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The bird boy stared at elven prince with disbelief that he was not in shock at the sight of seeing the winged messenger. He shook it off when Zander took the scroll. “Umm…I am Liam Lightwing; third son of the fourth son of the Spring Reader. My grandfather can read the ripples of an ancient spring that show the past, present, and future. He has sent me to deliver his message to the prince of Cadeweth in Lirakin. He gave quite specific instructions on how to find you.” Liam shifted nervously from foot to foot. Though the nekos of Lirakin were peaceful it was still nerve racking to be a bird in a kingdom of cats.
The scroll Zander held read:
[i ‘Do not let looks confuse a friend as a foe.’]
[i ‘The truth is never a lie but a lie can sound like the truth.’]
[i ‘A friend can become a foe when they are desperate enough.’]
Liam watched Zander read the scroll. “My apologies for the message all riddles. The spring only gives Grandfather quick glimpses of other places and times. He says the message is up to those meant to receive to decode for much can change if they are willing to do what it takes. If you have and questions, Sire, I will do my best to answer them before I take flight for home.” He bowed deeply; one wing folded and the other extended mirroring his arms.
Zander held her close to him, listening to how she was also nervous. He knew she would be. "I think so as well," he answered. "I would be nervous to meet me too," he joked. He hoped that she knew it was a joke and not some kind of insult. He had extremely high respect for her and her parents.
He kissed the top of her head when she snuggled into him. A part of him wanted to spend the rest of the night here, but he soon watched her stand and move towards her bedroom door. He groaned a little but smiled before she disappeared through the door.
Zander sat for a while and thought about everything. He was worried that something was going to happen in Cadeweth while they were away, but he also trusted everyone in the castle to handle it. He stood up and went into his own room.
Just as Zander was about to fall asleep he heard a voice and a knock on the door. He groaned slightly as he got out of bed and went over to the door. "What's the matter?" he asked the messenger. Zander took the scroll, opening it curiously.
Sophie continued to smile at Zander. “I…I was nervous too.” The neko girl laughed. “I wasn’t sure how they’d react. I think they were just as nervous as you were. They heard you were a prince but that was probably all. They weren’t sure what to expect.” She snuggled closer to Zander after speaking. Finally, they could relax and enjoy their time in Lirakin.
Sophie stifled a yawn, leaning her head on his shoulder. “Just a little tired. It would probably be best to go to bed. We can wake up early so I can give you a proper tour of the castle before breakfast.” She gave him a tight hug. Her eyes grew hazier with sleep. “I think Fern scared a bird off. You didn’t happen to see it fly by the window did you?” Sophie yawned again. She rubbed her eyes flashing Zander another smile. “Well, I think I’ll turn in for the night. Good night my prince.” Sophie gave him a kiss then wandered off to here room. Sophie gave him one more smile over her shoulder before disappearing inside.
Sophie drew the curtains closed before retiring to her bed. Sleep came quickly for here. A few hours passed when a shadow passed by the window. The form landed on the balcony of the common room. Feathers slipped through the door bending to pick the look. When the door opened, the figure flew in. It was a boy with bird feet and wings for arms. In his talon’s held a scroll. The scroll was set on the table before the bird man landed, his legs turning to normal human legs. He frantically flapped his wings until suddenly the wings where one his back and his arms were as human as his legs. The strange boy picked up the scroll then stood before Zander’s door. He knocked softly. “My Liege? Are you awake? I bring an important message for you. Let me in. We must talk immediately!”
When Zander heard Sophie's father's comment he froze for a moment until he realized the man was joking. Zander wasn't entirely familiar with jokes, especially from servants. However, Zander didn't view her parents as servants, he viewed them like they were equal to him. It was an odd feeling, but one he liked. He didn't feel like he had to act princely in front of them. It felt almost natural.
He was incredibly happy that her parents liked him. He was afraid they wouldn't like him and demand that their daughter remain with them. Even if they had, Zander wouldn't have argued if it was what Sophie wanted. He would give her anything, and he hoped she knew that.
When she ran off to get her mother's present Zander didn't exactly know what to say to them. He just smiled and was lucky she came back so quickly, or else things might have gotten awkward. He shook her father's hand and gently returned the embrace of her mother after momentarily freezing. "Good night," Zander said to them. "Sleep well."
The Prince was about to take off his jacket when Sophie hugged him. He caught her, spinning her around before setting her down and kissing her. "I was nervous," he admitted. "I'm glad they like me." He ran his fingers through her hair and kept her close to him. "Are you tired my love?" he asked. "We can go to bed if you would like."
