&◆◆◆◆◆ "△△△" ◆◆◆◆◆◆
“Is he gone?”
“He is now,” Zarai looked at Lukas and his father running around the pillow castle a few times before they stopped to talk with Princess Sadie. The Knight Commander looked ridiculous, such a tall man chasing such a small boy that it was almost comical.
“Please tell me the reason why you’re looking so bummed out is because all the royal children want to marry you, and you can’t decide which ones you’ll have to turn down?”
Zarai snorted; couldn’t that be further than the truth?
“Of course,” She was quick to crack a grin, “Who could ever resist this face?” She wiggled her brows and waved a hand over the mosaic of blues and purples. “They were practically throwing themselves at my feet!” She did a small and brief shimmy of her shoulders. “Do not be surprised if you hear of a duel here and there for my hand in marriage.”
Sir Barrios shifted in his spot and Zarai did not have to look at him to know he was rolling his eyes at her words.
“I’m not. In fact,” △△△ pressed her hand against his lips, “I’m one of the contestants.” The grin on his face told Luz that he was quite aware of Sir Barrios’s presence and was deliberately feeding him something to bring to her mother. “The odds of me winning may be slim, but perhaps it’ll give me the chance to court others who also don’t make the cut. The royal children are all so stunning, it is a sin not to try.”
Zarai smirked at him, seeing the ploy. “Do not fret, Count Fritz; I can pull some strings and arrange your victory.” She tilted her head, free hand brought up, and tapped her chin with her index finger. “Unless you really do wish to court one of the princes. However, I do not know of their preferred inclinations. Shall I ask them for you once the duels are over? Oh, and I do say princes, as for Princess Anastasia is my chosen one.”
△△△’s hand clenched his invisible pearls as he gasped, “Lady Lesdeman!” A dramatic pause. “How naughty…” He said with his best sultry voice. “I may indeed take you up on those offers.” He sat up so that he could lean in suggestively closer to Luz. “Or perhaps… you can take everyone’s hand in marriage? Having multiple wives and husbands doesn’t sound like a bad deal. Don’t you agree, Sir Barrios?” He suddenly turned to her knight.
Zarai giggled like a schoolgirl, covering her mouth with her hand to sell the look for Sir Barrios. “Wouldn’t that just be a peach?” She grinned at the knight, holding back the barking laugh when she saw his bewildered expression. “Sir Barrios, do not tell me– are… are you jealous?” She gasped, clutching at her pearls like Fritz had.
“You would not mind if we invited the good knight into our growing union?” Zarai smiled so sweetly at Fritz and then at Sir Barrios that the knight had to look away to compose himself. “Aw, Your Excellency, would you look at that? Our knight is blushing!”
“Absolutely not.” Sir Barrios coughed into the back of his hand and looked away. Dignified.
“Isn’t he precious?” He whispered in a way that was nothing close to a whisper. “Well, you’re always welcome to join us, Sir Barrios. The more the merrier, I say.” △△△’s hand circled the space between him and Luz as an invitation, but when the knight turned a few shades darker, he chuckled and turned his attention to his friend. “Perhaps we should stop teasing him lest he makes us sleep on the sofa tonight.”
He studied her closely, his voice softening. “So, is my might-be-future bride going to tell me why she looks so down? … Does your injuries still hurt?”
“A bit,” Zarai answered, her smile wavering briefly and gaze shifting towards the illuminated sky above them. “A lot, actually. Now that the grass has left my body, I can actually feel things now.” After the prince’s court, she thought it would help her get through the rest of the day pain and worry-free. And for the most part, it had worked.
“I really want to go to bed– but I also don’t want to miss the fireworks.”
△△△ hummed his understanding. “Thank goodness Princess Sadie decided to bring so many pillows.” If he was ever going to breach the subject about the afterparty it was now. “Has your memory about the party returned? Do you remember who did this to you?”
Zarai shook her head, “Nothing much… I think we were drugged.” Her fingers twirled and twisted the ends of the pillow she was holding. She didn’t know why coming to the realization they had been drugged did not stir a bigger response. “I’d remember other wise remember by now.” She shrugged, looking over to him. “Cheers, I remember hearing cheers. Something sweet, as well– like cake.”
