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Tears Of A Saint

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Prince Geordo Stuart was counting down the days. Soon, he'd collect the bet he'd won when he beat Catarina in the Semifinals of the Duelists Society's Open-Entry Tournament. He'd entered the match hesitant to fight her, out of a desire to avoid hurting his beloved fiancée. But then she made an offer he couldn't refuse: if he beat her, she would allow him to dress her as he saw fit for the upcoming Summer’s Eve Ball at the Sorcier Academy of Magic. It was too good an offer for him to pass up, and he made sure to win that bet. Geordo had always wanted to get Catarina a dress and accessories, but she was a unique soul amongst noble girls, caring nothing for expensive clothing or jewelry. Now, he was going to always do what he'd wanted for her.

Initially, Geordo had a lot of ideas for what he wanted her to wear. The finest ballroom gown he could get, a diamond-encrusted tiara, a fine diamond necklace, the list went on and on. But as he kept thinking about it, he came to realize something: even though she would let him dress her how he wanted, if it was too gaudy or expensive, she'd hate it. She would bear with it for his sake, but it would be something she would not enjoy. Suddenly, all the ideas he had went out the window. As much as he wanted to spoil her with jewelry and clothes, he wanted her to enjoy it too. This was becoming a much more difficult task than he'd imagined. Had she possibly been banking on him not having any idea how to dress her without making her uncomfortable, and thus allow her to dress herself?

No, it was a ridiculous thought. Catarina was a simple thinker and coming up with that plan would've been too clever for her. She was also an earnest, straightforward person, and was willing to do this for him.

It was during this thinking that an idea came to him. Perhaps he could do so, but just needed to consult the right people.

Geordo was sitting inside his dorm room when he heard someone knocking on his door. His personal retainer Samuel answered the door, and after greeting the visitor, came to him.

"Your Highness, Master Nicol is here to see you like you requested."

"Send him in, Samuel."

Nicol Ascart walked into the prince's room. Geordo rose up to greet him.

"Nicol, good afternoon. Thank you for taking the time to visit me."

"It's always my pleasure to see you, Prince Geordo."

The two longtime friends sat down on opposite sides of a tea table. Samuel then came up to him.

"Shall I get you some tea and sweets, Your Highness?"

"No Samuel, that isn't necessary" replied Geordo. "This is going to be a fairly routine meeting and shouldn't take that much time. Just allow me and Nicol some privacy."

"As you wish, Your Highness."

With that, Samuel took his leave and closed the door. Nicol, always having the same stoic face on him, then spoke up.

"I don't know if asking for advice on how to dress Catarina up would be considered 'routine', Prince Geordo."

Geordo chuckled at Nicol's words. "No, it really isn't. But I'd rather no one else hear that's why I asked to speak with you. Because let's be totally honest, asking you to advise me on how to dress a lady wouldn't exactly be a normal line of conversation."

Nicol then asked Geordo, "So how can I help you with this question? It's not like I'm an expert on it."

"Well, you are an expert at one aspect of it" replied Geordo. "As of now, you are the only one to give a gift of jewelry to Catarina that she accepted."

Nicol tensed up when Geordo said that. "Well, truth be told, that was not me that actually accomplished it. I had help in getting that gift. I was merely the recipient of that sound advice."

Geordo then looked at Nicol. "Let me guess, Sophia?"

Nicol nodded.

"Figures. I should've known you couldn't have come up with that. And considering it's Sophia, there's no way I'd ever be able to get the secret out from her."

"Well, while I didn't know exactly what criteria would get Catarina to accept it, I do have a general idea of how Sophia accomplished it."

"Oh?" inquired Geordo. "Then what is that general idea?"

"The necklace I got Catarina for her fifteenth birthday was one worn by a character in one of Catarina's favorite romance novels. Sophia knew Catarina would accept it and like it based on that" replied Nicol. "So if you can get her something worn by one of her favorite characters in one of her favorite romance novels, then that should get you on the right path."

"Wait, you're telling me that as long as she can play dress-up like someone in one of her romance novels, then that'll increase my chances?" asked Geordo.

"Yes, exactly." Nicol then added, "Also, I did overhear Catarina one time saying that there is a stone she likes."

"Oh? What stone is that?" asked Geordo.

"Pearls" replied Nicol. "I mean, it sort of makes sense. Pearls are her birthstone, and they aren't your typical jewelry, like diamonds or sapphires."

"Okay, that's half the fight won then. Pearl jewelry would be good, though I'm sure she'd want it to be somewhat modest" replied Geordo. "Now that leaves me to figure out a dress she'd like, which would ideally be something she's read about that was worn by a character in one of her romance novels. Do you have any idea what some of her favorite romance novels are?"

"Yes, I do, but....."

"But what?"

"But I don't remember what the characters in those romance novels wore."

Geordo took some time to think about the information Nicol had given him. Then he came to the only logical conclusion.

"Looks like I'm going to have to go to the school library then. Pray for me Nicol."

"Honestly, it might not be that bad," replied Nicol. "Who knows? You might even grow to like them."

Nicol's words gave Geordo pause. He then smirked. This was too good an opportunity to pass up. "And how would you know that? For that matter, what do you mean you don't remember what the characters in those novels wore?"

Nicol's expression went unchanged, but his face began to redden. "That I am not at liberty to discuss, Prince Geordo."

 


 

After getting a list of Catarina's favorite romance novels, he headed to the school library to begin his "research". Not wanting to draw any attention to himself, he avoided asking a librarian for help and instead used the library catalog to find various romance novels. He spent his free time over the next several days poring over the novels. Much to his surprise or dismay, not sure of which it was, he did indeed begin finding himself enjoying what he was reading. Finally, after reading a book titled The Maid Angeline and Her Loving Mistress Gabrielle , he settled on a dress and accessories for her. He came up with a description of the dress for the tailor so that they could make it in advance for Catarina to try on. Alterations could easily be made afterwards.

Finally, the day of his long-awaited date with Catarina to the jeweler and the tailor had come. It was a breezy afternoon day in the late summer. Geordo walked up to the ladies' dorm and walked up to Catarina's room. He knocked on the door, and was greeted by Anne, Catarina's longtime personal maid.

"Good afternoon, Prince Geordo. Lady Catarina is just making some final preparations for your date. Please come inside and wait."

As he stepped inside to her dorm room parlor, he found her brother Keith and her friend Mary waiting as well. Annoyed by this development, he opened the conversation.

"Keith.....Mary.....good afternoon. What brings you here?"

"Well, today's the day you're taking Sister to the tailor and jeweler, right?" asked Keith. "Well, I was thinking that maybe the dress you get her might need some.....modifications."

"Modifications? What do you mean by that?" asked Geordo.

"Modifications so that the dress is suitably modest, of course!"

"Keith, you misunderstand me" replied Geordo. "I would never have Catarina wear something she is uncomfortable with." He then turned to Mary. "And what brings you here?"

"Well, I'm going to make sure that whatever you get, it looks good on Lady Catarina! Men are such poor arbiters of ladies' fashion, and you likely need the help!" replied Mary.

"And why can't Catarina decide whether it looks good on her or not?" replied Geordo.

"It's always helpful to have another lady's eyes, so that they can see what the wearer can't see!" Mary immediately shot back.

Just then, Catarina came out of her bedroom. "Prince Geordo! I'm ready for.....wait, Keith? Mary? What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to act as a second set of eyes for your dress, Lady Catarina!" replied Mary.

"I'm going to be the third pair of eyes," replied Keith.

"Oh great. Here we go again." thought Geordo. "The two of them are inviting themselves to come along, and Catarina being who she is, is going to completely miss the real reason and let them come along....."

"Well, I appreciate that, but actually, my bet was just for Prince Geordo. It was a promise for him and him only. Don't worry, I'm sure things will be fine!"

