After Abby left, leaving me her phone number and telling me that she would be available at any time, I realized I didn’t want to be alone. If I was alone, all of the questions and that feeling of despair would come along again and I would probably start to cry and God knows what else, so I decided to leave the room and rummage the castle.
I was trying to memorize the rooms and read every description from each canvas, in order to know their names, but they were written in multiple languages and so I could only look at the paintings and wonder what those sayings actually meant.
“Oh, there you are, princess!” I heard Justine saying. “You’re past lunch time! Let’s go. Let’s take care of this”
She got closer, hugged me from the side and started to push me along with her.
“You must learn the castle’s agenda. If you want to, I can ask Frida to remind you about the meals and follow you along the castle while you’re still adapting. This way, you won’t get lost”
“Thank you, Justine” I thanked, feeling uncomfortable because she was hugging me tightly.
“Would you rather go to your room and have lunch there?”
“May I eat in the kitchen?” I asked.
“Oh, darling, the kitchen isn’t for the royals. Your servants eat there”
“Sounds offensive” I said, with a grimace.
“I’m so sorry, princess, I didn’t mean to offend you” she said, not knowing what I meant.
“No, that’s not it--”
“If that’s really your wish, you may eat in the kitchen, but I must ask you to not tell your aunt about this, alright?”
“Okay, that’s fine”
After that, we headed to the kitchen and, to my embarrassment, everyone that worked at the castle were at the table, including Chuck and Jean, who got up at the exact moment they saw me passing through the kitchen’s door.
“The princess is past the castle’s lunch time and said she’d rather eat here”
Jean opened his mouth to complain, but Justine shook her hands, keeping him quiet, and started to move around the kitchen.
I got closer to the table and Pearl, who was sitting back to back and in front of Jean, leaned to the side so that I could see Chuck.
“May I serve you, princess?” she asked.
“Oh no. Not at all” I denied and picked a plate myself, starting to serve me with a bit of everything that was at the table, while everyone stared at me and I felt like I was an undesired tenant or something. “So… Y’all can eat. Just pretend that I’m not here”
“Yeah, and by the amount of food you picked, by the time you sit down nobody’s gonna be able to see your face, princess” Chuck stirred up, trying not to laugh, and Jean must have kicked him under the table, because a couple seconds later he moaned in pain.
“You didn’t have to make that, Jean. I can do it myself” I smiled, sitting down and raising a leg to kick Chuck’s knee. He moaned again and soon Justine hit his head with a dishcloth.
Little by little, everyone started to eat and talk again, even though it was quieter than before, and so I started to eat too.
After I finished, I got up with my plate and cup, but Justine took them away from me with some real speed that didn’t even allow me to complain, because she replaced them with a saucer that had something that looked like a homemade dessert, and a dessert fork. It looked like a bunch of chocolate with a white topping. It tasted exactly as it looked: amazing.
“Hey, Justine! I got no dessert!” I heard Chuck complaining.
“Well, Charles, that’s what you get when you keep joking around other peoples’ food or their sizes” Justine grumbled, looking at the plate she was washing. She rubbed it with strength and it looked like she was mad.
“Ha-ha. Seriously. Where’s my dessert? You always make food for every single one of us! Please…” then, he noticed that I was eating and understood the situation.
“Look, if you haven’t said earlier that I eat a lot, I swear I would think about sharing it with you, but…” I provoked him with a smile and then ate the last piece of dessert.
“Leave her alone, Charles” Jean ordered.
Chuck rolled his eyes and left the kitchen at the same time Aunt Nina got in, which made everyone get up at the same time to bow. The silence was excruciating.
“Justine, I have to talk to you. Oh, Nicolle! What are you doing here? I didn’t see you at lunch” she asked when she saw me.
“I lost track of time. I was talking to Abby and when she left it was already late”
“Ah, yes. But why didn’t you ask them to serve you in your room?”
“I don’t like to eat alone” I lied.
“Oh, dear! I’ll ask someone to remind you about the castle’s agenda and then you may have your meals with everyone else, okay?” she informed me, giving me a short smile.
“Yes. Thank you” I thanked.
Aunt Nina left with Justine.
I didn’t know what to do and I felt uncomfortable again when everyone started to leave the room in order to work again, until I saw Isaac coming through the door Chuck had left earlier.
“Hello, princess” he greeted and sat down to start eating.
“Hi, Isaac” I replied, heading to the same door everyone had passed through.
“If you allow me to, may I ask you where you’re heading to?” I heard Jean asking as he got closer.
“Honestly, I don’t know” I assumed as I kept walking. We were passing through an open corridor that led to the courtyard in which the sun shined bright and the heat was nicely warm and comfortable. In Montgomery, we could rarely take out our coats due to the weather, but here I was sure that if I spent long enough at the courtyard, I would be sweaty in no time.
