Chapter Three - Introductions (a)
She has mesmerizing green eyes that you just want to look at and for you to drown in. Her rosy cheeks were complemented by an absolutely captivating smile. For that moment, we both got lost in each other’s stare.
She was the first to snap back to reality. She quickly pulled her hand back. “Forgive me for staring, good sir,” she hid her face from me in her hood.
“Please, I don’t mind it all. I should be the one to apologize for the trouble I caused,” I replied. “Being a man upholding the belief of being well-mannered, that was wrong decision making on my end.” As every single fruit was returned to her basket, I helped her stand.
She then scanned my being, her eyes traveled from my head down to my toes and back to my face. “Why are you even in this alley, good sir? By your manner of dressing, you don’t seem like you’re from this area.”
“I’m but a humble traveler. However, some men were sent after me and I needed a place to hide me, and my horse as well,” I explained, gesturing towards Lady. “But as I can see,” I looked around, “There’s nowhere to hide in this place.”
She suddenly heard the galloping of horses from afar. “Are those the men after you?”
I turned to look behind me. The horses started to come closer. “Please, madam,” I looked back at her, “I need a place to hide and quickly.”
She nodded and without any hesitation, she grabbed my hand and I grabbed Lady as well. She led us into a dark, narrow alley with a dead end. I put Lady in at the very end so nobody could see even a silhouette. We waited patiently until they arrived.
They stopped in front of the alley where we were hiding.
“Search every street! Search every alley!” the captain screamed his orders. “The prince must be returned to the castle before the royal family arrives!” As the guards divided into groups, they all rode away.
She stepped out of the alley first to check if they were truly gone. She gave the signal that it’s safe to come out. I grabbed Lady and we walked out from the dark.
I sighed, relieved. “That was indeed a close one,” I expressed as I looked around, still on the look-out.
“Those men looked like royal guards. Why were they looking for you?” she asked. Eyes widened, she froze as she realized something. She looked at me from top to bottom again and asked, “Are you royalty? Were you the prince they were talking about?”
“Come,” I gently pulled her to the side, my voice lowered. “You were right when you said I’m not from around here.”
“You’re not a humble traveler like you said, am I right?” she asked, not wanting to wait for an explanation.
A smile slowly crept on my face. “Yes, I am the prince that they talked about. They were sent after me because as a prince, I wasn’t supposed to go outside on my own, especially to a place I’m not familiar with,” I explained.
“That explains the running into random alleys,” she remarked with a teasing smile.
“Anyways, I would like to thank you for your help, madam.”
“That was nothing,” she smiled under the hood of her cloak. “And please, don’t call me ‘madam’. It’s too formal and I’m of humble birth,” she continued. The silhouette of her smile was enough to drive me insane. I would love to see her face without the cloak on.
“Um, it’s not that hot out here. Why don’t you remove--”
“No!” she shouted as she stopped my attempt to remove her hood.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I quickly retreated my hand. “Did I do something wrong? Was I stepping out of line?”
“I, um... apologies for my sudden response,” she looked down at her feet. “When I’m outside, I don’t usually remove my hood. I don’t like people staring at me,” she explained.
“Oh, I’m very sorry. I was being too brash. I didn’t know you weren’t comfortable doing so.”
“However, you do have a point,” she answered. “It’s not that sunny today and seeing that we’re having a conversation, I guess it’s better that you know the face of the one whom you’re talking to, right?”
“Please, if you don’t want to remove your hood, I completely understand,” I reassured. I was fine if that’s what she wanted. If that’s where she was comfortable with.
“No, I don’t mind,” she put her hands in front of her. She gently removed her cloak, revealing a brownish-black hair; a small amount of hair with both upper sides braided into a crown. Her eyes glowed in the light and her smile became clearer, giving me continuous butterflies in my stomach.
I didn’t notice that I was staring for quite a while until she asked, “Um, is there something on my face?”
“Oh! Um,” I shook my head as I looked down, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re... quite beautiful,” I said as I looked back at her.
Her face slowly turned red as she looked away, avoiding my stare. Then a painful silence came in between us. Robert, think of something to talk about! Quickly! Oh, her name! You haven’t asked for her name yet.
“If you don’t mind me asking, madam, but may I know your name?” I asked.
“Um, well...” she suddenly stammered as she looked down to her feet. “My name... I don’t consider it as a real name.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I don’t have a name.” She then shook her head and immediately corrected herself, “Well, I was given a name but it’s more of a... nickname.”
“How is that the case with you?” I asked another as my brows furrowed.
“It’s quite a long story. It might take the whole day for me to explain,” she giggled through her reply.
“I’m sure I can keep up,” I smiled. “But before you tell me the whole story, can you tell me your name first?”
