Summary: Alice and the others arrive in Lythikos and take a turn around the frozen lake.
Notes: I again used a lot of the original PB dialogue, but I bedazzled it a bit.
Alice’s bedroom door opened with a loud crack as Maxwell threw it open, yanking Alice out of what little sleep she’d been able to capture over the last couple hours.
“Good morning!” Maxwell trilled loudly as he went over to the window and threw open the curtains, bathing the room in light.
“Maxwell, you have to knock,” Bertrand said exasperatedly, pinching the bridge of his nose in the doorway.
“Mrrrrph,” Alice growled as she pulled the pillow over her head.
“I’ll assume that was the appropriate morning greeting followed by the proper use of my title,” Bertrand said.
“Sure was, champ,” Alice said, her voice muffled by the pillow. She sat up, rubbing her eyes as if that could force them to adjust to the sudden assault Maxwell had just subjected them to. “Why are you both here so early? And how are you so cheerful?”
“I’m not cheerful,” Bertrand said, sounding offended.
“Obviously wasn’t talking to you.”
“We came to help you pack for Lythikos!” Maxwell announced.
“I’m already mostly packed,” Alice said, pointing at her suitcase. “Can I go back to bed?”
“No, because you’re leaving in an hour,” Bertrand said.
“You’re not coming?” Alice asked, confused. He shook his head.
“No, I’m needed here to work on a few things for the Beaumont estate. I hate to leave you with Maxwell, but unfortunately, this is unavoidable.”
Alice yawned. “Fine. Can you both get out so I can get dressed?”
The Beaumont brothers left and Alice groaned, flopping back against the pillows. She heard her phone buzz on the night stand and groped for it, finally managing to grab it without dropping it on the floor. Alice unlocked the screen and saw she had a new text message from Bastien:
Alice smiled and texted back.
You forgot the coffee…
A moment later, another text came through.
Alice let herself close her eyes for a moment, thinking back to the night before. She let herself disappear into the moment, remembering how it felt to lie in his bed, his arms wrapped around her…
A loud rapping on her door broke her out of her reverie.
“Alice? Are you dressed?” Maxwell called.
“Just a second,” she called back. Alice knew she had to keep her focus and not get swept up in the giddy elation she felt whenever she thought of Bastien. But it was so, so hard not to.
When the cars arrived at Lythikos, Alice couldn’t believe the difference that only a couple hours had made to the landscape and climate. Gone were the beaches near the palace and in their place was a breathtaking, snowy landscape that looked like it’d been plagiarized straight from the front of a Christmas card. As she got out of the car, Alice automatically headed towards the trunk to get her suitcase but was beaten to it by several staff members. The whole idea of staff and servants still felt so foreign and uncomfortable to her; she’d never even taken advantage of bellhops at hotels before, so to have a whole host of people waiting on her every whim felt uncomfortable and weird.
Alice looked over to see Hana calling to her, waving her over to where she stood with Drake.
“We made it!” Maxwell announced, following Alice to join the group. “Lythikos, land of ice, snow, and mountains.”
“This is gorgeous,” Alice said as she gazed at her surroundings. “This is where Olivia lives?”
“Some of the time, yeah,” Maxwell said. “She’s primarily at Lythikos Hall, which is further south, but she’ll host us up here for the social season so we can take advantage of the snowy festivities.”
“Do you ski?” Hana asked.
“No,” Alice said with a self-deprecating laugh. “The one time my dad tried to teach me when I was in high school, I had a panic attack on the slope and had to have the ski patrol come pick me up and take me down.”
“A panic attack?” Drake asked.
“Yeah, apparently I have a massive fear of running headfirst into a tree,” Alice said. “But, honestly, it’s fine, I much prefer ‘skiing the deck’ and day drinking while everyone else hurls themselves down a mountain.”
“A girl after my own heart,” Drake said, allowing a small smile to flit across his face. Alice quickly turned back to Hana.
“I’m guessing you’re a great skier,” Alice said. Hana blushed.
“I wouldn’t say I’m great, but I do okay,” Hana said modestly.
“Hey, what happened to your brother, Maxwell?” Drake asked. “It’s kind of quiet without him lecturing Ayers.”
“Bertrand was called away for some business having to do with our estate,” Maxwell said smoothly, although Alice noticed a slight furrow in his brow. She knew about the money issues the Beaumonts were having, but she wondered exactly how bad it really was.
“I can’t believe he’s actually left me to my own devices,” Alice said. “I’ve only been here for a few days and there are still so many ways I can disappoint him.”
