Written by Blue Jay
“The Road in the Garden”
It had been two months since the last banquet his highness prince Engelbert Faust attended with royal attendant Filippe Haas.
To be more specific, fifty-seven days and just as many nights had passed since the last time Filippe even spoke directly to him. Engel knew because he counted them from day one, too unsure what was even going on.
From the moment Filippe, as drunk as he had been out of irritation over his actions, had pulled him in a completely unexpected kiss, Engel had been completely unable to erase the look the man had given him from his mind. That hurt and lonely gaze in the albino’s eyes had not been something Engel had ever seen Filippe give him. He had been so stunned on the spot that he wasn’t even able to follow up on his promise with the overly perfumed lady Boivin whom he had planned to lead around with a carrot on a stick for a bit.
The next morning, Engel had expected to meet Filippe to ask him what the hell had happened, but to his absolute surprise, not only had the attendant not come to his room as usual, but he had been informed that he had left late during the night without as much as saying a word. If it weren’t for a random maid spotting him leaving, nobody would have even known he was gone.
Engel had plenty of time during the rest of his visit to find a reason with Filippe’s actions, and yet nothing he could come up even made sense. To him, everything the man had done was absolutely out of all reason, and he simply couldn’t come up with an explanation.
And then, upon finally returning home at the end of the week, he was greeted with the notice that Filippe had asked to no longer be a royal attendant because “There is nothing else I can teach the royal family”, and his father the king had approved without even notifying him.
Now, not only had Filippe left the event without telling him, but he had been relocated to work somewhere else. It took Engel about five minutes to find out Filippe had become the main librarian in the one library in the least visited wing of the palace.
The first time the prince went to find Filippe, he was met with the man’s cold gaze at the entrance of the library, moving books in the room. Filippe had said nothing, the red eyes behind his tinted glasses looking at Engel almost icily before he turned around and entered the library, the door slamming behind him.
The prince could do nothing as much as stare at the door, feeling unable to even try to confront him. It was the first time Filippe had treated him like this and as much as he knew about messing with power-hungry women’s feelings, Engel found himself at a loss this time.
That was even without mentioning that Filippe now had no obligations to listen to him at all as a royal librarian. He had the choice to ignore his orders without any repercussions and there was nothing he could do about that order unless he became the king, and Engel knew it too well.
Following the first time they had met each other after the ball, any time their paths crossed, any thoughts Engel had about anything were plainly erased by the cold, stern glare from Filippe, before he watched the man walk away without a word.
One thing was for sure, there was no way he had forgotten that sudden kiss in the empty corridor. On top of being reminded of it every time him and Filippe crossed paths, he found himself thinking about that expression he had seen on his face more than anything.
That hurt in his eyes and the sad longing accompanying it as he had barely glanced at him before walking away was not something Engel could forget easily.
Late at night, he often found himself thinking about it. Did Filippe only tell him to watch his actions because he was concerned about the nation, or did he care about him personally? Was there something more to this that he had never seen?
There was an option existing which Engel didn’t dare to believe.
And yet the more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed, forcing him to toss and turn in his bed, mulling over it before he were eventually to fall asleep.
But it wasn’t just that. In his daily life, on too many occasions, Engel had found himself calling for Filippe and finding nobody next to him.
It was as if a piece of his life had been violently ripped out, causing his eyes to wander aimlessly whenever he caught himself about to ask Filippe for something when he was nowhere to be found. His mouth always closed weakly, with his gaze darkening and looking away from the empty space where the older man usually stood.
Around others, Engel seemed fine and dandy as usual, the loving smile on his face as he greeted allies and enemies alike and participated in the dances of royalty and loyalty. But alone, he felt this feeling of hollowness stifle and suffocate him. There was nothing he could do about it.
Engel truly felt helpless whenever he thought about Filippe.
Was there anything he could do to restore their relationship? Filippe was his strongest pillar, and without him, as much as he tried to convince himself otherwise, Engelbert felt like a tree at the edge of a cliff.
One little push and the rest of his roots would collapse and he would be done for.
Figuratively speaking, of course. Engel was in no position to actually fall off a cliff, but the feeling was there.