“That must’ve been an incredibly potent drug if that’s all you can recall.” But not perfect. Luz’s nonchalance about being drugged did not escape his notice. Then again, he had witnessed her blackout from bar fights and excessive drinking before. While △△△ was unaware of Luz’s involvement with hard drugs, he was familiar with her indulgence in milder substances. Therefore, the situation might not have come as a total surprise to her—or perhaps she was too stunned to fully comprehend it. “But if it is drugs, it’s possible the effects vary from person to person. I wonder if some might remember more about what happened during the party.”
△△△ scanned the park then noticed Lord Ravenwood and Dr. Williamson conversing in the distance. He smirked at Luz. “Do you want to find out?”
As much as she wanted to go, Zarai smiled and shook her head. “Apologies, Your Excellency, but I can hear my bed’s call from here.” She wanted nothing more but to hear all of the scalding hot gossips Dr. Williamson and Roman had, but her body finally had enough of her. “You can tell me all about it later, yes? I’ll be expecting the juicy details from you.”
The smirk immediately turned into an expression of concern. “It’s that bad?” After rummaging through his pockets, he retrieved what he was searching for. He unwrapped the candy and brought it to Luz’s lips, “Try this.” The Nexeian confection, crafted from a blend of various herbs, had long been administered to individuals suffering from an injury or illness to alleviate pain, nausea, and fever until they received proper medical care. Although it was not as strong as typical pain relievers, it also lacked the addictive qualities often associated with them.
Zarai sniffed the candy first. Her nose wrinkled at the unfamiliar smell but she parted her lips and accepted the candy without protest. After swirling it around her mouth for a few seconds she nodded to him, humming in content. “It tastes like chamomile with tamarind and honey.” And a few more herbs she couldn’t really name, but the taste wasn’t as bad as the smell. “Thank you, Fritz.”
△△△’s hands glided over her legs, applying gentle pressure, and softly chanted, “Sana, sana colita de rana.” His hand moved from her legs to her bruised face, his touch light and caring, as he caressed the tender skin. “Sino sana hoy, sanará mañana.” He whispered, promising Luz that her pain would eventually fade away.
Zarai tried and failed to suppress the toothy grin and laugh as soon as Fritz began to sing her the magical incantation all of Puerto Vira knew to cure all ailments and injuries– no matter how small or big. She couldn’t help but to lean into his touch, enjoying the coolness of his palm against the warmth of her cheek.
“May I escort you to your two-wheeled carriage, My Lady?”
“You may,” Zarai answered with a small nod.
Kneeling down on one knee, △△△ positioned himself beside Luz. He slid one arm under her legs and the other behind her back. With a swift motion, he rose to his feet. Luz’s weight settled against his chest, her head resting against his shoulder. He could feel the warmth of her body against his, a reminder of the trust she had in her friend.
A few steps later, Sir Barrios came rushing over to the two. △△△ reassured the knight that everything was under control, “Sir Barrios, could you help guide me to Lady Lesdeman’s wheelchair?”
Sir Barrios looked reluctant, but he nodded and bowed stiffly. “Of course, sir.” With that, he led the way down the grassy hill to where they had left the wheelchair.
Zarai relaxed in his arms and inhaled him– the smell of the shampoo he’d used and his cologne. It filled her with an unfamiliar sensation that spread over her chest, back, and stomach, but she wasn’t complaining. She settled in Fritz’s arms like she’d been there many times before and closed her eyes, listening to the steady heartbeat under her ear.
The walk down the hill was quicker than the one up, much to Zarai’s displeasure. She had gotten used to being carried around like a princess. “Here we are,” Sir Barrios said once they arrived at Zarai’s designated wheelchair. The knight walked around the wheelchair and stood behind it, waiting patiently for Fritz.
The count of Erwynn eased the heir of Puerto Vira down into her wheelchair with great care. He smoothed the folds of her dress and coaxed each rogue strand of hair into place. Stepping back a few paces, he executed a refined bow. “Thank you for spending time with me Lady Lesdeman. May your recovery be swift and free from complications.” Zarai smiled up at him and somewhat attempted to curtsy. △△△ approached Sir Barrios and brushed imperceptible specks of dirt off of the knight’s arm. “And, my dear husband, you know my room is always open to you, with or without our beloved wife.” He winked.
Sir Barrios stared at Fritz like he was considering for a split second before quickly bowing his head, ”Have a good evening, sir.”