15. The Stranger From The Library
“Mila, my dear, are you listening?” Rosa says from the side. I jumped in surprise and apologized. “Is something on your mind?”
“It’s nothing, but thanks for asking,” I smiled wryly.
Rosa kept staring at me. I could feel she was curious.
“May I ask you something?” Rosa asks with a soft smile. I bit on my lower lip and nodded. “Do you like Zion?”
I sat up, coughing thanks to her words.
“Excuse me?” I said, surprised. I didn’t know how to feel about her sudden question.
“I’m just asking. Don’t be so flustered,” Rosa said, laughing. I watched her, stunned. Was she serious? “So?”
“So what?” I said, clearing my throat.
“Listen, child. I know I’m old and all, but this old woman can recognize when someone is in love or at least feels something for someone else,” Rosa said. I grabbed my teacup and took a sip.
“I don’t know where you’ve gotten that idea,” I muttered. Rosa chuckled and put her sewing cloth down. Our eyes met, and I could feel the motherly warmth coming from her.
“I know Zion does,” Rosa exclaimed again. My face turned fiery as I lowered it, hiding it between my hair. Was Rosa crazy?
“Don’t say those words aloud,” I mumbled between my teeth.
“Why not? It’s the truth. Or are you ashamed of them?” Rosa said, making me snap my head up.
Ashamed? How could I feel ashamed of those words? Any girl other than me would feel honored hearing them. But I was no one, so how could she even think Zion sees me in any sort of way?
“I see,” Rosa hummed.
We remained silent before Rosa continued sewing. Then, I started eating some cookies and thinking about her words.
Though I hate to admit it, I found Zion quite attractive. But he would never look my way. To begin with, I was not even cute, so I didn’t understand why she would make that kind of assumption.
“You might not admit it right now, but you will one day,” Rosa said. I turned to look at her when the doors opened.
I rolled my eyes as I saw Zion walking in with a poker face. The rest of my morning got ruined now.
“Let’s go,” Zion grumbled my way.
“Where exactly?” I pointed out. Zion threw me a glare and grabbed both of our cloaks.
“We are going out,” Zion said and grabbed my arm. I forced my way out of his hold, but he dragged me away. “Put this on,” he said, pushing the cloak to my arms.
“At least don’t be rude,” I spat back. I didn’t know what his problem was, but it was pissing at me.
I followed Zion until we reached the castle entrance. His horse was ready as he quickly got up and offered me his hand. But, unfortunately, he didn’t think about giving me a chance to fix my cloak before he pulled me up.
“What’s your problem?” I grumbled at him. Pulling the reins, we dashed out of place.
We rode for a while before a familiar river came into view. I looked over my shoulder and frowned at Zion, whose eyes were on the front. Then, slowing down, we get down, and Zion walks over to a small open space.
I sighed and followed suit.
“Can you tell me what’s your problem?” I asked.
Zion stood on the edge of the river. The only sound was of birds chirping and the wind howling. I move a hair strand as Zion puts his hands on his trousers.
What was bothering him?
“The ball, why didn’t you decline my brother’s request?” Zion suddenly mumbles.
The ball? What was he talking about?
“Sorry, but I don’t know what you mean,” I said, approaching him.
Zion turned, and I could see how angry he was.
“You didn’t say no to being my brother’s partner!” Zion retorted. I frowned, and then slowly, I remembered my talk with Noah.
“I’m not your brother’s partner!” I spat. “What nonsense are you saying?”
“The servants in the castle are talking about it,” Zion blurted. My eyebrows shoot up as I laugh.
“Oh my, are you serious?” I said, covering my mouth. I laughed hard before composing myself. “I’m not your brother’s partner!”
Zion turned red from embarrassment.
“Look,” I said, clearing my throat. “Yes, your brother came to talk to me, but it was to explain and request of me something.”
“W-What is that?” Zion mumbled. He was looking to the side, embarrassed.
“Your brother asked me to be your partner, Zion. And he proposed that I be his partner, but I didn’t agree with anything,” I said, smiling. Zion moved his gaze and met mine. “I didn’t agree with it.”
“Then why are the servants talking about it?” Zion asked with his arms crossed.
I shrugged and approached him. Standing right next to him, I gaze at the calm river.
“I don’t know….” I mumbled. I did not know, but something told me it was Rosa’s idea.
“So, are you going to be my partner?” Zion asked after a while of silence. I shifted my eyes to the side and looked up.
“I don’t know,” I said with honesty. “Will you be comfortable with it?”
Zion blinked twice before he sighed.
“I don’t want to go,” Zion mumbled.
“But?” I continued.
Zion turned his head entirely and looked down at me. We stood there gazing at each other before his hand caressed my cheek.
Feeling my face blush, I looked away.
“We should head back,” I said, turning. I walked a few steps before I felt Zion’s stone’s hand on my own.
I stopped moving and instead remained still. I didn’t dare look his way.
“Please be my partner,” Zion said. I could feel his body close to mine. “If it’s with you, I wouldn’t mind spending a night in a ball. As long as you’re with me.”
My heart fluttered as I looked at him. His face was a deep shade of red, and I could feel mine turn hot as well. Then, gulping, I looked down at our hands.
Slowly, I intertwined my fingers with his.
