, at the least, won't be stuck all day touring the Castle with a snoddy, too full of himself make, that found women below him. For that I was truly glad.
"How about we rendezvous in about an hour by the entrance?" He suggested enthusiastically.
"Make that an hour and a half please, I have a previous engagement I might not be able to get off of." I told him. The reason I hadn't jumped at the chance to look around the Castle when he first suggested it was because Rion promised he'd introduce me to the stables master and introduce his newest horse - on which he had rode down to Vensilvania on.
"Sure, we'll meet you there in another hour and half." Prince Vasilios readily agreed, nodding his head in thought, like he was already planning the tour already. "Here we are, my mother would be waiting." He added as we came to a stop in front of two ornate double doors, that obviously led out to a balcany.
Stepping away from me, he bowed, gently landing a kiss on my knuckes as he pulled away. I nodded back to him.
"If he doesn't show up, just ask someone to point you out to the training area. Lea has a bad habit of getting caught up in training." Sir Dwayne put in, a kind smile on his lips as he instructed me to not get disappointed if Prince Vasilios did a no-show..
"And what exactly what do you mean by 'we', Leo?" Sir Dwayne asked the prince annoyedly as the two started away from me.
I stood there watching the twos playful banter as they walked away, before gently rapping on the door, before poking my head inside. Queen Caitlynn Waldrifrid was sitting on a low couch set on the parlour, a coffee table in front of her and an identical low couch opposite her. Beautiful roses decorated the place, filling the parlour with their sweet aroma.
Queen Caitlynn looked up when I peeked inside. Her orangish-red hair pinned up in orderly curls on the back of her head, but a few strategically placed curls fell around her face. Her lips curled upwards in a welcoming smile. Smile wrinkles appearing around her warm chocolate brown eyes.
"Zigra! Come in princess." She called happily, motioning to the couch opposite her.
Courtesing to the Queen first, I gracefully walked over to the end of the couch opposite the Queen and took a careful seat. Brushing out my dress, so my dress wouldn't wrinkle.
"Woulkd you like some tea darling?" The Queen asked smiling up at me rather very kindly, nodding her head at he maid.
I paused before giving my answer. She asked it so kindly that I didn't have the heart to reject her offer, but then again, I just had had tea with my mother.
"I deeply apologise your highness, but I just had tea with my mother and am rather full. I wouldn't mind a finger sandwitch though." I told, looking at the inviting looking sandwitches beside the tea cups. I didn't want to seem ungrateful by saying no to everything, besides, I was feeling rather hungry as I missed breakfast this morning.
"Of course dear, go right ahead." The Queen laughed, pushing the sandwitch plate towards me.
I literally had to force a smile to my lips. I doint know how fake it came off. I hadn't smiled in years, opting to hide behind my poker face no matter how sweet, friendly and kind a person acted. Acted being the key word. Now I was forced to smile because everything the Queen did was genuine kindness. And let me tell you, I haven't had a single person - besides anyone in my dukedom - show me genuine kindness.
Kindness that wasn't forced or an act, but rather kindness that came directly from the heart.
That was the only reason I even bothered to force a smile onto my lips, and gracefully accept the finger sandwitch she held out for me.
Smiling felt like an alien concept for me and keeping it on was proving to be not only hard but also distracting - the taut pull of my lips felt a new sensation for my skin, which had all but forgotten the feeling a smile could being - so I dropped it altogether. I didny want to concerntrate too hard on smiling and Miss anything the Queen had to say. If there was one thing I really hated, it was airheads. No matter how hard you drill things into their head, it never stays.
"So, how are you finding Castlerooke, I'm sure it's very different from. Sterllinghall Castle?" Queen Caitlynn asked, a sweet smile on her lips as she sat back with her tea and looked at me, waiting for an answer.
"I haven't been here long enough to exactly say how different your highness, but the warmth that fills every coner of the place is duely remarkable." I told her honestly, casting my eyes around the very room we were sitting in as an example.
It was strange that Queen Caitlynn nodded her head like she knew exactly what I was talking about.
The warmth in Sterllinghall Castle died along with my mother. Her smile and sweet words, her kindness and golden heart are still greatly missed, not only amoung family but also amoung the servant, maids, butlers, stable master and boys, gardeners and mostly by the people of the dukedom.
Their was noway that Queen Caitlynn understood exactly what I meant.
Of course I was about to find out how very wrong my assumptioin was.
How far off from the truth that I was.
"Do you like the roses?" She asked, taking my hint on the beauty f the room.
"Indeed, your highness, they add vibrance to the room." I answered as honeatly as I could, adding, 'my mother used to have a parlour exactly like this back when she was alive', in my head. I kept that to myself, not adding anything out loyd, instead complimenting her on a wonderful job.
"Thankyou, darling, but here's a secret between the two of us." She said, leaning forward conspiratorily, like she was going to tell me some great secret that no one knew. Gently placing her tea cup n the coffee table, she motioned for me to do the same. Wondering why the Queen was acting strange like this, I did as requested. "I'm not the person t decorate this room, your mother, Dutchess Stavita Wenceslava, was who did."