"You have got to be kidding me."
Giselle pressed the ball of her palms to her eyes and slumped down in her seat until she almost slid off onto the red, plush carpet at her feet. She resisted the urge to groan.
This was not the plan! She was supposed to be on a plane on her way to Paris with the Balaco Orchestra. She was supposed to spend five days exploring the city as well as her art, proving to her father that she was more than ready to perform on the big stage with the orchestra. What the heck was she doing in the royal jet on her way to Palanadia?! Giselle dropped her arms and stared at the ceiling.
"’You’ve already seen Paris’. Not from the orchestra pit of the Odéon Theater, dad." She gave in to her groan. There was a light tap on her door before it slid open. Rose’s head appeared. She smiled carefully.
"Hey, sunshine," she said. Giselle gave her a dry look. "Go. Away."
Giselle looked at the ceiling again. She knew she was displacing her anger on Rose. It wasn’t her fault that Giselle was on this jet. All Rose had done was, be in love and follow procedure. An email was sent to Giselle’s father requesting that Giselle accompany her to Palanadia now that the queen wouldn’t be available to go and Rose’s twin, Rosemarie, had gotten the flu, Giselle was the next best choice, being Rose’s eldest female cousin. Rose had even called the evening to drive the final nail in the coffin. She had gone on and on about how Palanadia would be a breath of fresh air for Giselle and it was ‘exactly what she needs for inspiration to bring back to the Balaco stage’ – that’s what got Giselle angry, the idea that she might have escaped this if Rose hadn’t called. Rose knew Giselle hardly ever argued with her father. When Edwin Balaco put his foot down, it was over.
"I just wanted to come, tell you that lunch will be served in a bit. Please come join me."
"Do I have a choice or are you going to email my father again?" Giselle asked caustically.
Rose stepped in. "Oh, come on, Giselle. How long are you going to make me feel bad about this? I’m sorry and I feel horrible that you couldn’t go with your father but don’t let that ruin this trip. You might end up enjoying it but only if you give it a chance."
Giselle growled under her breath then stared back at the ceiling. "I doubt it." She shook her head and closed her eyes when she felt tears of frustration build.
"Rose, this was really important to me. I was so ready to take off my training wheels and show my father I could do this."
A few seconds passed before Rose spoke, her voice coming out sympathetically. "I’m sorry, truly, Giselle, but your talent isn’t going anywhere and you are a Balaco. There will be other opportunities. If your father said no to you accompanying me then that would have been the end of it. I would have asked someone else."
Giselle paused, trying to manage her emotions. She released her breath slowly. "Just give me some time to cool off. I’ll talk to you later," she said. Another few seconds passed then she heard the door slide followed by a click indicating that it was closed. Giselle opened her eyes. A single tear dropped from her lids and she wiped at it impatiently. She turned her head towards the window and watched the blue sky blindly. Another mile away from where she wanted to be. This was going to be a waste of two weeks of her life, weeks that could have been used to accelerate her career plan. What on earth could Palanadia offer in comparison to Paris anyway? It was a little speck crossed by the Southern Tropic that no one knew about. She herself had never even heard of the place before Rose got engaged to their prince. What sort of "inspiration" could it possibly offer?
Eric stripped off his tie and dropped face first into his bed without letting go of the garment. His back ached as the muscles relaxed painfully, reminding him of how tense he was. He had been in meetings since ten that morning, beginning with his marriage – what a headache! Advisors were still searching for potential brides and Eric was beginning to become impatient.
Not with the search itself, but with how much of his time it took. He understood that this was a delicate process. It wasn’t just his decision, his kingdom needed to feel at ease with whom their next queen would be. The marriage also needed to be an advantageous one.
Then there was the drought situation on the western side of the kingdom, the prison break that occurred in one of the smaller towns, thank God all the prisoners were recaptured before any extra concerns arose, but now he’d have to deal with the concerns of the people’s safety, then there were financial statements and the endless amounts of documents he had to read through and sign. Still there was more to be done.
