Casimir slowed to a jog as he made his way up the steps to the palace and attempted to even out his breathing. He pulled the doors wide open and stormed in, picking a stray leaf off his hair as he went.
Casimir looked up to find Maude in the foyer, feather duster forgotten in her limp hand. He shook his head. “Not at all. I’m heading back out now. I just wanted to keep you all updated.”
Casimir had been furiously combing every inch of the woods for the past two days in a desperate attempt to find Odette. He had begun to blame himself for not being honest with her, being so rude…all the things that led her to run away again.
“You’re not going anywhere without some food, young man!”
Cherie descended the stairs, brushing stray flour off of her apron.
“I’m sorry, Cherie – I don’t have time to sit and eat. I’m leaving now.”
“You are absolutely not, young man!” Cherie chastised. “Not without something to fill that stomach. You’re a growing boy!”
Casimir groaned and massaged his temple.
“I’ll have Ming prepare a to-go bag,” Cherie muttered as she walked away.
Odette shivered as she added another log to the dwindling fire. The temperature dropped drastically as night fell, and Odette found herself constantly cold as a result. She had tried everything she could think of to escape – smashing out the small fragments of the stained-glass window, screaming at the top of her lungs, breaking down the door, unscrewing the hinges…nothing seemed to work. Though old, the cabin had clearly been build to withstand a siege. As she laid on the uncomfortable cot, Odette swore she could hear her name echoing through the woods.
As Odette was getting ready to slam her already bruised shoulder into the door again, footsteps stopped her. They were coming closer, but stayed steady in their casual rhythm. With a look back at the dying fire, Odette scrambled to kneel behind the bed. Whoever was about to come in wouldn’t take kindly to finding another person here, whether they were the owner or just a squatter.
The lock on the outside of the door clicked, and the door swung inwards. A man with paint smeared across his face strode in and immediately came to stand by the fire. He held his hands out to the flames, rubbing them sporadically. Odette stifled a gasp as the man smiled in pleasure.
She knew that smirk.
Odette tried to stealthily crawl out of her hiding place and towards the door, taking care not to upset the many objects littering the floor. Before she could get past the end of the bed, the man whipped around. He locked eyes with Odette and opened his hand, revealing a small object on his palm. This time, Odette gasped out loud. She had seen that object, months and months ago, in the palm of this very man.
“As I said before, Miss Champagne. The moonstone is the stone of intuition. Did you really think I wouldn’t notice you sneaking off into the night? And without a goodbye!”
Odette moved to the door as quickly as she could, but Emiliano was faster.
“Uh uh,” he teased, wagging a finger. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your…unexpected visit?”
“You live in the town!” Odette stumbled. “What are you doing out here?”
“I’m a man of wanderlust, Miss Champagne. I could never stay in one place for long.”
“Or with one woman,” Odette muttered.
Though Emiliano tried to play off the insult, Odette could tell she’d struck a nerve. His fist clenched as he shoved the moonstone into one of his many pockets.
“And to answer your question, I didn’t ask to be here.” She continued. “I was kidnapped.”
“Kidnapped?” Emiliano said with a tinge of surprise in his voice. “By whom, pray tell?”
“A man who I once thought to be decent.”
“That doesn’t narrow the pool, darling,” Emiliano chuckled darkly. “Where have you been all these months? The whole town believes you’re dead.”
“Yet you don’t seem surprised to see me breathing.”
“Oh no, dear. I would have felt your death. It’s a…talent of mine.”
“If you must know, I was at a castle. I took my father’s place when he made a mistake.”
“How noble. An awful thing that he doesn’t remember.”
Odette’s jaw dropped as she placed a delicate hand on her heart. “He what?”
“He doesn’t remember. Amnesia, probably. Shame he didn’t come see me about it – a snakeskin agate would have him right as rain.”
“Sure,” Odette mumbled. “So, can I go? I don’t want to impose.”
“Oh, of course!” Emiliano said, reaching for the door. A bubble of hope welled up in Odette before his hand froze. “Will you tell me something before you go?”
“Sure,” Odette conceded.
“You said you were staying at a castle, but I’ve never heard of such a thing existing in our woods. Who owns it?”
With thoughts of escape swirling in her mind, Odette gave the answer easily. “Casimir. I believe his last name is D’Vaile.”
Emiliano slammed a fist against the door. “That bastard!”
Odette blinked in surprise. “You know him?”
“Ha!” Emiliano barked. “Know him? That’s putting it lightly. Casimir and I go…way back.”
“Whatever he did, I’m sure he regrets it now,” Odette said lightly. “He still carries burdens of his past with him, I can see it. Casimir still snaps, but I think he’s come a long way from who he was.”
“Sounds like you know a lot about him.”
Odette hid her own surprise. She didn’t know she had felt that way about him, but Odette found herself realizing all of it was true. “I guess I do.”
“And what was the name of the man who kidnapped you?”
“Jean-Luc,” Odette said cautiously.
Emiliano threw his head back in laughter. “That old crow? I always knew he’d crack!”
“Wait, how do you know Casimir and Jean-Luc?”
Emiliano stopped laughing and bowed dramatically, taking off his hat as he did. “Forgive me, it seems as if I have forgotten my manners. I’m Prince Elric D’Vaile, heir to the D’Vaile monarchy.”