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like the glimmer of the sunlight on the sea

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As a child, Eric once asked why he had to spend so much time learning about how things worked on land, when he really wanted to know all about the sea. Grimsby simply informed him, “Because you’re the Prince, and one day you’ll be King.” It hadn’t seemed fair when his father still spent plenty of time at sea, but his parents had given him the same answer to the question. Eventually, Eric had come to accept that his life was already plotted out for him. That had always been done largely by Grimsby, but at least when his parents had been alive it had largely been in regards to his education. Now, the man was determined to find Eric a bride as well.

It’s probably only been a few months since Grimsby got the idea into his head that Eric needed to get married, so he would have a partner once he turns 21 and officially takes the throne, but to Eric it feels much longer. He had tried to point out surely teaching him everything about the Kingdom was more important than planning a marriage, but that backfired since Grimsby then decided both were a priority and Eric had even less time at sea. Eric thinks it must be a mark of how quickly he’s managed to come up with a reason against marrying all the women Grimsby has introduced him to so far that he almost immediately pairs Eric up with their new guest despite knowing next to nothing about her.

She’s lovely, to be sure; beautiful and sweet, and who wouldn’t be charmed by her manner, alternating between shy and excited. After their shared meal, when Grimsby asks Eric what he thinks of their guest, the only fault he can voice is that he doesn’t know her very well yet. But that yet doesn’t slip past Grimsby’s notice, and Eric struggles to find a response to the man’s sly smile. After all, Eric can admit that he would like to get to know her (unlike the other girls Grimsby had tried to pair him up with, all of whom may have been perfectly lovely themselves if he’d been willing to given them a chance – well, aside from that odious Tremaine girl).

But there’s another girl who he is longing to see again, one with a magical voice, and it seems unfair to suggest the possibility of anything other than friendship to his new guest when there’s someone else out there who stole his heart.

Still, Eric is more than happy to show the girl around the Kingdom. It will be more entertaining than anything he has to do in the castle, and although the Royal Physician confirmed she was without physical injury, he believed there were signs of potential memory loss. Surely, it’s Eric’s duty to provide her with a pleasant afternoon in the circumstances, while Grimsby tries to find out where she’s come from.

He can tell the old man must be keen on the match when he doesn’t even suggest a chaperone, but Eric didn’t realise Grimsby was about to throw his all it at until he sees the carriage waiting for them. Not just any carriage, the grandest one at the castle, covered in ornate, largely gold, detailing. Eric never even liked travelling in it with his parents, and has only let himself be talked into using it occasionally in the last year to visit the most prestigious (or, in his opinion, pompous) royals. Grimsby’s chest is puffed up with pride as he explains the story behind the carriage, but Eric can only grimace at the sight and he insists for the small horse and buggy to be brought up instead. Grimsby’s eyes nearly bulge out of his head, but Eric manages to convince him that the thing probably won’t even fit down some of the narrow streets in the town – never mind all the unwanted attention it’ll draw to them.

It feels a bit like cheating to use her as an excuse, since she had looked interested in the grand carriage, tracing some of the gold decorations with a finger as Grimsby regaled her with a history lesson, but to Eric’s delight she seems just as fascinated by the smaller vehicle. After helping her up into the seat, he puts the horse into a gentle trot as they come round the side of the castle.

Grimsby seems to have recovered enough to join Carlotta in waving goodbye to them, so Eric waves back with a smile. As they’re leaving the safety of the castle doors Eric feels a wave of concern that the afternoon may be awkward; as their meals were shared with Grimsby the only time he’s spent alone with the girl was when he’d first discovered her. However, his fears are immediately assuaged by her interest in – well, everything around them. Soon his only fear is that, despite their mild pace, she may fall out of the vehicle due to her speed as she contorts her body to take it all in. She’s leaning forward to observe the horse when they canter past the observatory, and Eric lets out an involuntary hum of recognition.

Her head tilts towards him, and what he intended to be a quick explanation – that the building is where he first learnt about the stars – starts to lengthen. She sits back, and something about the way her sea-blue eyes are fixated on him draws the rest of the story from Eric, and he tells her how those lessons formed the basis for further ones at sea, where his father taught him to navigate by the stars. He continues until he even admits his embarrassment at how long it took him to learn.