Geordo, Keith, and Mary stared in blank shock at the words that had just come out of Catarina's mouth.

"Wait, this isn't going to be yet another lost opportunity?" Geordo wondered hopefully.

"L-Lady Catarina! Surely you'll need another set of eyes!" Mary replied in shock.

"No, it'll be fine! I'm sure I can judge for myself what Geordo picks out for me!" answered Catarina.

"Sister, are you sure? I mean, normally it's a group of us that goes with you!" Keith said, still not believing Catarina had turned both him and Mary down.

"I'm sure! Don't worry, I'll make sure I like whatever he gets me!"

"But Lady Catarina....." "Sister, I'm not so sure....."

"KEITH! MARY! STOP IT!" Catarina interrupted sharply. "I promised to Prince Geordo it'd only be me and him, and I intend to hold that promise!"

Keith and Mary could only gape at Catarina's sharp response. The girl had never been this assertive or insistent on going alone with someone. Noticing the looks on their faces, Catarina quickly became apologetic.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry if that sounded harsh! But really, I intended it to be for me and Geordo!"

"No, it's alright Sister" sighed Keith. "I understand. A promise is a promise, and I shouldn't force you to break it."

"No! Don't apologize, Lady Catarina!" added Mary. "I honestly didn't know this was meant to be for just you and him! I'm sorry for trying to butt in!"

With that, Catarina smiled. "Thank you for understanding! Prince Geordo had to earn this from me, and I intend to honor my bet!" With that, she turned to Geordo and smiled. "Prince Geordo, are you ready?"

Geordo was lost in disbelief at her words. "I'm actually going to get time alone with her?? Oh my.....this has already become one of the best days of my life! Finally! It happened! It really happened!"

"Prince Geordo?"

Geordo snapped out of his thoughts and replied. "Oh! Yes! I'm absolutely ready!"

"Let's go then!"

"Catarina, just wait outside. I just need to tell Keith and Mary something."

"Oh! Okay....."

With that, Catarina left her room and waited just outside. Now alone with Keith and Mary, Geordo had only one thing to say.

"Nothing untoward will happen between me and Catarina. This is only going to be a shopping date. Besides, you both know where we'll be. The tailor, the jeweler, and Monk's Café. That's all" promised Geordo.

Conceding defeat, Keith replied "Alright, we believe you. But we're holding you to that.....wait, Monk's Café? What do you mean Monk's Café?"

"It's just tea and refreshments. Calm down" replied Geordo.

"Calm down? How can we possibly be calm when it's just you and Lady Catarina?" asked Mary.

"Look, you can ask her all about it when we get back. It's not like Catarina ever hides anything" replied Geordo.

Mary sighed. "Fine, we believe you."

With that, Geordo smiled and bade them goodbye. After he stepped outside Catarina's room, he walked up to her and offered his hand. "May I, Catarina?"

Catarina then surprised Geordo by taking his hand and holding it. As the two of them began to walk to the exit of the ladies' dormitory, she felt Catarina squeezing his hand. Geordo began to tense up, which Catarina sensed.

"Prince Geordo, is something wrong?"

"Oh, well, I noticed you squeezing my hand....."

"Oh dear! I'm sorry Prince Geordo! I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable!"

"No, it's alright!" replied Geordo. "I don't mind at all! It's not a big deal really!"

"Well, okay....." replied Catarina. "Sorry if that was awkward! I didn't realize I was doing that!" Geordo again was lost in thought.

  "She's squeezing my hand! The fact that she was unconsciously doing so.....might it finally be happening? Is she starting to have feelings for me? Or has she had them all along and just doesn't realize it?" He quickly composed himself and said "I hope you've been looking forward to this!"

"I have Prince Geordo!" admitted Catarina. "I have!"

 


 

Geordo took Catarina on a long, scenic route in order to get to the tailor. As they walked, Catarina breached the subject of their trip.

"So have you decided what I'll be wearing?"

"I have," replied Geordo. "And I think it'll look wonderful on you!"

Catarina laughed nervously. "Well, as long as you're happy, it'll be fine."

"Don't think that I've forgotten about what you like Catarina" replied Geordo. "While I've always wanted to dress you up, I also want you to like it as well! Though there will be one thing which I will ask you to wear for me specifically. But I think you'll enjoy that too!"

Catarina wondered what Geordo was talking about regarding something to wear for him. But before she could think any further about it, they'd reached the tailor.

The two of them walked inside and went up to the sales clerk. "Good afternoon Prince Geordo and Lady Claes! We have the dress ready for you to try on, Lady Claes. We can have you try it on and then you and Prince Geordo can see how it looks on you!"

The two of them went to a private area in the back of the shop. There, they were greeted by two tailor ladies. The ladies led Catarina to the back to change into the dress. Prince Geordo sat in a chair, to which the sales clerk then began speaking.

"The dress you requested was a rather interesting order. The way you described it, it sounded like it was something from a book. Where did you get the idea for such a dress?" Geordo's face began to turn red as he thought about how he got the idea. Noticing this, the clerk replied "Apologies, Your Highness. I did not mean to intrude!"

Suddenly, they heard a squeal in the back where Catarina had been led. Hearing it, Geordo smiled. "I think I hit the mark."

After several minutes, Catarina came out to show off the dress Geordo had ordered. It was a cream-colored ball gown with both light and dark-colored cream accents. The satin skirt shined brilliantly, and was adorned with cream-colored beads. An elegant bow adorned the back of the dress. The top half was simple, with embroidery decorating it.

"Prince Geordo! I LOVE this dress! It's just like the one Lady Gabrielle gave to Angeline in The Maid Angeline and Her Loving Mistress Gabrielle! How did you know I would like this?"

"I did some research" replied Geordo rather matter-of-factly.

"I can't wait to wear this for the Ball! Thank you, Prince Geordo!" Catarina said gratefully.

After going to the back, she changed out of the dress. Geordo and Catarina placed their order, and afterwards began heading to the jeweler. As they headed there, Catarina beamed in excitement. “I can’t wait for the Ball and can’t wait to wear that dress!” Geordo smiled, thankful Catarina didn’t press for details on what his “research” was.

They then arrived at the jeweler, to which they then walked up to the clerk. "Good afternoon Prince Geordo and Lady Claes!" she greeted them. "Prince Geordo, the orders you commissioned are ready to be shown to Lady Claes! Please come this way!"

The clerk led them to a counter where she got out several jewelry boxes of varying sizes. The clerk then asked "Shall I allow Lady Claes to open these, Your Highness?"

"Yes please!" replied Geordo. "Catarina, please open them!"

Catarina first opened the smallest box. Inside, she found a pair of cream-colored pearl earrings. Her face lit up at the sight of them. "Pearl earrings! Prince Geordo, how did you know I'd like these?"

“Catarina, what kind of fiancé would I be if I didn’t know what jewelry you liked?”

Excited, Catarina then opened the rectangular box. In it, she found a pearl-pendant necklace on a chain of silver. She then moved to a bracelet box, and found inside two cream-colored pearl bracelets. She squealed in delight at the jewelry Geordo had picked out for her. "Prince Geordo! All of these are wonderful!" she replied, hugging Geordo as she said it. Her embrace surprised him, and his heart began to beat faster as blood rushed to his head. "About the only way this day can get better is if she confesses her love to me!" he thought to himself.

"There is one more thing!" interrupted the clerk. Upon hearing that, Catarina let go of her embrace and turned towards the clerk. The clerk reached behind the counter and pulled out something in a large box. Curious, Catarina waited for the clerk to open it. The clerk did, and revealed a sterling silver tiara, adorned with pearls. Catarina saw this and had several thoughts and emotions running through her head. Unable to settle on one, she then asked "A tiara? Really?"

