Medieval Times. Two kingdoms that had been close for many centuries have a ripple occur that breaks all ties between them. The children affected the most. Things are starting to stir in their world, which makes both kings decide it is time to try 'making peace' with each other. Will the children be able to rectify their friendship, or are the ties severed too much?
-The Past- Natalia looked down at him,she was sitting on the tree trunk that has become their spot in the Kingdom of Eathefeovia. Natalia loved it here, due to it being the only trunk that sat right above the lake that was a little passed the garden. The edge of the lake and the garden, the two places anyone you asked would say you could find the young princess. She goes to take another step forward, when her foot slips and she ends up falling down into the lake. Natalia hadn't been taught how to swim yet, due to her mother believing the learning how to dance and proper etiquette was more important for a princess. She starts screaming, before hearing the splash behind her. In a panic, she looks around her. It isn't until her heart is pounding against her chest, that she feels his arms wrap around her and drag her back to the edge of the lake. Her cheeks being pink from embarrassment and from choking on water, she looks up at her best friend. The young prince and her had been best friends for as long as she could remember. She splashes him with water when she realizes he was laughing at her. Before the two start play wrestling on the grass, something her mother hated because Natalia always came home dirty and her outfits were always ripped. Once he has her pinned, her cheeks turn a slight pink again. She had no clue what these feelings were, but she knew she couldn't imagine her life without him. --- Natalia abruptly wakes up and moves her head off of her mother's shoulder. The shaking of the carriage is what woke her up, she realizes. Her family and her were on their way to his kingdom. Her father and his have decided to 'make peace' Natalia leans back and stretches her limbs, as she thinks back to the memory that she had dreamt about. That was the last time she saw him. The day after, her father had roared around the castle, that his father betrayed him and she was no longer allowed to speak with him. Natalia couldn't understand what happened, she had missed her best friend for years after. But, as life went on and she got older those memories started slipping away. Until now, she was going to see him again. Butterflies were going crazy in her stomach, would he even remember her? Would he hate her as much as their families were supposed to hate each other? "Talli, snap out of it. We are here." Her older brother Joshua, nudges her shoulder. Natalia lets out a breath, as she steps out of the carriage and looks up at the castle that she hasn't seen in years.
[i Thwack]. Another arrow stuck from the bullseye, rounding the collection to four. The training grounds were bare, save for a few early risers intent on pummeling one another for an drink ration. Quinlan notched another arrow and took aim.
[i "Father will kill you if he catches you out here."]
[i Thud!] A foot off its mark, lodged into the wooden post. Heinrich was all too smug, sacking on an apple from his perch above the archery targets. Quinlan rested his bow on his foot. [b "The king is too preoccupied with primping you and Seraphina for our guests to notice that I'm not at breakfast."]
The younger Willistead brother scrunched his nose. [i "Normally I'd agree but today is different, and you are fully aware of that."]
He was. Quinlan had thought of nothing else in the last two weeks than the impending arrival of Eathefeovia's royal caravan. With public opinion of King Bertrand declining over a decade of fighting with the neighbouring Eathefeovia, a truce had been called in desperation to restore the Willistead House's image. While the country was rejoicing, Quinlan's chest had been knotted.
Natalia would be among the royal entourage. The truest friend he'd had that had been stolen away yet the letters he'd snuck out of the castle had gone without reply until he'd given up hope that she missed him as much as he did her.
[b "Be honest, is he even looking for me?"] he marched alongside Heinrich through the halls.
[i "Not yet, but I didn't wish to start the morning with such a sour note so I figured I'd come to your rescue so you had time to make yourself presentable,"] Heinrich clasped his hands behind his back. [i "This is where you thank me."]
[b "I will thank you if I survive the day."]
[i "Where the hell have you been?"] Bertrand's voice echoed off the stone walls. [i "We are playing host to half the Eathefeovia court in less than an hour's time and you look as though you've been rolling in muck!"]
The plain brown leather tunic and trousers were indeed filthy but Quinlan had gambled with leaving spare time to freshen up. A bet he had evidently lost. [b "I'm sorry, Father. I lost track of time,"] he straightened his posture under the king's glare. [b "I was on my way to get cleaned up."]
[i "It's too bloody late for that, the carriages have been spotted approaching the gates,"] Bertrand growled, cuffing him along the ear. [i "This crown is relying on our reputation being restored in this treaty. Do not ruin all the we have planned."]
Heinrich had the decency to drop his eyes to the floor to avoid further enraging their father. Thoroughly scolded and dismissed, the brothers adjusted their route to follow the king to the courtyard where the stately carriage was rolling along the stone path. Quinlan's eyes immediately darted to the figure who emerged first.
Natalia's father, King Alaric, follows her out of the carriage. He stands to his full height behind Natalia, resting his hand on her shoulder. Before he looks up and his eyes rest and narrow on his former friend and ally, he clears his throat and walks passed Natalia to get closer. "Bertrand." He mumbles and nods his head. Joshua and Markus Hughes follow their father out of the carriage and over to the other royal family. Natalia watches her father and brothers, before her eyes rest on Quinlan. Her breathing halts in her throat, he definitely looked a little different. Her eyes look down at his outfit, and a small smile reaches her lips as she shakes her head. He was still a pain in his father's ass. Her mother is the next to exit the carriage, she grabs her daughter's arm and starts walking up to her husband and sons. "Natalia, a princess does not stare. You walk with confidence and you follow your father." Matilda Hughes scolds quietly, as they reach the others. The smile is erased from Natalia's face, as she folds her hands together behind her back and stands straight. Her eyes flicking from Quinlan to his father.
Quinlan moved to bow in courtesy to Alaric, only for Bertand to grab a fistful of the back of his shirt to straighten him again. [i "I am the only king you will bow to on Kasmiran soil,"] he snapped in the prince's ear before turning to greet their guests.
Twice now he'd angered his father and it hadn't even passed mid-morning. A personal best, really. [b "Welcome,"] he extended a hand to the visiting princes. [b "I've heard tales of your jousting victories, Your Highnesses. We look forward to hosting you in our tournament in the coming days."]
Diplomatic and straightforward just as he'd been taught. Heinrich was looser in his greeting, charming in every aspect that Quinlan wasn't. Seraphina, all of sixteen years, could not help but swoon over the young men in front of her. In fact, she held their hands just a bit too long for Quinlan's liking. With the kings and their wives murmuring among one another, footmen rushed to begin unloading their luggage. In the fray, he trusted himself to look towards Natalia directly. Speechless, he realized she was staring right back.
The features he remembered were still there, only matured with grace. Her rich brown hair was longer than he remembered but those eyes hadn't changed a shade. Still mesmerizing, freezing him in place. His six foot frame maintained the height difference that was always between them but Natalia looked as though she could command any room she entered without even uttering a sound.
