10 Chapter 9: A Little Flower called Erika
"Her Highness?" I asked with a stunned expression. According to my family's geography book, Neuchâtel was 4 days' travel from the royal capital of Grandall. Furthermore, now was not exactly the best time to be traveling through the forest because of the increased presence of bandits and predators on the road, not to mention, the terrible travel conditions caused by the snow and the ice.
I was still lost in thoughts when the guard answered.
"That's right, Frederick," he said, "Her Highness Princess Ekaterina is coming and rumor has it that she's here for the winter. I hope that one day, my daughter will get to see her in town!"
The soldier was abnormally excited. It is not every day that we get a visit from royalty.
Yules, on the other hand, had a complicated expression written all over her face. It appears that her sister was coming alongside the princess. Does she not want to see her? Did she hate her or something? In any case, I did not wish to be any part of others' family conflicts.
From behind, my mother walked past us.
"Hey Freddie," she giggled excitedly, "your 'girlfriend' is here!"
"Ummm…" I wasn't sure what to answer to that. In French, the term "girlfriend" was often expressed with the word "copine", which could either mean a girlfriend or a friend who is a girl or a woman. She used exactly that word. How confusing! Without clarification, I could not predict what she meant. As I was only a child, there were obviously things I was kept unaware of.
"Mom?" I asked tentatively. "Who is this 'copine'? My future fiancée or something? Or just a friend you want to introduce to me?"
Since I was not allowed to go beyond the mansion premises, I did not have any friend of my age, as far as I was aware of. The only person who was close to a friend was Erika, but again, it has been many years since we have seen each other.
"Hehehe," she said with a somewhat evil grin, "that could certainly be a possibility…should we ask them? Will they accept, I wonder? If not, it will be a huge blow to our family's reputation…"
My mother's reaction made me regret I ever said that. As much as possible, I want to marry for love and not some woman I'll only get to know the day of my wedding. That being said, I am also not the kind of person who will react badly to an engagement if my counterpart is physically attractive and virtuous enough to my taste. I've read that ladies these days (in the XIXth century) frequently have out-marriage relationships. In this case, perhaps I should just act "my age" once in a while to avoid these kinds of situations. It is awkward for nothing. At least Mother is a very calculating person, so I can only hope that she makes a good, clear-minded decision for my future engagement if that has to be done.
Quietly, I walked past my mother who was still pondering on how I should get engaged. That was when I realized that Lady Chambéry was gone while I was speaking with my mother.
"Perhaps she did not want to get involved in my family matters too deeply," I guessed.
That guess was not exactly on point, as I later realized. Yules had a serious sister complex. A sister complex that could be easily misunderstood as something more serious by this world's standards. Nevertheless, the sight of Yules hugging her sister and rubbing her cheeks on hers was extremely comical, to say the least. Two beautiful women with honey-colored hair in their late teens embracing each other, with the younger one obviously trying to get out. I could not hide my smile seeing them like this.
I was still grinning stupidly when another figure emerged from behind Yules' sister. She was small, perhaps around 1.40 m of height, and had a very pale complexion. She was wearing a white one-piece dress with endless frills and a white fur scarf. Her hair was platinum blond, almost reflecting the light from the chandelier above us. What struck me most were her profound eyes color of storms with a tinge of lightning. Their color was alternating endlessly between grey and very light blue. I was seduced by her beautiful eyes and I stood there, staring directly at her with my mouth almost agape. It took me some time before recognizing this child after she had changed so much during these years.
She was Erika, this girl who came to play a few years ago. She has become taller, obviously, and her nose was slightly higher. The most peculiar thing is that I could no longer see the pure innocence in her eyes, but rather endless wisdom and knowledge. I felt as if I was staring at another person, another aura. It was a weird feeling. Was she really Sir Lardon and Lady Betty's daughter Erika? Or is she someone who may just look like her?
As I was having these unpleasant doubts, the girl's face lit up and she beamed at me. Instantly, innocence came back to her eyes and at that moment, her smile felt more soothing than even the spa.
"A-are you Erika?" I asked tentatively.
"Yes, and you are Frederick, I concur." She answered in a pristine voice unbefitting a child like her.
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Her manner of speech was somehow similar to mine, which may suggest that she was a particularly precocious child. Maybe I could even speak normally to her without imitating a young child? That would be really refreshing after so many years talking stupidly. For one, though, I was particularly excited to see a friend of my age who would not patronize me like my parents' entourage. I don't mind their patronizing since I realize that I am still just a child in this world, but communicating with someone of my own age also has its charms. Charms that I have not experienced since Erika's last visit years ago.
