Chapter 2:

A Garden Marred by Sweat and Blood

The Wanderblood Princess and Sir Try Hard

Hummingbirds flittered across dainty leaves, craning their necks toward the soft, inviting petals. White blossoms boldly dashed with stripes of royal blue, dangling red bells that drooped from the heaviness of nectar, and fluffs of purple, soft and inviting enough for their guests to land upon.

Chiffon’s eyes were fixed upon the garden, savoring the lovely blooms just as much as the birds that fed upon them. She wondered how sweet the nectar must be for the hummingbirds to constantly swarm around, the buzz of wings tracing their efforts to float in place. Cute, beady eyes peered into the petals like children eager to open their gifts.

Unfortunately, she was far past the age where it was proper for a lady to peel back a flower and let her tongue experience it for herself. Instead, all she had was tea. The appearances of a princess dictated that she could do naught but take a sip of it to hide her discontent.

Perhaps, she could discreetly pluck one of the blossoms and stir it into the hot liquid, but that would hardly satisfy her curiosity. Not when the servants had painstakingly crafted the optimal brew fit for one such as herself.

No, no, that would draw unnecessary attention. And what if a dusting of pollen happened to trace her lips, ruining the glossy pink glow upon them?

Just like that, Chiffon abandoned her childish thought, turning her gaze elsewhere. It bounced upon the majestic trees, full of unripe fruit that not only needed to fatten but also gain a cheeky blush. Anticipation for something promising made the wait worthwhile. That was what she had been taught, one way to lessen the whims of impatience.

Her eyes turned to her parents next. The King and Queen of Baumkuchen, a kingdom nestled in the southwestern corner of the continent. Not too big nor too small, it was a comfortable land that encompassed a host of different environments.

From the glimmering shores of Port Cognac to the treacherous Cascade Mountains that hid fearsome monsters, Chiffon had read all about them. But more so than simple text upon a page, she wanted to experience the locales for herself.

The two currently sitting on her left had something to say about that.

Queen Genoise was the model of elegance, quite expected of her mother. She too had lush blond hair, but fiery eyes of rubies. The long, silky gown flowed neatly down her body. Where she sat, the edges were folded back, revealing not a single wrinkle upon its length. Her eyes gazed into the distance, head nodding in sequence to something, ending each chorus with a pleasant smile.

Every one of her movements carried a meaning to it, so much so that it was positivity exhausting to Chiffon. But she was her mother’s daughter, and she was expected to shadow upon her mannerisms. And after 16 years of that, it was practically impossible not to saunter with the same steps, caress the air during a bow, or hide any blunder in the most discreet of ways.

The disturbance of a cup resting too loudly upon its saucer was like a hot iron searing her ear lobe. Any inklings of unsightly mannerism were promptly squashed by more conducive actions. These habits were ingrained into her very soul itself.

What would a person such as her think about Chiffon’s escapades? Surely, expectations were, at most, conservative.

Next to her was King Vaniglia, the most powerful man in the kingdom. She could place the blame for her desire to become strong squarely upon his broad shoulders. As the maid, Catherine, had mentioned, he had courted her mother through sheer might, defeating all other competition placed before him. His massive frame made others balk at the very idea of challenging him.

Even now, the wrinkles of age upon his brow did not deter him from drawing his sword and slicing his opponent in one blow if need be. Locks of brown hair with gray tips danced before his emerald eyes before he swept them back. His gaze was firmly locked upon the scene before him, glistening with an excitement of a time past.

He was the only reason thoughts of exploration were approved. A retired adventurer himself, he encouraged a freedom of growth, even if limited in allowance. Being half a day’s travel from home was the extent.

Chiffon sighed. Her wandering gaze had taken up all but ten minutes. She had hoped that nature would serve as an ample distraction, but the clamor of unnatural presences was like the bitterness at the end of her sip of tea. Each clash of weapons was a floating twig left behind that she sipped around to avoid. It brought her out of her moment of content, and only made her wish to go right back to what she was doing before.

Her gaze finally turned to the rest of the courtyard.

The sight of men engrossed in combat surely did not match the ambiance of a majestic garden. But tradition had its ways of impressing the undesirable into relatable. Too bad it was for her sake. She couldn’t simply brush things off.

Wooden weapons came together with a sharp racket, like a mistaken note strummed that produced chills down Chiffon’s spine. Men were paired off into duels. The sight of one man crouching, struggling as he was held back by a meager difference in strength – it was not beautiful to watch. Neither was the pouring of sweat down their brows, nor the garbled moans of defeat as they fell upon the pristine cobblestone. Her mouth twitched as some of it stained red.

Yet, the three of them sat in silence, staring at this tradition. Chiffon dreaded the outcome more than the other two. After all, these were men striving to be the last one standing, their prize being a place beside their lovely princess. Their fight was a chance at knighthood – with a staunch possibility of ascending the throne in the future.

With such a tantalizing morsel before them, they could care less about winning with style. Chiffon watched as many of them kicked and clawed their way forward, not stopping until the other begged for mercy or became too unresponsive to continue.

Chiffon felt a pang of discomfort in her stomach. It was a dreadful sight to watch. Completely unlike how she fought, how her father fought. They could end them all with a single strike while a cup and saucer rested silently in hand. A swing of her hammer was all she needed to trounce the beasts she encountered. She thought it would be the very same for these men, smears that one hardly bothered with otherwise.

