Chapter Thirty-two ~
A few minutes after Vince left me with Berlim, Queen Caitlynn came bursting into her parlour.
I sat still in shook at what I’d seen. The image of a decapitated Nott still running in my head like a broken record. Hence why I didn’t stand up in respect for the Queen. I sat as still as a statue, responding to no one.
Not even to Leo - who came running into the Queen’s parlor with a panicked look.
I had no idea how long I sat as still as a statue. Not responding to the hug Queen Caitlynn pulled me into. She rubbed my back soothingly, but I wouldn’t allow myself to cry. I would not breakdown like a weak little girl in front of all these royals,even if they were truly on my side.
I detaches myself from the situation. Locked up my emotions in the deepest part of my heart. I didn’t let myself feel. Because if I felt, I’ll cry. This wasn’t a time to be vulnerable. I won’t show anyone I’m vulnerable. I’ll be strong and detached in this situation. Not breakdown and cry.
After sometime my remaining guard hurried into the Queen’s parlor.
“Princess!” He exclaimed as he stumbled into the room in a hurry. His clothes in a diasary. His hair disheveled. He looked like he had been fast asleep. But... that’s not possible.
They’ve been my guards since I was little. I knew most of the guards in the castle and their sleeping habits. So I knew there was no way he had fallen asleep on duty. He would never do something reckless like that.
“Theodor!” I called, jumping to my feet.
He rushed to me side and without second thought I hugged him. It wasn’t like anyone could start rumors about the two of us. He wasn’t a young guard. He was in his late thirties and had two kids.
“Oh thank heavens. I was worried.” I added as I stepped away. My eyes taking him in from head-to-toe, searching for any harm done to him.
“I’m alright?” The man questioned incredulous. “How about you my Lady? Are you unhurt?” He asked as he too looked at me head to toe. It’ll be his head if someone had so much as laid a finger in me. Imogen would make sure of that.
I shook my head. “I’m fine. I only saw... Nott’s body.” I told. My eyes downcast as I remembered once again, the image embed in my head.
Theo, stroked my hair.
“I’m really sorry Zigra. I should’ve been on duty with Nott.” He apologized to me. His voice sincere. I looked up at him, fighting to keep the frown off my face.
Could it be? That my theory of this being done on purpose be true? That I wasn’t the intended victim after all?
I shook my head again. “It’s not your fault.” I told him. Then turning around, I took a seat by the floor length window. Tucking my feet under me, I stared outside. With what Theo had said... I needed to think.
Queen Caitlynn, who’d been watching my interaction with Theo - like every other person in the room - suddenly jumped into action. She ordered the servants to get a room ready for me and to get all my stuff. Then she ordered one of her ladies maids to bring tea - saying it’ll help sooth my frayed nerves.
I ignored them. My mind somewhere far away from the parlor.
I don’t know how long I sat there. I have no idea what transpired in the Queens parlour after I lost myself in my mind. I only know that something wasn’t making sense. The puzzle pieces weren’t fitting in. Something, somewhere was missing. A big part of the equation that I wasn’t seeing.
My monologue was disturbed when Leo suddenly made a dramatic exit from the parlour.
But even then I continued staring outside. U gave no heed to my surroundings. I didn’t want to. Because I knew that the moment I see the pity and sympathy I would break down and cry, my mask falling off. I couldn’t deal with this in front of so many spectators. Even if they wouldn’t judge, even if they are on my side, I can’t show weakness. I can’t let my mask fall off.
I promised myself, the day Imogen and dad married, I won’t let another person in. I won’t give myself up for such disappointment. Such heartbreak. So much more hurt.
I won’t. I promised myself and I’m not breaking that promise.
So I stayed as still as a statue, my mind numb and pretending I was unaffected by all. This was the only way I could think of to keep my mask in tact and not breakdown.
I stayed that way until finally Vincent came back to the room. He was flaunted by Sir Berlim and another guard I had yet to make an acquaintance with.
The blue reason I knew of his presence in the parlor was because Theo - who’d been Leaning against the wall behind me - suddenly straightened up. Pushing away from the wall he stood ramrod straight. Listening with rampant attention.
Feeling him move, I tore my gaze away from the window and looked towards the door.
