Princess Iriana

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Chapter Three, Princess Iriana

Inidal


“Prince Karif, a package has come for you.”

Inidal pushed open the door to Karif’s room, tossing the considerably heavy package onto the neatly made bed. It was too early for the maid to have made it, and Prince Karif couldn’t make a bed to save his life, so Inidal guessed that another night of sleep had passed the Prince by. On the gold collared sheets, the package looked even blacker, like it was sucking the light from the room. On the top of it was painted a strange emblem; a jagged line with a shape like a crescent moon behind it. Dark and mysterious. He wished he could take one little telepathic peek inside. He caressed the outside of it with his mind, stroking the coarse string that held it closed, pealing it back just a little bit…and then he let well enough alone. Prince Karif was leaning over his balcony, gazing at the broad shining river far below. If Inidal lingered much longer, Karif would wonder why he hadn’t moved.

Sunlight reached around the Prince’s silhouette to rest on the floor in front of the balcony doors. Prince Karif’s looks didn’t stand out in a crowd; he often walked unnoticed through throngs of people who never recognize him. He had sandy red hair, a strong, square jaw line and smooth peachy skin. His eyes were a nondescript shade of blue. He had never been very tall, not nearly as tall as Inidal was. The only thing that set off Karif’s features was the delicate gold band inlaid with Ologan jewels he wore in his wavy hair. There was perhaps something handsome about him, it’s just that it took more than a passing glance to see it. However, his stormy expression complimented him to the last extreme, making him seem forbidden and dangerous, unapproachable. It was as if he were meant all along to be a dark, unsmiling prince. Solemnity had been tailored for him.

The Prince shifted his eyes only to glare at Inidal over his shoulder, and then he returned to silently observing the view. Not particularly injured by the Prince’s rudeness, Inidal walked to him and rested his elbows on the railing.

A penny for your thoughts? Inidal asked.

Prince Karif said nothing.

Do forgive me for speaking aloud, implored Inidal detachedly. You know how these things slip my mind. Truly, he had wanted to see if he could get one little rise out of the stony Prince. He wished his cousin wouldn’t brood like he did; either the Prince was imposing his glare upon some hapless person or staring in angry silence at something no one else could see. The servants sometimes said that the fireball training in the unforgiving heart of Ologo Mountain had scarred him, that no one should ever start training at the tender age of eight. He couldn’t agree with this simple brush-off of the Prince’s behaviour; Inidal had seen the broken before. They were like robots, emotionless, pre-programmed to run through the motions of life. Prince Karif at least had one emotion: searing, burning anger. And hatred for most things that lived or occupied space.

He was momentarily overcome with pity for the poor man who had once been his carefree, vivacious younger cousin. He reached for Prince Karif’s hand and lifted it with his mind.

Karif

Karif turned abruptly, taking his hand back from Inidal. His eyes were glazed.

I’m not sure I can stand this anymore, Inidal. The freshly risen sun glinted off the thin band of his crown. Karif turned his face to the breeze from the river and closed his eyes that wanted sleep. Inidal swallowed. The words had not been spoken, but he knew to what his cousin was referring to. He wondered what exactly had happened in Ologo Mountain to make Prince Karif this way.

Do not fret, Prince. Everything will be okay. He pushed back the sense of ill ease that filled him and tried to smile. Will you be attending Princess Queturah’s number ceremony? I am leaving right now if you would like to accompany me.

Karif heaved a sigh and went back to gazing out the window. No, I think I will stay here. I feel a spell coming on. When the Prince had spells, he could be confined to his room for hours, curling in on himself with the mind-crushing pain. People thought that Ologo Mountain had done it to him; they tended to blame everything on “what happened in Ologo Mountain” but for the first time Inidal actually believed them.

I’m sorry to hear that, Inidal said. I hope you feel better soon; I will be up to sit with you shortly after the ceremony. In the meantime, is there anything else on your mind?

The Prince closed his eyes and shook his head as the sun fully broke the horizon of the trees, splashing rays in his face. “Where is my penny?” he asked.