“If you allow me to ask, did you have the opportunity to meet your siblings?”
“Ella came in earlier and had breakfast with me. When will I be able to see Hugo?”
“Actually, Hugo must be sleeping and Ella is probably walking through the castle right now, waiting for her brother to wake up. Hugo and Ella normally walk together in the morning and after sunset. They clearly like those hours” he informed, smirking.
“How long have you been working here, Jean?”
“We came to the castle when king Louis married queen Caroline. Charles was two and I was fourteen. Our father was a soldier from the French guard and followed the king wherever he went. When the king moved to Combellmont, we all moved as well. Then, I went to the military for a couple years and after that I came back here to be a part of the royal guard. My father died in the same accident that killed king Louis. I fought so hard to get the same spot he had at the royal guard and, after a while, I was able to fill in that vacancy”
“What happened to your father and king Louis?” I asked as we climbed the stairs and headed to the west wing of the castle.
“King Louis was headed to a congress that was happening in France and my father was the pilot of their flight, but nobody ever knew what actually happened. They only reported that a mechanical failure happened, but they never explained why they were flying over the Adriatic Sea, which was a curve to their way. The jet was found in the sea, but they didn’t find their bodies. They searched for a while, but the case was archived already” he told and then stopped by a door, opening it and suggesting I get in.
I was shocked and was certain that Jean could feel that by my reaction, but he kept acting naturally, like he was just explaining a painting we saw on the castle’s walls.
“Don’t feel sorry for me or for my brother, princess. I get upset whenever I remember that both Ella and Hugo became orphans within a year” he said, sighing. “First, king Louis and now queen Caroline. They were lucky they had Nina to take care of them… And now they have you”
I nodded, not knowing what to say, as I absorbed everything Jean had told me and now, I was staring at Hugo’s room, in which the decoration was green and white.
I got closer to the baby crib and, when I was close enough, I saw a pair of green eyes that looked exactly like Ella’s, but a little bit darker though. He had thin blonde hair and round cheeks. Hugo was a cute chubby baby and was sucking a baby pacifier.
“Oh, look who’s already up. Good evening, prince Hugo” Jean greeted, as if he was talking to someone that could actually understand him. “This is Nicolle, your sister. She came from far away and is facing a lot of changes, but who isn’t, right? You yourself discovered yesterday that a lot of your clothes don’t fit you anymore but you’re not crying because of that”
I poked Jean with my elbow as I narrowed my eyes.
“C’mon, your other sister must be waiting for you downstairs. Who would you like to take you there today? Nina? Justine? Frida? Pearl? Or maybe your older sister?”
I looked at Hugo.
“Oh, no. I’ve never held one of those, he can…”
“One of those? You mean… A baby?” He looked like he was having fun. “Are you afraid, princess?”
I bit my lips, wanting to tell Jean he could go to hell, but I was controlling myself. He lowered himself to take Hugo and then Jean offered me him.
“No, Jean! He’s--”
But Hugo was already in my arms and I held him fearing that he could fall or that I suffocated him. Then, Jean came closer to us with a baby carriage, taking Hugo away from me and putting him there.
“See? He doesn’t bite. Yet”
“I hate you.”
Jean laughed and looked at Hugo.
“I should’ve recorded this, but don’t you worry, sir. When you grow up, I’ll tell you about this scene in details”
“I’d rather have you with a serious and tedious face than being all cute and weird” I said, crossing my arms.
“And I’d rather keep my personal life personal, princess”
“Pearl Jam?” I said.
“Go on, keep laughing and I swear I’ll tell your aunt that you’d like to learn how to change Hugo’s diapers”
“If you have a sense of humor, even if it’s bad, why do you keep being harsh with... Charles?” I hesitated, switching Chuck’s nickname to his actual name.
“Charles is young and immature. According to the law, he’s already a member of the guard, even though he never faced the ceremony, which will only happen within a year or so, but I’d rather him do it like me and enlist himself in the military for a while. This way, he’ll learn to take his job more serious”
When we left the room, with Jean pushing the baby carriage, we started to walk in the opposite direction of which we came earlier and we stopped by a door that looked like an elevator door.
“You must be kidding me. I climbed the stairs all this time and this place have an elevator?” I vented as I got inside the elevator.
“We have four elevators, princess. One in each wing. They can carry ten people each”
When we left the elevator, we walked until we found Nina talking to Justine.
“Oh, I was about to visit Hugo” she said, getting closer to the carriage. “But I feel emotionally exhausted after today’s reading. Nicolle, do you mind taking your siblings for a walk?”
“Are you leaving soon, madam?” Justine asked, looking like she was worried.
“No. There’s a lot I still have to think about” she commented, sighing.
“Aunt Nina?” I asked.
