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Shattered Symphony

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“She is young, having just received her Master’s Degree in education this year, but I believe that she would be a suitable tutor for Master Alan.”

The King stroked his beard as he listened to his son’s current teacher. It was an unfortunate situation, but Owen had to withdraw for an indefinite amount of time due to his wife’s illness. Alan would need a tutor during Owen’s leave, and while the King would certainly like more time to make these decisions, he trusted Owen’s advice.

“Very well,” the King said. “I will hire your granddaughter. Alan’s academic progress will be monitored closely during her stay.”

Owen bowed elegantly before the King of Oriens. “You are too kind, Your Majesty. I will send word for her right now.”

“Do that. I would like her here by tomorrow.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.” Owen then turned and left the throne room, his footsteps soft against the red carpet.

------------

You had received a phone call from Grandfather Owen yesterday, and you were now standing before the Oriens Palace. It had been a three hour flight from Liberty Kingdom, and although you were excited about this new job prospect, you were also feeling a little nervous.

“Ah! _____! Over here!”

“Grandfather?” You looked to your right and from around a corner, you saw the familiar man walking toward you. You picked up your bags, placing one of them atop the rolling luggage bag and briskly met him halfway. “It’s so nice to see you,” you said as you gave him a one-armed hug.

“You too, _____.” He tipped your chin up so he could look at your face. “My, my, you look sophisticated! It’s miraculous what education can do for you.”

You laughed. “Well, I have learned a lot from the Master’s program at Liberty University.”

“As you should have.” Grandfather’s eyes crinkled happily as he grinned at you. He was dressed in a black suit, his greying hair smoothed back neatly. “Please, allow me to help you with your bags.”

You gave him the lightest one, knowing that while he was trying to be accommodating, he was also elderly. “How is Grandmother?” you asked as you followed his proud lead. His strides were quick and confident, belying his age.

He looked grim. “She’s... all right. No longer in critical condition, but she needs medical treatment badly, and the sooner we can give it to her, the better.”

It broke your heart to hear that. Your grandmother was terribly ill, and only Dres Van had the suitable medical technology to help her. “You’re leaving tonight, then?” you asked.

“That’s the plan. Now, enough of this depressing chitchat and onto happier things and new beginnings. Allow me to show you your room.”

Grandfather Owen led you into the grand palace, and you marveled at it, surprised that you would be staying with the royal family in this mansion, of all places! You would be tutoring a young prince by the name of Alan, who was only six years old.

Fortunately, you were confident that you already knew most everything that there was to know about educating someone of his age -- the curriculum was fairly universal. The only thing that worried you was the amount of propriety that you would have to show someone of royalty, and you wondered how much of the Oriens culture you would be expected to know.

Your grandfather wouldn’t be around for long. Who else were you to turn to if you needed help?

You were led to one of the guest rooms.

“Leave your luggage here,” Grandfather Owens said. “I’d like to introduce you to the masters of this palace while we still have the time.”

You did as you were told, and you followed your grandfather’s sure lead. He began to explain to you where everything in the palace was, and right when you had passed the banquet hall, another man appeared from around the corner.

“Ah, Yu, brilliant timing. This is my granddaughter, _____ _____. She will be standing in as Alan’s new tutor while I’m gone.”

“So I’ve heard,” Yu replied as he shook your hand with a calm smile. He was actually about your age, tall and thin, with locks of soft, black hair that framed his face. “I am one of the butlers here, assigned specifically to Their Highnesses, Prince Glenn and Prince Alan.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” you said.

Yu’s smile only brightened at your words. He was a very friendly man, apparently. “You’ll be joining them for dinner then, Miss _____?”

You looked toward your grandfather, who nodded. “Yes, I do believe that is for the best. You should get acquainted to Master Alan before your lessons begin with him tomorrow.”

“I’ll be sure to have the table set for three, then.”

“Will His Majesty, the King, not be here tonight?”

“I’m afraid not,” Yu said. “He had to leave last minute to a conference, but he should be back within the week.”

“Well, that can’t be helped,” Grandfather Owen replied. “Come along, _____. Let’s find Master Alan.”

The door to the young prince’s room was open, revealing a massive nursery. It was filled to the brim with colorful furniture, toys, and books. There was a small boy playing with art supplies, propped up on the plush bed. He glanced up when you and your grandfather appeared. “Oh, sir!” he said, immediately climbing off of the bed. “Is this Miss _____?”

He was adorable with rich brown hair and chocolate eyes to match. He came to your waist and was dressed in clothes that you thought were unfitting for such a young boy. Nonetheless, he held an air of pride, despite his age. “That’s right,” you replied, kneeling down next to him. “You can call me _____.”

His bright eyes widened, and he reached out his hand. “_____, huh? I’m so happy you’re here. I was afraid that after Mister Owen left, I would be left alone with no teacher, but it looks like you’re here! I won’t be alone anymore.”

“Of course not!” you replied well-naturedly, giving him a kind smile. “I’ll be here with you until Mister Owen returns, but I’m going to need your help.”

Alan looked perplexed -- people had probably never asked him for help before, but you knew how doing so made even the youngest of children feel empowered. It was all a part of earning your Master’s degree.

“I’m new around here, and I’m very far away from home,” you explained, “so you’re going to have to show me around the palace and introduce me to everyone. You’ll also have to teach me about Oriens because I’ve never been here before.”

“No problem, _____!” he replied, holding onto your hand eagerly. “Let’s start right now.” With a gentle tug, he started out the door.

“Well, looks like you won’t need my help, after all,” Grandfather Owen called after you. “I’ll come around to bid you farewell before I leave.”

You waved goodbye with your free hand as Alan took you on a tour of the palace. Of course, you weren’t sure if you would remember where everything was because this place was so huge, but you supposed that you would learn. For something so simple as navigation, you had discovered a resource in Alan already.

“My grandfather told me that you have a brother,” you said as your adventure was over, and you found yourself back in Alan’s room.

“I do,” he said, “but Glenn’s out right now. He’ll be back for dinner. Will you play cards with me until then?”

“Sure thing.” It had been less than an hour, and you were already attached to the dear boy.

Your grandfather came by shortly, announcing his departure. You gave him a hug and wished him well. Hopefully this journey to Dres Van would help your grandmother. Although you were a little sad that your relative was going to be leaving, you knew that you would be fine here. So far, everyone had been so kind and willing to make you feel at home.

Grandfather Owen said that he would call you when he and your grandmother were settled in in Dres Van.

You and Alan continued to play.

A while later, Yu came in and announced that dinner was ready. He invited both you and Alan into the dining hall, where there were three places set. Alan asked you to sit next to him, and you smiled as you agreed. He began telling Yu about how wonderful you were, willing to play games with him.

You shrugged off all of Alan’s surprising compliments, when someone else stepped into the dining room. “She’s not here as your babysitter, Alan. She’s your new tutor; she might not want to play games with you.”

You turned to look at the newcomer. He was dressed nicely as if he had just been meeting with politicians or businessmen. Although he stood tall and was obviously very self-assured, there was a boyish quality to him -- he was younger than you were, you were sure. His hair was the same color as Alan’s, delicately smoothed over his head in wisps, and his eyes were a deep brown, redder than those of his brother. This was Prince Glenn.

He continued as he sat down in the third seat, “Give her some room to breathe, or else you’re going to scare her away.”

Alan looked a little disappointed at his brother’s words, so you came to the rescue. “That’s not necessary, Your Highness,” you said, “I’m enjoying the time I’ve had with Alan, and I don’t mind playing games at all.” Really, you thought that Glenn was being too harsh on his brother -- he was only six-years-old, after all.

Glenn looked at you with a cocked eyebrow. “Suit yourself...”

“_____,” you said.

“What?”

“_____. My name is _____. Am I correct to assume that you are Prince Glenn, Your Highness?” Here, you gave him a small, keen smile.

Yu began to bring dinner out, placing a wonderfully-plated meal in front of you.

“Thank you,” you said as you waited for the brothers to begin eating before you did. At least, this way, you would be able to follow their example. You would try your best not to make any mistakes at the table, especially while in front of royalty.

Glenn eyed you warily, though he turned to his meal quickly enough. He must have been hungry.

Alan, however, was talking to you between bites, eagerly asking you questions and telling you about what your grandfather had taught him and what he was looking forward to learning during your stay. He also spoke about his habits and what he had planned for the week. “There’s even a party at Nobel Michel this weekend.”

“Are you going, Alan?”

He smiled. “I want to, but I don’t have a date. All the princes have to bring a date! Hey, _____! Would you like to be my date?”

Glenn rolled his eyes. “I think it’s best if you stayed...”

“Why?” Alan demanded. “I’m old enough to go! And I know how to dance. Please let me take _____ to Nobel Michel.”

His brother sighed, placing his fork down, obviously giving up this argument before it escalated. “All right.” He looked to you. “You’ll have to keep an eye on him, then, if you want to go.”

You had never been to a fancy party like this before, but you thought it might be interesting. And really, this was like getting paid to go to a party -- you couldn’t complain. “I’ll do my best,” you replied, giving Alan a comforting smile.

He looked very pleased with your response. “We’ll have to dress you up like a princess!” he said. “You’ll be my princess for the night!” He began to shovel food into his mouth.

“Master Alan,” Yu said, “I think it would be far more fitting if you ate a little more slowly, especially in the presence of your new princess.”

The boy grinned and did as Yu advised.

After dinner, Alan had invited you back to his room to play a board game with you. The two of you settled on a short game of Chutes and Ladders, which brought childhood memories back to you. Alan ended up winning, and you were just fine with that -- it was a game of luck, after all. He gave a large yawn while helping you put the pieces away.

“_____, will you tell me a story?”

“Mm?” You wondered what kind of a story a young prince would want to listen to. “What sorts of stories have you heard?”

“Mama used to come in and tell me all kinds of stories,” he explained. “But then Dad decided that it was too childish and told her to stop coming.” He looked a little upset.

“Do you think it’s childish?”

He shrugged. “Do you?”

“Nah,” you replied as you nodded toward his dresser. “Why don’t you get changed first? I know that I like hearing stories right before I go to bed. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” You left for your room, which was right down the hallway, and you quickly changed into your pajamas.

Meanwhile, you wondered what kind of story you would want to share with Alan. Your childhood had been a good one -- your parents often told you stories before going to bed. You couldn’t imagine why the King would forbid stories to be told to his son. Perhaps he wanted Alan to grow up faster than was possible. That was unfortunate, really, because Alan truly was just a child.

When you returned to Alan’s room, he was already waiting for you in bed. “Took you long enough!” he said with a pout.

You laughed as you went to the edge of his bed and sat down. “You still want me here, right?”

He nodded. “Now tell me a story!”

You were here as his teacher, and you thought that perhaps it would be best if you started his lessons tonight -- not just lessons in standard academic curriculum, but lessons in life, those that were just as important, if not more so, than learning mathematics, sciences, and literature. “Have you ever heard of Peter Pan?”

Alan wrinkled his nose. “Isn’t he that boy who can fly?”

“Well, yes, that’s part of it.” You lifted Alan’s covers for him so that he could snuggle into bed. “When I was a little girl, I fell in love with him.”

Here, Alan’s eyes brightened. “You’ve met him?”

You gave a small dip of your head. “He would come to my window sill every night and beckon me away to his home in Neverland. Do you know what’s special about Neverland?” He shook his head. “In Neverland, you never grow up.”

“But I want to grow up,” Alan said. “I want to grow up to be like Glenn and Dad.”

You pressed a finger to your lips. “Listen to the story.” You began to tell him about your fantastical adventures in Neverland, describing the native tribes and Lost Boys that you had befriended. You spoke of the dangerous pirates and jealous mermaids, while reminiscing the presence of the fairies. Alan listened to you intently, admiring the magic that existed in Neverland and the battles that you fought. By the time that the clock had struck ten, you were barely finished with your tale.

“And you were really there?” Alan asked. “You had the chance to see all of these things?”

“Those and more,” you said as you smoothed the covers over him. “I fell in love with Peter Pan, remember?”

“But you grew up.”

“I did. But only when I was ready.”

At those words, the boy quieted. “How do you know when you’re ready?” he said softly.

“You’ll know,” you said as you reached over to turn off the lamp. You smoothed some hair out of his eyes. “You’ll know when you’re ready to leave Neverland.”

“_____, will you tell me another story tomorrow?”

“Of course. Goodnight, Alan.”

He yawned. “Goodnight...”

As you left his room and shut the door behind him, you noticed that Glenn was standing right outside. He surprised you a bit, but you gathered yourself and dipped your head toward him. “Your Highness, I had no idea that you were here.”

You thought that he might reprimand you for something, but you couldn’t read the expression on his face. “You’re a good storyteller. I haven’t seen Alan smile like that in a while.” He actually looked a little disappointed. “I never thought that something so simple would make him happy.”

“I’m just doing my job,” you said.

He tilted his head to the side. “You’re his tutor, not his nanny.”

“Exactly. Lessons aren’t contained only to academics, you know.” You would leave it at that; if he had any questions, he could ask you. “Have a good night, Your Highness. Excuse me.” You then left for your room, ready to unpack and settle down for the night.

------------

The weekend finally came, and you returned to your room after lunch with Alan and Glenn. There were several maids already in there.

“Miss,” one of them said. “We’ve brought several dresses for you to try on.”

Of course, you had never seen such fantastic dresses in your life, and you stared in awe at them. “This really isn’t necessary,” you said as you looked from dress to dress.

“His Highness insists,” she replied simply.

Alan really did want you to look pretty for tonight, didn’t he? You hoped that you wouldn’t disappoint him. You selected a dress that was to your liking in both design and color, and the maids nodded. “Let’s get started, then, miss.”

You had never been waited on like this in your life, and you were quite surprised that there was a whole battalion of maids at your service.

The process was a long, almost tiring one, but by late afternoon, they had finished. You finally got to look at yourself in the mirror, and even you hardly recognized yourself.

“What do you think, miss?”

“I look... nice,” you said.

“Oh, don’t be so modest,” she chirped in return. “You look lovely. I’m sure that Prince Glenn would be quite pleased.”

“Prince Glenn?” You were surprised. Wasn’t it Alan who had made the preparations?

The maid blinked in response. “You didn’t know? It was Prince Glenn who instructed us to prepare you for tonight. Master Alan is awfully sweet, but he doesn’t know enough about the proper dress of such formal parties.”

“I’ll be sure to thank him,” you said, spinning in front of the mirror to watch your dress flow. “Thank you for all of your help -- I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Not at all, miss,” they said. “Just following orders.” They then shuffled quickly out of your room, and you were left to wait until Alan would appear and take you out to the limousine. If you were his date, he would have to escort you, after all.

He came soon after, dressed neatly in formal clothes. “_____!” he cried. “You look like a princess, the prettiest of princesses! And you’re my princess tonight!” He tugged at your hand eagerly. “Let’s go! Yu has our ride waiting out in front.”

You followed the boy, and as you exited the palace, you saw Glenn with another lady hanging off of him. She must have been his date, and she was beautiful -- she was likely someone of noble standing, or perhaps the daughter of someone who was very, very wealthy.

Glenn locked eyes with you for a moment. “Nice dress,” he said curtly with a short dip of his head.

“I have you to thank for that. You don’t look too shabby yourself, Your Highness.”

You could have sworn that you saw a slight pink graze his cheeks as he turned his face away from you. “It’s time to go. If we dally any longer, we’ll be late.”

With those words, you, Alan, Glenn, his date, and Yu slid into the limousine, and the driver started away.

Hours later, you would arrive in front of Nobel Michel, amazed at the beautiful sights before you. You had never laid eyes upon the castle before -- in fact, very few people had. It was a placed reserved mostly for royals and those that they consorted with, and commoners like you were rarely allowed on the island upon which Nobel Michel stood.

“Is this your first time?” Alan asked as he tugged at your hand.

“Yes, and I’m amazed.” You had taken a flight from Oriens to Altaria, and from a private airport there, a limousine arrived and brought you here. It was quite the trip, but so far, it seemed to be worth it.

As you passed through the grand doors of Nobel Michel, you saw the fantastic ballroom. It glowed in the light of the chandeliers, and a variety of people gathered in groups around the various tables, while an orchestra was settled in the corner.

Everyone here was beautiful. The ladies all wore lovely designer dresses of all colors and forms, while most of the men were in tuxes or were dressed in the traditional attire of their country, like how Glenn was.

“Come on, _____,” Alan said eagerly. “Let’s dance.” Before you could even respond, he had dragged you out into an open place on the dance floor. It was kind of awkward dancing with someone so much shorter than you, but you did your best with a smile on your face. Your grandfather used to dance with you when you were younger, so you knew the steps to the waltz rather well.

After the song ended, you realized that there were several eyes on you. Perhaps they had thought it strange that you would be dancing with the young prince of Oriens.

“Oh, my. It looks like Alan has a lady of his own,” a handsome man said as he approached the two of you. He was tall, dressed in a red uniform with a banner slung over his shoulder. His light brown hair framed his face, his bangs falling into his brown eyes. What you noticed about him first, however, was his genuine smile.

“Prince Roberto!” Alan greeted. “She’s my princess for the night. This is _____.”

“Prince Roberto of Altaria?” you asked, remembering your brief study of the political sciences. Even though you focused on education, you thought it was best to be well-rounded, so you kept up with the news and politics of the six kingdoms. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” You swept your best curtsy.

“Don’t be so formal, Miss _____,” Roberto said as he offered his hand. “Let’s get a little closer, shall we? May I have this dance?”

Alan cut between the two of you. “But she’s my princess!” He frowned at Roberto -- he was actually really cute when he pouted.

Roberto was hardly offended; he laughed at the boy’s behavior. “You are so protective, as a prince should be of his lady fair! But remember, Prince Alan, that it’s good practice to dance with many partners. In fact, some cultures frown upon dancing with the same lady throughout the whole evening.”

Alan seemed relieved, and he nodded at Roberto. “All right. You can dance with her, but I’ll be watching.”

You grinned as he left, likely to go find some food from the appetizer table.

“Your hand, my dear?” Roberto offered his hand again.

Of course, you took it, and you were swept into an elegant waltz.

As you held onto each other, each step perfectly in time with the music, Roberto whispered in your ear. “So what is your relationship with Alan? He seems quite possessive of you, charming for a boy of his age.”

You knew that beneath his teasing, the prince really was curious about you, and you were glad to provide answers. “I’m his new tutor,” you explained. “I started just this week, and Alan wanted a date for tonight, so...”

“Ah, so that’s why you’re here. For a moment, I thought you were a lady from one of the noble houses of Oriens.”

You exhaled in a dry laugh. “Surely, you’re joking.”

“Not at all. It’s not every day that you find such exquisite beauty at the hands of a royal prince.”

He said it so easily, but you couldn’t help but blush, feeling the heat rise to your cheeks. “That’s very nice of you to say, but I’m actually from Liberty--”

“--a royal house from Liberty?”

You weren’t sure how to respond to that. Did he not hear what you said?

“I’m just kidding,” he replied with a chuckle. “Well, no matter what family or house you’re from, I think you’re rather pretty. You fit into this crowd just fine.” He quieted, and you had the chance to enjoy the dance for what it was. When the song ended, he did not release your right had just yet. Instead, he pulled it close to his lips, planting a small kiss on it. “A pleasure, Miss _____.”

“You too, Your Highness.”

“None of that,” Roberto said as he led you over to a table with refreshments. It was then that he released your hand, but only to pour you a drink. “Roberto is fine.” He handed you a tall, thin glass of champagne.

You raised an eyebrow, unsure of how others would view this casual address of a crown prince, but you accepted the drink.

“Rob works, too,” he assured with a laugh. His attention quickly diverted to another person, and he waved him over. “Oy! Keithster! Come over here, will you?”

“What do you want?” the newcomer asked as he neared, obviously irritated. His ash-brown hair was devoid of the rich warmth that Roberto’s had, but he had piercing green eyes that highlighted all of his expressions. He wore a fine, fur coat over his formal clothes, a traditional sash on his shoulder.

You recognized him as the crown prince of your country, Liberty, immediately. Of course you did. How could not know what your very own royal prince looked like?

Roberto wrapped an arm around your shoulder. “Oh, I thought I’d just make an introduction. This is Miss _____. She’s Alan’s new tutor, but she’s actually from your lovely country of Liberty.”

“...so?” Keith looked anything but amused.

“So,” Roberto continued as he gave you a gentle push toward Liberty’s prince, “I thought you might like to ask her for a dance. She’s rather good, better than most women. Light as a feather, didn’t step on my feet at all.”

“This is all really unnecessary,” you said, deciding to be a little more assertive. “I’m sure you have the best intentions in mind, Prince Roberto, but I really should be getting back to Alan before he wonders where I am. Thank you for the dance--”

“--wait.” Keith snatched the champagne glass from your hand, giving it to Roberto. “Are you rejecting me?”

You couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. “Not at all, Your Highness,” you replied smoothly, “but the fact of it is that you never asked me to dance.”

“Well, to everyone else, this is going to look like you’re rejecting me.”

You blinked. Was this guy for real? His reasoning sounded awfully petty.

He grabbed your hand, perhaps a little more roughly than he had intended to. “Come on. We’re dancing.”

Before you knew it, he had you in his arms and was leading you across the dance floor, his movements confident and effortless.

“So you’re from Liberty, eh?” he asked. “What part?”

“The northern part, near Rosenwood,” you added. “I actually went to Liberty University, where I got my Master’s in education.”

“Hrm, so not far from the manse.”

“Not at all. I used to drive past Liberty Manse when I volunteered at the children’s center.”

He quieted, leading the dance as he watched you. Truth be told, you felt a little uncomfortable under his gaze; even though you were supposed to look at your partner while dancing, this was a little too much. Roberto was friendly at least -- Keith was just intimidating, especially with his piercing eyes.

You felt a wave of relief come over you when the dance ended.

Keith did not remove his hands from your waist. “Prince Roberto’s right. You’re not half bad, though you could do to polish your footwork a little bit. Make sure to do that if you want to dance with me again.”

“Of course. I’m sure you’re perfect in every way, shape, and form,” you sassed, irritated that he would put the blame on you. You hadn’t even wanted to dance with him in the first place!

“I’m glad you noticed. I try.”

Sure, those of the royal family must have felt entitled because of the wealth and power they were born with, but this was too much. “Aren’t you a bit full of yourself, Your Highness?”

He frowned at those words, and he looked as though he was about to say something to you, when you felt a hand on your shoulder.

“What the problem?” It was Glenn.

“Nothing.” Keith glared at you. “Just tell your brother’s tutor to learn her place.”

Chapter Text

“Nothing.” Keith glared at you. “Just tell your brother’s tutor to learn her place.”

Glenn frowned at you, about to open his mouth, likely to lecture you, but you would have none of that -- this was Keith’s problem, not yours.

You stepped forward and stared Keith in the eye, shrugging off Glenn’s hand in the process, and tried to tame your anger. “My place? You know, I find that funny.”

“What’s so funny? You’re nothing but a commoner.”

“Because I would think that a country that values independence and free speech, such as Liberty, would encourage its ”commoners“ to speak out against the remediable flaws of the royal family. And I would also think that the royal family should be accepting, if not glad, of such constructive critique. Some modesty would suit you, Your Highness.”

He looked entirely taken aback by your words, his eyes narrowing even further. However, he could not find a retort (because you were right, of course), so he merely growled under his breath.

“Looks like you got served, Keithster!” a pleasant voice rang out as you saw Roberto standing next to you, a playful grin on his face. “I don’t think you’ve ever had anyone talk to you like that, isn’t that right? Well, here is our dear _____, putting you in your place.” He wrapped an arm around your shoulder. “I think I like her.”

“Oh, shut up!” Keith looked none too pleased and was now glaring daggers.

That was fine; you glared right back, though a small smile played on your lips. You were feeling rather smug about speaking out against him.

“This is hardly the place for such childish arguments,” someone said. You looked for the source of the voice -- he must have been another prince, and although handsome, he had a stern expression on his face that almost intimidated you. Almost.

“Lecture her, not me,” Keith said, and without another word, he turned and stalked off.

“Don’t take his behavior personally, _____, He’s always abrasive like that,” Roberto assured as he turned you around to look at the newcomer. “This is Prince Joshua from Dres Van. I’m sure you’ve heard of him.”

“That’s right,” you replied as you curtsied. “A pleasure, Your Highness.”

“Indeed.” Joshua studied you for a few moments before shaking his head. He had dark purple eyes and luscious, purple hair to match. Like the other princes, a banner hung from his broad shoulders. “I don’t have time for this. Why don’t you keep her company, Prince Roberto, since you like consorting with commoners so much?”

You decided that Joshua was more subtly infuriating than Keith was, and you were about to say something to him, but he marched away, not even giving you a chance.

“Don’t.” Glenn glanced at you from the corner of his eye. “At his rate, you’ll make enemies with everyone in a single night.”

“Hardly enemies, Your Highness,” you replied simply. You had no idea that these princes would look down upon the very people whom they promised to protect. Was this some sense of entitlement because they were born into a higher social class? “I just... don’t understand.”

Glenn looked tired of dealing with you; perhaps he regretted allowing you to come. “Tactless woman,” he muttered under his breath.

“What was that, Your Highness?”

Perhaps struck by the boldness and conviction in your voice, he could only blink at you.

“If you’re going to insult me, I at least want to hear it.” But then you smiled, assuring him that no offense had been taken. “If I’m really so tactless, then you might as well fire me right now because I’m going to continue to work with Alan until my grandfather returns.”

“Oh my!” Roberto chuckled before Glenn could even respond. “You’ve got a feisty one on your hands, Glenny-poo!”

“Don’t call me that!” he snapped at Altaria’s prince. “Keep your idiotic names to yourself.”

Roberto sighed. “Temper, temper~! You won’t be attracting any ladies with that attitude.”

“Well, unlike you, I’m not here for women,” Glenn spat. He then turned to you. “Go find Alan. I’m sure he’s looking for you. And don’t cause any more trouble.”

You watched him as he left, wondering why he became defensive all of the sudden. Maybe you really were troublesome to him, but that mattered little to you as long as you were standing up for your beliefs that all people, no matter social stature, were equal. Social class meant nothing to you -- and if a prince could not respect you as a human being, you were going to make sure that he got a piece of your mind. That was that.

You had almost forgotten about Alan. It wasn’t that you didn’t care about the boy, but truthfully, you had other things to deal with... like arrogant princes, for example.

“I really should go find him,” you said to Roberto as you pulled away. “I’m sorry for the trouble.”

“What? No trouble at all. In fact, I’ll help you find him.”

You raised a curious eyebrow. “I mean no offense, Prince Roberto, but don’t you have better things to do? This is a party, after all.”

He shrugged off your question. “I’ve been to many parties, but so few of them have someone as sprightly as you. I think you’re interesting enough for me to hang around.” All of a sudden, he grabbed your arm, almost as though he had seen something unpleasant out of the corner of his eye. “Well, there’s no time like the present, so let’s get a move-on, shall we?”

“What are you doing?” you asked, reluctant to be swept away from your duty to Alan.

Roberto only tugged harder. “Saving both of us. Come on!” He pulled you out into the corridor, but he did not stop there; he continued until he found a door that was slightly ajar and opened it. It looked to be a quiet room, where guests could rest if they grew weary of the party. After leading you inside, he shut the door.

“Well, this doesn’t look like suspicious behavior or anything,” you remarked with your arms crossed over your chest.

“Shhhh!” He put a finger to his lips. “They’ll hear us!”

You listened quietly, the apparent clacking of heels and giggles echoing outside in the hallway. You rolled your eyes. “Running from the fan club, I see,” you commented as soon as they went away. “Very noble of you.”

“Oh, don’t say it like that,” he replied with a grin. “We’re alone now, which means we can spend some quality time together.”

Alone? With the prince of Altaria? You could hardly believe it -- you weren’t even sure if you should have been pleased or nervous.

Your facial expression must have been suspicious because Roberto laughed. “Well, don’t look too excited.”

“Sorry,” you said. “I guess I’m just not used to these sorts of parties and running away from rabid fangirls.” You thought about Alan. “So what happened to helping me find my charge? Prince Glenn isn’t going to be too happy about this.”

Roberto waved his hand as if shrugging off your concerns. “That cherubic face of his should get him enough attention.”

“Easy for you to say. You’re not responsible for him.” You looked around the room until something caught your eye -- a baby grand piano tucked away in the corner of the room.

“Oh? You play, _____?” Apparently, he had noticed your gaze.

“I used to. I never was very good.”

Roberto gently pushed you in the direction of the piano. “Let’s have a listen!”

You really couldn’t resist. After you had started college, you never had the time to invest in music any longer. But you couldn’t deny that you loved it. The piano played a huge role throughout your early life. You had been involved with it for many years before you had given it up... but that wasn’t true either. You never truly gave it up. It was never a conscious decision -- you simply became busy, and constantly told yourself that you would come back to it eventually. Maybe this was your chance.

With a nod, you sat down next to Roberto at the piano bench and let your fingers dwell on the cool keys, each one smooth at your fingertips. It had been so long since you had sat in front of a piano like this; it was almost like meeting an old friend again.

You pressed down, starting with the middle C and ran up the scale in a brief arpeggio. It seemed like the keys were in tune enough. You then took a deep breath and then began to play, selecting a song that you remembered from a previous recital all those years ago. Leaves in the Wind. Although this was a song that you learned in middle school, your fingers were sure of the melody and flew to each fleeting note as if you were practicing just yesterday. You forgot where you were and whom you were with; in fact, you did not notice an audience had settled on the sofa a short distance away...

When you finally opened your eyes, you saw that there were two others who had slipped into the room while you were playing.

“Wow, amazing!” Roberto said as he clapped his hands. “I had no idea that you were so talented, _____.”

“Indeed,” a man on the couch said as he stood up to greet you. He had silver hair that cascaded right above his neck and bangs that nearly fell into his kind, purple eyes. “I don’t believe we’ve met, though I must admit that I envy Prince Roberto. The piano is one of my favorite instruments, and you play so beautifully.” He touched your hand as you stood to meet him, raising it to his lips in a small kiss.

You felt yourself blushing a little -- compliments were to be earned, but having such positive feedback after years of no practice was surprising to you. “Oh, that was nothing,” you said. “I’m actually kind of rusty.”

“Such modesty,” Roberto said as he looked at you. “There are plenty of others who could use some of that, isn’t that right, Ed?”

The newcomer nodded with a smooth smile, gently pushing a young lady toward you. She was very pretty with long, light brown hair, wearing a simple but elegant dress. “This is Princess Catherine of Liberty.”

“Hello!” she said with a friendly smile. “It’s wonderful to meet you. _____, right?”

You could hardly believe it. If she was the princess of Liberty, then that would mean that she and Keith were related. But how could she be so warm and gentle when her brother was so coarse? Nonetheless, you addressed her politely with a handshake. “It’s a pleasure, Your Highness. I believe I met your brother earlier.”

Her smile only became brighter. “Did you?”

“Why, yes!” Roberto interrupted. “They got along just fine.”

You couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not. “I wouldn’t say that,” you replied with a strained grin. “He’s... quite the dancer.” That was the only thing truthful you could say without offending Catherine.

“He is,” the silver-haired man said. “He’s always been good with the ladies.”

You wanted to respond with something along the lines of, “Well, I must not be a lady, then...” but you kept your mouth clamped shut. Instead, you looked at man as you bowed your head. “You must be Prince Edward of Charles Kingdom. If it hasn’t been made clear yet, I’m ______.”

“An absolute pleasure,” he replied. “And where are you from, Miss _____?”

“Liberty, of all places!” Roberto said for you. “Right under your nose, Princess Catherine. Wouldn’t you say that it’s a small world?”

Her eyes grew wider. “Oh, is that right?” She giggled. “I’ll have to have you over for tea some time. And maybe you’ll even be able to play the piano for the King and Queen -- they love classical music. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano, but I only have time for the flute.”

“The flute’s a beautiful instrument, too,” you defended. “Lots of good opportunities between the two for a duet, you know?”

“That’s a splendid idea! We should play a duet together, _____!”

You had not meant to suggest it, but apparently Catherine liked the thought of playing a duet with you. However, you knew that that would not be possible with how much work you would have to do with Alan in the upcoming months. You explained that you were currently tutoring the Oriens prince, and she nodded in understanding.

“Maybe I’ll just have to come visit, then. I know Prince Glenn would never refuse my brother’s company.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that...” you thought silently.

“Or,” Catherine added, “I could just have someone fly you over to Liberty on the weekends. It’s really not too far from Oriens.”

“We’ll see,” you said lightly, unsure of how you’d feel about such flight every week, but who were you to refuse such a kind and eager princess? “I don’t know how much Alan will need me, even on the weekends.”

“You seem like a hard worker,” Edward said as he placed a gentle hand on your upper back, “but even hard workers need to have a break at some point. Why don’t we return to the party? We can have some refreshments. I know that some of the wine served tonight is from Charles, and I would be pleased if you would try some...”

With that, you were escorted back into the main ballroom, at which point both princes were swarmed with women who wished to dance with them. You heard an onslaught of “Please dance with me, Prince Roberto!” or “Prince Edward, won’t you dance with me next?” Fortunately, you managed to sneak away before you were trampled.

Catherine was also asked to dance by several young men, so you wandered over to the refreshment table by yourself, while looking out for Alan. You still needed to find him, after all; you let your eyes wander around the room.

There he was! You saw him dancing on the floor with a girl about his age, likely the daughter or younger sister of someone who had been invited here. A smile graced your lips, happy that he was not alone this whole time.

Alan noticed you after the song ended and ran up to you, tugging at your hand. “I did what Prince Roberto said and danced with many ladies,” he said proudly.

You patted him on the head. “Isn’t that right? You must be quite the charming prince if you’re garnering that much attention from the women.”

“But you have to dance with me again,” he insisted. “You’re my princess, aren’t you? Then you need to dance with me at least three times before the night is over.”

“Three?” you asked. “Is that the lucky number?”

