Romeo brought the arrow back, maintaining his grip and focusing on the target. The wind was lightly blowing towards his forward left, and was strengthening and weakening at will. As the wind weakened once more, Romeo released the arrow, sending it flying through the air and piercing the target in the outer-most yellow rings.
Lowering his bow, a smile of satisfaction played across the Princes’ face. This was an improvement from earlier in the month.
“Nice shot Romeo,” a familiar voice spoke up as Romeo turned to see Lydia approaching the archery range. Today she was wearing an emerald dress that was laced with golden lines weaving around the edges. “For a Lady,’ Romeo thought, “she sure does dress like a Princess.”
“Thanks,” Romeo replied. “Hey Lydia, I’m sorry for how I acted the other day.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Lydia waved him off as she picked up a spare bow. “I understand you were just reacting to Ales. He’s just... difficult to handle, that’s all.”
“He wasn’t that bad on the ride over, was he?”
“Apart from complaining about the carriage, he was docile.” Lydia notched an arrow in place and took aim, her sights set on a target far off in the distance.
“I don’t think you’ll be able to hit that one,” Romeo stated once her found her target. But Lydia ignored him, her face full of concentration. Lydia waited for the wind to change before firing, letting the wind carry it further than she could shoot.
And when it came to rest, the arrow was embedded barely a few inches from the bullseye.
“Wow,” Romeo stated. “Guess you weren’t the national champion for nothing, were you?”
Lydia turned back to him with a smile. “Yes, but you weren’t too bad yourself.” Linking arms, the two started making their way back up to the Palace.
“So,” Lydia asked, “Where is Abigail?”
Romeo released a small smile. “She and Angel are still debating over the finer details of the wedding. I’d join them, but planning an occasion like that isn’t my forte.”
“I can imagine,” Lydia replied with a giggle. “And how are you handling Riku’s position?”
“Quite well if I say so myself. So far nothing seems out of the ordinary. The only way we’ll truly test my ability is if the worst case scenario should unfold, and I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Lydia stopped and looked at Romeo. “What do you mean worst case scenario?” She asked.
“The enemy invades Astraea,” was Romeo’s blunt response. Lydia’s eyes widened a little at the notion, but Romeo placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry,” he continued. “I’m confident that won’t happen. As much as he and I bicker, I do acknowledge and respect Riku’s ability. And even if he should fail, I will never let this Palace fall.”
Lydia looked back into Romeo’s spectacle-shielded eyes, seeing the confidence radiating from them.
“I’ll hold you to your word then,” She replied, pulling on a smile to hide her insecurities. “I know the two of you will do admirably.”
“Hey, you two!”
Romeo and Lydia turned to see Shards running down the path, a smile stretched across her young face.
“What is it Shards?” Lydia asked as Shards came to a stop in-front of them.
“Strawberries sent me. You two are late for lunch.”
“Oh,” Lydia realised, her hand flying to the side of her face. “I forgot, that’s the reason why she sent me down here, to get you,” She said as she turned to Romeo. “Sorry about that, Shards. Let’s go together; we don’t want to keep everybody waiting.
“Delicious,” Angel stated as the royals sat at the dining table, most of the plates clear of any food.
“You’ve done it again Straw,” Abigail said with a smile.
“I almost forgot how good your cooking was Straw,” Lydia said after finishing her last bite.
“Aw, it wasn’t all my doing,” Strawberries replied, being bashful. “The chefs did most of the work. I just supervised and worked on the dressing.”
“But still,” Katherine spoke up, turning her green-eyed gaze to the young princess, “This meal, along with all others you help create, are delectable.”
“Aw shucks,” Strawberries said as she blushed. “You’re all too kind.”
Shards looked to Ales, who leaned on the back legs of his chair with his feet on the table.
“Ales,” She said, her voice failing to hide any annoyance. “Don’t you have anything to say to Strawberries?”
“Why should I say anything?” Ales replied, his hands resting behind his head as he stared into space. “I don’t have to heap unnecessary praise on a meal, do I?”
Most of the royals now held Ales in their gaze, except for Terrya and Lydia. Romeo restrained himself, his stare probably holding the most desgust.
“You should apologize for that remark, Ales.” Katherine said firmly, standing up and placing a reassuring hand on Strawberries shoulder. Strawberries was looking at the table, a slightly sombre expression written on her face.
“I’m not saying the meal was bad,” Ales replied, also standing. “I’m just saying should you praise her too much, she’ll eventually find one person who finds her meals ordinary and expect them to swoon all over it.”
Strawberries continued to refuse meeting Ales’ gaze, feeling tears soon to arrive.
“Don’t say that about Strawbs’ cooking!” Shards yelled, jumping out of her armchair and stomped towards Ales, fists clenched. Shards more than anything wished she had her sword right then and there. She stopped just in-front of Ales, staring at the prince with all the anger she could muster.
“Shards,” Angel said, cautioning her. “Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
“Listen to Angel Shards,” Ales said, his voice drained of all wit. “I can’t guarantee what will happen should you start something.”
“Then maybe I can,” Romeo spoke up, coming to Shards’ side with one hand on his sword handle. Ales looked at all of the other family members, all staring back at him with varying degrees of disapproval.
“Whatever,” Ales finally spoke up before turning towards the doors. They opened before he got there and Arthur looked inside before bowing.
“I apologize if I’m interrupting something,” He said with a quick bow, “But I was wondering if I could have a word in private with Duchess Shards?”
Shards looked at Arthur, and then to Ales then Katherine, who gave a nod of approval. Shards looked towards Strawberries, still feeling sorrowful after Ales’ attitude.
“Don’t feel bad Straw,” Shards said while putting on a smile. “No matter what Ales says, I think it was delicious.”
With one last vile glare at Ales, who was avoiding staring anyone in the eyes, Shards quickly walked out of the dining hall and towards the front doors, with Arthur falling into step beside her.
“If I may ask, Duchess-” Arthur asked, but stopped when Shards didn’t reply.
Outside the Palace the wind had begun to pick up as large clouds started moving overhead. Shards ignored this, her face showing the frustration she felt towards Ales.
Turning around once inside the villa, Arthur handed Shards her sword before drawing his. But he barely had enough time to take a stance before Shards rushed him, forcing him to block at least five different strikes.
“You’d better not hold back today Arthur,” Shards growled. “I guess you can tell I’m not in a good mood right now.”
Arthur nodded and stepped to the side, letting Shards stumble forward with her own momentum. Shards turned her short fall into a forward roll and stood, turning to block Arthurs’ overhead slash.
Shards stepped back before going for a stab, but Arthur deflected it to her left before placing his foot behind hers and performing a clothesline on the Duchess. The instant Shards’ back fell to the grass below, she saw Arthur’s sword rest directly next to her neck. Her eyes opened in shock as her mind replayed the images of what just transpired.
Arthur smiled as he sheathed his sword and offered his hand to the Duchess.
“Well,” he said,” You did tell me not to hold back.”