Quinlan felt an elbow in his side. [i "It's wonderful to have you in our home, Princess Natalia,"] Seraphina was the first to address her directly. [i "Isn't it, dear brothers?"]
[i "A delight I've not known in years,"] Heinrich bent at the waist to press a kiss to her hand.
Quinlan's throat bobbed with nerves. [b "Welcome back, Princess,"] the deep timber of his voice wavered as he repeated the kiss to her knuckles.
Alaric watches the encounter between Quinlan and Bertrand, his eyes widening slightly at the now grown man. He remembers the trouble Quinlan had gotten his daughter in many times, the two were peas in a pod. His gaze goes back to Bertrand, as he rolls his eyes at the still stubborn man.
Joshua shakes Quinlan's hand and smirks. "Thank you. We look forward to being here for it." He turns to Seraphina and bends down to kiss her hand, feeling his heart skip a beat.
Markus, the eldest of the siblings, nods and shakes Quinlan's hand with a frown on his face. Him being more like his father, and having a strong dislike for the other royal family. He turns away from Quinlan to bend down and kiss Seraphina's hand, before he walks over to stand next to his father and mother.
Natalia stands next to her mother, before the kings and queens start engaging in conversation, then she moves away to stand sort of away from them. She watches Quinlan's greetings to her brothers, before she sees Joshua react to Seraphina like he does. A small smile rests on her lips, when she remembers Quinlan's younger sister. Her mind flits back to memories of her wanting to always play with them, but Quinlan would fight her sometimes. Telling her she was too young.
Natalia faintly hears Seraphina greet her, and she snaps to the here and now and plants a polite smile on her face. "Thank you Princess, I am very happy to be here."
Her smile widens when Heinrich stands in front of her and kisses her hand, and to his statement.
Natalia's breath hitches again, as Quinlan walks up next. She hears his formal greeting, and her cheeks warm at him kissing her hand just as his brother had. She clears her throat, taking her hand back and runs both of her hands down her red velvet formal dress that her mother had picked out for her to wear for their travels. "Thank you. It's a pleasure to be back."
[i It's a pleasure to be back.] The words carried sincerity in the melody of her voice though Quinlan refused to allow himself to be caught up in the song. Mountains of unanswered letters stood between them, and he was far too damaged to make that climb just yet. [b "We have prepared your old rooms,"] he straightened his posture once more, staring just slightly over her shoulder to avoid those piercing eyes. [b "Hot water will be delivered to freshen up after your journey."]
[i "Dull as a cloudy day, this one,"] Seraphina moved past him to loop an arm through Natalia's. [i Traitor,] Quinlan's eyes narrowed at his sister. [i "I doubt even the music at tonight's banquet will crack a smile on that stony face of his. Come, I'll accompany you to your rooms and help you get settled."]
[i "I offer my services as well,"] Heinrich's chest puffed up. [i "Ladies require a brave escort, after all."]
[b "The only protection they require is from your idiocy,"] Quinlan tugged him away by his arm. [b "We will see the princes to their own chambers."]
How was it that they were outdoors yet the air felt stale in his lungs? Bertand's warning words rung in his ears, no doubt willing to follow through with punishment should he fail to uphold the family name with dignity. Pining after a childhood sweetheart certainly wasn't going to land him in either king's good graces.
[i "Will there be time to see our horses settled before the banquet?"] Markus fell in step with the Kasmiran brothers. [i "If I'm to win the joust, they'll need to be in top shape."]
[i "Quinlan's improved quite a bit on horseback, he may give you a fight,"] Heinrich bragged on his behalf.
The visiting princes locked eyes before glancing back at their hosts. [i "We always welcome challenges from our allies,"] Joshua's smile was tighter than he likely intended.
Natalia watches Quinlan, as he straightened himself and didn't even look at her once as he spoke.
Her heart felt crushed, so her questions that filled her mind from before had been answered. He hated her. He obviously remembered her though.
A sigh escapes her lips, before she smiles politely at him. "Thank you." . She shakes her head, before Seraphina walks over and loops her arm with her own. Natalia listens to Seraphina pick on her brother, giggling quietly. "He didn't used to be dull." She mumbles, more to herself.
Natalia lets Seraphina lead her toward the castle, she looks back at Quinlan once more before turning back around and walks with her head held high even though her heart was shattering. "How've you been Phi?" She turns her attention to the younger girl, and uses her nickname she used to call her.
Seraphina smiles at Natalia, as they walk into the castle. "I've been great. He missed you too, you know?" She teases, as they get to the many rooms in the castle.
Natalia's eyes widen at the sudden statement from Quinlan's sister and her cheeks turn a slight pink. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Mmhmm, well this is your room Talia. The hot water should be delivered soon, so you can get ready for the banquet." Seraphina says, as she shakes her head at the older girl before directing her to the room Natalia used to stay when the Hughes family would stay here.
--- After Natalia had used the hot water to freshen up, she had changed into a light blue semi sparkly strapless gown with white gloves that reached her elbows. She had taken her hair down, letting it flow down her back.
Looking around, her eyes shut for a moment as memories start filling her head again. There were so many in this room and around the castle. But they didn't matter now, Quinlan had grown to hate her. Taking a deep breath, she opens her eyes again with a new determination. She had to grow to think of him as the enemy now too.
Even though she knew the banquet wasn't for a little bit longer, she opens her door and walks out of her room. She starts walking around the gigantic castle, before finding herself on one of the balconies. She smiles slightly, as she can see the garden from here. She bends at the waist, before resting her elbow on the railing and rest her chin in her hand.
Warm solace met him the moment his chamber door was closed. Over an hour was spent with the visiting princes and their champion stallions, exchanging civil pleasantries until the summons came to return to the castle. Quinlan may have jumped too eagerly at the chance of escape. Heinrich hadn't appeared as pained with the company of their guests, though the weight of responsibility was not on his slim nineteen year old shoulders. Their father had been clear in the days leading up to the arrival; As the heir, Quinlan's sole duty was to present himself a dutiful future king interested in nothing more than the reunification of their alliance. The pressure was suffocating.
He allowed no one back into his room until he'd soaked long enough for the tub to run cold. A footman assisted him into a stiff navy tunic, embroidered in golden silk and a collar that dug into his throat if he dared tilt his chin. He was the image of royalty though none of the arrogance that accompanied such titles. Natalia's presence would [i not] shake him. He wouldn't allow it.
The corridors were mercifully quiet with the castle staff preoccupied preparing for the banquet. Quinlan was alone with his plaguing thoughts, footsteps echoing across the stone. It would be hours before he could return to the privacy of his rooms, dropping the political facade necessary to survive a stately visit such as this. Customary as well, for the hosts to entertain as long as their guests see fit to enjoy festivities.
