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Zander smiled when Sophie took his hand. She led him around outside. He was curious about the training grounds, but didn't say much about them. He knew some from what his father had said. "Cadeweth has a fort like that," he said. "But we use it for specialized training. I hardly ever go there."
He went in the stables and watch Sophie. As he was seeing all these horses it made him wish he had been able to bring his own horse. Zander had ridden Frost for years, and while Zander rode other horses as well, they never felt the same. Will felt the same way about Midnight. Zander looked at Sophie and his world focused on her.
Zander thought the garden was beautiful, which was incredibly rare. He followed Sophie through it and watched her as she looked at the flower. He looked at the pavilion and mulled over what she had said, wondering if it was something he should do to surprise her. She seemed embarrassed, which he thought was cute. He couldn't stop thinking about the idea of proposing to her as they headed down to the water lilies.
"Sophie," he said, taking both of her hands in his. "You are so incredibly beautiful. You are more amazing than I could ever imagine. I love you," he said before kissing her.
Grant smiled back to Marilyn and waved as Sophie and Zander left before smiling at Marilyn. Meanwhile, Sophie playfully dragged Zander out the main entrance. “First things first, I must show you are gardens. They are gorgeous and decorated with plants from the diplomats from several kingdoms.” The neko girl griped the elf prince’s hand and lead him down the cobble stone path way. When they reached the garden Sophie slowed down to wander amongst the plants stopping to smell their sweet scent or explain what the plant was. After that Sophie led him to the stables so he could meet the horses before the hunt. Seeing the horses made the girl remember her Equestrian friends in Cadeweth; Frost, Midnight and Honey. Maybe later they could go for a ride. Sophie waited patiently for Zander to be done with his examination of the horses before moving on.
The next stop was the training ground which was far less massive than the one in Cadeweth. Sophie smiled shyly at Zander. “This is the castle training ground. It’s just to keep the guards active and well practice. Our troops officially train at the old fortress in the north east. If you’d like, we can plan a trip out there. I’m sure the troops would be honored to meet you.” She hoped he would at least consider since his favorite place at home was the training ground and she herself had never been at the old fortress before. The warriors bowed politely as the couple pasted before they turned back to their exercises. Sophie squeezed Zander’s hand to gain his attention. “Now, it’s time for best and final part of the tour.
Sophie turned down the path that led to a small orchard on the northern end of the castle grounds. She did not stop but continued to walk as the fruit trees turned into regular trees. Finally she stopped as she stepped out of the tree line into a small grassy area with a white gazebo and a small lake with lilies. Sophie smiled peacefully. “This is my most precious spot. It’s where my mom and dad first met; right over there at the edge of the pond. The gazebo is where my father proposed to my mother. They had a small wedding her to with permission from the king.” She closed her maroon eyes and took a deep breathe of the air before sighing. “I…I had always wished that when I found someone to love that I would be proposed to in the same gazebo.” Sophie blushed looking at Zander. She gave a small laugh. “It was a silly wish but I still love this place. Come, the water lilies are more beautiful up close.”
Zander nodded to the King. Even though he was a little nervous about leaving Sophie, he tried his best to remember they were in Lirakin and she would be fine. He gave his best effort to look forward to his hunt with Grant and the King.
Marilyn watched Sophie, and looked up when she heard she was giving Sophie a tour of the castle. She remembered her tour with Prince Grant and looked incredibly happy for a moment, squeezing his hand unintentionally at the memory. She smiled at him and watch Sophie leave with Zander.
Zander followed Sophie out of the dining hall that looked so different from the one in his castle. He understood the need for a rectangular table, Cadeweth actually switched out their circular table for a rectangular one when holding dinners. He smiled at Sophie as he followed her through the castle.
Sophie grinned. “Then it’s settled, at noon we shall head out on a hunt while you ladies prepare for afternoon tea,” chimed the King. “Till then you have the rest of the morning to yourselves.” Sophie nodded her head in thanks. She could still finish Zander’s tour of the castle grounds and reassure him that she would be fine without him until he returned. She ate her food slowly, savoring the flavors she grew up on. Once she was done she stood up and curtsied to her to everyone.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to be excused so I can finish Zander’s tour of the castle grounds.” She was planning on showing Zander the gardens and the stables before taking him to see the gazebo by a small lake on the other side of the orchard. It was the most special place for her and her family and she couldn’t wait to share it with the man she loved.