“I’m not sure telling the story is a possibility,” she chuckled. “And I also don’t recall me agreeing to tell you the reason behind my name.”
“Why is telling the story behind your name, not a possibility?”
“I have to get back to work. I’ve already taken too much time away from it,” she said.
“Yes, in a bakery,” she nodded in enthusiasm.
“Then, we should start walking back,” I started to prepare Lady for the ride.
“Wait,” she put her hand out as she moved closer to me. “Did I hear you correctly? Did you say ‘we’? And won’t your horse cause a crowd, prince?” she smirked as she called me by my title.
“Oh,” I stopped as I remembered the chaos that happened a while ago. I’ve already made too much of a mess and I wouldn’t want that to happen again. However, I couldn’t just let her walk alone. “As of the moment, I couldn’t care less. I need to make sure that you’re safe.”
“What for?” she asked, absolutely confused. “I’m not trying to be rude but I don’t think my safety is any of your concern.”
“Think of it as me, repaying the kindness that you’ve shown me and for scaring you with Lady a while ago,” I explained. I hope she wouldn’t try to find an escape from my lame excuse to spend more time with her to get to know her.
“Goodly prince, you don’t have to.”
I knew it. She has a persistent character, too strong for someone like her.
“First of all, madam,” I winked as the word “madam” escaped my lips. I continued with a smirk, “I insist on doing so. Second, you may call me Robert. Simply Robert. And third, I believe you owe me a nickname and a story so I might as well walk you back to the bakery.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if we simply forget the ‘repaying your kindness’ part and go our separate ways like perfect strangers?” she asked with a child-like smile.
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that, madam. At this point, my interest in your story is piqued so I have to know the person who helped me today,” I smirked. “And trust me, I won’t stop until I know your name and the story that you still need to tell me.”
She rolled her eyes and scoffed. “My nickname - well, what is considered to be my name - is Laura,” she smiled as she finally gave in to my request.
I bowed as I reached for her hand. I gently pulled it closer to my lips and kissed her knuckles. “It’s an honor for a man like me to meet such a lovely and kind-hearted lady like you, Laura,” I smiled as I looked up to meet her gaze.
As soon as our eyes connected, she quickly pulled her hand back and turned away before I could fully see the blush on her face. “You love being too formal,” she remarked before she cleared her throat.
I chuckled as I smiled to myself. “I guess I do,” I stood upright.
She then turned to look at me with a smile on her face. A small amount of blush remained on her face.
I would love to stare at her smile for as long as I can. Her smile somehow has given me the feeling of happiness and calmness. “I’ll consider Laura as your name. In that manner, you don’t have to say it’s your nickname,” I said. “May I ask why your given name is Laura?”
“It’s part of the long story that I mentioned briefly,” she replied as she scratched her nape.
“Then we should start walking back to the bakery,” I smiled.
She shrugged after letting out a sigh. “If you say so.” She then giggled after.
Without a moment too soon, we began to walk and she started to tell her story.
We’ve been walking for a while now and Laura has told me so much about her. From her unknown day of birth to being an orphan found in the footsteps of a forgotten orphanage, Laura has managed to survive the odds and become the strong person that she is today.
At the moment, we’re walking down the street of Bullingar which is also a busy marketplace but not chaotic as the one at the entrance. It was filled with numerous shops with different themes, making the street shine with a wide range of colors. And to my relief, a crowd hasn’t formed yet ever since we took a step into this place. Perhaps the people here aren’t fazed with a stranger and a horse.
“How is your story connected to your given name?” I asked.
“According to the headmistress, when I was found at their doorstep, the rain was pouring heavily. They thought I was going to catch a cold and get very sick but I didn’t,” she explained. “I also have had my share of severe illnesses before. When they thought I was going to die, I never really crossed the bridge between life and death. They said that I could be favored in the heavens. They named me Laura because it meant victory, strength, and favored by all.”
“I think your name suits you very well,” I nodded in agreement.
“And why would you say that?”
“I can tell by your attitude that you’re not one to quit easily,” I smiled.
She smiled to herself as she turned her face away from me. She put some of her hair on her ear as she cleared her throat. “That was kind for you to say. Thank you,” she turned to me. As we shared a brief giggle, we stopped in front of a small shop. “We’re here.”
I looked up to read the sign that hung in front of the roof. Winston Bakery. I then turned my attention to its front and the bakery had a modest look to it. Some bricks were out of order and the window at the front seemed to be a bit slanted than normal. Barrels and crates were displayed beside a wooden bench that sat under the window. But even though the bakery doesn’t look fancy or has pretty decor, it was still visited by a lot of people. Buyers have continued to come and go from this bakery. Maybe the food here is amazing. I could smell a bit of a delicious aroma, escaping the open door. Without knowing, I felt my stomach grumble as my mouth thirsted to try some of their creations.