April Fools has been a few days ago, but this year we didn't plan a prank. Instead, we wanted to write another short story that ties into Brassica.
As these things tend to go with us, we underestimated how long writing it would take, so we've only just finished it this weekend. Primarily because it ended up being about four times as long as our Valentine's Short Story from 2019...
In any case, without further ado, here is "A Day of Avril," a short story focusing on a younger Prince Hans and a mischievous princess named Avril:
On the first day of the fourth month, almost a full decade ago, the rulers of all kingdoms allied with Auxtome convened to discuss and negotiate matters that were of little interest to a certain adolescent princess named Avril. Matters like infrastructure, trade agreements, and other things that made her yawn just at the thought.
Within Poisson, her country, the princess was quite famous for being energetic and mischievous, rather fitting with the deep red color of her hair. But no one minded because she was also aware of her duties and never failed to fulfill them. Still, full days of economic discussions were just about last on the list of things Avril wanted to spend her time with.
Thankfully, her parents were the ones attending the conference. She only accompanied them to make her debut among all the young royals that would be at the palace. And while that too had its downsides as far as she was concerned, the prospect of spending two weeks in Auxtome and meeting new, possibly interesting people still left her excited.
Their carriage was passing through Auxtome’s capital, its streets adorned with flowers and decorated festively to welcome the esteemed guests from all around the continent. Even as her mother spoke to her, Avril could hardly tear her eyes from the window.
“The conference begins right after we arrive, but the crown prince of this land, Prince Hans, has volunteered to give all young royals a tour of the palace. He is about your age. I trust you will dress… appropriately for the occasion?”
Avril had no need to look at her mother to recognize the look she was giving her, and the meaning it was meant to convey.
“Of course mother, I have brought garments suitable for every occasion,” she replied.
“Good,” her mother acknowledged, pleased, and turned back to her husband now that they were nearing the palace grounds.
Avril smiled to herself. An entire day without her parents or retainers promised to be delightful. And she had a plan to make the most of all the possibilities that were already racing through her mind.
Atop the foyer stairs of his family’s palace, Prince Hans was waiting for his guests long before the first one arrived; his posture sublime and his smile well practiced. At only 13 summers he was quite young to be given such an important duty, but he had long established himself as reliable and well-versed in social affairs. Next to him stood his half-brother, Lorens, a few years younger and much more prone to show it. Hans didn’t dislike him per se, but it was always exhausting to have him near during official business. Or when he wanted some quiet. To his relief, he would only stay through the greeting.
All around the room were attendants to aid the guests and lead them to their quarters before escorting the princes and princesses back once the tour was set to begin.
“Could you quit your fidgeting?” Hans asked his half-brother as he glanced to the side. “You’re representing our family today, just what would our guests think of us if they saw you right now?”
Lorens sighed deeply and tried his best to copy Hans’ demeanor.
“But no one’s here yet. It’s tiring to stand still for so long.”
“Practice makes perfect,” Hans replied sternly. “You’ll learn to endure before long.”
Before long unfortunately only described how long it took for Lorens to forget his discipline again. But Hans was used to this.
As the first guests arrived, Hans stepped down the stairs for the greeting and raised his charm to the max. Lorens remained in his shadow, politely participating in the greeting but drawing little attention. Although he didn’t show it, Hans felt quite relieved.
The guests were so plentiful that even the astute crown prince had trouble remembering all their faces and names immediately, but he knew there would be a second greeting once all the young royals assembled for the palace tour, and the coming days left enough time to memorize all the names of their parents.
And thus, the time for the tour quickly arrived!
About a dozen young royals now gathered in the foyer, from nearly just as many kingdoms; one of them from the kingdom of Radix and another, the youngest prince hailing from Theotherkingdom. Although Hans couldn’t seem to remember his name, or face, no matter how hard he tried.
The last royal to introduce themselves was one with hair as deeply red as cherries, who was dressed in clothes so dashing that even Hans felt a hint of jealousy.
“I am Avril of Poisson. Pleased to make your acquaintance, everyone.”
“Likewise, Prince Avril. Thank you for joining us today,” Hans smoothly replied and proceeded to announce the schedule for the day.