Vincent, Berlim and the other guard stood by the door.
All three of them looked tired and weary.
I scrambled to my feet as well. I wanted to know what he found out. Meeting my eyes from across the room, Vince bowed in respect. For this once I stayed silent, too impatient to know what he found out.
Turning back to Queen Caitlynn, he stated, “We couldn’t find out much my grace. I can only say that sir Nott was murdered during the ball was in full swing. That was the only time the hallways were unguarded due to all it’s occupants being at the ball. With Sir Theodor protecting the princess it was sir Nott alone guarding her room, producing the perfect opportunity to murder the man.”
“So what you’re saying is that the intended victim is my guard and not myself?” I questioned.
Vince’s ocean blues swing my way. This time he didn’t look away. He held my gaze. “Yes, my Lady. I fear you weren’t their target. Why would they attack your guard knowing very well that you were in the ballroom?” He questioned me.
Today had been that rare day when I had been mingling with Leo’s guests. This was because Leo managed to keep me constantly by his side. His argument being ‘birthday boys wish.’ I couldn’t exactly say no to him after he said it’ll be the best gift I would give him. Besides, it wasn’t much to ask.
What kind of friend would I be if I couldn't grant him such a simple wish? That’s why I conceded.
I gave a curt nod of my head in acknowledgement. My mind reeling.
‘Could it... possibly be... due to what I had seen the other day? Lady Monique had been white insistent he help her play me for a fool.’ I thought. ‘Would it be worth mentioning? Or am I trying someone to push the blame on?’
I wasn’t exactly an expert on these things. My mind was not built for solving crimes. My mind was built for running a dukedom. How to feed my people, how to be a good Duchess and mostly how to be an elegant, graceful Lady. Emphasis on ‘lady’.
I studied Vincent’s face, wondering if it was a good idea to tell my suspicion to him or not. What was I going to do? This was the first time I’m left all on my own without a consort to go to to for help. Even Rion wasn’t here to ask advice from. And I didn’t know the connection between Leselania and Vensilvania well enough to make any sorted of assumption.
Leselania is a powerful kingdom, run by aristocrats than by the King.
“Don’t worry my Lady, investigations would continue until we catch the culprit for this offence. We won’t take this lightly.” Vince went on to assure me.
“So you think Zigra is safe?” Queen Caitlynn asked.
Vincent’s ocean blue eyes pierced into me. A contemplative look in them. “I wouldn’t go as far as to say so. This could easily be a ruse to make us believe so. Leo promised to send back the princess and entrusted her in my care. We’d see how far anyone is going if the princess is whom they are after.”
His words made me to look at him. Really look at him for the first time since I saw the murdered body of Nott.
He was still in his clothes he wore to escort me to - and from - the ball. For that was the only moment he was in the ballroom. He left as soon as he entrusted me to Leo.
“Very well, then. We should all go and get rest. We’ll have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.” Queen Caitlynn dismissed everyone from the parlor. She walked over to me, when it was only her, Vince, her ladies maids and myself left in the parlor.
“Come darling. I have readied another room for you. It’s been a long day, have a good nights sleep.” She told me. She gave me a kind smile that seem to say everything would be alright.
I nodded my head.
“While that would be lovely your highness, I feel too restless to sleep. Could I possibly take sir Vincent out riding?” I asked her forcing politeness into my voice. I couldn’t make such a request with an emotionless tone.
Everyone paused. Queen Caitlynn looked at me unsurely.
“Its alright your highness. I’m sure the culprit wouldn’t be stupid enough to stick around. Besides, our search parties came back empty handed.” Vincent quickly said before she gave an answer.
Still looking unsure, she gave her consent.
Glad she let me go, albeit reluctantly, I walked casually out of the parlour. I wouldn’t let my composure dropped even if I wanted to all but run straight to the stables, get on Serinity and race full speed until I calmed down.
I asked Theo to stay back with the rest of the guards Vince had appointed to watch me. I wanted to be left alone for as long as dawn. The only reason I took Vince is because he was a good friend and partly because who better to watch my back? Besides he wouldn’t really annoy the hell out of me with his concern.
He actually understood when to dropped a subject and when I didn’t want to talk about something. The first person to do so ever since I closed off myself from the world.
