A few hours later, I was feeling restless and I stood up off my bed, stretching, before I walked down to the gardens to get a bit of fresh air. I hadn't seen Nathan since I had found him kissing Felicity. I wondered if I should go and find him. But what a ridiculous thought. He didn't want to see me. I should leave him to love my sister in peace. In fact, the more time they got to spend before our wedding the better. I wished I could give my sister happiness greater than that but it was simply not possible.
Archie suddenly jumped down from somewhere above me, holding a simple rose bud.
I jumped back, startled and more than a little annoyed.
"No, Archie, no! I have still not forgiven you for earlier. What are you? Extremely arrogant?"
"No, just persistent," he said and handed me the rose bud. I took it out of politeness. The moment I held it, the flower bloomed.
I threw it down in disgust. Did he think some showy, incredibly corny action would change my mind?
"No. Still no. Go away."
Archie leant down and picked up the rose bud.
"What is wrong, sweet princess?" His words were so trusting that even the most stubborn girl would answer. But no, I'd be happy to tell him about his flaws.
I looked away from him, annoyed.
"I don't want to court someone who is merely interested in a grand show."
"No, that is not what I'm interested in," Archie whispered. He handed me the rosebud again and turned to leave.
"Wait!" I called. "Are you not going to explain yourself?"
"Nope, you like to think. Work out my true intentions yourself."
"But wait," I called, my mood different now. "Will you not stay?" Something about his expression tugged at me: caused me to feel pity and sorrow.
Archie stopped. "Are you requesting my presence?"
I looked away. "Yes," I murmured. "I guess I am."
Archie smiled and gestured to a bench.
I sat down. "But you must be less bold. You really quite alarm me sometimes, sir."
"Of course, Your Highness."
"You need not call me that, sir. You are a prince, are you not?"
"Yes but your kingdom is much stronger than mine."
I waved a hand dismissively. "I do not care for such trivial things."
"Okay then. What shall I call you?"
"My name. Tersa."
I looked up at him. "Why did you try to find out about me?"
"Because the moment I heard your name, a curiosity sparked within me. I was hoping I could come and capture your heart before your hand was taken. I was too late. So I pleased myself with mentions of you. Gossip and tales."
I frowned in distaste. "How I hate gossip."
Archie chuckled. "It can be useful"
"Sir, I do not find that amusing!" I told him crossly. "Thank the gods we are not closer or I would be punching you."
Archie held up his hands. "I'm sorry I angered you."
I turned away from him. "And so you should be."
Archie leant back his head and closed his eyes.
I faced him and regarded him curiously. I reached out and touched the end of a tuft of his jet-black hair. I marvelled at its softness and quickly pulled my hand back, frightened by my behaviour.
Archie didn't open his eyes.
I sighed in relief and leant back.
"I want a soul mate," I whispered to myself. "But I don't know where to start looking."
"Why not start with me?" Archie asked, keeping his eyes closed.
I actually hit him that time.
"Ouch," Archie said. "I lost my train of thought."
"Well perhaps you could lose it permanently and then have nothing to say, you cheeky young man."
"No, I am not cheeky. My words are always well thought out."
I shoved him. "You do not know when it is best to keep your mouth shut."
"Maybe that's because when I can see or hear you my thoughts scatter completely."
"Oh, don't you try it on with me, mister. I have no interest in charmers."
"Who says I am merely charming?" Archie said, opening his eyes to look at me. "I am being completely truthful" he whispered, his words so honest.
"Then you are a fool," I whispered back. "Because no sensible man gives his heart so readily to a woman he has only heard about."
"I did not give you my heart yet. If I did, trust me, you would know."
"Yes, but you talk of my effect on you. I don't wish to have such an effect on a man who is so prepared to take me, whatever I am like. My own soul mate would be catered specifically for me, chosen by the gods if you will, because of how similar his views are to mine."
"A soul mate can be your opposite you know, sweet princess."
"Yes," I murmured, looking away. "But I would rather he was not."
"Princess, your effect on me is 'cause of how you are now. If you were to change I'd be devastated."
Archie stroked my cheek.
I pulled back and stood up.
"Please," I said, tears coming to my eyes. "Can't you please just try to love me in the way I want you to?"
"And what way is that, princess?"
