"Could you be any more unpleasant?"
Few words, as always. Low voice, flat, slightly hostile dead eyes. A mere imitation of an imposing aura, youth was little to no excuse.
He didn't have the weight of a single curl off my grandfather's head. Not even a finger of the fear my late father could strike in me. The somber weight of his aura meant nothing to me.
I recall that strange face I once found so tediously familiar. Parts and pieces chiseled as if a master crafter had worked on it. He contained many aspects of ideal handsomeness, clear beautifully white unblemished skin that did not see the poor man's sunlight, light intelligent-looking brows on a high forehead, sloping cheekbones hollowed to a distinguished jaw, but put it all together and it gave a sense of disjointedness. As if said master left a clumsy apprentice to assemble the pieces. Still a clean-cut and mature face for a 'man' his age.
That's right. I thought he was a man, already come of age. A short passing of season had somehow turned an arrogant pompous boy into a formal adult.
That was the difference between us, this status. This is what kept me safe from that contract called marriage, that I was still but a child.
My original long-time thoughts and feelings on spending the rest of my life with this 'man', to share our burdens, to carry our outer faces to the world and ultimately to bear and raise his children....was best described as expecting nothing, and still being disappointed.
They were beautiful flowers I remember, the presented bouquet a fragrant explosion of summer blossoms and well-placed accessories. The florist did a wonderful job, selecting all of my sister's favorite flowers. At least it wasn't known to the public what were my personal preferences, not that anyone bothered to tell the differences. They just assumed.
I accepted with grace, the small noble practiced smile for once breaking on my face at the chilling disgrace.
"Why, of course, I can." I smiled even brighter, knowing full well how to make that face. The face of the other girl he preferred.
He was a man, while I still a child, there was a great height difference between us. He stood still as stone, frozen in anger at my mocking. The sharp intake of his breath and reddening indignation on his pale face the only solace I could pick at.
I was forced to look up and reach to receive the bouquet myself when he still didn't move.
"Don't...do that." he clenches his fist under his sleeves.
I hide my rolling eyes in the bouquet, using it in place of a fan despite the overpoweringly strong floral stench. Later I would toss it. Like hell, I'd act as his runner.
"Oh. Whatever does your grace mean?" I blink up through the flowers, grimacing something ugly underneath various petals.
Narrowed blue eyes for once were willing to meet mine, usually avoidant in their gaze.
That's how it worked, I didn't bother him, he didn't unnecessarily bother me. Do what needs to be done. Continue on with the peace. If he didn't start anything, neither would I. Really now, there was plenty of wasted working potential.
"Play along now your grace." I match his stillness, his rudeness in making a young lady act first, reflect back as good as I get, "the crowds are waiting."
Finally, when he offers his reluctant hand, I do not accept it right away.
We linked arms none the less, as awkward as it is, a proper escort as any from the outside. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of eyes watch our every move. They cheer in ignorance, in the glamour, in silent judgment.
The young prince was as handsome as a fairy tale, practically every young maid's dream. Now, he was officially a man, not far from the throne himself.
I was not an ill-suited match, despite my youth. Years of harsh training and etiquette were beaten into every fiber of my being if my noble blood somehow still wasn't enough. We looked good together. I knew that much was not an exaggeration, nor mere flattery.
"Will you stop that?" he breathes out quietly, a stern and serious face to the world. As if a magnificent weight was about to rest on his growing broadening shoulders. It was all quite droll.
My manners were perfect, it was not simply my famed arrogance that saw that.
"You'll have to be more specific, my grace. On what is it you wish me to stop for the time?"
It could have been anything, at any time. My fiance was never quite pleased with me. My businesses, the way I run my properties, the way I drew lines, right down to the way I looked. He was never pleased how I wasn't her.
"You have two years." the grip on my arm was beginning to hurt.
The horrid little boy- man- then dared to sabotage me in public. Pulling me to the point I almost stumbled, forcing me to lean against his robes. In the end, he covered it up as if had helped this foolish little girl from tripping. As if he hadn't shamed me enough?
