We made it to the peak without much incident.
Anyhow, the moment we reached the modest hut the old ornamantal maker lived, Princess Zigra graceful a deep sigh of relief and without a word, sat down on the steps that led up to the porch of the house.
Removing her bonnet, she slowly winded herself with it - obviously not having brought her fan along for the ride.
“Tired?” I asked her amusedly, sitting beside her. I could allow her to catch her breath before we go knocking in the mans door. She nodded her head, looking unaffected by the jibe - which wasn’t very uncommon.
My hand reached out to ruffle her hair, but I caught myself in the last moment and held myself back. There was no attaching myself to her in a more than friendly way. I wouldn’t do that to Leo no matter how interesting I found her or how hard a puzzle she is to solve.
Princess Zigra noticed my hesitation, I saw her eyes stay glued to my hand as I withdrew it, then watch me silently,
That was all she did.
She watched me silently. No questions asked, no assumptions made - I couldn’t tell if she was making any assumptions, becauae her facial features didn’t change one bit. She expression remaind detached and blank. As apathic as she always is.
A strangly comfortable silence settled between us and I took comfort in the fact that she hadn’t digged for information from me. She was observant enough to have understood why I didn’t pushmy luck by getting too close to her.
Then again, if Lord Ilarion is right about her being naive in that aspect, she might not understand after all.
I couldn’t wrap my finger on which outcome from her I preffered.
If she knew she’d understand, but if doesn’t get it, there will be nothing for her to understand.
So why did that last prospect sadden me?
It was all so confusing, so o didn’t dwell much in my thoughts of her.
To take my mind off off these confusing thought, I stood up and walked into the porch. Princess Zigra had choosen a shaded part of the steps to sit, but it was still hot.
She looked back at me and seeing me heading towards the door, scrambled to her feet, no protest in her lips. Instead, she slowly made her way towards me as well. By the time she had reached me I had already rapped loudly on the door.
I could feel Zigra holding her breath as I knocked on the door. When we got no answer, I looked at her side-ways to see her watching the door quite intently. I waited a moment more before I rapped on the door again, louder than before.
“Coming!” A low - fragile sounding - voice called from inside. I felt Zigra glance at me, she was uncommonly chewing her bottom lip. That’s how I figure she was nervous and worried. Before I could offer any condolences, the door rattled as whoever was inside pushed aside a dead bolt.
I heard Zigra’s breathing slightly stuck in her throat as finally, the door opened....
Revealing an elderly man with grey hair and a wrinkled face. He had kind brown eyes that peared at us curiously.
He scanned me, and was instant in recognising me.
“Sir Dwayne, what do I owe the pleasure of your company, lad?” The old man asked with a kind smile that lit the mans face and made the wrinkle around his eyes more prominent.
“I’m afraid it not my company you owe the pleasure for today kind sir.” I said, directing my gaze towards Zigra.
The princess was staring at the old blankly, but there were tears pooling he eyes as she started at the man.
The man followed my gaze and peeres at Zigra with squinted eyes. Suddenly, he pulled back, shock written all over his face. He sucked in sharp breath, eyes widening at the same time.
“It’s impossible.” The man nreathed, staring at Zigra like he’d seen a ghost. “My lady, how it possible for you to be here?” The man questioned, falling into a deep respectful bow. A bow that came from the bottom of his heart.
“Mr. Lan!” Zigra muttered, it sounded slightly breathless, easily mistakable as exterson from the steep climb. But I got the deeling the extersion had nothing, what-so-ever to do witygh her breathless-ness right then. “Please Mr. Lan, don’t bow to me.” She said, her voice sounding neither pleading nor did it express any kind of any other emotion she hid beneath her perfect façade.
For she hid many emotions beneath her perfect façade. Unless I mistook the meaning of the tears brimming in her eyes as something it wasn’t.
“Princess Zigra?” The man questioned confusedly, straightening up and, lookoing at the princess puzzled.
She nodded her head.
“It’s been long since I last saw you dear lady. You’ve grown into a beautiful lady from when I last saw you.” The man said with nostalgia, taking the princess’s hands between his own. “Your mother would be very proud of how beautiful her daughter has become. And a kind heart befitting such beauty.”
The breath left Zigra lips in an almost sob and she withdrww her hands from the mans grasp. Only to lurch forward and hug the man tightly.
The man chuckled at her actions, not looking slightly surprised by the actions.
I’ll not lie, Zigra was changing her whole character before my eyes today. She didn’t seem detached with this man - which made me really wonder why he seemed so important to her.
“Now, now, dear lady, none of that.” The man - Mr. Lan wasn’t it? - patted her back kindly, a kind of fatherly love surrounding the man as he held Zigra in his arms. Her body shook as she mumbled something only for his ears to hear, making the man chuckle merrily again.
“You will always be my dear lady, sweet one. That would never change._ he told her reassuringly, then gently pulled her away from him, holding her at arms length.
If her hugging the man had shocked me, the sight of tears flowing down her cheeks in riverlest hurt my for some reason. I wanted to wipe away her tears and tell her everything will be fine. I’d preffered he apathy to her tears.
“Will you come in?” The an asked, doing what my hands were iching to do. He wiped away the tears flowing out of her eyes.
Zigra instantly nodded her had, before she looked at me.
“Sir Dwayne is always welcome here dear lady.” He said, answering a question I didn’t see nor hear her ask. It was astounding how he knew what she meant when she had only looked at me. And if the man was right, it’s been Seven years since he had last seen her, yet he still knew her like they had known each other all these years.