He nodded.

“All right,” you laughed. “Let’s go, then.” You let Alan lead you out onto the dance floor, where you shared your second dance. Out of the corner of your eyes, you saw Edward and Roberto dancing as well, which made you feel a little more comfortable, knowing that you weren’t the only one dancing. The music waltzed around you, and you were pleased by the giddy look on Alan’s face.

From what Glenn had told you a few nights ago, Alan hadn’t always been a happy boy. However, he seemed to be chipper around you the rest of the week, even eager for lessons. He whined a bit while doing arithmetic, but most children did. He thoroughly enjoyed science and history, always asking you questions that you sometimes did not know the answers to. You were happy you could present material in a way through which he could enjoy learning.

Nonetheless, he must have liked you quite a bit as a person, too. He followed you around Oriens Palace, even when lessons were over, often asking you to play with him or tell him stories. He was very sweet, willing to share all of his toys and treats with you.

Maybe it was because you were the first person to treat him as an individual, not as a prince and not as a child.

The song soon ended, and Alan led you over to the refreshment table, where he helped you dip a strawberry in the chocolate fountain.

“Too bad he’s not a dozen years older,” you thought. “He’d make a good boyfriend.” You thanked him as you took the strawberry and ate it. It was delicious.

As you reached for a glass of champagne on a nearby table, your hand grazed someone else’s. “Oh!” you said as you looked up into blue eyes framed with blonde hair. “I’m sorry about that--”

“--not at all.” He smiled at you, brushing a wisp of hair out of his eyes. He was dressed in a white uniform with a red sash across his shoulders -- another prince. You couldn’t believe your luck, meeting all six princes from the six kingdoms tonight. He took the thin flute of champagne and gracefully handed it to you. “It’s all yours.”

You thought it would have been rude of you to refuse, so you took it gladly. “Thank you so much, Your Highness.”

His facial expression faded into a neutral one as he looked from you to Alan. “I’ve never seen you at one of these parties before, Miss...?”

“_____ is fine,” you said as you held out your hand. “You must be Prince Wilfred from Phillip, the 100th generation of crown princes. Am I right?”

“Aren’t you keen?” he said as he kissed your hand. “Are you here with someone?”

“I’m here with Prince Alan.”

“There’s a thought.” His smile returned.

“She’s my princess!” Alan said as he skipped over and stepped in front of you. “Don’t you even think about stealing her away from me!”

You and Wilfred both chuckled.

“Don’t you worry,” you said as you set your drink down and placed your hands on his shoulders. “You’ll get your final dance from me later tonight.”

Alan seemed to be comforted by that thought.

“But until then,” Wilfred began, sweeping an elegant bow toward Alan. “Would you be so kind as to let me borrow your princess for a dance? Just one?”

“Just one,” the boy said, lifting a finger toward Wilfred.

“Very well.” The Phillipian prince then led you toward the dance floor, his hand on your waist. “Will you grace me with this dance, Miss _____?”

You raised a curious eyebrow. “I thought you already made up my mind for me.”

“Perhaps.”

And with that, the orchestra began its song, a lively one that seemed to be from Altarian culture. Prince Wilfred was confident on the dance floor, guiding your movements with a gentle but assistive touch. He was not only a good dancer, but he knew how to communicate well with his partner.

“So how did Alan recruit you to come with him?” Wilfred asked during the dance.

“I’m actually his tutor. I started in Oriens Palace earlier this week.”

“I see.” His eyes would not leave yours. “I’m sure you make a good job of it.”

The both of you made small conversation until the waltz ended, at which point, Prince Wilfred released you. “Thank you for the dance,” you said with a small curtsy. “I should get back to Alan.”

“That won’t be necessary.” He nodded toward the corner of the room, where Alan was talking to several children about his age.

“Looks like he’s found some friends.”

“More time with me, I suppose,” Wilfred said as he continued walking next to you.

“Oy! Wills! I see you’ve met my dear _____.” Roberto appeared as he usually did, having apparently escaped the wave of girls that had attacked him earlier. “Being suave and asking for a dance like that. You don’t do that very often, do you?”

Wilfred frowned at his nickname, but he explained himself, “I thought I’d see whom Alan was so protective of. He seemed very smitten with her.”

“Just him?” Roberto teased as he called out to someone who was near the wine table. “Hey! Will you bring me a glass? And one for _____ too?”

It was Joshua. “Get it yourself,” Joshua said, barely looking up from his pouring.

“Oh, you’re so harsh,” he sighed.

But as Joshua paced over, he held out a glass of wine to you. “Women usually prefer white wine, but if you want the red...”

“...oh, no. This is fine,” you said, surprised by his apparent kindness. Joshua seemed so serious and unwilling to socialize earlier. “Thank you, Your Highness.”

Roberto make a mock-offended face. “So you do have an eye for women, after all, Josh. You seem to like _____ even more than me, and we’ve known each other for only all of our lives. You make me so glum.”

“You are far too dramatic,” Joshua replied as he took a sip out of his wine glass. “I’m trying to distance my impression of you from my impression of her.”

“You stab me in the heart, Josh.”

“It’s not fair to her for me to constantly associate her with you.”

Wilfred chuckled.

“Oh, so you’re in on this too, Wills?” Roberto laughed well-naturedly. “I see. Well, I’ll just have to take _____, then. That way it’s two on two.” He wrapped an arm around your shoulders. “And,” he said as he snatched the wine glass from your hand, “we’ll get you a glass of red wine because everyone knows that red is better.”

“Hey!” You tried reaching for the glass, but Roberto kept it firmly out of your reach. “Give that back! I was enjoying it.”

“I hardly think that your behavior is fitting for a prince,” Edward said as he paced over with an amused look on his face. “If a lady likes her wine, then let her have it. It is a product of Charles’s vineyards, after all.”

“Ah, Ed!” Roberto said as he returned the glass to you. “But I much prefer the red wine. I was thinking that _____ ought to give that a try too.”

“Perhaps,” Wilfred said, “but if she’s enjoying the white wine, then let her have that.”

You took another swallow of the wine before saying, “I like red wine too. I actually like both white and red equally, but we’ll see how I feel after this glass.”

“Don’t want to get too tipsy, eh?” Roberto asked, waggling an eyebrow at you.

“It might be a little inappropriate since I’m looking after Alan. Just a little.” You tipped your head toward the boy, who was dancing with another girl again. “The kid’s a natural around the ladies.”

Roberto sighed. “Much better than our Glenny-poo anyway. Guess it doesn’t run in the family.”

“What was that?” Glenn had appeared from behind you, his eyebrows narrowed at Roberto.

“Oh, nothing,” the Altarian prince said. “Just making some observations.”

You laughed, trying to ease Glenn’s sour mood. “We’re just talking about how Alan’s great with the girls here. He appears to be very popular with them.”

Glenn seemed a little bothered by this information. “Well, he doesn’t come to these parties very often. He might as well enjoy himself.”

“Now that you have Miss _____ here, perhaps Alan will be able to experience these sorts of things more often?” Edward suggested. “It would be good for him. He’ll grow up to be a wonderful prince, I’m sure.”

“He’d turn out fine either way, Your Highness,” you assured Glenn. Sip after sip, you finished the wine and gave him the empty glass. “And if you’ll excuse me, I owe your brother one last dance.” You walked off, making sure to tap Alan on the shoulder right before the next song. He seemed very pleased that you had initiated the invitation and extended his small hand.

Although you had already consumed some champagne and a glass of wine, you weren’t quite tipsy yet -- just very content. It was as though you were walking on clouds as a comforting warmth spread through your body. Your dance with Alan was a wonderful one, perhaps one of your best ones yet.

When the dance was over, Alan held onto your hand. “You’re the best princess ever, _____!” he said.

But as you studied his face, you could tell that he was becoming sleepier and sleepier. He was only a boy of six, after all, and it was certainly past his bedtime. “You’re tired, aren’t you?” you asked as you led him over to the other princes, who were still gathered around the wine table.

“No, no, I’m not!” he replied while rubbing one of his eyes. “I’m just... I had a lot of chocolate.”

“A food coma, eh?” Roberto joked. “Perhaps we should have Zain prepare you a bed. Where is he anyway? He’s usually very close by when we need him.”

You had briefly met Zain when coming in -- he was the high steward of Nobel Michel, servant of Lord Michel. He had been very kind when he greeted you and invited you into the castle. “I can go find him,” you volunteered.

“That won’t be necessary, Miss _____.” Zain had miraculously appeared near your group; he really was a good butler, apparently. “Shall I prepare a room for you, Master Alan?”

“Yes,” Glenn said with a brief glance at his brother. “It’s past his bedtime, and I don’t know how much later he can stay up.”

Alan looked unhappy at Glenn’s explanation, but you squeezed his hand to let him know that everything was all right. “I’ll go with him, too,” you said, “just to make sure that he settles in well.”

“Of course, Miss _____, Master Alan. Please follow me.”

You waved a short goodbye to the princes before excusing yourself, Alan’s hand in yours. He seemed satisfied that you were coming with him, even if he was being sent off by his older brother.

“You’ll tell me a story before I go to sleep, right?” he asked.

“Of course.” Throughout the week, you had told him a story every night before he went to bed. You had to reread a lot of fairytales and stories that you were told when you were younger, but you had a full collection in your head that would last you a while. “What kind of story would you like to hear?”

“Anything. Maybe something about a brave prince!” He seemed to like those sorts of stories about knights and dragons, kings and warlocks.

You had just the story in mind, and when Zain finally let you into a guest room, you sat down next to Alan on the bed. You helped him pull off his suit jacket and necktie, tucking him warmly underneath the covers. Have you heard the story about Ivan, the Firebird, and the Wolf?

He shook his head, and you began the story, telling him of the mystical firebird with colorful feathers that gleamed like fire in the sun, the noble horse with the golden mane and diamond hoofs, and the beautiful Princess Helen who wooed the hearts of all princes. It was a tale of magic and wonder, of love and betrayal.

He kept his eyes open for as long as he could, but right as you finished the story and announced its happy ending, he snuggled into his pillow and was fast asleep.

Truth be told, he was nothing more than an ordinary boy. Sure, he was born into royalty and lived the life of a prince, but he wanted nothing more than what any other child wanted. He wanted attention and love. You smoothed his hair out of his eyes before turning out the lights and making your way to the door.

To your surprise, you saw that Catherine was standing right outside, her hands folded elegantly in front of her.

“Oh, Your Highness... what are you doing here?” you asked, surprised that the Liberty princess wouldn’t have better things to do.

“I was just on my way from the restroom,” she said with a smile, “and I couldn’t help but listen to your wonderful story. I’m sorry for eavesdropping...”

Really, she didn’t sound sorry at all, but there was nothing to be sorry about. “That’s all right,” you replied smoothly. “I had no idea that you were interested in fairytales.”

“Well, I do like stories, and you tell them so well. Just another reason for you to come and visit.”

You felt a little awkward at her second proposal, mostly because you had barely become accustomed to working in Oriens Palace. You wouldn’t want to leave so soon after arriving, only to return to Liberty, even if it was just for a few days.

“You could come back with us tonight,” she suggested, “and we’ll have you back to Oriens on Monday--”

“There you are, Catherine. I was looking all over for you.” From the nearby corner, you saw Keith appear. When his eyes fell on you, he frowned. “Oh, you’re with her?

“What’s that supposed to mean?” you mentally snapped back at him, but before you could voice your opinions, Catherine intervened.

“What a rude thing to say, brother! Apologize right now!” She looked genuinely upset with him on your behalf, though she seemed to be more hurt than angry.

Keith growled, his eyes narrowing toward you. “There’s no point in apologizing to a commoner. We’re never going to see her again anyway.”

“Actually,” Catherine said, “we are, because _____ has kindly volunteered to come visit me at Liberty Manse to play the piano for me.”

You were almost shocked by her statement -- part of you expected something like that from her. “You know, Your Highness--”

“You don’t have to call me that, _____. Cathy will do.” She smiled at you, and you could see the sincerity in her eyes. She wasn’t trying to inconvenience you or make your life difficult. Like Alan, it seemed that she simply wanted a friend.

“Cathy, then.” You cleared your throat, looking from the princess to her brother. “I appreciate your invitation, but I really need to figure out when I’m needed in Oriens first. My priority is Prince Alan’s education, after all.”

Her face fell.

“However...” you continued, “I’ll be sure to set aside some time to come visit on my first few days off, if that’s all right with you.”

“Oh, _____! This makes me very happy! I’m so glad that you’re coming to visit me sometime in the near future. I’ll be sure to give you a tour of the manse and introduce you to everyone. I’ll prepare some duets for us, too.”

“Perfect.” You grinned at her. “I’ll be in contact with you, then.” From the corner of your eye, you could have sworn that you saw Keith twitch in annoyance.

Chapter Text

You returned to Oriens with Alan, Glenn, and his date late that evening. Part of you wondered why Glenn had chosen to make the trip home instead of accepting Zain's kind offer to stay the night at Nobel Michel, but you hadn't questioned him.

As a result, you had to rouse poor Alan from his sleep, and he clung to you as you led him down a flight of stairs and into the limousine.

Once settled in the vehicle, he promptly fell asleep again, resting his head on your lap. You stroked his hair to comfort him.

Glenn, his date, and Yu sat across the way, watching you and Alan.

"He has a smile on his face," Yu commented with a small grin of his own. "I don't believe I've seen him rest so peacefully."

You glanced up and nodded. "He wore himself out. He was having too much fun dancing with those pretty girls."

"And with you when you weren't too busy dancing with others," Glenn added, his careful eyes on you.

You raised a curious eyebrow, immediately growing a little defensive. The tone of his voice was far too accusatory for your liking. "What are you implying, Your Highness?"

"Your job is to look after my brother, not run around flirting with other men."

Wait a moment. You were unsure why he would make such a complaint, especially after the party was over -- if it really were a concern, perhaps he should have made himself more clear by drawing you aside and having a private conversation with you during the event. You could do nothing to fix the issue now.

"Am I not allowed to dance with others?" you asked, the tone of your voice sullen. "I don't recall you making that a rule."

He didn't answer at first, instead averting his gaze so that he was looking out the window. "I didn't. I was just hoping that you'd pay more attention to Alan."

His date, Mia, was silent as she leaned her head against his shoulder. She looked comfortable, as though she were ready to fall asleep.

"Your brother doesn't need someone following him around all the time, Your Highness," you replied. "He's actually quite capable of handling himself in these social situations. You saw him dancing with all those little ladies. Although he is still growing, Allen is a fine, young man."

Yu seemed amused that you were speaking so boldly. "Master Alan did seem quite pleased tonight, if that is any consolation, Your Highness."

"I don't need you to tell me that, Yu," he snapped. "I know Alan is mature for his age, and this is probably good for him."

"Then what's the problem?" you asked.

He shook his head. "Never mind. Forget I said anything."

You wanted to press the matter because there was obviously something wrong with the Oriens prince, but you would relent for now. Maybe he needed some time for himself to sort out whatever was bothering him. Unfortunately, this also meant that you would have to endure this awkward long ride and the flight afterward until you would all return to Oriens.

Thoughts?

------------------------
a. Well, if he doesn't want to talk, I can't really force him.
b. I sense some passive-aggressive behavior coming soon.
c. Oh, the poor thing. I hope I can cheer him up!
d. He'll come to me whenever he's ready to talk, I hope.
e. Sounds like this isn't entirely about Allen.
f. No need to be so snappish, Prince Glenn... it hurts my feelings.
------------------------

It was very late by the time the plane landed in Oriens, a limousine from the palace awaiting you.

Your rubbed your eyes as you gave an unladylike yawn. When the vehicle pulled in front of the palace entrance, you gently stroked Alan's arm. "We're home, kiddo," you said, but he wouldn't stir. You tried again, though he just grunted in his sleep.

Yu saw that you were having trouble and reached out toward the boy, but Glenn cut him off. "I'll take care of Alan. Yu, escort Mia to a guest room for the night."

His date seemed a little miffed that he would rather choose to take care of his brother than bid her goodnight, but you could tell that Glenn really didn't have any emotional investment in her -- perhaps he was merely required per social etiquette to bring someone date.

You helped Glenn as he hoisted Alan off of your lap and into his arms. As you stepped out of the limousine, Yu shut the door for you. For a moment, you wondered where you were supposed to go, but Glenn nodded at you. "_____, you come with me."

"But..." you started, wondering what he could possibly need from you. It wasn't like Alan needed a bedtime story, though you shut your mouth and followed the prince. You had apparently given him enough trouble for one day.

As you entered the palace, Glenn's strides were so quick that you had a difficult time keeping up with him in your heels -- your feet hurt from a night of dancing.

Finally, when he reached Alan's room, he opened the door with his shoulder and entered. You were unsure whether or not you were supposed to follow him in, but you did anyway. Why else would Glenn bring you here?

You stepped into the nursery, watching Glenn carefully lay his brother in bed. This was perhaps the most tender that you had ever seen him. He was so busy being serious and grown-up all the time; it was nice being able to see him show that caring side of himself. He took the time to tuck Alan beneath the covers before shutting off the light.

His eyes turned to you as he clicked his tongue. "We need to talk."

"About what?" You followed him out as he left the room and closed the door behind you.

"I think you know."

"I really don't, Your Highness."

An uncomfortable silence fell between the both of you, but he continued to weave through the dimly lit hallways. He led you into his office, switching on the lights.

You glanced at the clock hanging on his wall. It was nearly two in the morning. "Your Highness, is this really so important that it can't wait until tomorrow?"

He sat down in the large chair behind his desk, staring at you with his piercing red-brown eyes. He did not answer your question. Instead, he said, "I take issue with you visiting Liberty."

You raised an eyebrow as you took a seat across his desk. "Can I ask why?"

"I don't have to tell you why -- I'm just going to advise you not to do it."

"Your Highness, aren't you being a little unreasonable? Liberty is my home country. I have the right to return as long as it doesn't conflict with Alan's teaching."

The expression on his face hardened. "I never said that you don't have the right to go back. I'm just telling you not to."

"Aren't they essentially the same thing?"

"If that's the way you see it."

You felt a little flustered at his strange behavior and reasoning (or lack thereof), but you took a breath and tried to compromise. "Can you at least tell me why you feel the way you do? I don't think I'm understanding."

Glenn glanced away from you with a small sigh. "You're not. You don't know Prince Keith like I do."

You tipped your head forward, eyeing him warily. "This is about Prince Keith?"

"He's a pompous womanizer, all right?" Glenn said defensively. "I don't know what you see in him, but you're just going to have to trust me when I say that he's arrogant and self-serving."

------------------------
a. "I feel like that, too, from what I saw of him tonight."
b. "Clearly. In case you haven't noticed, I agree with you."
c. "You know, I concur!"
d. "You're right about that."
e. "I don't think you realize just how much I agree with you."
f. "I don't know if he's that bad, but he does have a lot to learn."
------------------------

He was surprised at your response, and his eyes went wide. "I-I thought..."

"Your Highness," you started, "I don't know what you heard, but I'm not going to Liberty to visit Prince Keith; I was invited to play a piano duet by Princess Catherine. With what happened tonight, I don't think I could be caught dead in Prince Keith's private company."

Glenn seemed to sigh out in relief, and he gave you a sheepish smile. "Never mind, then. Looks like you're more perceptive than I gave you credit for."

"You could call me educated," you said with a grin. "I am here as your brother's tutor, after all."

He only nodded, as if you had left him with no other words.

"Is that all, Your Highness?"

"Yeah. You're dismissed."

You stood up from your chair, pushed it in, and dipped your head toward him in a farewell. "Then have a goodnight, Your Highness." Before you could turn away, Glenn looked as though he wanted to say something. "Yes?" you prompted.

"...um. I wasn't kidding when I said that dress looks nice on you."

"Are you usually kidding when you give compliments?"

He looked uncomfortable. "Just go to bed already!"

You laughed to yourself as you left his office.

------------------------
a. Oh, isn't he a sweetheart? *heart*
b. Of course he says this while blushing. Very convincing.
c. Aw! I do like the sleep, but he's so fun to talk to.
d. I guess he really does care about my wellbeing.
e. Perhaps we'll pick up this conversation again tomorrow.
f. Teehee. He's kinda cute when he's awkward like that! ^-^
------------------------

In the morning, you were awoken by a soft rapping at your door.

"Miss _____, are you awake?" It sounded like Yu.

You rubbed your eyes and sat up in bed. Why would you be awake when Glenn had kept you up with that conversation last night? "Not quite, but you can come in," you replied, shrugging off your covers. You figured that your pajamas were decent enough. "Is there a reason I should be awake?"

Yu carefully opened the door and stepped into the room. "You have guests requesting your presence, miss."

"Um... who? And why at this hour?" You began to head toward your closet, pulling out items of clothing that you could wear for the day.

Yu grinned at you. "It's already past 11 in the morning. I know you had a late night, but your guests seem very eager to see you. You have two of them -- Prince Roberto of Altaria and Prince Wilfred of Philip."

Your eyes widened at their names, and you froze for a while. Why in the world were they here?

"Is everything all right, Miss _____?" Yu looked concerned.

"Yes, I'm fine. Just a bit surprised that they'd request my time at all. Are you sure you've got the right person and they're not actually here for Prince Glenn?" You were now looking at slightly nicer clothes.

"Of course not. His Highness does not usually have company come calling; he's more recluse than you think. It seems, however, that you were the life of the party last night."

You sighed. "I wasn't trying to be. It's not like you can shoo royalty away when they want to dance with you." You felt like it had all just happened.

The butler bowed toward you. "Either way, it seems that they're both quite taken with you. Will you give me your brunch order? They're waiting for you in the dining room, and I've offered them a meal."

You rattled off your choice of food, and Yu left as you worked on making yourself look presentable for these guests. As soon as you had freshened up, you left your bedroom and began to head toward the dining room.

Before you entered through the large double doors, you took a breath to calm your nerves. Perhaps it was the blood rush from waking up, but you were feeling somewhat nervous about this meeting with the princes from Altaria and Phillip.

Sure, you had spent some time with Roberto last night, but you had barely spoken with Wilfred at all. You wondered why they had decided to seek you out.

Carefully, you pushed the door open, and upon seeing the princes, you put on a smile. "Good morning, Your Highnesses," you greeted. You were seated by Yu, between Alan and Wilfred, and across from Glenn.

"We were wondering when you'd wake up, O Sleeping Beauty," Roberto said as he waved. "I do hope you'll forgive us for crashing your Sunday morning brunch."

"It's not a problem at all," you replied. "I think you should be thanking Prince Glenn for being a gracious host." You were half-poking fun at, half-encouraging him because he looked miserable, sitting there and glaring at Roberto.

"_____, you're not usually up this late," Alan commented as he looked up at you. "But that's okay because you're my princess and my princess can sleep as long as she wants."

You laughed, mussing his hair in the most undignified way. "I'm glad my charming prince is so considerate."

"More considerate than certain others are at any rate," Glenn mumbled beneath his breath.

"What was that, Glenny-poo?" Roberto asked with a playful trill in his voice.

Glenn scowled. "How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?"

Wilfred looked pensive, but he smiled when you glanced at him. "While they're having their argument, I'll take the time and say good morning."

"Good morning, Your Highness," you replied smoothly. "So why did you and Prince Roberto decide to visit today?"

"Truth be told, it was on a whim. Prince Roberto and I were scheduled to meet today about matters between our two kingdoms. However, our conference was much shorter than planned, so he suggested that we fly over the Oriens for a brief vacation."

"So you plan on staying for most of the day?"

"If that wouldn't be too much trouble."

------------------------
a. *smile* "I do have today off..."
b. "You wouldn't be troubling me at least." Can’t speak for Glenn.
c. "Sundays are for play, after all~!"
d. "Not at all, Your Highness. I think today will be wonderful."
e. "If that's something you're interested in, of course!"
f. "Oh! That sounds like a lovely idea!"
------------------------

Wilfred looked pleased. "Then perhaps Prince Glenn would be willing to show us around. I have been to Oriens before, but I have never had the chance to explore its beauties."

"That would be grand!" Roberto cut in. "How about it, Glenn?"

"Absolutely not," he said with a scowl on his face. "I have work to do; I can't waste my time playing the host."

Roberto hardly flinched at Glenn's tone. "Well then, I suppose you won't mind us taking your charming _____ and exploring Oriens, would you? I've been around and know of many restaurants and tourist attractions."

"I find it inappropriate that you would show her around my kingdom," Glenn said irritably. "If you insist that someone give her an official tour, then I'll be the one to do it."

"Well, there is a simple remedy," Wilfred reminded.

There was a brief pause before Glenn sighed. "...fine. I'll come along your silly adventure."

Prince Alan looked particularly excited. "Oh, does that mean that I can come, too?" He looked eager to join in on the fun.

You looked toward his brother. "Well, what about it, Your Highness?"

"Only if you behave yourself."

The boy was very pleased with that answer.

At that moment, servants began to arrive with platters of food. Your selection was placed in front of you, and it smelled wonderful. Everyone began to eat in relative silence -- you were especially hungry.

After brunch was over, arrangements were made for your day exploring Oriens Kingdom. You were actually kind of excited about this because you had not had a chance to go anywhere aside from the palace. Before you had accepted your job as Alan's new tutor, you had never been here. You had heard many interesting things about Oriens' unique culture and people, and while you had certainly considered going out by yourself, it would be far more fun with some others in tow.

A limousine pulled around in front of the palace, and you and your companions climbed inside. You were snug between Alan and the door. Glenn sat on Alan's other side, while Roberto and Wilfred sat opposite you.

Several bodyguards also climbed in through another set of doors and sat toward the back of the limousine.

"Do bodyguards go with you wherever you go?" you asked Glenn.

He nodded stiffly. "It's protocol. I don't have a choice."

"Butlers, too," Roberto added, tilting his head to the side. "We're to be accompanied by our royal butlers all the time. You'll get to meet Alberto and Claude later, but just to warn you -- they're fun-suckers."

You laughed slightly at his brief name-calling. "So I'm guessing Alberto is your butler, Prince Roberto? His name sounds Altarian. He must have a lot of fun keeping an eye on you."

"Aren't you a clever one?" he said, with a mischievous smile.

"I pity the man," Glenn said with a roll of his eyes.

"You know, I kind of do, too," Roberto replied. "He's been telling me ever since I was a child that I'm a handful."

The expression on Wilfred's face was a neutral one. "You sound like you take pride in that."

"Oh, don't tell me you never cause trouble for Claude."

"I try not to."

Roberto wagged a finger at him as the limousine started moving. "But Claude's so stiff and proper. How do you handle him without a little mischief and adventure from time to time?"

"Pah!" Glenn frowned. "How do you even have time for mischief? Don't you have work to do?"

"Plenty, but I'm quick at paperwork. Besides, what's life without a bit of enjoyment and fun? You have to set some time aside to smell the flowers."

Wilfred looked like he agreed with that sentiment, although Glenn seemed like he hardly cared.

You were about to say something, when Alan tugged at your sleeve. "Do you like flowers, _____?"

You smiled and said:

------------------------
a. "Of course! I love flowers of all sorts."
b. "I certainly like receiving flowers as gifts." *winkwinknudgenudge*
c. "Yes! Smelling flowers always puts me in a good mood!"
d. "I do. They're so pretty and they smell so good."
e. "Mmhmm. I think you can tell a lot about someone by seeing what kinds of flowers they like."
f. "Flowers are wonderful! I love smelling them..."
------------------------

Alan beamed at your response and said, "Mother used to plant flowers with me when I was little. We would use all sorts of seeds, from dandelions to roses... but they all ended up dying." He pouted. "They never lasted more than a week."

"If you'd like, we can plant flowers, too," you said, trying to cheer him up. "We can study them for our science lesson. Maybe these flowers will last a little longer."

"Let's go buy some seeds today!" he suggested. "Can we?" He was looking toward his brother now.

"Um... sure," Glenn replied with raised eyebrows. "If this is for a science lesson on plants, I don't see why not."

"Botany, actually," you corrected gently, more for Alan's educational purpose than Glenn's. "The study of plants is called botany."

"You've got a great teacher there, Alan," Roberto commented, "making learning fun for you and all. I know with Alberto, it was all books and papers."

"I thought Alberto was your butler?" you asked.

Roberto chuckled. "He is, but he used to be my tutor while I was growing up in the villa. I suppose he must like me, despite my antics, to be willing to stick around for so long."

"He must know you very well, then."

"Must butlers know their masters for a long time," Wilfred said. "I've known Claude since we were young boys."

"Wow, I had no idea. I thought butlers were just hired for the position. It seems like they're held in much higher esteem than I originally thought."

Wilfred dipped his head toward you in affirmation. "You learn something new every day."

"I certainly do. As someone in the education field, I think it's important to constantly strive for knowledge, even when you're outside of the classroom." You patted Alan on the head. "I'm sure there's plenty that we can both learn together."

"As long as you can make learning fun!" he replied with a small giggle.

Some time passed as you chatted with the princes, barely paying attention to your surroundings. However, you did notice that you entered a city in Oriens, driving through the traffic thick with cars and buses. There were people everywhere, bustling by one another as they went about their Sunday afternoon.

"Where are we going?" you asked Glenn as you gazed out the window.

"We're going to the center of the city. It's a cultural hub, where people of all ages come to gather for events, shopping, and food." He said this so simply.

"I'm assuming you've been there a lot," you commented.

Glenn's face fell for a moment. "Only once, actually -- I was there with the King for the grand opening when I was ten. I haven't been back since."

You were surprised that he had not paid more personal attention to such a cultural icon. It must have been important if he was bringing you there. From what he said, it seemed like one of Oriens' most notable attractions, but why had he only been there once? Not to mention, it had been so long ago...

The outside of this shopping and entertainment center was paved and beautifully kept. There were fountains near the entrance, spraying water high into the air as wishful coins glittered at the bottom. Small, neatly trimmed bushes were planted nearby, flowers of all sorts decorating the soil around them. A large flight of shallow stairs led to grand sets of glass doors.

There were so many people in this area, many of them staring at the black vehicle you were in.

The limousine pulled up around the side of the large complex, attracting some attention, but not nearly as much as it would have had it pulled up in the front.

You exited, wondering exactly how you and the princes were supposed to enjoy the day with so many eyes on you. After all, with the addition of the butlers and the bodyguards, there would certainly be lots of focus on your strange group.

Roberto and Wilfred seemed to be thinking the exact same thing -- they exchanged glances, and Wilfred stepped toward the butlers in the back to speak with them.

You watched from a short distance away, while Roberto draped an arm across your shoulders. "Don't worry -- Wilfred's got a good handle on things. More so than I do anyway. He can be pretty darn convincing when he needs to be." With one arm around you and one hand on Alan's back, he pushed the both of you toward the entrance. "So while he's fighting in the frontlines, we're going to be sneaky."

------------------------
a. Oh! But won't Wilfred get into trouble for covering for us?
b. If they're going to be so stuffy, let's run along without 'em. It's more fun that way.
c. *hums Mission Impossible theme song* ^_^
d. Where's Glenn in all of this? I hope he's close by.
e. Eh? But shouldn't we see what the butlers have to say?
f. I-I'm not so sure if we should be doing this. I don't want anyone to get into trouble.
------------------------

You stepped inside the air-conditioned building, marveling at the many shops and architectural structures that seemed to fill the place from top to bottom.

Glenn was close behind you, looking slightly uncomfortable with this arrangement.

Roberto glanced behind him, and said in a chipper voice, "Oh, come on, old boy! Give a cheerful grin and stop looking so glum. We're here to have fun, after all!"

"Old boy?" Glenn sneered. "Like you should be talking."

"What's a seven-year difference? It's what you feel like on the inside that counts!" Roberto then turned to you and Alan as he looked about the shopping center. "Wow, this is some place, isn't it? Where would you like to go first?"

Alan looked as though he had never been to a place like this before -- you wouldn't have been surprised if that was the truth. He pointed to the escalators. "I wanna see what's upstairs!"

"Maybe we should stay on the first floor for now," you suggested, "at least until Prince Wilfred can find us."

"I was thinking the exact opposite," Roberto said with a sheepish grin. "I'd like to make a motion to get as far away from our staff as possible."

Glenn shrugged. "Then why don't you go? The rest of us will wait here."

"But that's no fun. You need company in a place like this, or else I'll just be lonesome."

"I couldn't care less about your lonesomeness."

"You're so harsh, Glenny-poo."

Glenn was about to add a retort, but at that moment, Wilfred stepped through one of the glass doors, a victorious expression on his face.

"What's the news, Wills?" Roberto asked.

"I've convinced them to wait near the entrance. The bodyguards anyway. Claude, Alberto, and Yu have permission to follow us, but only at a distance."

The Altarian prince sighed. "Ah, well. It was worth a try. And I suppose it's not so bad. We'll just have to be even sneakier and outrun them all."

Alan reached toward you and tugged on your hand. "_____! What's that over there? It looks like fun!" He pointed toward an arcade, music and lights within its entrance.

"Oh." Did he not know what an arcade was? "That's a video game arcade. I used to play in them when I was a kid. Do you want to give the games a try?" You looked toward Glenn for permission. "Is that all right if we take Alan in there?"

He looked very confused.

"Is something the matter?"

Glenn raised his eyebrows. "No. I've just... I've never been to an arcade before..."

"Neither have I, to be honest," Roberto admitted.

"Nor I," Wilfred agreed.

They all seemed very interested in this arcade, however.

------------------------
a. "No sweat! I'll show you around."
b. "What kind of a rock have you all been living under? Let's go."
c. "Never been to an arcade? Looks like you've got a lot to learn!"
d. "Well, there's a first time for everything."
e. "That's really all right. There's plenty of stuff that you know that I don't."
f. "O-oh! They're lots of fun! I think you should try some games."
------------------------

With an air of confidence, you led the four princes into the arcade. You showed them one of the coin-exchanging machines and then let them loose.

If you have mostly a's...

Wilfred of Phillip

"Your Highness? What's wrong?"