Rounding the corner a delicate blue caught his eye, faulting his steps as the figure draped in it came into focus. He should go. Turn right around and move straight to the grand hall, throwing his focus back on the task at hand. If distractions were dangerous, Natalia alone on a balcony was downright lethal.
[i Why weren't his feet moving?]
[b "Have you forgotten so much of this that you need directions to the hall?"] his internal inquiry betrayed him by escaping his lips.
Natalia straightens herself out after a while, stretching her arms above her head, as she keeps her eyes on the beautiful flowers blooming.
If asked, she could name every single one of them. In fact, she knew Quinlan could attest to that due to one day when he saw a new flower growing in the garden at Eathefeovia and was so curious by it he asked her what it was as a joke. The look of surprise on his face when she answered him so fast, caused herself to giggle even now.
Resting her hands on the railing, she lets her eyes close once more. How is she going to get through this time being back here, having to be in his company for multiple hours...
A voice behind her makes her eyes pop open and her to slightly jump, recognizing the voice she lets out a sigh before turning to face him.
Her heart pounded against her chest, she looks up into his eyes. Being careful not to get lost in them, like she always used to, she replies. "I remember everything perfectly fine, I just needed a moment. The garden is beautiful this time of year, I remembered. How about you Quinlan, you've seemed to forgotten quite a lot?"
Her voice was soft, but she kept her face raised even though the man was a lot taller than she was.
The same gardens had been their own little kingdom years ago. Natalia admired them as though recalled every petal and grain of soil. Her remark toward him, however, stung like the bees circling those same flowers. Quinlan's jaw ticked in frustration. [b "My memory has not lapsed, though I've no doubt we recall our youth quite differently,"] his words cut sharper than the sword on his hip.
She was as defiant as his memories, chin tilted and fearless in their stare-down. The same mouth used to crook in amusement when he'd cave to her every whim. Now it was tense and unforgiving of his attitude. So be it. She was not the one left behind.
Below them came the sound of horns. [b "Allow me to escort you to the grand hall, Your Highness,"] Quinlan spoke through gritted teeth. [b "Our absence will not go unnoticed if we are late, and I'm sure you are familiar with how quickly word can spread."]
Rumors had been the fatal blow to their countries' alliance, after all. Betrayal and threats of war, culminating in a severed friendship between kings and a cavernous divide among their families. Quinlan forced back any further remarks and stiffly offered her his arm.
Natalia keeps her stance firm, as she continues to look at him. When he speaks, she can hear the sharpness in his tone and her heart shattered even more.
"We clearly do Quin." She uses the nickname she used to call him, when they were younger. Although today she says it with distaste instead of fondness.
Natalia goes to say more, when she hears the horns. She sighs and as he speaks about how their absence would not go unnoticed, she groans softly.
She looks at his arm and internally fights with herself about accepting it. Just wanting to run away, out of his company and out of this castle that tortures her with memories that promised a bright future.
Chewing on her bottom lip, she finally accepts his arm. "Thanks your highness." She hisses out.
A nickname should never sound as poisonous as it did coming from her mouth in that moment. Her hand was warm over his tunic, practically burning through the fabric though her grip was faint as though she could barely stomach touching him. Natalia's distaste for him suited Quinlan just fine. False pretenses would get them nowhere, though he would be civil enough to pass as friendly in the company of others at dinner.
No expense had been spared in preparation for the foreign royals. Lavish floral arrangements lined the hall, decanters of fine wines sat ready on each long table, and guests of aristocracy were trickling through the mahogany doors. Quinlan noted that both royal families had already seated themselves at the head table though two chairs remained empty. Directly beside one another, he withheld his groan. [b "Your Majesties,"] he bowed to his father and mother. [b "Forgive our truancy, I thought it best to escort Princess Natalia to dinner myself,"] the lie came smoothly. Well, semi-lie. He hadn't sought her out but it never hurt to charm her perpetually stoic parents.
[i "Check him for lip paint,"] Heinrich whispered to Seraphina though not quiet enough to spare him a glare from Quinlan.
[i "She has standards,"] his sister barely contained her smirk. [i "Join us, Talia! I won't allow my boorish brother to ruin our evening with that sourpuss mood of his."]
Natalia lets him lead her down the stairs and into the grand hall, she keeps her touch light against his arm. All she wanted to do was cry, the differences between their past relationship and their current one felt like a stab to the heart by a sword.
As they walk into the grand hall, she sees the decorations and the floral arrangement and her mood lifts a little. A smile lifting her lips lightly. "Wow, it looks beautiful in here." She breathes.
When they reach the head table, she looks toward her mother and father. A smile on her mother's lips, shocks Natalia. Before she sees that Markus and her father are sharing the same frowns and narrowed eyes at the two. Joshua on the other hand, was smirking at them.
Natalia lets go of Quinlan's arm, before she curtsies to his parents. That's when she realizes the only two seats left, right next to each other. Could today make it even harder on her...?
She lets out a heavy sigh, before she giggles slightly at Seraphina. Walking over, she takes her seat next to the younger princess and keeps her eyes off of Quinlan.
Unlike another young lady that was in the main hall, the daughter of one of their servers. She has liked Quinlan, since her mother was forced to bring her to live in the castle. She keeps her eyes on him, curious as who the princess was that was at his side.
[i "Are your rooms comfortable enough? We can always have more firewood delivered if it gets too cold,"] Seraphina offered. [i "I've always found it drafty off the fields on that side of the castle."]
[i "Again, I'd like to offer my personal services. I've developed quite the muscle, you know,"] Heinrich flexed an arm.
[b "The only muscle you've developed is that cheeky tongue of yours that's going to get you into trouble,"] Quinlan kept his eyes firmly ahead as the hall filled.
[i "Wine, Your Highness?"] a voice sounded on his left.
[b "Yes, thank you,"] he gave her a courteous smile. [b "Thank you, Catrina."]
She lingered a little longer than appropriate though if the king noticed he refrained from commenting. Quinlan didn't think he could actually withstand any more confrontation in one night, let alone more arguing with his father. The wine was sweet and welcomed, warming his throat with promises of relaxation at the bottom of his goblet.
[i "Your daughter has grown to be quite a lovely young woman, Alaric,"] Bertrand charged into conversation with as much tact as a raging bull. [i "She's made her societal debut, I would imagine? We're in preparations for our Seraphina's ball this coming winter. Suitors are already lined up to the next continent!"]
Discussing [i any] potential husband for Natalia was an unexpected punch to the chest. Another few sips of wine were clearly needed to take the edge off. Father had pushed Quinlan to marry on a bi-weekly basis since he'd turned eighteen but here he was, twenty-four and no potential bride had gotten further than social introductions in formal settings. The devil on his shoulder prickled that the reason lay in the seat beside him.
Natalia looks at Seraphina and smiles, nodding her head. "My room was quite comfortable. It wasn't too warm and not too cold either. Thank you though."
