Every step Victor took in the hallway was followed by stares and a bow. Be it a maid or a noble. Everyone was stunned by his sheer presence. For himself, Victor exuded an imposing air around him while he was escorted by his maid and five soldiers behind him. Whispers of gossip loomed over him, but he paid no attention to it.
This hallway, the decorations, the curtains, all of it was coming to him. This place hasn't changed a bit since Victor was exiled from his home. However, Victor did notice a set of small colored handprints on the bottom of the wall, the size of a child's hand.
A small chuckle escaped before turning to his maid. "Gabriella?"
"Yes, my prince?"
"Do you remember back when we always played tag in this hallway?"
"That doesn't seem how I remembered it at all. I remember you kept ditching your lessons and I kept chasing after you."
“Certainly one of my most cherished memories."
"For milord maybe, but I believe I got good exercise out of it."
Victor overlooks the flurry of battleships docked in the city port through the large window beside him. Every last one of those ships was battle-ready, thousands of soldiers, knights, and riders were loading material onto it and preparing for a long sail.
Suddenly, a sarcastic woman greeted him from around the corner. “A pleasure to meet the one who caused us so much trouble.” A golden short-haired woman cast her displeased gaze at Victor.
“Manners, Duchess Noah. You’re still talking to the first heir to the throne.” A bald man with a double chin appeared beside the Duchess and tried to calm her unpleasantness with his soft words of warning.
“As far I can tell, the King hasn't revoked his exilement just yet. So I have yet to give two pennies on what this foul man thinks of me.”
“But making an enemy because you can't simply control your emotions is a foolish choice, Duchess. You should be ashamed for someone who held a title such as yourself to do such a disgraceful act. Your mother would be disappointed at how you conduct yourself.”
“Disappointed? You don't know anything about my mother, Zacharias of Coldcliff. Trust me, when I said she’ll quickly take my side when she heard that the King wanted to revoke this man's punishment.”
Victor ignored the two of them and proceeded to head toward the large door beside them. That small act managed to irritate the woman harder than she had been.
“A coward, who could have guessed?”
“Duchess Noah, your manners.”
“He and his traitorous maid don't deserve my manners.”
That was it, a single pin in Victor’s heart. That statement halted him. It wasn't the name-calling or the sarcastic statement toward him that infuriated him. It was her hubris that she thought she could drag Gabriella’s name through mud right in front of his face.
“Isaac?” said Victor calmly.
“Yes, my prince.” The young soldier rushed to his side.
“Your glove, if you may?” Isaac proceeded to take off his white glove and placed it on Victor’s palm.
The Prince turned and tossed the white glove at the Duchess’s face. She and his guards immediately bare their swords at each other. The quality of mood in that hallway decreased significantly. A nerve bulged on the Duchess’s forehead, she was furious beyond belief. The Duke sighed and stepped back, excusing himself from getting into more trouble.
“You can mock me, but don't you dare take my maid’s name in vain,” Victor warned the foul mouth woman.
“Prince Victor… please, I am nothing. You shouldn't bother yourself with me.” Gabriella pleaded at the Prince to calm his molten wrath.
“Never think yourself of that, Gabriella.”
“Fighting amongst ourselves will only lead to wastefulness. Please direct your wrath toward our enemy, not our allies.” A charismatic man with a distinct resemblance to Julius walked past them and entered the throne room without waiting for any of them.
“If you all may, the King awaits us, so let’s not waste any more time on petty arguments.”
Duchess Noah ran her fingers behind her ear and proceeded to enter the room first. Duke Zacharias nodded her head at Victor before he made his way inside. Victor turned to Gabriella, she had a worried look, but Victor mends it away by smiling at her. He walked through the door while Isaac recovered his glove and waited with the other soldiers in the corner of the room.
It was how Victor remembered it, red linens with golden embroidery hanging from the ceiling and draped down to the wall. A red carpet rolled toward the obsidian throne, where his father sat with a cold gaze and calculated gaze over his subjects. Beside him, sat his mother, her loving gaze met with Victor’s, and he replied with a small smile. However, on the left side of the King sat a young boy who bore the resemblance of his younger self.