The number ceremony of Princess Ragola’s new baby was being held in the Far East palace gardens bordering Rahd’s town square. It was spring, and the flowers were coming into bloom along with the blossoms on the fruit trees. In the centre of the garden was a large cobble stoned area that was perfectly round, and big enough to fit the entire royal court and certain invited friends. In the centre was a fountain shaped like a birdbath, and in the rippling water were the numbers engraved on small blue tiles. Inidal’s cousin—Karif’s sister—Princess Sofaladaine, was there with her friend from the slums, Lialan, and his mother. The smell of blossoms on the breeze was intoxicating, filling everyone with an excitement more potent than the fervour of the number ceremony. The newborn Princess was wrapped in a pink blanket the same colour as the peach blossoms, and Princess Ragola was holding her by the birdbath fountain. Queturah’s green eyes were open, taking in the world around her with subdued solemnity.

King Axtris, Inidal’s father, stood beside his cousin. The newly crafted resinite pendant on the unbreakable tardon cord rested on the fabric of his fireproof glove. He was clutching an etching stylus in his other hand. Smiling at the Princess and her child, he commanded the people in attendance to be silent. The mental buzz in the air quieted, and the ceremony began. Since little Queturah could not understand telepathy yet, it was customary for the number etcher to speak out loud.

“Welcome, everyone,” said the King. “I thank you for attending this ceremony for my new second cousin, Princess Queturah.” The King sweepingly indicated the baby. There was the patter of polite applause. “Now, I am aware that it is the custom that I the King—”

“And long may you live!” enthused the crowd.

“Thank you. It is usually customary that I choose the baby’s numbers from the fountain of fire, but this time, I think I would like to give the honour to my son, Prince Inidal.”

Surprised, Inidal looked around to see whether his father really meant him. King Axtris nodded at him, and Inidal walked uncertainly to the fountain. Peeling off the fireproof glove and handing it to him, King Axtris laid the new pendant in Inidal’s hand and stood off to the side with Queen Ilaria. Confounded, Inidal looked over the crowd, and then back at his father, who nodded again, so he reached for baby Queturah, holding her lightly in his hands. She never broke her gaze from his; it was uncanny that a newborn could be so lucid. Gently, he took his arms from her, and she was left floating in the air. With the etching tool, he began to scratch numbers into the back of the fiery pendant that would soon be hers, speaking the words that had been spoken many times before, with different context, since the beginning of Despartus.

“People of Xarathus, I present to you Princess Queturah. Allow me to introduce her. Princess Queturah was born in the spring.” He scratched the number three into the pendant. “She is a girl.” A two. “Her father is Prince Shedan.” An 8 and a 3. “Her mother, Princess Ragola.” 4, 9. “She was the first born.” 1. “She is a close relative of the King.” Another 1. “She was born right here, in fair Xarathus.” Yet another 1. “And now, she will choose her number.”

This part of the speech he never really understood; the baby never chose their own numbers; whoever was leading the ceremony (usually the King) did. He supposed that since it was simply the principle of chance, they could symbolically consider her to be doing the choosing. With his gloveless hand, he reached into the shallow fountain and felt the small, fingernail-sized tiles at the bottom. There were thousands of them. Inidal had no idea how his father chose the numbers; was there some way he could instinctually sense what would be a good number for her? Telepathy would probably be cheating. He just hoped the poor child didn’t get a five. Pinching a single tile between his fingers, he pulled it out of the water. “Four,” he announced, and was met with applause. Four was his first number too. Lucky girl. Now he reached into the cool water and pulled out another blue tile; he stared at it in silly disbelief. “Six.” Six! They shared the same number. How brilliant. “People of Xarathus, please welcome Princess Queturah Hadden, forty-six one eleven forty-nine eighty-three twelve!”

They erupted into wild cheers. Inidal concentrated on the birdbath fountain for a moment, and it ignited with dancing, shimmering flames. Holding the pendant in his fireproof glove, he stuck his entire hand into the blaze. The resinite stone turned red, and the small nergeon stones surrounding it turned golden yellow. The scratched in numbers soldered in the fire, solidifying, securing Queturah’s place in the world.  Impulsively, Inidal dropped a kiss on the little child’s forehead, making her big, liquid eyes blink. Her hand reached for him as he handed her back to her mother.

Inidal allowed the birdbath to be filled with water again, and then dipped the pendant into the water to cool it. Drying it on the edge of his cloak, he lifted the pendant over the baby’s head. All at once, the chatter ceased, and everyone thought the same thought at her: May your life be filled with happiness. It was always the first words that royal babies heard, meant to carry them through childhood into adulthood with a sense of good will. That was the legend, anyway. Benevolence that didn’t last. Inidal glanced at pensive baby Queturah, and couldn’t help but wonder whether she knew this, too.