She giggles, when she sees Heinrich flex his muscle. "Well thank you Heinrich, I'm sure I will need you for something eventually."
Natalia hears the young woman's voice as she asks Quinlan if he'd like more wine, and turns her head to look at the server. She watches Quinlan smile at the woman, and she feels her stomach turn as jealousy fills her.
She narrows her eyes at the other woman, as she overstays her presence next to Quinlan and when she moves to her to ask if she wants wine, Natalia replies with a very short, "Yes."
Catrina's eyes widen at the princess, before she ducks her head and pours the wine into her glass before moving down the table.
Alaric smiles at the other king, looking at his daughter before looking back at Bertrand. "Thank you. She is quite lovely, and yes she has. But no one has seemed to catch her interest for too long... It's becoming stressful for me."
Natalia's hand pauses at her mouth, as she is about to take a sip of wine, at her father's honesty. Her eyes slightly close, as her cheeks burn. She had met a lot of suitors, but no one held her interest. They were all quite serious, unlike the man sitting next to her used to be in their childhood.
She shakes those thoughts away, before taking a few sips of her wine. Knowing the rest of the night is not going to be easy for her.
The only indication Quinlan gave that he'd heard her father's remark was a slight twitch of his ears. Exasperation was evident in his tone. Once upon a time it was very possible that Quinlan himself would have been proposed a match for Natalia Hughes. [i Family must always be loyal,] Bertrand had hammered into his head from a young age, extending to the close ties of the Hughes family who were an ever-present fixture in their lives. That is, a political infection developed and festered until the two kings could no longer see eye to eye. Alaric turned his back when Kasmira needed his allegiance most; [i "They can be no more to us than ghosts,"] Bertrand had spoken bitterly after the Hughes family withdrew from their place in Willistead Castle to return permanently to their home.
Quinlan had missed his friend desperately, wondering often as he aged what their adolescence would have looked like together had they not been separated. Would Natalia have eventually abandoned him regardless, as she had already done? The silence from her despite the countless letters he'd sent was worse than any punishment he faced from his father for daring bring up their old allies. He learned to accept the truth that had been glaring at him head-on. She simply had not cared for him the way he did for her.
Why then was he so jealous at the idea of her marrying another man?
[b "Leaving a trail of broken hearts behind you? Is it a matter of personality disagreement or simply that no one has been deemed good enough by your standards?"] The wine was loosening Quinlan's lips.
[i "You'll do well to hush,"] Phi snapped, no longer amused with his snark. [i "A woman can only rely on herself to have her best interests at heart, there's nothing wrong with being particular about the man we're going to be lashed to for the rest of ours lives. I'd rather die a spinster than marry one of these aristocratic dukes who have never been told 'no' in their lives."]
[i "Seraphina is quite interested in literature promoting independence for women,"] Heinrich chimed in. [i "She's got a whole library full."]
[b "I'm not saying she needs to marry the first brute who smiles her way,"] Quinlan leaned forward to speak around Natalia.
[i "Good, because you're the first brute who did and thank the stars you didn't get her hand,"] Seraphina fired back.
Natalia listens to the rest of the kings' conversation, her wine glass stuck to her lips it seemed. She placed it down on the table, just as Quinlan spoke to her.
She rolls her eyes, before looking at him. "What about you? I haven't heard about Prince Quinlan being betrothed either? Women finding your personality a little rough to handle?" She shot back, before Seraphina spoke up for her as well.
Leaning back against the seat, she listens to the bickering between the siblings before Seraphina speaks her last line and even though it was supposed to be a dig to Quinlan, Natalia feels the tears prick her eyes. Damn wine...
She clears her throat and blinks back the tears, before she looks at Seraphina. "Thanks Phi, but that's enough. Let's try to enjoy tonight huh?"
[i "I agree wholeheartedly,"] Heinrich raised his goblet. [i "Far too many reasons for celebration tonight than to dwell on arguments."]
Quinlan's knuckles tightened around his own drink. His brother and sister were well-meaning but they had not been exposed to the war room council meetings as he had. Bertrand kept him late most nights to ensure the heir to the throne was completely informed of the dire situation on the northern border where their armies had been falling under the unexpected force of the neighbouring Albion. Kasmira sought to reclaim the land stolen a century prior. Bertrand had pleaded for Alaric's aid of additional soldiers but Natalia's father had not been interested in tossing his country into a war that wasn't theirs to fight. That had been the breaking point, though Seraphina and Heinrich were oblivious to it and Quinlan was not at liberty to discuss it with either of them.
They were hosting traitors at their supper table. Good Kasmirans had lost their lives because they lacked the support of extra supplies and men they desperately needed. Yet here Alaric sat with his family; no apology from his mouth or condolences on the losses. Quinlan was meant to be joyous and socialize with them while his own friends had lost their lives?
[i "You will dance with the princess as we open the festivities,"] his father whispered.
[b "What?"] the prince's head snapped to the side. [b "But it's tradition for the hosting monarch to open the banquet."]
Though his smile never changed from its warmth, the flash in Bertrand's eyes warned him enough. [i Do as I say, boy.] Had they been alone, Quinlan would no doubt be torn to verbal pieces. [i "This diplomatic endeavour is to promote unity and new traditions for our countries. You [b will] dance with Natalia, as Seraphina will dance with one of the princes. It is to welcome new life and hope to this alliance."]
Quinlan bit his tongue. [b "It appears we won't get our wish to avoid one another after all,"] he grumbled to Natalia as Bertrand rose from his seat.
[i "My esteemed guests, welcome to Willistead Castle! It brings me great pride and honour to welcome our Eathefeovian allies. This is a day that has been longed for by not only my family but all of our beautiful Kasmira; to see our two countries reunite with a promise of strength and alliance once more. Before we begin our feast, I would like to invite our Crown Prince Quinlan and our visiting Prince Joshua to escort the Princesses Seraphina and Natalia to open our month of celebrations with a traditional Eathefeovian waltz."]
Natalia smiles and nods at Quinlan's younger brother. "Exactly." Also knowing very little of what caused the kingdoms to no longer be allies and what caused her father and Quinlan's father to hate each other even though they were the best of friends.
She drinks more of her drink, before she hears Quinlan grumble next to her. "What do you mean?" She asks, before King Bertrand stands up and makes his announcement.
Natalia has to put her wine glass back on the table, before she breaks it. So now she has to dance with Quinlan, she chews on her bottom lip. What else could go wrong...?
Natalia leans forward to glare at her father, he couldn't have mentioned this to her sooner? King Alaric sees his daughter's eyes on him and lets out a small innocent smile.
She rolls her eyes, before she watches as her brother seems to be enjoying this more than she could.
