Odette, the last person to go, gently got up from her seat in the audience. It was now appropriate for her to accompany Bastian to the lavish party that would be held in the Admiralty’s sumptuous rooms. She might have easily travelled there by herself, but she thought it would be foolish to do so.
Odette took a deep breath and prepared herself as she stood beneath the imposing archway linking the stadium and the clubhouse. She felt proud of her vow to keep the highest standards of excellence and her duty to fully carry out her responsibilities as Captain Klauswitz’s companion.
“Lady Odette,” called a warm, familiar voice as she stepped into the serene gardens of the clubhouse. It was the wife of a naval officer who had kept her entertained with lively conversation throughout the match. “Good luck,” she offered with a gentle smile, before taking her leave with her husband.
As Odette made her way to the heart of the bustling promenade, she soon discovered the reason for the words of encouragement from the naval officer’s wife. There, in a puddle beneath a tree, lay a discarded pink ribbon. The gaze of the onlookers surrounding it was trained upon Odette, their expressions a curious mix of pity and interest, much like that of the officer’s wife she had just met.
Odette stood between the throng, her eyes fixed upon the mud-stained ribbon. Its initials, so carefully embroidered, now smudged with dirt. It was her cherished ribbon, taken without her permission by the man before her.
“Are you alright?” inquired a lady, her voice soft with concern.
With a gentle smile, Odette took a step back, her eyes still upon the ribbon. Though it had once been her prized possession, she now had no desire to claim it back. For once it had left her possession, it was no longer hers to keep. Bastian had taken it, and with it, the authority over its fate. It was a bittersweet realization, but one she accepted with grace.
“Excuse me,” Odette said, turning to the young woman from earlier. “May I ask for a small favor?” And with a kindly nod, the woman agreed.
“Speak freely, as much as you like,” the young woman said with a bright smile.
“Unfortunately, I’m not feeling well and must depart early,” Odette responded, her voice full of regret. “But Captain Klauswitz’s preparations seem to be delayed. I would be most grateful if you could break the news to him in my stead.”
“Ah, yes, of course! I’ll make sure the Captain knows,” the young woman said, her eyes full of understanding and compassion. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.”
With a polite farewell, Odette strode confidently from the garden, the sting of a disapproving gaze upon her back. She refused to look back, knowing deep down that he didn’t truly want the best for her. The moment she laid eyes upon the discarded ribbon, Odette realized that her usefulness to him had come to an end, and she walked away without a hint of regret.
As she walked away from the polo club and out into the city, the weight of abandonment pressed heavily upon her. She had foolishly thrown herself into the situation with enthusiastic abandon, only to find herself discarded like the mud-stained ribbon left behind. It would have been a kindness if he had been clear with her from the start.
A soft sigh escaped her lips as she walked down the streets of Ratz in May. The city was a paradise of roses, making it hard to believe that just a week ago, snow had blanketed the streets. The brilliant afternoon sun painted the world in gold as she walked down the street, lost in thought.
Suddenly, she came to a halt in front of a theater, her gaze drawn to the advertisement billboard towering above her. Discount sales at the department store, upcoming opera performances, and job ads–posters announcing all manner of news filled the cylinder, each vying for her attention.
With a thoughtful gaze, Odette fixated upon a small, black-and-white flyer at the bottom of the advertisement billboard. In elegant script, the advertisement sought a tutor, with specifications listed below the headline – a preference for young, unmarried women of educated middle-class backgrounds, with a proficiency in literature, foreign languages, music, and etiquette, and a well-groomed appearance.
The notice promised a substantial income for the right candidate. Odette, with a hint of concern, carefully transcribed the advertisement into a dainty notebook she retrieved from her purse. The grand performance for the Emperor had come to a close and it was time to return to the realities of daily life.
With the bustling clubhouse now hushed, Bastian stepped out into the brilliant afternoon sun, surrounded by his uniformed colleagues. Lucas, ever observant, made idle conversation, bringing up the name of Sandrine.
“If only we’d known, we could have brought her along to the party,” he said with a hint of regret. Bastian merely smiled, not feeling the need to respond.
The news of Lady Odette’s sudden departure had already circulated among the guests, leaving Bastian with a sense of uncharacteristic emptiness. Though he couldn’t quite put his finger on why, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss. The thought passed quickly though, as he reminded himself that they had only met five times.
“Could it be that the fabled ribbon of the beguiling princess lies cast aside in that puddle of mire?” Erich Faber’s voice boomed as he led the way. Bastian’s forehead creased as he couldn’t help but cast a glance at the ribbon. There, at his feet, lay Odette’s ribbon, sullied by the mud.
“What happened? Did you cast it aside, my friend?” Erich asked, his tone full of disbelief.
“Do you think perhaps she caught sight of it and fled, heartbroken?” another officer chimed in.
