For Mother Omni, who loves Rosalyn so much.
For all the obnoxiousness that was her brother, His Highness Prince Pen, Her Highness Crown Princess Rosalyn still loved him very much.
It was made clear when, since a week ago, Her Highness had been receiving boxes after boxes full of exotic and exquisite trinkets and books that I realize were not her style or favorites.
A mere maid like me would never dare to ask the Princess what these extravagant, expensive items were for.
“What do you think Pen would like for his twelfth birthday, Marilyn?”
Hence why I was surprised when she, the Princess herself, called me by name, asking for my opinion.
“M-me, Your Highness?” I stammered, then collected myself and replied, “I am but a mere humble servant, Your Grace, but whatever precious gift you would like to give him, I am sure His Highness the Prince would love it regardless.”
“Hm.” She did not seem dissatisfied or contented, in fact her face was full of thought. Despite all the classes she had to attend day and night, she would still make time for His Highness Prince Pen, I was sure of it. Being a Crown Princess didn’t diminish the fact that they were still siblings.
“Um, if I may.” I ventured, and the Princess turned to me, her eyes bright with curiosity. “His Highness the Prince loves books. And he watches you study when he has the time. However… if a physical gift is not viable…” at this, I gulped, took a deep breath, and continued, “why not spend your time studying together? Or, maybe do other… trivial… stuff…?”
“Study together? Trivial stuff?” she mused, hand on her chin. I was sure she was smart enough to figure it out, but then she asked, “You mean, a study get-together… or a simple picnic? Like what the commoners usually do?”
“C-cough!” I couldn’t hold back my surprise and flinched at her words. “Y-Your Royal Highness! The commoners’ way of picnics is a bit…”
“That’s not a bad idea, actually.”
I gawked. Did the princess just say that my idea wasn’t… bad?
“I’ve been confined too long in the palace, it’s starting to get boring,” she continued. “And I’m sure Pen feels the same. Why not take him out to the Royal Lake and spend a day fishing? Don’t you think so, Marilyn?”
I… The Prince would love anything you’d do with him, Your Highness, but I found myself unable to voice that out. I wasn’t even sure why.
It was a week later, after the grand party held for His Highness Prince Pen’s twelfth birthday, that Her Highness the Princess brought out him out for a picnic at the Royal Lake.
As expected, he wasn’t too thrilled with it.
“Just whose idea it is that my own sister has to bring me out to a place full of insects and dirt?!” he softly hissed to himself, having batted a battalion of mosquitos away for the fifth time as I helped my fellow maid, Christen, spread a blanket at the bank and prepare the food. The Princess, in the meantime, practiced fire magic spells that she learnt the day before, washing the lakeside in warm orange lights.
“It’s a good day, so why not spend it outside instead of being cooped up in the palace reading books?” she said, putting one arm around the Prince’s shoulders while scattering the remains of her magic to ashes. “You already have a sword, thanks to Father and Mother, so you can’t simply think you must practice how to wield it right after your party, do you?”
“I… I’m a Prince, sister!” he choked, his face aghast. “I must learn how to protect myself! What kind of Prince I am if I’m not even able to use a sword?!”
“Not all princes use swords. Some use tomes, lances, claymores…”
They kept on bickering as they slowly made their way toward us. I quickly pulled out the picnic basket with the teapot in it and poured tea for them.
Other than Prince Pen’s obvious disapproval of the site, he was nonetheless secretly ecstatic, and I was sure the Princess was very happy, too.
“Marilyn, a moment, please.”
I was pulled to the side, right into a lone corridor, just as I was about to enter the Princess’ bedchambers.
“Joanne?” I asked, wondering what was going on. “Is there something the matter?”
“The Princess is not in her room!”
I nearly dropped the tray in my hands as my entire body went cold. Had she gone missing again?
“Right now?! But her tutor… Sir Barin… he’s coming in thirty minutes!”
“I know! I came earlier because Head Maid Lisa told me to clean, but when I came in she wasn’t even there! The room is empty!” Joanne herself looked panicky, her trimmed nails turning into stubs as she bit them with chattering teeth. “W-what do we do, Marilyn?! Should we tell Head Maid Lisa?! Inform His Majesty?! W-what—”
“Calm down.” I held her hands in mine, my head already racing with all the possible spots Her Highness would’ve gone to. It wasn’t like this was the first time she had gone missing… we’d usually find her in spots that other people wouldn’t dare go to… the dusty nook of an old library… the soldiers’ empty headquarters, when they had gone training… the maids’ communal bath… and at one point, the kingdom’s official arena, challenging a haughty low-ranked mage to a magic duel with her…
After telling Joanne to keep this a secret, I immediately bounded for the west hallway, toward the double doors that lead to the inner garden. I would look like a crazy woman running around in my skirts, but my duty as a maid dampened the thought. The Princess was my priority, always.
I didn’t know how long I’ve been running around, eyes like a hawk searching for shadowy corners and hidden spots. It felt like hours when I finally searched a small space inside one of the more hidden libraries in the eastern wing… and there was Her Highness, leaning against the wall right under the window, with His Highness Prince Pen sleeping with his head on her lap, with books littered all around them.
She saw me, and put up one finger to her lips, as if to shush me.
The Prince continued to sleep soundly.
I guess I should’ve just kept running.