She smells like lilies today. He noted, leaning against the window sill, mask dipping down his nose ever so slightly. Rian couldn’t help but lose himself in the domesticity of seeing Norma hum and dance around her little home, cradling little succulents and ferns and moving them from shelf to shelf, all the while checking on a… something she had in the oven.
“And all birds and plants will sing…”
“I’ve never seen a lady as pretty as she.” He finished, alerting her to his presence.
“Well, hello, stranger. We meet again.” She wasn’t surprised; she never was. With a large vase of flowers propped up on her hip, she gestured to the door. “Come on in.”
He grinned at her (Not too eager; not too soft.) and dashed around the house to the door, adjusting his mask and pulling out a tiny golden pin in the shape of a daffodil.
He gazed at it forlornly. It would have been better as a lily.
She opened upon the first knock, lunging out with a hand intent on ripping off his mask. He dodged and grabbed at her wrist, wrapping his other arm around her waist and dipping her low. The tips of his hair brush her forehead and he allows his eyes one shameful glance at her peony pink lips.
“Hey there.” He grinned, and immediately started screaming at himself. Hey there? You already greeted her, you idiot! You’re a prince, for heavens’ sakes; you’re supposed to be good at this courtesy thing.
“Hello, my masked stranger.” Norma tapped his cheek fondly with her free hand and he was again taken by how domestic it was, him and her, greeting each other like this. “Care to let me go? I’ve got a pie in the oven.”
A pie, that’s what it was. Rian inhaled again and caught the scent of apples and cinnamon.
“Of course; I won’t allow you to let me starve,” he teased, “you know how I look forward to your baked treats.” He lifted her up and pressed a lingering kiss to the back of her palm before parting from her.
Her lips quirked humorously, and she spun back to the kitchen, as composed as the dancers his mother loved to watch. She bent to open the oven, and Rian averted his eyes with a blush. He might be a classless buffoon who can’t even greet his crush properly, but he was not a perv.
“Go on, make yourself at home. I’ll set this to cool and you can avoid telling me your name again.” Norma smirked and placed the pie pan on the very window sill he had been leaning against earlier.
“It’s not that I don’t want to tell you, I just-”
“Can’t, I know.” She sat across from and folded her hands.
“It’s a matter of the kingdom’s security.” He winced at the fake-sounding excuse. “I really wish I could.”
“Kingdom security, huh?” She leaned forwards, a teasing smirk crawling up her face. “Does that mean I should call you General?”
“I’m probably closer to a captain, really.” His face twisted into a more awkward position. He really wasn’t great at war strategy, and wasn't able to be an efficient general, even though that was what all of his family before him had done. Being lower on the chain of command would be better for the army and the country overall.
“Well, then, that’s your name. Captain Stranger.”
Rian couldn’t help it; he melted at the genuine look on Norma’s face. “Any name you give me will be music to my ears.”
She blushed, and stood to grab the pie. She carried it to the counter, giving an iris a gentle caress before putting the pie onto the marbled counter and grabbing two chipped plates and some silverware.
It’s too quiet! She’ll feel weird! His mind screamed at him, spurring him to action.
“If you were a plant, which one would you want to be?” His mouth was moving, but he was detached from it completely.
She stiffened, and the knife fell from her hand with a clatter. “Uh… what?”
Stupid icebreaker. Stupid. Stupid.
“Well, you’re one of the castle gardeners, right? I figure you probably have a plant you’d want to be.”
“Do you have a weapon you’d want to be?”
“Of course; bo staff.” It was blunt, good for close quarters, and wasn’t too hard to find.
“I- didn’t think you’d actually have an answer.” She turned with a plate of pie in each hand. She gave one to him and down, picking absently at her meager slice.
“Everyone does. Now, your turn.” He shoveled a large bite of pie as he stared at her with expectant eyes.
“I guess I’d be a dahlia.” Norma shrugged nonchalantly and took a bite of pie.
“A dahlia? Which one is that?”
She nodded at the vase of flowers at the center of the table. The dahlias were round, with dozens of tiny petals shaping it into almost a perfect sphere. Each petal was shaped like a miniature cup, Rian wondered if they would hold water if he poured some on them. If the water would collect into tiny droplets that would slowly drip off until they were entirely dry again.
“They’re beautiful…” He marveled, reaching out a hand to feel the light texture of the sphere. “Just like you.”
She flushed slightly, and he added a tally to his internal list. That makes seventeen times.
The clock’s bell rang four times, and they both startled. Rian grinned guiltily, he had to leave now, or he’d be late to the gladiator rings and his father would ground him.
“Leaving again, Captain Stranger?” She shook off her embarrassed look of shock and smirked at him once more. “And after we just started to bond, too.”
“My dear, you have my apologies, but I do need to leave.” He reached across the table for Norma’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “I’ll come earlier next time, I swear.”
“Of course you will.” She smiled in a way that almost seemed sad, but sad about something that didn’t involve his absence. “Maybe then you’ll tell me your name.”
“And maybe if I do, you’ll allow me to court you?” He knew he looked pathetic, but he couldn’t help it. He had been visiting Norma for almost a year, and felt terrible for hiding himself from her. But what if she was intimidated by a prince courting her? He wanted insurance that he could still bask in her laughter and flowery scent before he risked ruining everything.
“Maybe I will.” She shrugged with a coy smile. He kept his grip on her hand as they walked away from the table to the door. They faced each other wordlessly, and she tapped his shoulder once. “Wait here for a second.”