When the story is over she appears eager for more so he continues, relating various memories and tales about the sights they pass, and even some of the little things that seem mundane to him, because she seems enthralled throughout. The only things Eric can remember listening to so intently are stories about the sea, and his sailing lessons, so it’s hard to understand how someone could be fascinated by a tree stump. However, this is a girl who brushed her hair with a fork, he remembers. He’s still not sure what prompted that action, but recalling it now he finds it oddly more charming than strange.

 

Once they reach the fountain in the centre of town he can feel the excitement vibrating from her as she takes in their surroundings. He’s barely had time to help her to step down when she all but jumps to the floor. Eric coughs around a mouthful of her lovely red hair as she loosens her grip on his hand. While he speaks to a man about feeding his horse and securing the vehicle, Eric struggles to keep an eye on his companion, as she’s busy flitting back and forth between the sights. She’s so animated that after he catches up with her, he decides to let her lead the way even though she’s leading them in the opposite path he’d intended them to take.

The almost childlike enthusiasm she greets all the sights with brings a smile to Eric’s face, although he can’t help but wonder what kind of place she must come from to consider a small children’s puppet show or even hens to be “sights”. His first moment of hesitation occurs when they come upon people dancing; he knows before she turns to him that she’ll want to join in, but dancing often feels like a chore – anther princely duty, not something he does for pure enjoyment. Still, it’s also his duty to be a good host, so Eric is bracing himself to accept when she tugs on his arm. She takes them both barrelling forward to join the others so quickly he only laughs as they stumble to take their places.

To Eric’s surprise, it turns out that he likes dancing when he’s not at a grand ball, wearing a polite smile as he’s made to dance with all the eligible ladies in attendance. He enjoys it so much in fact that he doesn’t even need to be prompted to continue when the song changes. Eric does his best to keep leading the dance to the new melody, although he thinks, despite her first few clumsy steps, his new partner is much more of a natural at it than he is. He’s settling into the music when she twirls away from him, and suddenly the sunlight hits her hair just so that, for a second, Eric would absolutely swear he was dancing with the girl on the shore.

When he blinks she’s come back to him and, although his pause hasn’t stopped her delicate movements, her face has fallen a little in confusion at his stillness, and he wishes he could restore its former glow.

Mentally chastising himself, Eric tries to shake his thoughts free of the mysterious voice that’s been haunting his waking and sleeping hours. It’s not fair to compare this girl – in a way, also the girl from the shore, he thinks – to that one. He still doesn’t believe that she was a figment of his imagination the way Grimsby insists, but he needs to stop conjuring her up in places she isn’t.

He gives his partner a smile and reassures her that he’s fine. It seems to settle her, though he does still ask if they can look elsewhere after the dance is finished. She seems a little reluctant to leave, her head still moving in time to the song, but the area is becoming more crowded so he quietly mentions his concern over being recognised, as well as reminding her of how much they still have left to see.

The promise of more exploration is all she needs to raise her spirits. She quickly nods her assent and follows him back the way they came. Eric smiles to himself as he watches her eyes roam, catching on things she had missed in her excitement before. When they reach the market, her mouth drops open at the crowds and the number of stalls in front of them.

 

Although he’s concerned about gossip if anyone spots the Prince escorting an unknown lady through the town (and Lord knows there’s been enough gossip at the castle lately), people in the market are usually too busy getting a good bargain to people watch. As Eric expected, the people who do obviously recognise him are those who sell their produce to the castle, and they know better than to make a fuss. Annoyingly, Marie doesn’t take his coin when he tries to pay for some baguettes his guest was staring at longingly. He’ll have to tell Grimsby to add it to her payment when they next settle the accounts. The purchase does remind him though that they should start thinking about eating lunch soon, and his guest responds to the suggestion with her now standard eagerness.

