Chapter 3: When Paths Cross
All week Deanna had heard the servants bustling about getting the rooms in the western towers. The bright side to the suitors coming was that the servants did not watch her much. She was able to sneak to the gardens several times to retrieve flowers for her room. Dillon, Lilia, and Trina even managed to sneak up to see her at least once a day. Helena was too busy with the Queen to write much. Now though Deanna was alone. Dillon was probably training with the knights and Lilia and Trina were being punished by their tutor for skipping their studies.
Deanna leaned out her window and watched as guest arrived in waves. She could tell that all the guests that arrived were very wealthy, but since they were arriving to court the Queen to be her consort they couldn’t be that high in status. They were probably dukes or at best princes who had no chance of becoming king. However, who ever the Queen chose could mean a great alliance between kingdoms. One guest caught Deanna’s eye immediately. He had pale smooth skin and soft blonde hair. He must have been from one of the mountain kingdoms. Vallery or Summoner perhaps. She could tell even by how far up she was that he was young, around the same age as Helena probably. He was much too young to be courting the Queen who could easily be his mother. Deanna checked the few men that he arrived with, but none of them were dressed as richly as him. Deanna’s eyes paused on a man that he was talking to. He was at least a foot taller which was impressive because the guest looked to also be pretty tall. The man also had pale skin and blonde hair, but his hair was a dirtier blonde and it was pulled back in a knot. He also looked to be in desperate need of a shave. His beard made it hard to pin point how old he was. Suddenly the hair on the back of her neck rose. Deanna hadn’t notice the man look up at her until she made eye contact with him for a long moment. She yelped and jumped back from the window, nearly stumbling over her skirts. He saw her! Deanna focused on getting her now labored breathing under control. She almost scolded herself. How foolish it was to be so startled. Still though Deanna slowly crept to the window and peeked out. The guest and the man were walking into the castle. Deanna sighed and again silently scolded herself for being so silly. She backed away from the window again and looked at her own door. The guest shouldn’t really be settling into their rooms until after the grand dinner party that was being held. Maybe she could sneak down to the gardens again.
“I cannot believe I’m doing this,” Max sighed. They stood in the courtyard of the castle waiting for the Albarel servants to unload their luggage from the carriages and horses.
“You promised, Prince Maxim,” Aeon said. Max scrunched his nose at the use of his name.
“I hate when you say it like that,” Max said, “I still don’t understand why I have to court this hag.”
“Please don’t call her that,” Aeon sighed.
“The Queen Albarel is old enough to be our mother, Aeon,” Max complained.
“But I heard that her beauty it still that of a woman in her twenties,” Aeon encouraged.
“And I heard that her temper is that of a witch in her nineties,” Max pointed out. Aeon barked out in laughter.
“You still haven’t explained how you expect me to do this,” he sighed.
“You are a great actor Max. I have confidence in you,” Aeon said resting his hand on the prince’s shoulder, “You need only win her favor until I find what we came here for.”
“I don’t actually have to bed her so I?”
“Just woo her. I know you can. You’ve broken many hearts.”
Max sighed, “Don’t remind me.” Suddenly Aeon got the feeling of being watched. He looked around the courtyard, but everyone was flittering about. Then he looked up. He found a set of dark eyes staring down at him from one of the tower windows. They belonged to a woman. She looked at him curiously as if trying to figure something out. Her chocolate colored hair fell loose and floated on the breeze. Who was she? Finally she realized they had been staring at each other for a few seconds. She retreated back through the window and disappeared.
“Aeon,” Max called, “You coming?” Aeon pushed the girl out of his mind and followed Max into the castle. They were ushered into a large ballroom with a grand table along with about a dozen other suitors with their men. A woman was already seated at the head of the table. She was beautiful, but you could almost feel the temper that lay sleeping with in her. She was most definitely the Queen. Standing to her left was a younger copy of herself, presumably her eldest daughter, Helena and to her right stood a rather unimpressive young man, presumably her son and next King of Albarel, Lamont.
“Welcome!” the Queen called out behind a fabricated smile, “Please be seated and drink and eat to your hearts content! We will all be good friends by this week’s end.” Max side glanced Aeon. Aeon shrugged and pulled out a chair for the prince which Max hesitantly took.
“Charming Max, charming,” Aeon reminded him under a hushed voice as he took his own chair.
