Chapter Four - Fiasco
I could hear a calm conversation as I approached the dining hall. As I got closer, one of the guards was quick to ask, “Shall we announce you, Your Highness?”
“There’s no need for that,” I replied as I opened the door without warning. My family was quick to look in my direction. My sudden entrance immediately put them all to silence. Their eyes wide open out of surprise, their movements paused. If this is the kind of response that I get every time I enter a certain room, bursting through doors would be a delight.
Like in any other feast, Mother is the first one I approach. “Hello, Mother,” I greeted, giving her a kiss on her forehead.
She giggled in response. “Hello, my heart,” she cupped my face with one hand, looking up to meet my gaze.
“Dearest Elizabeth,” I smiled as I turned to my sister, laying a gentle peck on her cheek.
“Hello, little brother,” she smiled.
I wasn’t quick to notice it at first but there were no spare chairs in between Mother and Elizabeth, the place where I usually sit. “So, where do I sit?” I asked them, still carrying a smile on my face.
“Right next to your father,” Mother replied, pointing to a prepared meal in front of her that sat on the right side of James.
Splendid! Just the opposite of what I wanted to happen for today’s lunch. I now have to bear a whole hour of suffering beside him. I took a deep breath in as I walked towards my seat. As soon as I reached it, I pulled it out and immediately sat down.
“You didn’t come with us to visit the orphanage,” James started a conversation with me as he cut through his meat.
“Yes, I made that decision,” I replied, spreading my napkin onto my lap and grabbed my utensils right after.
“May I ask where you’ve been?”
“I was just in the garden. I needed some time alone after a long hour of work,” I answered, digging into the food that was prepared for me.
“I asked Gonzalo where you were and he said you weren’t in the castle grounds,” he said before he took another bite.
Here we go, I thought to myself, trying to ignore him in order to appreciate the taste of this delicious meal right in front of me. I thought it was just going to be silent between the two of us but he just really started another one for us two.
“Tell me where you really were while we were gone,” he then turned his whole body to my direction.
I took two quick bites from my plate. “My whereabouts when you’re not here is none of your business.”
“I command you to--”
“Don’t ‘command’ me,” I interrupted him, looking him straight in the eye. “You have no right to do so. I’m not one of your servants.”
He protested without hesitation, “I have the right to ask where you’re planning to go. I am your father.”
I chuckled as I took a sip of wine. “Since you did say that you’re my father, the way you tell me what I should do is like I’m one of the people who work for you. That’s not how a father should ask his child if he’s truly concerned,” I said, struggling to even make a simple slice from my steamed fish. My hands started to shake as I held back the rage within me. I even controlled my breathing because I don’t want to let out deep breaths like an angry bull.
Silence came upon us once more. Joining my family for meals such as this is bad enough. What made it worse is forcing me to sit beside James. My mother and sister are fully aware that my relationship with James isn’t on the best of terms. Why do they keep pushing me to James when clearly, he doesn’t want me around him?
I then heard James let out a sigh. “Son… I’m trying my best to get along with you, to understand you,” he spoke, not in a calmer manner. “This never-ending argument between us will destroy our family.”
“Well, you need to try harder, Your Majesty,” I replied as I continued to stuff food into my already full mouth. “And please, don’t call me your son. You were the one who pushed us away as your children.”
Those words came out like poison from my mouth. I didn’t care if it hurts but for some reason, I hated myself for even letting those words escape my lips. However, that is the truth on how he has treated us and now, all of a sudden, he wants to act as if he’s been a good father to Elizabeth and me?
I could sense Mother and Elizabeth looking at me out of shock but James needed to hear it. He never showed us any kind of affection as he claimed that he wanted us to be independent. He wanted us to be prepared in case he would die suddenly. He should’ve made an effort to connect with me as a child. I needed him during that time but he was never there for me.
I wiped my mouth after I took one last bite, not wanting to finish my food again. “That’s all for me today.”
“Robert, please,” Mother gently tried to stop me from leaving.