The young prince looked at Victor, from up to down. Examining every crook and cranny of the man who was supposed to be his older brother. The Duchess and Duke made their way to the sides, but the man who walked in earlier stood at the bottom steps that led up to the throne. Alone, Victor arrived near the steps, he proceeded to kneel on one knee before the King.
“Victor Lawson, son of mine, once a Prince of Frozehaven. Your Kingdom called upon you to serve and protect us from the threat of an impending war. Will you accept?”
“With my great power over the Kingdom, I hereby lift your exilement if you can prove yourself as a protector of our people.”
“If I may speak, my lord?”
“I allowed it.”
“I do not wish for any reward. I only wish to finish what I started.”
“Am I hearing this correctly, you do not wish for your birthright to be returned?”
“Yes, my lord.”
The people in the room whispered with each other at how absurd Victor’s request was. Their gazes were like pin and needle, but Victor shook it off. He glanced to the side and saw the confused look on the young Prince. Victor had a half-grin on his face as he thought how adorable his little brother was.
“However, my lord. I don't mind if I was able to travel to this land and interact with people once more. I only wish that my title be disposed of. I do not wish to become a prince nor a king.”
“It’s a heavy request, Prince Victor, but a reasonable one. I shall grant that request but only if you were able to prove yourself as our protector.” The King let out a quiet sigh before nodding at his council members.
“Your kindness knows no bounds, my lord. Long Live The King.”
“Long Live The King!” Chanted the people in the room. After short applause from the crowd, King David waved his arm to dismiss his subject out of the room.
Victor left the throne room with the other subjects, but before he could talk to Gabriella, the man who dissolved the conflict earlier called him. “Victor?”
With a turn, the man had a smile on his face, “I mean, Prince Victor? I presumed.”
“You presumed correct. It’s nice to meet you, ah?”
“Slater? You’re Julius’s?”
“Ah, now the resemblance makes sense. I presumed you’re the new commander? If so you might be the youngest commander in Frozehaven’s history.”
“I am. Blame my grandpa for that. He persuaded the King to promote me just before he resigned. Now I dreaded ever being his grandson.”
“I don't think that’s bad. Hey, it could be worse, like getting exiled. So for what reason you called me?”
“It’s nothing. Just an introduction. I’m sorry if I seemed a bit arrogant when we met earlier. I was running late. Also, it’s a pleasure to be working with you from now on, we’ll be seeing a lot of each other in the field.” He extended his hand for a shake and Victor took it.
Joshua clicked his tongue with a disappointed gaze. He shook his head then sighed. “I would like to chat further, but I have an appointment to attend to. If you don’t mind, would you like to have some tea with me at any other time?”
“Of course, anytime,” said Victor as Joshua quickly strode away in a rush while Victor stood there still awed by the man’s exuberant friendly nature.
“Where should we go, my prince?” Gabriella appeared beside him.
“I’m thinking of some books for the journey.”
“The library fits the description, should we?”
“Lead the way.”
Gabriella led the way for Victor to follow. It doesn't take long for them to arrive at the doorsteps of the Royal Library. In front of the door, Gabriella took the initiative to open it for Victor before he did. The Prince took the moment to sigh as he glanced at his gleeful maid. He ignored her delighted feeling and walked through the entrance.
“You know I can do it myself?”
“I know, but it's more fun this way.”
“For you that is?”
“Of course, my prince.”
Victor let out another sigh before he gazes at the Library interior. He was astounded that the room hadn't changed much after he left. The same old books still on the same shelf, the same table arrangement, the same decorations.
However, on a second look, it seems something did change after he left. A stack of beautifully painted canvas leaned against the bookcase and a wooden easel facing the window with a stool in front of it. The easel was bathed with different color smudges as if it was used regularly; even the floor around it didn’t manage to escape the torrent of rainbow color spots.
“Someone was busy. Has this thing been here after I left?”
“Never seen it before, milord.”
“Prince Virgil? Milord, we’re sorry we didn't notice you.” Gabriella turned and quickly bowed while Victor stood there with an uncared expression,
“So it’s true then, my older brother truly has no manners left. Leaving in the wild had made you barbaric.”