“What a gracious Queen you are, your majesty,” Max immediately rang out. Several men glared at him while others quickly agreed.
“And might I be so bold as to say you are as beautiful as you are gracious,” Max added. More glares. Aeon tried not to smile. If looks could kill Maxim would have been dead a long time ago from the exact same stares he got now. Max’s last comment even made the princess who was now seated next to her mother blush.
“You may be so bold good sir,” the Queen smiled her angelic fake smile, “Tell me the name of the man who compliments me so.” Max stood and bowed towards her.
“Second Prince of Summoner, your majesty. Maxim is my name.”
“Prince Maxim,” the Queen smiled. Max sat back down and dinner was served. Aeon watched as Max worked his charm. Many tried such compliments that Maxim gave, few got smiles; most got cold stares. Maxim, however, managed to raise a blush or a giggle out of the Queen several times throughout the meal. Aeon picked at his food. He knew that etiquette dictated that he was supposed to stay by Max’s side, but curiosity had him eager to go search for their reason for coming. When the meal finally came to an end and the Queen retired for the night he had to force himself to keep from jumping from his seat and running from the room.
“Relax,” Max whispered, “We have a week to search.”
“I’d rather leave here as soon as possible or has the Queen capture your heart,” Aeon whispered back. Max made a face of disgust. A servant showed them to their bed chamber.
“Quick change out of those ridiculous clothes,” Aeon ordered.
“You’re the one who told me to dress flashy to get the queen’s attention,” Max said as he started to strip off his clothes and put on some a little more casual, “Like a peacock you said.”
“You said like a peacock. Not me,” Aeon argued, “Ready?”
“Ready, let’s go.” Max followed Aeon out of their chamber and down the hall. Aeon briefly recalled that the window the girl from earlier was looking out of was belonged to the same tower as the one they were staying in. Did the girl belong to this tower as well? He pushed the thought aside and he and Max crept down the stairs and wandered outside.
“I doubt we’re going in the right direction,” Max said.
“Look a garden,” Aeon pointed. A little ways away was an entrance to the royal gardens. The sun was setting, but it was worth a shot so Aeon and Max entered the gardens. It really was a wonderful garden. The air was fragrant and light. Flowers surrounded them wherever they looked. The flowers came in every color imaginable. Aeon didn’t think there were this many flowers. They had just turned a corner around a hedge when they saw someone. Aeon recognized her immediately as the girl from the tower’s window. She was sitting on a bench smiling and humming as she twisted colorful flowers into a flower crown. She held it up in front of herself and her smile grew wider. She had a smile to rival the Queen’s, Aeon thought. She placed the flower crown on her head.
“A crown fit for a princess,” Max said. The girl’s smile immediately dropped as she snapped her eyes toward them. She stood up and started to back away.
“Wait we mean you no harm,” Max said with a bow, “We are guests of the Queen.” Aeon followed Max’s bow. When they stood up straight again, she looked no less concerned.
“I’m Prince Maxim of Summoner,” Max introduced, “This is my br… this is my… my… my captain of the guard, Aeon.” Aeon swallowed an exasperated sigh. At least he recovered his blunder.
“What might your name be?” Aeon asked.
“My n-name,” the girl stuttered.
“You were the one I saw in the window of the tower, right?” Aeon said earning a confused look from Max, “What’s you name.”
“I-I’m…” the girls started, but she gasped as she saw something behind them. Aeon and Maxim turned to see the Queen and her daughter walking. The Queen’s face was red with rage, but when she noticed Maxim standing there she gave her winning smile that could not hide the redness of her cheeks or the fire in her voice.
“Deanna,” the Queen said in a deadly tone, “It’s dangerous to be walking around like this when it’s so close to dark. Thank you gentlemen for finding my dear daughter. Deanna come.” Deanna quickly curtseyed and walked past them to the Queen and her daughter.
“Goodnight Prince Maxim,” the Queen said as the three women walked away, “I hope to see you in the morning.”
“Of course my Queen,” Maxim said. The two men watched them disappear.
“Well that was easy,” Max said placing his hands on his hips and looking at Aeon with victory in his eyes.
“Yes it was,” Aeon murmured.
“So how are we going to do this,” Max asked.
“You are going to woo the Queen as planned,” Aeon said.
“But-“ Max started to argue.
“Nothing has changed,” Aeon cut him off, “You still have to be on her good side.”
“Dammit!” Max cursed.