Chapter One - Prince (c)
“My dear one, we live in the same castle,” she put her spatula down and walked over to the sink beside her, washing her hands. “Everything that happens inside the castle is being reported to me,” she continued as she wiped her hands dry with her white apron. She then walked towards me. “And besides,” she gently cupped my face with her soft hands. “I know that you and your father don’t have the best of relationships at the moment.”
“You know me too well, Nana,” I held her hands tightly as I looked directly in her eyes. “And I’m very grateful to have you as my guardian.”
She then giggled as she gave me a light pat on the head. “Now, there are crates of freshly-delivered apples in the stables. And here,” she let go of my face and reached for something from the cupboard above her. “Here is your water container.” In her hands, she revealed my leather water container that’s already been cleaned.
“This is already clean,” I replied as I received the leather container in my hands. My brows furrowed in confusion. The last time I used this, I didn’t have the time to clean it. “Did you clean this, Nana?” I looked up at her.
“For some reason, I found that thing in the garden yesterday. I knew it was yours so I took the liberty of cleaning it for you,” she approached the pot once more and added a few more ingredients to the boiling soup. “I know you never liked to clean your containers unless you find it absolutely necessary.”
After I checked the leather container, I gently kissed Nana on her cheek. “Thank you very much, Nana. I’ll be back from my stroll before lunch is served,” I began walking to the entrance to the stables.
“Be safe, little one,” I heard her speak from behind me.
“I will,” I answered, not bothering to look.
When I arrived at the stables, three servants were taking care of Lady as I instructed. One was brushing her hair, one was making sure her hooves are secured and one of them grabbed her saddle off the wall, which is something I made specifically clear with Gonzalo that I will be doing the saddling myself.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” I entered the stables without any form of announcement.
As soon as they heard my voice, they dropped whatever it is that they were doing and rushed towards me. “Good morning, Your Highness,” they bowed as they ran up to me, their right hands currently on their chest with their heads down.
“Thank you for preparing Lady for me. I will take it from here,” I smiled.
They all took a second bow and left me alone with Lady.
I grabbed the saddle that was put on the table and approached Lady. “Hello there, my Lady,” I gave her a hug which was answered by a whinny. I began to check the kind of brushing that was done on her. I have to make sure that it was done just right. “I think you need a few more strokes.” I settled the saddle on the side, grabbed the brush that was left on the floor and started to give her a few more brushes.
Lady has been a loyal companion of mine ever since I was a little boy. When I reached the age of seven thousand years, I became fascinated by how majestic horses are. James took notice of it and decided to give Lady to me as a gift. From that moment on, Lady and I have been on multiple rides, most probably when my family holds their summer progresses across the kingdom.
In the midst of silence, I heard faint footsteps approaching the open entrance of the stables. I turned my head to look and saw Mallory enter.
“Hello, Robert,” she smiled as she walked towards me, her hands in front of her skirt.
“Good morning, Mallory,” I greeted as I put my focus back on Lady.
Mallory is Nana Olsa’s granddaughter and I consider her as my childhood friend. We were very close as children but as time went by, we have become distant because of how James was raising me as his heir. We still managed to talk every now and then but most of the time, I don’t really get to see her. With my royal duties and daily reports, I’m always in my study or in my room.
“What are you doing?” she asked as she stood beside me.
“Giving Lady a few more brushes before saddling her up,” I replied, not even bothering to look at her.
“Are you going somewhere?”
“Yes,” I then put the brush down in the bucket by the wooden pole beside me. “It’s still early so I’ve decided to go to the Mortal Realm to free my mind from my royal duties.”
“Well, the Mortal Realm does have the best operas so it is the best place to unwind,” she said, giving out a nervous giggle at the end.
Throughout that short exchange, Mallory’s voice has been… shaky, to say the least. I could sense that she was tense, trembling. She never acted that way when she’s around me, which is something I’m curious about.
I turned to her and held the sides of her arms. “Mallory, is there something wrong? You seem to be… shaking. Are you sick?”
“Oh no, I’m fine,” she smiled but I could easily tell that she was lying. Mallory was never a good liar. I don’t think she has the heart to lie about something.
“Mallory, we’re practically siblings which means there’s nothing that you can hide from me,” I moved closer to her and caressed her arms in an attempt to calm her down. “You know I’ll never judge you, no matter what you tell me.”
She then let out a sigh as I let go of her arms. “Robert, for the longest time, you’ve been the only person I could call as a friend. But I need to tell you something,” she kept her head low as she began to play with her hands.
“Well then, go ahead,” I answered as I tidied up everything that was used to prepare Lady.
She took a deep breath before continuing, “There’s no other way of saying this but you see,” she stopped briefly to control her stutter. “I like you, Robert.”
Her admission stopped me from my actions. Questions started to run inside my mind. She likes me? In what way? If she likes me more than a friend, what should I say? Should I pretend that I agree with her in order not to break her heart? Or should I simply acknowledge it but tell her to stop? Mallory is like a sister to me. Breaking her heart would be unthinkable.