On top of all that he hadn’t even gotten a new attendant. Now that the spot was free, there were many people who were trying to get it. It was pressure on many sides from so many families trying their way to get Engelbert and the king to choose their children or relatives as the new attendant; the pressure on Engel also didn’t work towards improving his mental health.
Yet any candidate proposed was immediately rejected by Engel without him allowing even for a word in return.
What was going on with him? Engel knew that in truth he should have just gotten a new attendant but every time he thought about someone replacing Filippe in his spot he felt like that was not something he could do. He felt like the hole in his chest, the loneliness he felt every time he noticed the vacant spot where Filippe used to be, wouldn’t be filled or forgotten by getting a new attendant.
No, he had a predicament that it would only grow larger.
More than anything, Engel found himself just… missing Filippe’s presence. His always rather stiff posture, red eyes that didn’t take anyone’s bullshit and a bearing of which even Engel was sometimes jokingly envious.
After all, Filippe had also been his teacher for a part of his life. The two had practically grown up together, Engel couldn’t even remember for how long the man had taken care of him.
It was a rather long time too.
Back when Engel had probably been around seven, his father had introduced him to Filippe, who at the time had been somewhere in his mid to late teens. The age difference was indeed rather vast, but also surprisingly small between the two. In fact, the two were essentially just kids, only one of them had grown up a bit more.
As far as Engel recalled, Filippe had always been somewhat cool towards him. The times he had heard him laugh or even smile could be counted on two hands, but Engel could always tell whenever he had managed to touch the youthful side of Filippe. But they were more than zero: that was for sure.
The two had basically grown together. Not many knee but even as he was teaching Engel, Filippe was finishing up his own studies. When he was eleven, the prince had a bad night sleeping once and had stumbled on the albino still working on his own homework, even as the moon was already almost past its peak.
Engelbert, as much as he made jokes about Filippe being a workaholic, was aware of why he tried so hard. He wasn’t stupid. He was aware that Filippe also hadn’t been chosen as the attendant for no reason; he knew this even at a very young age.
Filippe had been ostracized by his family. Being born with the disorder he had in his family, which on top of being the most religious was also the most superstitious noble family, it was simply not a good life for him. And having no actual connections to his family after they just sent him away with some money, he was the perfect candidate.
He would have been no influence to the prince to favor one faction or another as he had no formal family relations anymore. He was a familyless child; even his supposed family name “Haas” was made up.
Despite his troubles he had managed to stand out in the school he had gone to. He was very quick to learn, very eager to understand everything and absorbed knowledge like a sponge. Filippe was a model student despite being practically an abandoned noble.
So the king eventually noticed him, found him and invested the time and effort into bringing him up to par because of the political benefits of his presence. Filippe wasn’t of commoner blood, nor was he officially from any noble family. He was still a nobleman, but a nobody’s noble. And given that he had actually never shown any qualms about his situation or previous family or tried to slander anyone because of his situation, it worked out fine.
Bam. He was suddenly prince Engelbert’s royal attendant at a still rather tender age.
Of course people complained. Oh, how much they did. There were almost riots and revolutions with pitchforks and torches in these modern times against the decision.
Endless articles were written about the “problem”, about how much Filippe wasn’t suited to be an attendant and how many more suitable candidates had been before. No noble family was willing to surrender their spot, not without a fight!
And of course there was a fight, but not the type anyone expected. With the king’s permission, Filippe simply asked any of the other candidates to try out in a knowledge test against him, his less than twenty year old self, and win. If they can win, then they can take his spot.
It seemed like a fair fight, right? But it was unfair beyond all beliefs. Why? Because Filippe was a genius of his time. He was already in university by the time others his age were in still in the establishments equivalent of commoner’s high schools.
And his enemies’ main fault was actually mostly not attended university. Many had, but being nobles in a word heavily stacked for them, would they actually need any of the knowledge a university had to offer? That was what they thought, at least most of the arrogant youth these days. They had their private tutors and assistants who knew everything they needed to know. Riding on their family’s backs, most of these egocentric people thought they were above the common university.
Clearly Filippe thought otherwise and proved it then and there.
It was a fight to behold. It was verbal or written for the most part, but it turned out to be Filippe mostly correcting others’ mistakes. He even had to educate some poor forty years old lad about the fact the earth wasn’t flat, but in fact a globe, like about any other planet and object in the sky.