They pass a few more food stalls on their way to the restaurant Eric has in mind and from the way she’s eyeing up all the morsels they pass, he worries she may have been too polite to mention she was hungry earlier. The fish stall isn’t the most crowded, but it’s the first one she turns her nose up at.

“Not a fan of fish, huh?” he comments, though he thinks he’s been drowned out by the sounds of haggling customers when she meets his eyes, her brows drawn in confusion. “You don’t like to eat fish?” he explains, and the responding shake of her head is immediate, accompanied by an almost comical grimace on her face. Carlotta will have to break the news gently to Chef Louis.

“That’s a shame, this place is famous for their seafood,” he says, and can’t help a laugh at the way her face falls. “It’s okay, we can go somewhere else,” Eric reassures her, feeling guilty that he had decided where they would dine without checking if she even liked seafood first. Though, living so close to the sea Eric supposes he takes eating fish for granted. “What would you like to eat?” he wonders.

She bites the corner of her lip, a gesture that leaves Eric trying (and failing) not to notice the dark apple-red of her lips. After glancing around she points towards the baguettes in his arms and he laughs again.

“I’m pretty sure we can manage some bread.”

 

Over lunch, Eric’s ability to keep up as a storyteller fades, but he finds he quite likes the comfortable silence that settles over their meal. His companion’s eyes surveyed the café approvingly as they came in but as soon as the first meal arrived, she was more concerned with filling her stomach than analysing the (quite modest, in his opinion) interior décor. Eric doesn’t blame her considering he was famished as well, although she won’t accept his apology for not taking note of the time earlier. It’s as they’re finishing up that he suggests taking the long route home, perhaps even enjoying a small boat trip before heading back to the castle. It hadn’t been his original intention, but now he feels strangely reluctant for the day to end. His plan is met with a broad grin, one that he returns immediately. Grimsby will most likely be concerned at their delayed return, but Eric doesn’t think he’ll send any guards after them so long as they’re back before dinner.

As they get up to leave, the brush of her fingers over the flowers on their table gives Eric another idea. They have to go back through the marketplace to return to the horse, and she’s immediately distracted by a myriad of vendors she hadn’t spotted the first time they walked through, but this time Eric is counting on that. He makes sure to tell her, as he passes the baguettes to her for safe-keeping, that he will only be gone for 5 minutes at most, and waits for her nod in response. When he returns, less than 4 minutes later, she’s gone.

A few weeks ago, he would have calmly looked around the area for her; most likely asking the merchants if they had seen her (she must have been noticed by some of them, with her delightful manner, and hair that singular shade of red), or perhaps retracing their steps from before to the stalls she had seemed to favour. However, a few weeks ago, he didn’t have one lost girl playing on his mind. Naturally, the prospect of another sends him into a panic.  

It occurs to him once he finally regains enough sense to start surveying the nearby stalls that searching for her will be harder when he doesn’t know a name to call out (he really should have thought to get her name by now in some way) but he forgets to ask as soon as she reappears. That’s because in her arms she’s now holding a pair of boots next to the baguettes from earlier, and she appears to be wearing a hat backwards.

A surprised laugh bursts from his mouth at the sight of her, the tension from earlier leaving his shoulders. “Where did you get those from?” he wonders, as she closes the small gap between them. He knows she didn’t have any money on her.

She only shrugs before gesturing to the new item in his hand, clearly asking the same.

“Oh, these are for you,” he says, thrusting the newly purchased bouquet forward. It feels a little silly now that her arms are already full. She doesn’t seem to think so though, blushing prettily in response and taking the flowers from him to add to her collection. He offers to carry some of her other items, but she shakes her head, happily carrying them all the way back to the buggy.

Considering her boundless enthusiasm at everything large and small they’ve encountered that day it seems only natural to give her the chance to drive for a little once they’re outside of the town, and he’s not at all shocked when she takes him up on the offer. Of course, he hadn’t expected it would cause his life to flash before his eyes a moment later as they hurtle over the air, but once they land safely, his breathing slows back down. Exchanging a smile with his companion, Eric relaxes back into the seat, for once surprisingly comfortable with someone else taking the reins.

Though, he does still make sure to direct her to the path with the least obstacles.