“I’ve eaten enough today, Mother. I still have some reports to finish,” I replied formally. “If you need anything from me, I’ll be in my study.” I pushed my chair and stepped out. After my bow, I walked out of the dining hall as they all sat there in silence.
Even though I’m working through the pile of reports that I still have on my desk, my mind is somewhere else. I can feel myself swimming inside my own head, it’s as if I was drowning in a deep ocean of endless thoughts. I’m contemplating on what I just did a while ago.
I’m fully aware that answering a father - yes, I’m counting James as a father - is the perfect example of being a bad child. But in my defense, how can you stand someone who talks down to you? He keeps on acting that he knows me when he really doesn’t. He never took the time to know me when I was young. How dare he pretend that he knows me from the inside out?
A knock startled me, making me jump from my seat.
“Who is it?” I replied, not lifting my attention from the report I’m currently reading.
The door opened and my page entered with a bow. “Your Highness, Her Royal Majesty is here to see you.”
Hearing my mother’s title made me look at him. “Please, let her in,” I quickly organized my desk as he went and fetched my mother.
I dusted off my clothes as I stood up, preparing myself to greet her.
A few seconds later, Mother finally entered and closed the door, fully coming into the room.
“Mother,” I kissed her cheek as she walked towards me. I gestured to the chair by the window for us to sit.
“Why did you have to do that, Robert?” she asked, calm yet concerned.
I groaned on the inside. I knew she was going to talk about what I just did. Now, she’s the one to lecture me. Why does she and Elizabeth always stand up for James? I don’t understand how they could defend him constantly.
“I don’t understand Mother,” I said, sitting down across from her.
“Your father was trying his best to make a connection with you in the dining hall,” she said. Please don’t tell me she believed what James said about that. “Why did you have to treat him so coldly?”
I sighed as I looked down to my feet. “Mother, if he’s claiming that he’s making a connection, I’m sorry but I don’t see it. I can’t feel that he’s even trying.”
“It’s because you never gave him a chance,” she bent closer towards me. “You would always close your door on him.”
“Mother, I gave him a lot of chances ever since I was a young boy,” I explained. “During almost half of my life, I was giving him a chance to prove himself to me. And yet, he failed me.”
She put her hand on mine. “You may not believe this but your father loves you very much, my son. You don’t know how much you mean to him,” she said, rubbing my hand in comfort. “Please give him another chance.”
As much as I love my mother and I don’t have the power to refuse her, I can’t just give James another chance; another opportunity to disappoint me. Yes, it’s too much to ask from me because he has numerous occasions in the past to prove himself as a father. He never took those chances.
Another knock came on my door. “Who is it?” I turned to the door.
The door opened and Gonzalo entered. “Your Highness. Your Majesty,” he bowed to both of us. “The Princess Lorain has sent a letter to you,” he turned to me.
I nodded. “Do you have the letter with you now?”
“I had your page hold onto it while you and Her Majesty talk,” he replied.
“Thank you. You may leave.”
He took another bow and left the room.
“Mother, I have to respond to Princess Lorain’s letter,” I said as I turned back to her.
“Of course,” she answered as we stood up from our chairs. “Just promise me you’ll think about what I said.”
“Yes, Mother, anything for you,” I smiled, kissing her hand afterwards.
She laid a gentle peck on my forehead after she wrapped me in her warm embrace. And with a smile, she gracefully left my study.
“Page?” I called out, heading back to my desk.
My page entered, carrying a silver platter on his hand that had the letter on it. He put it in front of me as I sat down.
He took his bow and left the room silently as if he had no feet.
As the door closed behind him, I put the tray aside and continued to read the report that I was taking care of before Mother arrived.
Princess Lorain is the princess of the Kingdom of Middle Earth, my fiancée. As we’re not allowed to personally meet each other, we were allowed to send letters to one another to build some sort of connection between the two of us. And in her letters, she’s such a gentle woman. And she tells me all of her thoughts. She doesn’t hold anything back from me.
We have become each other’s support through the chaotic world of monarchy. As I have a difficult relationship with James, so does she with her mother. We became good friends over the past years that we’ve been communicating. She’s always been respectful of my space and some of the things I’ve decided to keep private.