Unbeknownst to him, Avril smiled to herself that her deception was a success. Everyone seemed to share Prince Hans’ impression that she was a prince—a boy—and while she felt no desire to be one for more than a few hours, Avril was quite thrilled to spend the day as the other princes’ equal and not a potential future bride.
With the introduction out of the way, Hans lost no time to begin the tour, leading the group of royals past every notable part of the palace. As such, it went on for quite a while!
As he talked about his home and its long history, Hans couldn’t hide his pride. He made sure not to ramble, still there was no shortage of anecdotes coming from the young prince. Most of his guests seemed quite captivated. But Avril felt her boredom reach critical mass.
“And here we have our palace’s library,” Hans continued, elegantly gesturing towards it, ever unaware of the princess’s disinterest. “No other library in the entire kingdom, maybe even the world, has such an extensive collection of magic tomes. Some of them are so rare and powerful, that they are locked within a separate chamber.”
For the first time since the tour started, Avril’s ears perked up.
“Not even I am allowed to enter it, but rest assured, the rest of the library is still as exciting as it is stunning.”
The tour continued and Hans led everyone past the royal family’s private chambers, through luxuriant halls filled to the brim with paintings of all the noble figures of Auxtome’s history, and many more attractions until they reached one of the larger banquet halls the palace housed. Prince Hans turned to his guests, an unwavering smile still on his face.
“Now then, I’m sure all this walking on top of your travels has left you with quite an appetite. Our chefs have prepared all of our kingdom’s finest specialties, so eat to your heart’s content. If there is anything you need, our attendants will be right at your service.”
As he wrapped up the tour and exchanged some more pleasantries with a few of the other royals, Hans looked around to make sure that everything was in order.
The first thing he noticed was the absence of his half-brother. He had been sure Lorens would have joined again by the time food was served. Not least of all because Lorens’ mother probably urged him to build connections with the other kingdoms’ royals.
And then Hans realized that a certain red-haired prince was missing as well.
Politely excusing himself from the conversation, Hans beckoned his personal attendant over.
“Say, have you seen Prince Avril?” he whispered so no one else would hear.
“No, my lord. By the time we reached the banquet hall, he was already gone.”
Just for a second, Hans furrowed his brow.
“And you thought not to inform me of this? We have to find him immediately!”
The attendant apologetically bowed, but Hans was already rushing towards the door, slowing down halfway as he realized the others might notice something was wrong if he didn’t.
His pace quickened again as soon as he was out of sight. As he backtracked the path they took to the hall, Hans looked around, growing tenser by the second. If something had happened, it would be his responsibility.
A commotion near the library finally drew his attention. Most of all, a voice he knew well.
“Lorens? What is going on here?” Hans asked as he saw the younger prince standing inside the library, shaking, surrounded by a group of tense looking guards.
Lorens’ face lit up as he saw the other.
“Brother! You need to stop them!”
Hans shot a questioning glance towards the guard closest to him who gulped, before stumbling over his words.
“M-my Lord, it is not how it looks. We heard a sound within the forbidden section of the library and came looking for an intruder, only to find that one tome is missing.”
He hesitated, glancing over to his fellow guards who were suddenly immensely captivated by the floor.
“A-and Prince Lorens right next to where it should have been.”
Hans sighed and slowly turned to his brother, raising a brow.
“I didn’t take it!” Lorens protested, immediately understanding the unspoken question.
“You heard him,” Hans said to the guard, primarily out of a sense of obligation. “You don’t intend to question the word of a prince, do you?”
“O-of course not!” replied the guard. “We never suspected Prince Lorens, but we still have to inform the king and queen of the missing book and his trespassing.”
Now it dawned on Hans what his half-brother wanted him to stop. Once more he turned to Lorens, who he’d never seen with such a pleading look on his face. For a moment Hans thought about what he would say. Then he turned back to the guard.
“I shall give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you mean to fulfill your duty, but all such a report will accomplish is that it draws attention to the fact that someone could steal one of our most prized artifacts from right under your noses. You’ll be lucky if you just lose your jobs.”
The guards flinched.
“But what should we do then, my Lord? Hiding the theft would surely be worse!”
“Isn’t that obvious? Search for the thieves! Who knows how far they might have gotten during all this time you wasted here.”
“Y-yes! Of course!”
The guards frantically spread out to search the area, leaving the princes on their own.
