The King stroked his beard as he listened to his son's current teacher. It was an unfortunate situation, but Owen had to withdraw for an indefinite amount of time due to his wife's illness. Alan would need a tutor during Owen's leave, and while the King would certainly like more time to make these decisions, he trusted Owen's advice.
"Very well," the King said. "I will hire your granddaughter. Alan's academic progress will be monitored closely during her stay."
Owen bowed elegantly before the King of Oriens. "You are too kind, Your Majesty. I will send word for her right now."
"Do that. I would like her here by tomorrow."
"Of course, Your Majesty." Owen then turned and left the throne room, his footsteps soft against the red carpet.
You had received a phone call from Grandfather Owen yesterday, and you were now standing before the Oriens Palace. It had been a three hour flight from Liberty Kingdom, and although you were excited about this new job prospect, you were also feeling a little nervous.
"Ah! _____! Over here!"
"Grandfather?" You looked to your right and from around a corner, you saw the familiar man walking toward you. You picked up your bags, placing one of them atop the rolling luggage back and briskly met him halfway. "It's so nice to see you," you said as you gave him a one-armed hug.
"You too, _____." He tipped your chin up so he could look at your face. "My, my, you look sophisticated! It's miraculous what education can do for you."
You laughed. "Well, I have learned a lot from the Master's program at Liberty University."
"As you should have." Grandfather's eyes crinkled happily as he grinned at you. He was dressed in a black suit, his greying hair smoothed back neatly. "Please, allow me to help you with your bags."
You gave him the lightest one, knowing that while he was trying to be accommodating, he was also elderly. "How is Grandmother?" you asked as you followed his proud lead. His strides were quick and confident, belying his age.
He looked grim. "She's... all right. No longer in critical condition, but she needs medical treatment badly, and the sooner we can give it to her, the better."
It broke your heart to hear that. Your grandmother was terribly ill, and only Dres Van had the suitable medical technology to help her. "You're leaving tonight, then?" you asked.
"That's the plan. Now, enough of this depressing chitchat and onto happier things and new beginnings. Allow me to show you your room."
Grandfather Owen led you into the grand palace, and you marveled at it, surprised that you would be staying with the royal family in this mansion, of all places! You would be tutoring a young prince by the name of Alan, who was only six years old.
Fortunately, you were confident that you already knew most everything that there was to know about educating someone of his age -- the curriculum was fairly universal. The only thing that worried you was the amount of propriety that you would have to show someone of royalty, and you wondered how much of the Oriens culture you would be expected to know.
Your grandfather wouldn't be around for long. Who else were you to turn to if you needed help?
You were led to one of the guest rooms.
"Leave your luggage here," Grandfather Owens said. "I'd like to introduce you to the masters of this palace while we still have the time."
You did as you were told, and you followed your grandfather's sure lead. He began to explain to you where everything in the palace was and right when you had passed the banquet hall, another man appeared from around the corner.
"Ah, Yu, brilliant timing. This is my granddaughter, _____ _____. She will be standing in as Alan's new tutor while I'm gone."
"So I've heard," Yu replied as he shook your hand with a calm smile. He was actually about your age, tall and thin, with locks of soft, black hair that framed his face. "I am one of the butlers here, assigned specifically to Their Highnesses, Prince Glenn and Prince Alan."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," you said.
Yu's smile only brightened at your words. He was a very friendly man, apparently. "You'll be joining them for dinner then, Miss _____?"
You looked toward your grandfather, who nodded. "Yes, I do believe that is for the best. You should get acquainted to Master Alan before your lessons begin with him tomorrow."
"I'll be sure to have the table set for three, then."
"Will His Majesty, the King, not be here tonight?"
"I'm afraid not," Yu said. "He had to leave last minute to a conference, but he should be back within the week."
"Well, that can't be helped," Grandfather Owen replied. "Come along, _____. Let's find Master Alan."
The door to the young prince's room was open, revealing a massive nursery. It was filled to the brim with color furniture, toys, and books. There was a small boy playing with art supplies, propped up on the plush bed. He glanced up when you and your grandfather appeared. "Oh, sir!" he said, immediately climbing off of the bed. "Is this Miss _____?"
He was adorable with rich brown hair and chocolate eyes to match. He came to your waist and was dressed in clothes that you thought were unfitting for such a young boy. Nonetheless, he held an air of pride, despite his age. "That's right," you replied, kneeling down next to him. "You can call me _____."
