Written by Blue Jay
“The Road in the Garden”
Despite never having a great affinity with planes, as it was required by simply being the royal attendant, Filippe Haas still had to accompany his highness the prince for business.
Well, business was probably a bit too farfetched. While it technically could be called that, it was more akin to a banquet held by royalties inviting other royalties in order to establish positive relationships based on attendance, outfits, manners and what not else. So much stuff for a single attendant to worry about, especially with how stupidly prideful the one he served could be at times…
Regardless, thankfully the flight was short and both Filippe and his highness arrived safely at their destination, coupled with being welcomed and settled in their temporary rooms. By perhaps coincidence, their rooms were also right by each other, which in many ways could be interpreted as the high value the prince held for Filippe for the attendant to be on the same level as him.
“Do you think this blue or that blue suits me better?” Filippe’s somewhat distressed train of thought regarding planes was quickly interrupted when the other man in the room spoke.
Absolutely perfect jawline, flawless skin, crystal clear hazel eyes, and honey-coloured medium-ish length hair, coupled with a smirk and a body many could only dream of, that was his highness, prince Engelbert Faust. Somehow the best genes from both of his parents had combined to create an almost perfect man, whose single gaze could make dozens of regal ladies’ hearts melt.
Currently, the man was standing in front of a mirror, almost fully dressed up except for the accent collar brooch on which he apparently couldn’t decide. The choices were two very similar looking brooches, one of which was decorated with a generous amount of perfect little sapphires, and the other with the much darker but larger gold-speckled lapis lazuli.
It was such a minor thing to fuss over, perhaps a little detail most people would naturally skip over, but nobles were not of that sort. Gossip, little talk and thorough dissection of other noble’s outfits consisted about seventy percent of their talk, and it was also from those chatty mouths that rumors and bad stories made their way around the higher levels of society. A little blemish or one different button could be magnified to the scales of national disasters and riots and rebellions, with no mercy whatsoever once it has gone that high.
“The lapis lazuli one, Your Highness. It complements your natural features and works better with the embroidery on your vest. The sapphire would stand out too much to be a seamless addition to your outfit,” the response, as usual, came quickly, Filippe’s observation making Engelbert nod in agreement.
He put down the sapphire as his fingers carefully put the lazuli brooch in place. Engelbert always insisted on putting the last of his clothes himself. As long as Filippe had known him, Engelbert had always liked to do the finishing touches himself. It was unknown what brought on this peculiarity on his side, but it had proved to be quite charming.
Not that Filippe would ever say that. It was not in his line of work nor would he allow emotions to influence his thought process.
“Let’s go, Filippe.” Engelbert smiled in his typical flamboyant fashion, ran a hand through his hair and led the way, with Filippe following right behind him.
The walk to the ballroom wasn’t that long, at most a few minutes. The two walked a bit slower than usual, with Engel commenting on the decorations of the building and Filippe demonstrating his extremely expansive knowledge by responding with what inspired certain parts or why they were the way they were. Naturally, half of the information entered through one of Engel’s ears and exited through the other, but the two visibly had a very friendly aura, clearly built on years of trust and perhaps even as far as growing up together.
The ballroom itself was grand. Built during the so-called baroque era, it was ridiculously over-decorated, with gold, silver and gem gilding everywhere to be found, and a myriad of large silver mirrors polished to perfection opposing just as many windows made from crystalline glass.
Extravagance to its finest.
Not that Filippe really approved of it, despite technically being one of noble disposition himself.
As soon as the two entered the door, a page quickly announced their arrival over the music without a second of delay.
“Prince Engelbert Faust and royal attendant Haas have arrived!”
The voice echoed through the room, making a majority of the poshly dressed gentlemen and ladies look over to the entrance as the duo entered.
With so many gazes on them, the difference between the two was obvious.
Engel looked dashing and flamboyant, a proud smile perked on his lips and a seeming sparkle in his eyes. There was nothing bad one couldn’t say about the way he looked, as Filippe had turned out right indeed with the lapis lazuli brooch.
But the contrast with Filippe was incredible. Despite having been to such a ball, Filippe had dressed himself rather simply, with barely any decorations on his almost pure black outfit. The single light thing on his outfit was some simple white embroidery around the sleeves and that was it. Well, aside from Filippe himself.
The main reason many eyes even went to look at him despite his unassuming outfit was the fact he was an albino man. He had long, almost pure white hair, tied rather loosely at the lower half of his neck with a ribbon, and coupled with those eerie red eyes, he was rather eye-catching.