After the ceremony was a party in honor of the little

Princess in the ballroom. There was a grand exodus from the cobblestone circle, and only Inidal was left standing by the birdbath, considering whether he should attend the party or not. He hated parties, mostly because all the women wanted to dance with him, exposing the flaw that he really could not dance. No matter how many times he stepped on their delicate feet, they kept coming back, and he just didn’t feel up to this routine right then. Plus, he couldn’t help feeling disappointed that he had not seen the black haired woman anywhere in the crowd. Had she not attended the ceremony at all? He wondered if they were allowed to do that. Excluding Prince Karif, of course. Inidal walked away from the birdbath and made the long trek back to the palace, refusing the horses of the garden attendants. Truly, he didn’t feel much in the mood for anything, and after Queturah’s short celebration, he would need to meet his history tutor for another six hour lesson. He needed the few hours between now and then to steel himself.

Being future king was exhaustion personified. Whether it was spending sixteen hours a day studying Desparatan history, learning how to address different classes of people, learning to fight and play fireball, or attending meetings to discuss the future of Xarathus, he never had more than half an hour to himself every few days. He normally slept during this time, but for the past week, he had been using the time to gaze at the princess in the garden.

He reached the door to Karif’s room, bearing a fresh glass of water which he placed on the table beside the bed. Lying flat on his back with a damp swatch of cloth over his eyes, Karif was fast asleep. His face was still tense with pain, though, even in slumber. Inidal knew Karif would not be appreciative of somebody standing over his bed watching him sleep, so he eased himself back out the door, implanting the thought that he would be near if Karif needed him. Feeling guilty for feeling so relieved, he rushed to the other end of the palace to the north tower that was never used, the one with a clear view of the north garden that hugged the base of the tower. Hopeful, he climbed the stairs and looked out the small, stone window. As he expected, the dark-haired princess was there, drifting among the flowers, smiling at each one that she passed. Inidal leaned on the sill of the window, amusement playing at his lips.

The first time he had seen her, he was passing the garden, late to meet his history tutor in the west tower. She had been sitting in a swing, reading. Her soft beauty and long, curly hair had made him stop and stare. He couldn’t remember seeing her before. Actually, he was certain he hadn’t seen her before. He had wanted to talk to her, but he remembered that he had somewhere to be.

After dinner he had asked his cousin Princess Sofaladaine if she had ever seen a princess with long curly black hair. Among all the redheads in Xarathus, he was certain she would stand out.

Princess Iriana? That’s my Auntie Laine’s daughter. You’ve never seen her before?

Princess Laine. King Axtris’s brother’s wife’s sister. No, I haven’t seen her before.

Sofaladaine had smirked. Well, Your Highness, I feel it might be in your best interest to more properly acquaint yourself with the members of your court!

And he had intended to do just that. Except that whenever he saw her, all he could do was stare and sigh. He was the future king, for crying out loud. If he wanted her, he could have her. She could be his queen, and yet, he couldn’t help being self-conscious. There was just something about the mere sight of her that froze him in place.

He never saw her at any royal meetings, or ceremonies, or impromptu fireball games the younger royals liked to organize, only in the north garden. The mysterious princess hadn’t gone to the number ceremony, and was not going to the party, either? But Inidal knew that if he had had the choice, he wouldn’t have gone to the number ceremony either. Getting chosen to give Queturah her numbers had been an unexpected advantage, plus the fact that they had the same number made him instantly feel connected to the child. But if he hadn’t shown up, his father would have been disappointed, and who knew what would happen next time he got in trouble. He had already gotten three hours added to his normal daily studies, taken from less boring lessons like combat and fireball. Sometimes he wished someone else had been heir, or even that he had had been born a girl. Anything was better than never having any time for himself unless he skipped out on important family affairs. All he wanted was a break.

The princess leaned against an apple tree, facing the open window of the tower. She tipped her face up, and he ducked back into shadows. That’s when he heard footsteps on the stairs outside the tower door. Prince Rahvi, his fourth cousin, appeared. He bowed before addressing Inidal.

We are wanted in the drawing room, he said.

Why? Is Queturah’s party over already? And how had Rahvi known where he was? It always felt like the north tower was a secret between the Princess and he.

They were always watching him.

I am not certain, Your Highness, but the meeting is about to start.