"I've always wanted to get you one Catarina," replied Geordo.

"I don't know, Prince Geordo. I don't think it suits me" Catarina replied back.

"This is the thing I wanted you to wear for me specifically. I asked the jeweler about this, and they said that a tiara is totally appropriate, especially for someone such as a prince's fiancée" explained Geordo. "I really think this will look good on you. Remember, I won the bet in our duel. You're not going to back out of it, are you?"

"No! Of course not!" declared Catarina. "A bet's a bet, and I fully intend to honor it!"

With that, Geordo smiled. "Good. I can't wait to see you wearing the dress and all those accessories!"

With that, the clerk gathered up the boxes and placed them in a bag. Geordo paid for the jewelry, and with that, he began to lead Catarina towards Monk's Café.

"Prince Geordo? The Academy of Magic is that way! Why are we heading towards a different direction?"

"Well, there's a place I've wanted to take you to for a while" replied Geordo. "It's called Monk's Café. They have very good tea and unique sweets. I figured since we're here in town right now, I could take you there!"

"Oh, that's wonderful! Thank you Prince Geordo! You've always been such a good friend to me!"

They eventually arrived, and Geordo went up to the café's host. The host checked his book and found Geordo's reservation. He led them to a staircase, which led to the private roof deck. Geordo offered his hand to Catarina and said "Let me help you up these steps!" Catarina took his hand and allowed Geordo to guide her up. There, they were led to a table, which had tea and refreshments ready for them. The two of them then began talking about how things were going.

"So how have the swordfighting lessons you've been giving at the Duelists Society been going so far?" asked Geordo.

"They've been going great!" replied Catarina as she took another sweet. "The students have been picking up my instructions and advice quickly. Some of them are naturals, particularly Eddy and Bernie!"

Hearing the names, Geordo arched his eyebrows. He'd thought that Catarina was giving lessons only to ladies. "'Eddy' and 'Bernie'?"

"It's short for 'Edna' and 'Bernadette'" replied Catarina. "Eddy's from House Sugar, while Bernie is her cousin from House Langstaff. Eddy was the youngest of six children, and Bernie the youngest of five, and all their older siblings were boys. Their brothers gave them their nicknames!"

Relieved at this, Geordo continued. "I'm glad to hear that your lessons have been going well!"

"Oh! I haven't had this kind of sweet before! It's delicious! What is it?"

Geordo looked at the sweet in her hand. "That's a specialty of Monk's Café called Monk's Upcake. It's a cupcake bottom covered in frosting!"

"It's so good!" Catarina declared with delight.

Catarina and Geordo spent further time talking about the upcoming Ball and other goings on in their lives. Finally, they finished up. Geordo paid the bill, and the two of them headed off back to the Academy of Magic. When they arrived through the front gate, they saw Keith and Mary waiting for them.

"Welcome back Sister!" greeted Keith. "So how was it?"

"What did you all do?" asked Mary. "Tell me everything you did!"

Confused by this, Catarina simply answered their questions. "It was great! We went to the tailor and got the dress, which is just like one from one of my current favorite romance novels! Then we went to the jeweler and got my accessories, and then we went to Monk's Café and had tea and sweets while we talked about our lives."

"And that's all?" asked Keith.

"Yes, that was it."

"Nothing else happened?" asked Mary.

"No, of course not! What did you think would happen? Anyway, let's go to my room and I can tell you two all about the dress and accessories Prince Geordo got me!"

As Catarina headed off to the ladies' dorm, Geordo smugly remarked to Keith and Mary "Told you nothing would happen!" The remark annoyed them, but they had no response for it. The three of them then began following Catarina.

Unbeknownst to them, a figure had been watching them all, in particular Catarina. Hearing their conversation, he then remarked to himself, "You've been the root of all my problems, Catarina Claes. It's time I get you back properly for humiliating me and being responsible for the troubles I've gone through."

 


 

Byron Whitney had been determined to do what he could to show noble society that he was not to be taken lightly. As the heir of the low-standing House Whitney, he had to do what he could in order to build up his prestige and by extension, that of House Whitney. His father had taught him about hard work and earning respect of others, earning his keep in life, and to never toady to someone else in order to get ahead. While Lord Whitney had meant earnest hard work, dealing well with others, and to simply not ride on someone’s coattails and instead earn things through merit, Byron had gained a more twisted view of what his father meant. To Byron, getting ahead meant showing his dominance, bending others to his will, and crushing anyone and anything that could oppose him. Soon, he began to see the world as a ruthless competition, one that required him to take by force what he needed to gain respect. It made sense to him. Playing nice wouldn’t get anyone anywhere.

His talents in magic were good, but not great. He was good academically, but he was outshined by other students. While he had his engagement to Elizabeth, the middle daughter of the notable House Lampard, the engagement would only move House Whitney's prestige up a small amount. It was then that he found something he shone in: dueling. He'd worked relentlessly on his dueling, aiming to become the best in all of Sorcier. Thanks to his talents, he'd been noticed as a young and talented duelist on the rise in Sorcier, and the Duelists Society recruited him the moment he came to the Academy of Magic.

He'd been the ruler of the roost at the Duelists Society, able to use his skill as a talented duelist as well as his father's financial support to do what he'd wanted. He began making the Society in his own image, using the weight of his reputation as a duelist to push out members he felt were weak and brought the Society down. This wasn’t meant to be a social club with dueling as a common interest in his opinion. The Society was meant to churn out the elites of dueling competitions. The Society President and some other members had objected to his actions, but he would remind them how much his father was supporting the Society, at which point their objections would be dropped. Finally, he was able to build up his ego and self-worth, and in his mind enhance the reputation of House Whitney.

And in the space of two days, it all came crashing down.

He was amused by the entry of Lady Catarina Claes in the Open Tournament. Surely a lady would be no match for a duelist such as himself! But in the final match of the group he was in, Lady Claes had managed to disarm him and win instantly. This was a hit to his ego, as he felt the humiliation of losing to a lady by being disarmed would be something he'd have to correct. But then, in the Quarterfinals, it happened again. Lady Claes had disarmed him, and he was out of the tournament. Furious at the fact that Lady Claes had seemingly destroyed all the hard work he did to build up his reputation, when she offered her hand and a smile to help him off the ground, he slapped it back, incensed at what he perceived to be a mocking gesture. When the match judge confronted him over his act, he shoved the judge over, not wanting to answer.

As he sat inside the waiting tent he'd stormed off to, he heard Lady Claes's fiancé Prince Geordo bark threats to him. He paid it no mind, figuring the prince's threats were ones he would not be willing to back up. And then, after the threats stopped, the Society President walked into the tent and confronted him.

"Master Whitney, I want to make it clear that you are no longer a part of the Duelists Society. Your presence is also unwanted. You are to leave right now."

Byron was outraged at those words. "WHAT?! Who are you to throw me out of the Duelists Society?"

"I am the President of this Society, and it is within my authority to expel those guilty of conduct unbecoming a member. Get out."

"Well, just you wait. After my father hears of this, the support keeping you and the Society afloat will disappear! What do you think you'll do after that?"

"Quite frankly Master Whitney, your father's support isn't worth having you around. Besides, you do realize that was Prince Geordo's fiancée whose hand you struck back, right? What do you THINK will happen when your father hears you struck the prince's beloved fiancée?"

That was something he'd not considered. Without saying a word, he got up and immediately began leaving. As he left, he heard the Society President. "John, Thomas, follow Master Whitney out to make sure he actually leaves." This angered Byron even more. The nerve of him, to think he couldn't be trusted. But rather than say anything, he just continued to head out. As he left the venue, things went further downhill.

