Chapter 13:

Like Marigolds

The Wanderblood Princess and Sir Try Hard

The Dukedom of Lebkuchen was half a day’s carriage ride away, situated in a lush valley. One could view the entire city and its adjoining lands from the top of a nearby cliff, where the hum of a thriving economy buzzed below.

What made such a location stand out among others in the kingdom was its unique designs stretching across the borders. Flair and color sprinkled across the circular urban center, with buildings purposefully designed to stick out like a sore thumb. But when viewed as a whole, the chorus of showy buildings accented the city well, not unlike the decorations on a cake.

Chiffon loved visiting this city. Perhaps, it was the freedom of style, the people here wrapped in colorful expressions that were reminiscent of wading knee deep in a field of flowers. They reflected the hearts of the nobility governing here.

Beautiful, vibrant, and animated – it was everything that Chiffon wanted to be.

She never hesitated when the calls of a certain young lord beckoned her to visit. The busy life of a princess included forming close ties with the future leaders of such domains. And this was an excuse for her to mix pleasure with business.

“This way, Sir Caramello. To the building at the center!”

Chiffon’s cheery voice came from the swirling blossom that was her dress, the color of lilacs. She stood out in a crowd of reds, blues, and yellows, the shade she wore less seen among the common folk.

She could have chosen to blend in, using her normal pinks and baby blues. Or even, the red one that Sir Try Hard got for her. But she didn’t care to show any more appreciation for it than she already had. He would have to earn it back again after this morning’s fiasco.

Yet, Chiffon wanted to stand out, especially today. With Caramello accompanying her, the last thing she wanted to do was blend in, like his blue overcoat swallowed in the sea of color. Perhaps, it was a childish pettiness, not wanting to stand on the same ground. Then again, a desire for his eyes upon her constantly kindled, like wishing to be the rare hybrid that skipped generations. She raced ahead, attracting extra attention from the bystanders regardless.

Up a flight of stairs and through the marketplace of flowing fabrics and scented dyes, one could call the Dukedom of Lebkuchen a haven for the fashion oriented. But for Chiffon, those gowns in the windows were just like forgotten garments in the back of her closet – able to capture her fancy once, but with no real heart behind them.

Caramello playfully chased after her, skipping two or three steps at a time. A princess and her knight, a joyful stroll through an urban pasture of silk and linen. Even the shopkeepers that saw art every day paused to gaze at them.

Soon, the two arrived at the central mansion, raised high above the rest of the city. A luster of metals reflected the afternoon sun, making it glimmer on a clear day. It rested on a tier by itself, commanding the space it dwelled. The thought of it made Chiffon wonder if wedding cake toppers were special for the same reason.

At the top of the stairs, Chiffon’s pace slowed to a gentle walk. It wouldn’t do to accept an invitation with a shortness of breath. She took a moment to compose herself, letting the furious drumming of her heart roll into a gentle growl. Anticipation kept it from calming further.

Approaching the mansion’s gate, she proudly marched forward and gave the guardsmen a curtsy, getting a tip of the hat in return. She had been here often enough, and even if they didn’t know her face by now, the tell-tale gestures of a lady in high society spoke volumes.

“Who do I have the pleasure of granting an audience with, Your Highness?”

“The young lord Schokolade, if you could be so kind.”

“Right away.”

One of the guards went to a box on the side and picked up a receiver. After a few words to announce the arrival of a guest, the gate opened, revealing a clean pathway that cut through two sides of a garden.

Chiffon noticed Sir Caramello’s gaze flickering with interest, as flora not usually domesticated by hobbyists stretched across the area. She pointed toward some livestock grazing in fenced pastures.

“Impressive, is it not? The Lebkuchen Family harvest their own materials, to ensure quality in their designs. Mulberry silk, fluffy cotton, and cozy furs – only a few are able to experience the wares personally made by a member of this house. And look, I bet you can guess what those are for.”

Chiffon pointed toward a meadow of colors, cascading from purples to yellows. Each formed distinct lines from afar, but as Caramello squinted, he could make out individual shades sequestered within.

“Dyes, I presume. A bouquet of potential inks to appease the specifics of one’s tastes.”

“A true artisan is picky about nearly everything. From the texture of the canvas, all the way to how a shade subtly shifts while drying… that is what Lord Schokolade once told me.”

Chiffon got a light chuckle in return, which made her raise a brow at Sir Caramello. Did he find her interest in such things bizarre?

“Pfft, don’t mind me. I just find it amusing. You crave beauty, hence it is only natural that you seek the source of it. Do carry on.”

Yet, Chiffon suddenly didn’t feel like it. It was quite obvious that he was teasing her. That made it all the much harder to dive any deeper into her interests. She half expected that it was purposeful, if only as a way to get her to clam up. It worked, as she had no idea what else to say before reaching the front entrance of the mansion, where a doorman welcomed them.

Stepping into a fanciful foyer as ornate as it was outdoors, their eyes turned to a man of short stature greeting them with a slight bow.

“Welcome, Princess Chiffon. It is always a pleasure to see you. I assume that you received my message?”

