“Shall we take a break and get some tea, lady Theresa?”, His Higness Itaku called me waving his hand and smiling from the bench.
“……Sure, I will be right here!” I answered, looking down and hiding my face with the hat to mask my embarrassment.
Half of the month devoted to the choice of his former bride has already passed, and the third week was ongoing. It would be nice to go both at lunch and dinner with those pretty ladies but, as usual, I, being assigned to the last group of suitors, was quietly messing with some medicinal herbs.
However, since then, His Highness comes to the garden every single day.
Getting up to anticipate the arrival of the Prince, I started to think about Peko, the twinkling-helmet Heroine.
It has been five days already.
His Highness almost forced me to sit on the bench saying: “You need some rest” and Peko, seeing us sitting together, suddenly walked away unleashing a smile and awkwardly saying: “Sorry If I disturbed you…”. I wanted to say to her that it was just a misunderstanding, but she was flee too fast. I don’t know if she went away to not disturb us or just because she saw that His Highness finally found his refuge, but she didn’t show up anymore since then.
Here he is, His Highness, staring at me with such a noble bearing.
The gardener left the scene, wishing me good luck with a gesture of his finger, while the waitress, who prepared tea and pastries with ease, slipped away with the grace of a shadow. Even the knight was hidden behind the hedge, and only the edge of his sword was to be seen.
I’m alone with His Highness now, just me and him, safe from prying eyes.
If we were to be seen by the other ladies of the group, they would probably kill me with a sharp schyte…!
When I was about to wash my dirty hands with the bucket, His Highness brought a ladle and kindly helped me. Probably I had to appear moved, but It was too strange to be served from a member of a Royal Family which I should serve myself. And look! I don’t know how or when, but he did put a pillow on the bench..!
The tea that I just sipped was delightful, and the cushion was really soft and fluffy. To me, It really looks like some kind of hospitality I do not deserve.
“Aren’t you coming to the parlor?”
“Well.. I grew up in the far region of Rionia, and I’m feeling really embarrassed by not having any good arguments to start a conversation with citizens…”
“Don’t you even try to talk with them?”
“There’s no point, I’ll retu…. N-no!, I-I feel ashamed for being just a peasant!”
It’s too risky trying to engage with people and establishing relationships while pretending to be my sister…
“It seems like you don’t care about those things…”
As he said so, I answered him with a wordless smile.
There’s a lot of things I would like to do, but they are not convenient in a place like the Royal Palace. My only desire was to return as soon as possible to my paradise….”
“Would you like some cookies? I made them with the herbs which you like so much…”
“…. I thank you, my Lord, but I prefer not. Thank you, really.”
I hid my hand in front of those fragrant biscuits: even if I wash my hands thoroughly, there will still be some traces of mud left under my nails. How can someone pretend to take a biscuit with those terrible fingers in front of His Higness? I thought….. I thought it would be better to kindly refuse to eat than letting him look at me eating with those dirty nails. He looked a bit puzzled, but the very next moment he smiled at me reassuringly.
“Aaaahm!” He uttered while bringing a cookie to my mouth.
I felt quite embarrassed……… how am i supposed to eat this way???
I took the cookie from his hand just before it touched my lips: even though the situation was a bit annoying, I found it very delicious and ate all of them out of desperation next to him, who seemed to be pleased for what just happened.
“You always behave differently every time I see you. You are such a mysterious person..”
“I don’t know which side of my personality you did see, but please, just forget everything…”
Probably he was referring to my poor behaviour at the tea ceremony or my lowly paesant style…
“You see.. My sister used to hold a grudge even for an hour every time her dress got stained with mud, but you.. you seem to be at ease even if your hands get dirty.”
He laid his eyes on my hand.
Since my arrival at the Royal Palace I’m taking a good care of my hands, so now they are not ruined as before. Even so, the difference is still huge compared to the other girls. Their nails are long and elegant, while mine is short and rounded: I’m sure they won’t look any good to His Highness, who walks along princess Arlibell or the other ladies, but I like them the way they are.
I love taking care of gardens. Medicinal herbs, vegetables, fruits: earth gives life to us all. The entirely of human beings and animals survive thanks to the merciful earth. That is why I like to be in direct contact with the soil. Doesn’t this green landscape recall a blissful peace inside of his heart? Two years ago, my home wasn’t able to grow anything. Plants and flowers were ruined and dead, and that brings me back sad memories. When I see a garden full of flowers and plants I understand that finally the dawn has won over the dark night.
The fresh and humid soil. The newborn leaves that spring out of the soft earth. The insects crawling out of the cultivated lands. The juicy plants turn their faces to the sky. When the wind blows, you can smell the perfume of the flowers, and all this green shines under the sun.