“Thank you, brother! I knew you would help me,” Lorens chirped.
“It was nothing. Had you been more confident, you could have solved this on your own; don’t forget that you are a prince!”
The younger prince’s enthusiasm dampened a little, but he nodded in understanding.
“So what were you doing in the forbidden part of the library?” Hans asked, his suspicion that Lorens might have taken the book not entirely quelled.
“I just… I wanted to learn. I’m not making any progress with my magic training.” Lorens quietly replied, a pout forming on his face. “The books there are about powerful magic, right?”
“They are. But that’s hardly where you should look for knowledge if you are struggling with the basics. Now let’s get you out of here.”
Hans didn’t wait for a reply before turning around and walking out of the library.
Lorens only hesitated for a moment, still he had to run to catch up with his brother.
“Wait, where are we going?” he asked, slightly out of breath.
“Your room. If there’s a criminal on the loose, you shouldn’t stroll around the castle on your own.”
The young prince stopped in his tracks, visibly displeased at the notion of having to remain in his room for a yet undetermined amount of time, but he continued to follow without complaints.
Once his half-brother was within his chambers, Hans turned back to the door only to be held up by a hesitant voice.
“What about you?” Lorens asked.
“I’ll have to take care of our guests until the situation is resolved.”
“That’s not fair, I want to help, too!” the younger prince protested.
Hans looked at the other, giving him as much of a sympathetic smile as he could muster.
“You’ll help me by staying out of trouble.”
“Okay…” Lorens relented.
Back in the hallway, Hans gestured the guards to lock the door to Lorens’ private quarters.
While it hadn’t been a lie that Hans worried about his
half-brother being on his own while an intruder roamed the palace, it
was only true in the case that Lorens himself wasn’t the thief.
Locking him in for the time being was sure to avoid further problems
in either case. Hans was quite pleased with his pragmatic decision. But the
issue of the vanished Prince Avril still weighed on his mind, so Hans
hurried back to the banquet hall. In the best case, Avril had joined
the others by now. And even if not, Hans couldn’t stay away for too
long or it would reflect badly on his hospitality.
Prince Hans did his best to appear more composed than he felt as he strode through the doors into the hall. The other royals seemed to enjoy the buffet, and there were no signs that anyone had caught wind of the commotion at the library.
Stifling a sigh of relief, Hans joined in with the crowd just to be seen, hoping his brief absence hadn’t been noticed by too many. He had barely finished a first round through the room when something red caught his attention from the corner of his eye.
Avril was back.
Making sure to appear unfazed, Hans approached her.
“Prince Avril, we haven’t had the pleasure of conversing since our greeting. I hope the tour was to your liking?”
Avril smiled at him, a hint of mischief in her eyes, but Hans didn’t seem to notice.
“Oh yes, it was quite long, but your palace is impressive indeed.”
Hans relaxed at her words, sure she would have said something if her brief absence would have been due to unpleasant reasons.
“The library especially,” Avril added, looking into Hans’ eyes just a little too deeply, a knowing grin on her face.
Confusion overcame the prince. Was Avril insinuating that she saw what happened there? Or might she be the culprit?
“That’s true, the library is among my favorites as well,” Prince Hans said, for the first time struggling to keep up his smile. “Would you like to visit it again? Maybe pick up a book or two?”
Hans failed to hide the silent accusation within his questions, leaving Avril visibly amused.
“Why, that sounds wonderful. Another book would certainly do no harm.”
Now Hans was sure that she was toying with him, but without proof he could not accuse her so lightly.
“Great, just give me a moment, then we can leave.”
Hans gracefully stepped on a small stage near the buffet, usually used for musicians, and it didn’t take long until all royals in the room had their eyes on him.
“My esteemed guests, I hope the food was to your liking. From now until dinner, you are free to spend your time however you like. You can return to your quarters or enjoy some recreation at one of the many facilities you have seen today. If there is anything on your mind, do not hesitate to approach me or the attendants that will be serving you for the duration of your stay.”
As soon as it was socially acceptable for Hans to leave, he returned to Avril, who he had never let out of his vision.
“Well then, shall we go?” he asked, his smile more forced than usual.