His fiancée, Elizabeth, was waiting for him outside. She walked up to him and confronted him over his treatment of Catarina. "How dare you do that to Lady Claes, Byron! She did nothing to deserve that from you!" Byron was unapologetic. "Did you not see that mocking smile she gave me?"

This just upset Elizabeth further. "That is an outrageous accusation! She is the most earnest person in this entire school, not to mention the kindest and gentlest! I'd heard the horror stories about the cliques that would form here and bully students of lesser nobility. You know why that isn't happening now? Because Lady Claes won't let it happen!"

Hearing this caused Byron to seethe. Elizabeth must be doing this in order to gain Lady Claes's favor. He was willing to do a lot to build up the reputation of House Whitney, but toadying to someone of very high standing would be something he'd never do, as his father had always told him that riding off of someone's coattails was a lazy way to go about life, and that he had to earn honor and prestige.

A few days later, things got even worse for his psyche when he received an angry letter from his father. Indeed, Lord Whitney had heard of Byron's actions, and in the letter, he admonished his son, telling him that his actions were unbecoming a nobleman. Lord Whitney had to do a lot of work explaining that his son was by nature a sore loser and that his actions were a consequence of not being faced with tough competition. The words that really hit hard however were near the end of the letter.

"Do not believe your place as heir of House Whitney is a birthright. I barely was able to navigate out of this situation without our household suffering. You are lucky that Lady Claes is a kind and forgiving soul. If you cause another incident like this, I might not have any choice but to find a new heir to House Whitney."

What a hypocrite his father was! Here he was, toadying to someone of higher standing, the very thing he'd told him not to do. After finishing reading the letter, Byron had placed it back in the envelope, put it in a desk drawer, and slammed it shut with all his might.

As the days passed, he found himself ostracized from other students, who were upset about what he'd done to Catarina. Wondering what on earth she could've done to earn the admiration of the student body, he looked into her. He heard the stories, about her stopping bullying of lower-standing students, her willingness to lend a hand to others in need, her lack of pride, and her approachability. It was almost too unbelievable for him, hearing about "Lady Saint" and her words and actions. When he looked further into Catarina, he wondered what on earth made her suited to be Prince Geordo's fiancée. She was just some dumb noble girl, average at academics, possessing little skill in magic, outshined by her peers such as Lady Hunt and Lady Ascart. And yet she had the entire school dancing to her tune.

Byron, being who he was, came to the only possible conclusion he could've: her saintlike reputation and helpful nature was all an act. It was to gain favor so that she could stand out. Something she could do to cling onto the engagement she had to Prince Geordo. Something to validate herself. Something to get ahead in life since she had nothing special about her. He saw right through it. She was a fraud who did all this solely for her own gain.

As he saw Catarina and her friends walk to the ladies' dorm, he came up with his plan. He'd be attending the ball with Elizabeth, and there, he would let Catarina know that he was onto her. That he saw through her act, and that she was a fraud who needed to do those sorts of things to maintain her place. Nothing about her was genuine. He'd express this, expose her, and he would have his vengeance.

 


 

The night of the Summer's Eve Ball had arrived. Geordo arrived at the ladies' dorm, eagerly anticipating seeing his fiancée dressed up in the ball gown and accessories he'd gotten her. When he arrived, much to his expectations, everyone else was waiting: Keith, Mary, his brother Alan, Sophia, and Maria. He walked up to the waiting group and greeted them.

"So, I see you've all been waiting for Catarina as well."

"Of course we would be!" replied Mary. "Lady Catarina was so excited about what you'd picked out, which must mean that you somehow figured out something both you and her would like. I want to see what it is for myself!"

"Besides, Lady Catarina is our friend," added Maria. "And usually we do things together. So why wouldn't we be here?"

Just then, they saw a figure walking towards the top of the staircase. It was Catarina, wearing the cream-colored dress and the accessories he'd gotten her: the earrings, pendant necklace, bracelets, and tiara. She looked absolutely stunning wearing everything. As she seemingly glided down the steps, Geordo walked forward to greet and receive her.

"Good evening, Catarina! You look absolutely stunning wearing that dress and those accessories!"

"Good evening, Prince Geordo! And thank you! You were right, the tiara does suit me! I thought it'd be over-the-top, but after seeing Anne smile after she put it on, I looked in the mirror and saw you were correct!"

Geordo took Catarina's hand and kissed it. "Of course it would suit you! What could possibly be more suited for you, a soon-to-be Princess?" Everyone else heard those words and glared at Geordo's declaration. Geordo smugly noted to himself their reactions.

Catarina turned red at Geordo's declaration and stammered out, "P-p-princess?"

"Yes" replied Geordo. "We are engaged to each other after all!"

The declaration from Geordo caught her off-guard. "He can't be serious, can he? Has he not been able to find someone he truly loves? Come to think of it, has he even really looked? I would've thought he'd fallen for Maria by now, but neither of them seem interested in each other. Or could it be.....!"

"Yes, you're engaged to Sister right now" replied Keith. "But it's not truly been set in stone, has it?"

"Keith, you know the drill by now. The engagement is still on, and I would appreciate you respecting it" Geordo shot back at Keith.

"Lady Catarina! That dress!" exclaimed Sophia. "It's just like the one Lady Gabrielle gave to her maid in The Maid Angeline and Her Loving Mistress Gabrielle !"

"I know!" replied Catarina. "That's why I like it so much! The accessories he got me too, how did he know I liked pearls?"

"I have my sources," said Geordo. Upon hearing those words, Sophia frowned. Had her brother spilled out the secret she'd held close to her chest for so long about Catarina's preferences? Seeing this, Geordo leaned over and whispered to Sophia, "Give my thanks to your brother!" This just made Sophia even more unhappy. Her brother was throwing away the advantage they had. Why?

Just then, Maria spoke up. "Shall we get going?"

As everyone headed to the ballroom, Alan leaned over and spoke to Geordo in a low voice. "So I've been hearing that you'd been to the library a fair bit and spending a lot of time in the fiction section. In particular, one of the librarians said you seemed to have an interest in certain romance novels."

Geordo began to redden at Alan's words. Alan, seeing this, replied "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me. I know that it was a labor of love for you. I had to take the opportunity so I could see your reaction. Just answer me one question: did you actually like reading them?"

Geordo struggled to get the word out, but finally managed to. "Yes."

Alan smirked at Geordo. "My lips are sealed."

 


 

"Prince Geordo Stuart and Lady Catarina Claes!"

The Ball's head doorsman announced the entrance of Catarina and Geordo to the ball. The attendees looked at the couple making their entrance, and soft cries of admiration came out upon seeing them enter. Catarina and Geordo smiled at the adoring crowd as they walked towards the dance floor. Afterwards, the head doorsman announced the next couple. "Prince Alan Stuart and Lady Mary Hunt!"

After arriving at the dance floor, Geordo spoke up. "Imagine when we'll be doing this on a regular basis at diplomatic balls and national celebrations! This is something you should be getting used to!"

Once again, Geordo's words gave Catarina pause. "That's the second time Prince Geordo is talking as if we actually will get married. I don't know why he thinks that. Could it be that being in close proximity to me has made him start developing feelings for me?"

"Catarina! The first dance is about to begin!"

Geordo's words snapped Catarina out of her thoughts, and she got into position with Geordo. As the band present began playing a waltz, Catarina and Geordo danced, occupying the center of the dance floor as other couples danced around them.

"Your dancing's improved greatly Catarina! It's like we're moving as one!"

"Thank you Prince Geordo!" replied Catarina. "I've spent time practicing so that I can just dance without worrying about stepping on your toes!"

"I appreciate you being willing to do that for me!" replied Geordo.

After a few minutes, the first dance ended. Catarina curtsied towards Geordo while Geordo bowed to her. The two of them then left the floor to socialize with other attendees. The two of them chatted with their peers, socializing and making small talk. Normally, after a little bit, Catarina would've headed to the refreshments table, but she found herself enjoying socializing with Geordo and chatting with their peers.