His bright eyes widened, and he reached out his hand. "_____, huh? I'm so happy you're here. I was afraid that after Mister Owen left, I would be left alone with no teacher, but it looks like you're here! I won't be alone anymore."
"Of course not!" you replied well-naturedly, giving him a kind smile. "I'll be here with you until Mister Owen returns, but I'm going to need your help."
Alan looked perplexed -- people had probably never asked him for help before, but you knew how doing so made even the youngest of children feel empowered. It was all a part of earning your Master's degree.
"I'm new around here, and I'm very far away from home," you explained, "so you're going to have to show me around the palace and introduce me to everyone. You'll also have to teach me about Oriens because I've never been here before."
"No problem, _____!" he replied, holding onto your hand eagerly. "Let's start right now." With a gentle tug, he started out the door.
"Well, looks like you won't need my help, after all," Grandfather Owen called after you. "I'll come around to bid you farewell before I leave."
You waved goodbye with your free hand as Alan took you on a tour of the palace. Of course, you weren't sure if you would remember where everything was because this place was so huge, but you supposed that you would learn. For something so simple as navigation, you had discovered a resource in Alan already.
"My grandfather told me that you have a brother," you said as your adventure was over, and you found yourself back in Alan's room.
"I do," he said, "but Glenn's out right now. He'll be back for dinner. Will you play cards with me until then?"
"Sure thing." It had been less than an hour, and you were already attached to the dear boy.
Your grandfather came by shortly, announcing his departure. You gave him a hug and wished him well. Hopefully this journey to Dres Van would help your grandmother. Although you were a little sad that your relative was going to be leaving, you knew that you would be fine here. So far, everyone had been so kind and willing to make you feel at home.
Grandfather Owen said that he would call you when he and your grandmother were settled in in Dres Van.
You and Alan continued to play.
A while later, Yu came in and announced that dinner was ready. He invited both you and Alan into the dining hall, where there were three places set. Alan asked you to sit next to him, and you smiled as you agreed. He began telling Yu about how wonderful you were, willing to play games with him.
You shrugged off all of Alan's surprising compliments, when someone else stepped into the dining room. "She's not here as your babysitter, Alan. She's your new tutor; she might not want to play games with you."
You turned to look at the newcomer. He was dressed nicely as if he had just been meeting with other important people. Although he stood tall and was obviously very self-assured, there was a boyish quality to him -- he was younger than you were, you were sure. His hair was the same color as Alan's, delicately smoothed over his head in wisps, and his eyes were a deep brown, redder than those of his brother. This must have been Prince Glenn.
He continued as he sat down in the third seat, "Give her some room to breathe, or else you're going to scare her away."
Alan looked a little disappointed at his brother's words, so you came to the rescue. "That's not necessary, Your Highness," you said, "I'm enjoying the time I've had with Alan, and I don't mind playing games at all." Really, you thought that Glenn was being too harsh on his brother -- he was only six-years-old, after all.
Glenn looked at you with a cocked eyebrow. "Suit yourself..."
"_____," you said.
"_____. My name is _____. Was I correct to assume that you are Prince Glenn, Your Highness?" Here, you gave him a small, keen smile.
Yu began to bring dinner out, placing a wonderfully-plated meal in front of you.
"Thank you," you said as you waited for the brothers to begin eating before you did. At least, this way, you would be able to follow their example. You would try your best not to make any mistakes at the table, especially while in front of royalty.
Glenn eyed you warily, though he turned to his meal quickly enough. He must have been hungry.
Alan, however, was talking to you between bites, eagerly asking you questions and telling you about what your grandfather had taught him and what he was looking forward to learning during your stay. He also spoke about his habits and what he had planned for the week. "There's even a party at Nobel Michel this weekend."
"Are you going, Alan?"
He smiled. "I want to, but I don't have a date. All the princes have to bring a date! Hey, _____! Would you like to be my date?"
Glenn rolled his eyes. "I think it's best if you stayed..."
"Why?" Alan demanded. "I'm old enough to go! And I know how to dance. Please let me take _____ to Nobel Michel."
His brother sighed, placing his fork down, obviously giving up this argument before it escalated. "All right." He looked to you. "You'll have to keep an eye on him, then, if you want to go."
You had never been to a fancy party like this before, but you thought it might be interesting. And really, this was like getting paid to go to a party -- you couldn't complain. "I'll do my best," you replied, giving Alan a comforting smile.
He looked very pleased with your response. "We'll have to dress you up like a princess!" he said. "You'll be my princess for the night!" He began to shovel food into his mouth.
"Master Alan," Yu said, "I think it would be far more fitting if you ate a little more slowly, especially in the presence of your new princess."