Sophie finally peered up at her parent’s. Her mother sat with a horrified, worried yet relieved expression while her father seemed understanding. The two turned to exchange looks then looked back at the girl and the prince. The woman broke the silence first, “I trust that you have continued to protect our Sophie. I know you will continue to keep her safe.” “He better or he’ll have to answer to me,” the man joked finally cracking a smile. Sophie laughed. She turned to Zander, beaming. “They like you,” she sang softly.
The two servants rose to their feet. “We better leave so you two can rest. There will be plenty of opportunities to spend time together later.” Sophie jumped to her feet. “I almost forgot! I got you a gift Mama. Stay right there, I’ll go get it.” The princess rushed off to her room leaving the three. She picked up the box with the tea cup then removed it from the box. When she turned to leave the room, Sophie swore she saw movement by the window. She did a double check and found Fern seating on the window sill staring out at a feather lying on the other side of the glass. Nothing else stirred or looked as if it had moved. Sophie would ask Zander if he sense anything off after her parents have left.
Sophie reappeared in the living room area. “Here Mama. This is for you.” The woman smiled brightly at her daughter. “Thank you Sophie. It’s beautiful.” Sophie handed her gift to her mother before exchanging a hug. Her mother kissed her on the head. “Goodnight Sophie. We love you.” Sophie’s father walked up and did the same as his wife. “Good night, Mama. Sleep well, Papa.” The man walked over to Zander and shook his hand. Sophie’s mother gave Zander a hug. “Thank you,” she whispered in his ear. With one more smile they left. Sophie leaped into Zander’s arms. “They like you! I knew they would! I’m so happy!” She gave him a kiss before breaking out in happy laughter.
Zander didn't know what to think of Sophie's parents. The confident Prince had never been so nervous to meet new people. He was worried about what they would think. He was trying to not seem arrogant, since he didn't want them to think he was just another stuck up Prince who would soon banish their daughter from his sight.
He sat next to Sophie, listening to her tales about her time at his castle. He chimed in every now and then, but mainly let her speak. He was careful to leave out the assassins, but when her father brought them up he decided to speak. "The assassins have been a consistent issue in Cadeweth, and while my father does encourage our people to have input, he does not encourage violence. We are doing what we can to keep the assassins under control, but I promise that none of them nor any other enemy shall lay a finger on your daughter," Zander said.
He looked from Sophie's father to her mother. The woman seemed sweet while Sophie's father seemed more serious, but he could see how the two complimented each other. He didn't know what else to say to them.
Sophie’s parents remained in shock until Zander came over and spoke. Her father bowed deeply while her mother curtsied bowing her head. “The honor is ours, Prince Zander,” Sophie’s father chimed. He straightened up scanning Zander with his eyes. He was not disapproving of Zander but simply wanted to read if he would keep to his words; that the young man before him would love his only daughter. The servants gaze came to rest on his daughter. Sophie was smiling at Zander, her eyes bright and loving. Sophie turned back to her parents her happiness turning to concern at how quiet they were. “Is something wrong Papa?”
Sophie’s mother came forward. “Everything is fine Sophie. We’re just so happy your home.” The girl and woman embraced each other. Sophie felt her mother stoke her hair making the princess realize how much she had missed her family. Her solemn thoughts where interrupted when the woman squeezed her tightly. “My little girl is in love.” “Mama,” Sophie whined. She should have seen that coming from her mother. They had worried Sophie would never find love because she had always put all her focus on aiding Marilyn. Now to see their daughter standing beside the man she loved ended those fears and gave them hope for a bright future.
Sophie took a seat on the couch, pulling Zander to sit beside her. Her mother sat in one of the arm chairs with her husband standing behind here. “I have so much to tell you about what I’ve done in Cadeweth…” Sophie began to spin the tales of everything she’d done since leaving Lirakin. Carefully she left out the parts with the assassins her parents listened quietly until Sophie was done. Her father cleared his throat. “And what of the assassins?” Sophie stared in shock at her father who stood there with a serious look across his face. “Come now, you should know that the King shares all his information from letters with us, Sophie. We received word from Cadeweth of the assassination attempts.” Sophie’s ears drooped and she turned her maroon eyes to the floor. “Yes, Papa there were attacks but Zander protected me. I was not injured thanks to him.” She sat there ashamed for trying to hide that from her parents. Sophie hoped she wouldn’t have to worry them with those matters so they could enjoy the happy reunion.
"I don't know what to think," Zander said. "She seems... Unsure to me, but I also don't know her that well. It's almost like even Princess Marilyn doesn't know what to think of him."
Marilyn said good night and offered her friend a hug before going back to her betrothed's side. She tried to erase any uncertainty that she was showing. She was curious what Sophie thought of Prince Grant.