The next couple hours worked themselves into a pattern: her and Geordo splitting time between dancing and socializing. As the Ball went on, she noticed Geordo seemingly enjoying himself greatly and always keeping a hold of her. Maybe her thoughts were true. Maybe Geordo had begun to develop feelings for her. She began thinking about the possibility of actually marrying him. She'd always regarded him as a close friend, but maybe it could develop into something more than that. And since they were long past the scenario of the game, maybe there weren't any more doom flags to spring up.

Finally, after another waltz, Geordo spoke up. "Catarina, I noticed you haven't gone to the refreshments table yet. Perhaps you could take a moment to do so now to grab a quick bite to eat and something to drink."

"Thank you Prince Geordo! I'll do so right now!" As she headed off, she noticed Geordo wasn't following her. "Aren't you going to come along?"

"No, I'm fine. Just don't take too long!"

Catarina headed off and got to the refreshments table. There, she saw many fine pastries and plenty of beverages to go with them. Everything looked so good and she was having difficulty deciding. As she thought about what she wanted, she heard a voice behind her. "Lady Claes."

She turned around and saw Byron Whitney standing before her, with a neutral expression on his face. Catarina began feeling nervous. The two of them had not interacted with each other ever since the Open Entry Tournament, and she wondered if he still had resentment over what had happened. Gathering her courage, she smiled and said "Master Whitney, good evening! Are you enjoying the Summer’s Eve Ball?"

"Lady Claes. I've had something I've wanted to say to you for some time now" he replied.

"Oh? Is this about the Tournament?"

"No, it's about you."

Catarina began to have an ominous feeling come over her. She wondered what he could've possibly meant. "Oh? What about me?"

"I've heard all about you. All of your admirers, among them my fiancée. About you being the 'Lady Saint' of the school. Well, let me just tell you that unlike everyone else here, I know the truth about you!"

Catarina was confused by his words. "What? Me having admirers? Being the 'Lady Saint' of the school? What are you talking about?"

"Don't act all ignorant" replied Byron. "I see right through it. I saw through it when you offered your hand to me at the Tournament. You act all kind and nice to appear like a saint to everyone else, when really you're doing it for your own benefit!"

Catarina was shocked by Byron's accusation. "That's not true! I honestly wanted to help you up!"

"I'm not buying into that now, and I won't ever buy into it. The only reason you act all kind and saintlike is to benefit yourself! Nothing you do is for anyone's benefit except yours! You've got reasons for doing what you do, and they're all selfish!"

The commotion had drawn the attention of the other attendees, who turned towards it and watched the scene unfold.

"You do all of this so that you can hold onto your engagement with Prince Geordo, because let's face it, you're a terrible choice for his fiancée! Literally every other lady in this room would be a more suitable choice for him! You get on everyone's good side to benefit yourself, so that you can stop them from realizing how poor a choice you are for his fiancée! Nothing is special about you! If not for your saint act, you would've been nothing! Everything you've done in being so kind to people was to distract them from the truth! I know the truth! You're using everyone to your benefit!"

Catarina took in Byron's words. And they hurt. She began thinking about the friendships and bonds she had formed, with her brother Keith, with Geordo, Alan, Mary, Sophia, Nicol, and Maria. She admitted to herself that she did so at first to avoid her doom flags, but in short time she'd grown to love and appreciate them and truly cared for them. But was she lying to herself? Was she still motivated by selfish desires? She was now doubting if she was ever sincere. And the words about not being suited for Prince Geordo, those especially hurt, because she thought it was true. She was foolish to think that he'd ever really develop feelings for her, and foolish to consider he might actually want to marry her. He was never meant to be hers.

"Well? Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

Catarina didn't have any sort of rebuttal. Suddenly, she doubted herself and everything she'd done to make friendships. And it hurt her badly that she might've never been sincere.

Tears began running down her face as the words sank in. She began sobbing, and soon, it turned to straight crying. Upset at herself for possibly being motivated selfishly this entire time, she covered her face and ran out of the ballroom.

Byron looked at her fleeing, satisfied with his work, when suddenly he heard other voices.

"CATARINA!"

"SISTER!"

"LADY CATARINA!"

"WAIT!"

It was Geordo, Keith, Sophia, and Maria. Having seen the scene unfold and Catarina fleeing the ballroom in shame, they chased after her. As he processed what was going on, he heard a lady who had excused herself coming back in.

"Eddy, what's going on?"

"Master Whitney made Lady Saint cry, Bernie!"

"What?! How.....how much of a heartless demon is he to intend to do that??"

"He accused her of being insincere! That's how heartless he is!"

"I feel terrible for Lady Saint, and especially for Lady Lampard being engaged to that demon!"

He was going to confront the two girls having that conversation, when suddenly he felt someone tapping his back. He turned around, only to be met with an open-handed slap to his right cheek.

"HOW DARE YOU SLANDER LADY CATARINA LIKE THAT!" shouted Mary. "YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF!"

Byron felt his right cheek where Mary had struck him. "This is not your fight. You have nothing to do with any of this!"

"Lady Catarina is my friend! So yes, this is my fight, and I do have something to do with this!" Mary shot back.

Alan then stepped in. "Whitney, if you value your health and well-being, I would suggest you leave. Now ."

Byron scoffed at Alan's words. As he began walking away from them, he noticed a student staring at him. Annoyed at being stared at, he walked over to the student and asked him "What are you looking at?"

"A horse's ass" the student shot back in a matter-of-fact tone.

Byron began to respond, but as he did, he realized that everyone else in the ballroom was looking at him the same way. The sentiment seemed to be a shared one. Realizing Prince Alan’s warning was meant to be taken seriously, Byron quickly left the ballroom before anyone could decide to go further than staring at him.

As he stepped outside, he found his fiancée Elizabeth waiting for him. She looked at him with anger in her eyes and then slapped him. He began trying to explain himself.

"Elizabeth, I said what I needed....."

She cut him off with another slap, at which point she then declared "I heard the whole thing. Eddy was right, you are a heartless demon!"

"Elizabeth....."

"DON'T TALK TO ME!" Elizabeth screamed at him. She then ran away from him, not giving him an opportunity to follow her. As he stood there, he began to wonder what price he was paying to speak his mind about Catarina and show everyone who she truly was.

 


 

Catarina's personal maid Anne was arranging some things in her charge’s dorm room when suddenly she heard the doors open. She looked and saw Catarina in tears, who then ran into her bedroom and slammed the door shut. Taken aback by the scene, Anne went to the bedroom door and knocked on it.

"Lady Catarina! What's wrong?"

No answer came.

"Milady, what happened?"

"Leave me alone Anne!" Catarina sobbed out.

"Milady, please, why are you crying?"

Catarina wasn't answering. Anne put her ear to the door and heard Catarina sobbing hard. Hearing her normally joyful, energetic charge reduced to tears broke her heart, and she was desperate to get an answer for what had reduced her to that. Before she could think any further, she heard a knock on the door. Anne went to answer it, and found Geordo, Keith, Sophia, and Maria all standing there, with looks of concern and heartbreak on them.

"Good evening Anne" Geordo greeted Anne.

"Prince Geordo.....what happened?" asked Anne.

"Well, the short version of it is that Byron Whitney said some very mean and untrue things about Catarina. He accused her kindness of being an act for her own benefit and being unsuited to be my fiancée. Catarina obviously was hurt by that and ran out of the Summer's Eve Ball in tears after he said that."

Anne heard this and was immediately outraged by the events that Geordo had described. She became visibly angry after hearing it, the first time anyone could remember Anne being openly angry at anything.