“He really does have a nice side underneath that stern brow of his,” Maxwell said.
“I know, I’m sorry, I’m just teasing him,” Alice said, feeling a little guilty as she touched Maxwell’s arm apologetically. “I’m so appreciative of you both sponsoring me and bringing me here.”
Maxwell smiled at her. “We’re glad to have you here.”
Guilt gnawed at Alice. She still hoped she could help the Beaumonts, but she felt terrible for not being as honest as she should be with them. They were hoping to sponsor the future queen, not someone who wanted to be with the head of the royal guard. Alice might be new to the royal social scene, but she knew enough to know that she needed to get them every advantage before the truth came out.
“I just can’t believe how cold it is here!” Hana exclaimed, wrapping her jacket more tightly around herself.
“Didn’t you pack anything warmer?” Drake asked.
“Not exactly…” Hana admitted. “I didn’t realize it’d be snowing quite this much, but I’ll survive. What say we check out the inside of the chateau?”
“I’m in, my jacket is not cutting it,” Alice said as she folded her arms in her leather jacket.
“Told you,” Drake said.
“Okay, don’t be too proud of yourself,” Alice said. “‘Smug’ is not a good look on you.”
“I think going inside is a good idea,” Maxwell interjected. “Alice, let’s go, I can show you where your room is.”
“We can go shopping later for better coats,” Hana said with a smile. “I saw a nearby shop that looked really cute.”
Alice agreed and let herself be led inside by Maxwell and up to the third floor, where he opened a door with a flourish and ushered her inside.
“Holy shit…” Alice said slowly as she looked around the room. The room dripped with diamonds and luxury and, at the center, a huge canopy bed with lush sheets and fur blankets.
“Come on, drop your stuff so we can go!” Maxwell said.
“Seriously? You’re not completely floored by this room?” Alice asked.
Maxwell shrugged. “I mean, I’ve been here before.”
“Right, of course.”
“But I admit, it’s impressive,” Maxwell continued. “The Nevrakis family has been here forever, even before Cordonia was formed as a country. They ruled over one of the original five kingdoms before Kenna Rys united them following the defeat of the Iron Empire.”
“Kenna Rys, as in…”
“Liam Rys, exactly,” Maxwell said. “It’s actually a pretty interesting history. If you want, I can recommend some books. After all, it’s important for a future queen to know the history of her kingdom.”
“That sounds great. Anyway, yes, let’s get going,” Alice said quickly.
After a quick trip into town for more substantial coats, Maxwell, Hana, and Alice joined everyone near the frozen lake where several people were already skating in lazy circles.
“You know how to ice skate, right?” Maxwell asked as he handed Alice a pair of skates.
“I mean, I know the basics,” Alice said. “Try to stay upright and don’t fall and bring shame upon House Beaumont?”
“When was the last time you skated?” he asked hesitantly.
“Um…I think when I was around ten or so? I went to a birthday party,” Alice said.
“And how’d you do?”
“I was…really good at staying next to the wall.”
“It’s okay, I’m sure once you get out there, you’ll get the hang of it again,” Hana reassured her. “It’s like riding a bike, but…skating.”
Alice stood up, skates laced. “Alright, well, who’s ready to watch me eat shit on the ice?”
On the lake, several people had paired off, including Liam and Olivia who were towards the center of the lake. Alice stood at the edge of the ice and glanced over to where she saw Bastien standing, watching the prince. She momentarily forgot what she was doing; he looked incredible in a gray peacoat and red scarf, hands tucked into his pockets. Alice felt a flush as she looked at him and she was fairly positive that if she tried to skate, she’d end up melting the ice.
“Need a hand to get started?”
“What?” Alice jumped slightly, turning to see Maxwell standing beside her. “Oh, yes, that’d be great. Thanks.”
Maxwell held out his hand and she took it, allowing him to lead her onto the ice. She stumbled momentarily but Maxwell held tight, keeping her upright.
“You’re doing great!” Maxwell said encouragingly as they started around the lake and her gliding grew steadier with each step.
“Thanks, but let’s be honest, I’d have fallen by now if it wasn’t for you,” Alice said, nearly stumbling as she unintentionally proved her point.
“Remember, keep your eyes on the prize!” Maxwell said. “Look, Liam and Olivia are over there. I can try to distract Olivia so you can get some time with Liam. Ready?”
“Go team!” Maxwell exclaimed, letting go of her hand. Alice faltered but managed to stay upright as Maxwell skated away, intercepting Liam and Olivia. She couldn’t tell what they were saying from a distance, but whatever it was, Olivia wasn’t happy. She allowed Maxwell to lead her away and Alice slowly made her way over to Liam.