“I do have manners, but not to a child like you.”
“A child who ranks higher than you if I remembered your proclamation earlier.”
"Pulling rank? Not quite the dignified trait."
"What do you know about dignity when you drag your own through mud and dirt?" Prince Virgil made his way to the canvas, his hands grasped behind him while his chest puffed out.
"Ouch, and here I thought we were getting along." A smile crept as Victor turned to the same canvas.
"Why are you here?"
"Sentimental reason. Did you draw all these paintings?"
"They are beautiful."
"They are mediocre. A means to an end." Virgil placed down the painting among the others.
"My means. It helped with unraveling the day to day stress. Sometimes it also helps me escape from my nosy maid."
"I know that feeling, all too well." Victor can sense the rolled eyes Gabriella gave him as she stood behind him.
"The pressure they put on you, the feeling of being trapped, the restricting clothes, the judging stares, the earful whispers, I do not miss it one bit."
"Trapped?" Prince Virgil raised an eyebrow.
"I was once like you. Unaware of the blissful imprisonment our father had erected around us."
"Is that how you see it?"
"How else should I perceive it as?"
"Protection. If you see it as imprisonment then we are truly different. I know the risk of my status held. I know my father did what he needed to protect his family. Now I see the reason you refuse your birthright." He turned and looked at Victor as if he was a foreign man to him.
"Do tell?" asked Victor with furrowed eyebrows.
"You're selfish. You think not of the people around you, only yourself and your wants."
"Selfish? I was kept here, unwillingly by our father. My own choices were decided for me before I even knew that I had a choice at all. I had no voice. I was a puppet. Groomed like a doll for other people's needs."
Prince Virgil turned and pressed his finger on Victor’s chest. "Do not. Do not dress your privilege as your suffering. You were fed with the finest meal. You were clothed with the finest material. You had a comfortable bed that was envied by any common peasant. You had everything given to you on a gold platter, and all they asked of you is your devotion to protect and care for them."
"And you have that devotion?" asked Victor calmly.
"I do. I accept my role willingly. Unlike you, I see my birthright as a gift, not a curse." Prince Virgil glared at Victor before a scarlet-haired maid walked into the room.
"Prince Virgil, It's time for your lecture," said the maid before glancing at the other maid in the room.
"Gabriella," she greeted Victor’s maid with a soft resentful tone.
"Michelle, it's nice to…see you." Gabriella greeted back with a nervous laugh
"The pleasure is-- I won't lie. I thought I never had to see you again. You know, you broke her heart. And still, all ever she talked about is you."
Gabriella cast her gaze down and gripped her hands together.
"Enough, Michelle. I prefer we not waste more time here."
"Yes, your highness." Michelle closed her eyes and opened the door for Prince Virgil.
"Her hands were around my neck. I saw my life flashing by. I was gonna die, and that thing you called 'Monster' saved me. That's the fact." said Victor as he stared through the window.
Prince Virgil stopped for a short while and let out a sigh before walking out of the room with his maid behind him. Virgil didn't say anything, but it was enough: that pause was enough. A smile appeared on Victor's face as he shook his head.
After Prince Virgil was out of earshot, Victor let out a sigh as he mumbled, "No apologies. I like him."
"You do, after what he said?" asked Gabriella.
"He's going to be a great ruler, better than I can or ever will. Are you okay, Gabriella?"
There was a slither of pain in her faint calm expression, "I'm fine."
Victor took hold of Gabriella’s hand: the bleak expression on her face was washed away like a waterfall down a high cliff. A thankful nod at first then she pulled him closer for an embrace. Her voice was shaken, "I never regretted leaving my duties, but I regret leaving my family behind."
"If you want to stay here then I won't stop you. I wish you stayed here rather than follow me to the depth of despair."
Gabriella let out a held chuckle, "I will never going to leave you again, you know that right, milord?"
"Ahh, and here I thought I was able to get rid of you, but I'm glad you're by my side again, Gabriella." A short sigh escaped Victor’s lips as he smiled at the maid. He turned his gaze at the window, a little bit glad that he was able to see this view again.