Joshua smiles in surprise and rises out of his chair and walks over to stand in front of Seraphina. He bows slightly and reaches his hand out to her. "Princess Seraphina, may I have this dance?"
No amount of resistance would null and void an order by the king. Seraphina held no hesitation in accepting Prince Joshua's hand, graceful and elegant as a princess was expected to be. She'd always been fond of both Markus and Joshua as children but to be on one of their arm's in front of the Kasmiran aristocracy was a dream come true for her. He looked proud as well, chest slightly puffed and smile firmly in place.
Biting his tongue hard enough to taste copper, Quinlan rose to his feet and offered his hand to the princess beside him. [b "If you would do me the honour, my lady,"] he spoke.
Neither had a choice but the formality must be upheld. Gentlemen do not demand anything of a lady, but ask with respect. It was only a lack of wanting to draw negative attention to themselves that she would accept his request. A breathe left him when she did. God, her hand was warm in his, though softer than his own calloused palm. If Seraphina was grace and elegance, Natalia was confidence and fire.
The traditional waltz of her country was one ingrained in his brain. Hours of practice as a child were spent with his tutor perfecting each step. Every year upon the Hughes' return to Kasmira for the summer, the welcome banquet would be full of partners dancing until late into the night. Quinlan and Natalia had shared many waltzed in their youth, though adulthood had only brought surety to their steps.
[b "I'm not pleased either but you don't have to be so tense."] He felt it where his hand rested on her waist, just as he was sure she felt the slight sweating of his palm. [b "I'm not going to drop you."]
Joshua smiles and leads Seraphina onto the dancefloor, putting his other hand on her waist. "You look beautiful tonight Phi." He murmurs quietly, as they dance.
Natalia bites on her bottom lip, watching Quinlan, as he reaches his hand out for her and asks if she would do him the honour. She fights herself to not roll her eyes, and slides her hand into his. Standing up, she lets him lead her onto the dancefloor. She wraps her other arm around his neck and blinks up into his eyes.
Memories start flooding her mind, as they start dancing. Tears fill her eyes, and she rests her head on his shoulder, hiding her face from him.
When he says about her being so tense, a small smile lifts her lips and she is thankful he still can't see her face.
As he mentions not dropping her, the tears start slicing down her cheeks. "I don't know Quinlan, you've left me fall before, when I had nothing to do with the fight between our fathers." She swallows hard, and she turns her head into his shoulder to hide her face from everybody else as well.
Quinlan's face remained passive, unwilling to allow her statement to go any further than puncturing his chest privately. As far as the guests needed to be concerned, their words were not weapons towards each other but soft mutterings; perhaps of memories gone by. He supposed they were, though not the fondness that others watching might believe. [b "We are extensions of our families,"] he tilted his head slightly to murmur in her ear as they danced. [b "You did not strike a blow, but inaction does not equal innocence."]
A physical attack would have been less painful than her silent abandonment. Hours and nights spent close to tears in the privacy of his room, wondering what he had done wrong to turn her against him so quickly after her father had taken her from him. Those nights turned into years and the crying eventually ceased as his tears dried and turned to resentment. Quinlan didn't know what trickery she was playing at, but he wasn't about to cave at the feeling of tears seeping through his tunic or the pressure of her head tucked against his shoulder; and he certainly wouldn't give in to the thoughts that she fit perfectly against him, as she always had.
[b "Our roles are to bring about reunification of our countries. Not sentimental walks down memory lane."]
Natalia keeps her face in his shoulder, following him step for step. Hoping it wasn't obvious to her brothers or her father, that she was crying as that's all they needed.
She hears him mutter in her ear, and clears her throat. Her voice muffled, as she speaks in his shoulder. "I tried to convince my father to change his mind, to ignore whatever the hell it was that changed his mind about your father. But, you know how stubborn he is."
When he says about their time just being for reunification of their countries, she swallows her tears and stands up straight. Looking up into his eyes, with new determination. Natalia speaks, her voice as cold as ice. "Fine. They're memories I wished I could have forgotten sooner anyway, they were all fake. The boy who was my best friend back then, was nothing but an illusion. You are nothing like what I thought you were."
[b "I'm not sure you could have forgotten them sooner if you tried,"] he nearly growled. [b "Seems to me the moment you left Kasmira was early enough."]
The moment the dance ended, he released her with a bow and immediately crossed the floor, leaving her standing for Joshua to escort back to her chair along with Seraphina. Bertrand's glare was screaming that he would be hearing about it later but in the moment, he could not have cared less.
How [i dare] she act as though she hadn't forgotten him the moment they were out of Willistead Castle's sight. To put the onus on him for the rift in the closest friendship he'd ever had; hell, the only friendship he had cherished more than life itself. [i She] had been the one to turn a blind eye. He would not bear the brunt of responsibility for her own betrayal. [i "Are you inept or just selfish?"] his father hissed when he was within earshot. [i "What exactly are you doing?"]
[b "If you'll excuse me, a good host must interact with his guests,"] Quinlan stuck around long enough to grab his re-filled goblet of wine before disappearing from the head table altogether in favour of speaking with the visiting diplomats.
Caledon. The Duke of Gandermor's son. The smile on his face was wider than the moon itself as Natalia accepted his offer only a few feet from where Quinlan was greeting guests from the countryside. Catching her eye, he could see that purpose behind her agreement. Natalia was proud. She would not cower to his temper. If anything, that only irritated him more.
[i "Isn't it wonderful, my prince?"] the woman he'd been speaking with reclaimed his attention. She and her husband beamed at him with unfiltered joy. [i "Not a day has gone by that we haven't prayed for such a reunion with our neighbours. This will only bring great fortune and favour for Kasmira."]
Quinlan forced a smile. [b "A happy day indeed, ma'am. How lucky we are to welcome the Hughes family once more."]
The decision to seek small talk wasn't working as well as he'd hoped. No matter what the subject or whom he was speaking with, his eyes always found their way back to her. Natalia, to her credit, did not give him the satisfaction of her attention on him in return. By the time the feast was served, he was several drinks in, the skin of his face pink with warmth and wine. [b "He's just a boy, do your best to leave his heart in one piece when you leave him on that floor,"] he grumbled to Natalia as he reclaimed his seat beside her to eat.
Natalia smiles and watches Caledon walk away, reclaiming her seat at the table. She says few words to Seraphina, not bothering to look in Quinlan's direction again.
Other men and women came up and spoke with her, telling her how grateful they were that her family was back.
Once it was close to supper, Natalia raises her glass to her lips. Her hand freezing when Quinlan makes his statement, a smirk starts to paint her lips. She lowers her glass and says, without looking at him. "Careful Quinlan, it sounds like you are quite jealous. And, you would know all about shattering hearts, wouldn't you?" Her voice was as cold as ice again.
[b "Jealousy would require feelings other than contempt,"] Quinlan's eyes met hers in a clear challenge that neither were willing to lose.
