When I arrived at the sitting room, my father was already seated across from the prince, seemingly in deep conversation. I didn’t know what kind of conversation would sound so deep with a ten-year-old. It was unlikely that they would be talking about economics, a topic that my father would undoubtedly be zealous about.
“You are quite right, Your Highness. The canal between the three cities would be better utilized if it could carry vessels transporting goods and people.” My father’s eyes were sparkling as he continued talking.
“Ah, Elena, you’re here!” Father stood up from the couch, and so did the prince.
I curtsied towards the prince, and when I lifted my head to meet his intense gaze, I couldn’t help the blush that spread across my cheeks when I recalled his eyes full of amusement. I wanted to slap myself. What was I getting so embarrassed about!? I shouldn’t care about what this kid thought of me!
“It’s an honor to finally meet you, Your Highness,” I said calmly, our eyes leveling.
Prince Arion and I didn’t have much of a height difference for our age, so I was a bit glad that I didn’t have to deal with neck stiffness (for now.) Once he would have his growth spurt, the top of my head would hardly reach his chin.
“Please, just call me Arion while we are in private.” His silver-grey eyes were curved in a smile. I didn’t remember him being so affable before, but maybe it’s because this time I wasn’t acting like a lovestruck stalker in front of him. “I will also call you Elena, if you don’t mind?” His head tilted to the side in question.
“Sure,” I replied casually. It was tiresome being so formal all the time, anyway.
I sat down beside my father on the couch. A thought struck me. I suddenly realized that the old Elena had never been given the opportunity to call Arion by his first name, even in private.
So, why now?
“Your Highness, since Elena is here, perhaps we should talk about something else,” Father said. “I don’t think Elena is very interested in talking about matters of the kingdom.”
“Don’t worry about me, Father.” I gave him an understanding smile.
“I’m only here for the food,” I added without thinking. I immediately pressed my lips together, wondering if what I had said was too rude.
As if on cue, a maid arrived with a cart laden with afternoon desserts and tea.
My father looked appalled at what I had just said, but Arion was holding his stomach while he laughed. At least the prince didn’t seem too offended...my bad.
If the only goal that kept me from dying was to not interfere with Arion’s future lover, then that means I didn’t have to do anything more. I didn’t have to make Arion like me to preserve my neck. I could be myself. This was my personality, and I won’t change who I am, just to fit someone’s ideal or standard, or to make someone love me. Wasn’t that what I was searching for in the first place? Someone who would love me the way I was? (As long as I wasn’t a murderer or anything, of course.)
I eagerly waited for the maid to finish arranging the cakes and pastries on the table. I tried my best not to drool. Although I didn’t particularly like this world’s dishes, the desserts were a different matter altogether.
“Do you like cakes, Elena?” Arion asked, as if it weren’t so obvious.
“Absolutely!” I grinned, not hiding how I felt towards sweets. Back in the modern world, I could never let go of desserts, and would rather work out to burn the calories, than not eat sweets at all.
“I don’t recall you loving sweets so much, Elena,” Father commented.
“Really?” I tried to look back on my old memories and found it true. The old Elena wasn’t into anything much aside from gaudy dresses and obsessive love towards Arion. It felt bizarre to have extra memories from a past life, so in my mind I would recall two sets of childhood instead of one.
“Here is your favorite cake, my Lady.” The maid gave me a slice of strawberry shortcake and I could hardly contain my excitement.
“Thank you!” I picked up my fork to start digging in, but noticed that there were two pairs of eyes staring at me.
I placed the fork back down, realizing that it was customary for a Royal to take the first bite or to announce when to eat, before other nobles could partake in a meal.
“Elena…” Father said reproachfully. I could feel his sharp eyes stare at the side of my face. I know what I said about staying ‘true’ to my personality, but it was also true that I didn’t want to anger or disappoint my father (sometimes.) I was such a good child. I deserved a medal.
“I’m sorry, Your Highness,” I said, trying not to sound so mechanical and insincere. I wanted to eat my cake now!
“I told you, please call me Arion, Elena.” Arion chuckled. “Furthermore, you don’t need to follow etiquette when you’re alone with me. It’s rather refreshing.”
“Is it not offensive, Your Highness?” Father asked, worried. I doubt he has ever been anything but rigid to social propriety.
“Not at all, Lord Esteban.” Arion smiled. “As I said, it’s refreshing.” He looked like he was going to say something more but refrained from doing so. Instead, he leaned back with a secret smile. As a Royal, he was probably tired of people being so polite to him all the time. I couldn’t imagine how life was with so many rules in your head at such a young age. I would probably go crazy if I were him.
“Please. You don’t need to wait for me,” Arion said as he nodded his head towards my strawberry shortcake.
“Great!” I picked up my fork and started eating happily.
Arion laughed again. Did he think I looked like a pig eating or something? What was he so amused about all the time? I was getting irritated, especially since I was getting laughed at by a kid. It pricked my ego.
I pushed my displeasure away and concentrated on how the fresh strawberry slices in whipped cream paired so well with the soft and fluffy sponge cake. I literally felt like crying while chewing! It was beyond divine!
“Elena, slow down. Don’t choke yourself,” Father said as he passed a teacup towards me. “By the way, I have found you a governess. She will arrive in a few days.”
“What’ll she teach me?” I flicked a few crumbs away from my lap and licked the whipped cream that had brushed my finger.
Father looked disgruntled at my behavior. “How to act like a lady.”
“I know how to act like a lady!” I grumbled resentfully while getting another plate of strawberry shortcake.
“My Lady,” the maid hurriedly whispered in my ear, “That plate is the prince’s…”
OH?! But I had already taken a bite…
I looked up worriedly, my mind already forming an image of the prince beheading me because I had stolen his slice of strawberries. But fortunately, the prince just smiled at me indulgently from behind his teacup.