3607 Words
“He’s here, Lena!” Cece whispered excitedly. “Shush!” I hissed back. I was seated on the dais of the great hall, awaiting the arrival of the prince. Cece was standing next to me, attending as my lady-in-waiting. I wanted her there for moral support. “His Royal Highness, Prince Philippe of the Kingdom of Charmant has arrived!” the herald announced. The giant double doors at the far end opened and a group of people entered, led by who I assumed was the prince, followed by his entourage, who carried various-sized chests and boxes. Gifts. I heard Cece gasp, as well as surprised “oohs” from the maids standing behind us. Cece elbowed me discreetly. I glanced at her and she gave me a wide-eyed, meaningful look. I rolled my eyes and turned my attention back to the approaching prince. I wasn’t surprised by the girls’ reaction. The prince was gorgeous in every definition. He was tall and strapping, with curly blonde hair that framed his chiseled face perfectly. He had dazzling green eyes beneath thick, blonde lashes. His skin glowed, as if he spent a lot of time in the sun. Unlike me. Being out in the sun for too long does nothing to my pasty skin. He bowed elegantly when he reached the foot of the dais and gave me a dashing smile, displaying his perfect white teeth. I heard more sighs behind me. Besotted. That was the perfect word to describe the sighs coming from the girls. I swallowed. I had never felt nervous about a courtship before. “Thank you for receiving me, Princess Elena,” he spoke in a deep, smooth voice. Something fluttered inside me. I liked the way he said my name. My grip on my chair tightened. “The pleasure is mine, Prince Philippe,” I replied calmly, even though my insides were going wild. Prince Philippe approached me and held out his hand. I pried my cold hand from the arm of my chair and held it out, which he took in his own. He planted a soft kiss on the back of my hand, sending shivers through my body, before flashing his brilliant smile at me, his gaze boring into me, pulling me in. I couldn’t take it. I looked away as I felt my face get warm. I was overwhelmed. Not one of my suitors had ever made me feel this way by their mere presence. I prayed he wouldn’t hear how loud my heart was beating in my chest. “I have brought you gifts.” He snapped his fingers to call the attention of his entourage. It also snapped me out of my confusion. I willed myself to calm down as I politely accepted his gifts. It was a lot. Chests of silk and cashmere, boxes of jeweled hair adornments, decadent treats native to his kingdom, as well as caskets of imported tea leaves. I didn’t really absorb everything I saw. I was too busy stealing glances at the gorgeous prince. It was hard not to. Attraction. That's what it was. I realized I was attracted to him. Very attracted. I couldn’t stop looking at him. I also caught him staring at me several times, but I was always the first one to look away. I bit my lip to hide my smile as we waited for the presentation of gifts to be over. “Thank you, Prince Philippe. Your gifts are very much appreciated,” I said after the last box was presented. “You must be tired from your long journey. Please, you should retire to your quarters and have some rest for the moment.” The prince’s kingdom was leagues away. As a courtesy, we have given him and his entourage accommodation in the palace, where he will be staying for a few days before traveling back to his kingdom. It somewhat pleased me, knowing he wasn’t leaving yet. “Thank you kindly, Princess. But only for the moment,” he said softly. “I trust I’ll be seeing you sooner rather than later?” “Yes, of course,” I mumbled. “If that is what you wish. I will see you soon.” “Soon, then.” He gave me another smile that melted my insides before the steward led him and his entourage outside to show them their temporary quarters. As soon as their footsteps disappeared, Cece shook me excitedly. “He is so handsome, Lena!” she squealed. “Oh my God!” I giggled, sharing her excitement. “He is definitely the one!” “Shush! We don’t know that yet. Get a hold of yourself,” I scolded, even though I was also trying my best to keep my giddiness from showing. I was to see the prince later that afternoon. I was excited but also nervous. It was strange. I wanted to see him, but I was also afraid to see him. It gave me anxiety. “Princess Elena,” he greeted, looking as gorgeous as ever when we met up in the foyer. He was tall, about a head taller than me. But then again, I wasn’t blessed with height. Most people tower over me. “Hello, Prince Philippe. Please, call me Lena,” I said automatically. He