Seraphina shot him a warning glare but didn't interject on Natalia's behalf again. The visiting princess did not need saving. Pride shot through Phi's vein's with every ounce of matching anger Natalia threw back at her brother. Heinrich was not as comfortable with the hostile banter. [i "Have you tried the carrots?"] he held one speared on his fork. [i "They've been soaking for hours in a vinegrette bath. Really brings out the flavours, doesn't it?"]
[i "It's not the carrots that are delicious, it's the men that have graced our presence this evening,"] Seraphina fed into the heated tension surrounding Quinlan and Natalia. [i "Be wary, some of them are scoundrels but wonderful to play with,"] she leaned towards the other girl with nothing but mischief on her face. [i "I saw you speaking with Caledon earlier. He's very....handy, if you know what I mean."]
Quinlan's goblet slammed onto the table. [b "That's quite enough,"] he shot her a warning. [b "You are a lady and you need to act like one."]
[i "Says the gentleman who skulked around with the cook's daughter all last summer,"] Phi tilted her head defiantly.
Natalia hears Quinlan's comment, and keeps her eyes narrowed. "The feeling of contempt is mutual. In fact you should go speak with that servant, she seemed quite interested in you Quinlan."
She had so much to say, but she knew now was not the time. Until Seraphina starts talking to her about Caledon being a little handy. A smirk crosses her lips, as she looks at the younger princess. "Oh, is he? That is very good to know."
She giggles, before she jumps slightly when Quinlan slams his goblet down. Natalia goes to defend Seraphina when she makes the comment about what Quinlan did last summer. Her gaze goes back to him, crossing her arms over her chest. "Oh, so it's only okay if a prince has fun but us princesses are not allowed right?? We have to be prim and proper, and stay in line or everything goes crazy but the princes can do whatever the hell they want and it's all good."
[b "That's not what-"] [i Fuck], why was this so difficult? Quinlan prided himself on being well-spoken and unshakable but Natalia was the earthquake crumbling the ground beneath his normally steady feet. [b "I'm saying it isn't appropriate to discuss in public where all eyes and ears are on us."]
Seraphina's shoulders tensed as she prepared another attack. [i "If I may,"] Heinrich rose from his chair to kneel between Quinlan and Natalia. [i "I think everyone is just a little tired and intoxicated by all of the wine and festivities. Tomorrow promises a beautiful morning. Why don't we make the most of this evening, let tempers cool, and after breakfast we can take the horses on a scenic ride?"]
The youngest Willistead son was a perpetual peacekeeper, tried and true. As they grew older it seemed as though there was nothing left for Quin and Phi to agree on other than agitating one another. It was clear that his mediation talents were going to be required for the duration of the visit. [i "I'll only go if Natalia and her brothers do. I spend enough time with the two of you, I'm desperate for new company,"] Seraphina's eyes went back to her plate instead of boring holes through Quinlan's forehead.
Natalia watches Quinlan, waiting for his next words. She could feel her anger and heartbreak rising in her. Both things she had been able to keep in check until now. When he says about it not being appropriate to discuss such things in front of an audience, she rolls her eyes and opens her mouth to argue more but Heinrich interrupts.
She looks down at him and listens as he makes a pretty good point. She bites her bottom lip and closes her eyes for a moment, reeling her feelings back in. Letting out a sigh, she nods. "Alright, I will go. I think it sounds like a great plan, I'm sure Josh will go but I'm not sure about Markus. He can be a stick in the mud as well." She says, her glance going toward Quinlan for a moment. "I will drop this argument for now and enjoy the rest of the night." She finishes eating, before her eyes find Caledon watching him while he makes his way back over to her after supper.
[i "Your Royal Highness,"] Caledon bowed to the prince. [i "My family and I were grateful to receive an invitation to celebrate with your families this evening."]
Maintain appearances, Quinlan scolded himself. [b "Your father serves the Crown well. It is our pleasure to host our esteemed and loyal guests."]
Anyone with functioning eyes could understand the intention behind the young man approaching the head table. His hands might have been clasped in front of his body but Quinlan could see Caledon's sweaty palms and nervous energy. The quick glances thrown to Natalia gave away his intentions more than anything. [b "Is there something you wish to ask, Caledon?"] Quinlan's voice held more confidence than it had all evening. If the boy was going to ask for her company, the prince wasn't going to make it easy. [b "You seem quite antsy."]
[i "No, Your Royal Highness, I'm very well thank you."] Under the heir's watch, the future duke was struggling to maintain composure. [i "I was just wondering..."]
[b "I'm aware of what you've been wondering, I'm simply waiting for you to speak,"] Quinlan cut him off.
A kick to his foot halted the interrogation. Bertrand may not have been a participant in the conversation but he was sure as hell listening. [b "You have come to ask Princess Natalia's hand for a dance, have you not?"] Quinlan pushed some hostility from his voice to sound amiable. [b "I'm sure she would like nothing more."]
For the first time since their dance, he turned to face her directly. [b "If Her Highness deems it desirable."]
The relief of not being rejected overthrew Caledon's fear of the prince. Bowing to Natalia and carefully taking her hand, he escorted her to the dance floor where a handful of partners were preparing for the next waltz. [i "I think they would make a lovely couple,"] Seraphina was not quite ready to drop the fight now that their guest was out of earshot.
[b "I think he's still wet behind the ears from the womb,"] Quinlan grumbled around a sip of wine. Caledon wasn't much younger than he was but Quinlan had already fought on a battlefield twice in the last decade, first as only a boy. [b "He has nothing to offer her, other than a pretty face."]
[i "That pretty face has made her smile more in the last five minutes than yours has since she's arrived,"] his sister knew exactly what nerve to pluck.
Caledon's charm held a naivety that only a privileged son could boast. His hands were soft and his smile amiable as he waltzed the floor with Natalia. [i "I hope you don't think me too bold,"] he leaned a bit closer to be heard over the music. [i "I couldn't wait another moment for a dance."]
Natalia smiles and puts her hand in Caledon's, letting him lead her to the dancefloor. She rests her other hand on his shoulder and looks up into his eyes, thoughts start to flood her mind that Caledon is actually kind of cute. Definitely not as cute as Quinlan, but she still feels her heart skip a beat, as he looks at her.
As he leans in closer, her cheeks turn a slight pink. She giggles slightly. "I find boldness very attractive, so it's quite alright. Plus, I think you left Prince Quinlan speechless which is something I have been wanting all night." She smirks.
"Plus between you and me, I couldn't wait a second longer either." She flutters her eyelashes up at him.
His hand was [i too low]. Quinlan was going to draw blood if he bit his tongue any harder. Caledon might not be aware of the danger he's treading but the sword on Quinlan's hip was begging to be something other than a formal decoration this evening. The boy's hand was further south than it had any right to be on Natalia's waist.