Inidal sighed and turned back to the window. She wasn’t there anymore. I will be there. Prince Rahvi left him, and he tried not to use bad language as he glared at the now empty garden. He stalked out of the tower and to the front drawing room in the southern wing of the palace. Whatever this meeting was about, he couldn’t wait for it to be over. He was still thinking about her when he entered the drawing room. He was so absorbed in dreaming about her, that he didn’t even notice when he took a seat directly next her until it was too late. A second later Prince Rahvi and Prince Samalan entered, and the last two seats were taken. The meeting began as Queen Ilaria stood up to speak.

A royal messenger from Deshale came this morning right before the end of the party for Princess Queturah. You did a fine job, by the way, Inidal. Everyone turned to look at him, including Princess Iriana. He nodded at his mother then stared at his hands, smiling slightly. The messenger came bearing invitations for all of us to attend a fireball tournament in Deshale, and a royal ball, in three months. Inidal barely heard the words, for Princess Iriana kept stealing his attention away. Here she was, finally, close enough to touch! She was listening to the Queen’s deliverance with an enraptured expression, eyes focused solely on her. The white gold of her tiara seemed ever whiter against the ebony of her hair. She had green eyes, green like the sea, that became even brighter when she was excited. He wondered if his eyes were shining, too. Another ball. Wonderful! Another night of not studying. He hoped the Princess would come. He had never seen her at any of the other balls, but maybe if he asked her she would accept his invitation. The way she was so focused on the Queen’s words, as if there would be a test later, made him think that she was a little more of the bookworm type, and maybe she was just as bad a dancer as he was.  In her essence, he could feel the strain of intense concentration, a long curl kept falling in her face, and every time she brushed it aside it was there again. His fingers edged toward her, wanting to pull it back behind her ear for her. He couldn’t stop watching her from the corner of his eye. If his essence showed his preoccupation and fiery yearning, she didn’t seem to notice.

And so, we shall be leaving on the eve of the twenty-fifth of the month of Ylreva. That is three month’s time, so please, be prepared to leave at the crack of dawn! Meeting adjourned. His mother took her seat again, while everyone else filed out of the room.

What a short meeting. He glanced at the sundial outside the window and saw that it had actually taken three hours. What had they been talking about for three hours? Where had his mind gone?

Iriana brushed against him as she got up from the table. Oh. That’s where. He just hoped that he hadn’t missed anything important. He stood up too. On his way out the door, he noticed Princess Iriana next to Karif, who was apparently better now, and it was apparent through their frustrated expressions that they were having a heated discussion. Inidal felt jealous. Why could his gloomy, ill-tempered cousin have a conversation with the beautiful girl while all he could do was stare? He decided he would talk to her that night. Summon her to the garden for dinner. It would be perfect. Perhaps they could eat by candlelight. He could see it as he drifted through the halls, killing the last ten minutes of his free time. What would they talk about? He wasn’t the best talker. What if she didn’t find him attractive or interesting? What did it matter? He could have her if he wanted her.

But that was thinking like Karif.

He nearly failed the surprise exam that his tutor gave him. They both agreed to keep his slipping grades from his father, and he promised that he would do better next time. At least he had figured out that dinner would be too audacious. The next time he saw her by herself in the garden, he would just sit down beside her and hope she started the conversation.

He saw her heading out with a book under her arm after getting the result of his test. He rolled his eyes when he saw her walk toward the garden. Really, did next time have to be right now? He was supposed to go to fireball training, but all of a sudden he had something much more interesting to do. As he watched her, his self-consciousness flooded back. He took a deep breath. After standing by the window counting backwards from one hundred, he went after her.

She was sitting on that bench, concentrating again, on her book this time. There was that curl, he thought as he gazed through the rhododendrons. It seemed she had given up on it. He patted his pocket, to see if the velvet box he had retrieved from his room was still there. He walked toward her, but then all he could do was stand in front of her and stare. She looked at him, questioningly, with her bright green eyes. They were the same shade as Queturah’s, he realized.

Oh! Prince Inidal! Her book dropped to the bench as she hurriedly stood up and curtsied. Your Royal Highness. Her long, blue-green dress pooled at her feet for a moment, and then swished back into place when she rose. Once again, he was mesmerized, mentally tongue-tied.

Hey, now, he said in embarrassment, snapping out of his trance. That’s okay. You’re a princess. Have a seat.

Her eyes widened. And he kicked himself. Have a seat? He sounded like he was going to tell her bad news. I have something to give you, he added as he sat down beside her, nearly stepping on her delicate foot. Forgive me. Suddenly, he couldn’t remember which pocket the case was in. There were six pockets on his cloak, and he found the case on his fourth try. He handed it to her.

