“Well, no. Not exactly… You could say that I’m… well acquainted with the princess.”
“I see,” he paused, looking slightly reassured, “I’m afraid I couldn’t make the meeting because I’m on a quest to retrieve a stolen family heirloom.”
“A Stygian dagger ─ it’s been in my family for generations.”
“A Stygian dagger?” Hataru echoed. She recalled Zephyr mentioning a stolen knife, and her vision of The Black and White Assassin, flipping such a weapon, shimmered across her mind, sending shivers up her spine.
The prince continued, oblivious to her thoughts, “I believe it had been given to my great-grandfather, King Paladin Vallor, by one of his friends as a wedding gift when he married his love, the beautiful Ambrossa Catomerus.”
Hearing her adopted family name made Hataru’s skin tingle, “And did she love him back?”
“Certainly! But, Paladin and his friend ─ I can’t remember his name ─ had actually fought for her heart and for her hand, spontaneously challenging each other to duels, presenting her with exquisite gifts, the works. By the time she chose Paladin, their friendship was in shambles.”
“How sad! What happened to the king’s friend?” Hataru’s mind raced. The story sounded so familiar to her…
Caught off guard, as if that part of the story had never seemed important to him, Tarin tried to remember, “After their wedding, I believe that his friend… I think he was a captain… Oh, yes! He one of the first men to design a flying ship! How could I forget? He set sail on a prototype of his and was never seen again. Some say the ship crashed, and he settled in a foreign country; others say he turned to piracy, but no one knows for sure. What was his name, though? Luis? Jebediah?” the prince muttered. “Ah, yes! Captain Lebanon Spry!”
Captain Levi Spry’s great-grandfather… That’s why the old captain’s name had sounded so familiar to her earlier: she must have heard the same story about her adopted Great-aunt Ambrossa while learning her family’s history.
The prince studied his companion with thoughtful eyes, “Say, earlier you said you knew the princess well?”
“What? Oh, yes… Why?” The change in subject made Hataru fidget. She couldn’t say for certain why she was so determined to keep her own royal identity a secret, but she couldn’t drop her cover story now. He probably wouldn’t believe her anyway, not with all that dirt covering her dress.
“Oh… no reason… I was just wondering…”
“Wondering if… Is she really ready to settle down, just like that? I heard that she’s been traveling the continent in search of a proper suitors for almost a month now, and I was just wondering, what’s the hurry? She’s what ─ seventeen years old?”
“Same difference. That’s just a year younger than me. Should people our age really be so concerned with marriage? Aren’t there any more important things we could focus on?”
“Oh, I ─ and the princess ─ certainly agree that there are plenty of important things that people our age could and should focus on. For example, starting last year, she has followed her passions for helping misfortunate children and caring for the sickly by overseeing the fundings for the slew of orphanages she helped establish and the network of hospitals she hopes to institute someday.”