✧When I Stand at the End of This Road✧
The ceremony was a simple one due to the war. She boarded the carriage with a waiting servant, the guard of honor omitted. The luxurious crest engraved on the carriage was the only hint of the royal event. Pulled by two white horses, it carried Odette from her town house to the royal palace. The people they passed by stopped and stared. By the time she reached the palace, there was a considerable crowd gathered.
Odette gazed out of the window as if caught in some wild dream. The familiar gatehouse and gardens felt more alien then they ever did before, especially when she thought about her mothers crown waiting for her at the end of the road.
The envoy had announced the Emperor’s edict to restore Princess Helene to her proper station. Odette never thought it was true, like it had been a whispered lie in the darkest corners of her mind. Even as the maid congratulated her, with teary eyes, and Count Xanders shaking her hand in congratulations.
“Congratulations, Odette, truly. You’ve received the best birthday gift of your life,” Countess Trier said.
“Thank you, Countess, but why would the Emperor do this?” Odette said. She looked at Countess Trier with eyes of a bright, young child.
‘One day we will return to our place.’
She had never dared even dream that her mothers wish would ever come true. Odette had always tried to push it from her mind, to forget about reaching the castles in the sky.
“Seeing the world fall apart is a tragedy, maybe the Emperor had a change of heart and wanted to forgive his sister,” Countess Trier said, trying her best to provide some comfort to Odette, but Odette knew that the Emperor was not a sentimental man. She would find out the reason once she meet her uncle.
As the carriage sped down Preve Avenue, signs of the holiday season appeared despite the war. Odette closed the curtain, not wanting to think about empty sentiments. Today was the day her mother’s wish would come true, and that was all she wanted to focus on.
“Congratulations, Admiral Klauswitz,” Admiral Ryan said as he affixed the new rank pins to Bastian’s lapels.
Bastian responded with a simple handshake and a salute. The applause from the soldiers and naval ratings around them became a roar of noise, marking the end of the promotion ceremony.
The Emperor bestowed the War Merit medal and a special promotion to the hero of the North Sea. Although there were concerns about the nature of the promotion, it was unheard of for a Major to be promoted directly to Admiral, most agreed that Bastian was well deserving. Besides, it was wartime, victory was more important than following conventional ruling.
“Do your best to be the admiral that safeguards the seas of the empire,” Admiral Ryan said, patting Bastian’s shoulder.
Bastian’s indifference to being the youngest admiral in naval history was absurd, but most chose to ignore it and celebrate on Bastian’s half. What was shaping up to be the final battle was drawing near. It was a crucial time to boost moral.
There were those that looked bitterly on Bastian’s fast track, stooping so low as to call Bastian a Mayfly Admiral. To most, especially amongst the junior ranks, Bastian had become nothing short of a deity of war, his promotion became a catalyst in which moral was boosted to exponential heights.
“An Admiral more popular than the commander-in-chief,” a general from the conservation faction muttered bitterly.
“Not only that, but they are even starting to call him the ‘Duke of Trosa.’ It wouldn’t surprise me if they promoted him above the Emperor himself, at this rate.”
“If you’re so opposed to it, why don’t you volunteer yourself up as bait. Breaking through Lovita’s defense, attacking Sher’s fleet, and luring the enemy to our trap at sea. Seems simple enough, right?” Admiral Demel said scornfully.
“Are you mocking me?”
“Not at all, I’m just giving sincere advice. If you’re so against the hero’s rise, why don’t you do it instead? Why don’t you step up and become the hero of Lovita?”
“Enough, even cats and dogs don’t fight as much as you two,” Admiral Ryan said, as he watched Bastian’s departing. “May the gods bless the empires new Admiral. He’s going to need all the help he can get.”
Princess Helene’s crown had finally found a new head to rest upon. Its new owner walked down the length of the red carpet, her head bowed in embarrassment a crowd of elders stood shoulder to shoulder to witness her ascension.
All eyes in the banquet hall turned to that spot. The restoration ceremony for Princess Helene was also a year-end party, with many guests besides the imperial family. Due to the young men being away at war, there were mostly elderly attendees.
“Helene’s tears have finally stopped,” Odette who was standing next to the emperor and waiting for her mother’s crown, heard one of the elderly ladies mutter under her breath.
