Europe would have rocked so much more if I wasn’t dead tired when we stepped foot out of Hildegard Airport at around midday Saturday. Jacob was practically dragging me around the airport and through the pathetic attempt at customs the airport had. I could have snuck a bomb into the country and no one would have a damn clue.
That reminded me; I actually had no idea what country we were in. Jacob had said we were going to Europe but that didn’t help. Europe was a whole continent and while it was one of the smallest, there were a lot of countries in its borders.
I was thinking Germany, with his German background and all. Besides, it would make sense for him to be fluent in the language if he lived here for so long.
We had made it to a stretch limousine which I was too fatigued to ask about, and slid into the backseat, Jacob conversing with the driver with flawless German that I couldn’t understand. I just relaxed back against the leather and reveled in the space and comfort of the vehicle.
Then we were off.
I don’t remember much of the journey to where Jacob’s father was residing, only that it was very green and very beautiful. I wanted to capture them in a photograph but to do that I would have to take my eyes away and I couldn’t bear to do as such. So I watched the beauty whirl past me in a daze for what felt like hours, until the car slowed and my eyes fluttered open.
I must have fallen asleep.
The greenery had thinned to the point of almost evaporation, and in it’s place were iron clad gates ten feet tall, with little points at the tips reflecting gray off the cloud cover above.
Adjoined to the gate was a fence, if that’s what you could call it. Identical to the gate bar their thickness, they spanned for as far as the eye could see. Or at least as far as my eyes could see out of these windows. I assumed they circled the property, but what kind of property would need fences of these magnitude?
I turned my attention from the window to the boy beside me, the only one familiar in this place, but even he, currently speaking with the driver who relayed his message to the intercom through the open window, seemed different here. I would have thought it was that I hadn’t understood a word he’d said since we landed in the unknown country, but I knew it wasn’t that. His constant fidgeting had disappeared, replaced by calm eyes and an easy smile. Nothing was forced, and I had to wonder if it was because of this country. He’d spent the last six years of his life here. That would be enough to make it home to him, and maybe that’s why he seemed unfamiliar. Maybe maybe.
“Danke schon,” he said to the driver as the gates parted, leaning back against the seat with a placid smile. I hated to interrupt his moment of peace but I had to ask.
“Where are we?”
The question brought a new look to his face. His signature raised eyebrow and smirk I’d grown accustomed to. “Europe.”
“No way,” I deadpanned, which just got him to laugh.
“We’re about two hours outside of Germany,” he explained, the car coming to a stop. “An island which separated from Germany after the second world war, becoming it’s own country.”
“You’re still not giving me a name,” I told him and he just rolled his eyes and the door opened to outside.
“Celti,” he said, and then stepped onto the smooth cobblestone road only to wait for me to follow.
I carefully put my foot on the ground and stepped out, still in the clothes I wore yesterday to the cemetery, a time which felt worlds away with what I came face to face with.
No, I was not kidding. There was a colossal, daunting, ominous, mind-blowing castle standing ten feet in front of my no longer exhausted body.
And it was beautiful, in a haunting way. It was made of rectangular stone blocks, a dark gray colour that matched the sky backdrop, with vines neatly curling around the pillars near the obvious entrance. A large door, of vertical wooden panels that you would expect to see of a fairytale castle, one packaged with drawbridges and dragons.
But no, there were no drawbridges. No dragons. Just Jacob, our bags, and the retreating car.
“What are we doing here?” I had to ask, because it was clearly where we were going before his father’s residence. I was thinking an ancient famous castle to sightsee but the enjoyment evident on his face at my reaction made me think otherwise, only to be confirmed by his words.
“This is my family’s house.”
He chuckled, picking up both our bags. “Okay, castle. Just come on, I’ll show you inside.”
“I can take my bag,” I offered, reaching for it off his shoulder closest to me. He just sidestepped me and shook his head.
“I’ve got it. You just worry about not fainting of amazement or something. I can take the two bags but two bags plus a seventeen year old girl’s body might be a bit much.”
Just like that, I didn’t feel bad about letting him take my bag anymore. I just hugged my jacket to me which was nowhere near thick enough for this winter weather and followed Jacob up the polished stairs to the fairytale door.
He turned the handle and pushed through, and I was about to question why on earth they would leave the door to their castle unlocked when I was silenced by the room in front of me.
A hall which would have sufficed as the entrance to any decent sized house but, as I found out later, it happened to be the back entrance for the maids, cooks and wait staff. Apparently I wasn’t going for any ordinary family meet. This was unexpected and out of the ordinary, and it was painfully obvious that something was going on here.
I didn’t ask though, not that I could have at that precise moment in time. My mouth was keeping from gaping open with my own pure will, but even with that I struggled. The room had high ceilings, all polished stone unlike the outside which had been rough, stretching so far I could only faintly see the outline of a door at the opposing end. Expensive artifacts decorated the halls as we moved through them, with even more expensive artwork hanging from the walls like they were the pride of the castle. The whole place gave off a modernized medieval vibe, and I could imagine a dragon living here. It would certainly fit.
“I’m not going to give you a map so you might want to start paying close attention,” Jacob said, changing tack from explaining where each artifact and artwork came from. I was surprised he’d known; then again he’d had the time to learn about them.
We stood at the bottom of a staircase that looked like it went to heaven. It was two hallways off the main one where the castle started to feel less like a museum and more homey. The walls were transitioning from the cool stone to a softer material I couldn’t recognise, but I figured this side of the castle was the most often occupied.
“This is the residential wing,” Jacob explained as we walked up the stairs where windows ran alongside. “In other words, it’s where I spent the last six years. All my siblings rooms are here, along with my parents and of course a few guest rooms of which you’ll stay in.”
