Chapter 8 – The Almost Fiance of Deposed Princess (2)
The more she dwelled on that thought, the more she felt overwhelmed that these young men were riding to their deaths. She then saw a man on a black horse joining the group of soldiers. From his pitch-black hair, she immediately knew it was Vianut.
For some reason, Gris picked Vianut out quickly from the hectic crowd of soldiers. His wide shoulders are easily distinguishable from afar. Gris thought as she subconsciously rubbed the skin between her breasts.
Rumor had it that Vianut regarded the act of making love as holy. Perhaps that was why the other men considered him odd or at least different. They, however, just chose girls in the brothel who would acquiesce to their demands.
Of course, all these fluttering feelings might be because she had met Vianut when he was younger. The head of the Byrenhag family was once considered an appropriate candidate for marriage by her royal father.
Although her father had been thrilled by the offer of marriage from the noble family, he was concerned that Grandia would fall into the Byrenhag’s hands if Gris’s younger brother, the heir to the throne, died before another heir would grace the royal family.
After much thought, her father had finally concluded that the Byrenhags were land-hungry and only loyal to themselves. As a result, he rejected the offer. She remembered her young self being heartbroken, but she couldn’t defy the king of the empire. The letter he had written was still visible in her mind—that of Gris Benedict wishes to marry a family man and that the lifestyle of the Byrenhags would not be suitable for his daughter.
When Gris heard this, she had protested to her mother, feeling that the Byrenhags would be insulted upon reading the letter. They would understand that the marriage proposal had been rejected because her father looked down on the Byrenhag family and their reputation for land acquisitions.
Her mother comforted her by saying that everything in the letter was right and she shouldn’t be upset. As she had seen so many arranged marriages fail, she didn’t want her daughter to go through the same sorrow. As naïve as it was, she wanted her to genuinely fall in love and experience all its magic, highs, and lows. But Gris didn’t understand any of this at the time and spent days feeling apologetic for the marriage that never took place and for the Byrenhag’s son.
In retrospect, her mother had been wrong. If she had married him then, none of the later calamities would have occurred.
Now, she didn’t feel a tad bit remorseful for him anymore. He was now an influential leader with status and immense riches. She was one of the empire’s high-born princesses and now a low-class slave. Vianut wouldn’t even remember that he had proposed to her all those years ago, and she couldn’t imagine his disdain when he knew what she was now.
Gris finally returned to bed once Vianut and the soldiers left through the metal gates. Sleep was still elusive, and she didn’t fall asleep until early morning.
The bright morning light woke up Gris the next day. For a moment, she couldn’t remember where she was. In a daze, she sat up and saw the blue sky and magnificent garden outside her window and appreciated the moment.
She was accustomed to waking up to a thin stream of sunlight filtering through half shuttered windows. But today, she was in a different room with a better window. Only then did all the events of the previous day flooded back.
After some time, there was a knock on the door. Without waiting for her response, Stephan walked into the room. His cologne was strong and trailed after him as he moved around the room.
From Gris’s experience of men in the brothel, men who wore strong cologne wanted to make an impression and were self-conscious of others. Such men invested time to dress up in order to hide their weakness and inferiority complex, often hiding twisted perversions as well.
If her theory was correct, could there be something Stephan was trying to hide then? As Gris asked herself this question, Stephan suddenly spoke,
“Did you sleep well?”
In light, Stephan appeared younger, his face looking better from a night’s sleep. On his chest was a sapphire jeweled brooch, and hanging around his neck was an elegant gold pocket watch. His large eyes, straight nose, and pursed mouth actually made him more handsome than she had initially thought.
He appeared to be in his early twenties, similar in age to Vianut. He referred to Vianut as a nephew but Gris thought they had the same mother. Maybe she had misunderstood, but there was no mistaking the animosity that Stephan showed toward Vianut.
Gris bowed a little towards him.
“You look more beautiful in the day,” he said, after scanning her head to toe.
She could see how he was appraising her, as many men did in the brothel. For a whore though, beauty was a curse. It made her life more precarious as beauty was desired by all the male guests in the whorehouse. She would deliberately rub mud on her face and hair to hide her looks.
To her, hearing a man compliment her looks was the first step before they paid for a night’s time. She shuddered at his praise, which Stephan didn’t notice.
“You must have been a favorite of many at the brothel.”
“Beautiful women are always valued. This means that things may turn in your favor today.”
Gris dropped her eyes so he wouldn’t have a glimpse of the emotions on her face. She didn’t want to be anyone’s favorite, nor did she desire to use her beauty to make things turn in her favor. She just wanted to go to the church. What could Stephan be even planning for her?
“I simply want to go to the church of Byrenhag…”
But Stephan interrupted her,
“Grandmother is awake. She wants to meet you,” he said abruptly.
She realized she could be imprisoned before having a chance to visit the antique art store where Johannes had purchased her portrait. Attempting to trick Paola Byrenhag with a false identity could bring her to prison, or worse, even death.
Should I run? Gris’ head was jumbled with so many thoughts and she knew she was panicking. When Stephan gently laid a hand on her shoulder and leaned over to whisper in her ear.
“I really do hope you are Yuliana.”
Before she could stop herself, an involuntarily gasp had already escaped from her lips.