I sat back as soon as the words left Queen Caitlynn's lips.
It was the way she said it that triggered suspicion in me. I know she meant my dead mother and not her doppleganger, but the way she said it... there was something their on the way she said it that I couldn't wrap my finger around.
My eyes were wide and it took effort to put on my indifferent mask back on, but I managed it.
Queen Caitlynn's dark but warm eyes, watched me with an expression that warried between concern and question. But ignoring her watchful eyes, I looked around the room more carefully and slowly, taking in every detail.
I wasn't really surprised to find that it wasn't at all different from my mothers favourite parlour - back when she was still alive. If any, only the view out of the balcany was different.
My mothers parlour over looked the deep forest behind our home, with the soothing sound of folding water to fill any silence so there was never silence when having tea with her. The Queens parlour over-looked the beautifully manicured gardens of the Castle. It was a beautifuller view than the one back home, but it didn't have the same soothing feeling my moms one had.
"It looks exactly like the one at home. I can see my mothers touch on the roses entwining the railing and the low couches. She adoured low couches" I answered after a long pause. I had yet to look at, her, my eyes reluctant to look away from this familiar place that reminded me of my mother.
"Yes, she had great taste when it came to decorating,"Queen Caitlynn sighed sadly, picking up her tea cup and settling back in her seat.
I didn't miss the past tense she used when talking about my mother. I looked at her, my face it's usual blank mask, but I was curious why she was addressing my mother in the past tense. For all she and everyone knew, Dutchess Stavita Wenceslava was still alive and well.
"I haven't been to Mangandaall in quite some time now, but the last time I visited I noticed your mother bright floral taste replaced by everything none floral." She added, a nostalgic tone in her voice.
I blinked, unsure how to answer her. Not to mention I've never spoken about my mother this much with anyone but Harriette since she died. This was hard, hearing about her from other people who knew her. This was proving really hard to keep a straight face. If I hadn't had my poker face perfected over the years, this would be exactly when it would have had failed me.
"Well, after her near-de-" I started unsurely, looking a my fingers resting in my lap and not meeting the Queens eyes. I didn't had to bother, as I never got to finish my sentence.
"Zigra," Queen Caitlynn cut across, not unkindly. Her tone sad and soft. "Did you know that your mother was my best friend?" She asked me, making me look up at her. She dark eyes swirled with nostalgic sadness, but a comforting smile graced her thin lips.
I slowly shook my head, processing this information myself.
"Yes, we grew up together, being the only two ladies of the same age in Leanova Castle, we got along quite wonderfully." She told, her nostalgic smile not leaving her lips as she was lost in her memories. Then shaking her head, she looked back at me, returning from the past. Looking up at her servants, she nodded her head for them to leave has alone.
"That is why darling, I was one of the very few guests to attend your mother's funeral. I didn't expect you would remember me, you were too busy silently crying and taking care of Harriette to really pay attention to anything that happened." She informed me once the two of us were left alone in e parlour.
I stared at her blankly from the outside, but inside I was reeling in shock. I did everything I could to forget that day, that moment from my life, and now she added suddenly smacked me in the face with it, I couldn't be my mind to work properly. I could only hope that my perfected poker face was not giving away anything no was feeling inside.
I felt something soft and smooth on my hand and looked down to see another hand over my own. Until I looked down I didn't realise that my vision was blurry with tears - she's or unshed I had yet to find out. Blinking them back, I quickly wiped my eyes with the hand the Queen didn't hold, and thankfully nothing had spilt over.
"I just want you to know darling, if there is anything I can do for you, please don't hesitate to ask for help. That is the least I can do for everything Stavita has done for me." She added, giving my hand a gentle reassuring squeeze.
Taking deep breath to keep my cool, I nodded my head.
We went back to lighter topics after that, but I wasn't feeling very talkative at the moment, but not to be rude I nodded my head and went along with everything the Queen said. She must have noticed how silent I suddenly turned as she cut our meeting short and let me off.
Thaking her for the great finger sandwitches and courtesing t her, I made my escape slowly. Even when I was out of the parlour with the door firmly shut behind me, I didn't bother to run to the confines of my room and cry my eyes out like I really wanted to do. Instead I took my time searching for Rion.
It didn't take long for me to find him, he was talking to some other men - who looked his own age - and by the looks of them I'd say they were Castle guards. Young guards.
I walked up to him and slightly cleared my throat to get his attention.
"Zee! You ready to meet Serene?" Was how Rion greeted me as soon as he saw me.
"Hi to you too dear brother." I told in a monotone, but I knew Rion would pick the sarcasm hidden behind my blank, very blank, tone.
"Excuse me lads, but I gotta go." He turned to the men with a farewell as he waved and held his hand out for me to take. Giving them a curt nod, I took his arm and let him lead me outside. "You'll love her Zee, I guarantee it." He told me enthusiastically.
"Only if I can burrow her too." I threatened playfully. Rion was the only person who understood the undertones in my otherwisr, very blank and expressionless tones. So when talking with bhim I felt like talking to a normal person who truly understood me. Not someone who was wondering whether I meant what I said or not.
Rion gasped, holding a hand over his heart. "Why Zee, I feel offended that you would even suggest such a barbaric thing like that. How could you even think I wouldn't let you, you of all people, burrow my newest mare?" He told in mock hurt, hanging his head with equally mock dejection.
"Apologies, but remember how obssessed with Chestnut you were?" I asked, him making the effort to raised an eyebrow up at him in question.
Rion chuckled sheepishly, scratchin the back of his head. "Yeah, but she was sick and I wanted to tend her and..." he exlained hurriedly, mistaking my words and taking that I was annoyed with him. So I petted his arm and he trailed off, realising that he was over-reacting and I had only said that playfully.