It would be even more shameful to react. I was raised far better than that.
"....2 years? Till my own coming of age? Wonderful. You know how to count. The nation will be so relieved. "
"Till we're wed." he hissed quickly under his breath.
I could have stopped in my tracks, but it wasn't the place. Wasn't the time. Too many eyes, too many expectations.
"Oh ho ho. Don't be in such a foolish hurry, your grace. Your position isn't in any danger? Even if, the gods and goddesses forbid, illness takes your king father to the pearly gates before his time too soon. Don't you know it's utterly unfashionable to wed a lady right after her adulthood ceremony? What are we? Are we peasants, childhood sweethearts tearfully waving each other before a war? "
His grip hurt and it wasn't simply impatience that slowed us down on our formal march.
"Forgive my great lacking, your grace. I regret to inform you that I yet to master the fine art of mind-reading."
"Your grace. This lady would humbly bow if we were not in public, requesting, no begging you bless my delicate feminine ears with more than a handful of your royal grunts and long gaps of speech. Perhaps then I could attempt to understand? "
"....those flowers, don't suit you."
"Oh my. You just noticed? Stick with diamonds, that always work."
"How could someone... like you... be related to someone like her?"
Of all the things to finally say. I remember laughing. I remember forcibly pulling away. Not to hide how it stung, not to hide the tired comparisons, the hurt that never got the chance to heal.
The guards lining the road, no matter how strict their orders, parted before my silent command. The crowds could have swarmed me, hurt me. They could have torn me apart alive right there and then. But they too parted, bowed in their shakey clumsy ways.
All but the small bright-eyed common children, hiding in their mother's arms, confusedly bowed by their sides.
"These flowers," I approached one at random, her little brown curls streaked stuck with mud, "they suit you more than I."
I hoped he was watching. I hoped he could see clearly how I tore his 'gift' apart. Fat glamorous flowers, tediously grown to perfection. I destroyed them, starting with one little girl.
She gasped, howling in what I assumed was children's noise at the flower stabbed into her filthy hair. Like a monster's hoard call, it brought forth others like her. More peasant children, breaking out of their parent's holds. Little hungry beasts. I tossed the broken mangled stems at them but they cheered as if I were throwing money.
The mother next, tears in her eyes as I fakely complimented her screaming child. I dropped the rest into her skinny bosom.
A tumbled multi-gemmed brooch fell out the ribboned casing, the sunlight reflecting momentarily blinding not just me but the crowds all around.
No one moved, I suspected that few people even bothered breathing. The sound of the guards' swords clearly being unsheathed.
I laughed even harder.
A love gift! He was hiding a love gift in there?! I would have never known and taken it home, delivered personally into Lilyanne's waiting hands. Immediately I identified the heavy make, the forged origins to the North-West, the murky crystal whites and tumbled smooth blue stones, and their hidden intents. Such a magnificent set of blue, it would stand out something gorgeous against Lilyanne's hair, the sweet swell of her dress.
It was insulting how they thought they could use me, how they almost got away with it.
"What a blessing?.... Surely, good woman, you'll make better use of this than I?"
Did I already look like a madwoman at the time? Was my laugh very frightening? The bedraggled women dared to shake and cry, refusing the trouble of having to deal with this unseen weight.
"My-my lady. T-this one does not d-dare." she managed.
It's not that I didn't understand, what if she got mugged before selling it off? Who's to say? So much trouble.
But I didn't want such unsightly trash either.
Could have been anyone. It didn't matter if I tossed it to the filthy baby to play with, she was old enough not to choke on it. Good enough.
"Dare. I have already given it away to do as one likes. Do not do me the dishonor of taking it back."
I smiled, fake as this farce. Without even dusting it off, I resorted to picking up the now dirty thing from the floor and treating it like the trash it was. Into the playful hands of the child and her sobbing bowing mother. They had better sell it quickly before the guards dispersed.