The boy grinned and did as Yu advised.
After dinner, Alan had invited you back to his room to play a board game with you. The two of you settled on a short game of Chutes and Ladders, which brought childhood memories back to you. Alan ended up winning, and you were just fine with that -- it was a game of luck, after all. He gave a large yawn while helping you put the pieces away.
"_____, will you tell me a story?"
"Mm?" You wondered what kind of a story a young prince would listen to. "What sorts of stories have you heard?"
"Mama used to come in and tell me all kinds of stories," he explained. "But then Dad decided that it was too childish and told her to stop coming." He looked a little upset.
"Do you think it's childish?"
He shrugged. "Do you?"
"Nah," you replied as you nodded toward his dresser. "Why don't you get changed first? I know that I like hearing stories right before I go to bed. I'll be back in a few minutes." You left for your room, which was right down the hallway, and you quickly changed into your pajamas.
Meanwhile, you wondered what kind of story you would want to share with Alan. Your childhood had been a good one -- your parents often told you stories before going to bed. You couldn't imagine why the King would forbid stories to be told to his son. Perhaps he wanted Alan to grow up faster than was possible. That was unfortunate, really, because Alan really was just a child.
When you returned to Alan's room, he was already waiting for you in bed. "Took you long enough!" he said with a pout.
You laughed as you went to the edge of his bed and sat down. "You still want me here, right?"
He nodded. "Now tell me a story!"
You were here as his teacher, and you thought that perhaps it would be best if you started his lessons tonight -- not just lessons in standard academic curriculum, but lessons in life, those that were just as important, if not more so, than learning mathematics, sciences, and literature. "Have you ever heard of Peter Pan?"
Alan wrinkled his nose. "Isn't he that boy who can fly?"
"Well, yes, that's part of it." You lifted Alan's covers for him so that he could snuggle into bed. "When I was a little girl, I fell in love with him."
Here, Alan's eyes brightened. "You've met him?"
You gave a small dip of your head. "He would come to my window sill every night and beckon me away to his home in Neverland. Do you know what's special about Neverland?" He shook his head. "In Neverland, you never grow up."
"But I want to grow up," Alan said. "I want to grow up to be like Glenn and Dad."
You pressed a finger to your lips. "Listen to the story." You began to tell him about your fantastical adventures in Neverland, describing the native tribes and Lost Boys that you had befriended. You spoke of the dangerous pirates and jealous mermaids, while reminiscing the presence of the fairies. Alan listened to you intently, admiring the magic that existed in Neverland and the battles that you fought. By the time that the clock had struck ten, you were barely finished with your tale.
"And you were really there?" Alan asked. "You had the chance to see all of these things?"
"Those and more," you said as you smoothed the covers over him. "I fell in love with Peter Pan, remember?"
"But you grew up."
"I did. But only when I was ready."
At those words, the boy quieted. "How do you know when you're ready?" he said softly.
"You'll know," you said as you reached over to turn off the lamp. You smoothed some hair out of his eyes. "You'll know when you're ready to leave Neverland."
"_____, will you tell me another story tomorrow?"
"Of course. Goodnight, Alan."
He yawned. "Goodnight..."
As you left his room and shut the door behind you, you noticed that Glenn was standing right outside. He surprised you a bit, but you gathered yourself and dipped your head toward him. "Your Highness, I had no idea that you were here."
You thought that he might reprimand you for something, but you couldn't read the expression on his face. "You're a good storyteller. I haven't seen Alan smile like that in a while." He actually looked a little disappointed. "I never thought that something so simple would make him happy."
"I'm just doing my job," you said.
He tilted his head to the side. "You're his tutor, not his nanny."
"Exactly. Lessons aren't contained only to academics, you know." You would leave it at that; if he had any questions, he could ask you. "Have a goodnight, Your Highness. Excuse me." You then left for your room, ready to unpack and settle down for the night.
The weekend finally came, and you returned to your room after lunch with Alan and Glenn. There were several maids already in there.
"Miss," one of them said. "We've brought several dresses for you to try on."
Of course, you had never seen such fantastic dresses in your life, and you stared in awe at them. "This really isn't necessary," you said as you looked from dress to dress.
"His Highness insists," she replied simply.
Alan really did want you to look pretty for tonight, didn't he? You hoped that you wouldn't disappoint him. You selected a dress that was to your liking in both design and color, and the maids nodded. "Let's get started, then, miss."
You had never been waited on like this in your life, and you were quite surprised that there was a whole battalion of maids at your service.