“Well, I would say that I like you as well, Mallory,” I said, hoping that it wouldn’t sound like it has a different meaning.
“You do?” her tone showed a bit of hope.
I took a deep breath in and turned to her, “Of course. We’ve been friends ever since we were children. I know who you truly are and you’re a good person.” I continued, “Everyone and anyone would like to have you as their friend.”
Her brows furrowed as I finished my answer. “Robert, that’s not what I meant,” she walked closer to me as her frustration began to show. “What I truly meant was… I am in love with you,” she held my hands as she looked directly into my eyes. “As a young girl, I’ve always admired you and as we grew older, my feelings for you only grew, You’re the only one I’ve ever loved.”
My eyes widened upon hearing her confession. As far as I know, I have never given her any reason to feel this way about me, to love me this way. If she’s going to use the excuse that I was always kind to her and never abandoned her, those reasons aren’t enough to justify her feelings. I only did those things because I regarded her as a sister.
Slowly, I released my hands from her grip and kept my distance from her. “You don’t mean that, Mallory.” I then grabbed the saddle and walked back to Lady.
“Robert, I do. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” she was quick to answer. “I thought it was just a simple admiration, a sister looking up to her brother. But now, I can truly say that I love you,” she explained as she followed my every action.
Not paying any more attention to her, I quickly put the saddle on Lady. I have to leave this stable and get out of this conversation before it turns into something ugly.
“Well?” she asked as she tried to catch my attention.
“You need to stop whatever it is you’re feeling for me,” I replied as I kept my focus on preparing Lady.
She stayed quiet for a few seconds before asking, “Why?”
“Because it’s not real and it won’t lead to anything,” I answered as I locked the saddle in place.
“How could you say that? Of course, it’s real!” she continued to protest. “This isn’t just some kind of infatuation, Robert. How could you question my feelings for you?”
“Your profession of love won’t change anything,” I turned to look at her. “You’re still my friend, a sister to me.” I then put water into my container and three apples in the saddlebag.
“Only a friend?” her voice started to crack, something that I’ve been trying to avoid. “Don’t you have feelings for me? Even just a little?” she asked once more as her eyes began to water.
I let out a sigh. I love Mallory but only as a sister. I never saw her more than that. “I’m very sorry, Mallory but… you’re loving the wrong man.” I jumped onto Lady and prepared to ride off.
“Robert,” she suddenly held onto my leg. “I know that deep down inside of you, you love me the way I love you. Why are you denying it?”
“Mallory, there’s nothing to deny and there’s nothing that’s hiding inside of me,” I explained as I looked directly into her eyes, making sure that she understands. “You’re a sister to me and that’s all I can offer you. Nothing more, nothing less.”
She stepped back as tears began to fall down her rosy cheeks.
“Come, Lady.” And with one kick on her side, Lady and I headed to the gate.
When I reached the gate, I found Robin, the gatekeeper, sweeping fallen leaves away from the entrance.
“Good morning, Robin,” I greeted as I approached him.
As I stopped before him, he put his broom to the side and ran towards me. “Your Highness,” he bowed. “Good morning,” he smiled as he looked up to me.
“How’s your day so far?” I asked, returning a smile to him.
He chuckled as he scratched the back of his neck. “The usual, young prince. I open and close the gates for everyone. Except it’s been a bit windier today. More leaves have fallen to the ground,” he replied, his smile never-fading. “Other than that, everything is as it is, Your Highness.”
I nodded. “Very good.”
“What can I do for you today, Your Highness?”
“Would you be so kind as to open the gates for me, Robin?”
Robin nodded and quickly turned around. He then stopped after a few steps and returned to me, confused. “I thought you were with your family when they left, young prince.”
“Oh, I didn’t join them today,” my lips created a firm smile. “I wanted to have a stroll somewhere and get some fresh air.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, Your Highness, where are you headed to?” Robin continued to ask unnecessary questions.
Holding back my impatience, I simply answered, “To the Mortal Realm. I plan to return before lunch so kindly open the gates.”
He then started to look behind me. It looked like he was looking for something. “Where are your guards, Your Highness? You shouldn’t leave the castle alone, especially if you’re heading to the Mortal Realm,” he said. “This must be the fault of the guards. Should I call Master Gonzalo to fetch some guards for you?”
I closed my eyes as I took a deep breath. “Robin, I will not repeat his: open the gate,” I spoke in a firmer manner. I gave him a stare to make him stop asking questions.
“O-Of course, Your Highness. As you wish.” He rushed to the gate and opened it as he kept his head down.
“Thank you, Robin,” I said as I reached him. I handed him an apple and added,” Should the royal family return and ask of my whereabouts, you’re not to tell them what you know. If I find out that you spoke of me going to the Mortal Realm, there will be consequences for you. Do I make myself clear?”
Robin knelt to the ground with his right hand on his left chest. “I will do what His Highness tells me to do.”
“Very well. I shall return. Keep the gate ready for me.”
After he nodded, I rode off to the Mortal Realm.