I feel happy when I get in touch with the earth.
When the Demon King was defeated, I completely dedicated myself even more to gardening. I truly understood that the darkness was gone when the garden returned beautiful like once.
His Highness was listening to me intensely with cheerful eyes, like if he was sailing my words with the vessel of his imagination…
“So the dawn finally came upon your home?”
“The sun appeared through the clouds and shined upon the devastated city and his people and vanquished the dark in every remote corner. –“ The golden angel who descended upon the darkness, announced the dawn with his shrilling voice.”
“This… It’s a verse taken from the Descent of Leonoz..”
“Yes, but I do not think that neither the care of God nor the sacred animals descent are comparable to the victory of the Heroine and her fellowship.”
“Tell the same story to my sister in law. Although it wouldn’t be enough to make her happy again, it could be an encouragement for her. But maybe even this idea is over presumptuous…. “
I had the same feeling while taking a look at his sad face.
How can you compensate the Heroine who won over the Demon King and gave hope to people?
You do not need to fall in despair. Peko considers you as a younger brother. In a foreign country like this, what could cause in her more joice than having someone with whom she can relate as family?”
Peko surely knows how much he loves him. Next, I tried to joke a bit about it…
“Moreover, everything will be alright, if she entrusts His Royal Highness…”
“You are completely right. He is relentless.”, said the Prince with a sincere smile but I, shrouded by fear, couldn’t ask him what he meant with his words…. I hope you are not suffering, Peko….
I shivered, but I kept sipping my hot tea.
“Theresa!… ….. THERESA!?!”
“M-Mmm, WHAT? Oh yes, I’m here…. I’m here….”
Absorbed in my thoughts gathered in a cup of tea, I didn’t notice he was calling my name.
Often I still can’t answer when i’m being called Theresa. Sooner or later someone will think that I’m deaf or stupid….
“What were you thinking about? You were just staring into space….”
“Damn, I’m really sorry! I would never do something so rude… I was just fearful in front of your gaze… I beg your pardon, If I bothered you.”
“Good one, lady Dalton. The typical answer of nobility.”
“What is Your Highness saying? Maybe are you doubting of me?”
“Look at me then, girl.”
I pleased him: I’m good staring at the eyes.
His irises got many shades of blue, and right now they are fading to an intense, azure color. His lashes almost look like those fake ones of ladies. The straight nose. The pink lips that every girl would love to have, they now look even thinner.
“Why are you looking at me like that? Smile at me, now!”
“It’s a game in which one cannot laugh!”
Widening his eyes, he bursted out laughing.
YUHUUU! I won! It should be one of those noble’s jokes. “I like your style!”
He took a deep breath and sighed to me: “I won’t be able to come here for a while.”
He’s busy choosing his bride. He wouldn’t even have the time to enjoy a tea with me. Maybe he felt compelled to explain why he kept coming here every day? He is really sincere.
…. But I already miss him….
I loved chatting with him: the arguments were mostly light: “Which you like the most, scarabs or kites?” or “Do you prefer milk in your tea?” or “What kind of herb is your favorite?”… I really enjoyed every single moment spent with him…
“You must be really busy. Do not worry for me.”
“Oh, you are so cruel. Won’t you miss me when I won’t be coming here?”
“Hah! You are acting like a child!”
I told him to get revenge for his joke, but he now held a grunge.
I feared his still gaze, may it be that I made him angry? Then, he suddenly asked me: “How old are you, lady Theresa?”
“I’m older than you, maybe too much….”
What do you mean with “too much”? How old are you, again? Please, answer me loudly and sincerely.”
Shouldn’t he know already everything about his suitors? He surely won’t discard me only for an age gap, right?!
“I..I’m twenty years old….”
“You are six years older than me, soon five. Do you think it could be an obstacle?”
I was unconsciously remarking the difference of age between His Royal Highness and Peko when I shooked my head violently:“N-NO!”. He leered at me and came near. Being shorter than him, I had to rise my head. Looks like boys are growing well in these days but, after all, he’s still a child in his eyes… Will they look like his brother’s, once he’ll be grown up?”
“I am not interested in what you think about others… I want you to tell me your opinion about us… I’m going to ask it again, do you think the age difference will be an insurmountable obstacle?
“……….. I-I…. I feel you are a little too much young…..”
Was I wrong being honest?
He just looked like a pouting boy…. And what he did right after wasn’t nice at all: after taking off abruptly my cup of tea with its saucer, he grabbed my arms with his hands and pulled me next to him.
“Too young….. uh? Even if you are shorter than me?!”
“I’m not talking about your physique!!! You are too young to behave like this with me!!!”