[i "Enough,"] Bertrand hissed in his ear. [i "You're pouting like an insolent child. Be a fucking man."]
Wine coursing through his bloodstream, Quinlan took the words to heart. Ignoring Seraphina's urgent warning and Heinrich's cautious groan, the heir to Kasmira descended the four stairs to the dance floor. [b "If I may,"] he stopped only when he was close enough to interrupt their movement.
[i "The waltz has not ended, Your Royal Highness,"] Caledon's grip loosened despite his weak protest.
[b "But my patience has."]
The two men locked in a momentary stare-off until the duke's boy bowed his head and stepped away with murmured apologies to Natalia. Quinlan wasted no time sliding into the space he had occupied. [b "Are you doing this on purpose, Princess?"] the fire in his eyes out-shined the alcohol-induced inflammation of his face. [b "You seem eager to push the boundaries of my composure."]
[b "I'll remind you that [i I'm] not the one who left, Your Highness."] It was getting difficult to maintain a neutral face with his rising blood pressure. [b "And a thousand libraries worth of parchment would refute the claim of who forgot who."]
A hundred pairs of eyes were glued to the pair dancing. Had the music not been playing, Quinlan had no doubt that they would hear the murmurs and rumors beginning to swirl. [i The heir and the princess.] Such suspicions would have made him blush for an entirely different reason years ago. Now it only served a bitter reminder to the chasm between the childhood friends.
[b "Do not spit in the face of the young boy who waited for any word from you, only to learn in time that your loyalty was withdrawn the moment your father abandoned Kasmira,"] his lips were close to her ear to be heard over instruments.
Natalia rolls her eyes at this point, tightening her hand on his shoulder. "It wasn't my choice to leave, your father did something to betray mine and I was forced to leave in the middle of the night."
She looks around, her cheeks turning a slight pink at the attention they have gathered. "I heard nothing from you afterward, you became your father and became a man who we would have both hated when we were younger."
As he says his last comment, Natalia feels like it is the last straw. She narrows her eyes at him, the tears shining in her aquamarine eyes. Her hands clenched into fists. She feels the last bit of her heart shattering. How fuckin' dare he? "You have no idea." She says, then pauses, trying to pull herself together before she speaks again. "You have no idea how hard it is to see the face of someone that you once loved, every single day." She pauses again, wiping the tears out of her eyes. "But you know what's harder?" She waits a moment, wanting this to hurt him as much as it hurts her. "Seeing a stranger where you once had a home..." She shoves at his chest, before walking out of his arms and over to the kings and queens. She bows her head, so they can't see the tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry to leave the banquet so soon, but I'm not feeling too good. I think it was the travelling we did this morning. Thank you for the banquet." She walks out of the grand hall and toward her room, letting the tears flow out of her eyes now, the sobs shaking her body.
The moment Natalia's body pushed away from his, it felt like the cold had seeped into the center of his bones. Quinlan tried to maintain dignity but being properly scolded in front of a hall of people did nothing to quell his guests' interest. [b "Natalia,"] he tried to grab her hand but she made quick work of excusing herself from the party.
Heinrich - his dear brother and lone ally - couldn't even look him in the eye as he approached the head table. Markus and Joshua appeared ready to tear him limb from limb had they been on their home soil, out of danger from execution. Alaric's gaze remained on the doorway his daughter had vanished through. [b "I apologize, King Alaric,"] Quinlan folded his hands behind his back. [b "Memories can be painful to recall, I did not intend to upset Princess Natalia like this."]
Seraphina let out a muddled snort-scoff. [i "See to it that you remedy the situation,"] Bertrand's performance could fool most adults. [i "Our guests have traveled for the better part of week for our festivities, I would hate for any of them to be anything but comfortable."]
Quinlan bowed. He was barely in the corridor when Heinrich appeared at his side. [i "What have you done, brother?"]
[b "Don't let her tears fool you, Heinrich,"] Quinlan removed his leather gloves, overheating under the unnecessary layers to his uniform.
[i "Seeing as she's fled from you once already in a state of urgency, is it really wise to be chasing her down to her private chamber where she's meant to feel safe?"]
[b "You think me a monster?"]
Heinrich laid a hand on his arm, halting his steps. [i "I'm saying that there is history here that is better left dead this evening. Apologize, do what you must, but nothing good will come out of continuing whatever argument you were having."]
[b "Who's to say it was an argument?"]
[i "Because she looked like she wanted to rip your face off with her bare hands."]
Quiet for a moment, Quinlan glanced to the floor. Natalia's words rang in his head. As children she was a horrid actress. Never could keep a straight face when called on to lie, nor could she ever withhold secrets. The tears in her eyes were filled with sincerity as she spat venom back at his hostility. Accusations, a reminder of the love they'd had for one another as children. If she had learned to lie, why must it be so convincing of pain?
He was left alone with his thoughts for the remainder of his trek to her room. A guard stiffened at his approach, though Quinlan brandished empty hands as a truce. [b "Your Highness?"] he called through the door with a knock.
Natalia ran through the corridor, as the sobs shook her body and once she reached her door she flings it open and slams it shut behind her. She makes quick work of her dress, pulling it off of her and leaves it puddled on the floor. She slides into her short pajama shorts and lace tanktop she had brought for privacy in her room.
She collapses on her bed and hides her face in her pillow, sobbing into it. How could Quinlan blame her, she wanted nothing more than to run back as the years went by to see him and finally admit her feelings for him.
Natalia hated the fact that he made her spill her true feelings tonight in front of everyone, she hated him for making her cry and she hated him because even all these years later she couldn't help but love him.
She hears the knock on her door and clears her throat, it feeling completely raw. "Go the hell away Quinlan! Leave me alone! I have nothing more to say to you!" She hated that it was obvious in her voice that she was crying, but she looks over at her door cursing herself for leaving it unlocked. She sits up and leans against the headboard, pulling her knees up to her chest and hiding her face in her hands.
Why the hell was she still crying? The only audience they had was her guard who desperately looked as though he wished to be anywhere else in that moment. If she insisted on carrying on with her performance, then it wasn't an apology that Natalia was going to get. [b "You insult me in front of my countrymen yet won't look me in the eye now?"] he snapped to the closed door. [b "Is this your family's way of finding entertainment? Belittle and make a mockery of your allies?"]
The fire in his chest was blazing. Quinlan held an ounce of guilt over how rapidly the evening had fallen but if she wasn't going to take responsibility for her own actions, then he wasn't interested in making nice. [b "My father is fighting for his country to survive and it's all a game to you, isn't it? You think me cruel but I've only grown into the man I have to be in order to protect Kasmira!"]
Natalia listens to him, the anger filling her once more. She tries wiping the tears off of her cheeks, before she stands up.