"Lady Catarina not being sincere with her kindness? That is.....utterly outlandish!!" declared Anne. "How dare Master Whitney accuse Lady Catarina of that! She is the most sincere person I have ever known!"

"We share that sentiment" replied Maria. "Who does he think he is to accuse her of that?"

"Whatever he thinks about Sister, he's dead wrong" declared Keith.

Sophia went to Catarina's bedroom door and knocked on it. "Lady Catarina! We want to speak with you! Please come out!"

"Go away!" sobbed Catarina. "Please, just leave me alone!"

Hearing Catarina's sobs hurt them to a degree they'd never felt before. Obviously, Catarina did not want to talk at this moment. However, they were determined to speak with her before things festered too much. Geordo went to her bedroom door and knocked on it.

"Catarina, we know how upset you are. We're willing to wait all night if that's how long it takes for you to feel comfortable to speak with us. Take all the time you need. We just want you to know we're here for you."

Geordo walked away and said to everyone gathered "Now comes the hard part. The waiting."

Sophia then spoke up. "What got into Master Whitney's head to say those things to Lady Catarina? Does he not know who she is?"

Keith then spoke up. "That bastard.....he needs to hear what I have to say. And quite frankly he also needs a punch to the face!"

"Master Keith, calm down!" Maria pleaded. "Don't think about him! Think about Lady Catarina! She needs us!"

"He's had this coming to him ever since he slapped Sister's hand back at the Tournament! That ass needs a few teeth knocked loose!" declared Keith.

"Master Keith, please! This is already a bad situation! We don't need to make it worse!" pleaded Sophia.

Just then, they heard a knock on the door. Anne answered it, and they found Elizabeth Lampard standing there.

"Is Lady Claes okay?" asked Elizabeth. "I'm here to apologize for what Byron did to her."

"No, Sister's not okay" answered Keith. "I'm just about to head out and let your fiancé know what I think about him!"

"Keith! Stop it!" Geordo demanded.

While everyone had been pleading with Keith to calm down, the commotion had drawn Catarina's attention. She opened her bedroom door and saw Keith furious over what transpired. After he declared his intent to confront Master Whitney again, Catarina ran out, took a hold of his arm, and dropped to her knees.

"Keith! Please!" begged Catarina. "Don't do that! I don't want you hurting Master Whitney or getting hurt by him! I don't want you to get in trouble for my sake! Please, Keith! Calm down!"

With that, Keith began to calm down. He took a few deep breaths and steadied himself. "Sister, you're right. I'm not going to go do that. I'm sorry if that made you more upset than you already are." Keith then knelt down and wrapped Catarina in a gentle hug as she cried into his shoulder.

The assembled group waited for Catarina to get it all out of her and calm down. Finally, after several minutes, she was able to calm down and feel okay enough to speak to everyone.

"I'm sorry for making a scene like I did when I ran out like that" said Catarina. "I know it's not exactly the way to react."

"Lady Catarina, nobody is holding that against you" replied Maria. "What Master Whitney said would've made anyone upset. I just hope you know it's not true."

"Is it untrue?" asked Catarina. "What if he's right? What if I'm not really being sincere with my friendship?"

Geordo heard this and was confused. "Wha.....Catarina! How can you possibly think that's true?"

"Sister, of all your flaws, your low opinion of yourself is the worst of them" replied Keith. "If you weren't being sincere, you wouldn't have gone to the lengths you've gone with the kindness you've shown everyone!"

"It's true," added Sophia. "When everyone thought I was a cursed child, you told me I was beautiful and held yourself out as a friend where others avoided me! You wanted to be my friend when no one else did!"

"I'm the only commoner in this school," added Maria. "You've got a higher social status than almost everyone here, but you protected me from bullying and offered your friendship to me despite how far apart we are in social status. You also outright saw me as who I am and not what I have."

"If you weren't sincere with your kindness, you wouldn't have broken down my bedroom door with an axe when I wanted to shut myself off from the world" added Keith. "You wanted me in your life, and never even considered allowing me to do that."

"I remember hearing from my older sister about the cliques here and how they bullied students of lower status" added Elizabeth. "That's not happened, because you've made it clear that everyone here deserves respect just for being here. The few times it was starting, you stopped it and made it clear that would not be tolerated."

Everyone's words began to fill Catarina with warmth. Hearing them say such kind things about her made her see that Master Whitney's words about her kindness were not true. Still, there was the other half of what he said. "But what about not being suited to be Geordo's fiancée? I've felt like that for a long time. I don't know what I do for him."

"Catarina, let me tell you straight from my heart that you do plenty for me" replied Geordo.

Keith, realizing his sister needed support and kind words from everyone, let go of his embrace and allowed Geordo to hug her. After Geordo began hugging her, he continued.

"You are the guiding light in my life. Remember when I got angry at Whitney at the Tournament and wanted to fight him? You got me to stop and calm down because I was scaring you. And it's a good thing you did. As much as I wanted to fight him, I realized after you calmed me down that a prince like me getting into a physical confrontation with another noble would've been trouble in more ways than one. You did that just now for Keith as well. You are my moral compass. You've taught me that my first thoughts aren't always the right ones and make me consider other possibilities. The incident where you were knocked unconscious a while ago, I thought your attacker was an irredeemable criminal, but you saw him as a victim, and you were right. You've done it in the past, and you'll continue to do it. The guidance you give me is something every prince should want!"

Hearing those words from Geordo made Catarina feel even better. "Geordo, thank you! I had no idea I mean that much to you!"

There was another knock on Catarina's door after she responded to Geordo's words. Anne opened the door and found Mary and Alan.

"Is Lady Catarina okay?" asked Mary.

"Yes, I think she is now," replied Anne.

"That's a relief," replied Alan. "Whitney has no idea what he's done."

"I'm fully aware," Elizabeth responded. "He's got this warped notion of how the world works and having to earn respect by beating it out of people." She then turned to Catarina. "Lady Claes, I'm sorry Byron said those things to you. I've told him before how sincere you are, but he doesn't want to listen."

"Lady Catarina" Mary cut in, "I'm sure you've heard this already, but let me just make it clear that none of what Master Whitney said was true. You're an honest and sincere lady, and that is the truth!"

"It is" added Alan. "Your personality is who you are. You're not a fraud like he thinks. You're genuine, and you should never think otherwise."

With that, Geordo released his hug and let the others hug and comfort Catarina. After everyone had their turn, Geordo turned to Mary and Alan. "What happened after we all ran out after Catarina?"

Deciding to omit the details of what they specifically did, Mary answered "After what happened, nobody was in the mood to continue with the Ball. So they just decided to end it early."

"Wonderful. Not only did Byron ruin Lady Claes's night, he ruined everyone else’s" replied Elizabeth.

"Well, what's happened has happened. There’s nothing we can do now" replied Alan.

Catarina then got everyone's attention. "Everyone.....thank you for being the good friends you are! I think I'm okay now."

With that, Catarina’s friends spent the rest of the night with her, to be there for her and make sure she really was okay. A couple hours into the middle of the night, after affirming that Catarina was okay, she and her friends turned in.

 


 

Byron Whitney found himself alone. After his public denouncement of Catarina, he found no one wanted to associate with him in any way. The people he'd been acquainted with previously would ignore him, and other students took steps to avoid being anywhere near him. He was unable to speak to his fiancée Elizabeth as well, as whenever he went to see her, she was out of her dorm room.

He'd done what he felt needed to be done, and Catarina's tears he felt vindicated his beliefs. But none of the other students felt the same way. The only things he got out of his confronting of Catarina were complete ostracism and barbs muttered by other students.

"Watch out! The horse's ass is walking this way!"

"If he's not been disowned by his father, it's probably coming."

"Why hasn't anyone punched that heartless demon? He needs a few!"