I had turned back to resume my duties, annoyed about having to throw out such trash. At the very least I had the satisfaction to return to my fiance's side if he bothered not to leave me behind. Again.
I wouldn't know.
I only know how this ends.
"Wait! Please wait a moment!" a sweet and delicate voice cries out, too familiar. Stubborn, though weak, with more than a hint of pitifulness. Every time that voice talked, all the self-proclaimed 'knights' around her would slay whatever dared stand in her way.
I told her she wasn't to come today, not like that. But does she ever listen? Of course not.
What would people think? What would nobles say to see that frail lovely young maid, not but 14, dressed in such flimsy plain robes in public? A disguise she called it. More like a scandalous disgrace, just begging for people to gossip and slander.
As if anyone in disguise as a commoner could afford to keep delicately embroidered cloth so white and clean? If they didn't already know about her standard disguise on sight, it would be the news around town by evening supper.
So young. The plainer, though no less expensive than my own closet, cloth accentuated her budding curves, making her look slender and elegant. Peeks of fabulously pale white skin underneath drew people's eyes, their expectations that a real beauty, a bud waiting to bloom, lied underneath.
I didn't want to look. I didn't want to turn around to my shame, my 'better' half. The show-stealer and foil that I served since I was born, extensively since we were left without parents.
"Please! Rosalia~" her pitiful cries made people's hearts ache, even without knowing the contents. If she wasn't being obvious enough, calling out my personal name without title, in public, so unabashedly, had revealed her.
Sighing, I stood in place, once again caught up in her pace. It was better to cut my losses, to escort her personally back than to let any of those fiends take the honor. As horribly tired as I was of her antics, her disappointments, I would never leave her alone with boys nor men, even if they were nothing but untrained lovelorn puppy dogs, in public. Though she seemed to more than enjoy it in private.
Just like how she met up with my fiance, in so-called flimsy disguise, just last week.
I turned, finally facing her. The delicate hood finally dropping in the moment to reveal...
A cheese chewing toddler?
"Rosa! Flower nom nom? " she bites the bouquet between our faces, much like a goat, chewing the petals and leaves in a very serious tasting. All before spitting it out in a wet mulch.
Well, that was a wake-up call.
"Blech! No nom nom. " she spits and splutters, looking nothing like the white lotus sort of young maiden I was expecting to see in my mind just now.
Tiny hands stuffing the rest of the cheese she's holding to wash out the taste in her squishy little face. It's hard to call a toddler a budding beauty of any kind when she's covered in colors and spit-up.
Toddlers are messy. There goes another dress. I say we just put a permanent bib on her.
"Oh my, Lilyanne Mariana Ventrella! What are you doing? No no no my sweet, a lady mustn't go putting strange things into her mouth!" Mother fusses, running over to clean the flower-dyed spit up over Lily's dress.
"Rosa smushy for a looooong time, Lily thought nom noms? No nom noms" she sticks out her whole tongue, the solid cheese doing an inadequate job of getting the taste of flowers out her mouth.
"No no no my Lilyanne, you must not copy your sister. Do you remember when she fell very very sick because she smelled something yummy at Grampapa's troops? We had to lock her up."
"Wit big bruders!"
"Yes. For they all put very bad things in their mouths and it hurt them quite badly. Your sister especially. Do you want to fall sick and have more 'owies'? "
"Then my sweet precious good little child, you must not eat after everything you see! It's very dangerous. Just remember your sister's horrible mistake and how terribly sick she got, or how she couldn't talk for some time. Or how she had to be fed, with the cuties, oh that precious little -ohohoho, so cuuute~ I want one too~ To keep~ So cutes!"
"Big fat tongue, big hee hee." my sister mocks me.
Thank you all for the short course of my dark history. It was not necessary.
I'm still mad about the shut-up salted caramels, now that I remember it. Mad because they actually tasted pretty darn good. What a waste!
The scent of flowers in the gifted bouquet is too much to my senses now, especially after watching my twin try to consume it like a salad. There is no note or anything. The hotel's delivery staff and pages were quite clear this morning before our departure. Flowers for the young ladies of House Ventrella, by yours truly.