Wilfred was staring at one of your childhood-favorite games. It wasn't terribly fun, but you were very good at it and occasionally won the jackpot, which allowed you to earn countless tickets to be traded in for prizes. He watched the yellow light zoom around the dome-like structure as his hand rested upon the round button in front of him. "How does this work?" he asked.

"Oh, it's much easier than it looks. The point of the game is to get the light to stop between the arches in front of you. See?" You pointed at the glass. "Sometimes up to four people play this at once, and you're lucky because there are over 400 tickets in the jackpot right now."

"What happens if I can't get between the arches?"

You laughed. "You worry too much -- you'll still get some tickets. See these numbers? The closer you get to the arches, the more tickets you get. You get ten tickets if you're just one light bulb off. You get nine if you're two off, etcetera. Think of it as a consolation prize. And really, even if you can't get the jackpot, you can keep playing until you do. You have plenty of coins, don't you?"

"Fascinating."

You had never seen him with such a concentrated expression on his face before. His blonde bangs were swept back, his eyes narrowed in focus. All for a simple arcade game, too.

He let the light circle around the dome several times before he pressed the button. The light stopped just short of his arches, flashing above the number nine, as tickets were fed out of the machine.

"Close," you said. "You want to try again?"

Without a word, he reached into his pocket for another coin, slipping it into the slot. The game reacted by sending the light along its way again, zooming around and around.

Wilfred took less time adjusting, but he missed the arches again,

"Keep going," you encouraged. You had to admit that watching him learn how to play this game was far more entertaining than playing yourself. Somehow, despite how seriously he might have been obligated to act like as prince, the childish side of him peeked out during this game.

"This is far harder than it looks," he replied, though he did not look frustrated. Instead, he appeared to be amused. "I assume you're rather good at it?"

"It just takes practice. Trust me, I've had a lot of that." The both of you exchanged smiles as Wilfred continued to make attempts.

After several more tries, he succeeded, standing there victoriously with a long strand of tickets bundled in his arms. He was grinning giddily, and you thought he was rather cute.

If you have mostly b's...

Keith of Liberty

You are most compatible with Keith. Is he really as terrible of a person as Glenn seems to think? Well, maybe, maybe not. Glenn is kind of hard to get along with. What about you thoughts? Truthfully, Keith hasn't given you a very good impression, but you'll have to see when you head over to Liberty to spend some time with Cathy.

If you have mostly c's...

Joshua of Dres Van

You are most compatible with Joshua. He was kind enough to pour you a glass of wine at the party at Nobel Michel, wasn't he? Joshua does seem a little bit aloof, but you are sure that he's just guarded for whatever reason. Surely, he can't be that serious all the time. Maybe you'll see him sometime soon. After all, your grandparents are in one of Dres Van's best hospitals right now.

If you have mostly d's...

Glenn of Oriens

You stood next to Glenn as the both of you watched Alan. He had a headset on, and he was pointing a plastic gun at a hooded screen, blasting away at assassins as he explored the virtual warehouse.

"...I hate to say it, but I never thought that such a commoner activity could make him so happy."

You glanced toward Glenn, who looked like he was talking to himself. "What's that supposed to mean, Your Highness?"

"Oh, no offense," he added quickly with an unsure expression on his face. "I just mean that neither of us have ever had the chance to leave the palace and enjoy ourselves like this. We've always been watched closely by our caretakers, and no one bothered to introduce us to an arcade."

You had never thought about that before, but you supposed that spending time in an arcade wasn't something that a royal prince would do. "I'm sure you were busy with other things, too," you said. "You're busy, and you're in line as the heir to Oriens' throne. But look at Alan -- even at the age of six, his schedule is full. He doesn't have much time to play. I think that might be why he enjoyed yesterday's party so much."

Glenn raised a questioning eyebrow. "You think so, huh? I always worry about him. At the same time, our father wouldn't let his schedule become any more lax. He says that we'd be spoiling Alan otherwise." He sighed.

"Well, I don't know your father, but I do think that you're doing a good job with Alan."

"What? Really?"

"Of course. He's lucky to have an older brother like you. You know, he's told me on several occasions that he wants to grow up to be just like you -- he thinks that you're brave and smart and strong and a huge list of other wonderful things."

"I... I had no idea." Glenn's eyes fell to the floor. "I guess I haven't spent much time with him lately. It's been busy, these few weeks."

You shrugged. "It is what it is. If you have work, then that has to come first, I suppose." You had a feeling that the King of Oriens was a strict one. It would be hard to go against his wishes, and you were certainly not going to be the first to oppose him.

"I'm going to try, though," Glenn said softly. "I'm going to try to set aside some time every week to spend time with Alan." He looked at you, his red-brown eyes piercing, even in the dim lighting. "Thanks for letting me know, _____."

You smiled. "Sure thing."

If you have mostly e's...

Edward of Charles

You are most compatible with Edward. What a gentleman he is! It's a shame you didn't get the chance to dance with him at the party, but you did get the chance to learn that he loves your piano music. That's a good thing, right? Have no fear! Since he is on such good terms with the other princes, you might be able to see him very soon.

If you have mostly f's...

Roberto of Altaria

"Oy! _____!"

You turned around to see Roberto waving vigorously at you.

"Come here, will you?" He had a silly grin on his face and several balls in his hand. He was standing in front of a skee ball machine, the lights up top flashing in all sorts of colors. "You seem to be the expert, so teach me your secrets."

"Truth be told, there's not much in the way of secrets for this game. You just roll the balls up the lane and hope that you can score the most points." You pointed to the rings. "You see the point values? Those tell you which ones you should be aiming for."

Roberto nodded slowly. "I see. Then I should go for the small ones up top?"

"Only if you think you can get them. It's safer to go for the rings stacked in the middle because you'll probably end up with at least ten points even if you miss, but if you go for the ones on the side, you might get nothing."

His mouth formed a clean "o" as he understood your logic. "All right, I think I can play this."

You stood back as he concentrated, loosening his shoulder, and sending one of the balls along the lane and up toward the rings. He only got ten points.

"Oy, just warming up." He tried this again and again, with little success. Soon enough, his balls were all used up. "But it looked so much easier..."

You laughed at his silly expression. "This is your first time playing, isn't it? You can't be too hard on yourself."

"Yeah. Well, I have an idea in mind that will guarantee a high score." Roberto fed the machine another coin, and as the balls came rolling down, he grabbed several, hugging them against his chest as he began to crawl up the ramp.

"Your Highness, you can't do that."

"Shhhh! Don't call me that out here! That's Roberto to you."

"Fine." You cleared your throat. "Roberto, you can't do that."

When he was a short distance away, he easily tossed the balls into the smaller rings, earning him 100 points each. "See? That was easy. Now, again."

You sighed and rolled your eyes, as he repeated this twice more. But despite your outward frustration, you actually thought he was being quite endearing -- this looked like something that a child would do, just to earn more tickets.

"Look there, _____! Look, I've got a high score!" Roberto stood, touching your shoulder and nodding toward the score bracket.

"Yeah, because you cheated," you replied with a small laugh.

He pouted. "But I wanted to win some tickets, just for you. You can at least stroke my ego while I'm doing it."

He really was a darling.

Chapter Text

Glenn reluctantly agreed to give you the weekend off so you could fly over to see Cathy, but not before thrusting a new cellphone into your hand.

“My number’s in there. If you need anything, call me,” he said.

You wondered if this was his roundabout way of getting your number -- he had never asked for it, but if he were to gift you a cellphone, then he would obviously have your contact information once you called him. “Is this meant for business?” you asked, not wanting to overstep your boundaries.

Glenn’s eyebrows creased. “Use it however you’d like, but I expect you to check it regularly and pick it up if I call.”

“Will do, Your Highness,” you replied as you pocketed the phone. “I’ll be back by Monday for Alan’s morning lesson.”

While Yu drove you to the private airport where Cathy had arranged a flight for you, you punched in both Roberto’s and Wilfred’s contacts into your new phone and alerted them to your new number. If Glenn had insisted on paying for your phone bill, then why not?

You remembered several days ago when Roberto had stolen your phone after the arcade and texted himself your number, effectively making you a contact. Wilfred was far more polite about obtaining your number, and you gave it to him.

Maybe Glenn was jealous and decided that he wanted your number, too. That boy needed to learn to voice his needs, but you supposed you could be accommodating.

You boarded the plane and arrived in Liberty for the first time since you started working at Oriens Palace. It was strange being the only passenger on the plane -- you had never been treated so graciously before. You could only guess that Cathy made these arrangements and demanded that everyone treat you as a guest. In some ways, it was a little awkward, but how could you argue?

You were driven to Liberty Manse by the apprentice steward, who had introduced himself as Luke. The drive was a quiet one, but as soon as you stopped in front of the manse, Cathy appeared, looking quite eager and excited to have you here.

“Oh, _____!” she said as she embraced you. “I’m so glad you’ve come!”

“Your Highness,” Luke began with a disapproving look on his face, “please return to the manse. It is inappropriate for a member of the royal family to be greeting guests out front--”

“Oh, Luke,” she replied with a laugh, “you’re so formal. It’s no big deal, really! Will you help _____ with her luggage? I’d like to show her around.” Before Luke could reply, she had taken a hold of your hand and tugged you toward the manse.

You took a breath, wondering where she got this sort of energy. “Cathy,” you said as you followed her through the spacious halls of the manse. “Thank you for inviting me here. It’s kind of great to be back home again.”

“Of course! It’s great for you to be here.” She stopped and turned to face you. “Truthfully, I don’t have the chance to invite many people over or even go out...”

“Do you mind me asking why?”

There was a small silence on her part, and you wondered if you had asked the wrong question. She did not seem offended when she looked at you, however, instead beaming with her expressive eyes. “Can you keep a secret?” Without waiting for a reply, she continued, “I’m actually very sick... some days, I feel weak and dizzy, though some days, I feel just fine.”

You had no idea that she was plagued by some sort of illness, and despite her enthusiasm, you had to admit that she did seem a little pale. “I’m so sorry to hear that. Are you sure it’s all right that I’m here?” you replied. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Cathy smiled very sincerely at you. “Don’t worry about me, _____. I did invite you here, didn’t I? I want you to have fun and enjoy your weekend.”

“Well, it’d be hard to enjoy myself if I were to be a burden on you or on your health...” you started, though your voice trailed off as you saw a look of disappointment on her face.

“I didn’t mean to worry you. I just thought that we could become better friends because you seem different than others whom I’ve met -- you’re kind and patient. The night at Noble Michel, I thought that Alan was very lucky to have you as a mentor.”

You were flattered to hear her say that, though you were equally dismayed to hear the tone of her voice. She seemed so lonely that she actually reminded you a bit of Alan. They were not successors to the throne, so the burden had not been placed on their shoulders, but this meant they had to uphold the royal name without nearly as much prestige and excitement.

“I’m sure that we can still have fun together, Cathy,” you said. “I just don’t want you to forget about your health either. Why don’t you continue showing me around? I’ll let you know if something catches my interest. Maybe later we can find some music for a duet.”

She looked a bit happier at your suggestion. “I have lots of music to choose from -- in fact, I had Alick order some piano-flute duets that I thought you might like.”

You were admittedly a bit surprised to hear that, but you supposed that the enthusiasm was endearing. Your thoughts?

------------------------
a. It seems that she took our conversation to heart when we last spoke.
b. Damn, she’s really excited about this duet thing.
c. She’s so sweet! I’m sure that the music will be wonderful!
d. Well, she seems very prepared for our music session.
e. O-oh? She didn’t have to do that for me, but I am grateful nonetheless!
f. I’m sure that we’ll have a great time, especially since she put so much work into it.
------------------------

As the afternoon pressed on, you half-wondered where Cathy’s brother was. Keith had seemed so opposed to your coming here that night at Nobel Michel. Maybe he took to hiding somewhere in the manse away from you, or maybe he went out just to avoid you.

You knew exactly why he disliked you so much, but you thought it was immature of him to even be upset because of what you had said. After all, you only spoke the truth. He was a prince -- shouldn’t he have been used to these sorts of controversies? Politicians had far nastier bites than you did.

You had to admit, though, you did rather enjoy your time here in the manse. Cathy was a wonderful host, making sure that you were comfortable and well-entertained.

After a brief lunch of small finger sandwiches, you joined Cathy in a large room, where the sun leaked in most beautifully through the large window panes. There was a grand piano and a stand inside. She led you over to one of the tables, sifting through pages upon pages of duets that you could choose from.

The both of you settled upon Andante in C major by Mozart. Cathy was a very talented flutist, and she seemed to appreciate you taking the time to play music with her.

The piano was a gorgeous one, well-tuned and rich in sound. The keys felt cool to your fingertips, and you felt a little strange reading music after such a long time, but after a few flawed attempts, you started to become more accustomed to the piano.

You played until the sun was a few hours from setting, and at that point, the both of you had succeeded in getting through the entire piece together -- it wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but it was a good first day, especially since you hadn’t played so seriously in such a long time. You had been so entranced in your music, remembering the joys and beauty of it, that you had not noticed that you had an audience.

When your eyes lifted above the sheets of music, you saw your guests. “Oh, Prince Edward, Prince Joshua,” you started, feeling a little awkward that they had to listen to your unpolished performance. “I had no idea that the two of you would be here.” They were both dressed in business casual clothing, which was very different than what you were used to seeing them in when you turned on the TV or in magazines, but that was fine. In fact, it made them seem more like real people.

“What a pleasure to see you again, Miss _____,” Edward replied as he swept a graceful bow. “And you as well, Princess Catherine.”

Joshua nodded his greetings. “This is certainly unexpected, but salutations to the both of you.”

“Oh, yes,” Cathy said as she set down her flute and looked toward you. “I suppose I forgot to mention that my brother invited both Prince Edward and Prince Joshua over this weekend to discuss some important political matters. I didn’t think that we’d run into them, though, since their schedules seemed to be so busy...”

“Well, our work has gone by more quickly than we anticipated,” Edward said. “We were actually going to sit down in the garden for some tea when we passed by this room. Your music is quite lovely.”

------------------------
a. “We’re very glad you like it, Prince Edward, but Cathy is the one on the beautiful flute part.”
b. “Oh, none of that, Your Highness. We just started playing.”
c. “Why, thank you! We’ve been working hard all afternoon to make it sound decent.” ^_^
d. “You’re very kind, Prince Edward. We appreciate your compliment.”
e. “D-don’t tease us! W-we just started playing today, Prince Edward...!” :3
f. “We still have a long way to go before it sounds perfect, but thank you.”
------------------------

Edward smiled at you and was about to respond to your statement when an elderly gentleman with excellent posture appeared at the doorway.

“Your Highnesses,” he said, “your tea in the garden has been prepared.” His eyes fell upon Princess Catherine next and then you. “If you would like some tea as well, please let me be of service.” This must have been the high steward Alick whom Cathy had been talking about.

“Perhaps you lovely ladies would like to join us for tea instead?” Edward asked.

You wondered if that would be all right, especially since Edward had hardly asked Joshua and Keith for permission to bring the both of you along. Truthfully, if this was a meeting between the princes of each nation, you’d rather not be the awkward wheel at the table.

You opened your mouth to politely refuse, but Cathy seemed eager to talk instead.

“That would be wonderful!” she said. “Alick, if you wouldn’t mind, could you please arrange for two extra seats outside?”

He bowed deeply. “Of course, Your Highness. Please come out whenever you are ready.” He then left to make the arrangements.

Edward looked pleased, while Joshua seemed apathetic as the four of you walked through the halls of Liberty Manse and toward the garden.

You were walking behind the princes with Cathy, so when Edward and Joshua turned the corner around a hedge of trees, you heard a familiar, irritated voice say, “What took you so long?”

As soon as you and Cathy came into view, however, Keith’s expression flickered into one of annoyance. “What is she doing here?” She was obviously you.

“I thought I told you, Brother,” Cathy said, obviously intent on defending you. “I had invited _____ over so we could play some music together. You were going to be busy with Prince Edward and Prince Joshua, so I figured that I could have a guest here as well. _____ and I will be joining you gentlemen for our afternoon tea.”

Keith glared at you, but you did not dare look away. If you showed him that you were intimidated by his childish antics, then that would only give him more of a reason to walk all over you. You were not weak; you were educated and intelligent, and for him to neglect that and make assumptions was offensive.

“Fine,” Keith said, his green eyes turning away from you. It seemed that you had won this battle (with Cathy’s help, of course).

At this point, several servants had arrived with two extra chairs, and Luke was there to begin serving tea. He passed you a teacup graciously, and you took a deep breath, savoring the herbaceous, sweet scent.

“Would you like any sugar or cream, Miss _____?” Edward asked you, motioning toward the two crystal containers on the table.

“Your Highness, please allow me,” Luke said as he paced over.

Edward gave him a gentle smile. “Thank you, Luke, but that’s not necessary. I really don’t mind.”

Luke looked a little surprised, but he relented, returning to his post. “If you insist, Your Highness.”

Everyone began to sip at his or her tea, and nibble on the cookies and small cakes that were laid out on the table. You thought that these desserts were far too pretty to eat -- in fact, they looked better than they tasted.

“A little dry,” Joshua commented as he swallowed his first bite of cake.

“Maybe it’s because you took so long to get here,” Keith seethed.

“We made you wait no more than five minutes,” Joshua said, his purple eyes calmly settling on the other prince. “Hardly enough time to take moisture out of a cake.”

Luke stepped forward. “If the cake is not to your liking, perhaps I can have something else be brought over, Your Highness?”

Joshua waved his hand. “It’s no problem.”

“Maybe you could get some cream or chocolate sauce,” you suggested. “That should moisten the cake.”

“Oh, what a wonderful idea!” Cathy exclaimed, looking rather excited as she politely put her fork down. “I do love cream and chocolate. Will you do that for us, Luke?”

Luke bowed. “Of course. A moment.”

“So what are you plans for tonight, Catherine?” Keith said, filling the silence. He seemed like the type of person who was unnerved by the lack of conversation.

------------------------
a. Being comfortable with silence is something some people need to learn to do, I think.
b. A strange trait for someone who claims to have so much power. -_____-
c. Oh, that’s all right! You gotta do what you gotta do to not feel uncomfortable, even if that means breaking the silence.
d. I think it’s normal for people to feel a bit awkward sometimes.
e. Maybe he just feels awkward when it’s silent...! :’D
f. If this is what he feels comfortable doing, then more power to him.
------------------------

Cathy said, “I don’t know.” She turned to look at you. “What about you, _____? What do you want to do?”

“Me?” You were surprised that she would ask you. You supposed that you were the guest here, but she was the host. Did she not have anything else planned? “Well, I don’t know what you’d want to do...”

“We’ll have plenty of time for something fun after dinner. You know Liberty, too, so what do you usually do for fun?”

You didn’t know how you felt about sharing your “commoner” activities with these people. Sure, you felt no shame about where you came from, but you were reluctant to give these members of royalty a chance to laugh at your simplicity.

However, Cathy did invite you here because she liked you, so maybe you ought to put some trust into her. “Well,” you began, “when I have free time, I usually go out with my friends. Maybe to the movies or out to a show, or even for a nice walk in the park...”

She was looking at you as if she had just heard the most wonderful things. “Oh! I’ve never had the chance to do any of those things. Do you think you could take me?”

“Wait a second,” Keith said. “You’re planning on going out tonight?”

“Yes.” Cathy clapped her hands together with a gleeful expression on her face. “_____ said that she would take me!”

You had most certainly not agreed to those terms, but before you could open your mouth to refuse, Edward said, “That does sound like a nice evening. Would you mind if I joined you?”

“I, too, would like to see more of Liberty,” Joshua said with a faint smile on his face. “It is not often that I come here, and when I do, I usually stay at the manse.”

Their responses surprised you -- why would they want to explore the city with you when they had all of the luxuries in the world at their fingertips? Maybe it was because this luxury was wearing them thin. Maybe they were more human than royalty.

But you already knew that. It was this simple realization that made the concept more real.

You gave a small nod. “If that’s what you want, Your Highnesses, I would love to take all of you somewhere tonight.”

Keith glared at you. “You don’t have permission to do that; you’re just a commoner.”

Your glared right back. “I think we’re all adults here and can make decisions for ourselves.”

“Catherine is not permitted to leave the manse without a guardian--”

“I will have a guardian!” she said to her brother, rather calmly for how she was being treated. “_____ said that she would take me. Besides, since when did you care about that rule? You leave Luke wondering where you are all the time.”

“Do as I say, not what I do,” Keith muttered as he gave her a defeated expression. “Fine. But I’m coming with you.”

------------------------
a. He must really love his sister if he’s being so protective of her.
b. What a pain in the ass. If he were my brother, I would have ripped off his head long ago.
c. Coming with us? The more the merrier~!
d. Interesting that it would come down to this.
e. U-um. W-wow. He must really not like me! *meep*
f. I suppose he’s just doing what any older brother would do.
------------------------

You looked over toward Prince Edward, who had an easy smile on his face, and Prince Joshua, who looked impressed that these two would argue the way that they did.

Maybe it was a good thing that Luke had run off to grab some cream and chocolate sauce. If you were going to sneak off tonight, it would be best for him to not know.

In reality, it didn’t matter either way because Alick had overheard the conversation. He stepped forward, his posture perfect, and bowed. “If you would excuse me, Your Highnesses and Miss _____, I will make arrangements for your outing tonight.”

“But Alick,” Cathy started, her voice innocent and eager, “we were hoping to go alone. Miss _____ will be our guide.”

“If I may, it might be dangerous for all of you to go out without any bodyguards. I’m sure that there may be paparazzi out and about, and even more dangerous, there may be those who are politically involved--”

“That’s fine, Alick,” Keith interrupted. “We’ll be fine. Just arrange the ride for us.”

The high steward remained composed. “Your Highness, I should expect you to know the dangers of stepping into the city without your retainers.”

Keith waved off his concerns. “They can come as long as they stay in the car. I hope _____ won’t be taking us anywhere dangerous.” He said this with a snap in his voice, though when he turned to you, his eyes weren’t entirely angry.

“Of course not,” you said, speaking to everyone. “If you all want to do something that I would enjoy, I recommend the movie theater -- there’s a movie that I certainly want to see, and if you’re afraid of people recognizing you, it shouldn’t be a problem since movie theaters are dark.”

“I’m liking this idea more and more!” Cathy exclaimed.

At this point, there was nothing that Alick could do except abide by the prince and princess’ wish, so he made the necessary arrangements. Of course, the butlers would be coming along with you, and the bodyguards would trail you from a distance -- this was apparently mandatory protocol as it had been with your trip to the mall with Glenn, Roberto, Wilfred, and Alan. You thought this must have been an annoyance to those of royalty, but perhaps they were used to it.

Right after dinner was served, you, Cathy, and the princes slid into the smooth seats of a limousine. You sat between Cathy and Edward, while Joshua and Keith sat across from you.

“So what movie are we going to see?” Cathy asked. “I’ve never been out in public this late before, and I’ve certainly never been to a public movie theater.”

Being a member of the royal family seemed difficult. You smiled at her. “Well, there are quite a few movies playing right now, so why don’t we take a vote when we get there?”

“It must be nice being able to see movies like this,” Edward commented.

“It is nice,” you said. “It’s something that my friends and I always do together.”

Joshua looked a little puzzled. “Why watch movies with friends? I thought it was an independent activity. I doubt you need others to watch a movie.”

You shrugged. “You could definitely do it by yourself, but why go out alone when you can have company? It’s more fun this way.”

He seemed to be thinking over what you said when Keith interrupted your conversation. “This is ridiculous,” he said as he made a note of the crowded streets. “We’re going to waste travel time and probably wait in a line just to watch a stupid movie? We could have watched in the theater back at the manse.”

------------------------
a. “Remember, Prince Keith, this is a cultural activity. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a private home theater.”
b. “No one asked you to come.” Jerk.
c. “A private theater sounds like fun, too~! You should have suggested it before we left.”
d. “But I’m sure Cathy really wanted to try something new.”
e. “O-oh... Um. Well, I’m sorry you don’t like my suggestion...”
f. “Let’s keep an open mind. I think it’s a good idea to try new things every once in a while.”
------------------------

Keith sighed and rolled his eyes toward Cathy. “Of all people, you had to pick her as a friend?”

Cathy’s eyebrows furrowed. “Brother, you are so rude! _____ has done nothing to earn your disdain. She’s been more than kind to me. Apologize right now.”

He became stiff, glaring at you with his green eyes.

“Now, now,” Edward intervened, “no need to fight. We should be enjoying ourselves. Prince Keith, I recommend that you take care the next time you choose to speak, lest you say something that you don’t mean or will regret.”

You were flattered that Edward would defend you, but that was unnecessary because you were more than happy to defend yourself. “It’s all right,” you said. “I can’t do anything about someone who insists that I’m inferior because of my social class.”

Keith’s eyes narrowed, first at Edward’s reprimand, then at your comment. However, he didn’t say anything else, likely because he knew that his sister would become even more upset with him if he spoke his mind. He crossed his arms and stared out the window like a stubborn child.

That was fine. You didn’t really want to know what he was thinking anyway, and it wasn’t like you expected an apology from him.

The rest of the ride was a quiet one with no more arguments. Of course, it was Cathy who broke the silence, asking you questions about things that she saw outside the window. You would explain to her what these fast food restaurants and small shopping boutiques were, and she would smile in delight. She had to have seen these places before, but maybe she never had someone like you who would tell her about them in such detail.

When your party arrived at the theater, you guided them to the front entrance. The butlers, Luke, Louis, and Jan, followed along a little farther behind to not attract attention, though you were unsure how this would even work, especially since they were all so formally dressed. No one went to movies in suits and ties. At least they were distanced a bit from your group.

You approached the entrance, gently pushing Cathy forward. “Why don’t you pick what movie you want to see?” you asked. “And then you can get our tickets for us.” You figured that she wouldn’t have anything to pay with because as a princess she never did anything herself, so you slipped her your credit card.

She looked absolutely enchanted. “...I’ve never done this on my own before,” she said, staring at the thin piece of plastic. “But I’d love to try!” So she went up to the ticket counter and made the purchase. “I’ll have Alick reimburse you later,” she added. “I can’t have our guest paying for all of us out of her own pocket.”

“But that was a generous gesture nonetheless,” Edward noted with a smile. His purple eyes seemed to be sparkling. “You really do have a kind heart, Miss _____.”

“Oh, that was nothing,” you said, waving off his compliment. “I’d do it for any of my friends, and I suppose I am kind of playing the guide right now.”

“You are specifically a guest at Liberty Manse.” Joshua had crossed his arms, glancing over toward Keith, who was still stubbornly quiet. “It would be inappropriate for your host to expect you to afford the expenses.”

“We’ll discuss that later.” You had already begun guiding Cathy toward the attendant who would check your tickets.

She marveled at the whole process, even letting out a small giggle as the attendant tipped his cap toward her and told her to enjoy the movie.

You wondered if she was always this easily amused or if they really was so new and foreign to her that it really was something to be giddy about. You then ushered her toward your assigned theater, the three princes following behind you. Perhaps they would have liked a chance to speak, but Cathy was the one who seemed the most excited to talk. She pointed to various advertisements and cardboard cutouts, telling you about movies she had seen and how she had had the chance to meet actors and other celebrities at parties. Really, to you, her life was the exciting one -- so many people in your position would have loved to be in her shoes.

Everyone shuffled through the small door, only to enter a dark room where there were already trailers playing across the large screen. You could not see Cathy’s face, but you were sure she was beyond excited to be here. You choose a few seats in the middle row, allowing Cathy to scoot in first, followed by the boys.

“I’ll go grab some snacks,” you offered, and without another word, you left for several minutes.

You were met with an abundance of over-priced items at the vendor, but you figured that this was a first time treat for everyone -- besides, if Alick was going to refund your money, then why not?

------------------------
a. Judging from what I’ve seen today, they all probably like sweets to some degree. But I’ll buy some popcorn just to be safe.
b. I wonder what Alick would say if I rung up a crazy bill at the concession stand... hmm.
c. I’d really love to buy things that they’ll all like! That means lots of ice cream and popcorn, right?
d. I’ll just buy such a variety that everyone will have something to enjoy.
e. Oh, jeez! What should I choose? I hope I find something for everyone...
f. Let me see. I’ll buy some salty and sweet items. That should suffice everyone’s palate, right?
------------------------

You decide to go with a nice variety of items, ranging from buttery popcorn to sugary candies. The person behind the counter must have thought you were nuts (pun intended). With your arms piled high with snacks, you headed back into the theater. Even though your load was rather clunky, you would manage.

But as you peaked around the box of nachos, you saw someone familiar coming toward you in the lit hallway. “Your Highness,” you greeted, stopping right in front of Joshua. “Is something wrong?”

“Not at all,” he said. “We were all wondering what was taking you so long.” Immediately, and without asking you, he took part of your load from your arms, sniffing at the goods. “They smell... interesting.”

“Well, you’re smelling a lot of things.”

He wrinkled his nose as if he had just gotten an itch. “You must have bought out the whole stand.”

“Nah, they’re pretty well-stocked. A lot of movie-goers buy food to munch on while they’re watching.”

“Really.” It came out more as a statement than a question.

You blinked. “Do you not watch movies?”

“Not usually.”

“Hm.” You found that interesting, though you supposed that if Joshua was really busy, then he probably wouldn’t have the time. After all, he did seem like the most serious of the six princes you had met, so he probably devoted most of his time to his work.

When the both of you returned, you passed out the treats, much to everyone’s excitement and pleasure. Just as you all selected something to eat, the room darkened a bit, and the movie began.

If you have mostly a’s...

Edward of Charles

You and the rest of your party had returned to the manse after the movie had ended. Everyone seemed to enjoy Cathy’s selection, and your copious amounts of treats also seemed to make the night better. You were surprised that all of it was consumed, but you supposed that was a good thing.

This was the last and only night you would have in Liberty before you flew back to Oriens tomorrow evening. You had to admit that even though Oriens was a wonderful place, there was nothing like home.

With a deep breath, you took in the beauty of Liberty’s gardens. The bushes were well-kept, some of them trimmed into sculptures of prancing horses and deer, while flowers bloomed everywhere, filling the area with fragrant smells and sprinkles of color.

“So you enjoy flowers?”

You turned around, and there was Edward. He was dressed casually in a nice plaid button-up shirt. His eyes looked particularly alluring in the moonlight.

“I do like flowers,” you said with a smile. “Do you?”

He nodded toward the roses. “Those are my favorite and always have been. My family is especially fond of rose tea. It is one of Charles’ specialties.”

“Interesting. If I ever visit, I’ll have to try it.”

“If you ever visit,” he began, “you are more than welcome to come stay at Charles Castle. I will personally act as your host to ensure that you enjoy your vacation to its fullest.”

“That’s very kind of you,” you said. “Alan’s education comes first, though, so I’ll have to see how much free time I have.”

The expression on Edward’s face was a calm one, and he began to walk along the garden path, motioning for you to follow him. “I’m sure that Prince Glenn wouldn’t mind too much if you traveled on the weekends. Alan needs a break every once in a while, too.”

“That’s very true,” you replied, walking right next to him. “I think he needs a bit more than an education right now, though. He actually seems kind of lonely with how busy Prince Glenn is.”

Edward nodded. “I see. It must be hard being the youngest, but that doesn’t make him any less deserving.”

You agreed. Alan was the second-born, the one who would never take the throne. His parents would never expect anything of him, so perhaps that was why he was so often bored and lonely. “Maybe I’ll be able to help him with my teachings.”

“I’m sure you will; I think he’ll learn a lot more from you than from anyone else.”

“I don’t know,” you said, watching several dark clouds move toward the moon. “My grandfather is an amazing person. He was a great tutor to Alan before I came along.”

He seemed amused. “I’m sure your grandfather is a wonderful man. That would explain where your talent comes from.”

You waved off his compliment. “Thank you, but I’ve got a long way to go before I’m as good at teaching as he is.”

“The fact that you’re trying is bound to make him proud. Either way, Charles has a lot of historical sites if you’re in need of some inspiration for lessons.” Edward gave you a wink.

You chuckled. “I’ll definitely consider it.”

If you have mostly b’s...

Keith of Liberty

It was late, and you had already bid everyone goodnight. It had been a long, though exciting, day, and you wondered what was going to happen tomorrow before you left for Oriens. You certainly didn’t have any plans, but you wondered if Cathy had anything in mind.

You had just finished your evening rituals, changing into your pajamas and brushing your teeth, and you were able to open a book to read until you drifted off to sleep when you heard a knock at your door. “Who could that be?” you thought as you paced over to the door and opened it, peeking through.

Your eyes went wide when you saw who it was. “Your Highness? What are you doing here?”

His green eyes were narrowed as they fixed on you. “I need to talk to you,” he said brusquely, tipping his head toward the inside of the guest room.

Honestly, you had no idea how to react to his demand. It seemed rather inappropriate that he would require entrance into the private room you were staying in, but you thought arguing was probably futile. Instead, you breathed in and let the door slowly swing open. “Of course.”

Keith stepped inside. “Shut the door.” He stiffly walked toward the window of the guest room, staring at the garden down below. The lights outside guiding the path made it a very pretty sight.

You gingerly followed him. “Um... Your Highness?” you prompted, wondering what this could possibly be about.

He was quiet for a moment, his hands rolled tightly into fists. “Look,” he started, “I don’t want this to get to your head, but I need to say something.”

“Yes?”

His eyes shut as if he were rehearsing in his head. “I’m sorry for what I said earlier today.”

You blinked, surprised. “What?” You had heard every word, but the fact that they were coming from him was unexpected.

“I’m sorry. Don’t make me repeat myself -- I hate it when I have to repeat myself.”

“Well, you must be a hypocrite then,” you said well-naturedly. “Did Cathy put you up to this?”

If he were an animal, the hair on his back would have bristled.

“You don’t have to tell me if it embarrasses you.”

“Why should it embarrass me?” he snapped, turning toward you with a fierce glare in his eyes.