“On the contrary, I’m doing it because I’m just a child….”
“You are just taking revenge for what I said!”
I just wanted to get up and run away… I would have slipped farther from him if I wouldn’t have been already at the edge of the bench….
I couldn’t escape, any attempt would be vain with his hand firmly holding my dress. Even at the cost of tearing the lace I released the hem from his grasp. While struggling I lost my balance, ending up with him holding my chin with his hand… Even the ribbon of my hat got untied during the commotion tickling my neck and falling to the ground.
“This hat looks very good on you…. But we don’t need it now…”
The hat felt behind the bench.
The rays of the sun lit up his face, and his eyes were full of a mischievous light… What will he do now?
“Do you think you did something which deserves a punishment?”
“W-well……….., maybe…………. may be just a little bit………….”
“At least you are an honest lady and, as one, you deserve a prize.”
He suddenly leant forward me, that I was going to say “NO!”, holding a cookie in his mouth… Then, he pressed it against my lips, and I started to feel the sweetness of it… Still shocked, half of the cookie cracked inside my mouth.
His Highness got up and licked the rest of the cookie scattered on his lips… “It’s sweet…”
Was it really sweet? I couldn’t taste anything, the astonishment of the honesty prize deadened my senses…
I unconsciously pushed him away, and his body moved without opposing any resistance. I then realized I was free from any restraint…
Then he put the hat on my head again: I felt relieved when I could hide again my face under the large brim of it. My cheeks were bright red, and both of us knew that It was not due to the tanning.
…………. How come????????? He just treated me like a child!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I wanted to firmly complain, but the words choked inside my mouth and, unable to swallow, I saw him leave.
Even the knight who was escorting his Highness and the waitress with the tea set disappeared from my sight. I was now alone in the garden.
Moaning and hiding even more my blushing face, I heard a familiar voice.
“it has been a long time since I saw you… Did you catch a cold? Your face is red…”
“N-no no……..!!! I’m fine…………”
“Thank God… Don’t stay out too much, wind gets so cold after the sunset… Ok?”
“I know, thank you.”
While being so happy to be with her, she brought me back the memory of what happened just before… “Do you still hang out with His Highness Itaku?”
“… He’s already gone. If you need something from him, it would be better if you went directly to the palace, since he won’t come here for a while…”
“Did he told that to you?”
“I understand… Please, don’t be mournful……. He just followed my advice…………”
“What kind of advice…..?”
“….. It is said that you begun to meet each other in secret. You see…….. It will take a long time before he’ll choose his bride……….. and someone may misunderstand this situation, especially when even princesses can’t meet him in private… I told him to pay attention to his behaviour….”
Now I finally understood: all of the things which happened to me lately where not just my imagination, but mere mischiefs. Every time I returned to my room I found something out of place: a missing handkerchief, a pair of wet shoes or the bed full of caterpillars…. Nothing serious anyway, it was just a simple handkerchief, the shoes dried very soon and I gently removed the caterpillars….
It’s very likely some of my door neighbours did it, since everything happened while I was out…. I don’t really like having to suspect the other ladies of my group, but our relationship will never be the same again.
Anyway, my first thought was always to return to the garden… I did it almost unconsciously….
It’s was inevitable to meet His Highness everyday, since I spent most of my time there…
“I love to see how he becomes blind when he’s in love… But I thought our friendship could deteriorate your relationship with him, that’s why I avoided meeting you… Did I offend you by any chance?”
“How could I be offended by your kindness to me?”
Raising the corners of her lips with a beautiful smile, she happily took my hand: “Will you come visit me to the Royal Palace even if he won’t choose you as his bride?”
“I feel good in this place…”
“Huhu, really..? You feel yourself better in this garden than in the Royal Palace…… don’t you?”
“Plus, there are you here…”
“Yes, but I’ll wait you also there! Come as you wish, my dear friend Theresa!”
her black eyes shone with affection. I’m sorry for her… Theresa is the name of my sister, not mine…. This friendship is based on a lie… however, I didn’t want to tell her, so I just shook his hand silently.
“One last thing: keep an eye out for Cecille Ruff Galaner. It seems like she’s spreading rumors about you.”
“I think she’s doing it to stir things up against you. Please, avoid her. Refer me immediately if something happens. I’ll take care of it!”
“I thank you, but since His Highness won’t come here anymore, there won’t be no more tittle-tattles. There won’t be anything more to worry about.
“I hope so….”
Still worried, she got up and told me: “I shouldn’t have stayed so long!” and, after recommending me to keep in touch with her for any problem, she left.
At that point I was still naive: I didn’t consider the situation seriously.
I didn’t take into account how important was her insight, the advices of the Heroine which defeated the Demon King.
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