When Veran had stepped out of his office room, he had hoped to find a moment of break to soothe the dull throbbing in his head. The last thing he expected to see, however, was a familiar figure walking by in an uncharacteristic clothing attire, completely unaware of the of the shocked silence the sight had put him in for a while.
While his mind struggled to catch up to whatever he was witnessing, Veran allowed his eyes to glide over the hem of the dress that was brushing lightly on the rough ground before trailing up and following the flow material that seemed to wrap itself around the lithe form adorning it. The deep green hue of it seemed to have gained a life of its own against the tawny shade of the exposed skin, turning a shimmery lighter green in the open spaces where the morning light hit and dipping into the curves of the body with a turn of darker shade.
It was only when he realized that the figure was almost out of his sight that he put a stop to his staring and called out in an unsure voice.
Veran could feel his face growing flush with color the instant she turned around with a confused look in her eyes before they squinted up into a pleasant smile. With the casual way she was walking towards him, he doubted she had any awareness about her current look and what it did to him.
Having been to countless balls and banquets, Veran wasn’t unfamiliar to feminine dresses and he wouldn’t have considered himself shy of daring outfits. But having been so used to seeing Cirthe in heavy coverings usually, he found his heart thumping at an alarming rate at the new look on her even though the dress was not the most exposing in nature. The dress seemed to have been made for her, though the sane part of his mind admitted that might be a biased opinion.
“How-you..-what?” came out of his mouth when she stepped close enough, his words the peak of intelligence clearly.
Cirthe looked confused which he couldn’t blame her for, given his smooth conversation skills.
“Are you out for some business?” she asked, eyes sharp as always and darting around him in a quick scan, no doubt to ensure his guards were there with him.
“Ye-well, no. I just came out for a walk.”
Veran was sure she could hear his heart beating ridiculously fast, mind almost short-circuiting when his eyes landed on her smooth, bare, shoulder where the strap of the dress had fallen off to the side a little. He was too aware that he was staring but he couldn’t help but trace the movement of her deft fingers as they absentmindedly pulled the displaced strap back into position.
“Ah, I see. I’m glad I was able to meet Your Highness before you left for your office. I just met the emissary who had apparently requested an audience with you.”
“Yes, I had turned the request down.”
“...I’m sure you had your reasons, Your Highness.”
Veran could sense that Cirthe wanted to question him some more but it wouldn’t exactly be the most respectful image to be interrogating the Crown Prince as a Knight. He would have to inform her of his decision later on when they were alone.
“But,” he started, focusing on her hair to save himself from yet another round of heart palpitations, “what are you doing here? with that-that dress?”
Cirthe looked down, a faint oh escaping her lips, as if she had just realized what she was wearing. She was going to be the death of him and not even realize.
“This! Greta, one of the staff preparing for the upcoming banquet, insisted on a dress for me to wear instead of my usual uniform. I told her it wouldn’t fit well o--”
Veran made a mental note to thank Greta if he ever met her. Cirthe looked good in anything (again, his opinion might be a tad bit biased) but it was the first time for him to see her in something so finely made. And to think she thought it didn’t suit her, meanwhile, his heart can barely catch a break.
“You look good,” he continued, barely containing himself from listing every possible term to describe how she looked, “I have enough faith in your skills as a Knight to know lack of normal gear wouldn’t stop you from performing your usual duties.”
“I-” Was that a blush on her face? “Thank you, Your Highness.”
He should have known if anything could get Cirthe flustered, it was receiving compliments on her Knighthood.
“What were you doing out here in that dress?”
“Well, I noticed the Head of the Amon Knights appointed to you was escorting someone with what seemed a little too excessive of a force. I figured I might check in on them, in case they required my assistance.”
Veran found himself frowning. He had ordered the Knight to escort the emissary out but he never instructed him to be forceful in any manner.
“I did refuse the emissary’s request for a meeting, yes. It was simply due to the lack of time on my end with the ceremony approaching fast.”
Well, that was partially true, he thought as Cirthe nodded as if she understood his intentions. But there was something in her gaze that made him think she had more doubts and questions to be cleared that she was holding back. A meeting with her alone was due, indeed.
He could only hope for the return of her usual attire for that if his attention span was to come in some use.
"I see. I'll be returning to my tasks, then, Your Highness."
"Oh. Yes, of course."
It still seemed odd to see her walking off on her own, for Veran, when usually she would be accompanying him by his side. Just another thing to get used to.
With a quiet sigh, Veran decided to cut his walk short and return to his own tasks. The sooner he was done with them, the sooner he could arrange for a meeting with Cirthe.
"And then she just ran off, barefoot, with the dress trailing behind her!"
"I told you there was some urgent matter I needed to attend to."
"And the hem! Gods, only Madam Morrison could save the poor dress now."
"...It wasn't possibly that bad, was it?"
Cirthe had faced men larger than she could ever imagine and yet it was the sharp glare of the small girl fussing around her that made her wince.
"Well, now we know Knight Cirthe would do better with a functional dress rather than something simply fancy and for show," Helena suggested cheeringly, patting Greta soothingly on the arm. The younger girl grudgingly agreed but continued to grumble under her breath every now and then.