“Lady Alice, a pleasure to see you, as always,” he said with a grin as he skated to meet her halfway. “You’re a vision of grace on those skates.”
“You’re a filthy liar, but I’ll let it slide,” Alice said, making him laugh.
“Can I escort you around the ice?”
“If by ‘escort’ you mean ‘prop me up so I don’t faceplant in front of the press,’ then yes,” Alice said. Liam held out his gloved hand and she took it as they began to skate in a slow circle on the outskirts of the crowd.
“I hope this isn’t too forward of me, but you look lovely today,” Liam said, a slightly blush tinting his cheeks. “The snow suits you.”
“Thank you,” Alice said. “Hana and I had to make an emergency run into town for snow gear, but I’m glad you approve. Do you and the court come here regularly?”
“Not often,” Liam answered. “However, when we do, Olivia’s always been very generous by having us at her estate. I actually used to come out here a lot when I was younger. Olivia and I would play in the snow together.”
“That’s so cute!” Alice said. Olivia wasn’t exactly her favorite, but Alice knew this might be her opportunity to encourage Liam towards another suitor.
“We’d build little snow forts on the bank and ‘catapult’ snowballs at each other,” Liam continued, smiling at the memory. “The lake was always too dangerous to play on because we were so young, but sometimes we’d sneak onto the ice in hopes that we could see fish beneath the surface.”
“And did you?”
“No, but it was still fun,” Liam said.
“You two must be close,” Alice said, careful to keep her tense in the present.
“We were, but…” Liam hesitated. “It’s been hard watching her….well, become who she is. I know Olivia can be a tough person to get along with.”
“Actually, I kind of like her,” Alice said, which wasn’t entirely untrue. Sure, Olivia was catty, but in Alice’s experience, Olivia’s type of animosity was usually covering up a deeper insecurity. Not that that excused shitty behavior, but it certainly helped Alice be more patient with her at that moment.
“You do?” Liam asked, sounding a little relieved.
“Sure,” Alice said. “She’s very prickly, but she likes Game of Thrones so she can’t be all bad.”
Liam laughed before his expression turned more serious again. “Olivia had a difficult childhood. Her parents were killed in a political assassination when she was only five years old.”
“Oh my god, that’s terrible!” Alice said.
Liam nodded. “Yeah, it was. She was alone, without family at her estate, for the better part of a year before my parents and I officially visited.”
“Wait, a five-year-old was just left unattended?” Alice asked.
“Not exactly unattended; she had nannies and tutors and a full staff to care for her. She was supposed to be in the care of her great aunt, but the woman had left to summer on the Riviera, abandoning Olivia.”
“What a bitch!” Alice exclaimed before clapping a hand over her mouth. “Shoot, sorry, I’m trying to watch my language. Years of working in a bar has completely ruined me.”
Liam smiled. “You don’t have to censor yourself around me and…well, let’s just say I agree with you. Olivia didn’t have anyone and she was so alone. The first few days of our visit, Olivia was so sullen and withdrawn…I thought she hated me.”
“That must’ve been hard for you.”
“Not as hard as it was for her,” Liam said. “One night, I heard her crying through the wall. At first I thought it was a ghost–I was six at the time–but once I got over my fear, I decided to investigate and I found her. She was in her parents’ room, and–”
He stopped, looking unsure as to whether or not he should continue.
“You don’t have to tell me anymore if you don’t want to,” Alice said gently. Liam nodded, not meeting her gaze.
“I convinced my parents to invite her to live at the palace with us for a while,” he finally said. “She wouldn’t leave my side and she drove Drake crazy, but…even still, I feel like I failed her as a friend.”
“Liam, you were six. What else could you do?” Alice asked. “As it is, you were able to give her a home with someone who cares about her. Granted, she still had to deal with Drake…”
Liam laughed and was about to say more when Olivia skated over to join them.
“So, Alice…” Olivia said, grinning sharply at Alice. “I bet you’ve never seen a countryside this spectacular. Aren’t you impressed?”
“As a matter of fact, I am,” Alice said, using all of her willpower to keep her verbal slap reflex in check. “Your home is really lovely.”
“Oh…” Olivia hesitated, surprised by Alice’s lack of snark. “Yes, it is.” She straightened up, composing herself. “I’m glad even someone like you can appreciate the elegance and splendor of nature.”