You couldn’t help it -- his behavior was so insecure and defensive that you let out a laugh. “Who wants to admit that they take orders from their younger sister? But don’t worry, Your Highness, I won’t say a thing to anyone else.”

He sighed, looking slightly irritated. “You really are impossible.”

“Far from it. Just observant.” You let your eyes go from Keith to the garden outside the window and then back toward the bed. “You must be a night owl, Your Highness. It’s late.”

“Not particularly. I just...”

“...I see. You just don’t want anyone else to know that you’re here. I get it.”

“Hey!” He was glaring at you again as he made his way to the door, opening it. “Don’t put words into my mouth.” With that, he shut the door and was gone.

If you have mostly c’s...

Joshua of Dres Van

It was the middle of the night. You were feeling a little thirsty, but you had no more water left in the glass that one of the servants had left for you. Earlier, Luke had told you that if you needed anything, you could ring for him on the intercom. However, you thought that it was too late -- Luke might have been sleeping, and the last thing you wanted to do was to wake him. Working for someone like Keith seemed tough enough during the daytime.

You slipped out of bed and into the hallway. It was dark, but you thought that you could navigate the manse... possibly.

You made many twists and turns, trying to remember where the kitchen was. You knew that it had to be connected to the dining room, but even you had trouble finding that -- apparently, the tour that Cathy had given you earlier was useless.

With a sigh, you walked past a large set of doors that led outside to a beautiful balcony. Someone was out there, and you stopped to see exactly who it was.

“Your Highness?”

Joshua turned around, obviously surprised that you had called out to him. “Oh... it’s just you, _____.”

“You sound disappointed,” you joked. “Were you expecting someone else?”

“It’s two in the morning -- I wasn’t expecting anyone.” He turned back to the balcony railing, leaning against it as he stared up at the stars. “So I take it you couldn’t sleep?”

“I was looking for a drink of water but found you instead. What about you?”

“I often have a hard time sleeping.”

“Why?”

Joshua let his shoulders droop a little bit. “There’s always a lot of work to be done.”

You leaned against the rail next to him, trying to study his face. “Why don’t you take a break every once in a while? You sound like you could use it.”

“If it doesn’t contribute to my succeeding the throne, then it’s not worth my time.” His face had become serious again.

“But didn’t you enjoy the movie tonight? That was a form of relaxing.”

“I consider it a study of Liberty’s culture.”

Your mind raced. “Well, if you put it that way, then anything can be construed as academic or helpful to your future.”

He raised a curious eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“Look at it this way -- relaxing is good for your mental and physical health. If you take some time to do that, then you’re doing your citizens a favor. You’re nourishing yourself and keeping your body healthy so that you can become a good king for a long time.”

“That’s a very optimistic way of looking at it.”

“What are you whining about, Your Highness?” you said, exhaling in a dry laugh. “I just gave you a reason to take a break from work.”

Joshua’s lips curved upward, if only slightly. He shook his head, pacing back toward the door. “Come on. I’ll show you where the kitchen is.”

You smiled brightly as you followed him.

If you have mostly d’s...

Wilfred of Phillip

The next time you check your phone, you find this text message:

_____, I never got to thank you properly for our adventure in the arcade. It was something new and fun for me. Maybe we’ll have more chances to explore new places? --Wilfred

If you have mostly e’s...

Roberto of Altaria

The next time you check your phone, you find this text message:

Hey, _____! I know it’s only been a week, but I’m already booooooored. I think Alberto is pushing more and more work on me because I actually had time to have fun last weekend. You should come up with a reason to fish me out of this -- if you come visit, I’ll have to play the host, right? ;) --Roberto

If you have mostly f’s...

Glenn of Oriens

The next time you check your phone, you find this text message:

Alan’s been asking how you’re doing. He misses you, so don’t have too much fun without him, all right? We’ll see you Sunday night. Yu will pick you up from the airport. --Glenn

Chapter Text

In the morning, the light leaked through the windows, stirring you from your sleep. You thought about going back to bed, if only briefly, but you forced yourself awake, performing your morning rituals while thinking about what today had in store for you.

You heard a knock on your door right when you had finished brushing your hair. “Come in,” you called.

The face of a young servant peeped through. “Miss _____, Her Highness Catherine is waiting for you in the dining room. May I take your order for breakfast?” she said.

“Sure,” you replied, listing off your favorite breakfast items.

After she left, you continued with your hair. When you were sure that you were ready and looking fit for royalty, you left for the dining room. The halls were winding and long, and you had to stop once to ask a servant for directions, but you made it eventually.

As you entered through the double doors, Cathy gave you a bright smile. “Good morning! _____, I’m glad to see you're awake. Our chef’s busy making breakfast as we speak. Here, have a seat.”

You suppressed a yawn as you sat down as instructed. “Morning,” you replied.

“How did you sleep last night?”

“Very well, apparently,” you said. “Still not quite awake yet.”

Joshua was also there, sitting across from Cathy, glancing over a neatly folded newspaper. Upon hearing your comment, he looked toward Jan, his butler, and nodded. Jan seemed to understand what his meaning perfectly and disappeared into the kitchen.

For a moment, you wondered what Joshua had meant by his silent order, but Jan soon returned with a rolling cart of coffees and teas and other beverages. “What would you like, Miss _____?” he asked with a polite grin.

“Oh, this is so nice of you.” You ordered your drink of choice, and Jan continued on to serve Cathy and Joshua.

As soon as he set Cathy’s tea and orange juice down, Keith burst into the dining room, closely followed by Edward.

Keith ignored you, but Edward greeted you and the others warmly. “What a lovely morning,” he said with a grin. “I hope you all slept well. What plans do you have today?”

Cathy glanced toward you. “Well, I was hoping that _____ and I could practice our duet a bit more. After that, I have nothing specific in mind. Though, _____ has to head back to Oriens in the evening, hm?”

You nodded. “Yes. I do need to return. Alan’s lessons start again early tomorrow morning.”

“That’s understandable,” Edward replied politely. “You are very dedicated to Alan, after all.”

“I think he’s a very smart boy. And he’s eager to learn, so he’s a pleasure to teach.” You actually missed him and his constant questions.

“Well, he’s lucky to have you as a tutor,” Cathy noted. “I wish I had a teacher as wonderful as you.”

“I’m flattered, but I’m still a novice at what I do. In some respects, I think Alan has taught me more than I have taught him.”

“Interesting that you would think that way,” Joshua said, gazing at you intensely. “You would never imagine a tutor learning more than the student.”

“But I am a student, too,” you replied. “That’s the path of education -- you never stop learning, no matter what role you play. Even you, Your Highness, can still learn. You’re reading a newspaper right now. Isn’t that learning?”

There was a subtle smile in his violet eyes. “Perhaps you’re right.”

You returned his grin, thinking to yourself:

------------------------
a. Keith, stop being such a wet blanket. You know I’m amusing, so quit your mental whining.
b. I’m actually excited to be heading back to Oriens -- Glenn and Alan will both be there waiting.
c. You know, I kind of wish that Wilfred were here. He’s so much more wholesome to converse with.
d. Now where is all the fun? I know -- it’s with Roberto. If only he were here to spread the joy.
e. Oh, Joshua, you’re so precious when you smile like that~! You should do it more often.
f. Edward is always so polite and charming. I wish more men were like that.
------------------------

Breakfast was soon served, and you were able to eat your favorite menu items cooked to perfection. In fact, you had never tasted food this good.

“So are you ready to practice our duet again?” Cathy asked as she wiped her mouth in a very ladylike manner. “Maybe after a few visits, we could perform for everyone in the castle.”

A few visits, eh? You knew that she was eager for you to come see her, but you had no idea that she would enjoy your company so much. In fact, you had originally wondered if she would grow tired of you by today. It seemed to be the opposite.

“Sure,” you said, thinking that you wouldn’t mind being able to play a bit more on the piano. The feel of the smooth keys beneath your fingertips was comforting, and who knew when you would be able to play again?

“Then you ladies have a pleasant session,” Edward said, setting down his pastry. “We will be meeting with several officials, but perhaps we will see each other before you have to leave, Miss _____?”

“Of course. I’ll be leaving around 6pm, I believe.”

“It might be a long meeting,” Keith finally said. “Discussion on trade policies between kingdoms is always unfortunately dull.”

Joshua looked unfazed. “Dull or not, it is our duty. We'll do our best.”

Cathy clapped her hands together. “Please do! Our countries are depending on you.”

After breakfast, you and Cathy started your music session again, working on the same piece as yesterday. It appeared that having some time to mentally absorb the music helped, and with a few run-throughs, your parts were coming together smoothly.

“We’ll be able to perform in no time at all!” she eagerly told you.

You wondered if, despite the costly lessons she received, she had ever had a recital at all. Perhaps there was no one in the manse who was willing to listen to her play, which would have been a shame. She was a very talented musician for her age. With no one to share her gifts, then she would surely become frustrated and less interested in the craft.

“If we were to hold a recital, who would come?” you asked her as she cleaned and put away her flute. The early morning seemed to fly by -- it was already time for lunch.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied. “I’d hope that Mother and Father may be willing to, but they are always so busy. We’d probably have to give them several weeks’ notice at least.” The expression on her face seemed to fall.

“You don’t get a lot of time with them, do you?”

She shook her head. “It’s a shame, but I barely see them at all. And because of my condition, I can’t travel with them on business trips. My father thinks I’m a burden to the Alford line because I’m so weak.”

“That’s terrible! Did he say that to you?”

“Not directly, but I know he thinks it.” Cathy sighed. “He always tries to hide me away from the public and very rarely permits me to leave the manse. I know why -- he doesn’t want the rest of Liberty to see me as a weakness. The royal family has to be strong, after all, especially now when there is all of this political turmoil.”

------------------------
a. I am appalled by this poor excuse for a father! How could he be so cruel?
b. I really hope that I can help her feel a little more alive, even if it’s just for short visits at a time.
c. I can see why the poor girl is so distraught over this; I am also impressed that she is handling this so well.
d. M-my goodness! S-she must feel so lonely sometimes. I wish I could visit more...
e. Oh, the poor dear! I can’t imagine being locked up just because I was physically weak.
f. As terrible as it is, I kind of understand the King’s reasoning behind this.
------------------------

“What about your mother?” you chanced to ask, hoping that she would be more sensitive toward her daughter’s plight.

Cathy shrugged as she sat down on a cushioned chair. “I think she wishes differently, but she understands. She doesn’t dare go against Father’s orders, either. Keith is the only one who supports me, really. He always brings me presents when he travels and takes me to parties with him whenever he can.”

Your heart warmed at the thought of this. Despite Keith’s abrasive exterior, he must have really loved his sister. “That’s good to hear. I’m glad that he cares for you so much.”

“I think he must like you, too,” she said.

“What?”

She giggled, hiding her mouth behind a small hand. “He might now show it, but I think he respects you. And I know he says some mean things sometimes, but he does that to everyone. You’ll have to forgive him. He’ll warm up to you, _____. You’re too wonderful to not warm up to.”

You grinned at her compliment. “I wouldn’t go that far... but thank you. I look forward to the day he doesn't scoff at everything I say.” You paused for a while, watching the princess. “I think you’re stronger than your father gives you credit for,” you finally said. “You might have a condition, but to be always smiling that bright smile of yours -- that takes perseverance. Not everyone can do that.”

“Well, not everyone can make me smile!” She stood, taking your hand into hers. “Let’s go see what Alick is having the chefs prepare us for lunch, shall we?”

------------------------

You spent the rest of the afternoon with Cathy, wandering about the gardens, feeding the ducks in the pond, and having her show you the collection of items that Keith had bought for her. She was so attached to these souvenirs, but you thought that the best thing Keith could do was to give her his time -- and not at fancy parties or during formal dinners, but perhaps just to play a game or even sit down and have a conversation.

Maybe you would bring this up to him later if you would have that chance. Surely, you would see him before you left, and if not, it sounded like you would be back in Liberty in a few weeks.

While you admired a snow globe from a distant tropical island Keith had given her, someone appeared at the door.

“Your Highness,” you said, surprised to see that Keith had appeared. “We weren’t expecting you.” You and Cathy were just talking about him.

His green eyes, piercing as always, fell on you, but they were not unkind. “Alick proposed that he and the servants grill outside for an early dinner before _____ leaves. It’s something commoners do, isn’t it? Barbecuing?”

“A barbecue?” Cathy’s eyes brightened. “I’ve heard that’s something a lot of our people in Liberty do, but I’ve never actually been to a barbeque before.”

“Oh, you don’t have to go to the trouble,” you said. “I’m on a tight schedule anyway, and I wouldn’t want to put pressure on everyone...”

“It’ll be fine,” Keith said briskly. “They’re setting everything up right now.”

Cathy nodded. “And don’t worry -- our pilot can take you back a little later if necessary.”

You mentally winced. “Prince Glenn seemed to be strict about when I returned...”

“Oh, that pompous kid can wait.” Keith waved his hand as if denying your concerns. “Just tell him you had things to do. It’s not like you have to work until tomorrow anyway, so he can’t tell you you’re slacking.”

------------------------
a. *mumbles to self* “Detained is more like it.”
b. “I wouldn’t want to break Prince Glenn’s trust in me... I think it should get back.”
c. “Oh, I’d never slack off... but this is kind of different.”
d. “Ah, b-but he still might get upset with me.” ;_____;
e. “Teehee! I’m sure that Prince Glenn would be all right if I told him it was just dinner.”
f. “But it’s principle. I gave him my word, so I should keep my promise.”
------------------------

He ignored you as he stepped into the hallway. “And if he gives you more trouble, just tell him to talk to me.”

You sighed, deciding that you wouldn’t be able to argue with him. At least Keith was on your side. Maybe if you explained to Glenn that Liberty’s prince wouldn’t give you a choice, he would be more forgiving... but then again, from what you had discussed with him after the event at Nobel Michel, Glenn didn’t like Keith much at all. Maybe this was an overall bad idea.

Cathy tugged at your sleeve. “_____? Is everything all right?”

“I’m just a bit nervous about arriving late,” you admitted. “I certainly don’t want to inconvenience Yu about picking me up at a later time...”

“Please don’t worry about a thing, _____. Why don’t you send Prince Glenn a text? We can send Luke with you, and he can drive you back to Oriens Palace, if need be. You’ll be back tonight, ready for Alan’s lesson in the morning.”

She really was very kind, and you couldn’t help but share a smile with her. How could you refuse such a sincere offer?

“All right,” you said. “But only if you promise to enjoy this barbecue with me.”

“Of course!” She then pulled you through the halls and toward the garden where the barbecue would be taking place.

There, several servants bustled back and forth, preparing a grill that Cathy had obviously never seen before -- you could tell by the brightness in her eyes. Already, you could smell the burning of charcoal and the warm air as the sun sank toward the west. Toward the back, you saw Prince Edward and Prince Joshua sitting on the patio, sharing a pot of tea. They looked as though they were having a discussion.

While Cathy marveled at the grill and the chef who prepared the burgers and sausages, you headed toward the princes, wondering if you would be able to join in on their conversation.

“Ah, Miss _____,” Edward greeted, polite as always. “Please have a seat. May I offer you some tea?”

You did as directed while he poured you something to drink. “How was your meeting, Your Highnesses?”

“It went smoothly,” Edward said as he glanced over at Joshua for confirmation.

“Indeed. It was one of our quickest yet, I believe. The senator took well to our suggestions, despite his personal biases.”

“It must be hard dealing with politics,” you commented. “There will be biases wherever you go, and there are so many people with different points of view. It’s a wonder that anyone gets anything done these days.”

Edward gave you a careful nod. “Yes, but I’m afraid that’s something that we’ll have to continue to work on. The prevalence of political parties will never change, so we do the best that we can.”

“No doubt. I’m just very impressed that you do.” You took a sip of your tea. “I know I could never do that. Maybe that’s why I elected to go into education. It’s far less controversial, at least on a day-to-day basis.”

Joshua was studying the slight commotion behind him -- it was becoming rather clear that none of the manse staff members had ever set up for a barbecue before, at least not outside of the manse. Perhaps they had grill pans and expensive equipment that would allow for them to do everything in the kitchen. But what fun was that? That defeated the purpose of a barbecue -- a social gathering.

“Was this your idea, Miss _____?” Joshua asked.

“Actually, no,” you said with a small laugh. “Nor was it Lady Cathy’s. I believe it was Prince Keith’s.”

“Odd.”

You wondered what he meant by that. “What about it?”

“He doesn’t usually propose such activities,” Joshua replied, turning back to his tea. “But perhaps he wishes to learn more about the culture of Liberty. I am certainly perplexed.”

“I certainly hope so,” Edward said. “This looks like a lot of fun.”

“Will you be joining us? The both of you?” you asked, thinking that the company of these two would make dinner more jovial and less stressful.

“Of course, Miss _____.” The Charles prince smiled at you. “You didn’t think that we’d be leaving before seeing you off, did you?”

You returned the grin. “Thank you. I’d certainly be glad to have your company.”

Later, you showed Cathy and the princes how to assemble their own burgers. At first, the butlers and servants seemed to think it strange that members of royalty would wish to do this on their own, but they relented when the princess bubbled with excitement. It surprised you that such a simple thing seemed to fascinate them.

“I’ve always had my burgers served to me when we’ve gone out to eat,” Cathy explained. “They were already put together, dressings and everything. I’ve never assembled my own burger before, just the way that I would like it.”

“Really? Hrm. Well, at barbecues, we generally just lay out all of the patties, the lettuce, the onions, the cheese, pickles, and condiments, and people get into a line to put whatever they want on their burgers. And like what your chef did here, burgers are very traditionally served with potato salad or coleslaw, or any other sort of salad, really.”

“You must be an excellent chef,” Edward remarked. “You know a lot about food, don’t you?”

------------------------
a. “Nah, I just cook so I can feed myself. I have no particular attachment to the actual cooking process.”
b. “I wouldn’t say that I’m excellent, but I do know how to cook for myself, and my food isn’t half-bad.”
c. “Yes, I love to cook! In fact, I love to cook for others. I get satisfaction from people enjoying my food.”
d. “U-um! I-I don’t know about b-being a good chef, but I-I do like to try new things. Food is yummy.” X3
e. "Oh, of course! I love trying new recipes when I'm at home!"
f. "Oh, just a few things. I do like to read about foods and recipes."
------------------------

"Oh, _____, won't you teach me?" Cathy asked.

Everyone turned to look at the little princess, including Luke and Alick.

"But, Cathy," you started, "I'm not qualified to give culinary lessons, and I'm sure that your chef knows a lot more about food than I do."

"I just think it'd be fun if we made something together. You must be great to talk to in the kitchen!"

What was the harm? If you were coming back, surely you could prepare something together, even if it was a dish as simple as chocolate chip cookies. "Sure," you promised her. "Why don't you come up with a list of your favorite foods? We can work through the recipes whenever we have time."

Keith was staring at you, a bewildered expression on his face.

"What?" you asked, blinking in response.

"I just..." His expression changed into one of his usual agitation. "Never mind that! Just go sit down and eat!"

Dinner went by quickly, and before you knew it, the sun had set, and you and your companions were chatting by candlelight outside on the porch. Your plates were empty, and the servants began to serve out ice cream in small dishes with a variety of toppings to choose from.

As you let Cathy choose first, the cellphone in your pocket vibrated, ringing in even intervals. "Oh!" you cried, pulling it out and looking at the caller ID -- it was Glenn. "Shoot!" You had forgotten to inform him of your late arrival. "Excuse me," you said as you pushed your chair out and made way to a quiet corner of the garden.

With a deep breath, you accepted the call. "Hello, Your Highness."

"_____. Where are you? Why haven't you called Yu to pick you up yet?" His voice was sullen, slightly venomous.

"I'm so sorry for not messaging you earlier," you began, "but things are running a little late, and I was convinced to stay a bit longer -- just for dinner."

Glenn sighed on the other end. You could tell that he was disappointed. "I had no idea that you were so easily swayed. You said you'd be leaving around six and that you'd give Yu a call whenever you arrived at the airport, and you've failed to do that."

You swallowed slowly. It really was your fault; the least you could have done was inform him of tonight's events. "It was a mistake on my part, Your Highness," you admitted. "It won't happen again."

"You'd better be damned sure it won't. In fact--"

At that point, someone had plucked the cellphone out of your hand from over your shoulder. "P-prince Keith! What are you doing?"

He looked annoyed. "Prince Glenn, _____ is my sister's guest, and we had prepared a traditional Liberty celebratory dinner for her. That's why she stayed -- I told her to. So if you're going to give anyone crap, let it be me."

There was ferocious mumbling from the other end that you could not understand.

"Well, maybe if you treated your employees better, they wouldn’t want to travel to another country on the weekends to get away from you!”

Now it was your turn to be irritated -- Keith had no right to speak in your stead, especially when he was rubbing salt on the open wounds of the situation. You tried to snatch back your phone, but Keith was too tall and easily avoided your pathetic attempts. “Give that to me!”

“You’re an idiot for thinking that, Glenn. I knew you were young, but I never realized you were so stupid, too.”

This time, Oriens’ prince could be heard entirely through the phone. “THAT’S ENOUGH! I WANT _____ ON A PLANE RIGHT NOW! NO MORE OF YOUR IMMATURE SHIT.” And then he hung up.

Keith looked furious, though he tossed your phone back to you. “Looks like you’re leaving now, as requested by your employer.”

The commotion really disturbed Cathy, and she pulled Keith aside, likely to engage in some serious conversation with him. Meanwhile, Edward and Joshua looked as though they were unfazed by the prince’s sudden outburst.

“Looks like I should get going,” you said. “I’m sorry that you had to see that.” You really should have texted Glenn before all of this started; somehow, with the excitement of everything, you had merely forgotten.

“Prince Glenn and Prince Keith have always been abrasive toward each other,” Joshua said simply. “Arguments between them are commonplace, so we think nothing of them.”

“Either way, there’s no use in apologizing to us,” Edward added with a brief smile. “Come. I’ll help you with your luggage.”

------------------------
a. What a bunch of spoiled princelings. >.> They need to grow up.
b. I really wish I hadn’t forgotten to make that call... I feel like that would have saved us the trouble.
c. Hrm... it looks like I have some thinking to do about how I should address this.
d. O-oh my goodness, t-they’re fighting b-because of me. ;____; It’s all m-my fault.
e. Well, at least Edward and Joshua are still sane~! :‘D
f. Perhaps I should talk with Keith before I leave and then Glenn when I return...
------------------------

You said your goodbyes to Cathy, Edward, and Joshua, even exchanging your phone number with the princes because Edward had the courage to ask you for it. Joshua also offered his, to your pleasant awe. As you waved goodbye to your companions from inside the limousine, Keith stepped forward, opened the door, and said, “Move over.”

“Your Highness?” What was this about? Was he throwing another fit?

“I’m coming with you. Now move over, woman.”

You glared at him, though your facial expression was probably difficult to see in the dim lighting. “If you insist on calling me ’woman,‘ I have no reservations in finding you a nickname that you will equally despise.” Nonetheless, you scooted over toward the other window, allowing him to sit next to you. “So why are you coming with me, Your Highness?”

“Well, aren’t you plucky?” he said with a brief laugh. It looked as though his mood had lifted a bit, and he relaxed as the limousine began to move.

“Will you answer the question?”

He was then serious, his eyebrows furrowing. “Don’t get the wrong idea -- I’m not doing this for you, all right? It’s Cathy. She’s worried that Glenn may take his anger out on you, so she urged me to go with you. The argument... was unnecessary, I’ll admit.”

You were skeptical, despite the sincerity in his voice. “Then why did you do it?”

His eyes widened a little bit, surprised at your question. “Because that Glenn is a little prick. I could tell that you were about to get a verbal beating.”

“I don’t feel like you should be talking about my employer like that.”

“Technically, the King of Oriens is your employer, so there’s no need for you to get defensive.” He tilted his head to the side. “You really have nothing to do with him. You are working for the King, for Alan. So what’s Glenn doing bossing you around?”

You couldn’t answer that. You supposed you did as he asked out of respect for him -- he was a member of the royal family, after all, and he had been nothing but kind to you. “I suppose I don’t see the King very often, so I take orders from Prince Glenn.”

“Figures,” he replied. “But don’t you worry -- when we get there, just leave the talking to me, and you’ll be fine.”

You weren’t about to argue with him. There was no point in fighting with both princes now, was there? And truthfully, you were a bit nervous about what Glenn might say or do upon your return. Surely, he didn’t have the power to dismiss you as Alan’s tutor, but you never knew. Although he was usually predictable, you had never known him to be this angry before.

But while you thought, Keith was there. You even shared a friendly conversation after you boarded the private jet. In no time at all, you were in Oriens, standing beside Keith and Luke in the airport.

“I’ll give Yu a call,” you said.

“Don’t bother,” Keith replied, nodding at Luke. “You might as well text him that you won’t be needing him.”

The butler bowed his head before reaching for his own cellphone, no doubt ready to rent a car for the short drive to the palace.

------------------------
a. Oh, that little punk Glenn is going to get it.
b. Aw, poor Glenn. We’re making him sound like the bad guy here.
c. I’m a little nervous about seeing Glenn, admittedly. :’D
d. U-um. If he yells at me, I’m going to cry. ;_____;
e. I hope that he’s not too angry with me. :(
f. Maybe if I explain the situation to him, he’ll be less cross.
------------------------

You had texted Yu about arriving with Keith and Luke, and the butler welcomed you in front of the palace, bowing elegantly. “Welcome back, Miss _____,” he said. “And welcome, Your Highness and Luke.”

Well, at least he was still friendly. “Looks like Glenn’s foul mood hasn’t rubbed off on Yu yet...” you thought to yourself.

“Master Alan has been asking about you,” Yu said. “He was disappointed that you were unable to join him for dinner.” You winced, and seeing your expression, he added kindly, “But that is nothing to be concerned about, Miss _____. There will be plenty more opportunities for you to spend time with him.”

“Thank you, Yu,” you replied. “Will you take us to His Highness?”

“Of course. He has requested your presence in his office. He was... surprised upon hearing that you would be here, Your Highness Prince Keith.”

Keith walked next to you, while Luke followed closely behind. “I suppose we didn’t give him much notice, but I would like to discuss something with him.”

“Will you be staying the night, then? If so, I shall prepare rooms for you.” Yu was certainly on top of things.

Luke nodded in Keith’s stead. “I’ve dismissed the pilot for the night, so yes. Please do that.”

Once Yu arrived at Glenn’s office, he gave it a steady knock. “Your Highness, your esteemed guests and Miss _____ have arrived.”

“Send them in.”

Yu opened the double doors wide for you and Keith to enter. Luke would remain in the hallway as his master instructed.

Glenn was sitting at his desk, his brown hair falling into his face in graceful wisps. Despite how much you dreaded the scolding you were likely about to receive, you thought he was quite handsome in his loosened tie and dress shirt. His brown-red eyes looked to you before glancing at Keith.

“I’m sure Alan will be glad that you’re back. Resume your lessons with him tomorrow, _____. You’re dismissed.”

You were in shock that he would be so brusque with you -- no, you weren't upset, but you were expecting a bit more of a conversation if he had summoned you here to his office. At the same time, you felt relieved that you weren’t losing your job. Your grandfather would be so disappointed in you if that had happened.

Still... you wondered why Glenn was so calm now, even though he seemed so harsh over the phone. You cleared your throat. “Your Highness, about my lateness... I apologize. I should have informed you sooner.”

“We’ll talk tomorrow,” he replied, his eyes still on Keith. They looked to be having some sort of glare-off. “You are dismissed.”

Unable to do or say anything, you turned around, ready to head back to your chambers. However, Keith lifted his arm in front of you, blocking your path.

You looked at him, your eyebrows furrowed. What was he doing?

He looked very unhappy. “I didn’t come all this way for nothing. You sounded furious for her being late over the phone, and that’s why I’m here. If you were just going to send her to bed with not a word of repercussion, then why throw a tantrum in the first place?”

“A tantrum?” Glenn stood from his seat. “You accuse me of throwing a tantrum? This is between me and _____ as I originally intended it to be! You had to thrust yourself in the middle of all of this by snatching her phone away and lecturing me about my employee!”

“Oh, cut your crap!” Keith snapped back. “She’s not even your employee! You’re not responsible for Alan’s education!”

“She’s not yours either, so it’s really none of your business what I say to her!”

“At least she’s my sister’s friend, and even Cathy is afraid that you’re loading heaps of abuse on her, which doesn’t surprise me in the least!”

They had only exchanged a few lines, but you had already had enough.

------------------------
a. “Both of you need to put a sock in it and stop acting like children!”
b. “That’s enough! Quit your arguing right now!”
c. “I’ve had enough! Stop your senseless arguing!”
d. “Please, stop! Both of you!”
e. “P-please, won’t you stop?!”
f. “Please, you both need to calm down!”
------------------------

Their eyes were still fiery, glaring at each other, but you dove in between them. “What’s wrong with you two? There’s no need to be acting like this!” you said. “Besides, it’s late. At this rate, you’re going to wake up everyone in the palace.”

At your last comment, they seemed to bristle, but logic won in the end.

After a few moments of silence... “Fine.” Glenn plopped back into his seat, obviously restraining his anger. “We’ll talk about this later. Goodnight.”

Goodnight,” Keith replied curtly, and you followed him out of the room.

“Is everything all right, Your Highness?” Luke asked as soon as you shut the door. Assuredly, he had heard the brief commotion.

Keith clenched his jaw, his hands still rolled into fists, but he shook his head. “Everything’s... fine. Just fine.” Really, it looked like everything was far from “fine.”

Luke, although apprehensive, continued, “Yu said that he has rooms for us in the west wing. I can take you there.”

“Well,” you started, thinking that it would be best if you left these two to their own devices, “have a good night.”

“Not so fast.” Keith had a firm grip on your shoulder. “I want to talk to you.”

You weren’t even sure how to respond. Normally, people didn't touch you like that before you were on more cordial terms.

“Your Highness?” Even Luke seemed surprised at his sudden demand.

“Go on ahead, Luke. I’ll find the west wing myself later.”

Of course, he could not disobey his master, so the butler bowed and then paced down the hallway.

If you have mostly a’s...

Keith of Liberty

“Let’s go for a walk.” The hand on your shoulder moved to your upper back, pushing you through the hallway.

“Your Highness, I really think it would be best if we both retired for the night,” you said, though you could hardly resist him -- he was much stronger than you were, after all.

Keith stared straight ahead. “Oh, quit your whining. This should only take a second.”

You wondered exactly what he was up to. Surely, Glenn would be upset if he found the both of you talking to each other late tonight. He was already disappointed in you for returning late, even livid now that Keith got himself involved.

The Liberty prince pushed you until you reached a wide corridor, where long panes of glass decorated the walls. It was a beautiful sight, especially in the luminescent moonlight. There were cushioned benches by the windows, and Keith sat down on one of them.

Gingerly, you sat next to him, thinking of what possible words he may choose to assault you with.

A brief moment of silence passed, and you dared to speak up. “Your Highness, you said you wanted to talk with me?”

“Yeah. I did.” He had his elbows on his knees, leaning forward in silent contemplation. “I’ll be leaving in the morning, but...” He took a breath. “I wanted to tell you that Cathy really enjoyed your visit. I’d never seen her so happy before, so I -- I mean, she would want you to visit her again sometime. Soon, hopefully.”

You watched him from where you sat, trying to search for any indication of emotion on his face, though his back was to the moonlight, and his eyes stared straight ahead. You could detect nothing but maybe a slight awkwardness in his voice.

“Are you embarrassed?” you asked.

“What is it with you and accusing people of being embarrassed?” he retorted, turning to face you. “I can’t believe that Cathy chose you as a friend. Of all the people in the world, it had to be you!”

“You know, I really think she could have done worse,” you replied, crossing your arms. Perhaps Keith was making up for his semi-compliment earlier by insulting you now.

Nevertheless, your frustration seemed to make him happy, and he pat you on the head. “Well, maybe. But she likes you, so it looks like I’m stuck with you, too.”

“I know -- a debacle for you,” you said. “And stop that. I’m not a dog.”

He ignored your complaint, a smugness in his expression. “Well, yeah, but I’ll make do.” He stood, straightening his shirt before heading toward the west wing. “Have a good night, _____.”

“Goodnight, Your Highness.” You watched him leave and then head toward your own quarters.

If you have mostly b’s...

Glenn of Oriens

Before going to bed for the night, you thought that you ought to peek into Glenn’s office just to see how he was doing. You didn’t like having the sun set on such an argument, if you could even call it that. Truthfully, you knew that it was your fault for not informing him. He had the right to be upset, but that was something that he should have kept between the two of you.

If only he would be willing to talk about it. Then, you may be able to solve the problem.

The light was still on, though the heavy doors were close, so you took a breath and knocked.

“Yes? Come on in, Yu.”

You pressed your weight against the door on the right, pushing it open. “It’s me, Your Highness.”

He looked genuinely surprised to see you. He was perched in his chair just how you had left him, though he was now wearing glasses. “Oh, I thought you were Yu... but that’s not important. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, per se. I just wanted to talk to you.”

The expression on his face fell for a moment, and he sighed. “I thought we were going to wait until morning.”

“Well, I don’t think either of us will sleep well until we have this conversation.” You shut the door behind you, walking toward the desk and taking a seat in one of the chairs.

He removed his glasses, his red-brown eyes boring into you. “All right. Then start talking.”

“I’ve already apologized for my lateness, but I wanted to tell you that it won’t happen again. It was carelessness on my part.”

“What happened, _____?” He seemed less angry now and more... concerned.

“Keith... I mean, Princess Cathy insisted that I stay for dinner.” Well, technically, the both of them did, but you thought that mentioning Keith was probably not in your best interest right now. “She even told me to text you, telling you that I’d be late, but it just slipped my mind. For that, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

He shook his head. “All right... I believe you. I just... oh, never mind.”

“What is it?”

“It’s nothing. Forget I said anything.”

You raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“Oh... fine. What I was going to say was that Alan will be glad that you’re back. He really misses you.” Glenn’s gaze shifted to his left as if he weren’t telling the whole truth.

However, you didn’t feel the need to press him. Instead, you smiled. “I’ve missed him, too, and I’ve also missed whoever else ‘Alan’ might encompass.” You then bid him goodnight, leaving the room, letting him blush in silence.

If you have mostly c’s...

Wilfred of Phillip

As you prepared for bed, your phone buzzed with a message:

_____, I will be in Oriens tomorrow and a few days afterward for a conference. I do not know exactly when I’ll be available, but whenever that is, I would like to come see you. Are you free anytime this week? -- Wilfried

If you have mostly d’s...

Roberto of Altaria

While you were in the bathroom, brushing your teeth, you noticed that your phone had an unread text on it:

Oy! _____! This weekend, there is an event at Nobel Michel, celebrating Lord Michel’s birthday. If you’re available, I’d love it if you came as my date. ;) I think you’d make these sorts of drab parties fun. Let me know! -- Roberto

If you have mostly e’s...

Joshua of Dres Van

The moment you pulled the blankets over your body, your phone buzzed:

I’ve learned a lot from you this weekend, _____, and I have a feeling that I may yet be able to learn more. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you. -- Joshua

If you have mostly f’s...

Edward of Charles

Just as you were about to drift off to sleep, a message sounded on your phone:

Miss _____, it was a pleasure spending time with you this weekend. I hope that we may be able to meet again in the near future. Perhaps we’ll try something fun and new? -- Edward

Chapter Text

Waking up in Oriens was nice, though you still could not be rid of that pressing feeling of having upset your host. You didn’t have time to worry, however, because Allen had begun rapping on your door and calling your name.

“_____, _____!” he called, “are you up yet?”

“Yes,” you replied, rubbing your eyes. “I need to get dressed, and I’ll meet you in the dining hall.”

“Hurry up, _____! I have news to tell you!”

You smiled, even though you knew that he could not see you. He really was such an eager boy, looking to please. Although not quite a mature prince yet, he would get there.

After your morning rituals and pulling on your clothes of choice, you stepped into the dining room. Glenn was already there, but he did not spare you so much as a glance. He seemed to be busy studying some notes scribbled on a legal pad.

“Good morning,” you said, loud enough so that both Glenn and Alan could hear you. Even if your meeting with Glenn last night made you nervous, there was no reason to show it. You were not about to walk on eggshells around him.

“Good morning, _____!” Alan replied cheerily. He had a smile on his face as though he were waiting for a response from you so he could continue the conversation.

Of course he was. “So what’s so exciting today?” you asked as you sat down at your place.

“It’s the first Monday of the month,” he declared. “My tutors have always taken me into the city for my lessons the first Monday of the month. Where are we going today, _____?”

You were surprised -- no one had told you about this tradition. You thought you were free to make your own lesson plans as long as they were appropriate. “Truthfully, I’m not sure yet. I did not know that your tutors would plan an outing on the first Monday of every month. But don’t worry! I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

At that point, your food was brought out, and while you and Glenn began to eat, Alan seemed to be eager, almost anxious, to select something to do for the day.

You wiped your mouth and said, “Well, let me ask you, then. What would you like to do, Alan? What have you never done before?”

Alan seemed pensive, and even Glenn looked away from his notes for a few moments. He was obviously curious about his younger brother’s preferences.

“Well,” he began, “Mister Owen once promised to take me hiking...”

You knew he was a prince, but keeping him within the walls of the palace, never allowing him to be the adventurous boy that he was, was too much. He needed the chance to be a kid. He needed to learn through exploration and experience. “Let’s go hiking, then,” you suggested. You had never had the chance to really explore Oriens, much less the most ideal hiking trails, but surely you could do some research before setting off.

The boy’s eyes widened in excitement. “Wow, really?” he said. “You’ll take me? Glenn, _____ is going to take me hiking!”

Glenn gave him a look of disapproval. “Hiking is dangerous and out in the middle of nowhere. Surely, you can find something else to do.”

When you saw the pout on Alan’s face, you knew you had to say something, even if Glenn was cross with you at the moment. “Your Highness, with all due respect, I’ll be with him the whole time. You can even have a few of your bodyguards follow us. I think Alan just wants to do some exploring, and I’m sure we can find somewhere to hike with a marked trail. We will make it as safe as possible.”

The prince gave a sigh. “You’re no help,” he replied as he went back to his breakfast. “Fine, but I want to see your day’s lesson plan before you set out.”

“Well, then,” you started, feeling rather accomplished, “I’d better finish eating quickly if we want to get to our hike.”

------------------------
a. Oh, this is going to be a lot of fun, I think! I’ve never explored Oriens’ rural places before.
b. Alan’s going to really enjoy this; I’ll have the chef pack us some sandwiches for a picnic.
c. I can give Alan a science lesson on animals and plants native to Oriens today.
d. And to think that punk was going to say no... what a downer.
e. Yay! I’m glad he said that it was okay. I love to hike and explore new places!
f. I wonder what Alan would like for me to include in that lesson plan...
------------------------

You returned to your room after breakfast, eager to solidify the lesson for the day. Of course, as someone who had a master’s degree in education, you had the resources, and you searched through these pre-made lesson plans, wondering how you could adjust them to make your hiking trail most fun for a young boy.

Yu had dropped by with a few suggestions he found for you. There was a relatively easy trail about an hour away from the palace on the side of Mt. Mashu. You thought that this place was ideal -- it even had a small tea house along the trail that you could stop at if Alan grew tired. You could even have lunch there.

After you printed out your papers, you paced toward Glenn’s office to hand him your plans for the day. The door was conveniently open, and as you neared, you heard voices. You peeked past the door frame, and you noticed Prince Glenn had a guest sitting across from him.

Glenn noticed you right way. “Come in, _____,” he instructed. “Excuse us for a moment, Prince Wilfred.”

Wilfred turned around in his seat, small smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “Hello,” he said. “A pleasure to see you again, _____.”

“You too, Your Highness,” you replied, dipping your head in respect. “You must be tired from traveling so much all the time.” You handed Glenn the lesson plan, who took it from you without so much as another glance.

“It’s not so bad if the company is pleasant, but forgive me for interrupting.” He nodded toward his host, who was skimming through the papers with a serious expression on his face.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” you assured. “Prince Glenn simply wishes to approve Alan’s lesson plan for today. We’re heading to Mt. Mashu for his very first hike.”

Suddenly, Wilfred looked curious. “I have never hiked Mt. Mashu either. Say, Glenn, would you like to have our meeting elsewhere, perhaps somewhere a bit more... scenic?”

“That’s a ridiculous idea,” Glenn snorted. “We’re never going to get anything done if we’re hiking up the side of a mountain.”

You thought that having him come along would make Alan happy. Besides, the more the merrier. “I’m sure you could get some work done, Your Highness. The trail is an easy one, and there’s a small, highly-regarded tea house along the way -- if anything, you could have your meeting there, while I take Alan on a small nature walk.”

His chest heaved out an irritated sigh. “Fine,” he said. “We’ll leave now. Yu, please make sure arrangements are made for both Prince Wilfred and me.”

------------------------
a. This should be exciting! I never would have thought that Glenn would say yes.
b. I hope Yu thinks of everything; now that we have more coming along, we’ll need to bring more supplies.
c. Well, this should be pleasant. I can educate more than Alan, I suppose.
d. Oh, this is going to be great. We’re going to bring his moody ass along.
e. I think spending time with these two princes should be fun!
f. I wonder how they’re going to like hiking... Have they even done it before?
------------------------

After everyone had changed and packed, the lot of you slipped into the limousine, and the driver delivered you to the base of Mt. Mashu, where the trail began.

It was a lovely day. There was a cool breeze that lingered in the air -- it smelled of rain from last night’s storm, but the sun was out today, and it hung brightly in the sky.

“Come on!” Alan cried as he raced toward the start of the trail. He was dressed in casual clothes, which was nice for you to see. He was usually in stiffer outfits, selections that restricted him from fully being the little boy that he was.

The other princes were also dressed in appropriate attire. You thought they were handsome in their shirts and ties, but seeing them relaxed was even better.

“Well, you heard him,” you said as you nodded after Alan. “Let’s get going!”

It amazed you how much energy Alan had. He ran ahead of your group, amazed at the vast expanse of nature that lay before him. The bodyguards and manservants followed a short distance behind, and there were few people along the trail otherwise -- everyone else in Oriens was working this late Monday morning.

The trail wound through the forested side of the mountain, leading you through the trees and toward a small creek. You pointed out the different trees and plants and the species of birds that you saw along the way, using your own knowledge and the notes you had printed and laminated as a guide.

“And here is a patch of poison ivy,” you explained to Alan, “so it’d be best to avoid that. You can recognize it because of the shape it grows in -- poison ivy has a long stem and a cluster of three leaves at the end. Sometimes, they also have white or cream-colored berries. If you ever see a plant like this, make sure you don’t touch it or else you’re going to get a bad rash.”

“You’re very knowledgeable,” Wilfred noted. “It seems that you’ve done this before.”

“Well, not here on Mt. Mashu, but my grandfather used to take me hiking when he’d come visit in Liberty. He taught me a lot.”

“Mister Owen?” Alan asked. “No wonder why he said that he was going to take me hiking someday. He knows everything!”

You smiled sadly, thinking about your grandfather. He was in Dres Van right now, tending to your sick grandmother; they both probably missed Oriens and Liberty, but only in Dres Van could they see the doctors and have the medical technology that she needed. “Yes, he loves the outdoors,” you said, “and he would have loved to take you here.”

You would have said more, but Alan was distracted by the bridge up ahead, and he dashed toward it excitedly. “Look!” he said. “There are fish in the water! Really, really small ones!”

“Those are tadpoles,” Glenn corrected. “You can even see the frogs sitting on the rocks.”

“Your brother’s right,” you added, pointing toward the frogs down below to help the boy locate them. “You do know that frogs start out as tadpoles, right?”

“Ohhhhhh.” He seemed fascinated. “How those small tadpoles turn into frogs like their mother and father?”

“It happens over time. They’re born to be more like fish, and that’s how they hatch from their eggs. Eventually, they’re going to grow legs and be able to hop across solid land. Isn’t that fun?”

You all rested here for a short bit while Alan watched the tadpoles from above, admiring the way that they darted back and forth in the water.

“You really do have a way with children,” Wilfred said as he leaned against the railing of the bridge.

------------------------
a. “I think it’s wonderful that they’re so easily fascinated by things that we take for granted.”
b. “Alan makes my job easy, you know -- he’s so eager to learn and discover new things.”
c. “There is this sort of excited energy that children give off that I find contagious.”
d. “I prefer them to adults. When you have a child who throws a fit, it’s better than an adult who throws a fit.”
e. “I’ve always loved teaching and being with kids! ^_^ They’re just so much fun to work with.”
f. “I appreciate that. ///^_^/// I really do like working with children of all ages.”
------------------------

“I can see that,” he replied. “It’s refreshing to watch you work with Alan. No wonder why he seems so protective of you. I remember when I first saw you at Nobel Michel -- Alan rushed over immediately to remind me that you were his date.”

You laughed at that. “Well, I do believe that it was his first party. I suppose he had the right to be so enthusiastic about it. Isn’t that right, Prince Glenn?”

He nodded. “Alan’s never gone with a date before. I guess no one’s ever thought to find him one.”

“But you have to now -- he enjoyed that party so much. I think he’d be upset if you went to another one without him.”

“I guess his date is just going to be you. Lord Michel is celebrating his birthday this Saturday, and we’ve been invited.”

“Actually,” you started, a little reluctantly, “Prince Roberto’s already invited me as his date.” You had received a text from him the night before, and you quickly responded.

He what?” Glenn glared in your direction. “And what did you say?”

“I said yes,” you replied promptly, deciding that you had nothing to be afraid of. “I’m not required to mentor on the weekends, and who was I to turn down a perfectly good offer? Roberto was so excited about it.”

Wilfred chuckled. “You can’t tell her what to do in her time off, Prince Glenn.”

“I know that!” he retorted. “Whatever. I’ll just have to find someone else to go with Alan, then. There are plenty of women who’d volunteer, I’m sure. Either way, we’d better get going if we want to reach this tea house any time soon.”

You gently tapped Alan’s shoulder to draw him away from the creek. “Come on,” you said, “there’s a lot more to see. We can even come back to the creek later if you’d like.”

The four of you (along with the bodyguards and manservants who followed, of course) continued the hike, pausing only for a brief break and also for more educational moments. You pointed out several birds you noticed among the trees, and you even saw a doe in the distance. There were also many plants that you identified with the help of your lesson plan -- you were not all too familiar with plants native to Oriens, unfortunately.

Eventually, the tea house came into view near the edge of a lake with its traditional Oriens roof and furnishings. It was a homely place, it seemed, nothing fancy, though you were sure that it would provide a wonderful experience.

Everyone was hungry at this point. The trail was a relatively easy one, but it had been a while since breakfast. You could have sworn that you heard some rumbling stomachs.

“Let’s go in for a quick bite to eat,” you suggested. “And if the two of you have work, Your Highnesses, this may be a nice place to have that conference.”

They seemed agreeable, and you all shuffled into the tea house and sat yourselves near the window where you could see the lake. The menu was small, though the selection of tea was a good one, and you began to order small plates of food for your friends (you found it strange that you would call them that) to sample. There were pickled vegetables, steamed dumplings, and braised meats.

Alan, as usual, seemed the most excited to try new things, though you could see that Wilfred and Glenn were interested as well -- they didn’t get to eat out at small, local eateries like this much. They had an image to keep up, so they often kept to high-end restaurants.

As the food came from these small carts that wheeled around, you wondered if your hosts suspected anything, that they were serving royalty. The butlers and bodyguards waited outside as per the Princes’ instructions -- they had prepared and brought food for themselves. In fact, there was enough for all of you if you wanted to picnic, but Alan was especially eager to explore the tea house.

It was even a new experience for you -- you were still not fully versed in the culture of Oriens. In fact, Glenn seemed to be the most at home, not necessarily in the tea house itself, but in the food offerings and the culture that surrounded it.

------------------------
a. Exploring another culture is so wonderful! I feel like it’s a magical experience!
b. Maybe this is a way that I can connect with the brothers on a deeper level...
c. You know, it’s phenomenal that there are people who grow up with this sort of food culture.
d. Not going to lie -- this eating with two sticks thing is really hard.
e. Wow! I love the idea of small plates! I get to try a lot of different foods at once!
f. Oh my! There are so many other things on the menu that I want to try...
------------------------

“This is delicious,” Wilfred said as he bit into one of the steamed buns. “And what a quaint tea house, this is. Phillip does not have places like this.”

“Only in Oriens,” you replied with a small smile. “This sort of dim sum is Oriens cuisine. You won’t find it anywhere else.” As a cart rolled by, you ordered several plates of desserts, including sesame balls filled with red bean paste and egg custards.

“I used to have these as a kid,” Glenn noted as he picked up one of the egg custards. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen them.”

“Let me try one!” Alan exclaimed, and you helped deliver one to his plate.

After you were all full from lunch, you took Alan by the hand. “I know Your Highnesses have some business to take care of, so if you’re comfortable with staying here and drinking tea, I’ll go ahead and continue up the trail with Alan.”

Both Glenn and Wilfred agreed, even though they seemed like they would much rather venture off with you than remain here for their political discussions.

Nonetheless, work was work.

You and Alan, followed by a few bodyguards, continued along the trail. You continued to educate him, following the lesson plan. You pointed out the tallest species of tree on the mountain and identified the types of poisonous mushrooms that grew among the roots.

The afternoon rolled by quickly. Truthfully, this trip up to Mt. Mashu was for Allen, but you had fun as well. When the both of you returned to the tea house, you saw Glenn and Wilfred walking together next to the lake. Apparently, their conversation had evolved from business to more casual things. They must have enjoyed this hike and their light lunch at the tea house.

Your whole party began the trek down to where the limousines were parked, ready to head home. The sun was on the horizon, the sky now soaked in shades of orange and pink. You were feeling hungry for dinner.

Alan had a smile on his face, and while his stomach rumbled, he was fine with heading back to the palace so the chef could serve him a warm meal. “Oh, wow!” he said as he stretched out in his seat. “That was great! I’m so glad you could take me hiking, _____. Now I can say that I’ve done it!”

“I hope that’s not the only reason why you enjoyed it,” you teased.

He laughed. “No, I liked learning about frogs and the trees and birds, too.” He looked to his brother, who had been relatively silent since leaving the tea house. “Did you have fun, Glenn?” he asked.

Glenn looked distracted, but with a bit of prodding from Alan, he said, “Oh, yeah. It was great. Nice tea house up there.”

You wondered what the issue was, though you knew better than to ask while in the presence of others. Perhaps you would pester him later when the both of you were alone.

Wilfred also seemed a little distant, which led you to believe that they had discussed something that was not of a happy nature. Maybe, if you could find time after dinner, you would talk with him, too.

Meanwhile, since the ride was uneventful, Alan had fallen asleep on your shoulder, a bit of drool leaking from the side of his mouth. By the time the limousine had arrived in front of Oriens Palace, he had rubbed his eyes and woken up. Apparently, he was still hungry enough for dinner.

------------------------
a. Ah, I suppose food is more important than sleep right now.
b. Don’t worry, little guy. We’ll get some food in your belly soon.
c. Dinner will be nice, I think, getting to sit down with everyone again.
d. Haha, he’s just like any other guy I know. Just a younger version.
e. Oh, Alan’s so precious! I love this kid!
f. I think once he has a full tummy, he’ll be ready for bed.
------------------------

To your surprise, dinner was quiet. Wilfred was polite and responded to both you and Alan when addressed, though Glenn seemed like his mind was elsewhere. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you would have guessed that he was irritated over something.

Alan was naive and didn’t seem to notice the tension. He continued to chatter away as though everything was all right, which was fine by you. If it weren’t for him, dinner would have been awkward with the other two princes. It brought you great joy hearing him talk about his hiking adventure and how much he learned about the flora and fauna.

You felt like you did a good job with him and the lesson today. Your grandfather, as far away as he was, would have been proud of you.

After dinner, you spent some time with Alan, playing cards and building cities out of wooden blocks. You pitied him, actually -- it seemed like he was growing up practically without a mother and father. Was this the grand life of luxury that so many people pursued and envied?

No wonder Glenn was so insecure, you joked with yourself.

“_____,” Alan began as you were tucking him into bed, “what will we do next month?”

“Thinking about that already?” You smiled at him. “Well, why don’t you think about that as you’re falling asleep tonight? You can talk it over with me tomorrow, and we can swing the ideas by your brother to see if he’ll be okay with them.”

It was close to his bedtime, but it was obvious that he was not sleepy. That nap home from the trip had preserved his energy. His eyes were bright, and he looked excited about next month’s trip, even though it was so far out. “We could hike another mountain!” he suggested. “Or maybe you could take me to the beach!”

“We’ll see, Alan. How about a story for now?”

He had gotten used to you telling or reading him a story every night. You could tell that the stories soothed him before bed. “You pick a story! You’re always good at picking the fun ones!”

You folded the top layer of his sheets over him. “Hm... How about The Ant and the Grasshopper?” You sat at the edge of his bed as you began the tale -- it was a relatively short one about a grasshopper that had spent the summers with his instrument, singing and dancing, while the ant worked hard to save up food for the winter. When the snow began to fall, the grasshopper was without food, so he turned to the ant to borrow some. The ant, however, turned him away, telling him to dance to get himself through the winter.

“What happened to the grasshopper?” Alan asked, his eyes wide.

“He eventually came upon a friendly field mouse who offered to take him in for the winter in exchange for music,” you replied easily, although you doubted that was how the original fable went. You decided it was too bleak otherwise for a little boy. “The lesson here is that you have to work hard, even when you may want to have fun and dance the summers away.”

Alan paused for a short moment as though thinking this through. “Glenn works hard.”

“Your brother works very hard,” you affirmed.

“Does that mean he’ll turn out like the ant?”

“What do you mean?”

He seemed a little worried. “Will he become mean and selfish? Will he turn people away when they need him?” For his age, he was quite astute.

“No, working hard does not mean that you’ll turn out that way. I’m sure your brother will be fine -- he just needs to learn that while he can work hard, he also needs to find time to play as well, to enjoy the music. He needs to realize that there are other things in life just as important as his goals. In the story, that ant worked hard in the summer so she could have an easier wintertime.”

“Will you tell Glenn that story?”

You blinked. “You want me to tell your brother? Why?”

“Just so he knows. I don’t want him to turn into that ant. I want him to work hard and make Mother and Father proud, but I also want him to be happy and have friends.”

You reached over and pet him on the head. “If that’s what you want, I will. I’ll see if he’s in his office tonight.”

“You promise you’ll tell him that story?”

------------------------
a. “I will absolutely do that for you.”
b. “Your brother will be fine either way, but I will.”
c. “Of course, Alan. You can count on me.”
d. “You must be worried about him. I’ll be sure to tell him.”
e. “Not a problem at all! I’ll do that.”
f. “Don’t you worry! I’ll tell him the story.”
------------------------

“Now get some sleep. We have a whole day ahead of us tomorrow,” you said.

“Goodnight, _____.”

After bidding him goodbye for the evening, you stepped out of the room, shutting the door behind you. As per your promise, although you thought it seemed a little excessive, you walked toward Glenn’s office. In the end, if it was important to Alan, then who were you to say otherwise? Besides, his concern was very sweet, you thought.

The door to Glenn’s office was open, light leaking from inside. You peeked into the room, noticing that there was only the prince. He was back into more formal clothes, though he had his glasses on, which meant that he was about to retire for the night.

“I can’t believe you’re still here, Your Highness,” you said as you stepped into the room. “It’s at least late enough to put down your work.”

“Well, it’s not like you stop working until you put Alan to bed,” he replied simply, “so I guess I could say the same about you.”

You shrugged. “I enjoy my work.”

He had no response to that.

“Just to let you know, I told Alan the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper tonight. Have you ever heard it?”

“No, explain.”

You did just that, summarizing the story as concisely as you could. “Alan wanted me to share this fable with you because he’s afraid that you’re going to be too much like the ant.”

“A diligent worker? There are worse things.”

“Well, not just a diligent worker, but also someone who may not be as kind because he’s too focused on what he needs to do as opposed to what he wants to do.” You saw a slight flare of irritation in his eyes, and you lifted your hands in a defensive gesture. “It was Alan’s idea to tell you, not mine. I’m just the messenger, Your Highness.”

He sighed, looking down at the heaps of paperwork.

“Yet, he’s right,” you said. “He’s sharper than most boys his age. And really, he’s just worried. It was nice of you to come with us on that hike today, you know? I think Alan really appreciated that. You need to set time aside to spend with him every once in a while... I think he fears that you’re going to get so sucked into your royal duties that he’s going to end up losing you as a brother.”

“That’s ridiculous, _____. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Not as a prince, no. But as a brother? That’s Alan’s concern.” A brief moment of silence filled the room. “But don’t listen to me -- if you’re wondering what’s going through his head, ask him. He would love to spend more time with you, even if it’s a few extra minutes every day. He really loves you.” You began backing out of the office. “That is all. Have a good night, Your Highness.”

And with those words, you left the office, wondering what Glenn would choose to do. You could not control him, of course, but Alan so badly needed family in his life. Of course, you had no influence on his parents, but you could give Glenn a few nudges.

However, nudging was all you could do.

It was up to Glenn now.

If you have mostly a’s...

Wilfred of Phillip

You headed to your room, thinking that you were ready for some relaxation before bed. Perhaps you would read a book or watch some TV. Either way, you thought that you needed some time alone to reflect on the things that had happened today. You still wondered what caused the princes to become so quiet and pensive after their meeting in the tea house.

When you finally reached the hallway, you noticed that Prince Wilfred was staring out of one of the windows lining the wall, his hands shoved casually in his pockets.

“Your Highness,” you greeted, “taking an evening stroll through the palace?”

“_____.” He grinned at you, though you thought there was a reserved tone in the way that he said your name. “I thought you were already in bed.”

“Nah, it’s a bit too early for me -- for you, too, I’m guessing.”

“Mmhmm,” he said. “I have a lot to think about.”

“Like what?” you asked. You wondered if you were being too forward, but you figured that if he did not want you to know, he wouldn’t have mentioned it.

He began to pace forward, a glance in his eyes as though he wanted you to follow him. “There’s been a lot of talk about a potential war on the horizon.”

“What do you mean? I thought the six kingdoms were at peace right now.”

“They are in theory, but as you probably already know, there is a seventh country to the west of Dres Van.”

“You mean Nerwan? You’re concerned about them?” From what you studied, Nerwan was the only surrounding kingdom that was not chosen to be within the arc of Nobel Michel. There had been some hostility in the past, but you thought that was all done with. Maybe you were wrong.

“Yes. There have been reports of military activity, the development of missiles and other weapons. Nothing is for sure yet, but we can’t be too careful.”

You took a deep breath. “Is this why you came to Oriens to speak with Prince Glenn today?”

“Yes, the king wished for me to make the trip, if only as a preliminary warning. We need to gauge the reaction of our allies... or our enemies.”

This was grave news. Yet, you couldn’t help but wonder... “Why are you telling me all of this?” you asked.

“Because I think you’re the type who can keep a secret.” He smiled at you, this time genuinely. “Try to keep this under wraps, all right? The common citizenry don’t know about this yet; most of this is mere speculation.”

Of course you weren’t going to say anything -- this was classified information. If it got out, then there could potentially be a national crisis. You just wondered what Glenn had said to Wilfred in reaction to this news.

If you have mostly b’s...

Glenn of Oriens

You were resting in your room, deciding that it would be nice to end the day with one of your favorite books. However, you heard a knock on your door, so you threw on a robe over your pajamas and opened it. “Your Highness? What are you doing here?”

Glenn stood there, his eyes diverted. “_____, I just... well, I wanted to talk with you for just a moment. Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” you replied, opening the door for him to come in. “What’s the matter?”

“I’ve been thinking about what you said. Alan really does need a bit more than what I’ve been able to give him.” He sounded so morose as he took a seat at the small table in your room.

“You can’t blame yourself, Your Highness. Truthfully, and far be it from me to talk badly about the king and queen, Alan hasn’t received much affection from anyone. I understand that your parents are busy, but they’ve left a lot on your shoulders.”

He sighed. “You’re right about that, and the news I received from Prince Wilfred today...”

You had already spoken with the Phillipian prince, but you thought it would be wise to ask for Glenn’s perspective on the matter. “What did he say?”

Glenn eyed you carefully before replying. “Nerwan may be on the move. Prince Wilfred asked if Oriens would ally with the other kingdoms if it came to war.”

“Oriens has a pact with the other five kingdoms, though,” you said. “Wouldn’t Oriens have to?”

He shook his head. “Oriens and Nerwan have had peaceful relationships in terms of trade and prosperity. We’ve shared a lot of programs, including educational and charitable ones, so turning against them purely because of an alliance with the other Nobel Michel kingdoms seems... well, it seems wrong. I’ll have to speak with the king, of course, but I... I just don’t know.”

This was bad news -- if Oriens allied with Nerwan, then it would be shattering its relationship with the other kingdoms. It sounded like either way, Oriens would have to cut ties with a country or countries with which it had a good existing relationship.

“You carry a heavy burden, Your Highness, but this isn’t just yours -- the king and queen must claim it as their responsibility as well. You have other things to take care of, like your relationship with Alan. Don’t let this news take your confidence with it. I’m sure there’s a solution, and for all you know, Nerwan may not even be ready to initiate the war. It’s all speculation, isn’t it?”

Glenn seemed responsive to your words. “You’re right, _____. I just want Oriens to be ready to make the decision if and when the time comes.”

“You’re a good prince.”

To your surprise, he smiled at you. “You’re a good mentor.”

If you have mostly c’s...

Edward of Charles

You received a text from Prince Edward as you were going to bed, asking if you were awake and apologizing if you were not. You smiled, and texted him back.

Moments later, your phone began to ring. “Hello, Your Highness,” you said as you took the call. “I had no idea that you’d be up so late.”

“Please,” he replied, “call me Edward. There is no need for these formalities, especially when we’re alone.”

“All right, but only if you call me _____. We have to be fair, right? No more of this ’miss’ stuff.”

He chuckled. “As you wish. I wanted to see if you were up because the moon tonight is absolutely radiant.”

“Oh, is that so?” You rolled out of bed and pulled the curtains aside, only to reveal a full moon that was perhaps the largest you had ever seen. “Oh... wow. You’d be right. It’s gorgeous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one as bright.”

“It reminded me of you.”

“Me?” You exhaled in a short laugh of disbelief. “How so?”

“Well, it has a presence that no one can ignore.”

That much was true. “Edward, are you saying that I’m round and large?” you joked.

“Of course not!” he said with what sounded like a sheepish tone in his voice. “What I mean is that your presence attracts the eyes of others. You give off a sort of light that draws people to you.”

“I was only joking,” you admitted, “but thank you. I appreciate that. You know, it’s nice that even though we’re in two different countries, we can still see the same moon and stars. That’s a fascinating thought, isn’t it?”

“I agree. I hope that we may see each other soon, however. I trust you’ll be at Lord Michel’s celebration this weekend?”

You nodded. “I’ll be there with Prince Roberto.”

“Aha! So he snagged you even before Prince Alan did this time. Very good. I look forward to seeing you there. Save a dance for me?”

“Sure thing. Have a good night, Edward.”

“Good night, _____.”

If you have mostly d’s...

Keith of Liberty

As you settled into bed, you heard your phone beep. You saw the following text:

Cathy misses you already. Come visit soon. -- Keith

If you have mostly e’s...

Joshua of Dres Van

You were drifting off to sleep when an incoming text distracted you:

I’ve been thinking about what you said, but all this thinking is keeping me up at night. -- Joshua

If you have mostly f’s...

Roberto of Altaria

In the morning, you awoke to find this text on your phone:

_____! I can’t wait until Saturday. I’ll pick you up around six or so, all right? Be ready for me. ;) -- Roberto.

Chapter Text

The rest of the week passed, and you continued as Alan’s mentor, taking advantage of your unique hands-on perspective and lesson plans.

Glenn seemed pleased with your work, and you imagined the King and Queen were as well. Otherwise, you doubted you would still be here. Of course, Alan enjoyed your company -- he had shown you on many occasions that you were an exciting tutor. He came to you often, even with non-academic questions and requests.

Although you were quite happy with your current circumstance, you knew it wouldn’t last forever. As soon as your grandmother recovered from her illness, your grandfather would resume his role as the Alan’s tutor.

Still, you were intent on enjoying your time here for as long as you could.

Lately, there had been some tension in the air. Glenn was as busy as ever, often discussing matters with either the King and Queen or other Oriens politicians. You hardly saw him at all, except for at meals. Even Alan admitted that he saw very little of his brother.

Glenn said that there was a war on the horizon, conflict in Nerwan. Oriens had always maintained peaceful relationships with all of the kingdoms, including Nerwan, so having to choose between an existing alliance with the five kingdoms and a disadvantaged country with which Oriens currently held economic and academic initiatives would be difficult.

This information wasn’t yet available to the public, of course, since most of the news was just speculation. However, the six kingdoms were quite aware; you were sure that the princes had discussed this with one another, though no action had been taken yet.

Fortunately, Lord Michel’s birthday was today, which would allow them a reprieve from all of this talk of politics and war.

You had already mentioned to Glenn that you would be going to the celebration as Roberto’s guest. He didn’t seem too happy about it, but as Wilfred said, he couldn’t tell you what to do on your day off. The only issue was that Alan now needed someone else to take him to the party. You were sure that it wouldn’t be difficult, but Glenn was the one with the contacts. Not you.

You couldn’t actively search for dates for Alan. He pestered you, of course, and seemed a little dejected at you being unavailable, but you figured that he would enjoy the party just as much with anyone else as with you. Hopefully, Glenn had made the time to find Alan a partner.

Roberto sent you a text, saying that he would be dropping by Oriens before the celebration tomorrow so he could escort you to Nobel Michel. You told him that it was unnecessary, that you could meet him at Nobel Michel instead to save him a trip, but he insisted.

You were left to prepare yourself for the party, and of course, the maids of Oriens Palace were ready to assist you. They scrubbed you clean, assisted with dressing you and applying makeup, and then styled your hair. You didn’t like tooting your own horn, but when you peered into the mirror, you were rather pleased with the results. You thought you looked rather pretty; you wondered what everyone else would think.

When you left your room, you noticed Alan, dressed respectably in a suit and tie. He grinned at you. “_____, _____! Glenn found someone to take me to the party!” he exclaimed. “She’ll be meeting us down in the parlor.”

“That’s so exciting!” you said. “Who is she?”

“Glenn’s date’s little sister,” he replied. “This’ll be her first time at Nobel Michel.”

You smiled. “Well, it’s up to you to make sure that she has a good time, huh?”

“Yep, and I’ll make sure to save you a dance, too.”

------------------------
a. “That sounds great to me! It’ll be fun.”
b. “I’ll look forward to it, Alan! We’ll show off our dance moves!”
c. “That’s awfully nice of you, Alan. I can’t wait!”
d. “Oh, aren’t you a darling?”
e. “Well! You are such a gentleman.”
f. “Glenn should learn a thing or two from you about women.”
------------------------

“Ah, is that Miss _____? And Prince Alan?” Roberto came down the hallway, dressed in Altaria’s traditional royal clothing. He was handsome, his wayward hair brushed back in smooth locks. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you two. Prince Glenn wasn’t much help -- he told me to leave him alone while he got himself ready. Sometimes I can’t believe him.”

“I know,” you joked. “Shame on him for wanting to look decent for Lord Michel’s birthday.”

Roberto nodded. “Indeed. It’s not like I look grand or anything for such an occasion.”

“What are you talking about?” you said, hinting at his spectacular suit and many medals. “You always look marvelous.”