“Imagine if she’s come to her senses and fled this charade!” one officer exclaimed. But Lucas von Ewald was not among those who shared the same sentiment. His gaze grew uneasy as he fixed it on the discarded ribbon, “Bastian, this could mean…”
Bastian averted his sight and didn’t respond. Odette fled as if fleeing earlier while Sandrine spent some time in the waiting area. And the ribbon, which was discarded as a show for everyone to witness. When everything was put together, there seemed to be only one conclusion.
Bastian chuckled, his amusement mixed with a hint of determination. I’ll do anything to keep what’s mine. A belief that he held close to his heart, one that was deserving of being held in high esteem, not cast aside in the guise of false nobility.
“Just to be clear, Sandrine would never do that, Bastian!” Lucas, clearly taken aback, attempted to defend his cousin. The exclamation caused the other officers nearby to gasp in shock.
Undeterred, Bastian approached the muddy puddle and reached down to retrieve the ribbon, his actions leaving Lucas bewildered.
“Have you lost your mind?” Lucas asked, incredulous.
“What’s going on? The legendary Klauswitz meets a siren’s allure?” spoke an officer with a hint of amusement. “Wake up, my friend, the dangers of a sea-witch’s seduction are not to be taken lightly,” warned another. But Bastian remained unperturbed, his calm demeanor only slightly interrupted by the gentle lowering of his eyebrows. With grace, he retrieved the soiled ribbon, a symbol of ownership.
She’s mine. He declared with unwavering conviction.
Whatever the case may be. No matter how he felt about it. In either case, as of just now, it was his to safeguard as it fell under his purview.
Bastian moved swiftly across the garden. His fingertips left smudges of murky water along the path.
The clubhouse’s garden was peaceful once again as the loud officers left. The waves on the puddle’s surface where the ribbon had vanished had quieted, as if nothing had happened at all.
It was if the stars had aligned, and fate had brought them together once more. A gentle breath escaped Franz as he observed the structure across the street, nestled in the embrace of the alley’s shadows. The reunion was a chance encounter, beyond explanation.
Soon after, a light appeared in the window at the opposite end of the top floor. The residence appeared to be the woman’s.
He passed Odette on the way back after dropping off his fiancée.
As luck would have it, Odette was there when he tilted his head along the breeze since he was feeling stuffy and had dropped the car window, allowing a lovely breeze to enter.
With a heavy heart, Franz watched as Odette walked the lonely streets of Preve Boulevard. He was filled with a confusing mix of emotions, a mixture of anger and sadness that he could not quite explain. He wondered why she was wandering alone instead of celebrating with Bastian. The urge to uncover the source of these emotions was too strong to ignore, and without a second thought, he stepped out of the car, determined to uncover the truth.
Franz walked with a pounding heart, trailing behind the woman he had come to recognize as Odette. Despite his tumultuous emotions, he remained calm, keeping his distance from her. He couldn’t help but think about the marriage proposal arranged by the emperor for Bastian. His parents saw it as a fantastic opportunity for their son, a chance to find a wife who could be a dependable support. They didn’t seem to consider the fate of the poor woman who would be thrown to the beast.
Franz’s thoughts were interrupted as he saw the silhouette of the slender woman reflected in the glass window through which the light streamed in. He couldn’t help but hold his breath, marveling at her beauty. But then, the reality of the situation struck him and he let out a sigh, unsure of what the future held for Odette.
Despite his eagerness, his hopes were dashed as Odette never parted the curtains of her window. Franz was left disappointed, longing for just a glimpse of her.
“He tossed the ribbon.” Ella giddily spoke with gleeful eyes, as if the act was just a mere prelude to a much grander performance by Odette. And indeed, Ella’s lighthearted nature was simply a reflection of who she was. However, the rest of the crowd that had gathered held nothing but disdain and animosity towards Odette, including Bastian who had been unwillingly betrothed to her by the emperor’s arrangement.
As he stood in the shadowed alley, Franz couldn’t help but imagine Odette as his own. If only Odette were mine. He gazed longingly at her window, envisioning a life filled with love and happiness. The twilight deepened into night, and the stars came out to twinkle in the sky. But just as the clear spring evening reached its peak, the curtains closed and Franz knew it was time to leave his reverie behind.
Franz realized that he was in deep trouble as he thought of his mother’s impending fury. Having sent his fiancé back early and disappearing without a trace, abandoning his car and driver, he knew he wouldn’t get away easily.
He strutted through the outskirts of town, trying to come up with a believable excuse. The sight of Odette’s illusion dissipating was soul-crushing, as it was hard to fathom such a gorgeous woman living in such a desolate place. He knew Bastian Klauswitz would never marry her.
Bastian Klauswitz would never marry Odette. He thought to himself. But as he crossed the Prater river bridge, he was overcome with the thrill of what once seemed impossible.
He envisioned Odette in a brilliant light, shining brightly in the darkness. This was a euphoric dream that he never wanted to wake up from.