The process was a long, almost tiring one, but in the late afternoon, they had finished. You finally got to look at yourself in the mirror, and even you hardly recognized yourself.
"What do you think, miss?"
"I look... nice," you said.
"Oh, don't be so modest," she chirped in return. "You look lovely. I'm sure that Prince Glenn would be quite pleased."
"Prince Glenn?" You were surprised. Wasn't it Alan who had made the preparations?
The maid blinked in response. "You didn't know? It was Prince Glenn who instructed us to prepare you for tonight. Master Alan is awfully sweet, but he doesn't know enough about the proper dress of such formal parties."
"I'll be sure to thank him," you said, spinning in front of the mirror to watch your dress flow. "Thank you for all of your help -- I couldn't have done it without you."
"Not at all, miss," they said. "Just following orders." They then shuffled quickly out of your room, and you were left to wait until Alan would appear and take you out to the limousine. If you were his date, he would have to escort you, after all.
He came soon after, dressed neatly in formal clothes. "_____!" he cried. "You look like a princess, the prettiest of princesses! And you're my princess tonight!" He tugged at your hand eagerly. "Let's go! Yu has our ride waiting out in front."
You followed the boy, and as you exited the palace, you saw Glenn with another lady hanging off of him. She must have been his date, and she was beautiful -- she was likely someone of noble standing, or perhaps the daughter of someone who was very, very wealthy.
Glenn locked eyes with you for a moment. "Nice dress," he said curtly with a short dip of his head.
"I have you to thank for that. You don't look too shabby yourself, Your Highness."
You could have sworn that you saw a slight pink graze his cheeks as he turned his face away from you. "It's time to go. If we dally any longer, we'll be late."
With those words, you, Alan, Glenn, his date, and Yu slid into the limousine, and the driver started away.
Hours later, you would arrive in front of Nobel Michel, amazed at the beautiful sights before you. You had never laid eyes upon the castle before -- in fact, very few people had. It was a placed reserved mostly for royals and those that they consorted with, and commoners like you were rarely allowed on the island upon which Nobel Michel stood.
"Is this your first time?" Alan asked as he tugged at your hand.
"Yes, and I'm amazed." You had taken a flight from Oriens to Altaria, and from a private airport there, a limousine arrived and brought you here. It was quite the trip, but so far, it seemed to be worth it.
As you passed through the grand doors of Nobel Michel, you saw the fantastic ballroom. It glowed in the light of the chandeliers, and a variety of people gathered in groups around the various tables, while an orchestra was settled in the corner.
Everyone here was beautiful. The ladies all wore lovely designer dresses of all colors and forms, while most of the men were in tuxes or were dressed in the traditional attire of their country, like how Glenn was.
"Come on, _____," Alan said eagerly. "Let's dance." Before you could even respond, he had dragged you out into an open place on the dance floor. It was kind of awkward dancing with someone so much shorter than you, but you did your best with a smile on your face. Your grandfather used to dance with you when you were younger, so you knew the steps to the waltz rather well.
After the song ended, you realized that there were several eyes on you. Perhaps they had thought it strange that you would be dancing with the young prince of Oriens.
"Oh, my. It looks like Alan has a lady of his own," a handsome man said as he approached the two of you. He was tall, dressed in a red uniform with a banner slung over his shoulder. His light, brown hair framed his face, his bangs falling into his brown eyes. What you noticed about him first, however, was his genuine smile.
"Prince Roberto!" Alan greeted. "She's my princess for the night. This is _____."
"Prince Roberto of Altaria?" you asked, remembering your brief study of the political sciences. Even though you focused on education, you thought it was best to be well-rounded, so you kept up with the news and politics of the six kingdoms. "It's a pleasure to meet you." You swept your best curtsy.
"Don't be so formal, Miss _____," Roberto said as he offered his hand. "Let's get a little closer, shall we? May I have this dance?"
Alan cut between the two of you. "But she's my princess!" He frowned at Roberto -- he was actually really cute when he pouted.
Roberto was hardly offended; he laughed at the boy's behavior. "So protective as a prince should be of his lady fair! But remember, Prince Alan, that it's good practice to dance with many partners. In fact, some cultures frown upon dancing with the same lady consecutively."
Alan seemed relieved, and he nodded at Roberto. "All right. You can dance with her, but I'll be watching."
You grinned as he left, likely to go find some food from the appetizer table.
"Your hand, my dear?" Roberto offered his hand again.
Of course, you took it, and you were swept into an elegant waltz.
