All Strings Attached

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Chapter 5: Unwanted Visitor

 Sin-Vira stood in his dressing room as still as possibly. Allowing his handmaid to dress him in an unbearable amount of layers.

 “My prince, I know this is for the sake of our kingdom: but will you be okay?” His maid asked as she clasped the silver chains to his maroon cape. Her chestnut eyes staring at him with tears swelling up.

 He smiled sadly at her. “I am well aware of the dangers, I was informed of our history together. I will be just fine, Ivy.” Sin-Vira wiped her tears. “Thank you for caring! But I must do my part as well, that way your father can come home!”

 Ivy pushed a lock of her bobbed, platinum hair behind her ear. “O-of course. I apologize if I sounded selfish, my prince. Your safety matters after all…” She gave a bashful smile towards him.

 “You’re too kind. I’ll be gone for the day, though I doubt my mother will allow us to stay the night. Please take the day to ease yourself.” He bowed slightly to her.

 “Sin-Vira! Will you hurry it up?” The queen shouted, her voice piercing through the thick walls.

 He winced before abruptly rushing out and hurrying down the stairs. “I apologize mother! I’m ready to go,” he apologized.

 “I already despise the idea of seeing that disgusting man’s face again. Every second you waste here is another I spend there. Driver!” She shouted again.

 A wrinkly-faced man straightened up as he cleared his throat. “We are fully set to depart, my queen.” He opened the door which groaned like dying cattle.

 The queen sneered as she walked through the door and stepped into the open carriage the shade of wine. Sin-Vira followed closely and sat across from her. The door was closed by the man before he took his seat in front.

 She reached into her purse and pulled out a leather book, reading it as the ride began.

 Left to think to himself, Sin-Vira questioned his decisions leading up to this moment as he looked out the window.

 He remembered how he hesitated when he stared into her eyes. Though the cause for it was still a mystery.

 Was it guilt that he would bring harm to someone innocent? Fear of what would happen to Sibylla if he did take her? She was the offspring of a man that made his family and kingdom suffer. Even if she wasn’t entirely involved, she was compliant in allowing it to happen.

 Sin-Vira knew his mother well enough to know what she would do to that princess to get what she wanted. Even if it was to drive the poor girl into madness. This plan was the only one he felt comfortable agreeing to. One where no blood would be spilled at the cost of losing his one chance of finding love.

 “Sibylla,” his mother spoke. Sin-Vira looked at her attentively. “She was a sweet girl when we used to visit. If that remains true now, she’ll weep over the simplest of things. So try not to make her cry just yet. If all goes well, she’ll be clay in your hands…”

 He nodded. “Of course, mother. I’ll be the prince charming she’s dreamed of,” he joked. Though his mother only hummed before resuming her reading.

 She purposely waited days after the invite was sent to respond, likely done to irk the king of the Gardenia Kingdom. Sin-Vira knew that they hated each other, but such a petty attitude from someone in a respectable position must have personal issues…

 The carriage stopped by the golden gates to the kingdom. Seeing the mineral glint boldly made Sin-Vira feel uneasy.

 “Allow me to get the door for you, mother,” Sin-Vira spoke with a bright smile, opening the door and exiting first. His mother only scoffed before exiting the carriage. Both walked through the gate together.

 “Keep your eyes forward, Sin-Vira. Do not let yourself be tempted…” her tone was cold like ice. They entered into territory they weren’t welcomed to.

 He could feel eyes staring and whispering that made his ears burn. Eyes of fear, words of hatred, painful silence filled the village. They walked down the stone pavement as the commoners avoided the Snapdragons and some doors could be heard slamming shut.

 As they grew closer to the castle, they passed by a bakery. His senses were struck by the scent of freshly baked goods and a feeling of warmth. Defying his mother’s words, he looked over to see a young woman with flour in her deep hair, rolling dough as she stared back at him. She smiled brightly at him before continuing her work. He looked back ahead with a smile on his face as well.

 At the entrance to the castle, the King stood at the foot of the stairs with his daughter. She wore a full-length dress of sea form green that matched her hair and parasol.

 “We welcome you to our humble kingdom, Queen Juliana.” He bowed respectfully, but his face and words were smug.

 His mother didn’t even return the gesture. Instead, she hugged onto Sin-Vira’s arm with a smile. “This is Sin-Vira. My only heir to my kingdom. I’ve raised him to be both charming and level-headed.”

 The king placed his hand on the princess’s shoulder and pulled her into a side hug. “This is my precious daughter, Sibylla. My sole heir to the kingdom and a proper lady. She defines grace and is in high demand at the moment.”

 “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, princess,” he spoke in a calm tone. Holding his hand out to her. She stood there in silence until her father’s grip tightened.

 She hurried to approach him and held his hands into her own. Though she radiated cheerfulness, her ruby eyes reflected pure fear.

 “I’m ecstatic to finally meet you! I was worried you wouldn’t accept our invitation to meet.” She gripped onto his hand and nearly made him wince.

 He continued to smile as he looked at the king who merely glared. “May we walk together, your majesty? I would love to get to know her better while we have the time.”

 “…” He continued glaring, though more at Sibylla. She was still holding onto the prince’s hand. “Fine. Just return before nightfall. I have matters to discuss with your mother anyways…” He trudged up the stairs as the queen followed at a snail’s pace.