“May I go… Where I used to live, we only had lakes, so I never saw the sea… I was wondering if I could…” I wasn’t used to asking for permission, so I was uncomfortable that I had to do it in front of Jean and Justine.
“Would you like to see the sea? Darling, this needs to be planned. This isn’t something you can get done in a short time. We need to know which side of Combellmont’s beach isn’t crowded so you can visit, who will be there, at what time, and if the children want to go with you… I’m sorry, darling, but maybe next week” she suggested, looking me in the eyes and she said everything very slowly, like she was explaining something to a child.
“Okay” I replied, looking down and blushing.
“That’s all for today, Justine. Thirty minutes before dinner you must ask Pearl to tell Nicolle, so this time she won’t miss the meal”
I looked up.
“After dinner, we’ll go to the castle’s office. We need to discuss some things.”
“Yes, madam” I replied, feeling intimidated.
“Oh, no, you don’t have to call me madam. That is because I’m still a miss, after all” she corrected me with a smile. “Call me Aunt Nina”
“Okay” I nodded,
After that, she excused herself and left and Justine lowered herself to kiss Hugo and to smile at me.
“Have a good walk, princess”
I nodded again and we followed our path, heading west.
“Hey, isn’t the castle’s entrance on the other side?” I asked, pointing at our backs.
“We won’t leave the castle, princess” he informed, opening the door.
We were at a lawn and, when we passed through that door, the sunset made me narrow my eyes so I could adapt my sight to that type of clarity and, later, I heard a child screaming and someone moaning, and I realized it was Ella and Chuck. Ella was running while Chuck walked behind her in a funny way, with his arms up. Then, Ella saw us and ran towards us.
“Nick!” she screamed, coming to hug me. “I didn’t know you were coming! And you met Hugo!” She looked sweaty and wasn’t wearing any shoes. She took a deep breath and straightened her dress, looking at both sides. “Is Aunt Nina here too?”
“No” I replied.
“Charles, you know Nina doesn’t like to see Ella running in her bare foot” Jean said, lowering his voice, when Chuck got closer.
“Jean, she comes outside because she can’t run inside the castle! She’s only seven, for the love of God! And Nina isn’t here today, so, please, let the kid be happy at least once” Chuck contradicted.
“I’ll watch from the door. You’re clearly not capable of taking care of the three of them by yourself” he declared, shaking his head and then bowing twice to greet me and Ella.
“Chuck was scolded…” Ella provoked, smiling and walking backwards.
Chuck shook his head, paying attention to Ella, which made her run away and he started to run after her.
I smiled as I saw the both of them and kept walking until I met a parapet. Below, to my surprise, there was a street with stores and houses. As I had realized when I first arrived, Combellmont had a lot of ups and downs and the castle was placed in a high place. West I could see the sea, and now, here, I could see the kingdom’s subjects living a normal life. The closest store was a flower shop and, after that, a wood shop. The owner of the shop had already started to lower the awning, announcing the end of the shift of the day. Even though it looked far from me, I could see the sea and the pier, with vessels and a bridge that I didn’t know if it was wide or narrow, long or short, but the sun was already lowering and everything looked orange and beautiful.
“Nick, come sit with us!” I heard Ella saying.
When I turned around, Ella was sitting in a large white and yellow towel, with Chuck and Hugo by her side.
I walked towards them and sat down, facing them.
“Hugo gets bigger every time I see him” Ella said with a smile, taking Hugo’s hand. “That’s why I always take a picture with him. C’mon, Chuck, let me hold him”
“He’s not a toy, Ella” Chuck said, laughing and, to my despair, he let Ella hold Hugo but surprisingly she looked like she knew exactly what to do.
“I know. It’s a human being. A cute one, right, Hugo?” she played around, kissing his forehead. “C’mon, Nick, come closer. This will be our first picture together!”
Suddenly, I regretted not fixing my hair earlier.
Still, Chuck took a white and pink camera that looked like it was Ella’s and took a picture of us when I got close enough to them.
“Hey, princess, clean up your face! You have a chocolate spot right here” Chuck asked and I was already cleaning my face when I realized he was smirking.
“Y’all from Combellmont have a very cruel sense of humor” I said, narrowing my eyes.
“But she’s not dirty” Ella said, looking at my face.
“I already cleaned it up, Ella. The dessert was delicious” I said, looking at Chuck.
“Everything that Justine cooks is delicious” she confirmed, smiling, and then looked at Hugo. “Too bad you can’t taste it yet, Hugo”
After a while, Ella returned Hugo to Chuck and as the sun was going down with full speed, Jean asked us to go back inside. After seeing Ella in the corridor, all happy and energetic, I kept thinking that the castle must feel miserably lonely when she was not around.
Don’t forget to like, comment and add this book to one of your lists! 💜
That’s very important so other people can find it and knowing that I’m not writing for ghost readers 👻 really helps me to keep willing to post every Sat.