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Sophie shook her head to signal that the lieutenant that her may sit beside her since she was finding that her voice wanting to hide. She listened to Zander’s conversation feeling her stomach turn to stone. Why, oh why did her mind always carry her thoughts back to Severijan’s threats? The Queen must have sensed the discomfort in the girl for she threw her son a stern gaze. “Boys, I will have none of that talk at the table. You’ll have plenty of time to discuss those matters later. We do have an honored guest.”
Sophie smiled at the queen. The women held such elegance and power in air around her. The queen smiled softly at the princess. “My, you are quite beautiful, darling. I hope you have been enjoying your first day here.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
The king laughed deeply. “Oh Sophie, there is no need to be so formal,” calmly responded the queen. “After all, we are going to be family.” Sophie felt her smile warm up. She bashfully turned to Zander. She knew that in time she would fall for him. It would just take time.
Zander smiled at her. "Yes others will be coming. My mother and father, the king and queen. As well as Will's Lieutenants. That's all the typically come and I don't think their are any guests." Soon after he spoke the others began to walk in. The king and queen sat opposite of Zander and Sophie at the circular table. One of the lieutenants sat next to the general and the other sat next to Sophie.
"Hello princess," the lieutenant greeted her. "Mind if I sit next to you?"
Zander became thoroughly engaged in a conversation between the other lieutenant and the general, they seemed to be discussing military matters.
“The walk was very pleasant. It’s nice to see familiar plants mixed in with new ones.” Sophie nodded her head respectfully at the general. “So this is the son of the infamous Shadow,” she chuckled softly before startling a bit. “Oh, I didn’t mean to laugh. I was just remembering the years the servant’s children and I would try to sneak up to wherever the king and the generals were discussing things. As children we thought that…well…that your father was an actual shadow. However, we always got caught. Your father was a legend in our kingdom. Even our generals wished to live up to his legacy.” Sophie turned away in embarrassment, her checks pink. She could still hear her parents scolding her to leave the honored guest alone.
She shyly turned back to Zander and Will. They looked like brothers in her eyes, the type of friendship anyone would envy. It’s not that Sophie was jealous; she was just fond to meet a pair of old friends. “Will others be joining us?” Sophie looked around the room. There were numerous seats that would fit a large banquet party. It would nice for more company to join. She wanted to meet as many people as she could to help get adjusted quickly. Sophie looked back down at the place setting. Why did there have to be so many forks and spoons! Silently she prayed food would arrive shortly.
Zander smiled at her, "Hi there," he said walking into the dining room. He sat down next to her and the general on his other side. "How was your walk in the garden?" He asked. He looked at her curiously, the garden was filled with plants that Zander saw daily but he wasn't sure if Sophie had seen them before.
"Sophie," he began, "Let me introduce you to General William Shadow, I call him Will." He said gesturing to the general by his side.
The general look about the same age as the prince, "Hello my lady. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Zander smiled, "Will has been my friend since we were children. His father was general until Will took his place. He is someone very valued in our kingdom and I hope you get to know him as well as I do."
Sophie heard footsteps approaching and turned to see a young maid. “My lady, dinner is ready to be served.” The maid waited to escort her to the dining room. Sophie stood, smoothed out her dress then followed along. Half way there, she saw Zander with another man. She hurried her feet to catch up.
“Hello there.” She smiled at the general. “Pleasure to meet you.”
The general smiled back. The three continued on their way. The table was already set. One of the servants pulled out a chair for Sophie. She sat down, seeing that they were to be joined by others. The king, the rest of Zander’s family and perhaps other guests? Surely, she would be meeting the kingdoms’ most important delegates soon.
Zander watched her go with a sense of curiosity. He hadnt known her long but he could tell there was something special about this girl and he already cared a lot about her. Even if their union was arranged he had a feeling it would work out, or at least that's what he hoped.
Then he was approached by one of the three generals, "That is the new princess, your majesty?"
Zander smiled, "Yes, she is from Lirakin, our great ally."
The general smirked, "She seems very kind. I think her personality will benefit our kingdom."
Zander rolled his eyes, "Of course."
Then one of the maids came out and bowed, "Your majesty," she said, "Dinner will be ready shortly. You should head inside."
Zander nodded to dismiss the girl and turned to the general, "Shall we?" The two of them headed inside together.
Sophie ears tilted with curiosity. “You train too?” Sophie was about to ask more when Zander grabbed her hand. She didn’t have much time to think it over as she twirled. She remained on her feet though the entire spin. “Umm, I think I’ll just take another walk around the garden. Then I’ll accompany you to your training after our meal.” Sophie could feel the eyes of the other warriors staring at them. “Thank you for showing me around, Zander.” She bowed her head then dashed away.
Once in the center of the garden, Sophie stopped. The flora faces swayed in the breeze. She walked slowing down the path, stopping now and again to admire the flowers. “I wonder if this is such a good idea,” she whispered at the daisies. “I will try my best but this is all so strange to me.” The girl found a stone bench to sit at. She watched the servants pass in the windows of the castle. She wondered how the real princess was getting along without her. “Don’t worry so much Sophie,” she scolded herself. “You need to focus on the present. You are here to represent the royal family and you will not disappoint them.”
He looked at her, "Don't worry about questioning our loyalty, I'm sure you know that we stand by Lirakin no matter the circumstances." He put his hand on her back after seeing a hint of saddness in her eyes. "Your kingdom is one of our best allies, we would be just as unstable without you."
Zander smiled down at her, "Of course. I will probably be training after we eat, so you can come then if you wish. For now, if you want to go into the library, or watch these guys we can do that." He grabbed her hand and spun her in a circle, "What ever you want to do, Princess."