It’s beautiful! she gasped, when the jewelled combs were revealed. Raumite and orbalite. Blue is my favourite colour.

You’re welcome, he replied, and then cringed when he realized that she hadn’t really thanked him. This was not going well.

Oh, right. Forgive me. Many thanks, Prince Inidal.

You’re welcome.

This time, she smiled. What a beautiful smile. Where did you get them?

I had them crafted. The day he had first seen her. Her beauty had inspired the design. See, I told them to engrave your name on both of them. May I? He lifted them out uncertainly.

Her smile widened. Yes, you may.

He gently removed her tiara, running his fingers through her hair experimentally, enjoying the springy feel of her glossy curls. When he was younger he used to love playing with Sofaladaine’s hair. He had always done a better job with it than she had; she still came to him sometimes. He made her promise she wouldn’t tell anyone, but he wondered if she talked about it with Iriana. From what he had found out about her in the last few days, they were very good friends.

He wondered if Sofi ever talked about him to her, and what she would say if she did.

He continued to comb her hair with his fingers, pretending he was thinking about what to do. He wanted to smell the locks, burry his face in them. How could she have hair this wonderful? He gently twisted the hair into a chignon, capturing the troublesome curl and sliding the combs into place. They were decorated with little roses and other flowers found in the garden, since she seemed to like flowers so much. He patted her hair into place when he was done, just for one last touch.

I thank you once again, Prince Inidal, she said, face shining. Her happiness filled him like blueness filled the sky.

You’re welcome. Again. What are you reading? he said to change the subject. Iriana flushed, sliding the large tome closer to herself. It looked old and worn, like it had been read many times over centuries. Something like the history texts his tutor made him pour over.

It’s…it’s just this book I found in the library. The history of Despartus, the biographies of different heroes in our legends. Nothing very important. She smiled, shifted her eyes away

Could I see? She hesitantly handed it over. Yes, I have read this one. Do you enjoy history? History, ugh. He made a face, despite himself. It was not the right thing to do; hurt immediately showed on her face. I mean, I am not as academically inclined as you seem to be; my simple mind just found it dry.

She pursed her lips. I see. Well. I most definitely wasn’t always one for history, either. I do quite enjoy learning about why Despartus is the way it is today. Did you know that this bench was created from the ruins of Thegin Fin’s first house? The Valotians smashed it to pieces, but they salvaged pieces from the ruins and soldered them together to make this here bench. Running her fingers over it, she smiled at him.

I’ve never heard of that one, he said, considering. Where did you read that?

 Oh, not in this book. I spend a lot of time in the library.

So do I. It’s the bane of my existence. The library, by the way, is where I should be right now. I’m late to meet my tutor.

Her smile faded. Oh. I’m sorry. I won’t keep you then.

He shrugged apologetically. It’s not your fault. I’ve just been meaning to talk to you, and if I didn’t do it now, I’m not sure I would have had the time to ever again.

Why have you been meaning to talk to me? she asked, tilting her head curiously.

Oh…I just saw you one day and realized I hadn’t seen you before. I just wanted to see who you were. It was almost the truth. Standing, he took the princess’s hand and kissed it softly. But I’m still not sure who you are. Do you think I could see you again sometime? I’ve been meaning to get out one of these days. Would you like to accompany me into town tomorrow?

Okay. I would be honoured. Nodding at her with a grin, he left, saving his dance of happiness until he was out of sight. That hadn’t been so bad. But now he had a new problem: how did he keep from making a fool of himself again? She was so cultured, so intelligent…so different than he was. He told his tutor that he would take tonight’s reading up to his room to finish, and while he paged through Laws and Customs of Xarthus, Despartus, he took careful notes. Never before had he been so motivated to study.

He felt like something that was missing had suddenly been found. The relief he felt of overcoming his nervousness of Iriana and finally talking to her was like lifting a crushing weight from his shoulders. He couldn’t stop smiling, replaying their short conversation, how she had looked, the feel of her hair, everything.

There was a knock on his door. He felt the essence behind his wall and found it to belong to Sofaladaine. Enter, he beckoned.

Do you think you could help me? she asked, striding in and taking a seat on his bed. He left his desk and sat beside her. She removed the hood of her cloak to reveal her copper red hair standing on end in every direction, the long strands forming a cloud around her exquisite face. A face that was scowling at him in annoyance. He choked back his laughter.

