Leopold supposed that he shouldn't be annoyed at the Shadow for having the serving girl spy on him. He had, after all, effectively handed him a whore that he didn't have to sneak into the palace nor pay for. All that had been required was an easy smile, an alluring flash of his emerald eyes and words whispered against the bare skin of the serving girl's neck. Her fairytale fantasy of a prince that loved and cherished her despite her low social standing had done the rest. If only Nieneve had been as easy.
He walked down one of the palace's many hallways with no particularly destination in mind, just cherishing the freedom while it lasted before another servant was assigned to spy on him. Perhaps Silver would assign a male next time? That mattered not. The prince was practised at seducing men too, and if his charms failed he could find another way to evade them.
A moment later, he found himself outside, by the rosebush. Somehow he always wound up here, too often for it to be accidental, but Leopold never wanted to see it as more than pure coincidence.
His fingers latched onto a stalk and tugged a rose free. He brought it to his nose and as he inhaled its scent he felt his mind flooded with memories, not all of them pleasant. Shutting his eyes, the face of his first love swam in front of him. He had hoped that time would have faded it, but she looked the same as the day she had left him.
When he opened his eyes he saw that he had crushed the rose in his fist. He released his grip, watching as the white petals slid off his palm and was carried away by the breeze. This is what she did to me, he thought bitterly, unable to stop the memories from coming.
He had not long reached manhood and she, five or so years older, had not long been married. Her husband was a lord that controlled a vast area of land several leagues away from the capital city. Being an old friend of Apophis, he sought refuge at the palace while his land was devastated by a flood which destroyed most of his castle.
The wife had been Leopold's first, an act of passionate spontaneity by one of the palace's rosebushes, in the dead hours of the night; and the times after that - but those times were planned, in safe locations where they could not be caught.
The affair had only lasted a few months, but it had been intense. He believed that she was as in love with him as he had been with her, though not confident or daring enough to ask her to leave her husband.
When the time eventually came for the Lord to return to the castle and resume his duties, Leopold had begged her to stay. She just laughed and patted him on the head, like he was little more than a child, and told him that he had been a nice distraction but that was all they could be.
Leopold had been tempted to go after her when the lord and his men departed for their land. His uncle, unsurprisingly aware of the affair, had stopped him, warning that if the lord ever discovered the prince's relationship with his wife the king would lose a powerful ally. There could even be a war.
Yet even now, on an Autumn afternoon three years after she had left him and only a number of weeks before he himself was to be married, Leopold wondered if they would ever meet again. She was always at the back of his mind. He could not look at the leaves this season and as they reddened, not be reminded of her auburn hair. Nor could he look at the sunset's pink sky and not think of the way her cheeks flushed slightly upon entering her. He could not even promise that he would not call out her name on his wedding night, whoever the bride may be, as he done with other women in the past.
"Iris," her name burst from his lips, but was no louder than a whisper.