The walk towards the library was tense. Should Hans be mistaken, an accusation of this scale would surely cause heavy repercussions not just for him but potentially their standing with Poisson as well. If he was right though…
They passed Lorens’ quarters, and a thought made Hans stop in his tracks. Did his half-brother maybe see Avril in the library? Was he not the thief but a witness, perhaps?
“My apologies, I just remembered that I have to ask my brother about something. It will only take a second.”
Tensely, Hans made the guards unlock the door and stepped into the room. But the prince he was looking for was nowhere to be seen.
“Lorens?” Hans called out as he looked around the room. “Now is not the time to play tricks, I need to speak with you!”
Avril followed him into the room and promptly walked towards the bed.
“Hey, what’s that?” she asked, holding up an old-looking book and feigning ignorance.
Hans paled on the spot. It was a tome he had never seen before. Surely the one that was stolen!
His mind was racing. So was Lorens the culprit after all? Did he escape somehow after realizing that Hans still suspected him? But then why was the book still here…
The grin on Avril’s face ultimately told Hans the truth.
“It was you, wasn’t it?!” he let slip more bluntly than he had ever spoken to another and immediately covered his mouth in panic.
Avril simply laughed.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she teased and started flipping through the book.
“Stop that! What have you done with Lorens?”
Hans slowly regained his confidence now that he was sure he found the thief, but her casual demeanor still confused him deeply.
“Nothing. I just took pity on the poor boy. Locked away by his own brother, it was quite heartbreaking to watch.”
“Half-brother. And this room is certainly not a prison!”
Avril closed the book and stepped closer to Hans.
“You're right, breaking him out wasn’t even difficult.”
Hans gasped at the ease with which Avril admitted breaking into a prince’s quarters and taking him away.
“Where have you taken him? What do you want? Money? Is this a scheme to gain the upper hand in the negotiations?”
Avril’s smile briefly faded before she burst into laughter.
“Why are you always so serious? No wonder the tour was duller than Poisson’s tundras. I just want to have some fun!”
Hans blinked in confusion.
“Fun? This is a game to you? Stealing an ancient artifact and abducting a prince are grave matters!”
Avril sighed theatrically and tossed the book over to Hans, who clumsily caught it before checking frantically if it was undamaged.
“Relax. I never meant to keep it, and your brother is just fine. He even went with me voluntarily.”
“Of course he did,” Hans cursed under his breath but felt some relief that Avril seemed to harbor no malicious intent. Her actions caused him a major headache nonetheless.
“Well, fine. I’d be willing to let all this be bygones if you just tell me where he is.”
Disappointment showed on Avril’s face.
“What? But it just got interesting…”
She fidgeted a little, clearly reluctant to say anything more. Hans remained stern.
“Alright, I give in,” she eventually said. “He’s at the top of the eastern watchtower.”
“Atop the—” Hans blurted out, unbelieving, but quickly found his composure again. “That is absurd. You would have never managed to take him there in such a short amount of time.”
A hint of a smile reappeared on Avril’s face.
“Are you sure? I also broke into the forbidden part of the library and this room with no one noticing. I’m quite skilled~”
Hans opened his mouth to retort, but paused. Avril was right, she had already done what he believed to be impossible. At least a chance that Lorens was really in the tower existed.
“Fine, but you’ll come with me. I won’t let you out of my sight again until this is resolved!”
A broad grin spread across Avril’s face.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Prince Hans did his best not to complain as they ascended the stairs of the eastern watchtower. Not just because it took them minutes and climbing stairs wasn’t exactly his favorite pastime, but because Avril kept whistling a cheerful song. Drifting slightly off-key every other bar, and he could tell it was on purpose.
Two flights below the top, he lost his patience.
“Is it your goal to torment me, Prince Avril, or is there a deeper meaning in this noise I just can’t see?”
“Prince Hans, how could you insinuate such a thing!” Avril replied, acting playfully hurt. “I simply like the echo within this tower. And the face you make when you’re trying to hide your annoyance~”
Hans paused and turned to Avril.
“What face?” he asked, genuinely unsure.
“This one,” Avril said cheerfully. “The fake smile you just barely manage to keep up. Unless someone looks you in the eyes for too long, or notices that it’s just a facade, or maybe both, and—”
“Enough!” Hans shouted—his face bright red—and turned away. “I don’t know what I did to you to deserve this, but please cease this mockery.”