I looked at the ground. "In a way which shows that you totally understand me. That you really know who I am. That you love me for my soul."
"Why do you believe I do not? Your soul is beautiful 'cause it makes up who you are. It makes up you."
"Why do I believe you don't?! Because you can't know a person from mere gossip! You can't know me unless we've talked to each other. And if you think you can, you are an idiot. And how could you possibly know the nature of my soul? You act like you have watched me in secret."
Archie scratched the back of his head, looking away.
"You did?!" I ask, horrified. "You spied on me?!"
"Not exactly. I've made various visits to your kingdom. The truth is... when I was nine, my father came to make an allegiance with your father. He pulled me along too.... I saw you and I.... I had to know you much better. The light and thoughtfulness in your eyes was what made me make that choice."
I sighed quietly and my views of Archie completely changed.
"That's very romantic," I whispered.
He blushed and looked away again, embarrassed.
"Isn't that what you want me to say?" I asked, laughing.
"Well, I just.... I'm very flattered that you find it so."
I looked at him. "Very flattered? Well, perhaps, I'm very flattered too."
Archie smiled, standing up and offering his hand. "May I paint you. princess?"
"Yes, Princess. So that when I return to my kingdom I will have a memory of you to hold dear."
He looked deep into my eyes. I started to tremble inside.
"Archie," I whispered, scared. "Something is happening."
"What is happening, dear princess?" he asked, taking my hands in his.
"I feel like there is an earthquake taking place inside me." I blushed furiously.
"Maybe there is," he whispered. His face was lowered towards mine.
I leant back slightly. "I ... I don't know if I'm r-ready for this," I stammered.
"Ready for what?" Archie asked, leaning his forehead against mine. His breath tickled and warmed my cheeks.
"This," I murmured. "This feeling that I need you."
"Why not? Please don't turn me away, Tersa; I have been waiting for years for a chance to get to approach you."
"No, no, it's not you," I said hastily. "It's me. I don't know ... I don't know if I can cope." I looked away, tearful. "Especially since I have a fiancé whom I don't love at all."
Archie flinched and put a hand on my cheek, making me look into his eyes.
"Tersa, if I knew I had a chance to be with you, I could ask personally for your hand. A personal request is always put before an arrangement."
"It is?" I whispered. "But my parents - they are stubborn. They want me to marry Nathan."
"Well, if your marriage to him fails, it is said he is set to marry your sister," he said hesitantly, evidently wondering if I had heard this.
I frowned. "I've not heard that." I stared ahead of me. "Wait! That's perfect! Yes! Yes, yes, yes!" I turned back to Archie and kissed him full on the lips.
I pulled back. "Whoa! I'm so sorry. I don't know what came over me!"
Archie didn't answer. Instead, he pulled me back into his arms and kissed me again sweetly, purely.
Stunned, I fell back so I was lying on my back. My arms wrapped around him. I seemed to desire greatly the feel of his lips against mine.
Archie pulled back. He gazed into my eyes and stroked my cheek.
"How many times I have dreamed this and now.... to finally feel your lips against mine. It's a pure heavenly touch."
I didn't say anything. I pulled him back to resume the kiss.
Archie pulled back this time, putting a finger to my lips.
"No, sweet princess, we cannot rush this. I do not want you to regret it later."
"I'm not rushing," I whispered, breathing heavily. "I only want you to kiss me. Don't think I want more at present. I would be chaste by choice if not because I were a princess."
"Kissing in the open on a bench... is not my idea of the right place"
"Then ... where is the right place?" I whispered, half frightened that his answer would just contrast with my comment on my chastity.
"In private but first," he said, rising and pulling away from me, "I must meet with your father."
Archie neatened his shirt, a blush on his cheeks as he did so.
"No," I whispered, gazing longingly at him.
Archie smiled and reached out to stroke my cheek. "I must before the marriage is finalized."
I cringed. "I don't ever want to be away from you. Can't you make me invisible and miniature and tuck me in your pocket so that I may always be near you?"
"I must go," he repeated. He kissed me and left while I was in a daze so I couldn't stop him. When I was in a state where I could realise this, I thought it rather unfair but found myself reliving the sweet, pleasant kisses that seemed to have started the process of Archie's completion of my soul.