Chapter 58 – She Has Returned
“They really can’t wait until the wedding, it seems,” he mumbled, stroking the cat tenderly.
“Meow,” said Rose in reply.
“My predictions were correct,” he said, “I am certain she has returned.”
“Meow,” said the cat.
“I know,” he said, “It cannot be any other way.” He had waited patiently, and it now seemed that his wait had finally been fruitful. The things he had planned were falling into place, like puzzle pieces.
“All that’s left is to return things to how they were before,” he said, stroking Rose’s soft fur. He looked distant in thought. He didn’t need to suffer the sorrow and despair he had lived with, anymore. This was his only chance, and he would make the most of it. He looked at Rose in his arms and caressed the cat lovingly for bringing him the best of news.
Tiana and Lucius finally breathed in a sigh of relief. They left the audience chamber and left the palace. A carriage was waiting for them at the entrance. They boarded it and took off.
As they drove off from the palace grounds, Lucius couldn’t hold in his thoughts anymore. “Are you alright?” he asked worriedly, looking at her with concern.
“Yes,” she said, holding his hand, “Nothing really happened. We drank tea, he asked about simple things and we walked to the palace.”
“Tea?” asked Lucius, surprised.
“Yes,” she said, “His Majesty had a table set in the garden loaded with snacks and tea. He even poured it for me himself. The tea was delicious.”
“I see,” said Lucius, “I am glad you enjoyed yourself.” Lucius was deep in thought and looked very serious. Tiana couldn’t figure out why. Meeting Rael hadn’t been as bad as they had anticipated. So, what was he worried about?
The carriage drove on, and sunlight streamed through the window. “Are we going to the Empress dowager’s palace?” she asked.
“No,” said Lucius, still solemn, “We are headed to Alexandra’s.”
“What?” she asked, confused, “I thought our next stop was there. Did something happen?”
“She sent a message,” he said, now seemingly composed, “She isn’t feeling very well. She requested to meet next time.”
“Oh,” she said, “Is she terribly ill?”
“Don’t worry,” he assured her, “Perhaps a slight cold. Her body is usually weak nowadays. It might not be very serious.”
“I hope she gets well soon,” said Tiana, in good faith.
Tiana had been looking forward to meet the Empress dowager the most, but it couldn’t be helped. There would always be next time. She squeezed his hands in hers, trying to comfort him. He looked at her and smiled softly.
“Tiana!” exclaimed Alexandra, “Welcome! Thank you for coming, brother.” She greeted them with open arms and an eager smile. “Holding hands, I see,” she teased, looking at them and nodding, satisfied.
“Can we let go now?” asked Tiana jokingly, “We were so focused on getting here that we came holding hands all the way.”
“Oh my god, really?” she squealed in delight, “You look so good together!”
Tiana didn’t really mind holding hands with Lucius, it felt comforting. However, being the subject of scrutiny at the palace with servants and guards stealing glances at them made her embarrassed. Alexandra burst into laughter when Tiana relayed this to her.
“Alright,” she chuckled, “You can let go for now. Go get changed into your new clothes and return here.”
The maids appeared to escort them to the inner room. Alexandra had a mischievous smile on her lips, which didn’t make Tiana feel all too good. She changed into the resplendent gown that Alexandra had created and came out of the inner room. Lucius had come out sooner than her and stood there with arms spread wide, as Alexandra made adjustments to the robe he wore.
When Tiana came out of the inner room, he turned around and stared at her in awe. “Brother, I told you not to move,” said Alexandra sternly, “Why are you turning… Oh!”
Alexandra followed his gaze to Tiana, with a grin. Her dress had exceeded her expectations. Meanwhile, Lucius and Tiana looked at one another, as though frozen in time.
He looks so beautiful, thought Tiana, unaware that Lucius was probably thinking the same. The robe and the dress looked so much more extraordinary in person than when they were draped across the mannequins.
Tiana looked at Lucius in his robe of gold. The gilded flowers formed sophisticated and intricate designs across the fabric. The petals were in full bloom at his shoulders and he, himself, looked like a regal painting.
Him, standing so pearlescent in front of her made her sentimental and teary-eyed. Her heartbeat raced when he looked at her. She seemed to have forgotten how to move. As they continued gazing at each other, unwilling to take their eyes away, Alexandra whispered something in Lucius’ ears and pushed him forward towards his bride-to-be.