smiled. “Then, call me Philippe.” We strolled down the gardens. We were both quiet at first. My maids-in-waiting and the prince’s attendants were following some distance behind us, but it still felt like it was just the two of us. I was so nervous! “How was your trip?” I finally asked him. “It was long and a bit taxing,” he replied. “But it was well worth it,” he finished with a smile. I smiled back shyly. “Charmant is pretty far out, is it not?” For the life of me, I could not remember where it was situated on the mainland. I should’ve paid attention to geography lessons. “Yes, it is quite far. The journey only took a day and a half since our horses were very fast.” “I’ve never been outside of Ephemere,” I admitted. Or even outside the palace, I added silently. “Really?” “Yes. There wasn’t really any reason to leave. But soon, my duties will take me outside, I hope.” He chuckled. “You want to leave? See the world? Go on an adventure?” “Yes!” I answered, a little too excitedly, and then I reprimanded myself for my ‘unprincess-like’ behavior. “Sorry,” I muttered. “Oh, please don’t apologize, Princess,” he said quickly. “I like your enthusiasm.” “Call me Lena, please.” “Lena,” he said with a smile. Once again, it excited me. We passed by a tall bush of roses and I stopped to smell them. “Tell me about Charmant, Philippe.” He told me about his kingdom, his people, and his customs. He indulged my curiosity and answered all of my questions. He easily made me feel comfortable. He brushed on the topic about the benefits of the alliance between our kingdoms but then quickly changed it to something else when he sensed I didn’t want to talk about it. “Now, enough about me,” he said after he’d answered my hundredth question. “I want to know more about you.” “Me?” I asked in surprise. “I mean, what’s there to know? I’m pretty sure you already know about me.” He laughed. “Yes, I know you are the princess, Lena. But I want to know who you are. What you like to do. Your favorites, your hobbies, you know. I just want to get to know you.” I stared at him. Am I dreaming? Philippe was ticking all of the right boxes. Was he really the one? I began talking about generic things I liked that were expected of me, like music and the arts, but he was attentive and seemed really interested, so I told him more. It was very easy to talk to him. Turns out, we also have a lot in common. I told him about my endeavors some time ago of oftentimes escaping the palace. Apparently, he also did the same. He was in the same boat as I was. A child born into royalty. Soon, we were laughing about relatable things. He was very funny. And charming. And have I mentioned gorgeous? Everything about him was perfect. I couldn’t help noticing the muscles on his shoulder peeking beneath the collar of his immaculate white shirt. We were having such a good time that we barely noticed that night had fallen. A servant came by bearing a message for the prince, saying he was summoned to join my father for supper. Probably to talk about the reason why he was here and discuss alliances. “Are you not joining us, Lena?” Philippe asked. “No, thank you,” I said quickly. I’ve never taken part in those talks and I have no intention of changing that. He looked disappointed for a second, but then he smiled and stared at me, making my heart skip a beat. “What?” I asked, feeling extremely conscious. “Oh, I’m sorry. Forgive me, Princess,” he said, glancing away shyly. “It is true, what they say.” “What do they say?” His emerald green eyes locked on mine. “I have heard about your beauty, but their words do not do you justice. You are the most beautiful girl I have ever laid my eyes upon.” I looked away in embarrassment as my cheeks flushed with pleasure. It was a simple compliment, but since it came from him, it just hit differently. I liked it. “You don’t have to lie,” I mumbled. “I’m not.” He gently brushed his fingers on my chin and tipped my head upward so he could stare right into my eyes. “I hope you would consider marrying me, Lena.” My breath caught in my throat. Why was it so hard to breathe? I stared at his handsome face, his eyes, his lips. His lips were very full. They looked soft. They curled up in a smile. “I’ll be seeing you tomorrow, I hope?” he whispered. “Y–yes. Tomorrow,” I stammered. “Have a good night, Lena.” “Y–you too.” As soon as he left, I reached out to a nearby tree for support before I could collapse. I had forgotten how to breathe. I breathed. Cece appeared from wherever she was hiding and helped me up. She had a knowing smile on her face and as soon as our eyes made contact, we both