He ran his calendar in his mind, smiling a bit when he realized that this month they would be visiting orphanages. He was flying out tomorrow to the Southern Palanadia region and spend a few days there. He could catch his breath before dealing with less exciting activities.
One more meeting with the ministers and he could call it a day. Luckily, his mother would be joining them but who knew how long this meeting would go on for. It might even stretch past dinner time. He half-hoped it would. If it were any other day and the meeting ended early enough, he would have requested that dinner get sent up to his room if he were this exhausted, but they had guests. Eric groaned as he rolled onto his back. Keeping his eyes closed, he let out a heavy sigh.
Rosaline and Giselle Balaco would be in the castle with them for two weeks. He would be obligated to attend every breakfast and dinner. There was no shot of getting out of those when he was in the castle. He’d have to cut a few hours out of his day for that.
Before he realized it, he was sitting up.
Eric pressed his forefinger and thumb against his closed eyes then pinched the bridge of his nose.
Right. Shane’s excitement to see his girlfriend was another thing Eric would have to endure. Shane had talked about little else since he last saw her less than two weeks ago.
He dropped his hand and glanced aimlessly around his room. He stretched out his arms, then threw the tie back over his neck. He tied it on the way to the door. One more meeting, one dinner then he could sleep and start fresh tomorrow.
After being stuck in the guestroom of the Palanadian castle for a few hours, Giselle became restless and decided to explore. She was sure she was lost, but she didn’t mind. Someone would turn up soon. Eventually, she would bump into a staff member and they’d insist on showing her the way back or finding someone who would. As she made her way around the castle, she couldn’t help but be in awe of it. It was so different from the Cashadin castle. Back at home, the palace was mostly glass and polished marble, letting in as much light as possible then bouncing it off every reflective surface.
Here you could clearly see the outline of every decade the castle had undergone. Boulders lined the walls, some staircases were ancient, made from strong and heavy wood, corners were dark and held precious artifacts, pots and vases from decades ago. Dim light from the setting sun fell through the few windows there were. Then there were all the nooks and crannies.
It felt lived in and comfortable. It felt like a home, not a castle.
She breathed in the warm, comforting scent. It was like visiting a grandmother’s house just much larger and the decor was much, much more aged and expensive. She still wasn’t all that thrilled to be here. But at least she would sleep well.
A door opened, causing her to jump and hide behind a pillar. A bunch of voices filled the hall, but she only recognized one.
"Yes, thank you. Have a safe journey back."
"Thank you, Prince Eric. God bless," a female voice said back. The volume of voices lowered slowly. They were leaving, and they were heading in the opposite direction! How lucky could she be?
"You did well, Eric," a different female voice said.
"Thank you, mother."
"I’m going to freshen up before dinner. You should do the same. Apparently the princess’ cousin is lovely," the queen teased.
Giselle lowered her eyes and smiled as she listened.
"I’ve met her. She is a fine musician."
Giselle frowned then almost laughed. She wasn’t sure why she expected him to say anything else.
"I’ll see you there," the Queen said sounding amused.
Giselle felt her shoulders relax as more of the voices died down. She just had to wait it out for a bit then she could continue her excursion.
Giselle tensed up again. She sighed and stepped out from behind the pillar. Prince Eric was standing in the center of the hall dressed in a gray suit. He gave her a hesitant smile.
She curtseyed with her eyes low, straightening in time to see him bow respectfully. She felt her heartbeat in her ears and heat rush up her neck but decided to swallow down her embarrassment. She was technically going to be living with this guy for two weeks, there was no need to make it more awkward than it already was. "How did you know I was here?" She asked. "I didn’t. I took a calculated guess then I called out your name and you exposed yourself."
"Okay." Giselle walked towards him, more skeptical now. "Do you always just casually call out someone’s name when you’re alone in the middle of a hallway?" She asked. He let out a breath of amusement. "No, I just know that the flower garden is on the other side of the castle."
"You can smell my perfume." She gave a tiny nod. Out of a group of others wearing different perfumes and colognes, he could still detect the odd one out.