Zander followed Sophie into the dining hall quietly, he had so much on his mind that he almost forgot his greetings. "Good Morning," he said to Marilyn, the Queen, and the King. He took his seat beside Sophie, squeezing her hand when she cringed at Grant's teeth. Zander seemed to stay relax, but it made him a bit uneasy as well.
Marilyn smiled when Sophie and Zander came. She listened to her father's suggestion and then at Prince Grant, "I would love to have tea with my mother and sister. I think it will be a fabulous time. As long as you don't mind that I steal some of her time Prince Zander." She looked curiously at the elven prince, wondering what he would say.
"I think it's a wonderful idea," Zander said. "And though I hate to give up Sophie, I think I can spare a few minutes," he spoke in jest. He wanted her to have time with her family, especially if she wanted it. He could tell she had some curiosities about Marilyn and Grant, and could ask Marilyn while they had tea. This might also give him a chance to investigate more of that strange riddle he had received in the night.
Sophie steps into the dining hall to find her “parents” had arrived barely ahead of them. Sophie smiled brightly and chimed her good mornings to everyone present. She was trying not to let the warning Zander received mess with her morning. She guided the elven prince to his spot at the table. Unlike the dining table in Cadeweth, Lirakins was rectangular. The king sat at the head of the table with his wife on his right and Marilyn on the left. Sophie sat beside the queen, motioning Zander to sit on her other side. Grant took his spot beside Marilyn and across from Sophie. He smiled and nodded his greetings. Sophie shuddered at his pointed teeth. Catching her reaction Grant stopped smiling. He deeply dig not wish to frighten anyone realizing that other kingdoms were uneasy with the people of Severijan.
The King cleared his throat as the food arrived. “Well, I’m glad to see us all together again. I hope you are enjoying our kingdom Prince Zander. I have arranged some bonding time today. How about a good hunt this afternoon with both my future son-in-laws this afternoon? It will give you girls time to catch up over tea.” Sophie nodded looking over at Zander. “It sounds like a great idea, Father.” Now she could ask Marilyn what she thought of her suitor and tell her what she thought of the Severijan prince. Even Grant nodded at the suggestion catching Sophie by surprise. “It sounds like fun. If we come back soon enough or catch can be tonight’s feast.” The king laughed in full agreement. “What do you say Marilyn and Zander? Are you up for some time away from your fiancés?”
Zander didn't directly answer her question about his healing magic at first. "Don't worry about it," he said. "I'll be fine." He took a few seconds before saying, "I don't actually know if that one works here. It depends on the place." He wasn't too worried about it, but he wanted to comfort her more than anything else.
"I think the riddles are trying to warn us of some kind of betrayal," he said. "Except I don't know what kind or by whom. Unfortunately, I don't know any details." He kissed her cheek, a swift brush of the lips until he heard her speak.
When she said breakfast, he realized how hungry he was. He stood up and followed her to breakfast. His slight smile flattened when he saw Grant. Zander didn't say much when he was around, just a simple nod of the head in greeting with a simple, "Good Morning," spoken after what he said. They walked into breakfast as Zander tried to figure out more about the Severijan Prince.
Sophie was so thrilled to see that Zander was enjoying the castle. She giggled and continued to smile at him. The smile faded when Zander mentioned his magic didn’t work outside of Cadeweth. “You can’t use your magic? Well, what…what about your healing ability? Tell me that power is still working!” Sophie felt safer in Lirakin but the uneasiness was starting to creep back in. She sighed allowing herself to relax. “Well, that’s okay. I’m sure everything will be fine and we’ll find another way up there.”Sophie hugged her prince, leaning her head on his shoulder.
Sophie’s ears flicked with curiosity as Zander started to speak. By the end of his tale her eyes were wide. “So…It wasn’t a dream. I really did see a man with bird wings.” She closed her maroon eyes. So much for the safety of Lirakin. The princess thought hard about the riddles. “What do you think they mean? Oh, I wish they weren’t riddles. Then we would know what we’re dealing with.” She rested her head back on his shoulder. Sophie tried to tune out the world and focus only on Zander’s arms around her. She rubbed his back trying to get Zander to relax.