burst into excited girlish giggles. “Lena, you are so besotted!” she teased. “Will you please stop using that word?” I grumbled. “Now, let’s go and eat. I’m starving.” I dragged her away before I succumbed to fantasies filled with images of the prince that had completely besotted me. Prince Philippe remained at the palace for two more days. I showed him around the palace and shared our customs with him. We shared meals together and engaged in various leisurely activities as we whiled the time away by talking. In the afternoon, we’d stroll around the palace grounds. I even took him to some of my hiding spots from way back, but I never took him to my tree house. Somehow, it just didn’t feel right. I did sense some arrogance in him the more time we spent together. He was a bit pompous and demanding in the way he treated the servants. Well, except for the maids. His good looks and charm captured every girl’s attention in the palace. He also had a tendency to sound boastful, like when he talked about his fighting skills, saying he could take down an entire army on his own. Maybe he was just really proud of himself, which wasn’t that bad, I guess. Luca could definitely do better than him. But, of course, I didn’t tell him that. However, the only thing that mattered was how he treated me and how special he made me feel. Like I was the most important girl to him. I knew he was wooing me for my hand, but call me successfully wooed and captivated. Was this love? I asked myself. Logically, it wasn’t. How could anyone fall in love in just three days? It was just a silly infatuation. But I admit, I liked him very much. Excitement. Giddiness. Feelings I never knew I was capable of having for a boy. But, then again, he was more like a man than a boy. I’ve grown. And I’ve changed. Before I knew it, the time came for him to leave. On his last night, we took a stroll in the moonlight. We sat side by side on a bench overlooking the dark, glassy pond that reflected the moon in the cloudless sky. The three days were fun. I know I would miss him, but I didn’t find it difficult parting with him. Philippe subtly reached over and entwined his hand in mine. It caught me by surprise because we weren’t allowed to be that close physically. We weren’t even allowed to be alone, unsupervised. Even then, we were being watched. But because our backs were to our watchful supervisors, they couldn’t see our held hands on my lap. It was the first time he’d touched me without any cause for formality. It wasn’t right, but I liked it. Maybe even thrilled me. Philippe gently caressed my hand with his fingers as we both sat there, unmoving. I closed my eyes. Something new woke up inside me. Something that made my breathing hard and my heart beat fast. “Lena, I will miss you,” he said. “Likewise,” I breathed, too distracted by what he was doing. He stared at me and smiled. He was definitely aware of the effect he had on me. I wouldn’t be surprised if his experience with the opposite gender was the complete opposite of mine. “You are so beautiful, Lena. My princess. And soon to be my wife, I hope.” “I… Thank you… But that is up to my father to decide, Philippe,” I replied. Sadly, it was the truth. Even though I liked Philippe very much, the King would still have the final say. “Then I will continue to pursue your hand,” he said, flashing his charming smile. “You and I will become great rulers. I know it. I have to go back to my kingdom on the morrow. But soon I will return to see you again.” “Really?” I asked hopefully. “Yes. Your eighteenth birthday is coming up in the fall, is it not?” My heart soared. “So you will come, then?” “Of course! And then, with it being a grand and populous affair…” He lifted my hand and softly kissed it, letting his lips graze my hand longer than necessary. “Maybe then, we could find the time to escape our ever-watchful guardians and be alone. Just you and me?” He locked his eyes on mine as he planted another kiss on the palm of my hand. A thrill coursed through me, making me gasp. Yes. I would very much like to be alone with him. “Then, I shall await your return, Prince Philippe,” I answered. He left at dawn the following day with the promise of his return. My mind often wandered to him. I would smile like an i***t as I stared blankly into space, thinking about him. Philippe. My prince. Suddenly, marriage didn’t seem so bad after all. Still, it wasn’t final. Philippe was a good candidate to marry the crown princess of Ephemere, but there could be better matches. That was why I had to continue entertaining other suitors. My father’s will, not mine. And they did