“Do I? But never as marvelous as you, _____. Just look at you! You’re stunning! That dress is quite form-fitting, and your hair! It’s gorgeous!”

“Oh, stop it. We’re not even at Nobel Michel yet.”

“All the better for me to woo you, my dear.” He reached for your hand and kissed it. “Gotta start early with these sorts of things, you know, before the competition shows up.”

Out of the corner of your eye, you saw Alan make a face; Roberto was probably being too flirtatious for him. “I’m going to go find Glenn,” he said. “I’ll meet you in the parlor later.” He then ran off, turning the corner without looking back.

“Look at what you did,” you scolded lightly. “You chased off a little boy.”

“He’s just young,” Roberto assured. “That was hardly a crude conversation.”

“And you would know all about crude, wouldn’t you?”

He waggled a finger at you. “Now, let’s not go pointing fingers. Let’s just enjoy the time we have together before the party. I think our Glenny-poo is going to take longer than he leads us to believe. You know, I have a theory that he’s actually quite the pretty boy on the inside.”

You laughed. “Well, I wouldn’t put it that way. He actually seems pretty lax about the way he dresses when he’s inside the palace.”

Roberto offered his arm to you. “Is that so?”

You took his arm. “Yes. I can’t say that he’s as fashionable as you or Prince Keith.”

“Are you saying that he has awful fashion sense?”

“Not at all. Just that you have great fashion sense.”

“Oh, so loyal to your employer! Well, I suppose Glenn looks just dashing in public, which is funny because he doesn’t seem interested in women. Why work so hard at looking good when you’re not charming anyone?”

You laughed; you knew he was only joking, though you wanted to remind him that they were princes. “Everything Prince Glenn does is being watched by… well, everyone. What would the public think if he looked disheveled or wore something unprofessional? Even his casual clothes look nice for that reason. He has to charm his people, if not women.”

“Ah, I knew you’d understand,” Roberto said. “Of all people, you would, and you’re right. I do the same.”

“Are you sure? I thought you mentioned that charming women is the only reason.”

“Never! Just a plus.” He grinned cheekily at you. “Well, watch your step. We can meet up with the others in the parlor and then head toward Nobel Michel for our Lord’s birthday celebration!”

------------------------
a. I wish he’d be a little more serious sometimes...
b. I think he’s really sweet!
c. He’s a little forward. :’D But otherwise nice.
d. Really, underneath all the jokes, he’s a pretty swell guy.
e. Roberto’s such a lovable dork.
f. So he thinks he can be cute. -______-
------------------------

Alan was already there, waiting with a girl, probably a couple of years older than him. Glenn had done well, you thought. Not only did he find Alan a date, but he found one who was just about his age!

“Who’s your new friend, Alan?” Roberto asked.

“This is Lissie,” he introduced, “short for Elizabeth. Her older sister is with my brother right now.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet such a lovely lady,” Roberto said as he introduced himself and swept an elegant bow for her. “And this is Miss _____, Prince Alan’s tutor, who will be accompanying me to Lord Michel’s birthday ball.”

“Excuse me, Your Highnesses, Miss _____, Miss Elizabeth,” Yu said. “Prince Glenn and his lady are already situated in the limousine outside. Would you please join them? I’ll be making arrangements for your flight to Nobel Michel.”

You all followed Yu out of the palace, descending the stairs where the limousine was parked. You scooted into the vehicle after Alan and Lissie, and Roberto followed you in, sitting right next to you, across from Glenn and his date.

“Ah, so wonderful to see you, Glenn,” Roberto said. “And you as well, Miss Mia.”

They responded in kind, and you made your introductions as well.

Glenn had brought Mia as a date the last time. You would have thought they must have been close friends or potential lovers, but there was actually a bit of a distance between them where they sat. Mia often glanced over at Glenn, but it seemed the Oriens prince didn’t pay her much attention at all.

Of course, you said nothing. It wasn’t your place.

Instead, Roberto rattled off his cares and woes in the most smooth way possible. You wondered how someone could stand to talk so much.

Alan smiled at Lissie throughout the whole ride, and even on the plane. The two of them reminded you of shy, curious puppies who weren’t sure how to interact with one another.

It wouldn’t be long until you arrived at Nobel Michel. The castle, although impressive before, was now decorated in white lights, with colorful banners strung across the way. There were hundreds of people here, all of them dressed in their best clothes, prepared to drink and be merry, and to honor this great lord.

Roberto offered you his arm, and you took it as you walked side by side into the hall. You were greeted by servants and other party-goers alike, many of whom spoke with Roberto as though he were an old friend. He was friendly, of course, though you thought he might not even have recognized everyone -- there were just too many people!

Once you descended the stairs, many of the crowd staring at you (or more realistically, the Altarian and Oriens princes), Roberto immediately asked if you would dance with him. You accepted, taking his hand, allowing him to sweep you away into the music. Out of the corner of your eye, you noticed Alan and Lissie already began dancing as well, though Glenn seemed a little more reluctant to begin with his date.

Roberto guided you in a twirl beneath his arm and then pulled you toward his chest just as the music ended. “What a nice introduction to the party, huh? Well, we should probably be on the lookout for the guest of honor.” His hand never left yours, and he headed off toward the opposite side of the ballroom. “He has to be around here somewhere.”

“Just go where the crowd is,” you suggested, nodding toward the large gathering of people. You knew that Lord Michel was never one for sitting on the throne -- he would rather be out and about, greeting guests and jesting with old friends. That was one thing that you had learned about him from speaking with the princes. Although you had never met him, you were looking forward to it.

“Splendid idea!” Roberto followed the crowd as you had mentioned, and his presence and polite demeanor seemed to part the sea of people who were eager to see Lord Michel. Among these elegant guests were two princes. Prince Edward smiled softly when he saw you, and Prince Joshua nodded in brief greeting.

“Prince Roberto! And Miss _____! What a pleasure to see you tonight. I hope you are enjoying yourselves,” Edward said. “We were just speaking with our beloved Lord Michel.” He shifted, waving his hand toward the host.

You swept your finest curtsy, while Roberto bowed deeply.

“Very good, very good!” Lord Michel said as he paced toward you. “Good to see you, Prince Roberto. You look as proud and dashing as ever! And this must be your lovely lady, Miss _____, is it?”

“Yes, milord,” you replied. “I have the honor of standing in as Prince Alan’s tutor while my grandfather is away in Dres Van.”

“Oh, yes, I have heard about that. The King and Queen of Oriens are quite sympathetic toward your grandmother’s health. My condolences, dear girl. Please let me know if there is anything that I can do for her.”

You weren’t expecting such sincerity, but you were pleased. To be honest, you weren’t surprised at this display of both knowledge and empathy, for you had heard many good things about this lord and the methods by which he determined his policies. “Thank you,” you said. “I appreciate that very much, milord, but that’s not what I came here for. I’m here to compliment your lovely castle -- I’ve never seen it so bright! And I’m also here to wish you the happiest of birthdays!”

“It is quite a gay party, especially now that you’re here, my dear. Prince Roberto, you’ve done well in snatching her up before other lads could. Keep it up, and enjoy the party. The cake should be brought in soon; I hope you all enjoy chocolate.” And with those words and a quirky grin, he went off to greet his other guests.

“I’ve always liked that man,” Roberto said. “He speaks sense, and he’s got a sense of humor.”

“I see a lot of him in you,” Edward noted to your date. “A jolly, positive altitude that can’t be defeated.”

“Well, that’s a compliment, indeed!” Roberto playfully elbowed Joshua. “You hear that, Joshy-poo?”

“With a touch of immaturity,” Joshua added without batting an eye.

“You’re so harsh -- don’t you ever smile?”

Joshua was smooth with his retort. “Only when you’re not around.”

You laughed at his remark, and Roberto raised an eyebrow. “And I thought you were my date, _____. I feel so betrayed.” The look on his face, however, was well-natured, and he swept an elegant bow as a new song started. “I think you owe me another dance.”

And why not? You were here to enjoy yourself, after all. You allowed him to sweep you away onto the ballroom floor again, where his sure hands guided you from step to step.

------------------------
a. This party seems like fun, and I like Lord Michel so far!
b. Oh my! I do love to dance! Cha-cha-cha!
c. I wonder what the other princes are doing.
d. Perhaps I should be socializing with others right now, just to be polite.
e. *sigh* This is so romantic.
f. Is that how men get women to dance with them? By guilting them?
------------------------

The song ended soon, and Roberto grinned at you. “For someone not used to these sorts of parties, you dance like a natural,” he said.

“Nah, you have the hard part,” you replied. “I just follow your lead and do whatever you tell me to do.”

He chuckled. “Only when dancing do men take the lead in the relationship, eh?”

“Oh, you’re so good. I’m surprised you’re single,” you joked.

Roberto looked like he was about to say something when you heard another voice. “Well, I’m not.” Keith had appeared behind you, a confident smirk on his face. “I don’t know of any woman who can stand around while he runs his mouth.”

“And women just love your sunshiney personality,” you said with a laugh.

“What are you talking about?” Keith asked. “I’m a likeable person.”

“Likeable is a relative term.” Wilfred had also appeared, a beautiful young woman hanging off of his arm. “And this time, I’m leaning toward Miss _____ being right.”

“I feel like I’m being ganged up on,” Keith said.

Roberto shrugged. “I don’t know about that, Keithster. Where’s your date? I’m sure she’ll be happy to side with you.”

“My date’s my sister tonight.”

So Princess Catherine was here. “That’s really sweet of you, Your Highness,” you said. “Cathy is fortunate to have a brother like you.” And you meant what you said. Despite how much of pain Prince Keith was and how rude he was to you when you first met him, you did admire his devotion to his sister.

He was quiet for a moment, but then he paced toward you, grabbing you by the hand. “Too bad Cathy’s sick of dancing with me. Go entertain her, Roberto.”

“What?” Roberto’s eyes widened. “You’re a date-stealer, that’s what you are!” But he was a good sport, and waved it off. “Well, don’t you worry, Keithster. I’ll take care of your sister; just treat our dear _____ like a princess, okay? Okay!” And he was off, leaving you with the Liberty prince.

You glanced at Keith, who had a smug look on his face. “Come on,” he said, his hand already on your waist. “Dance with me.”

“Sure,” you replied. Ever since your trip to Liberty, it seemed he had warmed up to you, which was great -- you would much rather have him on your good side than your bad side.

The music continued, violins singing and flutes humming. You were led this way and that, spun around to the upbeat melody. Keith was a good dancer, quite a bit firmer than Roberto, but he knew how to lead.

Out of the corner of your eye, you saw Wilfred dancing with his date, even Roberto with Cathy.

“So when are you coming back?” he suddenly asked.

“Back to Liberty?”

“Yeah, Cathy misses you already. She can’t stop talking about your last visit.”

“I had a good time, too. I’ll see when I’m available -- like I said, Alan’s education comes first.”

When the song ended, Keith finally released you, and right when you stepped away, a hoard of women decided to crowd around him, asking for the next dance. You couldn’t help but chuckle to yourself as you made your way to the appetizers and wine.

There, you found Joshua, a pretty young woman standing next to him. He was quiet, however, as though he did not want to dance. In fact, you had never seen him dance. He probably treated it as a formality and nothing more.

“Your Highness,” you greeted as you came up to him. “You look like you’re enjoying the party.”

“As much as there is to enjoy,” he replied smoothly.

His date glanced at you, and you introduced yourself, which she returned with a slight look of boredom.

“Anything interesting happening in Dres Van lately?” you asked, trying to start a conversation.

Joshua sipped from his wine glass. “Nothing that should be noted here. This is a public place and Lord Michel’s celebration. We should be happy.”

“Oh, yes, very happy,” someone said.

You turned around to see someone new, though his face was awfully familiar. He was a well-groomed man who carried himself with an air of pride, his auburn hair parted neatly to the side, bangs falling elegantly over his eyes. He looked at you, a small smile on his face as he offered his hand. “You must be Prince Alan’s new mentor. I’ve heard a lot about you, Miss _____.”

------------------------
a. This man is quite forward, isn’t he?
b. He’s heard a lot about me? Wow, I wonder whom he’s spoken with!
c. Oh, he knows me? Where from? I-I hope I didn’t forget meeting him! That would be so awkward!
d. I really do feel like I’ve seen him somewhere before. Is he someone famous?
e. I suppose word does travel fast among royalty.
f. Who does this guy think he is? I don’t know whether to feel creeped out or flattered.
------------------------

“Is that right?” you said, giving him your hand as he kissed it. You wondered where he had gotten that news from, though you were reluctant to ask, afraid that you might insult him.

“Prince Leonardo,” Joshua greeted. “You’ve been well, I assume?”

“Prince Leonardo...” your thoughts murmured. “That’s right! Prince Leonardo of Nerwan!” He came from the country to the west of Dres Van, potential war pending on the horizon.

“Very. I was ecstatic to hear that tonight was Lord Michel’s birthday celebration. I thought I’d drop by and wish him the best.”

“You came on a good night,” you said. “It’s quite lively.”

“Indeed,” he replied. “In fact, as wonderful as it is to see you, Prince Joshua, I actually came here to ask Miss _____ if she would honor me with a dance.”

You were taken aback by his request -- you barely knew him, and with all this talk of war, you were already wondering what Prince Leonardo was up to. Still, you couldn’t insult him by saying no. If anything, you wanted to avoid fueling the fires, and being diplomatic was something you were good at. “I’d love to,” you said, accepting his arm.

If Joshua was uncomfortable with this arrangement, he didn’t show it. He didn’t look too pleased about it either, however.

You felt a number of eyes on you as you were guided to the dance floor. You looked over Leonardo’s shoulder, only to see a disapproving glance from Glenn -- he was never one to hide his feelings. You could read him like a book.

Regardless, the music had started, and with a gentle squeeze from Leonardo, you were off, twirling in a fantastic waltz.

“You’re as pretty as they say,” the Nerwan Prince said, his gaze fixed on you. “I had no idea that the King and Queen of Oriens would hire someone so young, but I suppose they did well. I hear that Alan enjoys his lessons with you.”

You laughed politely. “You seem to know a lot about me. All up on the royal gossip, hm?”

“That’s right. When you’re a prince, you have to familiarize yourself with such things. It gives you knowledge, and with knowledge comes opportunities.”

“I would agree with that,” you said. “It’s something that we educators know well.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less.” He paused for a moment as he repeated the basic waltz step several times. “You’ve probably heard a little bit about Nerwan’s political relations recently?”

You clicked your tongue. “You said it yourself that tonight is Lord Michel’s birthday -- I wouldn’t want to ruin it with politics.”

“Then you have heard,” he mused. “But you’re right -- why be the wet blanket amidst such a spirited party? Aren’t we here to have fun?”

You nodded. “That’s what birthdays are about.”

He was silent for the rest of the dance, and so were you, thinking over everything he had just said. Leonardo had come here with an agenda, though you weren’t sure what it was. It didn’t seem like he got anything accomplished by dancing with you.

Glenn immediately rushed over to you as soon as the song ended. “_____.”

Prince Leonardo grinned. “Why, if it isn’t Prince Glenn of Oriens! I thought you’d be here with your brother’s new mentor.”

“Does it matter to you, Prince Leonardo, with whom I associate?” Glenn bit back, though you wondered if he meant his words to come out as sharply as they did.

“Temper, temper,” he replied. “I was merely introducing myself; I’ve heard a lot of good things about Miss _____. Thought I’d be friendly.”

Glenn quieted, though he hardly relaxed. If he were an animal, the hair on his neck would have been bristling.

You thought that you ought to smooth things over. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Prince Leonardo,” you said. “Thank you for the dance. I really should check on Alan, though, just to make sure that he’s doing all right. Would you like to come with me to see your brother, Your Highness?”

Glenn nodded, following you without a word.

You wove through the crowd until you came to a hallway where there were fewer people. “What was that all about?” you asked Glenn.

“What did he say to you? Did he threaten you?”

“He was just blabbering about Nerwan and its political turmoil,” you assured. Although you appreciated the concern, there was really no need for it -- you could handle yourself in these sorts of conversations. “I think he’s up to something.”

“The moment I saw him here, I knew he was.”

“Why?”

“He never comes to these gatherings. I know Lord Michel invites the Nerwan royal family to nearly all celebrations, but they very rarely accept the invitation.”

You couldn’t blame Glenn for being suspicious. Given what he just told you, he had every right to be.

“There’s nothing we can do for now but watch him,” you suggested.

“Fine. But do me a favor.”

“Yes?”

“Don’t dance with him again.”

------------------------
a. “You worry too easily! I’ll be just fine.”
b. “You know, I don’t mind the dancing so much!”
c. “B-but I just didn’t want to be rude.”
d. “Thanks for the concern.”.
e. “I can take care of myself!”
f. “Don’t be so petty, Prince Glenn.”
------------------------

Glenn sighed. “Just don’t do it, all right? I know you have issues with authority, but for my sake?”

“Was that an attempt at a joke, Your Highness?” you chuckled.

“No, it wasn’t. You’re as stubborn as a mule.” But even through his words, you could tell there was a tone of humor in his voice. “Look, just be careful out there. I don’t know what Leonardo wants, but we’re not going to give it to him easily. Let me handle him.”

You were about to turn back to the crowd when you saw several men weaving through the people, circling Lord Michel. Your eyebrows knitted forward, realizing that this was very suspicious behavior. Lord Michel then started off, ascending the stairs that led to the overhanging balcony. He was ready to make some sort of announcement. The music stopped, and everyone looked up.

“My dear guests!” he said, speaking into the microphone. “Please listen. We have some news for you. There has been a report of two men with guns walking into Nobel Michel. My guards and investigators will be searching. We ask that you limit your activity to the ballroom and the main halls. All entrances will be watched and locked -- no one is to leave until further notice. Do not fret! We intend to disarm and arrest the gunmen, but we need your cooperation. You may be pulled away by my investigators for questioning, as it is standard procedure.”

You turned to look at Glenn, who looked just as shocked as you were.

If you have mostly a’s...

Glenn of Oriens

“I can’t believe this,” he said, frustration evident in his voice. “Go find Alan.”

You caught him by the arm as he walked past you. “Wait. Where are you going?”

“To find the one responsible for this.”

He was referring to Leonardo -- you were sure of it, and your grasp on him tightened. “You can’t. If he really is behind this, he’s more dangerous than we originally thought. He’ll have something else planned; he wants you to get angry.”

“And do you just expect me to stand around and do nothing?” With a tug, he pulled himself away from you.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I expect!” You understood his need to be protective, to defend the innocent people, among them his family, but he could not be careless. “What am I supposed to tell Alan if you come back in a body bag? Don’t be stupid, Your Highness!”

He stared at you for a moment as though he were surprised by your comment. “I’ll stay in the castle,” he finally said. “But don’t expect me to do nothing. I’ll just see if there’s anything I can do to help the investigators, all right?”

You stood there, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

He then gave you a small smile, if only to relieve your fears. “Stop worrying, _____. I can take care of myself. Just go find Alan. Tell him that everything’s going to be fine.”

You still didn’t believe him.

“Don’t look at me like that. I’ll be safe, I promise.”

“You better keep that promise, Your Highness.”

“I will. Now get going.”

If you have mostly b’s...

Joshua of Dres Van

The crowd was panicking, people rushing here and there, despite Lord Michel’s pleas for them to remain calm. You dove through the fear and anxiety, searching for Alan. He would be worried, and while Glenn was surely the sort to take care of things, his brother was far too young to be by himself when something like this happened.

“Alan!” you called, hoping to find him. Unfortunately, he was so short that you could not see him among the other people here. You felt a hand on your shoulder.

“Is everything all right?”

“Your Highness,” you said, turning around to look at Prince Joshua. “I can’t find Prince Alan, and I know he has to be around here.”

“Where did you last see him?”

“I-I don’t know. I came here with Prince Roberto, and Alan had someone with him, so I honestly haven’t paid much attention to him.”

“And where’s Leonardo?”

You looked at him -- he knew. You remembered that Prince Joshua had seemed suspicious of him since he had approached you. “What do you know about Prince Leonardo?”

“I know that his relationship with those of the other kingdoms can be abrasive.”

“Because of the political tensions?”

“Yes. His upbringing in Nerwan has made him jaded, but to think that he would do this... well, it doesn’t make much sense.”

You thought he was slipping away into a pensive state of mind, though you couldn’t have that right now. “Will you help me find Alan?” you asked.

A look of surprise appeared on his face, but he solemnly nodded. “Of course.”

“If you do, please meet me behind the dessert table. I’m going to try the halls!” You then ran off as quickly as you could in your heels, hoping that the boy was somewhere nearby.

If you have mostly c’s...

Roberto of Altaria

You could never miss the bright red of Prince Roberto’s Altarian garb. He was just ahead, standing a ways away from one of the parlors entrances, where some guests were resting. He had a somber look on his face, which was so rare for all of his positivity and charm.

“Prince Roberto!” you called.

He turned around. “_____, I was looking for you.”

“I’m looking for Alan,” you said, taking a deep breath.

“Don’t worry about Alan -- he’s right in there with Lissie.”

You peeked through the entrance to the parlor, only to see the Oriens prince sitting on one of the couches with Lissie, and you breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you. I’ve been searching for him, and I was afraid that something might have happened.”

“He’s a smart boy. Came right up to me when Lord Michel made the announcement.” Roberto glanced toward the ballroom, wasting no time in sharing his thoughts. “For all we know, the gunmen could be hiding among us.”

You didn’t want to think about it that way, but you knew that he had a point. In such a situation, no possibilities could be ruled out “Do we even know how security was tipped off? That in and of itself may help explain what’s going on.”

“I have no idea, but I’m going to find out.”

“I’m going to let Alan know to stay here with Lissie, and I’ll join you in a bit. Just be careful, will you?”

Roberto winked at you. “You know it, darling. I want a smile when I see you next, you hear?”

You weren’t sure if you could smile, but for his sake, you thought you’d try.

If you have mostly d’s...

Edward of Charles

Alan was safe -- that was what was important. You scurried off after speaking briefly with him, trying to track down Glenn or Roberto or Joshua... anyone who could help the situation, really.

They weren’t armed, but they were followed by bodyguards, and you figured that if this was truly an assassination attempt, the gunmen would have found their target already. Assassinations were political statements -- the ones responsible wouldn’t care too much for their own safety. They had practically forfeited it by coming here, after all.

“_____!”

You turned around, only to see that Prince Edward had approached you, looking relieved. “Your Highness,” you said, “any news on the two gunmen?”

“I’m afraid not, though I saw Prince Glenn and Prince Roberto speaking with several investigators.”

“And what are you doing?”

“I thought that I’d round up members of the royal families and their closest staff. The investigators thought it would be best if we relocated to a more easily guarded area of the castle. I was told to find you as well.”

“I don’t know if hiding would make me feel any better.” You glanced around the room, noting there were others here who were scared and frustrated.

Edward seemed to understand, and he placed a warm hand on your shoulder. “It’s the best we can do; if these gunman really are after any of the royal families, we should see to it that they’re protected. Some of them have already made their way upstairs. You should go.”

“Not yet,” you said. “I’ll help you round up the others. Alan is in the parlor near the northern entrance, and when I last saw Prince Joshua, he was helping me search for him. If you bump into either of them, they still need to know.”

He nodded. “All right, _____. I’ll fetch Alan. Be careful, though. Give yourself ten minutes, and regardless of who you find or don’t find, head upstairs.”

“Will do.”

If you have mostly e’s...

Wilfred of Phillip

You had no luck searching for members of the royal family -- for all you knew, they might have already climbed up the stairs. You did as Prince Edward told you, however, and began heading in that direction.

Along the way, pushing through the panicked crowds, you saw Prince Wilfred, parting from several women who had gathered around him, sobbing hysterically.

You caught his attention with a wave, and he excused himself as gently as he could, edging his way toward you. “Your Highness,” you said, “I was told to tell you get to safety.”

“So I’ve heard,” he replied. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come down to this.” Already, he had an arm around you, hand pressed against your upper back. “Let’s be off, then, before the crowd consumes us.” He guided you up the stairs, fielding many questions that were directed at him by others.

“I hope everyone made it up here safely,” you whispered.

It seemed that he had heard you. “I do, too,” he replied, a grim look on his face.

“No further news?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Wilfred said. “There have been no leads and certainly no luck in searching for the gunmen.”

You shook your head as you made it up the flight upstairs. “What a way to celebrate a birthday. I feel bad for Lord Michel.”

“I think that’s the last thing on his mind, though it’s quite thoughtful of you to note that.”

“I thought it was worth mentioning. Of all days to promote terrorism, they couldn’t have picked a better one?”

Wilfred actually let out a small chuckle. “Not everyone is as considerate as you.”

If you have mostly f’s...

Keith of Liberty

Keith was at the top of the stairs, leaning on the balcony railing that hung over the ballroom.

“Your Highness,” one of the bodyguards said, “please take care. You’re in a very vulnerable position right now.”

“I know,” he said irritably. “You don’t have to remind me.”

You paced over to him. “How is everything?” you asked.

His eyes lit up when he saw you. “Well, at least, you’re not lost anymore.”

“I was never lost, Your Highness. I was actually looking for you and everyone else.”

He let out a small laugh. “No need to get so defensive, _____. I was only kidding.” He nodded toward a door that had several bodyguards standing outside of it. “They’re all in there -- you should join them.”

“What about you?”

“Pah, I’d rather be out here with the investigators. If they pinpoint where he is, I’ll be the first to wring his neck.”

“Hardly fitting for a prince,” you said. “Besides, I don’t think Cathy and the King and Queen would approve -- they’re probably worried about you. Why don’t you come inside with me? Leave this to the professionals.”

He sighed. “You’re right.”

“Oh, I’m actually right about something for once?”

Keith slapped an arm over your shoulder as he pushed you toward the room. “Just don’t let it get to your head.”

Chapter Text

Several hours had passed since you had settled inside the room.

Your feet hurt. Although your shoes were of high quality and made for dancing, all of this running around gathering members of the royal family made you weary. You wiped your forehead. The room you were in was getting warm with all of the people in it, and all of this physical movement wasn’t helping.

You breathed in as you noticed people standing around, some of them frantic, some of them anxious, some of them calm. You knew that while you were nervous, you had to stay strong for Alan. He and Lissie were sitting on the floor next to you. Alan was trying to be brave, but you saw the uncertainty in his eyes.

The sooner they found the gunmen, the better. You weren’t sure how long everyone would last.

You noticed that most of the kings and queens were gathered in one corner. Their bodyguards surrounded them, their gazes stoic, their bodies tense. The princes were scattered about, speaking among themselves, and tending to the problems of the royal families. They might have been princes, but they carried the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Truthfully, you felt out of place. There were a few servants here, but you were the one who had been with a royal family for the least amount of time. Many servants and employees had been in the families for ages -- you had no such legacy. Even though your grandfather had spent time in Oriens Palace, he was the first of his line. You were the second, and you wondered how long you would be staying.

You gave a small sigh, reaching over to pat Alan on the head. “It’ll be okay,” you said. “Everything will be fine.”

He didn’t pull away, but his eyes were on Lissie. He obviously wanted to show her that he was not just a boy but a prince, too.

“What a surprise, isn’t it?”

You looked up to see Leonardo standing above you, and you hoisted yourself up. “If you’re asking if I’m surprised, then yes. I wasn’t expecting a terrorist attack at Lord Michel’s birthday party. Are you surprised?”

“You know, it’s hard to be surprised about things like this. As a prince, bodyguards follow you everywhere -- they watch you eat, stand at your door when you’re sleeping. They listen in on your lessons, and they even hear you singing in the shower. They never give you a moment of peace. You begin to wonder why they’re assigned to you in the first place.”

“It’s for times like these, huh? I’d never thought about that before.”

Leonardo nodded. “Mmhmm. You’re lucky. A life in a palace without all of the formalities of a member of royalty.”

You looked at him, curious about what he was getting at. Sure, being Alan’s tutor was an experience of a lifetime, but you had never thought of comparing your life in the palace to Glenn’s. “There are burdens associated with ruling a kingdom. I wonder how the kings and queens feel about it all.”

“Ah, but the kings and queens have power. Princes hold the middle ground. Not as much respect and stature as their parents but with an equal amount of work and sometimes even higher expectations.”

“I’ll never know what that feels like, but I can empathize.”

He grinned, a sparkle in his eye. “Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

“I can tell that some of them have their eyes on you.”

You paused. That was ridiculous. At best, you were friends, and while you cared about them, you did not think that you would ever be someone they would consider as an equal. They might believe that, and they might have you believe that, but there was a barrier between your worlds. There were things that they would never understand about you, nor you about them. You might be able to act as a bridge between the royal families and the common folk, but you would stay there -- on the bridge. How could you possibly cross over into their world?

“There you are,” he said. “You know that already.”

“No, I don’t, and I don’t think you’re right.” You glanced toward Prince Glenn, who was speaking with Prince Edward. Prince Wilfred, Prince Joshua, and Prince Roberto not far away. Prince Keith was comforting his sister.

“You just don’t want to believe it.” Leonardo tipped his head toward the crowd. “And it’s not because you don’t want it but because you’re afraid of what it might prove. Unrequited love can be a painful thing, and your mind doesn’t know if your heart can bear it.”

------------------------
a. “I’m not sure why we’re having this conversation, Leonardo.”
b. “You seem to know a lot about unrequited love.”
c. “That’s a really deep topic of conversation, you know!”
d. “On the contrary, I’m actually pretty honest with myself when it comes to emotions.”
e. “Well, I don’t like getting ahead of myself.”
f. “O-oh. I guess you could be right.”
------------------------

“I just wanted you to be aware,” he said. “Whether or not you choose to act on that information is up to you. I’ve known these princes for a very long time, far longer than you have. Sometimes, you can read the looks on their faces like a book.”

“You’re not very close to them, though,” you commented. For someone who claimed to understand them so well, he didn’t seem to make friends easily.

“I’ve always been the odd one out for several reasons.” His gaze shifted to the floor, if for only a moment.

You didn’t want to, but you pitied him. You knew what it was like to feel left out -- most people did at some point in their lives. And to be someone of royalty but unlike the families of the six kingdoms... well, that must have been awkward and hurtful on many levels. Surely, the people of Nerwan were disappointed in the royal family for something that they could not help.

“I’m sorry,” you said, the sympathetic side of you revealing itself. “Is there anything you want to talk about?”

“Talk is cheap. What are you doing?”Keith said, his eyebrows slanted in obvious displeasure. He glared at Leonardo. “_____ is keeping an eye on Alan and Lissie. We don’t need you bothering her.”

“We really were just talking, Your Highness,” you said, stepping up to Leonardo’s defense. “Alan and Lissie are fine.” They really were -- they were sitting against the wall, looking rather calm considering what was going on. Although you were glad for Keith’s concern, you loathed his using Alan as an excuse. You could handle yourself, even when it came to strange people, like Leonardo.

Keith crossed his arms. “Where are the King and Queen of Nerwan? You’re here by yourself tonight?”

“My mother has a cold, and my father has business to attend to. They sent me in their stead to celebrate Lord Michel’s birthday.”

“This is the first time in a long while that you’ve joined us. Why this occasion?”

“Why not? Our dear Lord Michel wished that I come, so here I am. You seem rather perturbed by the fact that I’m here. Do you view me as a threat?”

“Don’t confuse my having a backbone with insecurity. I find it strange that we have been to hundreds of these gatherings, and nothing like this has happened until you showed up. Don’t you find that a bit coincidental?”

Your jaw nearly dropped. Surely, he could have kept those suspicions to himself. You certainly didn’t trust Leonardo, but bold as you were, you never would have made that accusation unless you had more proof. This could cause unrest among the nations.

It seemed that you weren’t the only one who felt that way. “Aw, Keithster, there you are vomiting nasty things again!” Roberto came strolling along, readily saying the things that you wouldn’t know how to say -- and in a strangely chipper way, too.

Keith looked annoyed. Leonardo, amused.

“There are other things to be concerned about,” Roberto said, this time seriously. “We need to work together to figure out what’s going on. Fighting among us isn’t helping.”

Ah, finally a voice of reason.

“It’s fine,” Leonardo said, his hands shoved carelessly in his pockets. “He has every right to be suspicious, and he does have a point. The evidence does seem to imply that my presence is a coincidence. Still, I can assure you that I would never spoil our Lord Michel’s birthday for such poorly organized crime.”

“You, maybe not,” Keith spat. “I wouldn’t expect you to have the nerve. But what about the rest of Nerwan? What about the turmoil in the houses and within congress? They wouldn’t be making a statement, would they?”

“We’re not so petty, Prince Keith,” Leonardo said. “Now, if you excuse me, I’ll be taking my leave.”

You watched him walk off (to the other side of the room, funnily enough), his two bodyguards following behind him.

“What a prick.”

You glanced at Keith. “What was that all about?” you scolded, your voice low.

“What? He’s responsible. I can feel it.”

“You don’t have any evidence. You can’t go around accusing royalty of terrorism.”

The expression on Roberto’s face was somber. “She’s right, you know. He may be outside of Nerwan borders, but that doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want.”

------------------------
a. He needs to be more careful.
b. Well, you can. You just have to deal with the consequences.
c. At least he’s honest?
d. Caution is your friend, especially in cases like these.
e. Good lord, Keith. You need to learn to shut your mouth.
f. I hope he doesn’t get in any trouble for that...
------------------------

“They’re searching out there for the person behind all of this, when really he’s right here, right under our noses,” Keith grumbled.

“He’s as awkward and peculiar as they come, but that doesn’t mean that he has anything to do with this,” you said. You had a hard time believing that Leonardo would be the one to start a terrorist attack, especially since Nerwan had so much on the line. If word got out that Nerwan was responsible, then the six kingdoms would ban together without question. “It just doesn’t make sense,” you said. “Think about it.”

“Whatever. It’s just a gut feeling.”

“Don’t ignore your gut,” Roberto said, “but don’t make a fool out of yourself either.”

Keith glared in Leonardo’s direction.

