“It’s not like that, and you know it,” someone said irritably. “We’ve never had that kind of competitive relationship.”
“But sir,” another voice pleaded, “You must be careful. You never know what corruptness may be whispered to your brothers. Anyone can be swayed by the right words at the right time, even Rainn--”
“Be quiet, Jaxon,” the other voice demanded in a low, dangerous tone. “Your tongue has been far too loose as of late, and I fear I’m no longer willing to hear any of it.”
“I apologize, Your Highness. I spoke out of term.”
Silence, save for the constant ticking of a clock. Then, “Sweep the rooms starting today. I want every single guestroom inspected and deep-cleaned. Saints know how long it’s been since some of them have seen the light of day. Make sure to come to me with anything suspicious, no matter how small.”
“Of course, Your Highness.”
Footsteps traveled on the hardwood up until the clicking of a door. The room grew quiet.
Poppy rubbed blearily at her eyes with the backs of her hands. She woke up during the middle of a conversation and only understood bits and pieces of what she heard. Oak rolled onto his other side, fur grazing against her, and settled himself with a content sigh. Poppy carefully stuck her head over the vent slats and blinked the sleep from her eyes as she observed the scene below.
Prince Kai himself was pacing a path into his carpet with his shoes still on. He seemed to suddenly realize this and shucked the things off before plopping down onto the couch and scratching at his head. He was obviously stressed about something, probably whatever that conversation had just been about.
Poppy guessed he’d been speaking with his servant-boy, just by the language they used. It was obvious the unseen speaker deferred to the prince, although Poppy supposed a lot of people did. However, not many would be allowed into the crown prince’s chambers unless they were close. Oftentimes servant boys were raised with royalty so that when they grew older there was much less a chance of betrayal due to the resulting closeness of growing up together.
How awful, to be raised as friends only to realize once you became older you were a subject. Less than.
As her eyes finally adjusted to the light, Poppy could begin to witness the little details. The dark circles beneath the prince’s eyes, the disheveledness of his pale hair from running his fingers through it. How he looked much older than his age of seventeen years. This was the face he only bared in the solitude of his room, the imperfect side of royalty outsiders weren’t meant to see.
Poppy was witnessing something rare right now, although it did nothing to help her situation. What was it that the prince had asked his servant to do earlier? Something about cleaning…
She swallowed as her pulse abruptly spiked. I want every single guestroom inspected and deep-cleaned. That included her own room! She needed to hurry back before anyone entered that guestroom or else she’d be found out, and the things she’d accumulated these past years stolen away! It’d taken her a very long time to get herself situated; she couldn’t start all over again without a place to call home. She wouldn’t.
Poppy lightly shoved Oak’s back. “Hey, there’s an emergency. We need to hurry!” The mouse rolled over and continued snoozing. Damn. She needed to hurry back and at least retrieve her essentials before anyone entered that room. Poppy couldn’t make it back by herself either, not with this dark labyrinth between her and her stuff.
“Oak!” she whisper-yelled. Shoved him again. “Hey, this isn't cool. If you take me back, I’ll give you some cheese. Oak!”
The mouse squirmed a bit, then jolted as if startled from a nightmare. Poppy felt the soft fuzziness of Oak’s fur as he bumped against her legs and pushed her backwards, through the slats.
Her long hair blew upward, framing her vision of the air-vent moving away. Wind licked at her clothes as the ceiling grew smaller and the floor grew larger. Time moved slowly like syrup as she comprehended the fact she may just die.
Or be badly hurt--this was more likely since her small weight meant the impact of her hitting the ground would result in less damage than, say, a giant falling from this height. Her mind flicked to all the instances she’d seen bugs fall from the ceiling and be perfectly fine. Only, she wasn’t a bug. Her body was made of bones and cartilage, not armor-like chitin. She was soft on the outside.
She landed on the carpet. Her head must have hit the ground hard because there was a loud ringing sound in her left ear, and a sharp pain lanced through her skull to match it. Poppy lay down for a solid minute and waited for the ringing to stop. She wasn’t aware of anything going on around her; whether she’d been seen or if Oak had even woken up to realize what happened. It wasn’t until a minute later that Poppy felt an icy sensation around her ankle.
Mustering all her energy, she pushed herself onto her elbows, and looked down. Black spots dotted her vision and she squinted her ankle, which was growing to the size of a small blueberry. A tiny, distraught sound escaped her, and she gently let herself back down. Her whole body ached, but she couldn’t feel the energy to observe every bruise.
Poppy just wanted to rest, consequences be damned. She closed her eyes, even as she felt someone watching her. Exhaustion pulled until it encompassed her.
Poppy’s eyes snapped open and she startled into a sitting position with her heart racing at too fast a speed. Pain threatened to split her head open, but this ebbed and soon paled in comparison to the sharpness dwelling in her left ankle.
She yanked back the covers, which appeared to be a second-hand handkerchief, to see something perplexing. White cloth was snugly wrapped around her ankle, and it was elevated on another, long, folded piece of cloth.
Huh? she thought, her mind swimming. What happened before she passed out? Certainly she would have remembered if she treated herself, but perhaps her memory was foggy from hitting her head…
This wasn’t her room. In fact, she had no idea where she was. She was laying on a humongously large bed, even bigger than the one in her guestroom. The walls were a deep green and sunlight poured in from large, floor-to-ceiling windows. There was a desk at the opposite wall from the bed and stacks of endless paperwork atop it. A silver chandelier hung above her with crystals falling from it like raindrops. The room smelled like pepper and orange.