Scowling at me, but not really meaning it, we finally arrived in front of the stables.
"Hey Mark!" Rion called to the stable boy who was grooming a beautiful mud brown and creamy white stallion. It had black around it's eyes and was quite a beauty.
"Lord Ilarion, good to see you back. Serene is out grazing with Patch." He informed Rion. It wasn't all that of a surprise that the stable boy was so familiar with him. Like me, he loved his horses and must spend a lot of time in the stables - which was unlike me.
"Thanks Mark." Rion called to the boy, then as if just remembering that I was with him added. "Oh, and this is my sister, Princess Zigra Wenceslava of Mangandaall. Let her burrow Serene whenever she pleases."
Mark nodded his head merrily, even waving cheerily at me. I nodded my head in consent to the boy and saw the boy turn bright red just before Rion dragged me out of the stables.
"Who's horse was the boy grooming?" I questioned as he led me over to the pasture, where the horses were let out to graze.
"I think that was Rousse, Prince Vasilios' horse." He told me thoughtfully, but got distracted by seeing the pasture before he could tell me more about the horse.
I hummed in responce as Rion waved again at who I'm only guessing was Patch - he was the only man in the pasture, if it was any help. The man waved back at Rion like the were old friends.
Now that he was acknowledged, Rion's chocolate brown eyes swept around the pasture, probably looking for Serene. I looked at the pasture as well. Many horses - differing from 50-60 horses roamed the pasture and I had no way of identifying Serene from the thorough explanation Rion had already given me about her.
He must've spotted her as he grinned widely and whistled.
One beautiful groomed - it almost had a gleaming coat - sandy brown mare, with white mane that was let to grow out approached us. She nickered as soon as she saw Rion, seeming glad to see the man.
"She's beautiful." I whispered before Rion could ask. I reached a hand out and slowly touched it to her nose. Though she flinched back when I reached for her, she soon leaned into my touch, nickering and letting me kiss her.
I could feel, rather than see, Rion grinning widely at me.
"Now, isn't she a lady who knows her horses." A deep voice said to the side, making me look over Serene.
The man who I guessed to be Patch was standing beside Rion. He was inside the pasture whereas Rion and I was standing out. He looked at me with an critical eye, watching the way I interacted with the horse in a way only a person who loves horses could.
"Hey Patch! This is Princess Zigra Of Mangandaall, my beloved sister." Rion introduced. "Zee this is Patch, the stables master of Castlerooke."
I gave the man a nod in acknowledgment, turning back to Serene when she gently nudged me on the arm.
"Ah! The lady I'm supposed to lend this beauty oiver here whenever she pleases, yes I remember you mentioning her." Patch said, nodding his head as he gave me a wide, teeth showing smile. "By the God, you are right, she doesn't smile but horses love her!" The man exclaimed loudly, laughing. He had a booming laugh that could easily startle anyone.
No matter how rambunctious, it was still laughter.
"Princess Zigra?" A somewhat familiar voice called an all three of us looked back to see Prince Vasilios and Sir Dwayne making their way over to the pasture as well. "I told you it was her." Prince Vasilios told his friend - for I as sure that's what Sir Dwayne was to the prince - smugly.
This didn't deter the knight, who only rolled his eyes.
"Evening Prince Vasilios, Sir Dwayne." I greeted, bowing to the two as they finally joined us near the pasture. "Are you done with practise?" I asked, addressing both of them rather than just the prince.
"Yeah, we finished with practice earlier today. We were on our way up to meet you actually." Prince Vasilios answer, looking pleasent surprised at having met me here. "I know it's like fifteen miniutes earlier than we decided, but if your ready..." he trailed off letting the question hang.
Rion looked at me with a raised eyebrow, probably wondering what I had planned with the prince when I hadn't been here for no more than a day.
"Now that I met Serene, may I be excused?" I asked near my brother instead of answerimg Prince Vasilios instantly.
"You know, if you had been my brother or your sister asking this from me, I'd really be interested to know where the he'll you're running off to, but considering this is you, fine." He didn't have to build-up so much, just to say yes. It wasn't that he was trying to get a rise out of me either, he was just messing with Prince Vasilios and Sir Dwayne.
"Oh, don't worry. We aren't up to anything. I just volunteered to show your sister around the Castle is all." Prince Vasilios quickly answered, not realising that Rion was only teasing me.
I elbowed Rion before he could say anything else.
"Oh, don't be a spoilt sport Zee." He groaned, casually leaning against me.
"Rion..." I started, but before I could add anything else he cut me.
"Alright, alright, sheesh." He said sounding annoyed, but I was the only one there who knew he was once again play-acting and not really annoyed. "No offence your highness, but if your going to steal my Zee from me, I wish to steal Sir Dwayne from you. I'd really love to see the training area as well."
"Of course, right this way." Sir Dwayne hurriedly, motioning back the way he and the prince had come. He glanced back at the prince and gave him a pointed look with a victorious smile. His look said a lot of things that only Prince Vasilios understood. The beautiful, secret language of friendship.
"Oh, and Zee. Pay a little more attention to what is going on around you." Rion told me, gently squeezing my arms and just like that, he and Sir Dwayne were gone, leaving me with Prince Vasilios.
I stared after my brother - step-brother, but brother none-the-less - his words confusing me greatly. What exactly had he meant by 'pay more attention to what was going on around me?' For a second there, I forgot I wasn't alone and stared off after Rion, puzzled. At least, until Prince Vasilios cleared his throat.
"Then, shall we?" He asked, a wide smile on his lips as he held his hand gentlemanly out to me. Throwing one finale glance at where Sir Dwayne and Rion had vanished, I took Prince Vasilios arm. I gave him my full attention and put away what Rion said to comprehend later. For now, I would pay close attention to this tour. I most certainly didn't want to get lost.