Caramello eyed the person with a look of confusion evident on his face. Who stood before them was not a veteran craftsman as he expected, but a boy that stood an entire head shorter than Chiffon. His youthfulness held the vocal high notes before maturity.

While the flashy attire suggestive of a peacock made his status unquestionable, he had expected the young lord to be not quite so young. The form fitting clothing under the flair outlined a thin stature, not uncommon for those expected to prove their worth with ideas over strength.

“I’m excited to see the new dress you’ve made. Tell me, what theme did you base it upon?” Chiffon looked like she wanted to devour the boy, a speck of drool hanging upon one corner of her mouth.

“That… is a reveal best left after the fitting.”

Lord Scho extended a hand toward her, befitting of a proper gentleman. Gingerly, she took it and walked with him to the grand staircase, before leaving her with one of his maids.

“Let us wait here, the perfect venue for an expectant audience.”

Lord Scho eyed Caramello, who looked around and realized that he was that audience. Chiffon looked back briefly as she headed up the stairs, wondering what chit chat the two very different men would exchange.

A short while later, a flood of orange and yellow cascaded down the railing of the stairway. Caramello looked up and his jaw fell. The rays of the sun played off the colors of the dress and filled his gaze with the glow of sunset.

For a moment, time flipped to the end of the day, invoking a feeling of resignation. That what he saw would soon recede and leave him aching for the next light of day – an ephemeral moment to contrast how such beauty existed in the first place. A shine that lasted but for a moment was ever so much more precious.

“My inspiration was a sunset upon marigolds. A beauty and strength that lives with the sun as it departs from where I stand. This feeling of wanting to have you slipping before my fingers, but instead, only grasping night!”

Caramello looked again at Chiffon, the orange tones of the top falling down to a yellow bouquet of flowers, created by the ruffles of the dress. And upon the sleeves, that orange darkened to red hues that trailed languidly after the sun.

Lord Scho had many words to describe the art before him, using the princess as the model for it. Her golden hair was curled and bundled around her head, and her face shone with a bright smile. It was the sun itself, the last piece of the ensemble.

Caramello knew no other words for it. It was simply beautiful.

“You make me blush, Lord Scho. But is this anguish I hear? Sadness from seeing one of your own creations?” Even with such suspicions, a smile never left Chiffon’s face.

“Anguish, knowing that my best work will always be borrowed. This man here is your new knight, as I have been told. I have not the strength or skill to claim a place by your side. To be the one who captures your heart with gallant strokes and fanciful footwork.”

“You need not such things! Tell me, how many girls wear the designs that you so carefully crafted? The noblewomen across the kingdom that empty their purses to experience the feeling of being a princess. That is what your clothing invokes!”

“Princess they may feel, but Princess they are not. You are spoken for at this point.” His gaze turned toward the knight who stood silently beside her, indifferent to the exchanges. They must have looked quite picturesque together.

“Oh, Sir Caramello?... He’s… just my protector. A shackle to ease the mind of my mother and father. The strength that you see in me strives to stand alone, so that I can make my own choices.”

“Is that so? Then, the Princess knows what is best for her. All I can do is wait and mature into a remarkable person.”

A soft chuckle could be heard at that point, coming for Caramello. That was quickly muffled as he turned away from Chiffon.

How rude! she thought, but she wouldn’t let anything sour the good mood that she was in, wrapped in the soft textures of the greatest designer in the kingdom. It didn’t matter how young he was, genius was a thing to be appreciated.

As the pair left the grounds of the Lebkucken estate, Chiffon finally let out the question that was on the back of her mind.

“Do you find it strange that I find myself endeared to Lord Scho?” Her tone was biting, ready to judge the response she was given.

“No, no. I was merely taking note that you fancied them young.”

Chiffon sputtered in response. “I-I-I do not! He is accomplished! Imaginative! Masterful in his art!

“The art of wrapping you in garments to accentuate the brightness that you hope to display to your adoring citizens of this kingdom. He does that job very well. There’s no question of that.”

Chiffon pointed at him, as if finally figuring out the reason for his rudeness.

“Jealous, are you then? That he has captured my affections, despite not possessing the traits that my mother and father seek for a future ruler.”

Surely, that was the case. After all, Sir Try Hard had crossed over the boundaries of his limits to get the coveted position as her protector. The competition itself was a validation of the kingdom’s search for a strong ruler. But he was better off realizing that simply doing such things would hardly impress her. She was not a warrior’s trophy by any regard!

“Jealous? Why would I be?” Caramello suddenly brought his face right up to her with a grin. “Lord Scho merely sees your best, and he handles it with such care. As for me, I get to see everything else about you, good or bad.”

Caramello backed off, whimsically placing a finger up to his mouth. His smile was ever so deviant in her eyes. His actions were of a con artist eyeing favors in exchange for silence.

“Every shape and fashion of the Princess, seared into my eyes. Even if the gem that you are should crack, I shall cradle you gently still. I leave it to others to be jealous instead.”

And with that statement, Caramello skipped away, leaving Chiffon speechless once again.