Chapter 11 - The Spring Garden
“Yes.” He nodded.
She may not be blonde like most beauties, but she was gorgeous regardless. Aris grinned at her stunned father. “I’m sure the other ladies will look lovely too.”
“The crown prince won’t even bother to look at me.” At least she hoped so.
She linked her arm with her father’s and descended the staircase. On the way down, Ian cleared his throat and observed his daughter’s appearance. Seeing her dressed like this, he realized that she did not look as young as he thought she was.
‘But in any case,’ he thought, ‘She’s still too young to get married.’
The two stepped into the carriage and set off for the Spring Garden.
A large arrangement of flowers greeted the Horissens at the entryway. The Spring Palace was just as the rumors had said— there were countless leafy green trees and flowers in bloom as far as the eye could see; it was a floral jubilee. Freesia flower petals, which symbolized spring, drifted dreamily through the breeze. The sight before Aris was so beautiful she felt that perhaps her hunger and pain had been worth it.
“You can go now, Father.” She told him since Ian looked worried. “I have Lucine. Everything will be fine.”
Around them, other girls began to arrive with their fathers. They also looked a little gloomy, as if they’d been hungry for a long time. All of the girls gazed longingly at the decadent food piled atop the tables. Unfortunately, they could not allow themselves to start eating before the crown prince arrived.
“Be safe,” Ian muttered to his daughter.
Ian finally left the garden. He was still worried, but he trusted Lucine. As tonight was a special event and so many noble ladies would be present, palace guards were stationed around to ensure maximum security. As soon as Aris saw her father get into the carriage, she made a beeline for the food, but Lucine grabbed her wrist. “Miss.”
“You can’t eat yet.”
“Why not?” Aris whined.
“You haven’t shown the crown prince how lovely you look,” Lucine said sharply.
She wanted the crown prince to see Aris as she was right now.
“But I’m so hungry,” Aris replied weakly.
“You’re normally so composed. Just wait a little longer.”
“I can’t stand being hungry.”
Aris could tolerate most things through sheer willpower, but hunger was not one of those things. She gave Lucine her best puppy eyes. “Just a little bit?”
Lucine felt her resolve crumble slightly. “One drink,” she relented.
“I’ll take it.”
Aris began scanning the tables and grabbed the largest drink she could find. Another girl picked up the beverage next to hers.
The young lady had long blonde hair and eyes like blue lagoons— a classic beauty. Her dress was pretty, with a modest neckline. She looked young, but Aris was sure she would become an absolutely gorgeous woman someday.
The two ladies glanced at each other before taking small sips of their drinks, savoring the taste.
“Good evening,” Aris said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She gave a dazzling smile to the other girl. It was the smile she rehearsed every day in the mirror.
“Yes, good evening,” the blonde replied, smiling shyly. That smile didn’t seem as well-practiced as Aris’s, but it was still rather cute. “These drinks are quite good.”
Aris watched the girl drink elegantly, with the grace expected of the nobility. As she brought her glass up to her lips, she tucked a strand of her long blonde hair behind her ear. She looked weak, just as Aris did.
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t even had breakfast or lunch today,” Aris whispered. She knew Lucine was watching her like a hawk, and she didn’t dare look at food at the moment. “I barely got permission to drink this.”
The younger girl sighed. “Me too. My maids found out I was going to the palace and stopped feeding me since yesterday,” she lamented, gazing sadly at her drink. “I don’t know why I have to deal with this.”
Then she glanced at Aris again. “You are Lady Aris Horissen, correct?”
“Yes,” Aris replied, wondering how this girl knew her name.
“I’ve heard much about you from my father.”
“Is that so?”
“My name is Violet d’Essel.”
Aris’ father had said that Duke Essel often spoke of how angelic and charming his daughter was. He boasted of her golden hair and how she had the bluest eyes and that she was beautiful, just like him.