Cirthe nodded in agreement, giving a pointed look to each of the ladies, "Functionality for everyone would benefit at the Ceremony as well."
"Yes, yes, now can we get back to the fitting?"
Helena and Martha left the younger one to her fussings and huddled closer to Cirthe, "Is everything alright?"
She wondered how much should she tell them considering all she had at the moment were suspicions and speculations.
"How much do you know about Etria?"
"Well, not much really. The nation is said to be a supposedly peaceful one, preferring to concern itself with their own well-being rather than fighting over powerful territories."
"I don't know how true that peaceful bit is, however," Martha murmured.
Cirthe frowned, "Why do you say that?"
"Well, it was never confirmed nor was it ever truly looked into but there were rumours of Etria being involved in the death of the late Queen."
"That's....odd. A supposedly peaceful nation attempting an assassination out of nowhere?"
"Indeed. These are just speculations, of course. Sir Adras was said to have seen a Mage Knight of Etria around the place of the Queen's demise but there was no definite evidence of the actual act so there was not much that could be done."
Cirthe pondered over the new information silently after the two older women moved on to their other work.
The new bits and pieces of information felt a little all over the place. She couldn't just chalk it up to the incident being quite old and bound up in royal secrecy. No, there was much more to it than that. She wasn't sure if she'd be able to uncover the missing pieces in time or at all but she had to try.
After reminding the group of women of their tasks for the day, Cirthe changed back into her usual attire and headed out of the staff quarters.
Veran found himself working almost like a mindless machine, half of his attention still stuck on Etria's involvement with his mother's death all those years ago. Adler mentioned nothing was proved which further confused him because why in the world did no one think to look into it a bit more?
Regardless of whether there was love between his father and mother, Veran knew his father was loyal enough to not have taken another woman as his companion over the years. And yet the covering up of the cause of her demise seemed to not sit right with him.
As a child, the real circumstances of his mother's death were not known to him. All he had been told was that she had passed away due to an accident. It was only when he had grown up a bit that his Uncle had explained it briefly. The lack of clarity behind the entire thing was still there as it was when he had first gotten to know of it.
"Sir Adler seemed to be working you quite a bit."
The voice interrupted the flow of thought and he looked around from where he stood facing the garden in the office balcony for the source of it.
"To the side, Your Highness," hinted Cirthe, crouched on the flat surface of the railings to his left. Her agility and sense of balance would never cease to surprise him.
"The door exists for a reason you know," he mused, letting go of a breath he didn't realize he was holding on to when she finally landed inside the balcony.
"Ah I wasn't exactly in the mood to interact with your guards, you see," she replied, tilting her head towards the direction of the said guards. "I'm starting to think they have something against me with the way they avoid my commands and provided tasks."
"You are quite intimidating if you didn't know. I can't blame the poor men, having to fill in your shoes for a while."
"They ought to do a better job of that, if I may say so. Both my hands wouldn't be enough to count the number of times I've seen you without their company."
Veran shook his head, a smile creeping upon his face that felt a bit too unfamiliar after days of forcing fake ones, "I'm fine without their constant presence every once in a while, Ciri, I assure you."
Instead of answering, she walked up to where he stood, her steps unhurried and eyes focused somewhere on his face. He almost flinched when her hand rose up to graze the skin on his upper cheeks lightly.
"You look tired."
The short statement almost made him collapse into her arms because he was tired and exhausted in more ways than one but someone had yet to notice the way Cirthe did and if he wasn't sure he was head over heels for her before, he most definitely was now with the way the slightest of touches from her had his soul melting and sighing.
"I'm alright," he reassured her, lashes fluttering close on their own when her fingers traced the dark marks under his eyes, "Just a bit busy."
"Just a few more days till the Ceremony. Then you can go back to your carefree, troublesome ways."
"You can stop pretending you don't like participating in my so-called troublesome ways, Knight Cirthe."
"Well, someone has to keep an eye on you."
"I could not be more glad that someone is you," he said, hesitating before his next words, "I-I've missed that. Missed you. Your watchful eyes on me, I mean. Not in a weird way, of course. Obviously. I-I mean--"
Gods, it would be a miracle if he could go one day without making a fool of himself in front of her.
"I missed it as well, Veran," she interrupted his stuttering, "I've been worried. Things have been...odd. Not quite right. The attack on top of that unsettles me."
Unknowingly, he had reached up to take her hand in his, pressing its warmth more firmly to the side of his face, "I know. I'm fine. I will be fine. The attack...was unexpected but nothing has followed it and I'm sure Uncle Adras is ensuring nothing of the same takes place again. It's why there have been more Amon Knights appointed everywhere."
It was odd for Cirthe to be so casual towards him, her actions more open and unconscious. Her hand entwined with his was the obvious proof of that. Veran could tell she had a lot on her mind.
"Was that Adras' orders? The increase in Amon Knights around the palace grounds?"
"Yes. He said it wouldn't hurt to have added protection from Amon till the Ceremony gets done and over with. Supposedly a push in the friendlier direction with the nation as well."
She frowned, letting go of his hand to fiddle with the collar of her peach tunic in thought. A new color in her attire, he noticed.
"How much do you know about Tretho's relations with Etria?" she enquired.
Veran was confused because that was the last thing he could have imagined she would ask. How does she know about Etria?