Regardless, the main attraction of the show was the prince, not a mere attendant, so eventually, the attention shifted and Filippe finally could be left alone as he left the prince on his own devices and moved to sit down at one of the small tables to the side.
Taking a thin glass of champagne from a nearby server, he sat down, glancing at the sparkling drink occasionally but mostly observing Engelbert.
From the moment of entering the ballroom, the prince was the center of attention. Practically swarmed by both noble men and ladies, Engel showcased his refined manners by managing to speak to all of them, remembering their names and titles with barely any effort. Though Filippe knew that all of that came from years of studies, many of which it was he who taught.
Sipping his light champagne, Filippe leaned on one of his hands and watched as Engel asked one of the noble ladies for a dance.
“My fellow noble ladies, do not fret,” the prince said when he noticed the other women’s disappointment and little sounds of sadness. “I will dance with all of you tonight, I assure you.”
Engel smiled, the beautiful face instantly mellowing out many of their hearts as he walked over to the other dancing pairs and bowed gracefully, beginning the dance.
A waltz, elegant and light, was the most popular type of dance in the current times. That is, in the uppermost circles of society. One could find about anything else were they to just look into the different tiers.
Naturally, as one of the representatives of a nation, Engel knew many dances to perfection. Not all of them, but plenty to rarely be caught in a situation where he wouldn’t be able to showcase his skills.
As most things, Filippe had been the one who taught them to the prince. It might not look like it but he and the prince had almost a decade in age difference. While his highness Engelbert was barely in his twenties, Filippe was nearing his thirties.
Thirty and still unmarried. Truly a rarity amongst nobles, but not unexpected considering who he was and especially how he looked.
Not that he seemed to care much about that, in fact, it barely even crossed his mind. The only reason he even bothered to think about it was the other nobles sitting around him discussing among themselves. Filippe ignored them and took another little sip from his champagne.
His eyes never once left the prince, who had at this point finished the first dance on the beat the music ended.
“Thank you for this wonderful dance, milady,” Engel smiled, taking the noble’s hand and placing a gentle peck on it before letting go. A refined set of bows followed before the prince was once again swarmed by the flock of women.
“My noble ladies, I promised and I wouldn’t break my promise. But I would have to excuse myself for a moment,” Engelbert smiled, about to free himself from them to get himself a drink and perhaps even have a word with Filippe he felt a grip around his right arm.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to dance with me, my prince?” A voice just like the most over-saturated perfume entered Engel’s ear, making him turn back around, making eye contact with perhaps truly the most over-perfumed woman.
Her black hair was lifted in the most elaborate hairdo possible, with dozens of realistic fake flowers adorning her head. The lashes surrounding the dark eyes were covered in makeup, and so was her face, her lips as red as blood and curved in a confident smirk.
Red was her extravagant outfit as well, almost swallowing and washing out the other women’s dresses, making her the center of attention. She was like a blood-red ruby, with a gaze that not many could resist.
Despite Engelbert’s intentions to leave, with her pressed against his body so tightly, there was no way he could free himself from her grasp as easily as he intended to. So, he smiled just as dashingly as usual, his gaze warm and calm.
“Milady Boivin, I never said I wouldn’t take this dance with you. In fact, would you like to dance right now?”
With this sentence, Engel offered her a hand, a clear gesture of offering to lead them on a dance. He seemed so dashing, so perfect as he did this, completely unperturbed by the fact that he could feel about all of her curves pressed against him.
“My, why would I decline such a gracious offer, your highness,” the lady chuckled, a laugh that felt like thick overly sweetened syrup compared to Engel’s class. But with that, she finally unglued herself from him, at least for the most part, as she let him lead her to the dance floor.
Well, “letting him lead” was a lie, she was the one that seemed to be truly leading him. With every step and turn to the music, her appearance seemed to gobble up everything around her, somehow including the prince himself, pulling all the attention on her and her only. She was like an exquisite gem, sparkling in all tones and shades, and with every turn her smirk seemed to get deeper and deeper.
“Your highness, I believe you are free for the rest of the evening, am I correct?” Her eyes felt like bottomless pits, her question seemingly innocent and to her satisfaction Engel as if fell into her trap.
“Milady Boivin, your intuition is very keen,” Engel’s smile was so dashing as both of them quickly spun around. “I was originally planning to spend it alone, as you predicted.”
Her eyes narrowed. Bingo.
“My prince, doesn’t that mean you wouldn’t mind some company tonight? It must get lonely to be all alone all night…” Imperceptibly, she had gotten even closer to him, her chest almost touching his, her perfume beyond smoldering both of them.