come during the months that followed. I graciously entertained them, as was required of me, but none of them could ever match up to Philippe. Maybe I just didn’t bother trying to get to know them. Generally, I’ve also become happier. I started taking my studies seriously. I wasn’t entirely dreading my future anymore, knowing that there was a possibility that I would be paired with someone I liked. Governing an entire kingdom wouldn’t be as frightening if I got along well with my future consort. There was just one piece missing left. Summer passed as soon as it came. Then one morning, as I took a peek outside my window, I saw the lush foliage begin adapting to the orange and red colors of sunset, signifying the arrival of autumn. I opened the window and shivered slightly as a cold breeze penetrated my skin through the thin fabric of my nightgown. I took a deep breath and smiled. It was finally nearing the end of the two-year mark. It had been so long. I will finally see him again. The missing piece. My bedroom doors opened and Cece popped inside. “Good morning!” she greeted. “Well, you look happy. Extremely happy.” “I am,” I admitted, my smile getting broader. I hugged her and shook her excitedly. “Oh, Cece, he’s finally coming back!” Her eyebrows rose. “Right. I know you missed him, but I didn’t know you missed him that much,” she said, prying my hands from her shoulders. “Goodness. You really are head over heels for him, Lena!” “Huh?” I asked, confused. “Who are you talking about?” “Prince Philippe, of course,” Cece answered. “We’re talking about him, aren’t we? Aren’t you excited to see him again on your birthday?” “Oh.” To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about Philippe at all. “No, not him.” “Oh? Who is it, then? Don’t tell me you’ve fallen for someone else?!” “No! It’s not like that! I’m talking about Luca.” “Luca? Isn’t he your bodyguard? The one who left?” “Yes, he’s finally coming home, Cece! After two years!” “Oh. I don’t see why you’re so excited about a guard.” I gave her an offended look. “No! He’s not just a guard. He’s my best friend. He’s really cool. And nice, too. You’ll like him, I promise!” Cece rolled her eyes and smiled. “Okay. Is he good-looking at least?” To be honest, I haven’t really given much thought to Luca’s physical appearance before. “Umm, I don’t know. I guess so. I did notice a lot of the maids constantly giggling and staring at him.” “Oh?” Cece seemed a little interested. “Then, I look forward to meeting this Luca.” “Me too.” It was important to me that they’d get along. My two closest friends. I could hardly wait! Just a bit longer and everything would be complete. “Well, we already have enough boy matters to deal with. What difference does it make to add one more to the pool?” she mused teasingly. I frowned. “What do you mean?” “Heavens, Lena. Have you forgotten about your highly-regarded, expected visitor?” “Visitor? Who?” “Prince Alexandre, hello?” She pretended to knock on my head. “Oh, you know. Just the younger brother of the crowned prince of Allore, just, you know, one of the biggest kingdoms on the mainland?” I rolled my eyes at her sarcasm. Great. Another suitor. “When is he coming?” I muttered. Cece was still looking at me in disbelief. “He’ll be attending your birthday, I believe. In fact, I heard he’s arriving a day or two early as well.” “What?!” I fell back on my bed and groaned. “But Philippe’s also coming two days early!” “Wouldn’t it be nice to have two princes fighting over you?” Cece scoffed. “I’d trade places with you any day, Cece.” Philippe, I was excited for. But another one? I couldn’t believe I had to deal with two suitors at the same time. I had no choice. I knew I had to entertain both. But what if… I sat up. “Cece! I have an idea! What if you entertain this new prince while I stay with Philippe? You know, it would be like hitting two birds with one stone.” “Lena, are you mad?” she exclaimed. “No way! Prince Alexandre is your most viable match. The unification of both our kingdoms is most beneficial. Charmant is nothing compared to the Kingdom of Allore. Respectfully,” she added quickly when she saw my offended reaction. “Besides, I’m just a lowly daughter of a baron; I don’t have any right to entertain a prince.” “Don’t say that,” I scolded her. “You are a proud and beautiful noblewoman. Who said you can’t talk to anyone you like?” “Look, you have to keep him company, Lena.” “But what about Philippe?” I complained. “You’ll just have to find some way to deal with it.” I sighed. Suddenly, I wasn’t so happy anymore.
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