Orphaned at five and abandoned by her shitty aunt, Alice mentally reminded herself as Olivia threaded her arm through Liam’s.
“Liam, I believe you owe me a round across the lake,” Olivia said. Alice studied her face and noticed the way the sharpness seemed to fade from her features when she looked at Liam.
“Excuse me, Alice, I do owe her…will you be okay on the ice by yourself?” Liam asked as he let go of her hand.
“Oh, sure,” Alice said with a confidence she didn’t feel. “Have fun.”
As Bastien watched Alice talk to Liam and Olivia on the ice, he was reminded of a line from Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion: “I’m watching her talk. Watching her jaw move and collecting her words one by one as they spill from her lips. I don’t deserve them. Her warm memories. I’d like to paint them over the bare plaster walls of my soul, but everything I paint seems to peel.” She was far from graceful on skates, but he couldn’t help but smile as he watched her.
“Beautiful day for skating,” King Constantine said as he walked over to stand beside Bastien.
“Yes, it is, Your Highness,” Bastien agreed.
“Looks like Liam is enjoying himself,” Constantine commented. Bastien nodded. “Then again, who wouldn’t when they’re surrounded by beautiful women?” The king paused, surveying the ice. “He seems to favor the American.”
“Liam appears to be doing his duty to spend time with all the suitors,” Bastien said, careful to keep his tone casual.
“Yes, but you and I both know the boy has never been one for hiding his emotions,” Constantine said. He paused, considering the crowd on the lake, before he clapped a hand on Bastien’s shoulder. “I should rest. Tell Regina I went inside, won’t you?”
“Of course, sir,” Bastien said. The king nodded and left Bastien standing alone. This wasn’t the first time the king had mentioned Alice and it made him uneasy. Constantine didn’t seem thrilled that his son had eyes for Alice. Bastien admittedly didn’t care for that either, but the king made him nervous. Bastien knew what the king was capable of–the things he’d done, the things he’d arranged. He looked back over to Alice, who was talking to Hana, and wondered if he’d done the wrong thing by encouraging her to stay.
Bastien knew he’d have to be vigilant to keep her safe. He hoped it would be enough.
Hana skated over gracefully, spinning in a perfect circle before coming to a stop.
“Hana! That’s incredible,” Alice exclaimed. Hana shrugged.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “My parents had me take skating lessons when I was younger. It’s a skill I learned to appeal to suitors. I was told ‘a display of elegance can go a long way.’”
“Do you even like ice skating?” Alice asked.
“Oh, you know…it’s okay,” Hana said.
“That’s not very convincing.”
“When my parents were selecting my activities, whether or not I enjoyed something wasn’t a factor they considered. Now, I find myself with all sorts of skills that I honestly haven’t much interest in,” Hana said.
“Hana…I don’t mean for this to sound rude, but have you seriously spent your whole life only preparing to impress some guy?”
Alice lowered her voice so no one else could overhear. “Are you even interested in dating men?”
The color drained from Hana’s face. “What do you…how did you…”
“Hana, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to out you or make you feel uncomfortable. I know it’s none of my business, but I just…you’re such a cool, interesting person, and it bothers me if you’ve never had a say in your own life.”
Hana offered Alice a small smile in return. “Thank you. Honestly, I’ve never been given the time to think about anything. I couldn’t tell you what I wanted if I tried.”
“Do you–” Alice started to ask but stopped when Liam and Olivia joined them on the ice.
“Alright, everyone,” Olivia said. “It’s time to hit the slopes!”
“Is skiing easier than ice skating?” Penelope asked hopefully as she and Kiara slowly made their way over to join the group.
“Finally, a use for that professional ski equipment I bought three years ago,” Tariq said as he skated up quickly, coming to an obnoxiously fast stop that sprayed ice shavings across Alice’s skates. “Lady Alice,” he said, lowering his voice so the others couldn’t hear. Alice fought the urge to gag. “I’m looking forward to seeing you on the slopes.”
“With professional sports equipment, I bet you’d be really good at an elite skiing game I know,” Alice said.
“I’m sure I would,” Tariq said as he placed his hand on her back, making Alice’s skin crawl. “What sort of game?”
“The one where you take your fucking hand off of me and then hit every tree on the way down,” Alice said sweetly. “Preferably headfirst.” Hana covered her mouth with a gloved hand to hide her laughter. Tariq returned the smile, but he removed his hand from her back. If she thought she could’ve kicked him in the knee without falling over, Alice would have. Must ask Hana to teach me how to do that…
I swear to god, I will break his fucking hand.
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