“Fine, but you will need to teach me how to dance,” I mumbled. Zion smiled wryly and just nodded.
Strangely, a smile played on my lips as we returned to the horse.
The following day
“Mila, can you relax?” Zion grumbled.
I groaned in frustration as he spun me around.
We’ve been practicing some dance routines for the last four hours, to which I have failed miserably.
“I can’t!” I said and backed away. Zion sighed and massaged his tired face.
Last night Zion could not sleep because of his stone hand, but here we are. It seemed the lack of sleep didn’t bother him.
“Fine, let’s take a break,” Zion muttered and walked away.
I turned in the opposite direction and grabbed some water. Rosa smiled at me mischievously. Since our small tea talk, I’ve noticed her acting sly. It was uncomfortable if I have to say.
Ignoring her, I thank the musicians and walk out of the room. I massaged my neck as I looked around. It was already afternoon, the sun setting on the horizon. Stopping, I looked outside a window and smiled weakly. The skies were painted in orange and red, signs that fall would be here soon.
Having enough of the sun, I walked towards the library. I’ve been curious to check some books out, and because Zion wouldn’t leave my side, I didn’t glance at the place.
Greeting the guards, I make haste to the second floor. Slowly, I pushed through the doors and peeked inside. But, unfortunately, the whole place looked barely lit.
“Oh, hi there,” a young man said, making me jump in freight. “Sorry, saintess.”
“Um, sorry for intruding,” I mumbled. My eyes moved up and down his body. Did he work here?
“Come in, saintess,” the young man suggested. I nodded his way and slowly closed the doors. “It’s rare to have visitors in this part of the castle. I’m Jillian.”
“Hi, nice to meet you, Jillian,” I smiled as my eyes looked at the entire place. “May I ask what you mean when no one visits this area?”
“Well, none of the royal family comes over, and we don’t get people from outside. So it’s surprising every time someone comes,” Jillian smiled.
“I see,” I mumbled. “You work here?”
“Yes, I just take care of the place. Are you looking for something particular?” Jillian asked with curiosity. I glanced sideways and smiled wryly.
“To be truthful, I came here to look for anything related to Zion,” I said as I walked in. “Is there anything related to his problem?”
Jillian remained silent. I could see him pondering.
“There is, but you will need permission to access that area,” Jillian hummed. “At the end of the fourth row, there’s an enormous door.”
I started heading to where Jillian pointed. My footsteps echoed as I walked further. Grasping my skirt, I look up at the tall shelves. It was strangely eerie. The more you walked, the darker it would get.
I shift my eyes and look towards the end of the hall. Looking over my shoulders, I noticed I was all alone. I frowned and stopped walking. Wasn’t Jillian following me?
Turning my head back, I move closer to the doors. Two enormous green doors stood before me. I glanced at them in awe as I moved my hand to the handle. Grasping it, I clench it and then turn slowly. Surprisingly, the door opened.
I looked again and didn’t see Jillian at all. Confused, I ignored him and stepped into the adjacent area.
I coughed as I closed the doors behind me. The entire place reeked of dust and cobwebs. Did anyone walk into this place?
I was waving my hand to the sides. I continued walking until I saw the five tall shelves. Without wasting time, I reach for a dark cover book. Its thickness reminded me of those magic books with healing incantations that my mother used to make me read.
Dusting it off with my skirt, I look down at the title.
“Dark magic?” I mumbled, confused. I snapped my head back at the shelves and started dusting each book.
Each book was related to dark magic and potions. So why was there even a book room like this?
I didn’t understand what all this was about it.
I backed away and turned to look for something to light the room. Without noticing, I feel someone’s hands on my arms. I let out an awful scream as someone chuckled. Noah stood before me with a smiling face.
“Fucking goddess!” I cursed as I moved away from him. When did he even walk into the room?
“Sorry,” Noah laughed. “I didn’t expect you to scream.”
“Scream? You scared the hell out of me!” I said through gritted teeth. Noah chuckled and shook his head. His smile slowly disappeared and was replaced with thin lips.
“How did you get here?” Noah asked, taking me by surprise.
“I opened the door?” I said, pointing at it. “Jillian told me I needed permission, but the door was unlocked.”
“Jillian?” Noah frowned. I stared at him and waited for him to continue.
“Uh yes, Jillian, your highness,” I repeated.
“There’s no one here, Mila. It’s just us,” Noah mumbled.
I nervously backed away and started chuckling. What did he mean no one was here?
“Yes,” I said stubbornly. “When I walked in, a young man called Jillian told me to come here. I just came to look for something related to Zion, but Jillian told me this room with things that might help him. So I came over.”
I started rattling because of my nervousness.
“Mila, listen carefully,” Noah said as he closed the gap between us. “There is no one in this place called Jillian.”
“Y-Yes, there is,” I mumbled as I looked behind him.
Noah moved his head and looked behind him.
“I saw him….” I trailed, confused.
“I think we should get out of here. We can talk back in your room,” Noah said and offered his hand.
Was he serious right now?
I continued backing away from Noah until my back hit the shelf. I turned around and looked at it.
“Mila,” Noah said from behind.
“Fine,” I said with eyes on the strange books.
Noah grasped my hand and slowly took me out of the room. The last thing I heard was the shutting of its door as we left the place.