Norma lunged for the vase and pulled out a single orange dahlia. She skipped back and tucked the long-stemmed flower into his lapel.
“A gift.” She gave the bloom a fond smile.
“I shall cherish it always; just as I will cherish you.” He returned the smile with gusto. “I’ll try to visit later.”
A nervous kiss to the hand, and he ran off to the gladiator rings, tearing off his mask, and tucking it in his bag. He elected to keep the flower on his lapel, though; his parents probably wouldn’t notice.
He slipped through the rows of bodyguards easily, and accepted his crown from his personal guard, Cheryll. His mother, upon seeing him, began fussing over the smear of dirt on his face.
“Mother! I’m fine! How am I supposed to appear as the future monarch if I’m seen with my mom doting on me like this?”
“Leave the boy alone, Tiff.” The king spoke. “I’m about to start the proceedings.”
With a wave of his hand, a fanfare sounded, and the king’s champion came out.
The Bonecrusher was the fiercest warrior in the kingdom, and had never been defeated. Whenever a gladiator won, they were given a gift from the king. The Bonecrusher had won so often that the king was forced to employ him or go bankrupt.
The day’s competitor was called the Flowered Warrior. His father had scoffed when he heard it, but they had fought their way through all of the prerequisites, so they likely knew what they were doing.
A second fanfare sounded and two dirt-stained boots stepped onto the sand. Unlike the Bonecrusher, who was wearing a torn pair of shorts and nothing more and who was extremely bulky, the Flowered Warrior was slender and kept all of other features covered by an enormous cloak embroidered with small flowers; there were still blank spaces on the cloak, however, like the maker was unable to finish before the warrior needed it.
The two circled each other without the usual banter challengers tried to initiate in order to distract the Bonecrusher. The Warrior was still, no telling twitches, no visible weapons; it seemed as if the Warrior was choosing to go on the defensive, like many before them.
Finally, the Bonecrusher roared and ran forwards at the Warrior, his club raised high. They hopped high just as the club began its trip down, and they slammed their heel into the Bonecrusher’s collarbone just as the club crashed into the earth.
The Bonecrusher attempted to spin with his club and strike the Warrior, but with a deft foot to the legs, they tripped him. He, too, fell into the earth with a dull thump. In a blur, his opponent snatched his giant club and tossed it onto the Bonecrusher’s knee with a sickening crack.
According to the laws of gladiatorial battles, anything other than superficial damage counts as a win, so the trumpets sounded again and the crowds cheered their approval of the newcomer.
Rian saw his father stand with a tense smile.
“Congratulations, Flowered Warrior! You have bested my champion; what is your prize?”
The arena was silent as the audience awaited the winner’s request. The only noise was a quiet rumble beneath the sands. The rumble grew louder, and louder, until it reached its peak as impossibly huge vines erupted from the ground.
“They’re a witch!” The king shouted as his guards pulled him back.
The vines wrapped around the Bonecrusher, around and around, until the man’s screams were mute compared to the screams of the crowd. They tightened and constricted until the magical cocoon was far too small for the contents to look anything like the Bonecrusher. Then, after the arduous tightening, the vines retreated and revealed a small potted flower, whose petals seemed to merge into a single bloom. Their robe glowed and a mirrored flower seemed to stitch itself onto one of the many empty spaces.
“I believe I shall take this,” they lifted their prize, “as my reward, your majesty.”
As the Flowered Warrior turned to bow at the royal booth, they froze, and cocked their head for a moment. Rian shivered, and thought for a moment that they were staring at him, but they resumed their bow, and escaped the arena before the guard could arrive to apprehend them.
Rian, too, slipped away from his father’s rants about “filthy magic users; I thought we wiped the whole lot out.” He had a meeting with a gardener.
He tied on his mask with practiced movements and knocked on the maple door of the homey shack.
“Captain Stranger!” Norma appeared, panting and sweating. “What a surprise! Twice in one day.”
“I told you I’d try, dear Norma. Are you alright?”
“Just fine.” She waved her hand carelessly. “I just ran here, so you know…”
“Of course.” He rubbed his arm.
“Do… Do you want to come back in?” She opened the door wider. “I still have some pie.”
“I’d love to.” He took her hand and pulled her into the dining room, sitting her down and grabbing two new plates that he added pie to.
“I see you still have my flower.” Norma leaned a little closer to him as she took a bite.
“Yep, it’s really growing on me, pun intended.”
She snorted adorably, and Rian found himself at a loss for words yet again.
Don’t freak her out. Don’t freak her out. Don’t freak her out.
“So, what kind of flower is this?” He gestured at a small pink flower that seemed to be made up of one continuous petal.
“A petunia.” She stroked it with a tiny smile. “I just got it today.”
“Cool. Is it from the gardens?”
“Not exactly.” She fidgeted for a second. “Hey, Captain?”
“I think I would be interested in beginning our courting.”
Really? “Really? You’re really interested in that? Because if you’re not interested, it’s fine, I’m totally willing to continue being friends.” He blabbered, standing and taking both of Norma’s hands.
“Captain. I’d really love to be courted by you.”
“Great! I’m just gonna go… I have to get you a gift to commemorate our courting!” He kissed her cheek quickly and ran to the door. “Bye!”
“Goodbye, your highness.” Was the last thing he heard from her before the door closed.