A wooden chair was pulled up beside the ridiculous bed, and sitting atop it was none other than the person she’d set out to spy on. Poppy swallowed as her eyes met those of the prince himself. How in hell did she keep getting herself into these situations? And why just recently? She’d always been so careful up until now.
They observed each other for a moment and Poppy wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself. Her heart felt like it was about to beat out of its chest as the prince’s crisp green eyes flicked over her curiously. Her hands were sweaty.
“How do you feel?” he finally asked. “That was quite the fall you had.”
Poppy swallowed. Her throat was dry.
“Can you truly not speak the common tongue?” he wondered, while thoughtfully scratching his chin. “It’s plausible, but for some reason I just don’t believe it. Your expressions give you away, you know.”
She frowned at him, not particularly caring what he thought. She also thought about where exactly he could shove his beliefs. Poppy was too uncomfortable to be caring as much as she should. She wanted pain-killers.
“I suppose I could keep talking on to fill the silence, but it’s rather lonely,” he sighed and waved his hand. “But perhaps, if you were to show me you can indeed speak, then I would treat you much nicer than otherwise.”
Was that a threat?
The prince abandoned his seat and knelt in front of the bed. His face was much closer now, and Poppy could see the exhaustion etched onto his too-young face. “I suggest you speak, fairy, or else I won’t be able to show you the hospitality I wish to give you.”
Fairy? What did he know? From Poppy’s understanding, most giants believed fairies to be supernatural, unreal creatures of myth.
Poppy pressed her lips together. Upon closer examination, the prince’s face was abhorrently smooth and poreless. To make matters worse, his breath was minty and refreshing. He didn’t seem to have a single flaw, save for that awful personality. Life wasn’t fair.
“Asshole,” Poppy muttered.
“What?” the prince leaned even closer, curiosity sparking in his eyes.
“ASSHOLE!” she screamed.
His eyes widened and he sat back onto his haunches. He stared at her for a long moment before exploding into laughter. “Ha-Ha! That’s great!” He clutched his sides and bent forward in his fit of giggles, making Poppy’s face involuntarily turn pink.
What was wrong with this guy? Was she some kind of joke to him?
His laughter made him look and sound much younger. It looked far better on him than that usual polite look. His face was that of a boy’s again.
As the laughter died out and he was attempting to regain his composure, the prince looked up at her and wiped a tear from his eye. “Who would have thought the first fairy I meet would have such a dastardly tongue on her! I suppose my language during our last visit did little to offend you.” Another chortle escaped him and he covered his mouth with a fist as he cleared his throat.
The tension from a moment prior had been forgotten just like that. Although Poppy remembered and it made her uneasy. She didn’t like how this boy could flip like a switch.
“Well, you’ve spoken so I will gladly show you hospitality. I tried to wrap your ankle while you were asleep, but I’m afraid I did it wrong. Could you tell me if it’s too loose or too tight? I was so worried about accidentally injuring you further that I couldn’t concentrate on the wrapping too well.”
Poppy glared at him but then observed her leg. The white cloth wrapping began at her mid-calf and ran all the way down to the arch of her foot. It was wrapped very well, considering the size difference in the one who treated it. Poppy could only imagine how the giant had fumbled with his too-large fingers to try and get the bandaging right.
Her face heated up again.
She sat up and, in a frenzy of embarrassment, threw the makeshift pillow that’d been beneath her head at the giant. It, of course, fell far too short from hitting him in the face. They both watched as the pillow lamely fell to the floor.
“Was that supposed to hit me?” he asked with honest incredulity.
Damn him! Poppy didn’t have time to be worrying about how this boy had been touching her leg while she slept, or the fact that he ruined a pair of her pants by shearing it up to the knee.
Poppy ignored the prince as she crawled to the edge of the bed.
“What’re you doing?” he politely asked, like this was indeed all a game to him.
Poppy sneered and glanced over the beside. The floor was a ways down. Making the descent would have been a piece of cake mere hours prior, but now she feared how well she could grapple without the use of the bottom half of her left leg. Her head still ached, too.
“You know,” the prince mused while mindlessly creating patterns on the duvet with his finger, “when I said I’d treat you with hospitality, I meant it. There’s no way a proper gentleman would let you venture out on your own with an injury like that. I’m a man of my word, so I insist you stay until your ankle heals. Not to mention that bump on the back of your head.”
He tapped the back of his own head, and Poppy wordlessly reached for the same spot. She hadn’t even noticed the cloth bandage lightly wrapped around her head. This one was much less snug than the one of her leg so she hadn’t even noticed it.
There was indeed a bump, and it wasn’t small. However, it also wasn’t something a little ice stolen from the kitchens couldn’t heal.
“Well,” the prince shrugged and smiled a little. “If you want to try and find a way out of my chambers, be my guest. However, the royal suites are always checked for cracks in the walls, gaps beneath the doors, and other abnormalities. I also highly doubt you’re going to be able to reach the air vents which are way up on the ceiling. Be my guest, though! As I said, I’m abundant with hospitality, so what’s mine is yours. Although, I do doubt anything of mine will help you reach that vent.”
Poppy swallowed her rage. She could hardly stand the smug look on his face any longer, so she set about maneuvering herself down to the floor.