Zander followed behind Sophie to their room. He was curious about the rest of the castle, especially after Sophie's old room was brought up. He followed behind her and Lillian. He wasn't as amused by the maids excitement but understood where she was coming from.
When Zander saw Sophie's parents he froze. He didn't know what to say to them, and when Sophie introduced him he offered a smile and made his way over. "It is an honor to meet both of you," he said. "You have an amazing daughter. I promise to treat her with the upmost respect and love."
Sophie watched Marilyn and Grant silently. She was trying to get a read on how well they were a couple. Marilyn was easy for the former lady-in-waiting to read but the prince was much harder. He seemed affectionate towards her though his expressions remained very neutral. Grant’s amber eyes seemed fixed on Zander as if sizing him up. Sophie couldn’t blame that tension though. Zander would have been Marilyn’s fiancé if Severijan hadn’t interjected with their own proposal.
Sophie pulled her focus back to the conversation when she saw Grant nod at Marilyn. She smiled at Zander, taking comfort in his actions. She let Zander led her towards the door. “It was nice to meet you Grant. Good night Marilyn,” and with that they exited the room. Sophie stared at the closed door for a minute. “She seems so unsure. I can’t tell if she likes him or fears him. I can’t recall ever seeing Marilyn like that before.” She turned towards Zander. “What you think? Any odd vibes you catch from either of them?”
They strolled down the hallway a couple feet before seeing Lillian approach. “Your Majesties, allow me to escort you to your suite. I apologize for the inconvenience of not being in your old room Sophie but I think you’ll find it quite pleasant. There are two separate bedrooms and baths connected by a small common area. Oh, and your pet is in your room. He’s so cute.” Sophie grinned shaking her head at Lillian’s excitement. For the princess however there was a wave of anxiety and impatience. The maid opened the door to their room ushered them inside then closed the door behind them.
The room was a nice little living room with two armchairs a sofa and wall full of windows. A couple stood in the room watching the two enter the room. Looking at the two servants, one could see their family resemblance in Sophie. The girl stood there for a moment, the smile on her face growing wider. “Mama! Papa!” She ran into her parents arms. Sophie couldn’t have been happier to see her parents in her life. “I missed you. I’m sorry I forgot to say goodbye.” She pulled back to look her parents in the eyes. She looked over her shoulder at Zander. Her parents stiffened. They had momentarily forgotten Zander. “Mama, Papa, this is Zander.” Sophie walked over to the elven prince and hung on to her arm. “I hope you approve of him and get to know him better because I do love him.”
Zander smiled at Sophie's reaction to her friend. It pained him that she couldn't be close to Marilyn in his kingdom, but also understood that this was the way things went. People could hardly ever stay together in royal families since at least one would have to travel somewhere.
Marilyn smiled when Grant came into the room. She snuggled slightly into his arms, but her eyes made it seem like she was just putting on an act. Marilyn didn't quite know what to think of Grant yet, but she could tell he set off Zander and made Sophie nervous. She had gotten used to that part of him.
Zander heard the doors open and watch the Severijan Prince come into the room. The look of him made Zander raise his guard and gravitate closer to Sophie. "I'm Prince Zander of Cadeweth," he told the other man after Sophie spoke. When Sophie came to him, Zander took her carefully into his arms, moving her to his side without trying to seem overly protective.
"Travels are tiring aren't they," Marilyn agreed, looking up at Grant almost expecting him to agree with her.
The Prince nodded to Sophie, "We should get some sleep. Traveling was quite exhausting." He pressed his lips to Sophie's hair, gently brushing her cheek with his fingers. He led her out of the room and it took until the door shut behind them for his tension to release.
Sophie barely turned towards the door when the other girl hugged her. “Marilyn!” Sophie gave the princess a quick hug back. “It’s great to see you, too.” Sophie nodded, a slight blush rising to her checks after Marilyn’s comment. “Marilyn this is Zander of Cadeweth,” she said as she introduce the princess to the prince. Sophie was about to ask what had happened in Lirakin when a man entered the throne room.
He was tall and well groomed. His skin held a hue of grey and his eyes were bright amber. Sophie skidded away. This must have been Severijan’s prince. “Marilyn, why have you run off?” He stopped seeing the other two. “Oh, you have company. Allow me to introduce myself. Prince Grant of Severijan.” He bowed to Zander then turned to Sophie. “You must be Princess Sophie. I’ve heard a lot about you.” Grant took her hand and kissed it. Sophie didn’t know what to do. She stood there with a stifled scared expression on her face. “P…Pleasure to m…meet you.”