With that said, Mr. Lan led Zigra inside his house. Zigra threw a glance behind her, meeting my eyes and motioning me to come inside. She was inviting me in, so I didn’t think she had anything to hide and didn’t mind me coming in with them. That is why I followed them inside, instead if staying outside for privacy reasons.
The house was clustered with many of the mans work, finished and unfinished. Mr. Lan apologised for the mess, but Zigra waved it away, saying it wasn’t anything she was unused to whenever she visited. Still, he quicklky cleared a place for us to sit and both of them got talking.
Zigra talked with Mr. Lan for hours on end, talking about different things, varying from his work to exchaging news about his family - who were left back in Mangandaall. At one point in the conversation, Zigra was asking Mr. Lan about his work and wondered deeper imto the house - almost like she knew her way around - looking at various creations of Mr. Lan.
“It beguiles me that Dutchess Imogen Wenceslava had the heart to destroy such a free spirit.” Mr, Lan murmured, more like to himself than to me.
At the very start of the conversation, Zigra had confided in the man that I would surely know of Dutchess Stavita’s death, that Queen Caitlynn would have sure informed her most teuated knight about such developments as she had befriended Prince Vasilios, Of Vensilvania. This was the reason for the mans loose tongue around me.
I looked at the man in question, puzzled by his words.
“I knew he lady since was naught but a babe, Sir Dwayne.” Lan told, seeing the look I shot him. “She used to be a little ball of joy when her mother still lived. She has the power to make anyone feel welcome to her presence and anyone feel loved. Just visit Sterllinghall Castle for a day, you’d see how much every person living within the confines of the Castle loves her to death. All but that vile woman so is the sole reason for her detachment from everyone she loves.”
The resentment in his voice was clear. Also whom he meant by ’that vile woman’was clear enough. He meant the current - living - Dutchess of Mangandaall, Dutchess Imogen Wenceslava, Zigra’s step-mother and aunt.
I would have loced to ask him more, but just then Zigra reappeared holding a wooden frame in her hand. There were pop-out wooden flowers decorated the right hand side, top corners of the frames. They were vanished, but didn’t look like it was one of his newest creations. In fact, it looked a decade or so old.
“Mr. Lan, is this what I think it is?” Zigra asked the man once she was within eyeshot again.
“Ah yes, one of my master peices. Your mother paid me a fortune for that if I remember correctly.” Lan told her with a fond smile as he walked over to her.
“The very first frames you presented to my mother. She loved it as soon as she saw it, begged father to buy it for her.” Zigra prattled off, a nostalgic look in her eyes that she couldn’t hide, though her face remaind hidden behinds it’s perfected mask.
Lan started at Zigra in surprise.
“I’m surprised you would remember that incident dear lady. You were naught but barely Five when I first arrived in Mangandaall and to the Castle to show my word to the Queen.” The man said, patting Zigra’s head. His eyes had a far away look, probabaly remembering the day he first met her and her mother.
From everything I had gathered from Zigra, the Queen and rumours, Dutchess Stavita was very loved and caring Dutchess. Everyone who spoke of her spoke of her fondly. I’ve heard very little about bad about her. And now, from Lan, I gathered than Zigra took after her mother the most. At least in the aspect of taste.
“Mom was find of reminding me of it everytime she saw the picture in the frame. She loved your work and look forward to your visit every single time.” Zigra answered, shacking her head. “I can’t believe you still have, this with you. I thought Imogen threw all of moms stuff away.”
“No, she gave me most my things back before I was banished from Mangandaall.” The man answered sadly. “I didn’t have the heart to give away your mothers most prized possesions. They’ll be around here somewhere.” He added glancing around the house and workplace.
Zigra released a sigh.
“Finding them would do nothing anyway. I won’t be able to take them back. I’m already hiding a room load of her stuff. I have no idea how I managed to accomplish so and such, but taking these is not a risk I’m willing to take. And this time it won’t be to you she returns them.” She said with a shrug. She didn’t sound sad or sound anything. But the look on Lan’s face said that she surely was hiding her sadness well.
They continued talking for a few more hours and it was almost time for lunch when I managed to pull her away from the man.
She said a teary goodbye to him, hugging the man tightly and stayed in his embrace for a long moment . When she finally stepped away from him, she asked if there was anything she could do to make it up for what her stepmother had done.
The mans eyes shone with tears as he hugged the princess again. He only asked her to relay a message for his family - whom he had left back in Mangandaall when he was banished. He said he had nothing to give them, but itll be a peices of mind for his wife to know that he was safe and well.
She promised him that she would do it for him first thing she gets back to Mangandaall. Then thing he bonnet back on her head, she took my proffered arm and we waved at Lan, making our descend back down the hill.
“If I may my - Zigra.” I started, forgetting my promise on not addressing her by any title. I quickly corrected myself, not used to addressing anyone so informally - not anyone from royalty, at least. She looked at me, patiently waiting for me to continue, no interuptions. This is what I like the best about Zigra. She never interupts, and it’s peaceful to make decisions when she’s beside, unlike any other lady I’ve come in contact with.
“What happened to Mr. Lan?” I askes curiously. I looked down at her and she didn’t react in anyway at the question.
Was she... expecting me to ask that?
Zigra was silent for so long after my question, I was starting to think she wouldn’t answer me after all. Of course, Zigra loved to prove me wrong - no matter it was always without knowing or unintentionally - and this time was no different than every other time, from the moment I met her.
“It’s kind of a really long story.” she said, breaking the long pause that followed my question. “I’ll tell it to you know the way back because I’m sure Prince Vasilios would be curious as well, and... this isn’t a story I like repeating.”
She threw me a glance before watching where she plaved her foot with care so she wouldn’t slip and get hurt.
Nodding my head, I followed her lead and we safely made it down the steep hill in one peice.