One idea closer and their lips would have probably touched.
Engel seemingly didn’t notice any of it as he remained as dashing as ever. His hands lightly moved around the woman, once more both of them spinning around before he spoke once more. “If you would like to accompany me for a walk in the gardens afterwards?”
“Well, I wouldn’t deny such an honor, your highness,” lady Boivin’s smile spoke of so much satisfaction of having gotten her way that Filippe, who had witnessed the whole thing, almost felt like vomiting.
Disgusting. How could such a viper even get close to his prince? While it was true that nobles were a bunch of venomous snakes in pretty outfits, some were much more dangerous than others. Including this lady Boivin.
Annoyed as Filippe was, his expression, aside from a barely hidden glaring gaze at the two, remained neutral. He finished his champagne in a quick swoop before grabbing a glass of deep red wine from a passing by server and just as quickly finishing that one as well. He was so irritated he didn’t even notice he had finished a third glass of alcohol by the time the quick waltz was over.
“Milady, I assume I will see you later tonight then?” the prince smiled charmingly, kissing the back of the woman’s hand with just as much elegance as before, even going as far as lightly looking at her from below.
“My, my, but of course, your highness,” she chuckled almost sounding like thick smoldering syrup, glancing down at those pure hazel eyes of Engel with something akin satisfaction.
There was nothing that could satisfy her more than the fact that the young man was so naïve to be trapped in her poisonous spider web. She felt victorious, and that filled her with such haughty pride that once the prince finally left to get himself a drink, her smirk as he looked down on the other noble ladies likened her to a fox.
Filippe, despite his incredible disgust from witnessing his prince play along this all, said nothing. The almost snowy knuckles tightened around the half empty fourth glass of wine spoke otherwise.
Engel took himself a thin, elegant glass of rose before sitting down next to Filippe.
“Why don’t you join in and dance? There’s plenty of women to choose from,” Engel sounded amused as he took a sip from his drink. “You can’t be a bachelor forever, Filippe.”
In return to his joking teasing, Filippe almost gave him a glare, but it looked more annoyed than anything. “I’m staying a bachelor even if it means dying alone.”
“Oh, don’t be like that,” Engel laughed as he watched Filippe finish the glass of wine and then lean back on the chair, close his eyes, and cross his arms.
“I’ll never marry a viper,” he stated, sounding like a stubborn old man in his sixties. The type that were so stuck in their ways that a small raise in their electricity bill brought on insurmountable amounts of rage and anger.
Engel smirked to himself in amusement, also leaning back and sipping on his wine. He always found it amusing how Filippe reacted, reminding him of an old tutor more than a man merely ten years older than him. Then again, they were very different as people so it wasn’t too unexpected.
Eventually, Engel finished up his wine, not trying to make any more small talk considering Filippe kept his eyes closed and that stubborn expression on his face. Regardless, he was still very entertained by his attendant’s behavior, the playful sparkles from his eyes never once fading.
As if on a timer, the moment Engel stood up and moved back towards the center of the room, the swarm of nobles appeared again, with the red-dressed lady Boivin in the lead.
For the rest of the evening, once he opened his eyes that is, Filippe watched as the woman was as sticky as a dust devil, barely even letting Engel take a break once more or dance or talk with anyone else. She was so possessive over the man, and yet Engel didn’t seem to either notice or care, being as accommodating and warm as ever. He always smiled and looked dashing, listening and letting the woman do as she pleased, making her feel completely victorious and haughty.
Filippe just felt more and more disappointed and disgusted the longer this went on. But the worst part was that it wasn’t new – he had seen Engel do the same before.
This behavior, the prince seemingly being led on by the nose by a woman in their attempt to gain something, was nothing new. Engel had always had it happen more than once, with many different people, and he always let them lead, playing charmed and innocent. But it was also a behavior Filippe greatly disapproved of, because in his eyes the prince was never serious enough.
If he wasn’t careful – which Filippe didn’t think he really was, – many problems could arise from such behavior. Endless rumors, bad reputation, questionable behaviors were just the start of it, not to mention the hundreds of desperate love letters Filippe dealt with every week. Absolutely horrid. Every time he saw one he felt like dying.
By the end of the evening he had unknowingly finished about an entire bottle of alcohol just by himself. And wine wasn’t the lightest of drinks, especially red one. Yet he didn’t look drunk by the time the ball ended and him and Engel finally left the ballroom. Filippe was a lucky man to only have a very light rosy flush to his usually absurdly pale cheeks.