For once Avril stayed quiet and the two of them silently continued their climb. Shortly before they reached the top, she softly spoke up.
“There is no deeper meaning. And I’m not trying to torment you. I simply thought you could benefit from loosening up a little.”
“Loosen up?” Hans asked unbelieving. “I’m the crown prince of this land, such a luxury isn’t within my grasp.”
“See, that’s why you’re so boring,” Avril said and passed Hans, who had stopped on the stairs. “Being the crown prince is all the more reason to let loose any chance you get. As long as you fulfill your duties, no one can even get mad at you.”
“And just what would you understand of—” Hans began to retort as he followed Avril up the stairs, but then they reached the top of the tower.
Which was utterly empty?
“You lied to me!” Hans complained as he stomped up the last few steps. “Lorens was never here, was he?!”
“How mean! I think I just misremembered. Maybe he was in the western watchtower?”
For just a second Hans contemplated the possibility, but he had given the red-haired royal the benefit of the doubt too many times already.
“Oh no, I won’t believe another word you say! You sent me on a wild goose chase for nothing but your own enjoyment.”
“I think a wild goose would be much harder to catch than that docile little brother of yours,” Avril replied matter-of-factly.
Prince Hans stared at her for a moment, overflowing with a powerful mixture of anger, annoyance, and a few other emotions he had trouble deciphering this very second.
“You… I… gah!”
Without another word, he stormed off as Avril burst into laughter behind him.
He could hear her follow down behind him not long after, and even as he sped up, she suddenly appeared right next to him.
“Wait up, where are you going?”
“Downstairs,” Hans grumbled, not keen to be roped into yet another of her pranks.
“Aw, but you didn’t even take in the view, it’s quite stunning.”
“I know, I live here.”
Avril fell back a few steps as she noticed his disdain, but she wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. Maybe I overdid it a little. How about I tell you if you’re getting closer to your brother’s location to make up for it?”
Hans quietly contemplated her suggestion. Of course it could be another ploy to make him run in circles. Still, maybe Avril really was remorseful and if he had to search the entire palace anyway…
“Very well, my prince. But if I sense so much as the hint of a lie, I’ll inform our parents of your misdeeds today.”
Avril promptly picked up pace and caught up to him.
“That won’t happen, promise!”
Hans wasn’t entirely sure if it was the first time he had seen the other royal smile without any kind of mischief in mind or if he just hadn’t seen her smile so up close, but he felt a lightness in his stomach that he had trouble rationalizing.
He couldn’t like her; not like that. Especially because she was a boy! Or so he thought. It was quite the confusing situation for the young prince.
The two of them had soon searched the entire eastern half of the palace. Avril did little but nudging the other prince into a different direction when he appeared to be stuck, but she thoroughly enjoyed their unconventional game of hide and seek. Hans on the other hand grew ever more flustered to spend so much time alone with the red-haired prince. His mind was racing, trying to come up with explanations for the surge of new feelings he experienced while they were in close proximity.
As time went on, his searching became less and less thorough, eventually just boiling down to a question of “Is he around here?” that was always answered with a simple “No.”
When he grew tired, Hans sat down in one of the palace’s lounges and Avril slouched down next to him with posture so unbecoming of a royal, it was almost offensive to Hans. As if out of reflex, he straightened his own to be even more perfect.
“Say, are you sure you’re not a peasant who just happened to sneak into this tour?”
Avril looked shocked, or maybe just surprised, but she heartily laughed before replying.
“So your silver tongue does have some edge to it. If I pester you a little more, do you think you might permanently lose that stick up your a—”
Hans jumped up, a distraught look on his face.
“Prince Avril, don’t utter such a vulgar word within this palace!”
“So if we go outside, it would be okay?” she asked, amused.
“Well, I mean…”
As many other times this day, Hans was at a loss for words. He still wasn’t used to this feeling. No one else had ever made him feel like he wasn’t in control, and the more it happened, the more unsure he was if he truly despised it.
He took a deep breath.
“I don’t know? Get your a-ass outside and try it if you want.”
The deep blush that appeared on Hans’ face was about as amusing to Avril as the words that caused it, but most of all she enjoyed watching him lose the need to always be proper. Some might call her a bad influence, but she truly believed she was doing him a favor. And herself. Because her day had become significantly more enjoyable since coaxing the crown prince out of his shell.