"Is it really you, Erika?" I cried out excitedly and took her hand with the tip of my fingers for a "baisemain". I have learned to do it perfectly during my short stay in Poland 10 years ago where it was still a tradition. I have already forgotten this skill in my daily life in Canada, where doing this was often considered masculine patronization of women. Fortunately, this world also has a similar custom and it was part of a gentleman's etiquette, so I was doing it to every woman I meet. I mean, an 8 years old boy gracefully taking a lady's hand and kissing it gently. How cute is that?
The girl blushed. "That's right, my dear friend," she said while raising her hand away from my lips. "It's been a long time."
As she was saying that, she pulled me into an embrace. I was confused. I was stunned. I was shocked. At this point in time, we should not be as close as to hug each other...especially since we only met once and that was years ago. Well, I was also hugged an awful lot by Yules not long ago, so this shouldn't that big a deal. In that case, why do I feel so confused? Why do I feel so embarrassed? By a child, no less?
As I was deciding on what to do about this overly excited Erika, she slowly backed off. As she looked at me straight in the eyes, I felt a strange sense of loneliness, strong enough to make my body feel a sudden chill. What was that? This girl, what has she experienced to have such an aura in her eyes?
That is when I noticed two guards following her, one of them being Yules' sister who was released from her embrace. They wore slim-fitted double-breasted Prussian blue uniforms with golden embroideries and buttons. The silver epaulettes on their shoulders exuded an aura of elegance and authority, and from there hung a golden aiguillette tied to a golden pin fixed on their uniforms, the symbol of their ranks and allegiance. On the pin was an engraving of a flower with a great number of petals, which could only be an edelweiss flower considering the country we are in, as it was one of the national emblems. Their ranks were undecipherable at the moment since I did not know what each sign corresponded to. My father's uniform was completely different with many golden leaves embroidered on it and looked much more regal, so he must be of a way higher rank than these young women. It could also be that he's simply a zealous fashion amateur while the girls were not, but that was highly unlikely considering their age gap.
"I think proper introductions are in order," my mother said in German while smiling at the two escort soldiers behind Erika, "my name is Laura Anne Montpensier-d'Este and I am the lady of this household. This cute little boy here is my son, Friedrich."
"Greetings, milady," Yules' sister presented herself mostly to me, "I'm Fahnenjunker (officer candidate) Estelle de Chambéry, Kriegsschule cadet and temporary member of the Princess Edelweiss Life Guard Regiment. It is nice to meet you."
"I'm Fahnenjunker Alexa Mikhaylovna of the Kriegsschule Cuirassier Cavalry Division," the other girl said, "It is an honor to meet you milady Montpensier."
Considering the fact that Erika must be a pseudo-german noble of Lacrimosa because of her father's accent while speaking French, the two other visitors both represent a different faction of the Lacrimosian "Elegantsiya" class, the former being an Azurian noble and the other, a Lacrimosian patrician. It is quite a politically balanced bunch, I must say.
"Freddie," my mother called out to me, "Erika will pass the winter here in Neuchâtel, so please make her feel at home!"
"The same goes for you!" She then called out to our head maid.
As I see no princess around, the soldier whom I spoke to earlier was surely mistaken. Or maybe she just didn't come yet?
When Erika and co. left to their guest rooms, two other strangers popped up before Mother and I. The former had dark brown hair that curled slightly at the tip and she was dressed just like the guards, but with a golden armband. She had a very beautiful face and her silhouette were a feast to my young eyes. The latter had light brown hair and also good-looking facial traits, but she couldn`t compare to the lady beside her. However, her white and gold military uniform exuded radiance and power. At her waist hung three guns and one sword with a thin blade and an ornate silver hilt. Just a look at her eyes could show a seasoned warrior that she was an extremely strong and smart individual. Their bodies were stiff and they looked extremely tense and even worried. Even my mother was wary seeing them.
"Well well," my mother tried loosening the mood, "if it isn't our dear Generaloberst Bonny, and who might be the lady beside you?"
"It is great to see you again, milady Montpensier," Generaloberst (Colonel General) Bonny said to Mother, "I would like to present you my subordinate, a graduating student at the Kriegsschule Cuirassier Division, Fahnenjunker Ursula."
"Fahnenjunker Ursula von Augsburn, at your service," the girl with dark hair said and her face became more serious, "skipping right to the point, we have some urgent business related to the princess' and your territory's safety."
Hello again, dear readers,
Apparently, my 200-words message is considered having 500+ words by Webnovel so I'll just write it here.
Here's another chapter of Frederick's childhood and more precisely, the start of another arc involving Erika. Now, the reason why we start with his childhood rather than skipping directly to the main plots is to get to know his personality and character better in order to understand his priorities and perspective later on in the story.
For those who are interested in high-speed plot development, another parallel storyline will unfold centered around Ursula and the other Officer Candidates that will surely fulfill your wishes. Please look forward to these.
Before I forget, please feel free to leave feedback in the review section to let me know what you think of the story or simply to correct my grammar. It not only serves as encouragement but also helps me offer you better quality chapters in the future.