With care, I opened her letter and it reads:
Hello, Your Highness!
I trust that you’re having a month more than I am. There’s no sign of anything good or new with my life, much less on my relationship with my mother.
She has put additional pressure on me on being the perfect wife for you. She’s been forcing me to learn certain “skills” that she deemed to be needed in a married life. She’s certainly much more invested in our marriage than we are.
How about you? Please tell me what you can as I find it interesting, knowing that it helps me to understand you a lot more.
I would love to write more but unfortunately, I have violin lessons after this. I will wait patiently for your reply.
Your good friend, Princess Lorain.
My heart ached for her. With every stroke that she made on this letter, I could tell that she wanted to tell me all of her grievances but she doesn’t have the time. I understand that part of her life because when our marriage was agreed on by our parents, they expected a lot more from us as future rulers. They made us do even more tasks and some are outright baffling because it’s not even connected to being married.
At this point, no one would want to hear what we have to say. Our only option is to do what they want for us to do. Our only source of comfort would be each other.
I grabbed a pen and paper:
Hello, my lady.
It seems our month has been both insufferable.
Every day that passes by has become even more terrible than the other. I just pray that this doesn’t kill me early during our reign together.
Like you, my relationship with James is far from recovery. He did attempt today to make a connection with me. At least, that’s what his attempt meant for him. However, my heart didn’t accept it because I don’t think he’s making enough efforts to do something else.
I pray that by the time you read this, you would have a better day. Respond to me when you have the time.
Your good friend, Prince Robert.
I folded the letter and as I stamped my royal seal, I called for my page and he rushed into the room. “Here’s my response to Princess Lorain’s letter. Have it sent out immediately,” I handed the silver platter, the letter already on top of it.
“Yes, Your Highness. I’ll have the messenger leave immediately,” he bowed as he received it. Without a moment to lose, he went on his way.
I let out a sigh as I laid back on my chair. Looking at the pile of unfinished reports, I began to feel unenthusiastic to do so. I know it’s part of my royal duties but having a tall stack of reports on your desk every single day isn’t a good view to look at.
Another knock came on my door.
“Yes?” I answered.
The door opened and it was Gonzalo, holding the basket that I told him to hide.
“Your Highness,” he bowed. “I checked the contents of the basket, if you don’t mind. And I saw an apple pie. I’m afraid it might go rotten so I thought maybe you would like to finish it now.”
“Oh, yes, of course,” I started to clear a spot on the desk in front of me. Gonzalo took out the pie from the basket and gently laid it down in front of me. He also pulled out a fork from inside his coat.
I gave him a strange look, perplexed as he handed over the fork to me.
“I know that having a spare fork in my coat isn’t normal to see, Your Highness,” he commented without hesitation.
“Yes, Gonzalo, it is a bit… odd to see you pull out a fork from your coat,” I agreed, laughing nervously.
“I also have a spare spoon and knife with me, Your Highness,” he informed me. “Since I cater to your every need, I have to be prepared… even with utensils.”
I nodded with a smile. “I guess your kind of preparation is indeed needed. Thank you.”
He bowed and left.
I took one good look at the pie, remembering who made it. I could clearly see her face in my mind. I closed my eyes… and I could see her smiling, the sun radiating right behind her, making the brown shade of her hair stand out. Those adorable freckles under her eyes and on the bridge of her nose. And just her smile… is pure sunshine in itself. I took a deep breath as I opened my eyes, cutting out a piece from the pie.
One bite… one bite and all I can say, with full confidence, that this is a great pie! I kept on digging into the pie, not even thinking of stopping. Grandpa Ben wasn’t wrong when he warned me about the pie. Except for the pies that Mother and Nana Olsa makes for me, this is one of the best pies I’ve tasted.
Every bite I took, I remember her. Knowing she made this herself and possibly, with her heart, every bite out of this pie is a moment that I carefully revel in.
After finishing the whole pie, I wanted more. Not of the pie but of her. I wanted to see more of her.