“Shouldn’t we find your brother first?”
Hans’ expression darkened slightly.
“We’ve already searched almost the entire palace, and all remaining rooms are off limits. Besides, what need do you have for finding him? You know exactly where he is!”
Avril feigned mulling over his words.
“Off limits? Just which rooms might you be talking about?”
A realization dawned on Hans, and he didn’t like it one bit.
“Oh no, you didn’t,” he whispered sharply before storming out of the room, his destination more than clear.
“Did what?” Avril asked innocently as she jogged up to him.
“Don’t act like you don’t know, you’ve hidden him in my personal quarters, haven’t you? The one place no one but me and a select few servants are allowed to enter!”
“If you put it like that, it makes me want to go there all the more~”
Without another word, Hans hurried to his room. The guards were still in place, and normally he wouldn’t have believed that anyone could get past them, but as he stepped inside he saw… Lorens. Lying on Hans’ most luxurious carpet surrounded by a pile of his magic books.
“Brother!” Lorens happily exclaimed on reflex before his expression turned sullen. “You found me.”
“Of course I have! But what were you thinking, hiding in my quarters?”
“Prince Avril told me to. He said he’d let me look through the stolen book if you didn’t find me.”
Upon hearing this explanation, Hans shot an angry glare towards Avril, who sheepishly smiled back at him.
“You should know better than to take part in such foolish ploys! Don’t you realize that he simply used you; made you complicit in his crimes?”
“No offense,” he added towards Avril before questioning just who he was angry at.
“I’m sorry,” Lorens grumbled and got up from the pile of books. “I just want to become a better mage. Like you.”
The words got stuck in Hans’ throat, but he had no chance to reply anyway, as Avril stepped in.
“Aw, you can’t get angry at him, can you? He just wants to be more like his big brother!”
“W-well, there are better ways to go about that,” Hans deflected, still flustered.
“Why don’t you teach him? You even have that special book with you.”
Just then Hans realized he was still clutching the book Avril stole from the library. He went through multiple stages of panic that others might now think he was the thief before concluding that no one else in the palace would even know what the book looked like.
“It is not yet my place to teach,” Hans said sternly.
Avril now joined Lorens to put on her best puppy eyes.
“Aw, please, just a little. I wanna see some magic, too.”
It took quite a bit of begging, but eventually the two of them wore Hans down.
“Okay, fine! But I’ll just go over the basics. We need to return the book before my parents hear of its absence.”
A celebratory cheer went through Hans’ chambers and its perpetrators expectantly sat down on the chaise longue. Hans began reciting what his magic instructor taught him years ago, much to Avril’s disappointment who had expected a much more hands-on presentation.
“In essence, the core of magic is to manifest a will, and turn it into reality. Our world, however, does not allow its balance to be upset. Anything you gain will be taken away in equal measure. Estimating these risks is the greatest skill a mage can have.”
The only one still captivated by Hans’ lecture at that point was Lorens. But even his enthusiasm dampened when the words sank in.
“Wait, no matter what you do, there will be downsides to your spells?” he asked, for the first time grasping this most basic concept their magic entailed.
“Indeed, though not all consequences are negative per se.”
The younger prince seemed to think for a moment, only to get up, suddenly looking rather bored.
“Hm, I’m not sure if I want to be a mage then. I’m gonna get some food.”
And with that, he was gone. Hans stared at the door, both caught off guard and somehow unsurprised that his half-brother would be so quick to give up for such a half-hearted reason.
Avril stifled a laugh but spoke no further of Lorens’ sudden departure.
“What a fool,” Hans mumbled to himself. “But maybe I’m the fool for expecting any different.”
“Well, to be honest, you didn’t exactly make magic sound exciting,” Avril said and promptly yawned. “Can’t you just show off a spell or two? That’d be much more fun than all that boring theory!”
Hans sighed and began returning all the books that were strewn around the room back to the shelf Lorens took them from.
“There are no spells, like you’d find them in fairy tales. The technique is always the same, just the will you manifest differs. Of course, the difficulty increases the more complex said will is, but—”
“Then show me that!” Avril interrupted him, her excitement rekindled. “Do you think I could learn it, too?”