"You remembered what scent I use?" She asked, more impressed than disturbed. "I remember fine details about people. It’s a gift and a curse," he answered casually. She felt herself smiling a little. "It’s like the way I am with sound," she said more to herself. Sometimes she could detect which musician’s instrument it was just by playing a few notes. "Impressive. And that’s not my name," she said, crossing her arms in front of her chest as she waited for him to correct himself. He grinned.
"Giselle, I apologize."
"That’s better," she said, uncrossing her arms.
"Well, Giselle, if you wanted a tour of the castle, you need only have asked."
"It’s more fun figuring it out on your own."
His lip tugged, broadening his smile the slightest bit. "You do realize if you get caught alone you could get into trouble."
"That’s half the fun."
"Well it’s my duty to escort you back to your room."
"Please don’t." Her shoulders lowered. "I have been stuck in that room for hours. I will go insane with boredom if you take me back."
"Off with Shane. She’s giving me some space."
"Ah," he gave a nod as if he understood but Giselle knew he was just being polite. "Well we do have dinner in –." He lifted his wrist to check the time. "– twenty-five minutes." He looked at her as he lowered his wrist. "Have you sneaked into the music room yet?"
Giselle’s eyes widened with interest. "There’s a music room?" Finally! She was itching to hit something and make some noise.
They walked down the hall, passed a couple of doors until Prince Eric turned the knob on one of them and stood aside. The lights flickered on inside revealing multiple instruments arranged in the way an orchestra pit would in a half moon.
Joy pushed up her chest. "Yay." Giselle rushed in and stopped behind the grand piano. She played the intro from Under the Sea then spun around and picked up the bass. She relished in the feel of the vibrations she felt running along the instrument as she plucked at a few of its strings. Soon she was playing the drums then the violin then she ended up tapping a drumpad. She let out a squeal and turned in a tight circle, bouncing on her toes as she did.
Ah, this great!
She had a few of her own instruments here, but having a greater variety and a soundproof room was so much better.
Eric watched her with a smile at his lips. She was like a child in a toy shop. A very talented child in a toy shop. When she finally looked at him, she paused and dropped her eyes with a shy smile that made his deepen. "I think I should notify the staff that you have access to this room at all times," he said. She laughed nervously and looked at him. "That would be wonderful, thank you," she said. "No trouble," he said, placing a hand on one of the music stands. Giselle noticed a pair of bongos and picked them up. "About your boredom," he said, making her look at him again. "Leave it to me. I’m good at solving problems," he said.
"Thank you," she said. "But I don’t want to be a burden. I’ll find something to occupy myself. This –." She gestured to the room "– is help enough."
"I’m your host, you’re my guest. I’m not allowed to let you be bored in my kingdom. I’ll arrange that you have time to experience some indigenous Palanadian music. You could attend a festival if you’d like."
Her expression softened as she smiled with awe. "That sounds amazing actually. I can’t believe I didn’t consider your kingdom having their own cultural sound."
"Of course you’d have to be escorted," he added.
"Oh." Her excitement dimmed. She dropped her eyes and hung the strap around her neck, then tapped at the bongos quickly to get a feel of it. "That’s alright," she said and lifted a brave smile to him. "I could use some fresh air and you had me at music. When can I go?" She asked. "I’ll have someone bring you a schedule of performances by tonight and you can decide. For right now . . ." He walked towards her and took the bongos. Giselle bent as he lifted them over her hair, releasing yet another lift of her fragrance to his nose. "We should get to dinner," he said.
Vanilla13: Hi! I'm going to try for once a week but sometimes I might double up or be a bit late depending on how hectic life gets :) But I will make an effort to post once a week
Butterfly: Cute!! Shane and Rose . . . I'm not sure how I'm going to tackle that one. I've got their story mapped out in my head but not much worded down yet.
Miha: Ah, so sweeeet! Haha. It's a pleasure :) It's very fitting. I always struggle to come up with titles so you took the weight from me.