Sophie found herself enjoying every minute of the tour. Clearly, the castle was only different from her home in aspects of architecture and layout. True, it would take time to learn where every room was positioned within the building but she felt as though she could settle in nicely. When the promise of food was giving by the dining room, Sophie recalled how hungry her journey had made her. “Oh, yes diner. That sounds delightful. I suppose I will meet the king then.” They continued onwards to the next room.
Out of all the next rooms, it was the library that made her fall in love with the castle. The smell of worn out paper filled the air. Sophie thought to herself, “I think I know where I’ll be to take a break from this princess act.” One could get lost in the maze of books and furniture. Zander’s jokes caused her to giggle softly. She had never seen a prince with a sense of humor. They had all been so stiff. Then again, back then she had been a servant.
There seemed to one last place on the tour. Sophie didn’t know what Zander was taking her when they approached the gardens edge. The sight of many warriors confirmed the location as a training ground. She smiled stiffly as the pointy eared men greeted them respectfully. To have others bow before you had Sophie in an uncomfortable spot. She curtsied back unsure of what to say. “I forgot that your people are esteemed warriors,” Sophie addressed Zander. Her eyes scanned the entire group. Idea’s and worries clouded her mind in a turbulent storm. She whirled back to face Zander. “If Lirakin was in danger you would come to our aid, would you not? My kingdom is so small and our men are not the fieriest of warriors. We could not survive without our allies.” Sophie’s hand flew to her mouth. Had she just hinted at Lirakin’s current position with their mightier and far more aggressive neighbor? “I beg your pardon. That was completely out of line. I did not to question your kingdoms loyalty to mine.” Her head hung forward in slight shame and embarrassment. As a servant she had learned not to make such outburst yet thoughts of the kingdoms situation put her on edge. She looked back up at the prince. She inhaled a deep breath. “If…if it is not too much trouble, I would like to watch your training sometime.”
Zander showed her the office that his father was often in, the throne room, and the many many bedrooms in the castle. Then he showed her to the dining room and said, "This is where we will be eating later, the chef makes wonderful food."
Then he took her to the library, which was filled with luxury furniture and lots and lots of books. He walked her through each row, cracking jokes as they went along. He was very energetic and tried his best to make her feel comfortable, he imagined it had to be hard to leave his family and come to a strange castle.
Lastly, he showed her his favorite place. Outside, just beyond the big and flowery back yard was a training ground filled with warriors practicing or learning battle skills. When the prince and princess approached all but a few of the men knelt. The others bowed their heads in respect and walked over, greeting them politely.
Sophie blinked at Zander. Wait Zander, as in the prince? She curtsied quickly. “It is a pleasure to meet you.” So far he seemed kind enough. Sophie felt some of her initial nervousness melt away. She had been afraid that the royalty would see through her in an instant but so far her king and queen’s plan was working.
The girl started as the prince took her hand but allowed him to lead her on. She silently thanked her lucky stars that she was not in heels as she quickly followed him up the stairs. If Zander’s home was exquisite on the outside, what was the inside like? Sophie’s curiosity increased as every step lead to the main door.
When the door opened, Sophie gasped. The parlor room was dazzling. “I grew up in a castle but this…this is beautiful,” she spoke. Her maroon eyes darted from detail to detail. She was awestruck by the sheer size and cleanliness of the room. Sophie turned her attention back to Zander. A genuine smile played across her lips while her ears tilted from curiosity mixed with mild excitement. “I cannot wait to see the rest of your home.”
Zander watched as the princess pulled up in her carriage. He had received word about a week ago that the princess would be coming and that they were betrothed. He was excited to meet her but also realized he couldn't let her distract him from his training. He had been working all week with her on his mind, all of the things he was curious about and wondering what she would be like that he had slacked off in training. He was hoping today would but his mind at ease.
Then he saw her step out of the carriage and his hopes of not being distracted were gone. Her maroon eyes seemed to sparkle in the sunlight as she walked toward the castle. He was absolutely mesmerized by her, realizing that she was more beautiful than he hoped she would be. As she reached the steps where he was standing he have a goofy smirk.
"Hi there. I'm Zander, and you must be Sophie," he greeted her. He took her by the hand and pulled her up the rest of the castle steps "please let me show you around."
Sophie stared out the window as the scenery flew past. The sound of the carriage’s wheels turning and pounding hooves upon the road set a quick and fleeting rhythm. Her cat ears twitched with nervous anticipation. Sophie closed her maroon eyes and leaned back against the plush velvet seat. A soft sigh escaped her lips. Her hand glided over her dress smoothing it out. Never had she worn such fancy expensive clothing. Sophie turned back to the window to reflect upon the events of last week.
It all started with a request by the king and queen for Sophie to come to the throne room for a personal audience. She came expecting to be scolded for failure to perform a task for the princess as her lady-in waiting. Instead they had surprised her with a request, practically begging, for her to pretend to be their daughter and marry the prince of the neighboring kingdom Cadeweth. Sophie recalled all the times her mother had reminded her of the family vow to serve the royal family. Barely after the yes left her mouth she was whisked off for dressing fittings and lessons on eloquence, dance and politics. The whole week whizzed by, leaving Sophie still baffled and on her way to Cadeweth.
“I never got a chance to say goodbye to Mama and Papa. I hope they don’t worry too much,” she mumbled. She barely had a moment to reflect on missing her family before one of the carriage’s footman announced “My lady, we are arriving at the castle.” “Thank you, footman,” Sophie replied. The carriage slowed to a stop and the door was opened to allow the cat girl to step out. She stood beside the carriage for a moment taking in the size and magnificence of the palace. Sophie strolled forward as a servant loudly announced her arrival as “Princess Sophie of Lirakin.” A young boy raced up to present Sophie with a bouquet of roses only to then run off. Taking her gift, Sophie continued forward knowing that she would soon meet her new family.
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