Okay, they didn't say that exactly, but same thing. Of course, it was arranged by countless servants, advisors, go in-betweens, right down to the delivery runner heading off the flowers. But none the less it's from their side.
I never received any more flowers from my fiance after that event. A steward maybe, something prepared by my own people or run by a valet? But personally? Never again.
"I don't like them either, Mother," I announce, pushing them away.
"Oh my?" Mother wakes up from her distraction. "Do you not like these types my darling?"
"The flowers themselves are innocent. I just don't like them. "
It's very odd for a child at that age to send flowers? So most likely it's something his people came up with. A kind enough gesture before our departure. Mother gives me a slightly puzzled look but does nothing further, especially given how her other much odder child just tried to chew it. It's just a bouquet.
It means nothing. Especially not who they're supposed to be from.
"Are my girls all ready?" Father steps into the room.
The carriages must all be ready. He doesn't need to come all the way back to the suit to escort Mother down. It's rather a waste of time if we're being economic.
But here he is as if he had not wasted even more time just the other day playing what quite possibly was the most terrifyingly intense game of hide and seek that I, and the poor hotel staff, have ever witnessed. Quite dizzying to spin around all those halls. I nearly fell my famous case of ill from all motion being carried about like that, even once escaping through a balcony window.
It didn't work.
I shall not recount the cruel humiliating punishments Mother inflicted on my delicate bottom, nor any of the other nasty details. That is not a story for today, or ever.
Against such a terrifying woman, any man should be begging for mercy. Showering bribes of flowers and sweets, jewels and gowns. All things my father can very well afford.
But he doesn't. At least not ever at the right time?
How does he ever survive being married?
The Northern Federation is not lacking for money. The things that the stupid prince, or his people, sent me were never cheap, knowing my tastes. Crafted goods from lands afar, beyond my territory's borders. Lavish displays of wealth, the more expensive the better. All the grand gorgeous bouquets that were sent to my maid's arms for any all reasons.
Being late. Not making it. Not showing up at all. All cheap excuses, no matter how costly the gifts.
Especially towards the end of my life, when his coldness was at its peak. Worse than a storm that starved the lands, stiller than dead, resentment buried underneath like something unholy.
That's what all those meaningless displays meant in the end. All those bouquets amounted to.
"Just about darling! Oh look at that, it's not like you to be so untidy." Mother giggles, finishing off with tying Lilyanne's bonnet.
With some hurried steps resembling more of a girl closer to my sister's current age, she runs up into his arms, her excess sleeves floating along. With nothing offered, she tugs and straightens out his collar, the knots to his overly complicated necktie. Something she's quite fond of pulling, and I fear, quite adept at undoing.
"Some rowdy beasts, a bit of hurried business. All done now my dear. All yours now love." he smiles, truly smile. Letting her do what she likes, which was practically trying a noose at his neck.
I gag like I had eaten some damn flowers when he leans to press his thanks for the torture onto her forehead. I roll in horror and to safety underneath the tablecloth when she forcefully pulls his face down for something more, squealing horrible little sounds.
How salacious! Immoral! Why I never.
Shivering under the tablecloth, Lilyaene joins me in her confusion. Still pure and innocent to the corruption that is grossness in this world.
To think, in little more than 10 years from now, she would be donning inappropriate dresses and go about galvanizing with strange men under her spell. All those compromising situations. All the blatant 'cheating'. Young. Old. The stupid prince.
Oh the horrors!
Perhaps the bad influence...lies with the parents?
Yes! At least partly. She's always been much closer to our parental units than I have. At home, unable to escape on horseback, she must have been witness to all sorts of disgusting lovey-dovey horrors from those two during the formative years of her life. It messed up her brain and all good sense.
"Rosa? Rosa need to go poopy?" she smacks her lips at me, grabbing at my face with her sticky fingers.
"...Yes Lily. We must throw all gross things down and away like poopy. Don't listen, Lily, it's all terribly gross."