The princess took one more shaky breath before stepping away. “Don’t worry. Together we’ll stop the assassins before they can do anything. Now we better get to the dining hall before everyone has breakfast without us. ‘Mother’ will not approve of tardiness.” Sophie took the elven prince’s hand and led him to the dining hall. They were almost there when Grant appeared beside them. Sophie scooted closer to Zander. “Good morning Grant.” She whispered softly. Grant seemed lost in his own thoughts. “Oh hello, Sophie and Zander.” It was all he said the rest of the way to breakfast. Sophie forced herself to relax. She needed to calm down and give him a chance, if only for Marilyn’s sake.
Zander followed her around as she showed him everything. He was trying to conjure up some sort of map, chain everything together with the hallways like some kind of string. He kept track of where they were, but also listened to her talk.
When he was showed her favorite room in the castle she could instantly understand why. He sat next to her and listened to her. "I completely believe a place like this should exist in a castle," he said, his lips brushing against her cheek. "My mother has a sort of tea parlor, but it is nothing compared to this."
When he heard that they were unable to reach her other favorite place in the castle he was slightly saddened. He would have loved to be able to go up there with her and explore everything that there was to see. "I wish I could fix it for you," he said. "But my magic doesn't work outside of Cadeweth, and I've no idea how to build." He pulled her into him, keeping his arms around her gently.
"Sophie," he said. "Something strange happened last night... and I'm not quite sure what to think of it..." He sounded nervous, especially explaining this. He recalled the entirety of the events that had happened before. "I just don't know who to trust. I don't know if I can trust anyone, but I'm sure that I can trust you... I'd never doubt you. That's why I'm telling you. It's just that..." he froze. This was one of the rare times he stumbled over his words. His hands shook slightly as he tried to tell her what he was feeling, but it wasn't exactly easy. "It's hard... for only me to know... and I don't like keeping things from you..."
She led him down the hall to start the tour. Sophie laughed, nodding. “Of course I do. You showed me all your favorite places last. And I’m going to follow suit except I’ll start with where I used to live first.” She took Zander’s hand and led him to the servant’s quarters. The entire castle staff was up getting ready for a start of the new day making the hallways crowded. Sophie could only point out which room was her family’s suite before taking him back to the main parts of the castle.
Sophie showed Zander the royal commons room, where the king’s office was, the library and reading room. Lastly, she showed him the tea parlor. A grand piano, other instruments and couches made the room initially look like a music parlor but if one continued in further, through the stained glassed wall’s doors the room changed. There on the other side were stately columns and well-trimmed plants with benches and tables set up spaciously about the room. In one corner was a curved alcove of windows with an iron rot table and chairs. “This is my favorite room of the castle that I can show you. The queen takes her tea over there and it’s my favorite place to be. No one thinks such a place can actually exist in the castle.” Sophie took a seat at on of the benches all the while admiring the room. “I would have showed you the top room of one of the towers but the stair case broke before I left for Cadeweth and we can’t reach it at the moment.”
Sophie smiled then sighed. “I’ve really missed it here. It’s so nice to be back.” She smiled lovingly at Zander before standing up. “Come on. Breakfast will be served soon. After that I can show you my favorite place on the castle grounds.” Her eyes gave off a playful light. The tour of the castle itself was over but the tour of the castle grounds were yet to happen.
Zander slept through the rest of the night, but when he woke to Sophie's voice and her hands on his shoulders he still felt completely exhausted. He had continuous dreams about the bird boys message, but he didn't know what to say about it yet. He didn't want to worry Sophie with the message quite yet, so he would leave it out until he knew she had enjoyed her stay. He didn't want her happiness ruined.
The Prince sat up slowly, looking her in the eyes. "Right," he said. "Let's go tour the castle." He pushed the blankets off of him and got to his feet. He changed quickly and waited for her.
As their tour started, he asked, "Do you remember when I gave you a tour of my castle?" He smiled as he followed her through Lirakin's palace, which was absolutely beautiful.
Sophie slept through most of the night peacefully. She had strange dreams of strange creatures; creatures from story books of her childhood. The strangest one had been so life like. In it, a bird man was standing there with Zander. Sophie didn’t know what to think about the dreams really. She just let her mind wander in the realm of sleep.
Just shortly after dawn, Sophie awoke. Blinking she saw Zander asleep beside her. Sophie frowned. She could have sworn she went to her room last night. Maybe she slept walked or asked to sleep here when she had those dreams. It didn’t matter. She snuggled closer to Zander. Sophie closed her eyes for a few more minutes.