What seems to be the problem? he asked innocently. She telekinetically launched a pillow at his face, and then the jewelled box where she kept her brushes and multiple accessories

Please, Inidal, I have to leave in an hour for a ball in Geneya. I tried to fix it by myself, but as you can see, it didn’t go very well.

Still smirking, he gathered the floating strands of her hair, applying a few squirts of spray from the box. With one pass of her brush, the locks had been tamed. What were you thinking I should do?

The braids that you did from that party last month? she suggested sheepishly.

Sofaladaine! That will use up the hour.

Please, Inidal? I will do whatever you want. You’re just really, really good with hair. For some reason, she added, shaking her head.

Okay, I am redeeming my favour, he said as he began to twist her hair into braids.

Already? Something on your mind? she teased.

Yes, actually. I talked with Princess Iriana, like you said, but it was a short visit. What else can you tell me about her?

Sofaladaine was quiet. Well, she said slowly, and her thoughts grew dark, like she was deciding whether he should tell her something. The thing about Iriana is that she’s not really a royal.

He jumped as though he had been electrified. She’s not?

No…a few months after she was born, someone snuck into the palace gates somehow and left her on the back kitchen doorstep. Nobody knew where she came from, but the cook’s assistant found her and brought her inside, where my aunt Laine was talking to one of the cooks. Aunt Laine saw her, and asked where she had come from, and Iriana was smiling and playing with the assistant’s hair. She had the cutest little baby fuzz on her head. The assistant told her that she had found her on the step, and Aunt Laine fell in love with her almost instantly. She was such a fun little baby. I was almost three when they found her, and apparently I loved playing with her. Everyone did. So my aunt Laine decided to keep her, even though your father was against it. He only agreed to let her live in the castle if everyone promised to not say a word about where she had come from, in case people started dropping babies off all the time. Eventually, she won over the heart of the King, and he allowed her to have a royal ring, and they have called her Princess ever since.

She’s not really a royal? he repeated. His fingers had stopped braiding.

Not technically, but everyone treats her like it. Inidal, she’s very nice, please don’t hold the circumstances of her birth against her. I can tell you really like her…or, liked, anyway. Sofaladaine twisted around and peered at him.

No, no. I still like her. It’s just…why didn’t I know about her at all? She’s so beautiful

She shrugged. Maybe you just need to get out more. Plus, she just came back this month from a year-long trip to Palstock, for some sort of educational thing. But hey, just make sure you don’t fall in love with her or anything like that. A relationship with her would only end badly since you can’t marry her. You’d break her heart.

Yes…I’m aware of that, thank you, Sofaladaine, he snapped, not really meaning it.

She narrowed her eyes. It’s just that she showed me the combs you gave her. That seems pretty intimate, don’t you think?

He pursed his lips. Maybe that’s why Sofaladaine had come in the first place. To lecture him. I suppose. But that’s not really any of your business, Sofaladaine.

She turned away. Yes. I’m sorry, Prince. The sarcasm in her words was mild but apparent. She didn’t speak anymore.

They had always been friends, he and Sofaladaine. Ever since they were children. He missed those times, when he had more time to spend with her, but ever since he had started preparing to rule the country, they rarely saw each other. Once, Sofaladaine had said that being heir was going to his head. He knew that she was probably thinking about this now.  But she was his best friend; he had hardly meant to hurt her.

I didn’t mean what I said, Sofi, he said when he had finished the braids. He twisted them together and then secured them to her head with golden combs. The ends of the braids were tied off with jewelled bands, and they would glow under the lights of the chandeliers. I’m sorry. She crossed her arms. Please don’t hate me. He took her hands and held them to his heart.

Her mouth twisted ruefully, pressing her fingers into his chest. I’m not angry with you, Inidal. I just have a feeling that I’m already too late. You love her, don’t you?

Well, I’ve just met her. Aren’t you always telling me that you can’t know whether you love someone unless you know them or something like that?

She searched his face before standing to leave. Yes, that’s what I thought…but I see the way you look at her. I know she’s pretty, but no other men stares at her like you do. It’s like she’s got you in a trance.

He remembered how he had missed most of the meeting that afternoon. I don’t love her, Sofi. She’s just really nice and I think we could be friends.Sure, she said diplomatically, hovering in the doorway. Just don’t let that ruin your friendship, alright?
       Have fun at your party.
He turned back to his books.

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