Hans hesitated as he looked at Avril, who stood so close to him he thought he could feel the warmth of her smile. He averted his gaze, a soft blush on his face.
“W-well, if you have talent, it might very well be possible.”
The crown prince proceeded to explain the basic technique he spoke of and showed her an application of it that had no significant downsides: making a piece of paper float through the air. Upon completion of the spell, it would simply fall to the ground where it would remain for as long as it floated previously.
As simple as it was, Avril was delighted. Hans even made it fly in ornate patterns, which made her want to try it all the more. For a while that was all the two did, Avril concentrating on her will and the piece of paper she meant to free from gravity’s effect, while Hans observed, correcting her form and giving advice from time to time.
“There! I think it just moved!” Avril exclaimed excitedly, but what little distance the paper may have floated upwards became nothing again right that instant.
“Don’t let up your focus. A half-manifested will harbors unpredictable dangers!” Hans said, still deep in his instructor role.
They continued for a short while longer, but Avril could not repeat her earlier success.
“This is harder than I thought…” she grumbled as she sank down to take a break.
“Don’t fret, most magic novices need at least a month before they first see any kind of success,” Hans tried to comfort her. “Still, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we really need to return the book! Dinner is only an hour away.”
“Alright, alright, just give me the book and I’ll put it back.”
Avril got up again to reach for the stolen tome, but Hans quickly grabbed it.
“Oh no, I’ll go with you. I won’t leave you on your own with this book again!”
“I can’t break into the library if I have to take you with me,” she retorted slightly irked that he still didn’t trust her. Though she couldn’t fault him either…
“Why not? How have you broken in, anyway?”
“Duh, I climbed in through the window,” Avril replied as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
At first Hans thought she was joking. But as she quietly looked on, it dawned on him she spoke the truth.
“Through the window?! Do you know how far up we are?”
Now it was Avril’s turn to look at him in disbelief.
“Yes? But if you don’t lock your windows, that’s still the easiest way inside.”
“Well, I will not risk my neck by clambering up the palace walls! We’ll have to sneak in through the door.”
“Fine, but don’t blame me if we get caught,” Avril relented and took Hans by the hand to lead him out of the room. Hans hardly managed to form even a single coherent thought until she let go again.
By the time they reached the library, most guards that Hans had sent to search for the thief had returned to their positions. They didn’t think twice about Hans entering the room or even about the book he was carrying, but going through the door to the forbidden section would be another story.
Hans led Avril to a part of the library where they were on their own to think of a plan.
“And if I try to distract them?” she suggested.
“That won’t work. They’re more alert than usual, so at least some would remain at the door.”
“Then I’m out of ideas. Why don’t you just use magic?”
By now Hans knew Avril well enough to realize she wasn’t joking, but the idea still seemed absurd to him.
“Magic? I may as well stab a knife into my leg right here and now. Who knows what may happen if I just willed this book back to its rightful place.”
“I didn’t say to teleport it back, we could just turn ourselves invisible and walk right past the guards.”
Prince Hans drew breath to object, but as he thought about it, he had to admit that the idea wasn’t half-bad. He cleared his throat as he composed himself again and calmly replied.
“Very well, I still don’t like the risk, but we may as well try.”
He had never attempted to turn invisible before, but it shouldn’t pose any more problems than another form of transmutation. As he began to put a spell on them, Avril joined in, following through with what she had learned earlier. Whether it actually helped was hard to discern, but soon they were invisible! Even to each other.
“It worked!” Hans exclaimed, unable to hide his excitement at the success. “But I can’t see you, Prince Avril. M-may I hold your hand again? Just… to know where you are?”
He half expected her to laugh, but instead he felt her hand reaching out to him. The prince clumsily took it, and the two made their way to the door of the forbidden part of the library.
Hans’ heart was pounding as they sneaked past the guards, not just because of stress. To his relief, the spell held up, and they made it inside with no problem. Avril lead him to the shelf she had stolen the book from, and Hans quietly returned it.
“That wasn’t so difficult now, was it?” she whispered.
“N-no,” Hans replied, ever conscious of her hand in his. “Now let’s return before we’re visible again.”