It was then that the doors opened, and several guards stepped inside. Lord Michel was among them. “The castle and surrounding area is secured,” he said. “We have not found the terrorists, but my men have swept through Nobel Michel and have even escorted most of the guests out. You will all be safe tonight, and I welcome you to stay. It is the least I can offer for all of your trouble.”

You felt bad for the man. This was supposed to be a jovial night, but now he was responsible for damage control. Of course, no one could blame him, but you supposed that this was what rulers had to do on a daily basis.

The royal families and their servants filed out of the stuffy room. Alan was at your side the whole time, and when you finally exited, he clung to your arm.

You looked down at him, noticing that his eyes were half-closed. “You’re tired, aren’t you?”

He nodded.

“All right,” you said, “let’s get you to bed.”


You had been escorted to your room, and you managed to put Alan to bed without much effort at all. The bedtime story wasn’t even necessary -- it was very much past his bedtime.

In fact, it was past everyone’s bedtime. You couldn’t sleep, however. The events of today had left you nervous. Even if Lord Michel’s men had cleared the castle, it was hard to believe that anyone would ever dream of being a terrorist in Nobel Michel, especially since Lord Michel was known for keeping the peace. He did not take many political stances -- he mostly worked to unite the six kingdoms and ensure prosperity.

You left Alan in his room, looking for others. You were sure that many felt the same way.

As you paced down the hall, feeling a bit lost at the vastness of Nobel Michel, you felt a hand on your shoulder.

“Hello there,” Roberto said. “I thought I’d find you here.”

“Hi,” you replied. “Where is everyone?”

“They’re downstairs. Lord Michel has his chefs serving up some snacks. He knows that we’re all stressed and hungry, so he’s on a mission to make us as comfortable as possible. I think instead of holing up in individual rooms, most people want to spend some time with others.”

“Feels safer, doesn’t it?”

“Maybe.” He walked next to you. “I know it’s not my fault, but I’m sorry that you couldn’t enjoy your night.”

You raised an eyebrow. “What are you talking about? I had a great time before all of that happened. And hey, we still have time to spend with each other. I wouldn’t call it a bad night. We’re all safe, and that’s really all that matters.”

He smiled. “I knew I liked you.”

One of the parlors were opened up, a table full of fruit and vegetable platters and other delectables. There were pickles and cheese and cured meats. There were also crackers and chips, nuts and dried fruits, relishes and dips. You helped yourself to some of these things, casually bumping into Cathy.

“Oh, _____!” she said. “It’s so nice to see you. I was worried about what had happened earlier.”

“You’re very brave,” you replied. “I saw you calming down some other children in that room. I’m sure you made them feel much better.”

Cathy smiled as she sipped on her drink. “I was thinking of you and how you were so motherly to Alan. He was scared, and you just sat there with him. It was what he needed at the time.”

“Well, when these sorts of things happen, you don’t really have much choice.” You looked around the room. “Where are your parents?”

“They’re upstairs, probably speaking with the kings and queens of another kingdom. They don’t usually spend time with me and Keith. And you know, I think that might actually be the case with many of the royal families.”

You noticed that. Maybe they were so busy, or maybe they felt too important to mingle with everyone else. You didn’t know, but whatever the case, you actually felt a bit better not being surrounded by kings and queens. It would make you feel so awkward being around the leaders of the kingdoms. Dealing with the princes was enough for you.

“_____, I’m glad to see you down here.”

It was Edward, and you smiled at him. Wilfred and Joshua were close behind.

“You also,” you said. “It’s been a stressful evening, huh? How is your family doing?”

“Oh?” He gave you a small grin. “The King and Queen of Charles are in bed already. The events of today have taken a toll on them, it seems. They told me that they’re not quite as young as they used to be.” He chuckled.

“I can’t blame them. I’d be in bed, too, if I didn’t feel the need to unwind.”

“That’s what we’re here for. Lord Michel has been very gracious.”

“He has,” you agreed. “I’m actually quite sad that we didn’t get to the birthday cake. He seemed so excited about it.”

“Maybe we should offer some cake to him at breakfast!” Cathy joked.

You thought about it for a moment. “You know, that’s not a bad idea.”

Edward looked at you with an expression of surprise. “Cake for breakfast? Now, how would you manage that, _____?”

“Well,” you started, “maybe not cake for breakfast exactly, but I think it’d be fun if we could give him something with candles for him to blow out.”

“Like waffles?” Cathy sounded excited. “Or french toast!”

“Just like that,” you said. “I wonder if the chefs would be up for it.”

“I’m sure it can be arranged.” As if on cue, Zain the steward was there. “I think that’s a wonderful idea, and Lord Michel would appreciate it. He does love his sweets, after all.”

You smiled. “Zain, if you could help us add something like that to his breakfast selection in the morning, we’d really appreciate it.”

“Of course, Miss _____. It will be done with his favorite cinnamon rolls.” He then excused himself.

“Look at you and your ideas,” Wilfred remarked, a mug of hot cocoa in hand. “You never run out of them, do you?”

“Never say never,” you replied. “One of these days, I’m bound to be neglectful.”

“Oh, you’re too hard on yourself, _____,” Cathy said. “You have the best ideas!”

“And you know what sounds good right now?” You had to stifle a yawn. “Sleep.”

Joshua shifted, looking toward the parlor exit. “I suppose it is rather late, and if we hope to be good guests tomorrow and arise in time for Lord Michel’s birthday breakfast, we should get some rest...”

------------------------
a. Yes! Sleep sounds like a plan.
b. Should, would, could. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
c. I’m already looking forward to breakfast!
d. If I go to bed now, I’ll be able to get six hours of sleep or so...
e. Sleeping is good for your complexion and health, you know.
f. Oh, yes! I wonder what I’ll dream about tonight.
------------------------

You bid Cathy, Wilfred, and Joshua goodnight.

You would have said goodnight to Glenn, but he was already in his room. He probably checked up on Alan and then went to bed.

Roberto was still downstairs, bantering with Keith and some of the other royal guests. You waved goodnight to them.

Edward escorted you upstairs, ready to retire for the night. As you walked, you wondered what he was on his mind. “What are you thinking about?” you asked.

“About nicer things,” he said.

“Like what?”

He seemed pensive. “Like raspberry macaroons and rose petal tea. Like full moons and a garden of evening flowers. Like good company and good jokes that make you laugh until your sides hurt.”

“You really are a romantic, aren’t you?” you said with a laugh.

“Mm, maybe. I do try to be optimistic, though.”

You nodded, pondering over what he had said. “I think being optimistic helps,” you finally said. “It allows you to not be clouded with negative feelings, like doubt and frustration. When you see a better tomorrow, you can work toward it. If all you see is the depression and stagnancy, it’s harder to make it better.”

“Absolutely. I agree one-hundred percent. I think that’s why Alan enjoys your company so much.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s not a secret that Prince Glenn can be cynical. The King and Queen of Oriens are no different -- I do think that Alan having an optimistic educator is good for his emotional growth. Not everything is bleak and serious. As a young boy and prince, he should know that. You provide a sense of positivity, which is incredibly important for him.”

You weren’t sure what sort of influence you had on Alan, but Edward was right about one thing -- you did try to look on the bright side of things whenever possible, and at the very least, you taught Alan to constantly look for new solutions, instead of letting things stagnate.

As you got to your door, you glanced toward Edward. “Thanks for the conversation,” you said. “It’s nice having these sorts of talks every once in a while. Serious but not too serious.”

“It was my pleasure, _____. Have a wonderful night. I will see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight.” You slipped into your room and locked the door. You were definitely ready for bed, and while you prepared yourself, you hummed one of your favorite songs. There were clean clothes in the wardrobe and fresh towels in the bathroom. You changed out of this evening’s dress, deciding to take a quick shower before slipping into the pajamas that were provided for you.

You yawned and peered outside of the window. This might be the last time that you could glance outside of Nobel Michel at night. It was beautiful, and you could see city lights in the distance, but only beyond the stretch of pitch navy that was the sky. The stars were also sprinkled overhead, blanketing the cloudless heavens above. You gave a contented sigh, forgetting for a moment just how tired you were.

You saw light to the right of your balcony as well, and you slid open the door, curious as to who was outside. “Oh, hello, Your Highness,” you greeted.

Prince Joshua leaned on the balcony railing, his arms crossed as he seemed to admire the night. Apparently, he was in the room next door, and the both of you happened to share the balcony. “I thought you were asleep,” he said. He was also in his evening clothes -- you had to admit that it was somewhat strange seeing him in a bathrobe.

“I was about to be until I pulled back the curtains and saw this.”

“It never ceases to amaze me, and I’ve been visiting ever since I was a child.”

“I can’t blame you,” you said as you leaned on the railing next to him. “It’s so peaceful, but you never really lose touch with reality because of the city in the distance. It seems so close, yet so far away.”

“Only a two hour drive to Dres Van,” Joshua replied. “Just duck northwest a bit and you’ll see Dres Van Manor.”

You sighed again. “I wonder how my grandparents are doing.”

Joshua looked at you from the corner of his eyes. “You must miss them.”

“I do. I mean, I think about them every day, especially my grandmother. I hope her treatment is going well.”

“Has your grandfather not provided you with updates on her condition?”

“Only a few towards the beginning, but I think he’s been busy trying to take care of her. And what worries me is that he probably doesn’t want me to worry -- that’s the problem. I want to know the truth, even if it isn’t great news. I just don’t want to bother him with calls and texts, especially in this moment. I just wish that I could do more to help.”

“You’ve already assumed your grandfather’s responsibilities with tutoring Alan. You’re being as helpful as he needs you to be.”

“I know,” you said. “I just feel so useless.”

He cleared his throat. “Maybe you should visit them, then.”

“I don’t want to be a bother, though. I only want to help if I can be of help. I don’t want to show up and actually be a burden to them.”

“Dres Van Institution of Medicine is only a short drive away from the Manor. You could stay there and be a guest; you wouldn’t have to burden them otherwise. At the very least, you could see your grandmother and discuss what you can do to help with your grandfather.”

You were surprised by his offer. He always seemed so terse and focused that you were unsure if he understood the concept of extending hospitality to anyone outside of performing a duty. He had no duty to you, unless, of course, he was trying to build a stronger relationship with Oriens... but you couldn’t think like that. A kind gesture was a kind gesture. No point in looking a gift horse in the mouth.

“If I wouldn’t be bothering you, I’d love to take you up on that offer.”

“It would be no bother at all.” His lips curled into a small smile. “I would like you to enjoy Dres Van in all of its beauty.”

“I’ll have to find some time off in my lessons with Alan, but I’m sure something can be arranged...”

“Prince Glenn will oblige. As curt as he can be, he is understanding of circumstances like these.”

You were glad to hear that from Prince Joshua.

------------------------
a. “I’m looking forward to my visit!”
b. “Yeah, Prince Glenn’s just going to have to cope with me leaving for a few days.”
c. “I can’t wait to see my grandparents again! I miss them.”
d. “You are too kind, Prince Joshua. I appreciate it.”
e. “A visit to Dres Van is exactly what I wanted. Thank you.”
f. “Y-yes, I think he might allow me to leave...”
------------------------

You bid Joshua goodnight, figuring that if you didn’t get sleep now, you would be up until the sun rose. With a stretch of your muscles, you slipped into bed and dozed off without much effort at all.

When morning came around, you performed your morning rituals and then opened your door, only to nearly bump into Lord Michel on your way out. “Oh, sir! I’m so sorry!”

He only chuckled. “No reason to apologize, Miss _____. It’s not like I was watching where I was going either. After a while, your feet seem to take you where you need to go. Now, shall we?”

“Of course, Lord Michel.”

He was dressed in a purple robe, a headpiece sitting atop silver locks. You wondered just how long he spent each morning combing through his hair and beard. He probably spent more time than you did. He smiled at you and said, “I hope you slept comfortably last night.”

“I did. I hope you did, too, sir. I know that you slept in your own bed, but having to deal with the events of last night must have been stressful.”

“That’s thoughtful of you. I appreciate the sentiment, but worry not. There are many things that leaders must handle, even the unexpected and inconvenient. It is only part of the job description.”

“Still,” you continued, “it must wear on your after a while.”

“It can. That is why you take time aside to enjoy other things in life, like chocolates and breakfast, my two favorite meals of the day.”

You laughed. “I like chocolate and breakfast, too, sir.”

“Now, now, no more of this ‘sir’ -- you may call me Mike.”

This would be awkward, especially since you were sure that members of the royal family called him by his formal name. “I’ll do that,” you said, “but only when we’re alone, if that’s okay.”

“That is all I can ask, dear girl. And what’s that I smell? Cinnamon and bacon? I am ready for feasting.”

You arrived in a large dining hall, decorated with gorgeous drapes and spacious paintings. You were quite glad that you had bumped into someone along the way -- otherwise, you never would have been able to find your way here. There were so many twists and turns that you surely would have gotten lost.

There were many people seated around the table already, and your heart skipped a beat as you saw kings and queens here as well. Of course, Lord Michel would head the long dining table, and Zain escorted you to a seat next to Alan, who greeted you enthusiastically. You placed your breakfast order with Zain, who grinned at you with his knowing eyes, and paced away to alert the chefs.

You made eye contact with several of the princes, who were scattered around the table. Luckily, Cathy sat right across from you, and her smiling face made you feel a bit more secure. There were also other royals, lords and ladies, that might have been related. Some of the princes’ dates were here as well. It made you feel so strange -- you were just a tutor, a commoner, among the high class.

Roberto arrived just a few minutes later, sitting down next to you. “How’s my date?” he asked. “You sleep well, O Sleeping Beauty?”

“Never better. As late as it was when I went to bed, I feel refreshed.”

“I bet it’s the smell of bacon and eggs.”

“That could be it.”

Breakfast began pouring out of the kitchens, served on large, circular trays. You were amazed at how flawlessly the servants moved behind you, reaching over your shoulder and placing your plates in front of you. What surprised you the most, however, was the cinnamon rolls that were wheeled in on a cart, pushed by Zain. They were stacked in a pyramid, each tiny roll drizzled with that delicious glaze and dusted with chopped pecans. At the very top was a thick candle, lit with a single flame.

Lord Michel looked surprised, and the company in the dining room gave applause as he blew out the candle when the plate was placed in front of him. “Wonderful!” he said. “What a lovely surprise! Was this your idea, Zain?”

“I’m afraid not, milord. You have a thoughtful friend here who is responsible. They wish you a very happy birthday.”

You were glad that Zain had not pointed you out by name in front of all of these people, especially since you would rather not draw attention to yourself. You were normally very confident, but among kings and queens and their families, you felt rather small.

“Well, friend, I am happy that you are sitting with me this beautiful morning. Cinnamon rolls are among my favorite, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness. My birthday has been the most eventful it has ever been in many years, I can assure you. I have made a wish.” He paused. “I would share it with you, but if I did, I suppose it wouldn’t come true, would it?”

Laughter broke out among the table.

“Enjoy your breakfast, my guests! We shall feast and be merry!” Lord Michel raised his glass of orange juice to toast the occasion. The rest of the room joined him, and he locked eyes with you for a brief moment before he sat down and began to eat.

------------------------
a. Well, I’m very happy that he likes his belated birthday surprise.
b. Who knew that cinnamon rolls could make a man so happy?
c. I’m so glad to hear that he likes his little candle!
d. I owe Zain one for making this happen so easily.
e. It’s the little things that bring people happiness, huh?
f. I wonder what he wished for!
------------------------

Breakfast went by with pleasant conversations and smiling faces. Afterward, there was a bit of time to spend mingling before the royal families would head back to their respective countries.

If you have mostly a’s...

Wilfred of Philip

As you broke away from the rest of the crowd, you found yourself wandering through the halls again. Sure enough, you felt lost.

Fortunately for you, Wilfred was there. “Looking for your room, hm?”

“Yes, actually. Do I look that helpless?”

“Not helpless, no. Just lost.” You must have pouted because Wilfred laughed at you. “Don’t worry -- this is a big castle, even larger than Chateau Philip. I had often gotten lost in its many twists and turns when I came to visit as a child. Here, allow me to show you to your room.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” you said as you followed him toward the stairs.

“You’re welcome.” He slowed when he reached the top of the stairs, waiting for you to walk side by side with him. “Are you looking forward to returning to Oriens?”

You felt neutral about your trip home. While you were always excited about exploring new places and seeing new things, you were eager to do your job as Alan’s tutor well. You were also eager to sit down and have a conversation with Prince Glenn about whether or not you could take some time off to visit your grandparents in Dres Van...

“A lot on your mind?”

You shook your head. “I’m sorry. I was just thinking.” You explained to him what was on your mind.

“I’m sure Prince Glenn and the King and Queen of Oriens will give you some time off,” he said. “Dres Van is a beautiful place with much history and culture. You will like it there, even if you are staying for a short period of time. Prince Joshua is also a good host; you will be well taken care of there.”

“Maybe I’ll even meet up with you in Dres Van.”

“If I’m in the area, I will certainly make it a point to see you.”

“And if not, I’m sure I’ll see you soon anyway.”

“Perhaps in fair Philip. Would you like to come to my country?”

You grinned. “I’d love to.”

“We’ll plan for it someday, then. When we both have some time -- hopefully sooner than later.” He returned your smile, his eyes bright.

If you have mostly b’s...

Keith of Liberty

You were in your guest room, preparing for your departure. While you knew that there would be maids coming along to clean, you wanted to leave this place as nice as possible so you could reduce their workload. You made your bed with fresh sheets, tossed the used towels and clothes in the hamper, and pulled the curtains back.

“What are you doing?”

You looked behind your shoulder, noticing that Keith was leaning against the frame of the door. He seemed perplexed, though not in his usual snarky way.

“I’m just cleaning up a bit before I leave,” you replied simply, smoothing the sheets one last time to make sure they were even.

“You’re ridiculous. Why wouldn’t Lord Michel have servants to do that for him?”

“I know he has servants who do that, but there’s no harm in being a good guest, is there? I figure that there’s no point in making it any more difficult for them than I have to.”

“You commoners are so weird.”

“I prefer the term ‘thoughtful,ʼ” you said. “I just like to help out.”

“There are worse things.”

You made your way toward the door, turning around one more time to check to make sure there was nothing out of place. You had your dress from last night in hand, a bag with your accessories inside. Lord Michel had provided new clothes for today, which was gracious of him. “Say goodbye to Cathy for me, will you? I’ll see her sometime soon, I’m sure.”

“Come down and say bye to her yourself.”

“Oh, I forgot -- Your Highness doesn’t take orders from commoners.”

“Not normally, no. From you maybe, if you ask nicely.”

You took a breath and made an exaggerated sigh. “I did! I don’t know how ‘niceʼ you want me to be!”

To your pleasant surprise, he laughed, the corners of his lips turning up in a genuine smile. “I was joking! You take me too seriously, _____. If you’re in a hurry, go ahead. I’ll tell Cathy you’re due for a visit soon.”

“Thanks,” you said, brushing past him.

“Hey, aren’t you going to say bye to me, too?”

You turned around. “Really, Your Highness? I thought that was implied.”

He grinned. “Goodbye, _____.”

“Bye for now, Your Highness.”

If you have mostly c’s...

Joshua of Dres Van

If there was anyone whom you wanted to say goodbye to, it was Lord Michel. This was his party, after all, and he was so gracious to allow everyone to stay the night after such a stressful evening. All in all, you had a great time, despite all that had happened.

Zain was having your dress and accessories from last night delivered to the limousine that would take you to Oriens’ plane. You stepped from room to room, hoping to find Lord Michel. Zain said that he was likely in the parlor, enjoying a good book as he sat below the window, but there were far too many parlors and other gathering spaces for you to know which room he was referring to.

Instead, you stumbled into someone else. “Your Highness,” you greeted, bowing your head. “I didn’t think I’d find you here!”

It seemed that Joshua had the same idea as Lord Michel. He was sitting in one of the parlors, legs crossed, newspaper in hand. “_____. Good morning.”

“Good morning.” You tipped your head to the side. “Aren’t you leaving soon?”

“Soon, yes. But until then, I thought I would catch up on any news in Dres Van.”

You sat down next to him on the sofa. “So you leave for one night, and things are already happening, hm?”

“You have no idea,” he said. “Shifts in political views and tensions can change on a moment’s notice. With my parents and me being out of Dres Van, we need to be especially careful.”

“Sounds stressful. And I thought you were here to have fun.”

“I still have a country to run.”

You winked. “Who says you can’t do both?”

He stared at you for a moment before setting his newspaper down. “To be honest, I don’t even know what your definition of ‘funʼ is.”

“It could be a lot of things -- fun is doing something that you enjoy. My definition of fun certainly doesn’t have to be yours. I mean, if you think that reading up on the news in Dres Van brings you energy and joy, then go for it. But if you’re only doing it because you have to... well, you might want to try doing something that you like.”

Joshua was quiet for a moment. “Maybe you could show me when you come visit.”

“Sure, I’d love to do that.”

If you have mostly d’s...

Edward of Charles

You saw Edward as you were making your way down the steps. He was dressed in casual clothes, his silver hair gleaming in the sunlight.

“Oh, Miss _____!” he greeted. “I am glad to be able to see you off. It might be a while before we see one another again.”

“What makes you say that?” you ask. “You’re not coming to visit Oriens any time soon?”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid not. There are a lot of changes happening in Charles -- the senatorial house will be shifting soon, and I’ll need to be in the country while this takes place. There are several events forcing this need for change; I want to support the citizens.”

“I understand. You have your duties, and I have mine.” You grinned. “But that doesn’t mean that we can’t call each other. We can also text or even Skype.”

“Certainly. Technology makes it much easier to stay in contact with others, hm?”

“That’s the truth.” You put your hands on your hips. “Well, Prince Edward, I must admit that I don’t know much about the political situation in Charles, but if you need anything, you just let me know!”

“I appreciate the sentiment. I think you’ll be more help than you realize. I may just have to bounce some ideas off of you.”

You smiled. “Whatever I can do. Just holler.” You turned around to see that the limousine had arrived, and Zain was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. “I should probably get going.”

“Allow me to escort you,” Edward said. He followed you to the vehicle, even opening the door for you to slip in. He was such a gentleman! “Goodbye for now, _____, and take care. I’ll be sure to keep in contact with you.”

“You too,” you said. “Have a safe flight!”

He waved to you as he left, ready to depart in his own limousine with his family. You wished him the best -- being a prince certainly wasn’t easy, though you had faith that he would do just fine.

If you have mostly e’s...

Glenn of Oriens

Glenn was the next person to slip into the limousine with you. Alan was with his parents, the King and Queen of Oriens, who were running a little late in saying their goodbyes to Lord Michel.

“Did you have fun, _____?”

You glanced at him. It seemed uncharacteristic of him to ask such a simple question, especially given the events of last night. “I did,” you replied. “Despite the conflict, I enjoyed my time here.”

“Good,” he said. “I was worried that Leonardo might have ruined your night.”

You laughed at how ridiculous that sentiment was. “Don’t be silly, Your Highness. As if I’d let a single man ruin my evening.” You paused for a while. “And honestly, as peculiar as he is, he doesn’t seem that bad.”

Glenn glared at you. “You’re joking. How many red flags did his presence give?”

“You know, despite all of your differences, I see that you and Prince Keith are on the same page here.”

“Don’t lump me in with that jerk.”

“I’m not doing the lumping -- by association, you’re lumping yourselves together.”

“No, I’m right, and he’s confident enough to be right as well. Just because we come to the same conclusion doesn’t mean that we need to be put into the same category.”

You sighed with a small shrug of your shoulders. “You two have no idea how alike you are. But regardless! You can believe whatever you want. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with you. I’m just reluctant to point any fingers before knowing exactly what’s happening. You need evidence -- otherwise, you’re just doing exactly what Prince Leonardo wants you to do.”

Glenn growled. “You have no idea what’s going on, which is why you can’t come to a conclusion.”

“I admit I don’t understand everything, but I don’t claim to, Your Highness. I’m just saying things as I see them.”

He looked out the window as the rest of the royal family arrived, including his date and Prince Roberto. “We’ll talk about this later, _____. I’ll share all the information I have about Nerwan with you; I think it might change your mind.”

“I always welcome new perspectives and facts, so please do.”

If you have mostly f’s...

Roberto of Altaria

“Are you tired?” Everyone seemed to be. The flight back to Oriens was a smooth one, and it seemed as though all of the passengers had fallen asleep.

Roberto, of course, was sitting next to you. He had a sleepy grin on his face, his eyes droopy, his shoulders relaxed. “And why would you say that, dear _____?” He yawned.

“Because that.”

“I admittedly didn’t sleep much last night.”

“What was on your mind?”

“Oh, nothing, really. Just thinking about the events of the day and how different the evening turned out than I thought it would.”

You nodded. “Mm. I suppose that we all were hoping for it to go more smoothly.”

“That,” he said, “and I was hoping for it to be a better experience for you. I know you haven’t been to too many of these occasions, and I wanted it to be something you would remember.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “But I guess you can’t have everything.”

“If it makes you feel any better, it’s definitely something I’ll remember.”

Roberto laughed. “I didn’t want you to remember it for a supposed terrorist attack.”

“Well, you’re right -- you really can’t have everything. No one was expecting that, least of all Lord Michel. I think the evening was, not ruined, per se, but upsetting for everyone. I still enjoyed it before the incident, and I certainly liked it afterward!”

“And I thought I was the positive one.” He grinned at you. “I love that, you know? Positivity helps when the going gets rough -- I don’t think people realize that.”

“I think so, too,” you said. “To be honest, that’s one of the things I appreciate most about you. I love your attitude toward life. You take things as they come, but you don’t charge ahead without any thought or consideration. I know everyone handles things their own way, however they think is best, but--”

Roberto leaned toward you, his head falling against your shoulder. He was asleep.

You thought about waking him up, afraid of how awkward this might be if anyone saw, but he was so peaceful that you couldn’t find it in your heart to do it. Instead, you let him stay. You would, after all, be his shoulder to lean on in any circumstance.

Chapter Text

The King and Queen of Oriens were surprisingly accepting of your taking a brief trip to Dres Van. You had written a proposal to them since they were so busy with their own affairs. Glenn approved it, and he submitted it to them. You received a response within a day, and you packed a small luggage bag full of necessities as soon as you heard.

“We’ll have one of our jets fly you out tomorrow morning,” Glenn said. “Our pilots will return, but I’ll send them again as soon as you reach out to me.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” you said. “I appreciate that. I know that my grandparents need the support right now, and in case something happens, I do want to be there for my grandmother...”

“I understand.” Glenn scratched the back of his head in an un-princely way. “I won’t be there to see you off tomorrow morning since I have a meeting with the nobles of Raichon...”

“That’s all right. We’ll just say goodbye now, and honestly, I don’t think I’ll be gone for more than a week or two.”

He nodded. “Well, be sure to visit with Alan tonight before you leave. He’ll want to hear one of your stories. They seem to help him get to sleep.”

“I’ll do that. You’re more than welcome to join us, too. If you have time, that is.”

“We’ll see,” Glenn replied. “I’ve got a lot of work, but I’ll see if I can make a quick exception.” His gaze rested on you as if he wanted to say something else. “If I can’t make it, have a safe trip. Come back soon.”

“I will. Take care, Your Highness.” You started off toward your chambers. Just in case, you wanted to make sure that you had your passport and other methods of identification with you. You had heard that Dres Van was a strict place, after all. You didn’t think that you would run into much trouble with Prince Joshua’s invitation, but you could never be too careful.

As promised, you stopped by Alan’s room that night. He had been with relatives that day, playing with several of his cousins. Yu had promised that he would watch over Alan so you could make arrangements with Prince Joshua regarding your arrival. Of course, you hadn’t expected him to do much for you, and it seemed that your grandparents were already in the most prestigious hospital in Dres Van. Still, Prince Joshua was very gracious in offering Jan to escort you from Dres Van Manor to the hospital. You wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost or delayed.

“Alan, you’re not asleep, are you?” you asked with a gentle knock.

“No, I’m awake!” His reply was muffled through the door.

You pushed the door open, to see the boy sitting on the carpet, an array of colorful wooden blocks surrounding him. “I see you’ve built a whole city,” you said. “It must be a map of Oriens.”

“Really?” He sounded excited. “You can tell?”

“Mmhmm. I see the decorative pieces that represent Oriens Palace and the new shopping center we visited a while back. And is that Mt. Mashu you have there?”

Alan nodded as he tried to stifle a yawn. “I’m going to miss you, _____. I won’t have anyone to play with.”

“I’m sure Yu and your brother will play with you.”

“It won’t be as fun. I don’t think they would have figured out what I had built.” He pouted. “When will you come back?”

“As soon as I can. You remember Mister Owen, right? He’s my grandfather.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, my grandmother is very sick. I want to see her and see if there’s anything I can do to help.”

“Will she be okay?” Ah, if only you could go back to the childish innocence he had in his eyes.

The nature of your grandmother’s illness was very complicated, but you had no reason to worry Alan. “She’ll be fine,” you said. “I’m sure of it. She just needs some care. And I’ll be back soon, don’t you worry.” You pulled the toy box closer. “How about we clean up and get you tucked in? It’s been a busy day, I’m sure.”

Minutes later, Alan was in bed, and after a short story, he was sound asleep.

You went to bed as well, knowing that you had a big day ahead of you tomorrow.

————————————
a. I think it’s touching that Alan likes me stories so much!
b. I can’t help but worry about my grandmother. I hope she’s okay.
c. Out of Oriens tomorrow... that’ll be kind of a nice change.
d. I hope Alan’s going to be okay while I’m gone...
e. I need to be well rested, so I can take on tomorrow!
f. Yaaaawwwwnnnn... I’m sleepy. I think I have a date with my bed.
————————————

Everything went as smoothly as planned. The pilot was waiting for you just as Prince Glenn said they would be. Yu was kind enough to break away from the prince for a few moments to see you off. “I wish you the best, Miss _____,” he said as he waved a polite goodbye.

You boarded the plane, taking a seat in one of the spacious recliners. Immediately, you were offered refreshments. You could have anything you wanted, including margaritas and sweets — much fancier than the airlines you were used to growing up when all you had was ginger ale and peanuts. Of course, it would only be a matter of two hours before you reached Dres Van, so you were happy with a simple dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth.

You tried to nap on the plane. To be honest, you had found it hard to sleep last night with all of the anticipation of today’s events. Still, the constant whirl of the engines and unfamiliar surroundings made it difficult, so all you could do was doze, jolting in and out of your brief naps.

When the plane finally landed, you remembered to thank the crew before you left. They seemed quite pleased, though you wondered if their cheer was simply a part of their job description. You were sure that the Casiraghi family, perhaps with Alan as the exception, were not as friendly as you.

Right at the bottom of the stairs was Jan, who bowed, one hand motioning toward the vast expanse of land beyond the private landing. “Welcome to Dres Van, Miss _____.”

“I’m excited to be here,” you replied. The air smelled different here — slightly industrial but clean, nonetheless.

“Allow me,” Jan said as he took hold of your small suitcase by the handle. “The car is this way. I’ll be taking you to the Dres Van Institution of Medicine.”

You followed after him until you were shoulder to shoulder, keeping pace with his stride. “I know Prince Joshua asked you to do this, but I’m surprised that he’d be willing to spare his right-hand man for the day. I’m quite honored.”

Jan gave you a smile. “I believe His Highness is fond of you, and he is further taken aback by your dedication to your grandparents. It must be hard knowing that they’re so far away, and still you continue your grandfather’s legacy.”

“I’m not sure if I’d call it a legacy,” you said with a small laugh. “Education is important, yes, but I’m sure that Oriens has had a history of wonderful tutors for their princes.”

“From what I hear, you seem to be the favorite.”

“I’ve only had one student. Maybe if I educate more, I would own that title.” You approached the vehicle, a black sedan polished till it shone in the light of the morning sun. Jan opened the back door for you, escorting you inside. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather sit in the front.”

“Oh?” For a moment, your request seemed odd to him — and surely, it was, since most others would only feel it appropriate to sit in the back while their driver managed the vehicle up front — but he adapted quickly. “It would be a pleasure to have your company.” He opened the front door for you instead and as you buckled in and adjusted the seat, he had stowed your luggage away in the trunk.

Jan then hopped in next to you and started the engine. “Ready, Miss _____?”

“Always.” You glanced around at the immaculate interior, the dashboard glowing with a GPS and music alternatives. Even in the many limousines you had been chauffeured around in, you had never been up with the diver before. “I take it you don’t have many guests up here?”

“No one’s ever asked,” he said as he pulled away from the landing. “But I suppose there’s a first for everything. Any particular reason why? You are free to adjust the air or the music.”

“I’m fine, thank you. I just thought it’d be nice to talk to you directly instead of the awkward conversation bouncing between the front and back. I hope you don’t mind.” Even if he did, you were sure he wouldn’t admit it.

“I do get a much better visual of your face,” Jan replied. “I don’t think the rear view mirror does you much justice.”

You couldn’t help but grin. “Do you talk to all of Dres Van’s guests like this?”

“Only the ones that His Highness likes.”

“Will you tell me more about him?” you asked. “I feel like of all the princes I’ve met, Prince Joshua is the most recluse.”

“He is as noble as they come, and I am proud to be his faithful servant,” Jan said.

You were not expecting such serious candidness from him. “I don’t doubt that. I guess I just want to know a bit more about him as a person. You say he’s a prince who does and will do great things when he ascends the throne, and I believe it. But there’s so much more to a person than what he does; in other words, what you do doesn’t define who you are.”

Jan was quiet for a moment, pondering over what he had just heard. The car ran silently, turning at the nearest junction and merging into the farthest lane on the left. “What you say makes sense. Perhaps I should describe him more as a person than a member of royalty on a pedestal.”

“I am by no means implying that you worship him.”

He chuckled — it was a sincere laugh, not a scoff of sarcasm. “I might, a little bit. I’ve been working toward becoming His Highness’ butler all of my life. Even if I do see the flaws, I may never acknowledge them.”