"Errrg not like that Lily. Remember never to do that to anyone that's not our family. No one. Even if they ask for it. It's very wrong and rude." I wipe the wet drool left on my face.
It's going to be so tiresome controlling this girl and her loose lips. Already she is stepping into some terrible examples.
"Chicken!" she responds to my very serious warnings.
" ...I'm sorry Lilyanne. What?"
"Lily kissy chickens. Hurts lot, owies. Lots of owies." she sniffles as if remembering a painful nightmare.
What? I haven't done any of those petty pranks in this timeline yet. Even then I tricked her into kissing the horses, saying they were cursed men who needed someone to 'undo' the spell?! Why is she kissing chickens at this point?
"So many owies," she starts sobbing her famous fountain tears, the delicate tears that drew the hearts of all, activating a protective instinct despite being such an ugly crier, "bleh, Lily owie all over. So meanies. No more kissy or lick chickens! Big bruder Lukas and chickens owie!"
Using the power of deduction, I have come to the conclusion that Lukas has somehow gotten my sweet dumb little sister to lick a live chicken, much like I witnessed him getting her to lick a goat. But chickens, especially Gable's chickens, are some unholy terror of beaks, feathers, and talons. If she were not protected by a protagonist halo, or perhaps rescued by Gable, I may very well be an only child.
Good job Lukas.
"Kissies by anyone not in the family are full of owies. Did you know that Lilyanne? Even if it doesn't hurt right away, they...are...WORSE THAN THE CHICKENS!!!"
"Nooooooo!!! No more chicken owies!"
"Yes! Dare to smack faces with anyone, especially strange stupid boys, will be so much owies!"
"No no no no Lilwi no want dats" her speech becomes messier with her increased tears.
"Then you must listen to big sister's words very well. Or it will hurt more than any goats or chickens or anything....er...more than breadsticks? It will hurt more than Lukas with a breadstick to your face! That hurt."
"Waaaaaah!!! Rosa! Save me!"
I pat to comfort her, not at all having fun. It's all a lesson for her own good?
If only the original her could have trusted me as much. Could have listened. Not everyone who approaches does so with honest sincere intentions, especially in our circles. Not just any stupid boy is worth so much trouble.
I don't wonder if she ever thought it was worth it. The matters....most likely never crossed her mind. That he was involved in my death.
Why else would she marry him? Like in that dream.
That's a scary thought. Being so stupid you just...marry your sister's killer. Indirectly or not. I know it wasn't all Erik's fault, nor did he directly order such things, the indecisive unproductive fool, he wouldn't have the guts...but didn't he stand at the center of it?
The flowers today reminded me a little too much of those times before.
Somehow, I'm suddenly glad that Father fails to be a proper normal husband. Flower bouquets? None of that nonsense. There were a lot of things. Some expensive. Some very strange. Rosalia swore she saw him pick horse weeds off the ground more than once to present to my frail waiting mother at home, something that I definitely wiped out of my memory. It just....made no sense? Well, their entire relationship never made sense to me, so there's that.
Other than that, no flowers. The original nerd would prefer to rush and ride home, like a moment more to present himself as the gift. Time being the most important thing of all, something money could never buy.
No...there's no original or now. They're the same man. Exactly the same person playing this body's father. I'm just...seeing a lot of things from a different perspective now.
After all, I am someone else. Fresh eyes to watch Rosalia's life playback strangely.
It's just very hard to separate the memories sometimes.
When the tablecloth lifts, an apologetic-faced Mother and Father find Lilyanne slowly calming down in my arms, still whimpering.
"Your grossness scared her to tears. How awful." I still judge, patting the crying child soothingly.
When they try reaching in, I turn away making displeased noises, until they learn their lesson about being nasty.
It does not work. I'm lifted up along with Lilyanne out from under the table.
The things are all packed and cleared. The children are dressed. Even the parentals got some last-minute disgusting attention in. We're all set to go.