He'd thought that people would come around and see what he saw, but nobody did. Instead, he was having to endure taunts spoken under others' breath about him and being shunned by his fellow students. Lady Claes must be really charming if she could get people to believe her act.

He’d also expected an attempt at retribution against him by one of her close allies. He knew it would be coming and had prepared for it. But it hadn’t come. Other than being ostracized and hearing the barbs thrown at him, no one confronted him. Surely though, it was coming. He was prepared for it to come at any second.

As he got back to his room one day after classes, now having no one to associate with and nobody to talk to, he sat at his desk and began to do his homework. He'd probably be done before dinner, and have nothing else to do other than spend time by himself in his dorm room. As he worked on his homework, he heard a knock on his door. Byron went up to answer it, and found his fiancée standing before him.

"Elizabeth? Where have you been? What's with your sudden disappearance?"

"You know why, Byron."

"Oh, about Lady Claes? Right."

"Byron, I need to talk with you. I hadn't been ready to before, because what you did disgusted me. But I am now."

"Come inside."

Elizabeth came in and sat down on the sofa. Byron sat in a parlor chair opposite of her. After settling down, Elizabeth spoke up.

"Byron, do you have any regret for what you did to Lady Claes? And how untrue your words were to her?"

"No, I don't," replied Byron. "I said what needed to be said. Nobody can possibly be that kind without having an ulterior motive for doing so."

"You know, that's always been a problem with you Byron. All you think about is getting ahead in life and building up your ego, and you’re incapable of seeing the world in a lens other than your own. Well guess what? Sometimes people have other motivations."

"Like what?" asked Byron.

"Just wanting to be happy in life" replied Elizabeth. "Sometimes people don't need to feel like they need to get ahead. For some people, being happy and content with what they have is enough."

"Nobody should ever be content with what they have," replied Byron. "There's always room to improve. Besides, what does Lady Claes have that she's content with? She's nothing special academically, her magic is pathetic, and she's nothing like a lady of her standing. How can she possibly be content?"

"Because she doesn't care about her status. Or anyone else's for that matter. She cares about people. She cares about her family, her friends, everyone. And guess what? She cares about you."

Hearing this made Byron hear in his mind the sound of glass shattering. "What?"

"Remember the incident at the Tournament? And how Prince Geordo was shouting threats at you? He would've followed through. But he didn't. You know why? Lady Claes stopped him. She begged him to stop because she didn't want the situation to get worse."

Barely able to comprehend this, Byron attempted to respond. "How.....how do you know that's why? You weren't there at the staging ground!"

"No, but I heard it straight from Prince Geordo. And a few nights ago, she did the same thing. Her brother wanted to fight you over what you did. She was clinging to his arm and on her knees begging him to not do it because she didn't want you or him to get hurt. That one I know happened because I was there!"

Byron gaped at the words coming out of Elizabeth's mouth. Surely Lady Claes would've wanted someone to seek retribution against him. But she didn't want it, because she didn't want him to get hurt.

"Oh, and I know people have been saying things about you, and you've no doubt heard them. Well guess what? Lady Claes is telling people to stop, because she views that as bullying just like what you did to her! She has literally nothing to gain from you being left alone from any of this. But she wants it because she doesn't want YOU hurt by anything!"

Suddenly, an awful feeling came over Byron. He'd been expecting retribution for the past few days, but it hadn't come. It turned out it was never coming, because Catarina hadn't wanted it. Surely one of her friends would've acted against him by now. It didn't come because she didn't want it.

“Don’t get me wrong, she was hurt by what you said, as she should be. But she’s always wanted the best for everyone, and that includes you. But you never saw things that way, and maybe you never will.”

It was then he realized that everything he had said about her was slander. Lady Claes never wanted anything bad to happen to him in the first place. She truly was that nice and had no ulterior motives. She actually was the Lady Saint he'd heard people describe her as. He then thought back to his treatment of her at the Tournament, and in remembering her reaching out with a hand and a smile, he now realized she wasn't mocking him. She was offering to be a friend, and he'd rejected it. For the first time, his own worldview wasn’t the only one that made sense to him. Lady Claes just wanted to be happy with life, and she had that happiness. Byron was never happy with anything, and soon realized that despite everything he’d done to earn happiness in his opinion, it didn’t bring him happiness. He never would’ve gotten it.

Byron, who'd been unable to speak, finally found something he could say. "I really am a horse's ass, aren't I?"

"That's the first step," replied Elizabeth. "Being able to admit to yourself that you've done wrong."

Byron buried his head in his hands. He'd openly slandered the most beloved student at the Academy of Magic, and he was now ostracized from everyone. Quite frankly, if his father had wanted to disown him now, he wouldn't have argued. He then asked Elizabeth, "So what's the second step?"

"You need to go to Lady Claes and apologize to her for what you said."

Hearing this brought a chill over him. Apologize? How could he? How could he possibly be forgiven for what he'd said to her? He expressed this thought openly to Elizabeth, saying "But what I did to her.....how could she possibly forgive me? And how can anyone possibly believe I'm being sincere if I did? I want to apologize, but what's the point if no one will believe me?"

"Byron, as long as Lady Claes accepts it, it'll be fine" replied Elizabeth. "Besides, I know something that tells me she'd be able to forgive you."

Curious, Byron turned to Elizabeth and looked her in the eyes.

"There was an incident some time ago where someone attacked Lady Claes and put her into unconsciousness. She didn't wake up for two days, and according to the doctors, it was possible she might've never woken up and died. But she did wake up, and guess what? She forgave her attacker. If she can forgive someone who made an attempt on her life, then surely she can find it in her heart to forgive you for slandering her and making her cry."

Hearing this, Byron steeled and resolved to himself to approach Catarina and apologize. "Elizabeth, thank you for telling me this. I'm going to apologize to Lady Claes for what I did. Still, this is going to be difficult for me. But it's just something I'll have to bear with."

 


 

In the days that passed since the incident with Master Whitney, Catarina had been approached by various students asking if she was okay and reaffirming what her close friends had told her. Classmates, members of the Duelists Society, her students at the Society, and so on. All of them came up to her to check on her well-being and make sure she was okay. Hearing the kind words from those students wiped away any lingering doubts she had in her mind about her reason for being who she was.

In the process of doing so, she'd asked those students to stop commenting on Master Whitney and to leave him be. She knew what verbal abuse was capable of, and despite what Master Whitney had done to her, she did not want anybody to bully or belittle him. Despite the misgivings of some students, they honored her wishes and stopped.

A few days after the incident, she was having lunch with her friends in the school cafeteria. Everyone was going over how the rest of their day would go.

"Today after classes I've got lessons to give at the Duelists Society" said Catarina. "Unfortunately I won't be able to join any of you in the Student Council room."

"Catarina, have you heard of the Young Lions Tournament?" asked Geordo.

"Yes, I have. What about it?"

"Well, I've heard that the Duelists Society has been petitioning the organizing committee for the Young Lions Tournament to invite you" explained Alan. "It's the most prestigious duel tournament for individuals 18 and under in Sorcier, and being invited is a huge honor for any young duelist."

"You've certainly got the skill to be a great addition to the tournament, Sister!" added Keith.

Just then, everyone heard a voice. "Lady Claes."

Everyone turned and saw Byron Whitney standing at their table. Not knowing why he was there, everyone became cautious. Geordo stood up, while Mary and Maria each took hold of one of Catarina's arms.

Catarina looked at Byron. "Master Whitney, good afternoon. Can I do anything for you?"

"No, nothing you need to do. It's something I need to do."

Upon saying that, Byron dropped to his knees and bowed his head towards Catarina. Seeing this shocked her friends, as well as everyone present in the cafeteria.