She reaches the door and opens it, crossing her arms over her chest she tilts her chin to look up at him. "Oh, oh no did I insult you? Did I hurt you? Oops, how dare I...? How dare I do exactly what you have done to me for years??"
Natalia lets out a deep breath, trying to calm herself. The tears still falling from her eyes. "You think that nothing I said in there was true?? You think I just said that to what? Make a fool out of you? Quinlan, what you don't realize is I just told you exactly how I felt after all these years and made a complete fool out of myself."
"I publicly made a fool out of myself in front of your countrymen and our families, because I told you how I felt. And the worst part is, you don't even care.... You never have. I'm starting to realize this now. I stupidly thought all those years ago that you felt the same about me, that you wanted everything that I did. But, I've woken up out of that fantasy now. I have realized the kind of man you truly are, and I don't only think you're cruel."
She says the last part with so much hate and hurt inside her, her eyes narrow. "I think you're a complete fucking asshole. Now, can you please leave me alone??"
Her passionate speech quelled his temper but Quinlan was too far gone to forfeit. [b "You think you're the only one who suffered when I'll remind you that I lost my best friend and confidant! You can think I'm an asshole all you want but my father is not the one who abandoned the people once called family to be overrun by Albion's forces. Remember that the next time you wish to preach from your high horse, Princess."]
The prince stormed off, telling himself it was because [i he] wanted to, not because some crying girl he'd once cared for ordered him to be gone in his own castle. How [i dare] she paint him as the villain in this story. The realization that he would have to see her at dawn, bright and early was almost enough to make him sulk back to drown his sorrows in the great hall.
Detouring out to the courtyard, Quinlan set his path back towards the training grounds. A few rounds of sparring with whatever guards he could find would clear his mind from the invading thoughts.
Most specifically of how he wanted to wrap his arms around Natalia to make her tears stop.
Natalia looks up at him, listening intently as he takes his turn at speaking. Her chest rising and falling quickly and heavily.
This was not her father's fault, nor was it hers. She goes to yell that at Quinlan, when he storms off. She slams the door shut and walks over to the window seat that used to be her favorite part of the bedroom.
She could see the garden and the training grounds from here and memories flood her mind of when she used to sit here and sneakily watch Quinlan train when they were younger. She remembers how her cheeks would warm as her crush developed more and more.
She sits down on the seat and pulls her knees up to her chest, the tears still slicing down her cheeks.
Natalia leans her face against the cool window, and watches Quinlan as he makes his way to the training grounds. She keeps her eyes on him, as he spars with the guards.
Every muscle ached in confirmation of a late night throwing punches and clashing swords until the knights were begging him to go back to the castle and sleep. Heinrich, the ungodly morning person that he was, barged into Quinlan's room and yanked the blanket from his bed. [i "Why am I hearing the you've given Klaus a black eye? Surely my guard hasn't given you reason to be aggressive?"]
[b "He was conveniently located on the training grounds with a few others and I needed to burn off steam."]
[i "So you punched him?"]
[b "I punched them all in combat, it was fair play."]
The idea of getting out of his warm bed to broach the morning chill and Natalia was painful. It didn't matter how much he loved getting on the trails with his beloved Hera, a beautiful chestnut mare that he'd had for a decade, he didn't want to share that peace and meditation with the Hughes family.
[i "Up and get dressed. They'll be down shortly to meet at the grand doors,"] Heinrich slapped his foot on the way out.
Natalia had fallen asleep on the window seat, with her head against the window.
Seraphina bursts into her room and shakes her shoulder. "Tali, wake up. It's time to get up!" She shouts, at an attempt to wake up the older princess who was a deep sleeper.
Natalia groans and opens her eyes, narrowing them at Seraphina. "Ugh, why did I agree to this..." She sighs, turning to put her feet on the floor and stretches her muscles out that were cramped from sleeping in the seat. "Alright, I'll be right there. Let me get dressed."
Seraphina giggles and skips out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. She almost bumps into the eldest Hughes son, and her cheeks turn a slight pink. "My apologizes your highness."
Markus clears his throat, resting his hands on the young woman's arms and a slight smirk actually raises his lips. "No worries, that was my fault. Is the bum actually awake? I know my sister can be quite stubborn."
Natalia smiles at the servant who delivers the supplies she needs for the morning and gets washed up when she leaves.
After she is done, she puts her black tight pants on and a white button up shirt before walking out of her room. Not looking forward to this experience at all.
When she finally reaches the grand doors, she smiles politely at everyone. "Good morning everyone."
God, was everyone going to be overly chipper? The tightness in Natalia's smile was the only indication that she was just as miserable about this as he was. Good. As long as someone was suffering alongside him, it wouldn't be a total waste. [b "Hello my love,"] Quinlan approached Hera the moment the horse was brought around. [b "Ready to stretch those legs?"]
[i "We've had the stable-hands prepare some of our own horses for you,"] Heinrich informed the Hughes brothers. [i "After the long journey here, I thought your horses would require some more rest to make sure they are in top shape for the start of the tournament tomorrow."]
[i "Very kind of you,"] Joshua brushed his hand through the stallion's mane. [i "Who is this one?"]
[b "Ragnarok,"] Quinlan answered. [b "Follows whatever orders are given to him, but watch out if he sees a field mouse. He's a coward."]
[i "For you, Princess, I suggested Delilah,"] Heinrich brought the gorgeous fawn coloured horse to her. [i "She's gentle but will rise to the challenge if you push her speed."]
Natalia looks over at Quinlan, watching him with his horse. She can't help the smile that forms on her lips from his gentleness with the animal.
Rolling her eyes at herself, she watches as the other horses are brought to her brothers. She smiles at Joshua's reaction, but lets out a sigh as Markus had gone back to his serious side.
When Heinrich brings over Delilah, Natalia's eyes widen. She brushes her hand through the beautiful horse's mane. "She is beautiful, thank you Heinrich." She smiles at him, nudging his arm gently. "You did always know what I would like."
[i "A beautiful and feisty horse for a beautiful and feisty woman,"] he teased. [i "It was the perfect match."]
Quinlan rolled his eyes. His brother would ooze charm from every bone in his body to whomever engaged him in conversation. It wasn't uncommon for him to wish Heinrich had been born first. Only barely into adulthood and he was more perfect for the role of heir than Quinlan's entire life spent training for it. People admired Heinrich's vigor and compassion. Compared to his own training of stoicism and practicality, the crown prince wasn't given the privilege of showing a softer side. It was the fun he missed more than anything, and jealousy flared at Heinrich's ease.
[b "Shall we get on the trails?"] he mounted Hera with a gentle pat to her neck. [b "They're most beautiful before the morning fog has lifted."]
There it was, another flare of envy, watching Heinrich offer his clasped hands to assist Natalia into the saddle.
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