The walls were cream now, lit by the daylight streaming in from the windows and the warm lamps hung at intervals along the long, carpeted hall. Then something occurred to me and I laughed, the sound reverberating down the hallway and causing Jacob’s gaze on me.
“You know what this hallway would be perfect for?” I asked, sliding my feet along the smooth carpet. “Running.”
Then he laughed with me at the profound idea of running down a hallway like five year olds in a castle which may or may not be more than just a residency.
“Tonight. I’ll race you.” His grin was taunting and I was tempted to say I’ll race you now, but he had stopped at a door and I figured it wasn’t the right time.
“This is my room,” he said, placing a hand on the door before he kept walking. Secretive, and it kind of intrigued me. He only went to the next door down where he opened it and said; “And yours.”
The feeling that came with being home after what felt like a lifetime was indescribable. I was a mess of nostalgia, pure joy, sadness, excitement and an array of other emotions I couldn’t put names to, nor did I want to. I just had to focus on the excitement and happiness that I was home, and I got to be here with Kaia.
She was taking the whole living in a castle thing well, and I didn’t think she’d figured there was something more to the castle than just living here. Not that it was the castle of the royal family or anything like that.
I’d been enjoying watching her as I took her through this quarter of the castle, the only one she’d really need to know about.
“This is my room,” I told her when we reached it, touching it with my hand but not going in yet. I had nothing against showing her my room but I had to make sure there was nothing lying on desk tops that I wouldn’t want her to see. Basically, my school art folio I’d remembered leaving on my desk as I left for Australia. I was always iffy about showing it to people, even more so now that I couldn’t remember what I had in it.
So I walked past it, to the next room which was the big spare room, still not as big as my room but big enough. I pushed the door open and smiled at the light that sparked in her eyes.
She didn’t move. I wasn’t sure she could, to be honest. She looked stuck in place, so I gave her a slight nudge and then moved in ahead of her, setting her bag on the bed.
“No! Don’t put it there it’ll mess up the bed!” She scolded me, rushing to get it off and put it at the foot of the bed. I think it was called a canopy bed, with the four posts and white fabric over the top. Ada always wanted that bed, but she got an identical one in her room to suffice.
I had to laugh at her panic, because it really didn’t matter. “Relax,” I drawled, smirking a bit before dropping my bag, taking two long strides before flopping onto the bed, messing up the sheets.
“What are you doing????” She exclaimed, smacking my legs and making me laugh.
“Seriously, Kaia. You need to relax. Come on, it’s comfy!” I tried to persuade her but she kept her mind set and pursed lips, so I sat up and just rolled my eyes. She was stubborn, and I wanted to get that trait out of her.
“You’re so dead for that,” she crossed her arms, but there was a ghost of a smile toying with her lips so I knew I wasn’t in too much trouble.
“We’ll settle it in our running race,” I told her, referring to what I had promised a few minutes prior. Me and my siblings always used to have races down that hall, and just the fact that she suggested sort of the same thing made my stomach go all weird and I hated it.
“Sure, and you’re going to get your butt kicked.” She was so competitive and I liked that about her, because she actually gave a shit about games and stuff that other girls didn’t.
And with that being thought, I needed to get her out of my head. So I stood and got my bag, slinging it over my shoulder. “Whatever you say. But right now, I’ll leave you settle in. I’ll be in my room. If you want to explore come get me, because you will undoubtedly get lost.”
“You have no faith in me,” she dramatically claimed, a magnificent pout on her lips. I chuckled and headed out the door, throwing, “I have no faith in your sense of direction” over my shoulder and heading to my room. But then I saw a figure at the end of the hall and grinned, dropping my bag at the door to my room and then proceeded to meet who I knew it was.
Dressed in a black and white traditional uniformed dress was Pauline the family butler. My father had his own private butler but Pauline was ours, and she took care of everything we needed. She was like that cool aunty you had, with the traditional German thickness but with blonde curls that were always pinned back to show her calculating hawk eyes.
“Jacob,” she beamed up at me, pulling me into a hug I had no choice in, not that I wanted one. She was like a member of the family, and I hadn’t seen her in a while.
“Pauline. How are you?” I asked, my German up to scratch now that I’d been speaking it since the airport. I had been talking to the driver just to practice, partially so that Pauline and the other staff wouldn’t think I was slacking.
“Good good, but I’m rushed so I can’t stay.”
“That’s unfortunate,” I frowned, wondering why she had come all the way here if she couldn’t stay for a chat. So I asked, and she nodded in understanding of my confusion.
“Kristoff-“ my father’s personal butler “-told me your father has a message for you. He forgot to inform you the annual winter’s ball is tonight.”
“Tonight?” I asked, a small panic rising in my stomach. I wasn’t prepared for this. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been to any, but making sure Kaia wouldn't rip my throat out for not telling her was another thing. “I assume he says we are invited to go.” An invitation from my father is like a summons, you don’t have a choice but to go. Pauline knew this and chuckled her hearty chuckle, nodding.
“Yes. You are to meet him in the back sitting room at seven, after all the guests arrive so he can walk in with you and your girlfriend.”
“Not my girlfriend, but okay. We’ll be there,” I said and she squeezed my arm with a quick word of goodbye and then hurried off, leaving me to my room which I was suddenly less excited to enter.
Now I had to dig out my tux and figure out how the fuck to put it on without Royce’s or Mutti’s help. And I had to tell Kaia that we had a slight change of plans and were instead off to a ball.
I made the wimpy decision to not tell her yet and revel in my peace until she came to me, which wouldn’t be long considering her curiosity.
Sighing, I pushed my door open but smiled never the less.
I was home, and no ball could ruin this for me.