Even Theo was reluctant to let me be by myself, but he knew better than to argue with me.
We stayed back until me, Vince and Theo were the only one left. Accepting Vincent’s arm, I let him lead me outside the stables. I didn’t realize I was using him as support until we stopped in front of the stables and gently pulled away. Blinking at him while keeping my emotions in perfect check, I straightened my gown free of wrinkles.
Vince silently walked into the stall of a pure while war horse. Its mane was a golden blonde in color and its eyes were a startling blue, not very unlike its masters.
I watched from where I stood. I hadn’t spent neatly enough time in the stable to know the horse, but I’d been down here often enough to know she must be the infamous Vigour. Vincent’s rambunctious horse. According to the rumor mill, no one other than Vince could go anywhere near the horse without damaging themselves.
I watched him interact with the horse with such familiarity, I was reminded to Frivour. My own black stallion. I did miss her terribly, especially now.
Realizing I should have Serinity ready so we could go by the time he’s done, I head lot into my own stall.
By the time I come out, Vince had already saddled up the warhorse and stood outside the stables petting it. Not to mention murmuring something it his so softly the wind didn’t carry it to me.
Clearing my throat I asked, “Shall we get going?”
Vincent had a relaxed smile as he turned to me.
“Zigra, come here. There’s someone who would very much like to meet you.” He called, motioning me over. As Serinity refuses to move closer to Vigour, I left her standing where she is and headed closer to the pair. “Zigra, meet my wonderful companion Vigour. Vigour, the lovely Princess Zigra Wenceslava of Mangandaall.”
I courtesied to Vigour. “A great pleasure to meet you Vigour.”
The horse stared at me with blue eyes. If a horse can eye someone, this horse surely could. Then slowly, it’s eyes not leaving mine, it lowered it head, bowing back to me.
My eyes slightly widening I looked at Vincent. He was already looking at me equally surprised.
As he wasn’t being very helpful, I gently reached out for it nose. I have it enough time to step away if she didn’t want me touching her. She stepped up and touched her nose to my had before I touched her. I heard Vince suck in a breath at that.
I slowly stepped closer, and ran a hand through his mane. “Aren’t you one gallant horse, and a handsome one at that.” I murmured softly. Nickering, he hugged kept his head on my shoulder, gently chewing on my lose hair. Smiling, a hugged him back and scratched him head.
“Alright you two love birds, I thought the princess wanted to go riding.” Vincent called. I didn’t need to look to see he was smirking. His teasing voice conveyed the message.
I pulled back, but dirt turn to face Vince. “Sorry my love, someone sounds very jealous. Let’s do this, some other time.” I was smiling at the horse as I said it, my voice light.
Vigour nickered and walked so he was between me and Vince. I had to turn to keep him in view and now I could see Vince over his back. Vince looked -mock- outraged by Vigour’s behavior. I don’t know why, maybe it was due to all the tension getting a release, but whatever t was, seeing Vince and his horse mock fight made me to burst out laughing. I was laughing so hard I was actually holding my stomach and tipping my head back.
I hadn’t laughed so freely in ages. I’d forgotten how good it felt to simply let lose and laugh your heart out. How good it felt being so free.
Vigour and Vince both simply stood there and watched me laugh. Neither interrupted me. After about a whole minute I got myself under control, though I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.
“We’ll, then let’s get going.” I stated like I hadn’t just been laughing my head off. Striding over to Serinity, I got on her back. Then looked at Vincent who was staring at me like I suddenly grew two heads.’“You coming?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
He blinked at me like he was seeing a whole new person. Not surprising since he’s only seen the mask I wear. The mask I never take off, not even when I’m by myself. Then he shook his head, and silently got on Vigour.
Since, I wanted to ride - really ride - I hadn’t bothered sitting side saddle, so lightly digging my heel on Serinity, I had her go full gallop. I could hear Vincent and Vigour follow close by, so I wasn't afraid.
This was the most free I’d felt since coming here. Sure, I had gone riding before, but I always kept pace with Rion, Leo or Vince. That didn't count very much. Now, with my loose hair whipping behind me, the gust of the wind in my face and the feel of the powerful horse under me. I truly felt free. Like I was running away from my duties and being myself for once.