Sophie’s maroon eyes flew open again. It was morning and they were in Lirakin. She sprung up to a sitting position. “Zander! Zander wake up! It’s morning!” She shook her prince’s shoulders. If they got up know there would be plenty of time to get ready, do a tour of the castle then have breakfast. Sophie couldn’t stop smiling.
Zander massaged his temples as he tried to understand everything the winged boy was saying, though it wasn't making any sense. He tried his best to relax as the boy preformed his sensory spell. Zander was intrigued by the blue light on the feather, and was curious. He watched quietly and gasped when the boy spoke Sophie's secret.
"I ask you not to tell a soul," Zander said. "If Severijan ever found out... I do not want to disturb the peace with this." He turned when Sophie came in the room, jumping when the boy touched her. "Why did you do?" Zander growled out. He went over to her and picked her up, relieved by the boys explanation.
As soon as the boy left Zander laid Sophie down on his bed, covering her gently with the blankets. He laid next to her, waiting for her to wake up. Against his will, he fell asleep before she did. He didn't know what to tell Sophie about all of this. He even dreamt about the open scroll he had left on the desk.
Liam shook his head after standing back up. “I do not think there was anything to do with a kingdom’s betrayal. Grandfather said there were images of the past, things that have transpired... assassins.” The winged boy watched Zander’s face as if to check if the visions were true. Slowly he continued. “He fears they will try to drive the kingdoms apart so they will have more strength against you.” The messenger watched Zander write his letter. Most of the time his Grandfather instructed him not to let the receiver tell others as it was viewed as meddling in the order of things but not this time. Seeing that the message was sent by air mail, Liam figured it was sent to Cadeweth.
“Here, let me still some of your fears.” Liam plucked out a feather from his wing with a small grimace. The feather pulsed blue for several seconds while he closed his eyes to concentrate. The blue light grew to a steady glow. “There is no threat from the royalty of either kingdom though Severjan is clouded from all certainty though Grant seems to not harbor much of a threat. Sophie…” Liam stopped suddenly opening his eyes with a started expression. “Sophie is not of royal blood is she? I could not sense her when I checked Lirakin’s royalty.” The feather’s light went out with a sudden flash. Liam frowned angrily at the feather. “I am sorry Prince Zander. My ora could not hold on enough to continue the sensory spell and I can only preform this once a day.”
Shortly afterwards, the door to Zander’s room opened to reveal a sleepy Sophie. “Zander, I thought I heard voices. Is everything alright?” She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes in time to see the winged boy. “Who…” Sophie was cut off when Liam swiftly and gently tapping her on the forehead between her eyes with a green glowing finger. Instantly she fell asleep into Liam’s arms. He looked up Zander a bit panicked. “Sorry,” Liam whispered. He handed the sleeping cat girl over to the prince. “I panicked and over reacted. She’ll be fine. She’s just asleep.” Liam smiled nervously watching Sophie snore softly away. “I must take leave, my prince. My grandfather will keep me informed if anything changes. I will return if I get more news or you need my aid.” The bird boy bowed once more. He headed out to the common room where he changed his arms back into wings and his legs back to bird feet. Liam hoped on the balcony railing. “Rest now and worry not while the moon is full. Your princess’s secret is safe with me.” And with that Liam took off.
Zander read the scroll with a puzzled look on his face. "Could this mean..." he started but didn't finish. He suddenly realized that the boy in front of him was not what Zander originally thought. He saw the extended wing and shock crossed his face. The groggy prince hadn't noticed before and was more frustrated over being woken.
"Are you here to tell me that Lirakin is planning to betray Cadeweth? Or Severijan is to betray Lirakin? Or is it simpler than that? Does this have anything to do with Prince Grant?" he questioned. Zander was beyond confused.
The prince then sat down with a sheet of parchment and began writing. He wrote to Will, describing the events of the night and including what the scroll said. He wasn't sure what to do, but he didn't like being here alone, especially if there was to be some sort of attack.
Zander went to the window and a messenger pigeon flew over. He tied the scroll to its foot and let the bird fly. It would only take a day for the letter to reach his friend. Friend... could this message have something to do with Will? Zander didn't know who to trust now.
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