"Lady Claes, I'm here to apologize to you for my actions against you. I'm sorry I slapped your hand away at the Tournament, I'm sorry for saying what I did to you at the Summer’s Eve Ball, and I'm sorry for my conduct towards you in general, because you did not deserve any of it."

"This is sudden" remarked Sophia under her breath. "What caused his change of heart?"

"Is he being sincere?" whispered Mary.

"Let's just allow this to play out" answered Maria.

Keeping his head bowed, Byron continued. "I've come to realize thanks to my fiancée Elizabeth that my actions towards you were unwarranted, and how hurtful they were to you. I know now that everything I said to you was untrue and that you are truly sincere with who you are."

After a pause, he then continued. "I also want to thank you for caring about me despite everything I did to you. I'd heard what students were saying about me, and how you made them stop because you did not want me bothered. Personally, I don't think I really deserved to have you intercede for me like you did. But I'm grateful that you still worried about me despite what I did. I know people are going to question my reasons for this, and I wouldn't blame you if you did as well. But I am truly sorry for everything I've done."

Everyone took in Byron's words. For as proud a person as he was, to kneel at Catarina's feet and bow his head would've been a difficult thing to act out without any sincerity. The cafeteria stayed silent while everyone waited for Catarina's reaction.

Finally, after a few moments, Catarina looked at Mary and Maria. Upon looking at them, they understood what she intended to do and let go of her arms. Catarina then stood up. "Master Whitney, please look at me."

Byron did as he was told, and when he looked up, he saw Catarina, with a smile on her face and a hand reached out to him. "Let me help you up!"

Knowing not to make the same mistake twice, Byron accepted her hand and allowed her to help him stand back up. Upon doing so, she clasped her other hand onto his and spoke up.

"Thank you for apologizing, Master Whitney. I'm glad that this whole misunderstanding has been cleared up! And as for me looking out for you, having you belittled doesn't do anyone any good. I just don't like seeing anyone hurt."

Relief washed over Byron and he returned Catarina's smile. He looked around, and for the first time in days, he saw people looking at him with looks other than those of disgust. He looked at her friends, and they seemed to be willing to go along with Catarina.

"Everything's okay now, Master Whitney. Thank you again for coming to me to apologize!"

"And thank you for being willing to hear me out, Lady Claes!"

The students at the cafeteria murmured at the sight of what had just transpired. He heard the comments from the other students.

"Well, it took awhile, but it's better that Master Whitney realizes his mistakes now rather than never."

"Lady Claes is such a gentle and forgiving soul. She truly is a saint among us!"

"I'm skeptical now, but if Master Whitney follows through with this, I think we'd be able to get along with him."

Just then, Geordo spoke up. "Whitney, I'd like to speak with you privately for a moment."

Hearing this, Catarina got worried. "Prince Geordo, what are you doing?"

"Don't worry Catarina" replied Geordo. "Nothing untoward will happen to him. Whitney, please step outside the cafeteria with me."

Byron did as he was told and followed Geordo out of the cafeteria. When they got outside, Geordo spoke up. "Thank you for apologizing to my fiancée. It was a bit late, but better late than never. However, I want to make something clear to you."

"Yes, Your Highness?"

"Unless it's a situation where you cannot avoid each other, stay away from Catarina. While she may have forgiven you, I hope you can understand that forgiveness from me and her friends won’t be so easily had. You are not to interact with my fiancée unless it's absolutely necessary."

Byron nodded at Geordo's words. "I understand your reasons for being skeptical, Prince Geordo. And I will do as you say. I promise to avoid Lady Claes from now on."

"I'm glad you understand. But I will be watching to make sure you keep your promise. That is all."

With that, Byron again thanked him for his mercy and left. Geordo then walked back in and rejoined his friends.

"So what happened?" asked Catarina.

"I made it clear to Whitney that he is not to interact with you unless it's necessary. I know you've forgiven him, but it's going to take some time for me to do so, because I'm skeptical of him."

Catarina looked at Geordo. "I understand Prince Geordo. But I do think he was being sincere."

After lunch ended, everyone got up and began walking towards the classrooms. Keith then spoke quietly to Geordo. "I can understand you being skeptical, but given what we know about Master Whitney, I think I can take his words and actions at face value."

"I agree," added Maria. "Why are you skeptical of him?"

"Truth be told, I know he was being sincere" replied Geordo. "But given the circumstances, I wanted to snuff out another potential contender before he could even begin to compete."

Mary looked at Geordo. "That's actually a fairly good point, Geordo. Like any of us need more people contending for Lady Catarina."

"Don't say I haven't done anything for the rest of you" sniped Geordo. "I'm willing to do something for the collective good every once in a while."

Catarina then turned back to them. "What are you all talking about?"

"Oh! Nothing really" replied Sophia. "Nothing important!"

"Oh, okay!" replied Catarina.

Alan chuckled to himself. "I'm glad she hasn't gotten a clue yet."

 


 

After classes, Catarina said her goodbyes for the day and headed off to the Duelists Society. The past several days had been a whirlwind of emotions. Byron Whitney's public slander had hurt her, making her wonder if she was truly sincere in being friends with everyone and questioning her self-worth. But then her friends reassured her that no, she really is the sincere person they and the school thinks she is. The various students who approached her and asked about her well-being was also reassuring. She considered herself blessed to have such wonderful friends and to have so many people caring about her. Master Whitney's public contrition also was something she needed, as that was the final piece she needed to reassure herself of who she was, as his admittance that everything he said was untrue washed away any remaining doubts.

As she walked to the Duelists Society, she began thinking about how these events all started at the Summer’s Eve Ball. And as she thought about everything, she couldn't help but remember some of the words Geordo had said to her.

"Of course it would suit you! What could possibly be more suited for you, a soon-to-be Princess?"

"Imagine when we'll be doing this on a regular basis at diplomatic balls and national celebrations! This is something you should be getting used to!"

"You are my moral compass. You've taught me that my first thoughts aren't always the right ones and make me consider other possibilities."

"The guidance you give me is something every prince should want!"

She'd never thought it was even a remote possibility that Geordo would ever say those sorts of things about her. She was the villainess after all! Well, she wasn't trying to be one, but her and Geordo weren't meant to be. She was just a placeholder for someone who he'd truly fall in love with. She'd long resigned herself to that fact.

But then she remembered again that Geordo had up to this point not really shown any interest in any other girl, especially Maria. If there was an important event or some other formal function, Geordo would be there to ask Catarina to come with him. He'd been a close friend of hers for years, and he always was wanting to do something for her. She'd written it off as him keeping up appearances, but the possibility of him actually starting to develop feelings for her was now something she couldn't immediately dismiss.

Still, she felt he could do better than her. She wasn't the gracious, elegant lady Mary was, the kindhearted, forgiving soul like Maria was, or the beautiful and intelligent lady Sophia was. Compared to them, she wasn't anything special. What could anyone possibly see in her, much less a prince like Geordo? She didn't know what it was he could be seeing in her, but somehow, despite how things were supposed to go, he might've started to develop feelings for her. She then wondered if she would ever have feelings for him, or if she could be worthy of being his wife.

Before she could think any further, she heard two voices call out "Mistress Claes!"

Catarina looked up and saw Eddy Sugar and Bernie Langstaff, eagerly awaiting her at the front of the Duelists Society's building.

"Good afternoon Eddy and Bernie! You two are early!" Catarina greeted them.

"Well, we were wondering if we could maybe spar with you prior to the lessons beginning!" replied Eddy.

"We think we've improved, and want to see how much we have progressed!" added Bernie.

Catarina smiled at them. "I'm sure you've improved greatly! You two have picked up on my lessons more quickly than anyone else! In fact, I'm sure you'll soon be ready for intermediate-level lessons!"

Catarina's thoughts about Geordo would be something she'd have to come back to. Right now, she had some sparring and lessons to give.