“Maybe you don’t out of fear that someone may take advantage of him,” you suggested. “Your first and foremost duty must be to protect him.”

————————————
a. “And I’m sure you do a wonderful job of it!”
b. “You must also be his confidant, someone he trusts above all else.”
c. “Wow, I just made it seem like I’m here to steal all of your secrets, huh?”
d. “I wonder how you manage it all? You do so much.”
e. “You would have to know everything about him to best serve him in whatever ways are appropriate.”
f. “Even if you come from very different worlds, you’re close friends.”
————————————

Jan shrugged as he flicked on the turn signal with surprising grace. “I think it comes with the nature of our work — for us butlers, it is the highest honor and privilege to serve.”

“I believe it,” you replied. “So what would you say that Prince Joshua’s goals are? Personal or professional. I’m just curious.”

“Why don’t you ask him yourself? I’m sure he’d entertain your questions, if you’d only prompt him. He has some time in his schedule set aside for you tonight when you return from the hospital.”

“That’s very kind of him.” You were flattered that a prince would take time out of his busy schedule to spend time with you, especially when you were imposing on him. He certainly didn’t have to play host because you were flying in to visit your grandparents. “I think I’ll ask him then, and I’ll report back to you my findings.”

“Fair enough,” Jan said.

Soon, you had arrived at Dres Van Institution of medicine. Jan helped you out of the car before taking a small bow. “You need only call or text me when you’re ready to leave, and I’ll arrive in a matter of minutes. Meanwhile, I’ll make sure that your luggage finds its way into the guest quarters.”

“Thank you so much, Jan.” You started off toward the hospital. It seemed that the desk staff were fully aware that your grandmother would have a visitor, and they graciously escorted you in. You wondered if Joshua had arranged everything for you or if your grandparents had told the staff that you’d be arriving.

You entered through a set of doors, noting how immaculate the hospital was, scrubbed from all angles. The walls were perfectly white, other than the diamond-shaped tiles evenly spaced every few feet — they were a beautiful purple, as majestic as a color could be. The floor looked as though it were paved with an expensive sort of slate, polished until it show in its earthly tones. There were patients wheeled around in their chairs, some of them taking a bit of time to exercise as they held onto their walking sticks. There was a sense of peace in this hospital that you did not often find in such institutions.

“How’s my favorite granddaughter?” your grandfather asked as he welcomed you into the spacious room. It was a lavish place, almost like a private suite — the walls were no longer white, painted in a pale blue that seemed to bring color to your grandmother’s cheeks. The window also brought in a generous amount of light that filled the room with warmth.

You rushed toward your grandfather first, giving him a hug before turning to give your grandmother a gentler one. “I’m doing well!” you said. “How are the two of you?”

“I’ve been better, my dear,” your grandmother said, tucking loose strands of hair behind your ear. “But I’d rather hear about you and your new job — I’m sure you’re doing just as spectacularly, if not better, than Grandfather Owen.”

“I don’t think I could ever do a better job than Grandfather Owen,” you said. “But Prince Alan is learning a lot, in case you were wondering. I tell him a bedtime story every night, just like you used to do for me. He seems to like those.”

“Ah, he is a bright lad. Too well-behaved for his own good. Children his age need a bit of mischief.”

“But a prince is to be a prince,” your grandmother said. “And his people do not need a child — they need someone who might one day be king.”

You sat down on the edge of her hospital bed. “I think Prince Glenn has that role covered. I wish they would loosen Alan’s regime a bit so he can have fun.”

She laughed. “You have your grandfather’s optimism! You know the education of royalty is very stringent for a reason. I’ve spent many years educating nobles of all ranks. Someone like the prince must be prepared to take the reins at any moment, and they have little time to spare to ensure that he has a wise hand and the mind of a ruler. I’m sure you’ve seen how invested the King and Queens of Oriens are in the education of their sons.”

“Well, they’ve been very kind to me, giving me this time off to come visit you.”

At that moment, someone arrived, rapping on the frame of the door. “May I come in?”

“Doctor Hanson! Please do!” Your grandfather ushered him in. “This is my granddaughter, _____. She is here to visit Rosemary and me; she’ll be around for several days. _____, this is Doctor Hanson. He has been taking care of your grandmother.”

You shook his extended hand. “I hear this institution is among the best in the world. Thank you for everything that you do.”

“I do what I can,” the doctor said. “I’m here to deliver the results of your test, Rosemary.”

Your grandfather looked a little paler, but your grandmother remained strong. “Yes, Doctor Hanson. Please continue.”

“As you know, we’ve been running several blood tests to filter out what’s been bothering you. I have some good news. I think we’ve pinned it down to what it is so we can begin treatment. It’s a rare condition akin to cancer called reaumaris genotativis*, a mutation that causes cells to eat away at healthy organs and continues to spread at a rate that is much faster than any documented cancer.”

“I take it that the bad news is that there’s no cure?” you asked, dreading what he was going to say next.

“Oh, there’s a cure,” Doctor Hanson said. “The bad news is that it’s a relatively untested drug called sodexima. You may have heard of it. It has not yet been approved by the Board of Drug Administrations in Dres Van, so it is illegal for me to prescribe it.”

“There has to be something else we can do,” your grandfather said. “What of the other five kingdoms? Might it be legally prescribed elsewhere?”

“Unfortunately, it is not available anywhere within the six kingdoms — I have already checked with esteemed doctors and contacts outside of Dres Van. Dres Van is usually the pioneer for approval of new medication — until it is legal for prescription here, it is highly unlikely that it will become available elsewhere. Without the appropriate medication, the prognosis is poor. We will do what we can to make you comfortable and try to slow the growth. Chemotherapy may be an option, but it is usually ineffective. I am sorry.” Doctor Hanson then left, his clipboard in hand.

————————————
a. Oh no... ;_____; That’s awful news.
b. Both of my grandparents must feel so frustrated...
c. I won’t accept this. There has to be another solution.
d. My poor grandmother... I can’t imagine how she must feel.
e. I’ll do some research of my own, maybe call some other doctors for a second opinion...
f. I’ll have to find another way.
————————————

Your grandmother was quiet, and you reached out to wrap your arms around her shoulders. “Don’t let this ruin your will to fight,” you reminded her. “There’s hope left.”

You spent the remainder of the afternoon with them, diverting the conversation to happier things. You talked about your childhood, the time that you spent with them. The first thing that came to mind was when your grandfather would buy you ice cream at the local park, even though your grandmother promised your parents that they wouldn’t spoil your appetite before dinner. She had to tell a little white lie so that he wouldn’t get into any trouble that evening. You remembered your tenth birthday, when your present from your grandparents was a trip to the animal shelter to adopt a puppy.

Your grandmother smiled at these memories, which made you feel relieved, if only a little bit.

You shared lunch, and although you wanted to stay longer, you could tell that she needed some rest, so you texted Jan to pick you up from the hospital.

He came within a matter of fifteen minutes. As he helped you into the car, you could tell that he was having a hard time deciding what to say. You must have been wearing your emotions on your sleeve.

“There’s something I need to talk to His Highness about,” you said after a short moment of silence.

Jan started forward. “Hm? What’s that?”

“Have you ever heard of a drug called sodexima?”

“Yes, actually. It’s commonly known as ‘dex,’ a drug that has been deemed as a gateway drug, leading the young population to other more harmful substances. His Highness was assigned as the royal member of the committee that made the decision to label it as contraband. What of it?”

You were quiet for a while, wondering if you ought to tell Jan or wait until you could meet with the prince.

“It can save your grandmother, can’t it?” Jan was perceptive.

“I guess there’s no reason why I’d mention it otherwise, hm?” you said.

He stared straight ahead through the lunch-hour traffic. “I understand that you want to do the best for your grandmother. I would, too, were someone I loved in the same situation. I would caution you against approaching His Highness about this matter, however — the legalization of sodexima is controversial. His Highness may listen, but it is a battle that can’t be won — not without serious consequences.”

Consequences were the last thing on your mind. Your grandmother’s life was in danger, and you could not sit back and do nothing. You would have to try, even if it meant attempting the impossible.

When you arrived at Dres Van Manor, Jan showed you to your room. He had been quiet for the rest of the drive, matching your lack of mood to discuss things. “If there’s anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll call for you when His Highness has returned from his conferences this afternoon.”

“Thanks, Jan,” you said, falling onto the bed as soon as the door closed. The coolness of the sheets was a welcome feeling on your skin, temporarily taming your frustration. As your eyes wandered about in the immaculate room, decorated in deep shades of purples and blues, you thought about what you might say to the prince. You were sure he would listen, given the circumstances. He would not have invited you here as his guest if he did not wish your grandmother the best, and surely he didn’t want you to leave disappointed.

It was foolish, perhaps, to think that he would so easily make an exception for you.

Still, you had to try.

You distracted yourself for the rest of the afternoon, perusing the spacious guestroom that had been provided to you. There was a bookshelf in the corner, filled with documentation of Dres Van’s laws and history, which you glanced through.

————————————
a. Oh, wow! I want to see!
b. Let’s take a look — maybe we’ll learn something.
c. What a way to supply some light reading for your guests.
d. O-oh! I wonder how often guests look at these.
e. There must be something I can learn from this...
f. Mmhmm. I wonder what could be in here.
————————————

It seemed that Prince Joshua had been raised in a very rule-oriented environment, a place that tried to paint the grayest situations into oppositions of black and white. You wondered how this affected him as a prince, as a representative of his people.

Of course, you were biased. You were accustomed to the life you led in Liberty, which, as its namesake suggested, was a place of freedom. There was the royal family, yes, but no laws and rules that were so proudly presented to guests and visitors of the country. You had never seen so many ordinances — and excessive ones at that! As you flipped through the pages from a random text, you saw laws about language use in public, proper procedures for mailing letters, curfews for not only children but adults as well. The rules went on and on!

You shut the book with a slam. How were you going to convince Prince Joshua to legalize sodexima or even make an exception for your grandmother? You had always heard of Dres Van’s tendency toward order, but you had never experienced it firsthand.

You took a few mental steps back, thinking on how you were going to spin your argument. Clearly, you were emotionally involved. Perhaps you needed someone else’s opinion. Too bad you weren’t familiar with anyone else here in Dres Van — you knew where Jan’s loyalty lay, and any other friends and family would have no understanding of the delicate situation at hand. You had no desire to bother anyone else from the other royal families.

And then, there was a knock on the door.

Thinking it might have been Jan or maid, you said, “Come in! It’s open!”

“Well, well, well. So we meet again, my lady.” Through the door came Leonardo, a grin at the corner of his lips. “I didn’t think I’d see you so soon, but I suppose fate has a way of granting favors.”

“I suppose it does,” you replied, trying to hide your surprise. You had only just seen him at Lord Michel’s birthday celebration. “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing here?”

“Royal family business,” Leonardo said with a casual shrug. “Nerwan’s relationship with Dres Van is always... evolving, if you will. There are matters to discuss, treaties to be mended. I’m sure you understand the struggles of a prince.”

“Not as well as you.”

“Something must be bothering you.”

“How would you know?”

He took a few steps closer. “I see it in your eyes, the way your shoulders are slouched. You’re pensive. And from a logistical perspective, you wouldn’t be in Dres Van without Prince Glenn or another member of the Casiraghi family.” He was only a couple feet away, so close that you could smell his cologne. “You’re here on personal business, and Prince Joshua was kind enough to play host. Do I have it right?”

As wary as Glenn and Keith were of Leonardo, you had to admit that he was keen. Sure, his forwardness made you a bit uncomfortable, but he was right — and there was something charming about how confident he was, knowing that there was another person who could at least understand your intentions.

“Your silence is indicative.”

You gave a heavy sigh, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. “It’s my grandmother,” you said, the events of the afternoon coming out. To tell the truth, the news had taken an emotional toll on you — you had to be strong for your grandparents, but you had to internalize the possibility that she may never leave that hospital bed. “She’s ill. Very ill. I came here to see her, but the doctor says the prognosis is poor. There’s a drug called sodexima that could be the cure, but...”

“It’s not legal in Dres Van,” he finished. He sat down next to you, nestling a hand on your shoulder.

The corner of your eyes burned with tears. In any normal circumstance, you would have been embarrassed, but Leonardo’s touch was welcome. You needed someone, even if you barely knew him. “I need to talk with Prince Joshua,” you said. “There has to be something he can do to help.”

Leonardo brushed your hair away from your face. “Don’t cry,” he said. “It doesn’t suit you. I can’t guarantee that Prince Joshua will have a solution for you, but you owe it to yourself and your grandmother to ask. If, however, he can’t provide, I might be able to pull a few strings...”

You looked at him. “What do you mean?”

“Dex may not be legalized in the six kingdoms, but Nerwan is hardly a follower. West of Dres Van, the substance is far less controlled.”

For a moment, you felt a sense of relief, though you were not without caution. The offer was gracious on the surface... but you couldn’t help but feel a tug at your senses, urging you to not trust him. Surely, he would want something in return. What that something was worried you. Still, you were in no position to bite the hand that could potentially feed you. If your grandmother’s life was in danger, you would do anything to save her.

“What are you saying?” you asked. “Is there a way you could help?”

“I would be happy to. Before turning to me, however, perhaps a conversation with Prince Joshua would be best — I hardly think he would be glad if you brought your grandparents to Nerwan without first consulting him. This is his kingdom, after all, and the Dres Van Institution of Medicine is among her pride and joy.”

You nodded slowly. He had a legitimate point. If you accepted Leonardo’s help without consulting Joshua, you not only would be missing a potential opportunity for a solution, but also may offend his hospitality. You would have to discuss this with him first.

————————————
a. “Thanks for stopping by. Let me have some time alone, will you?”
b. “I need some time to myself, please.”
c. “I need a moment.”
d. “I’m not sure what to say to him...”
e. “I’ll have to think on how I’m going to present this to Prince Joshua.”
f. “Could you give me a moment to think?”
————————————

Leonardo stood up, straightening his jacket. “Of course. You need to ponder on this. I will see you at dinner, _____.” He exited, shutting the door gently behind him.

You stared at the wardrobe across the room for the next few minutes, going over the events that could take place tonight. There were quite a few scenarios that you could imagine, many of them less preferable than others. Ideally, you would convince him to allow the use of sodexima for your grandmother — that was what you wanted. You did not know everything that would be involved in making such a decision, but you could be hopeful.

Deep in your thoughts, time passed quickly, and you were soon invited to join Joshua for dinner.

——————

You dressed up a little, selecting clothes that you thought were sophisticated and highlighted your best features. You then dabbed on a bit of makeup and did your hair. From what you had read, there were rules for everything in Dres Van — you weren’t sure what rules revolved around a dinner with royalty, but you were willing to walk on a few pins and needles to impress the royal family.

A servant led you to the dining room, a grand chandelier hanging from the vaulted ceiling. The light was bright, though not overwhelmingly so, and the long wooden table was set with the finest china and linens. Joshua was at the head of the table, a folder full of documents in hand; his expression softened when he looked up at you. “_____. Welcome to Dres Van.”

“And thank you for your hospitality, Your Highness,” you said, curtsying for him. Despite the length of the texts, you had managed to read a section on the proper way to greet royalty. Truthfully, it wasn’t all that different than the cultures of other kingdoms and certainly not as unreasonable as other laws you had read.

“Sit. Please sit.” He indicated the chair to his right, the seat of honor at any banquet.

Jan was there immediately, assisting you by pushing in the chair as you sat.

“Are the King and Queen not joining us tonight?” you asked.

Joshua set his documents aside. “They have their own meals separate from mine. I usually work through dinner, though I will make an exception tonight.”

“I see.” In your experience, the kings and queens of each kingdom did not seem involved in the everyday lives of their children, even neglecting to share meals with them. “I appreciate it.”

You wondered if it would be better to open up the conversation with a discussion on your grandmother, but then Leonardo arrived, promptly sitting at Joshua’s left-hand side. “Good evening,” he said. “And how are you, Prince Joshua? I trust your conference went well today?”

“As well as it could,” Joshua said, barely acknowledging the prince of Nerwan.

The food came without a moment’s notice, servants placing dishes filled with some of Dres Van’s traditional meals in front of you. Silence engulfed the three of you as you ate, the only sound the clinking of silverware on the china.

“How is your grandmother?”

You looked up at Joshua, who seemed to be genuinely concerned. Although this certainly didn’t mean that he would be willing to acquiesce to you requests, it was comforting that he still cared enough to be interested in your family. He certainly didn’t have to ask about your grandmother.

“She’s... well, the doctor thinks he has an accurate diagnosis, which is the good news.” You paused, wiping your mouth with the napkin. “But she needs medication that he can’t prescribe.”

“Tell me more.”

Well, he asked for it.

“She needs sodexima,” you blurted out.

Prince Joshua was silent for a moment. He then set down his silverware and said, “I am sure that the physician explained that sodexima is illegal in Dres Van.”

“He did, and the news was very disheartening. He says she likely won’t make it without the correct treatment.” You stared at your plate, pushing the vegetables around with your fork. Though you had gone over in your head what you were going to say, you now could hardly find the words.

Fortunately, Leonardo was well aware of your situation, and he spoke for you. “Considering the circumstances, Your Highness, perhaps _____’s grandmother might be granted an exception to the law—”

“No one is exempt from the law,” Joshua said, his eyes steely.

“But if nothing is done, I’ll lose my grandmother,” you said, glaring at him. You had found your voice. “I understand that it’s a controversial drug, but why is it not legalized for medical use?”

Joshua stood firm. “The reasons are many and complicated. You must know the history of drug use in Dres Van — before my great-great-grandfather took the throne, Dres Van was chaotic. The crime rates were high, rampant with drug use and corruption. Those who provided the drugs often forced those whom they converted as drug-users into servitude. Civilians were ravaged with poverty and apathy, and the kingdom suffered both economically and socially. Our laws on drug use provide for intense screening and highly monitored distribution of any medication. Among these drugs is sodexima, one of the most prominent gateway drugs, prominent among the adolescence. I am sorry about your grandmother, _____, but is not a request that I can grant.”

————————————
a. “I don’t know what else to do... I would be devastated if I lost my grandmother.”
b. “I hope you might reconsider. A lot of lives could be saved.”
c. “So you can’t help or won’t help?”
d. “What’s going to happen to my grandmother, then?”
e. “I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s wrong. You could save lives but choose not to.”
f. “I really don’t know what to say to that.”
————————————

You were upset that he couldn’t give you a better reason, and you didn’t even await a response. Instead, you stood up, pushing your chair away from the table. “Excuse me, Your Highness. I need some time to myself.” Leaving your unfinished dinner and a stunned Prince Joshua, you walked away without sparing a glance back.

Rude? Perhaps.

Necessary? Yes.

You would have said things that you would regret later if you hadn’t left. You marched through the halls and back to your guest room. The prince might have thought you ungrateful for leaving dinner, but this was for the best. Your grandmother was dying, and there was nothing that could be done. You weren’t unreasonable — you understood why these laws and regulations were put into place. You just didn’t see why lives had to be sacrificed when the cure was so easily within reach.

If your grandmother died, it would break your heart. Even more frustrating, she could have been saved.

You did some research on your phone, learning that Doctor Hanson was correct — sodexima was considered an illegal substance in all of the six kingdoms. While he mentioned that there were other options, reaumaris genotativis really had no known cure other than sodexima. Methods such as chemotherapy could slow the growth, but ultimately, prognosis was very poor, and you disliked the idea of having your grandmother suffer through such a procedure.

You were not without hope, though. There was always Leonardo.

The other princes had reservations around him, the most vocal among them Keith and Glenn. Although you had nothing personal against Leonardo, you were cautious, given the other princes’ feelings, whether pointed or not, about him. However, it seemed like you were left with no other choice; you would have to depend on Leonardo’s offer.

You were sure he would come around. He had a knack of showing up when he was needed, even if he wasn’t welcome.

You wondered if Prince Joshua would show up at your door or at least send Jan. You didn’t know how you would react or what you would say if he did — you were still angry with the circumstances and his lack of willingness to help.

Fortunately, Leonardo did knock on your door about an hour after you had left dinner. He had brought dessert in tow. “I thought you might be hungry, _____,” he said. “You barely touched your dinner.”

You had forgotten the rumbling in your stomach, and you gladly accepted the slice of cake. “Thank you,” you said. “I’m sorry about how awkward that must have been for you. I just... I didn’t think I could stay. I probably would have exploded.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being passionate. Clearly, you love your grandmother.” He leaned backward and sat himself atop the wooden desk across from the bed. “Are you still interested in my help?”

“Yes,” you replied. “How are you thinking about doing this?”

“Your grandmother will have to be transferred to Nerwan — that would be the only way to administer treatment without violating any laws within the six kingdoms. The paperwork on Dres Van’s side is heavy, but that is nothing that my servants can’t help with.”

“I’m sure I could convince my grandparents to do so. They don’t have many options.”

Leonardo nodded, a glint in his eyes. “There is something I need from you, however.”

“Anything,” you replied, knowing that you owed him your grandmother’s life, at least for even attempting this favor. You had no idea what he could possibly want from a commoner like you, but whatever you could do would be a token of your gratitude. To be honest, you had expected there to be something that he wanted from you — he had no reason to help you otherwise.

“You will have to stay with me as a guest in the House of Nerwan, treated with the highest esteem. I want you to fall in love with me.”

You froze, thinking over what he had just said.

“Fall in love with him?” What a ridiculous request.

“I don’t think it works that way, Your Highness,” you started slowly.

“I think it works just fine.”

You held up your hand as if asking him to pause. “I guess I don’t understand entirely what you want from me. What do you hope to gain from this sort of transaction? You can’t just tell me to fall in love with you.” You struggled to get those words out of your mouth. “That’s not something that I choose to do — it just happens. What do you want from me?”

“There’s too much competition,” he said, the expression on his face amused. “Look at you — you’ve already proven yourself worthy of any prince, charming them all so that they envy your time and attention. You are a woman of the highest caliber, beautiful, perceptive, and intelligent. I can’t imagine why you are still only a mentor to a child who will never see the throne. You are destined for greater things, and with you at my side, Nerwan can prosper.”

Despite all of his compliments, you saw through his ruse. “I can’t believe you,” you said. “You’re using me.”

Leonardo shrugged casually as though he were expecting you to respond as you did. “Like I said, you’re clever. I would have been disappointed had you not caught on.”

“Look, I understand the concept of a fair exchange — I really do. As kind of a gesture as it would be, I’m not expecting you to go out of your way to help me if I can’t offer anything in return. But what you’re doing is unethical. You’re holding my grandmother’s life hostage.”

“The way I see it, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. How do commoners say it? Your scratch my back and I scratch yours.”

You stopped, your eyes wandering to the floor. You were bewildered that he would even attempt at striking such a deal with you, but he was at least honest in his intentions. Obviously, the princes of the six kingdoms had an invested interest in your friendship (at the very least) — even you couldn’t deny that. He was banking on that interest continuing, assuming that you accepted his offer. This would potentially foster better relationships between the countries, and perhaps with darker implications, he would have more leverage upon political situations to be more manipulative.

It left you with a bad taste in your mouth, but he was right — what could you do?

————————————
a. O-oh my. I can’t believe him!
b. May I stress how much I don’t like this?
c. What a fucking creep.
d. This is some trade-off he’s proposing...
e. How will this affect the other six kingdoms?
f. I don’t know if I can agree to something like this.
————————————

“I can’t guarantee that I’ll love you,” you said finally, “but I can play a game of pretend. How long is this going to last? And what do you expect from me?”

“It will last as long as it has to — if you would prefer, as long as it takes for your grandmother to recover. Clearly, you have no reason to stay with me after that.” He paced toward you until he stood directly in front of where you sat on the bed. “As for my expectations? Complete loyalty to me.”

“And what do you mean by that? ‘Complete loyalty’ sounds like a loose term. What do I have to do? Are you expecting me to lie to or hurt people?”

“Nothing of the sort,” he said smoothly. “Neither I nor Nerwan advocates for violence or deceit. I merely want you to stay. Stand as my significant other for the time being. In return, I will put your grandmother in the care of our best doctors, where she has access to sodexima and any other medical facilities she may require.”

You sighed. “That means I’ll be leaving behind Alan in Oriens.” He was doing so well under your instruction; it would be an absolute shame to leave him now, especially since your grandfather wouldn’t be available to mentor him either. “I don’t like it, and I don’t think the royal family will appreciate it either.” That could mean ruining future career prospects as well.

“The choice is yours; I won’t have any part in your decision.”

“But surely, you’d prefer that I choose one over the other. One is beneficial to you, and the other is not.”

Leonardo smiled, his eyes narrowing in sly mirth. “Of course, I would be honored to have you at my side, my lady. The women of Nerwan’s court have nothing on you.”

If he thought flattery was going to sway your decision, he was a shameful bastard.

Hell, for concocting this plan, he already was.

“Fine. I’ll do it. Get my grandmother the medical care that she needs. I’ll go with you to Citadel Nerwan and stand in as your girlfriend.” You could not express how reluctant you were about this arrangement. Frankly, you had no other options. If Prince Joshua could not help you, you assumed that the other princes had their hands equally tied. Besides, you didn’t want them to commit what was considered a crime on your behalf. Let the consequences fall on you. You were okay with that. “I’m trusting you with my grandmother’s life, Prince Leonardo. You’re her last hope.”

Leonardo nodded, his eyes never leaving you. “Good. Get your things. We’ll leave immediately. I’m sure your grandmother will do better the faster we begin her treatment.”

If you have mostly a’s...

Joshua of Dres Van

Joshua heaved a sigh. He felt bad, useless even. He also felt that as the future king of Dres Van, he was in a position to have better controlled that conversation, but that didn’t happen. Usually, he was much better equipped to handle rebuttals. He had been doing this his whole life, after all!

Why was talking with _____ so different?

Leonardo had given him a disapproving glance upon her storming out, but what was he supposed to do? Dres Van would stand stronger as a nation if there were no favors, no exceptions to the rules, especially for the purpose of nepotism.

If course, he considered _____ a friend and a good one at that. He wouldn’t do anything to cause her harm or hurt her. She seemed so upset when she had left, and he couldn’t blame her. It wasn’t petty, just unfortunate.

“Your Highness?”

Joshua turned around to find Jan standing in front of his desk. “What is it?”

“It’s... nothing. You seem very preoccupied.”

“I might be.”

“It’s about _____, isn’t it?” Jan’s expression was one of concern.

Joshua glanced toward his right, staring straight at the window in his study, as if he didn’t want to answer the question. Still, he knew the answer in his heart, and Jan was an excellent butler who was surely already aware. “Yes. I wish I could help her grandmother. That’s why I invited her in the first place. Because of our laws, her grandmother will die. She must hate me.”

“She can’t hate you, Your Highness. She admires you and is grateful that you invited her here. When I was driving her to the hospital today, she said that she wanted to get to know you better. The news is just hard on her, but it is what it is.”

“It’s not what it is,” Joshua snapped. “I told her that there are no exceptions, but she’s right.” He sighed again. “We can make changes. It might be difficult, and perhaps these proposals may rock the boat... but it’s important.”

Jan nodded. “I understand that this is important to you. I will help gather contacts and resources immediately.”

“Thank you, Jan.”

If you have mostly b’s...

Glenn of Oriens

“I miss _____...” Alan yawned, though as soon as he closed his mouth, he returned to the pout he had on all evening. “When’s she coming back?”

Glenn’s expression softened as he pat his brother on the head. “She’ll be coming home soon. She’s seeing Mister Owen and her grandmother right now. Give her a week or so.”

“A whole week.” The young prince flopped back into his pillow. “Can you tell her to hurry?”

“There’s no sense in rushing her. She left because she had to, not because she wants to.” Glenn pulled the covers over his brother. “Why don’t you learn something new so you can impress _____ when she returns?”

His eyelids had begun to droop. “Okay.”

Glenn put Alan to bed, kissed his forehead, and then left, closing the door to his bedroom behind him. He sighed. Truthfully, comforting Alan made his heart ache in a way he didn’t think it could. He would never admit it to her in the near future, but he missed _____ just as much, if not more, than Alan.

She hadn’t texted him; he wished she did, but he hardly wanted to impose on her while she was away taking care of her grandmother.

He wandered through the halls of Oriens palace, eventually stopping in front of her quarters. He stood outside the door, wishing that he had the courage to knock and enter when she was around. He was a prince who faced adversity, the weight of ruling a kingdom on his shoulders, but he felt so much like a child near her. Perhaps some time away from her was what he needed to collect his thoughts and figure out what he truly wanted.

He knew that she needed to have the opportunity to support her grandparents during this difficult time. Mister Owen, after all, had been with Alan since he was born. In some ways, he was family.

He sighed. When she came back, he would tell her how he felt. He promised himself.

If you have mostly c’s...

Keith of Liberty

“We should invite _____ back soon.” Cathy had put away her flute; she didn’t usually practice this late at night but ever since she had played her duet with _____, she put in more hours to improve.

Keith lay lounged across the sofa in the parlor. “Whatever you’d like.”

“Brother, I know you bicker with her, but you really like her, don’t you?”

“Where’d you get that idea?” He looked at Cathy, rolling his head to the side.

She grinned at him with an innocent expression on her face. “Well, I know you like to poke fun at girls that you’re fond of, but I’ve never seen you so persistent with _____. But at the same time, you seem very protective of her, like how you ran off to Oriens at the last moment to help her against Prince Glenn or how you interfered when Prince Leonardo started talking to her.”

Keith shrugged, his arms crossed behind his head. “I’ll step between anyone and that prick. No one deserves his slimy company.”

“Least of all _____, right?”

He sighed, finally bending to his sister’s relentless tirade. “Least of all _____.”

She paced over to him, studying his face for any bit of emotion she could gather. “So you admit it? You’re sweet on her!”

“I didn’t say that!” He bolted upright, frowning at her. As much as he loved his sister, she knew better than anyone how to get on his nerves.

“You didn’t need to.” Cathy giggled into a hand. “I’ve never seen you so riled up over a girl before. We’d better have her over soon; I can tell that you miss her. Even talking about her irritates you.”

“Oh, shut up.”

She sighed as if she had just exerted a lot of effort. “I’ve always thought I was a good matchmaker! If being a princess doesn’t work out, I have a career in matchmaking.”

Keith grunted. Although he wouldn’t admit it, she was right.

If you have mostly d’s...

Roberto of Altaria

“...she was so gracious about the whole thing, even though it wasn’t an ideal night. What kind of guest expects there to be terrorists at Lord Michel’s birthday party? I hope she doesn’t think all of our adventures will be like this, even if there is a next time. I think she’d be willing to give me another chance, but it had better be perfect this time around. Where do you think I should take her?”

There was no response.

Roberto never expected one. “Mother...” he murmured. He sat cross-legged in the private cemetery where all members of royalty were buried. He was young when she passed, and despite how busy he was, he came every week to make sure to leave a fresh bouquet of flowers.

Silence was abound, with the exception of the occasional cricket. Perhaps nature even thought it was too melancholy to disturb the peace.

He gave a small sigh. “Nothing’s for certain yet. All I know is that I like her, Mother. She reminds me of you,” he said. “I wish you could meet her; I think you’d like her, too.”

He remained until the sun set and the coolness of the night brought him chills. It wasn’t until Alberto beckoned him away did he reluctantly leave, sparing all of his final sights on her beautiful headstone, etched in elegant script and polished till it shone in the dimming light. “Goodbye, Mother. I’ll see you again soon.”

If you have mostly e’s...

Edward of Charles

His eyes had begun to close, and he had to try hard to blink away the fatigue of the day. Politics was complicated, and even more exhausting was the work that happened between the presentations, the conventions, the speeches. He removed his glasses, setting them in the corner of his desk. He thought about the elections that would be taking place for Charles’ senatorial house in the next month, and he could not help but give a sigh of annoyance.

Edward was glad that there was no one around to hear it. He had already sent Louise to bed — there wasn’t a point in having everyone suffer with him.

He wished that he could call or text _____. He was sure that her perceptive outlook on life would give him a lot to think about. Perhaps she would make the pending work go by much more quickly, letting his exhaustion melt away.

It was late, however, and he did not wish to wake her, if she were asleep. Edward picked up his pen again, slipping his glasses on. He breezed through several pages of a proposal, making notes and crossing off sections that would need to be revised later.

“Hm...” He had to suppress a yawn, blinking away his sleepiness. He had to get at least a portion of this done before tomorrow or he would be absolutely swamped.

Edward paused for a moment and pulled out his phone, scrolling through until he found _____’s last text message to him. She had texted him on the last full moon to let him know how beautiful it was.

With a breath, he left his desk and stepped onto the balcony. There was no moon tonight, but even though the skies were cloudy and dark, he wondered if _____ would be looking at the same thing. “Either way, I hope you’re doing well. Sweet dreams.”

If you have mostly f’s...

Wilfred of Philip

He lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. His eyes, of course, were open, but he saw nothing. He was thinking, letting time pass as though it were a mere dream that crept into his thoughts throughout the night. The warmth of the covers attempted to lull him away into a peaceful slumber, but he had _____ on his mind.

Wilfred let out a contented sigh, his arms folding behind his head.

He had invited her to Philip the last time they had spoken at Lord Michel’s celebration. Part of him wanted to show her his country, and the other part simply wanted to ensure that she had a good time, especially after all that happened that night. It wasn’t his fault, but he certainly wished that she could have enjoyed herself more.

She had said that she would like to visit Philip, though he wondered if she was just being polite. He was sure that there were many men who would love to court her, several among his circle of friends...

He was perceptive; he noticed things. He kept an eye on the watchful gazes that seemed to engulf her at parties.

Well, while that said a lot about her, Wilfred supposed that he would have to get there first.

Yes, he was a prince, and yes, there were many ladies of the court who sought his hand in marriage. His father and mother had tried many times to arrange a marriage for him, one of “good blood,” but he refused them all. He had only eyes for one person, and as naive as it was, he firmly wanted to pursue her. Whether or not the King and Queen of Philip would approve was a whole nother battle to fight — he would have to get there first.