"What of this?" Mother asks dotingly, a bouquet of colorful flowers set on the table.
"Leave it. I don't like it." I simply state, trying to get comfortable in Father's hold.
"Not yummy!" Lilyanne sticks out her tongue, blowing it at the flowers.
"Why? Did you want it?" Father asks dotingly, until revealing his true mouth " if chopped and dying reproductive organs of floras and such species displayed ostentatiously to showcase their untimely rot and decay truly please you so much, my dear wife, I shall have a-"
"Oh no, darling. I'm quite good. I'd much prefer a walk in the gardens with you. Now let's not keep the carriage waiting."
This is a nerd with very bad strange tastes most of the time so it's best not to trust him. Until next time with the next vegetable bouquet. That's being quite mild, given his interests. Good thing he has an equally strange partner willing to put up with it.
They're very disgusting, but at least they're happy. I wouldn't call it 'true love' or whatever that means but I think I know what Lilyanne saw when she looked at them. When she searched for them in every kind act a person gave her. In every affectionate gesture, every tall tale, and sweet sway of words.
I wonder if she ever found them, that, in her stupid prince.
I want to say no. But really, I don't even want to know.
I'll find out if it's meant to be, but other than that I don't care enough to think that far. If she was that happy ending up with him. I don't even know why she liked him in the first place? Really now, the thought of it is even more vomit-inducing than anything to do with my own parents, no matter how gross they are. Anything.
"What is my Chip running in her little mind now?" Father adjusts his hold, securing me as he walks. Mother by his side still trying to fully calm down the fountain that is Lilyanne.
Employees, guests, the row of various servants prepared parts as we depart outside.
I do not wish to stew about it much longer. It's an old story and full of other things to avoid. Besides, we're in public, and people, including my own father, do enjoy a show.
"Papa, I do not wish to receive any more stinky flowers or such tokens from men who are not you~ Not even if it's from some stupid fiance. Got it?" I play up, despite whispering the last part, seemingly the way he likes it in public.
Shameless. But so is a noble's life. I have quite the cheap prices when you consider it?
His face falls even flatter, so much so he halts completely to a confused mother. In his eyes, an uprising look of disgust, a terribly handsome sneer I know is just hiding behind that gentlemen's face.
Gross right?! Ha! Take that. Just a small taste of what I have to suffer with daily!
"Papa? Capiche? Rosa don't want~" I play coy, slapping my shocked parents with their own disgusting moves. Rubbing my face into his chest softly, mocking my own mother.
It doesn't work. Just like most things with me, typical.
Instead, my father fully stuffs me into his waistcoat, just unabashedly stashes me into the pocket, uncaring of whether I can breathe or not. His grip practically painful, ack definitely spasming between too tight and too shaky, though that could just be the sudden movement.
"Darling?!" Mother squeaks, getting dragged to keep up.
"We're taking another door."
"Whatever is the matter now?"
"Avoiding the front. No boys. No one. Not even royals. You heard our Rosa, none. No one but me. No one is to see. "
Errr, that's not exactly what I meant. I can't see a thing and the moment I try to peek out to breathe, Father's elegant hands are wasted in smushing me back down into the kangaroo pocket.
It's the motion sick spinning path through the halls again! Round and round we go, bleh.
"They're waiting by the front, don't ask me why."
"Oh darling, isn't that adorable. The flower delivery sang of our girls' praises after that night. Oh, what a show! The music! They say that the young prince has been fascinated with the songs since. He probably wants to say hello and-"
"Absolutely not. None. "
And so we make our not so grand final exit, all the way around, while I'm stashed like stolen goods. Wonderful. Just my style.
Goodbye city life! Until next time.
More importantly goodbye my stupid fiance. May we never meet again~
And stay away from my sister. Seriously? They're so young, too young, and it's already happening?! None!
"None it is Rosalia. Wouldn't have it any other way."
"Darling.... Don't be so unreasonable."
"She said none, Maria! No boys!"
The carriage door shuts and away we go, gross bickering and all.