As you held onto each other, each step perfectly in time with the music, Roberto whispered in your ear. "So what is your relationship with Alan? He seems quite possessive of you, charming for a boy of his age."
You knew that beneath his teasing, the prince really was curious about you, and you were glad to provide answers. "I'm his new tutor," you explained. "I started just this week, and Alan wanted a date for tonight, so..."
"Ah, so that's why you're here. For a moment, I thought you were a lady from one of the noble houses of Oriens."
You exhaled in a dry laugh. "Surely, you're joking."
"Not at all. It's not every day that you find such exquisite beauty at the hands of a royal prince."
He said it so easily, but you couldn't help but blush, feeling the heat rise to your cheeks. "That's very nice of you to say, but I'm actually from Liberty--"
"--a royal house from Liberty?"
You weren't sure how to respond to that. Did he not hear what you said?
"I'm just kidding," he replied with a chuckle. "Well, no matter what family or house you're from, I think you're rather pretty. You fit into this crowd just fine." He quieted, and you had the chance to enjoy the dance for what it was. When the song ended, he did not release your right had just yet. Instead, he pulled it close to his lips, planting a small kiss on it. "A pleasure, Miss _____."
"You too, Your Highness."
"None of that," Roberto said as he led you over to a table with refreshments. It was then that he released your hand, but only to pour you a drink. "Roberto is fine." He handed you a tall, thin glass of champagne.
You raised an eyebrow, unsure of how others would view this casual address of a crown prince, but you accepted the drink.
"Rob works, too," he assured with a laugh. His attention quickly diverted to another person, and he waved him over. "Oy! Keithster! Come over here, will you?"
"What do you want?" the newcomer asked as he neared, obviously irritated. His ash-brown hair was devoid of the rich warmth that Roberto's had, but he had piercing green eyes that highlighted all of his expressions. He wore a fine, fur coat over his formal clothes, a traditional sash on his shoulder.
You recognized him as the crown prince of your country, Liberty, immediately. Of course you did. How could not know what your very own royal prince looked like?
Roberto wrapped an arm around your shoulder. "Oh, I thought I'd just make an introduction. This is Miss _____. She's Alan's new tutor, but she's actually from your lovely country of Liberty."
"...so?" Keith looked anything but amused.
"So," Roberto continued as he gave you a gentle push toward Liberty's prince, "I thought you might like to ask her for a dance. She's rather good, better than most women. Light as a feather, didn't step on my feet at all."
"This is all really unnecessary," you said, deciding to be a little more assertive. "I'm sure you have the best intentions in mind, Prince Roberto, but I really should be getting back to Alan before he wonders where I am. Thank you for the dance--"
"--wait." Keith snatched the champagne glass from your hand, giving it to Roberto. "Are you rejecting me?"
You couldn't tell if he was joking or not. "Not at all, Your Highness," you replied smoothly, "but the fact of it is that you never asked me to dance."
"Well, to everyone else, this is going to look like you're rejecting me."
You blinked. Was this guy for real? His reasoning sounded awfully petty.
He grabbed your hand, perhaps a little more roughly than he had intended to. "Come on. We're dancing."
Before you knew it, he had you in his arms and was leading you across the dance floor, his movements confident and effortless.
"So you're from Liberty, eh?" he asked. "What part?"
"The northern part, near Rosenwood," you added. "I actually went to Liberty University, where I got my Master's in education."
"Hrm, so not far from the manse."
"Not at all. I used to drive past Liberty Manse when I volunteered at the children's center."
He quieted, leading the dance as he watched you. Truth be told, you felt a little uncomfortable under his gaze; even though you were supposed to look at your partner while dancing, this was a little too much. Roberto was friendly at least -- Keith was just intimidating, especially with his piercing eyes.
You felt a wave of relief come over you when the dance ended.
Keith did not remove his hands from your waist. "Prince Roberto's right. You're not half bad, though you could do to polish your footwork a little bit. Make sure to do that if you want to dance with me again."
"Of course. I'm sure you're perfect in every way, shape, and form," you sassed, irritated that he would put the blame on you. You hadn't even wanted to dance with him in the first place!
"I'm glad you noticed. I try."
Sure, those of the royal family must have felt entitled because of the wealth and power they were born with, but this was too much. "Aren't you a bit full of yourself, Your Highness?"
He frowned at those words, and he looked as though he was about to say something to you, when you felt a hand on your shoulder.
"What's the problem?" It was Glenn.
"Nothing." Keith glared at you. "Just tell your brother's tutor to learn her place."