No longer than it took to go back, were they invisible, and Hans let out a sigh of relief as they reappeared. Avril let go of his hand, and as disappointed as he was, he felt quite glad too because his own had started to become rather clammy.
“That was fun!” Avril said with her usual carefree smile that no longer irritated Hans.
“Indeed, it was,” he admitted truthfully. He couldn’t remember when last he felt so free of his princely burdens. “Now shall we get ready for dinner? I feel rather peckish.”
To that Avril agreed quite readily, and for the first time in
hours, they parted ways to each go to their quarters.
For once, Hans wasn’t the first to arrive. It took him quite a while to pick out his outfit, since he wanted to impress. More than usual. He was only apart from Avril for a short while, but it made him realize something that had crept up on him the entire day. He felt drawn to this prince. Like he had never felt before. And even at the risk of sullying his reputation as a perfect crown prince, he wanted to confess to him just what he felt.
The hall was already filled with many royals, even more than earlier that day, since even the adults were present now. As he looked around hopefully, he couldn’t find who he was looking for. His heart ached a little as he strolled across the room, turning his head towards anything red he spotted. But it was never the prince he longed to see.
Just as he began to doubt if Avril was even there, he felt a gently tap on his shoulder. His hope renewed, he spun around and saw… a girl. In a dress more beautiful than he had ever seen. A girl with deep red hair and a smile he would never mistake for someone else's.
“P-prince… Avril?” he hesitantly asked.
“Princess. But otherwise, yes,” she said cheerfully.
Hans still couldn’t believe his eyes.
“B-but, earlier you were—”
“Wearing more practical clothes. It’s not that easy to climb in a dress, and I didn’t want all the princes to approach me during the tour.”
Prince Hans nervously swallowed. Just as he accepted having fallen in love with a boy, Avril sprung yet another surprise on him! But his feelings hadn’t changed. Unlike his assumptions of who he felt attracted to.
“So… have you no interest in being approached at all?” Hans asked and blushed further as he realized how transparent his question was.
Avril raised a brow but still appeared cheerful.
“What, you’ve seen me in a dress for just a minute and already feel the need to confess to me?”
“N-no! That need was there even before!” Hans blurted out and quickly looked around if anyone had overheard.
Avril laughed warmly.
“So it wasn’t my imagination then. I suppose I don’t mind if it’s you who expresses interest~”
The relief Prince Hans felt was immense. He once again composed himself and looked at Avril, who suddenly seemed even prettier than before. Hans could hardly tear his eyes from her. So much so that…
“Oh no,” he whispered as he realized. “Our spell from the library… I’m afraid it’s recoil just began.”
All across the room, the royals turned their heads to the stunning young couple. Even besides being good looking under normal circumstances, now they weren’t just visible, they were hyper-visible. No one in their vicinity could look away from them without considerable effort!
“My, then we better look deserving of all this attention,” Avril said, not fazed in the slightest, and linked her arm with that of Hans.
At first the prince felt a little self-conscious under everyone’s stares. But as the evening progressed, he rather relished them. Before long, the magic induced stares had faded but the two of them were still more than eye-catching.
“Why did you play all these tricks on me?” Hans asked when quiet had fallen over them for a short while.
“Hmm,” Avril replied thoughtfully. “You were just there. And I was curious if there was more to you than that boring, perfect prince you always try to look like.”
Hans appreciated her straightforwardness, but was a little disappointed that was all there was to it.
“I already told you, I have to act that way since I am the crown prince.”
“No, you don’t. I’m the crown princess of Poisson, and I’m doing just fine.”
Prince Hans gasped.
“You are what? And no one admonishes you for your mischief? Or your manners? Even dressing as a prince to fool other royals?”
The princess laughed once more, and the sound filled Hans with warmth.
“When you put it like that it sounds pretty bad, but I promise I can act the part when I have to! In fact, I work all the harder to fulfill my role if it means I can afford such freedoms in return,” she said and brushed a strand of hair out of her face, almost looking bashful for once. “You should try it too, all the pressure is easier to deal with if you allow yourself to just be free sometimes.”
Her words resonated deeply with Hans. It seemed like such a simple truth, but also one that is easy to overlook.
“I will,” he replied and took her hand into his. “If you show me how, I’ll gladly follow.”
PECTIN + eZombo
The core team of BL+