11| Scattered Berries

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I sit in the grand dining hall, enjoying the lavish surroundings and engaging in small talk with father and mother. However, Princess Maliah, sitting beside me, gives me odd stares that makes me uneasy.

Unable to ignore the odd tension, I venture to break the silence between two of us. "Princess Maliah, is something wrong?" I inquire silently, a sense of genuine concern in my voice.

She simply shakes her head and continues eating in silence.

After finishing off, I excuse myself from the dining hall and make my way towards the solitude of my room. The journey up the castle's stairs offers a moment of reflection. In my pockets, I search for the small package I bought earlier in the morning, from town.

It's a humble offering of medicine for Lady Blair, intended as a token of apology for a past mistake.

A pang of regret creeps in. Why couldn't I muster the courage to offer it to her when I had the clear opportunity? Was it mere nervousness, or did her earlier threat instill a sense of fear in me? I'm unable to believe my own thoughts right now.

When I reach my room, I see the woman who assists Lady Blair. I stop her with the gesture of my hand, she gives me confused look after bowing her head to me, "His Highness, may I help you with anything?"

I nod, hesitant. I'll have to do this. "Are you the one who assists Lady Blair?" I question.

She nods, "Yes, prince."

I take out the package and offer it to her, "Can you... give this to her? And just say... it's an apology"

She nods again, "Sure, I can do that. Please don't worry, it'll be done by the noon, as I have to follow Her Majesty's orders right now. If it's urgent, I can arrange someone else-"

"No, no. You can give it to her whenever you get spared time. Don't include someone else." Later is better than never. She takes her leave and I sigh, I hope the guilt will leave me alone now.

I turn around to enter my room, but see Princess Maliah standing a few steps afar. "I knew something was off with you, princess" I say, "What's the matter?"

Her smile, though offered, lacks sincerity as she casts a wary glance at the guards nearby. "Can we speak in your chambers?" she requests, her tone guarded.

Once inside, she surveys the room, her expression troubled. "You missed our tea gathering this morning, Prince," she accuses softly, her disappointment palpable.

"I regret any inconvenience, Princess," I reply, striving to explain. "I was attending to matters in town. Had I been free, I would have gladly joined you."

"You weren't available just for me," she interjects sharply, her tone accusing. "But you were readily available for that ghastly woman Blair"

Confusion clouds my features, "I'm sorry, I don't follow. What are you implying?"

Her eyes well with hurt as she continues, "I witnessed you entering the palace with her. You escorted with Prince Alden, but you came alone with her. And now, there..." she gestures toward the door, her voice tinged with disbelief, "You asked a maid to pass her a package?"

She walks a step closer to me, "Prince Kaiden, are you trying to make a fool out of me here? Is she your mistress?"

Shaking my head, I attempt to clarify, "It's not what you think." I offer an explanation of whatever I found suitable to share with her, though her expression remains unchanged, her mistrust evident.

She draws near, her arms encircle my torso, her touch a mixture of longing and uncertainty. "Oh, Prince, I'm torn," she confesses, her voice a whisper against the silence of the room. "Your kindness blinds you to her intentions. Can't you see she's trying to snatch you away from me?"

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