 “Take good care of her,” his mother requested.

 Sibylla didn’t release him until the doors to the castle shut.

 “Are you alright? You were holding on quite--” Sin-Vira stopped as her hand covered his mouth.

 “Follow me to the garden. I’m tired of standing in these stupid heels,” she spoke before walking away suddenly.

 Sin-Vira didn’t argue and followed her. Her stance, attitude, and manners left him questioning if this was the same Sibylla his mother had remembered.

 “Sibylla, about the proposal–”

 “Do you like bread? My friend makes the best bread known to man! You should try some.” She gestured to the gazebo where a basket was placed. “I’ll order tea to be served for you!”

 He frowned at her rudeness and stopped by the gazebo while she sat under it.

 “Why do you keep interrupting me?” He questioned as he crossed his arms over his chest.

 Sibylla sighed before making eye contact. “Because I’m pissed! If you knew anything about the king, it’s to not ask him for anything. I went through enough trying to get that stupid invite to you, now I have to listen to his banter about your behavior.” Her teeth grit as she slammed her hand on the table. “You are to impress him, not annoy him further. Imagine you’re constantly walking along a thin line and think carefully…”

 “I wasn’t aware of his standards. What I did was normal and was to get you outta there. You should be thanking me!” He glared at her. “My mother made you out to be sensitive, but you’re just unhinged!”

 He was suddenly hit by something warm and soft. Looking at his feet, he saw a roll beside his foot.

 “You do not call a princess ‘unhinged’!”

 “What kind of ‘princess’ throws food like a spoiled brat!?”

 “I guess the rock wasn’t enough?!”

 “Do you have to bring that up every time?”

 A woman cleared her throat and the two stopped their bickering. It was a maid who held a silver tray with a teapot and cups.

 “Now that you’ve settled down, shall you two talk things out like grown adults over tea? Or would you like to help me clean the extra bedrooms?” She asked.

 Both royals stared at each other before looking at the maid.

 “Tea please!” They responded in unison.

 “Good choice!” She placed the porcelain dishes on the table before leaving.

 Sibylla poured the tea into their cups before sitting down.

 “Um… thank you…” Sin-Vira said. He blew into the cup before taking a sip of the tea.

 “No sugar?” Sibylla asked.

 He looked down at the smaller pot that held a spoon and a white substance. While he was aware of its existence, he never tasted it. “Sugarcanes do not grow in our region, and your father was kind enough to cut off all access to imported goods. So I’ve grown accustomed to enjoying things without it.”

 She propped her elbow on the table and rest her cheek in her hand. “I wasn’t aware his influence could be this troublesome…” she stared into her full cup of dark tea. “My friend is a baker. Next time we meet, we gotta hang out there and try some of her food! It’ll be an apology for lashing out at ya. It wasn’t deserved.”

 Sin-Vira chuckled a bit. “You’re quite strange. Hot-headed and improper in one moment; then suddenly cool and friendly. I’m guessing you only act like a princess when you need to?”

 “We all have our moments, Vira. But let’s take this moment to discuss why we’re even here.” She laced her gloved fingers together. “How is your mother taking this? She doesn’t seem like the easiest to convince.”

 The prince cleared his throat as he suddenly felt anxious. “Funny you should mention that. My mother expects us to be together before the year ends. Or else she’ll be taking matters into her own hands…”

 “That’s simple! We’ll fall “madly in love” with each other in the fall and marry in the winter. So long as we keep playing the act everything will work out just fine!” Sibylla added sugar to her tea before sipping it. “But don’t make it seem rushed or they’ll get suspicious.”

 Sin-Vira stared at the bowl of sugar as though it were a complex puzzle. Sibylla picked up the spoon and added a spoonful of sugar into his tea and stirred it.

 “It brings out the taste of peppermint much better this way…” she commented before enjoying her tea.

 He watched her before opening his mouth to speak. “Doesn’t it burn?” he asked.

 “Normally it would burn, but I’ve grown used to it. Jealous?~” she teased. Her response came out so natural, but it still felt off. “Now hurry and try your tea!”

 Sin-Vira raised a brow to her before trying the tea with resistance. His eyes widened as his lips parted. “That’s too sweet! I feel like I’m gonna throw up!”

 She rolled her eyes. “Oh so now it’s too much? You whine a lot for someone meant to be charming. You’re more of a royal pain.”

 “I’m not in the mood to help clean today, so I won’t bother engaging in another trivial fight.” He finished his tea right as the gate to the garden creaked loudly.

 They looked over to see a shorter male dressed in yellow garbs and wore a crown.

 “Good afternoon, lady Sibylla! I brought your favorite cake! I was lucky enough to take the last one!” He presented a woven basket to her.

 “Excuse me, but we’re supposed to have a private time together,” Sin-Vira spoke.

 The male in yellow just ignored him as he kept talking. Sibylla was blatantly ignoring the intruding person in response. Playing with the spoon in her cup and swirling it mindlessly.

 “Lady Sibylla? Are you unwell?” he asked with a concerned tone. He reached out to feel her face.

 Sin-Vira swatted his hand away with an annoyed expression.

 “Listen here, corn-hair: She’s not interested.”

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