Grant walked over to Marilyn and took her in his arms giving her a kiss on the side of her head. “Rather shy isn’t she?” He chuckled though he barely smiled more than a line. Sophie wandered back to Zander’s side. She managed to finally speak up. “As nice as it would be to catch up. We’re rather tired from our travels. We can catch up tomorrow.” Sophie took Zander’s hand and looked towards the door out of the corner of eye. “Unless you’d like to chat now rather than tomorrow. What do you think Zander?”
"It was a simple accident that revealed the truth. We were talking and our love made us realize that things mustn't be kept a secret. I love her for who she is, no matter what class she comes from. Marrying royalty is not a necessity in Cadeweth," Zander explained, his princely side revealing itself. Zander could be very diplomatic when he wanted to be, and this was one of those times.
Zander watched the maid go to get Sophie's parents and was slightly nervous. He was worried that her parents wouldn't like him, or think he was some kind of snobby selfish stuck up Prince that was no good for their daughter. All of the possibilities of her parents hating him swarmed rapidly through his mind until a new girl burst through the door.
Princess Marilyn ran to Sophie and hugged her, "Sophie, I've missed you so much!" She pulled away from the other girl and straightened herself, feeling slightly embarrassed. "And you've found yourself a Prince," she spoke, looking Zander over with a scientific gaze. "He's handsome," she whispered in Sophie's ear.
The King nodded at the prince. “Tell me, how was the truth discovered?” Sophie cast her gaze at Zander unsure off what to say. It was an accidental slip that triggered the half confession then later the full confession to the prince and finally the confession to his parents. “Uhh…umm.” The Neko King sat back down on his throne. “I am not made Sophie. I just want to know where we stand when it comes to understanding each side of the issue.”
The King sighed taking his wife’s hand. “My sincerest apologizes for our deceit but Severijan forced our hand. The brute of a kingdom is the finest in military might. Even with your kingdom’s warriors supporting us, we would not survive. Sophie has been like a sister to our daughter and we would not think of anyone more capable to represent the royal family.” Sophie blushed beaming from the complement. Her smile was full of pride. “However, Severijan must not know this. We must continue the act as Prince Grant of Severijan is here.” Sophie nodded solemly. The act was still on but this time she would withhold the image she needed to keep. “We understand Father and we will try our bests. I just ask to be able to see my parents.” Her cat ear drooped slightly.
The Queen smiled at the two before her. “Oh course you can Sophie, just as long as you are careful. Lillian, come here.” The head maid returned thought the door. “Will you bring my lady in waiting and her husband to Sophie’s room, please?” The maid got the hint as she nodded her head and rushed off to fulfill the request. The queen then scanned the room. “Where is Marilyn? I knew she was so excited to hear you would be attending the ball. I can tell she missed you.”
Zander watched the three maids approach them. He gave a slight nod but let Sophie do the talking. The Prince wasn't bad around new people, but he knew Sophie was more familiar with this place than he was, so he decided to follow her lead.
As the maids separated, Zander walked with Sophie, following behind the head maid. The throne room slightly reminded him of the one in Cadeweth's palace. Zander smiled when the king greeted Sophie, addressing her as his daughter. He had to admit, they were very good at following theirstory.
Zander offered a slight smile at the kings words. "Any conversation you would like, your majesty," he responded. Although he didn't often use this kind of behavior, Zander did know how to act like a Prince. The air around him had changed from when they were in the carriage. Zander had three different versions of himself. One was the warrior, the other was the one he showed Sophie most often-the caring and compassionate side, and the third was this princely like demeanor. At this point he was acting like any other Prince would, even though it was rare for Zander to do.
Sophie waited patiently for Zander’s assistance getting out of the carriage. She giggled as he lifted her by her waist. Sophie smiled brightly and opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by three neko maids. “Princess Sophie welcome home.” The three curtsied politely but the smiles on their faces said they were ecstatic to see the former maid. “Hello ladies,” Sophie said with respectful nodded of her head.
The head maid turned to the other two. “Heather, why don’t you go find Princess Marilyn and tell her that her sister has returned. Violet, help direct their luggage to their rooms. Now, if Your Majesties would follow me the throne room. The King and Queen will be eager to greet you.” The maid turned and led the two on through the castle. It didn’t take long to arrive at the throne room.
The maid opened the door to the throne room. “Your Majesties, Princess Sophie and Prince Zander of Cadeweth.” She bow and then exited the room closing the door behind her. Sophie curtsied as the king and queen rose to their feet. “Welcome back, my daughter.” Sophie’s gaze dropped to the floor. “He knows, my king. The entire royal family of Cadeweth knows our secret.” Sophie cast her maroon eyes up. “But they promise to keep it safe and the alliance will continue on undisturbed.” The King exchanged glance with the queen. He stroked his bristly but well-trimmed beard. “Then there is much to discuss with you Prince Zander.”
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