Jewels in the royal family were always passed on to the next generation, all with one exception, the crown of Princess Helene. It was said that the jewel encrusted within the circle was cursed, so it had been locked away in the treasure trove, never to see the light of day until today.
The crown, made by a past emperor with top-quality jewels for his loving daughter, was locked in the imperial jewelry storage. It had gained the nickname “Helene’s Tears” due to its drop-shaped diamonds that resembled tears
The Emperor personally held out his sister’s crown, ready to rest it upon his niece’s head. Odette felt the weight of it and reality struck her. It was as if she had been plunged into the cold depths of the sea where Bastian was now fighting.
“I hereby recognise my sister, daughter of the empire, as princess of the empire once more. We hereby pass on her station to her daughter, Odette Theresia Marie-Laurie Charlotte Von Dyssen, who is now brought back into the folds of the royal family once more. Who is now heir to Princess Helene.”
Odette bowed, as was only proper in such a ceremony and the rest of the gathered masses applauded. The national anthem started playing. The once abandoned princess, known to all as the Beggar Princess, finally returned to claim her rightful place.
The banquet that followed was a far cry from the gaudy and over indulgent parties that would normally have been thrown on such an occasion. No one would have thought it was an end of year celebration. Dancing was prohibited, the food was very simple and the guest all wore simple dresses fit for mourning rather than celebrating.
Maximin watched Odette, who stuck out from the sea of mundane thanks to the glittering crown she now wore. Donning in a plain black velvet dress with a blue sash symbolizing the royal family, she was the star of the evening and so, impossible to approach. Deciding that it was probably for the best, Maximin turned away and went out onto the balcony. At least he was saved the embarrassment of rejection.
The winter garden was bathed in a rosy sunset, as events nowadays ended at dusk due to the curfew. On the day he proposed, news of her crowning was announced. He didn’t hear her answer due to circumstances, but felt no urge to ask again. He just regretted his impulsive proposal.
He barely got chance to enjoy the crisp evening air when a soft voice brought him back. “Sir Xanders?”
Maximin turned to see a radiant beauty before him. “Good evening, Lady Odette. Congratulations also.”
“Thank you. I just wanted to say, about that day, I’m sorry if my response comes too late.”
“It’s fine, it’s not your fault. I should never have brought it up, we can pretend that I had said nothing at all if you wish.”
“No, we can’t, I think it only polite that I should give you a proper answer, rather than leave the question hanging over our heads.”
“If that is your wish, Lady Odette.” Maximin felt his cheeks burn red.
“Sir Xanders, you are such a good person and I sincerely thank you for the kindness you have shown me over the years, but I’m not sure I could ever see you as more than just a friend. At least, I don’t think I would like to risk my friendship with you,” Odette said calmly. After Maximin poured his heart out to her, her mind raced to the past, and realized that his kindness and care towards her went beyond mere friendship.
She had always seen him as a good person, because he’s Alma’s father. Because they’re friends. But as she peeled back the layers of excuses she had made for their relationship, the truth began to reveal itself.
There was an undeniable affection that had been suppressed and disguised as friendship and camaraderie. How had she not seen it before? Bastian must have known all along, and a deep sense of shame and guilt wash over her. It made her feel disloyal to both him and Maximin, and there was no excuse for her ignorance.
“That is understandable, even if its not true love, at least we can still be friends, companions, as we have always been,” Maximin said. Odette nodded with a weak smile on her lips.
“You’re right, Sir Xanders. If I had been thinking of remarrying, I might have given you a different answer, but I like things the way they are right now.”
Maximin von Xanders would make the perfect husband she had dreamed of. She could see them spending their lives in blissful happiness, even if it wasn’t fueled by passionate love. A comfortable companionship and a solid family for Alma, just enjoying each other’s warmth.
But her mind wandered could never forget Bastian. She couldn’t bear the thought of betraying her feelings for him by settling for someone else.
“Is it perhaps because of Major Klauswitz?” Maximin said warily. Odette did not answer and looked away. “I see. I understand, Odette. I respect you and your decision.”
“I’m sorry, Count Xanders.” Odette turned to go back into the banquet hall.
“Please, wait a moment.”
Maximin felt like their friendship had shifted drastically because of his rash actions. He wanted to preserve his honour and wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if he ended things in such a painful manner.
Taking a deep breath, Maximin stood up straight before Odette and took a deep breath. “There’s something I need to say, about Major Klauswitz.”