In fact, a good majority of the competitors had no rank of nobility, so she questioned if they would be of any true use. Yet, people carried ambitions for things far greater than themselves. But reality dictated that the blessings of nobility dominated the playing field. Natural, as they were lesser versions of a Royal. Members of a family that stood closer to the crown possessed a higher potential, making it almost laughable for passion to upset precedence.

Chiffon watched as a select few candidates trounced their opponents with the elegance as expected of their position. For those defeated, she looked at them with a shrug of pity. It seemed quite unfair when the matches were essentially fixed from one’s birth.

How could any of these commoners protect me when I stand above them all?

Though she could commend them for their bravery, it was plain to see. A knight was not granted any measure of extra power by becoming her protector. They were expected to prove their worth during this trial period. Someone weak would simply succumb to injury, an oversight in for whatever attack she was targeted with. It was a path to the crown that requested a certain greatness to fit the prize.

Chiffon clicked her tongue silently behind her teacup as she watched a blond-haired man casually flip a commoner onto his back, simply from a light flick of the sword. It was flawless, beautiful even. The first moment of charm that caught her attention. The only problem was…

“Did you see that, my dear princess?! Lombardy, son of Duke Mascarpone, shall not be defeated!”

His flowery tone, all but confident in his chances, would have been an appropriate choice, given her thoughts just a moment ago. However…

Lombardy turned around, giving her a cheeky grin. But all Chiffon could think of was his nose, that nose!

Bloated and bulging, as if stung by bees, Chiffon would have believed it if told that he had dipped into too many honeycombs. Certainly, the man loved to flaunt the title, using it to his advantage when courting the ladies.

Chiffon held back her disgust at the idea of being just another candied flavor waiting for him to sample, and he was a strong reason for her stubborn pursuit of strength.

The grip on her teacup tightened, but fortunately, it did not explode in her grip like the previous. She glanced briefly upon her left wrist, where a jeweled bracelet dangled. A sigh of relief caused ripples in her tea.

The bracelet on her wrist kept her Royal powers in check, allowing her the livelihood of a normal person. She didn’t have to worry about destroying her bed from tossing and turning, stabbing a hole through the dinner plate and table with her fork, or bludgeoning servants to near-death simply by backing into them.

Parts of her childhood were something to be forgotten…

Lombardy took several steps toward the chairs where they were sitting. With a bow worthy of the Duke’s heir, he greeted the King and Queen with such pride like he was accepting a dowry. Chiffon wanted to remove her bracelet right then and tear off the confidence that was as big as his nose.

Maybe then, he will realize that this is under my terms!

But a simple hand raised by King Vaniglia made them both freeze.

“Hasty, aren’t we? The matches have only just begun. It won’t be that easy, I’m afraid.”

That only made Lombardy smirk. “Easy, of course not. But success, I think that is well within my reach. After all, who else among the crowd boasts the greatest blessing but myself?”

Chiffon grimaced. That nose really couldn’t be ignored, no matter how charming of a smile he practiced. She wondered if she could accidentally slice it down to size…

“Well, how about that fellow for starters?”

Chiffon and Lombardy’s gaze followed to where the King pointed. A match had just ended, with a dark-haired young man standing victorious over his unconscious opponent. Not a single bead of sweat graced his forehead, and like he was just walking down the street, he moved aside to wait for his next opponent.

Him?” Lombardy pointed. “Who the blazes is-, he’s but a commoner!” he said, nearly choking on the last part. Sure enough, the man didn’t exhibit the glow that nobility proudly invoked in battle.

Watching the mystery person with a hint of interest, Chiffon wondered what to expect as he faced off against the next contestant, another commoner. But as soon as the snap of fingers echoed the start, a flash of light erupted. His opponent felt forward, unconscious.

The victor casually stepped back, like he had hardly been stirred to action. Effortless, just like how Chiffon liked it. So much so that her jaw hung a moment too long, earning her a pinch to the side from Mother Dearest.

“Mind your manners, dear. These men are fighting on behalf of you.”

Of course, they are. I would be prancing halfway to the next town at this point, leaving a swirl of petals and glittering dust behind in my wake if not for this. Thank you kindly for the reminder!

Shrugging off the mental sting caused by a timely lapse of her mask, Chiffon’s eyes darted back toward the victorious swordsman.

Unlike the others, who glowed with a sheen of perspiration, the young man stood out. The only one which the sun decided not to bounce its rays upon a bemused crowd. He glowed from the simple fact that he didn’t shine at all. In other words, an exception in a match of sweaty eyesores.

But just like how he had captured Chiffon’s gaze, the stirring of another called for his attention.

“That cad! Putting on the theatrics! If he really thinks that he has a chance, then perhaps, it is the duty of one such as I to call the bluff of his poker face!”

With steps suddenly radiating with measured grace, Lombardy marched over to the quickly thinning circle of contestants. His flagrant swagger caused the men to give him space, their gazes noticing that the son of a Duke had found his prey. He stood before the lone commoner who had stolen the spotlight for a few moments, his blessing aglow.

“Take up your sword, lad. You will be my next opponent,” Lombardy said with a tone of sheer confidence, thick and cheesy enough to be cut with a butter knife.

The ‘commoner’ only replied with a simple nod of the head and “my pleasure.” Undaunted by the challenge, he raised his sword with an air of indifference. A look of readiness flashed across his face, like he wouldn’t mind serving a plate of that cheese to the crowd, hungry for action.