03: A Greenhouse Like a Birdcage
While I was grateful that I was being told the way to the greenhouse, the paths that led deeper and deeper into the castle served to put me a bit on edge. There was, at least at this time, no one else who patrolled these ways. That, however, did little to abate the wide-eyed stares of the guards that roamed the distant balconies and passages. I realised that I only had myself to blame, but my regret was already overwhelming me.
“It’s just… a little further. I’m really sorry, Kaldia.”
At least the crown prince was starting to look a little healthier, most likely thanks to my own suffering. A faint tinge of red crept back into his colourless face, rendering it only somewhat pale, and his cold sweat had begun to recede.
At long last, we reached the outskirts of a courtyard located in the furthest depths of the castle. Glass walls formed a structure not too dissimilar from a gigantic birdcage. This building was familiar to me.
It was something I’d heard of in passing, through simple gossip at the House of Lords. This greenhouse and the park therein had, allegedly, been erected in the honour of Alfred’s birth, then offered to him and him alone, a den for his own privacy. This meant that I was no longer in the Faldarl Palace itself, but a place that served as a sort of royal villa, built adjacent to it… this was a place none were meant to enter, apart from the royal family. It was, then, of little wonder that so little of the castle servants and guards wandered about here.
The crown prince, still in my arms, pointed towards the entryway, telling me something to the effect of, ‘Please, go in.’ Though not without a shortage of awkwardness to his tone.
Since I had already come all this way, I was really in no position to just drop the crown prince off here and make my way back. I obliged, setting foot into the greenhouse, then laid him down on a couch in a spot that had been arranged to act as a room.
“Thank you. This really helps…”
“No need for thanks, Your Highness. I’ll call for the palace physician right away.”
“…No. No need. This happens all the time. I always feel better when I’m here; I’ll be fine. Sorry about all this. Just give me a moment, then I can make us some tea. We can talk more then.”
The crown prince laughed, told me not to make such a face, then poked me between the brows. I’d been furrowing them this whole time, it seemed.
The crown prince had collapsed back there. This wasn’t something I could just brush off when he told me he was fine, at least I didn’t think so. But the prince had gone so far as to refuse that his physician be brought to look him over, and had asked me to indulge him further by engaging him in conversation. I could do little but obey.
If the prince’s hue had still been the way it was before his collapse, then I would have turned on my heel, regardless of his sentiments, and called for the royal physician. But there appeared to be truth to his words; he was looking better by the minute.
“It’s always been like this, you know. This isn’t a chronic disease or anything of the sort, but… it comes and goes. The smell of the plants in here clear it up, for some reason. That’s why there’s a room in here; it’s been prepared for me specifically.”
…What, this huge birdcage?
He was right. The furnishings of this place were all things you would have brought into your own private quarters. A draped bed, a sofa, a table, a writing desk, a washbasin, even a closet were available in this place.
“Sometimes, when spring, autumn, or winter come around, I just plain live here. No one comes here otherwise, not unless I call for them… I can just come here whenever I want my peace. It’s perfect for that.”
I saw what he meant, and nodded my head. If I were in his position, a crown prince to a whole country, I’d love to have some privacy in my life. He likely lived a life where he was always accompanied, even watched over when he was asleep. It was perfectly reasonable to want some time away from everything every now and again, even someone from an entirely different line of nobility could wrap her head around that. In a place like this; where everyone was an outsider looking into this birdcage, it was permissible to want for some time alone.
“And, would you believe it, even Grays has never been in here. Not once.”
“Interesting… I didn’t know that.”
Well, if this place really was supposed to be meant for his use alone, then people like Grays or even Eric certainly wouldn’t be belligerent enough to make their way in here uninvited. I nodded, for no particular reason, really, and the prince chuckled a little. Well, he was recovering quickly. That meant I finally had the opportunity to ask him what it was he wanted to talk about.
“Actually, you’re the first person I ever let in here, Kaldia.”
“Oh, alright. Huh?”
I was starting to lose track of our conversation. If even Grays, who was by far the closest to the crown prince, hadn’t come here, then that much was to be expected. What was he trying to say?
“Hmmm… Well, I supposed it doesn’t matter.”
The prince laughed, a little perturbed. Even though I was the one who had reason to worry.
About half an hour later, the prince took it upon himself to pour the two of us some tea. I was honoured, I really was, and since we were far from peering eyes, I, having no reason to object, gratefully accepted it.
“Well then, let’s move on to the real subject. I asked Father to prepare this for me.”
The prince pulled a small, folded piece of paper from his pocket. It was just a duplicate, he told me as I unfolded it and began reading, curious what it might have to do with me.
“…Concerning the dormitory transfer…?”
I had absolutely no recollection of sending this sort of application, but there it was, a form of approval stating that Eliza Kaldia Einsbark was eligible for transfer regarding the dormitories of the educational institute.
“That’s right. I’m sorry I have to spring this on you, but I hear that transferring abodes is an utter necessity. The legal procedures were taken care of this morning; I’d gotten my hands on the documents earlier and come back as fast as I could to show you. Unfortunately, I was a little too hasty and had another fit. I thought I could ease some of your burdens if I was quick enough.”
“I can’t thank you enough for your sympathy, Your Highness.”
He was right; letting me know of the transfer in advance was a huge relief to me. Still… what kind of situation had I gotten myself into if a royal mandate had to be issued for this?
I looked back to the prince, thinking to myself that he may have an inkling as to what was going on, but he could only offer me a smile that came off as somewhat forced.
“Kaldia… There’s no one here – pardon, there’s no one here apart from your attendant. You can act a little less formal, you know. There really isn’t much to be had from ranks, not in this place. Don’t you think so?”
Oh, so that was what he meant. I’d gone through something similar when I was enrolled into the institute. He was telling me that, since there was no one here watching us, the two of us could reach a sort of compromise on the matter.
“…Thank you for your consideration, Sire. Does this work better?”
“I still think that’s a little stiff, but… Sure. I’m so sorry, I keep trying to get you to indulge in my whims, don’t I?”
“Not at all.”
I shook my head from side to side, and the subject of the crown prince began to hold just a little more weight in my mind.
For one thing… He was born as the prince to this country, and likely raised in a manner that must have been befitting his status. But if so, why was he so quick to apologise at every given opportunity?