After that performance, most had given up, and truthfully so. Not much could be said against the fact that Filippe was a genius. Nor that they had much to say anyway, given that most of them were flabbergasted.
That was also the time Engel finally acknowledged Filippe as his teacher. As any kid would be, he wasn’t very keen on being taught what and how to do stuff. He was a kid! He wanted things his way! He wanted to laze around and ride horses all day! Not to study under some dusty old books and a cold disapproving stare!
Nonetheless, the two had grown up together. Filippe had finished his studies long ago, though whenever Engel caught him in his free time he was always reading some obscure book on some even more obscure topic. Something Engel never quite understood.
Engel had turned from a pesky little child into a bright, flirtatious and flamboyant young man, whereas Filippe retained his coolness while maturing more as an experienced man compared to his younger days, something Engel so far lacked.
Bam! Engel violently looked up to see the aftermath of a small stack of paper, now fallen on the ground and basically a bunch of loose paper. His surprised gaze quickly darkened upon realizing that it had been his incompetence that made that happen.
“Damn it, Filippe…” he muttered to himself, running a hand through his messy hair as he leaned back in his chair; his sullen eyes aimlessly drifting. “Why did you have to quit without even giving me a two weeks notice…?”
His hand moved up, lightly touching his lips after a long moment. Engel didn’t really want to admit it, given how many kisses he had given away in the past to women he had played with, but the one kiss he seemed to remember the most vividly was Filippe’s. It was as if imprinted in his mind, that touch which somehow felt so different than any other he had ever received before.
How bad was it to say that Engel, during those two months of having no Filippe next to him, had realized (even if he didn’t want to) that he wanted Filippe next to him? He wanted him close, even if just nearby. And most of all, Engel had come to the understanding that he wanted Filippe to at least just talk to him.
He wanted to know. He wanted to know and confirm why Filippe had done that, why he had kissed him, why he had looked at him in that silent pain and most of all why he had chosen to avoid him.
That’s it, Engel was done waiting. He suddenly stood up, a determined glint in his hazel eyes as he quickly walked across the room and slammed the door open.
“Ah!” A maid’s surprised gasp came from the side but Engel ignored her, just running off towards the obscure library with a stride that could make even warriors falter.
Within minutes he was in front of the library doors, finding them closed as usual. But that wasn’t going to stop him this time. With a wide movement of his hand, the door swung open loudly and Engel was in.
The library itself was very quiet, the silence stifling sounds just like the books held their own. The prince sighed softly when he didn’t see Filippe on the front desk, but that was expected. He was rarely there to begin with.
With the determination to talk to Filippe in mind, Engel began walking through the aisles of the library, his muffled steps being by far the only audible thing. If he was unlucky, he probably would get tired before even finding Filippe, considering the library has at least four floors. At least. He didn’t know in actuality.
It had seven, but above five they were difficult to find and get around.
Engelbert was rather lucky to find Filippe in a corner of the second floor about fifteen minutes later.
The moment their eyes met felt like an eternity to Engel. The coolness he was rather used to seeing in Filippe’s features felt as cold as liquid nitrogen, especially when his heart that wanted answers wanted to see the more mellow side for once.
“Good day, your highness. Is there anything you’re searching for?” It was Filippe who spoke first, making a curt bow towards the prince.
Engel opened his mouth, but closed it silently, unable to find any words. Not any that suited him, that is. Faced with the wall Filippe’s words had instantaneously built, Engel felt like nothing he could say would make it through. And in reality, he wanted to know.
He wanted to know everything from Filippe’s side. But where were the words needed for such a request? Was it even a request? Probably more so a confession…
The long silence from Engelbert’s side was broken.
“If you have nothing to request from me, I will return to work. Excuse me, your highness,” Filippe sighed lightly, fixing his glasses before making his way around Engel and heading back towards who knows where. The library was huge.
Engel almost stared in pure silence. However, as soon as he felt Filippe pass him by, he turned around in what felt like a moment of desperation, his hand striking forward and grabbing Filippe’s arm.
“Please… Filippe! Listen to me, just this once, please…!”