Walking down the corridor, Filippe kept his hands clasped behind his back, eyes mainly focused on the floor and mind focused on walking straight and without wobbling. He didn’t look drunk at all, but the considerable amount of alcohol he had finished was taking its toll.
“Well, I’m going to head to the walk with lady Boivin, Filippe,” Engel gestured lightly, catching the white-haired man’s attention and making him look up.
What met him were the cheerful eyes of the prince, seemingly unabashed about the whole thing with the possessive woman. It was something Filippe couldn’t stand, and while he normally would have simply nodded and remained silent, this time he was too drunk to think that rationally.
“Why do you do this?” He muttered, his red gaze narrowed at Engel. His eyes looked somewhat tired and bleak, as if he didn’t really realize what he was saying.
Engel raised an eyebrow. “Do what?”
Usually whenever Filippe questioned him, he would adddress him with “Your highness”, yet now there was none of that. Despite Engel repeatedly trying to get Filippe to drop the honorifics as he considered him a very close friend and trusted partner.
“The whole fake flirt thing,” Filippe walked a bit closer to Engel, their eyes on the same level. He was actually merely one centimeter shorter than the prince. “Why do you even bother to talk to them, lest listen to their requests? You know what type of people they are.”
His gaze, as tired as it looked, at the same time appeared quite aware of what he was doing. As aware a drunk man would be.
Engel’s eyebrow went a bit higher and then he just laughed, brushing his hand through his hair.
“Why does it matter? It’s not like any damage is done, you know. They get some of their fantasies fulfilled, I get some amusement for the moment they realize they aren’t getting anywhere,” shrugging as he spoke, looking beyond carefree.
“It’s not hurting anyone nor does anyone seem to care. Plus, you know that I don’t have any feelings towards them,” he cheerfully spoke, a smile on his face.
The more Filippe listened, the more his expression seemed to darken. Clearly, the answer wasn’t satisfying him one bit, something Engel actually knew quite well. Filippe before had expressed disappointment in his actions, just never sounding this curt.
“Not hurting anyone? Nobody cares? Listen to yourself! Do you have any idea how many rumors, how many fake articles, how many love letters get written to your name every day because of your actions?”
The more Filippe spoke, the more disappointed he seemed to get. Despite not raising his voice a single notch, he sounded somehow desperate, perhaps desperate to shove some sense in the head of the idiot prince in front of him, or desperate in some other sense.
“Do you have any idea just how much weight your actions carry? You’re the future king of a nation, a single hand gesture of yours could be enough to spiral a war!”
He could have been exaggerating, but at this moment, Filippe felt more than correct.
Despite his words startling Engel, the prince wasn’t bothered much at all. In the end, he was aware that Filippe held very heavy disapproval of his actions. And for the most part he saw those actions as his attendant needlessly worrying for him.
“Filippe, it’s fine,” he smiled warmly, patting the older man on the shoulder. “It really doesn’t matter. Plus, I’m still a prince. I mean, who’s going to be hurt from a single kiss? I bet that’s what she wants now, and she’s not getting a step further than that. It’s no big deal.”
At this point, Filippe couldn’t help but look as if he were going to cry any second. He had spent so much time trying to teach this royal that his actions held consequences, that he shouldn’t behave so frivolously and show some restraint.
Desperation had welled up in his heart to the point of sorrow, and normally, Filippe would have held his composure and not start the conversation to begin with. But the alcohol running through his body was muddying his mind, making his emotions for once in a blue moon get out on the surface.
But it wasn’t just desperation and sorrow finding its way up there, there was something else as well, something Filippe had done everything he could to never show the man in front of him.
“‘Who’s going to be hurt from a single kiss’…?” Filippe repeated the words, sounding beyond distressed, looking away for a second.
Then, without any warning, his hand moved forward, grabbing Engel by the shirt and pulling him to himself, their lips pressing together for a long, seemingly endless second, catching the prince completely off guard.
In the end, once that second was over, Filippe quickly let go, his hand barely staying on Engel’s chest for a moment as he looked down, tiny tears beginning to well in his eyes as the sorrow finally overtook him.
“It does matter…”
And then he moved away, finally glancing at the usually flamboyant prince, who was now staring at him, eyes wide in shock, not quite comprehending what had just taken place.
“Go ahead with your walk in the garden. Go give her what she wants… Enjoy yourself,” Filippe muttered quietly, the look in his eyes resembling some sort of sad longing as he turned around and left, leaving the prince alone in the corridor, still stunned.
He hadn’t even bothered to wipe away the first tears on his skin.