Warning: This article may contain spoilers, view at your own risk.


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Louis Howard Sugar- Part  11

I don't know how much time I spent being comforted in Louis's embrace.
The room completely silent, I noticed Louis's breathing was labored and unsteady.
Tina    "Louis? Are you okay?"
I raised my head to see a pained grimace on his face.
Louis    "Sorry. I'm a little...tired."
(How could I keep him up this long when he still has a fever?)
My voice was shrill with concern.
Tina    "I'm so sorry, Louis! You should be resting."
Louis reached out and slowly stroked my hair.
He smiled gently before swiftly falling into a deep sleep.
Tina    "Good night, Louis."
(I couldn't imagine choosing anyone but you, Louis.
(I have to clear your name before this fiasco turns into a war.
(I just pray it isn't already too late.)
Tina    "......"
I softly kissed Louis's forehead and rose to my feet.
I tiptoed out of his room, quietly shutting the door behind me.
I sighed as I raised my hand to knock on Nico's door.
(I still can't believe it—)
"The inside man in the plot to kidnap the Princess is named Nico Meier."
(That message must have been the one missing from Lucia's leg.
(If Nico was responsible for the attack on me,
(then he might also be the one who framed Louis.)
I knocked softly, timidly announcing myself.
Tina    "Can I come in, Nico?
Tina    "Nico, are you in there?"
Hearing nothing in response, I slowly pushed the door open.
Nico was nowhere to be found in his room. In fact, it barely looked lived in at all.
(Where could he have gone?)
Needing a quiet place to think the situation through, I returned to my own chamber.
(Maybe I should talk to someone about what I found.)
I pulled the message out of the drawer where I'd hidden it.
Just then, the room exploded into a din of high-pitched squawks and beating wings.
Tina    "Lucia?
Tina    "What's wrong, sweetie?"
Lucia had taken well to her cage. I'd never heard her panic like this.
I opened the cage door to comfort her, but she darted straight through the opening.
Tina    "Lucia! Wait!"
Lucia burst through my open chamber door to the hallway.


As Louis struggled with his fever, a dark figure approached his bedside.
Nico    "Your Grace."
Nico frowned as he looked down at Louis.
Dressed in an unfamiliar uniform, Nico's hand rested on the pommel of the sword.
Nico    "What should I do?"
Nico whispered to himself with downcast eyes and a conflicted expression across his face.
Louis    "Nico."
Nico flinched in surprise from Louis's low and hoarse voice.
Nico    "You're awake!"
Louis watched Nico through half-closed eyes.
Nico    "I guess you, um, heard me, right?"
Louis spoke haltingly through gasped breaths.
Louis    "The inside man...on the abduction...It was you..."
Nico    "So what if it was?"
Nico eyed Louis warily, tightening his grip on the hilt of his sword.
Louis    "But you're conflicted."
Nico    "I am not."
Nico said as if he were trying to convince himself, not Louis.
Louis    "Then why the change of heart?
Louis    "You were willing to abduct Tina. So why frame me? Why not her?"
Nico    "It's...complicated."
Nico's face went pale.
Louis    "With that sword of yours—
Louis    "Who is it that you're fighting for?"
Nico    "I, er—"
Tina    "Lucia, slow down!"
Lucia zoomed down the corridor, as if she knew exactly where she was going.
(Does she want to go inside?)
Lucia hopped onto my shoulder when I caught up with her at the door to Louis's room.
(Is she looking for Louis?)
Afraid of waking Louis, I slowly pushed the door open and was shocked by what I found inside.
Nico was standing at Louis's bedside.
Tina    "Nico?! What are you doing?"
Nico    "Tina—"
Nico wore a strange uniform, and had a hand on the hilt of his sword. My eyes widened in fear.
(What on earth?)
Nico squinted, as if afraid to meet my eyes, and spoke quietly.
Nico    "Yes, I stole a document from Duke Howard's guestroom in order to trace his signature.
Nico    "I was the one who sent the false orders."


"I stole a document from Duke Howard's guestroom in order to trace his signature.
Nico    "I was the one who sent the false orders."
I had my suspicions, but I still couldn't suppress an audible gasp.
Nico    "Duke Howard's wounds, the war that's about to unfold—I'm responsible for everything."
Tina    "But why?"
Nico    "Because, Tina, I'm actually a knight from Stein."
(Nico's an enemy spy?!)
Nico    "I never should have let it go this far.
Nico    "When I let the kidnappers in, I only wanted them to intimidate you—
Nico    "just enough that you'd resign as princess."
My heartbeat slowly returning to normal, I found the words to reply to Nico.
Tina    "Why would you want me to resign?"
Nico    "The idea was that Wysteria would be weak without its princess to lead—
Nico    "making it easy for Stein to annex the country.
Nico    "Every lie I told, every crime I committed—it was all for King Byron."
Utterly dumbfounded, I simply stood there and gaped at Nico.
Louis    "If that's true—"
Louis's hoarse voice broke the silence.
Louis    "Then why couldn't you answer my question earlier?"
(What question?)
Louis    "If it's Byron that you are fighting for,
Louis    "why didn't you just say so?"
Nico    "Well—"
The scowl on Nico's face deepened. He took a breath before continuing.
Nico    "It was the day that you rescued Tina from her abductors.
Nico    "When I saw she was back and unharmed, I was just so relieved."
I opened my mouth to speak, my lips trembling slightly. But I didn't know what to say.
Tina    "Nico—"
Nico    "I believed I was protecting King Byron with this sword.
Nico    "That's what I swore to do when I was knighted. And yet—here I am."
Nico looked away, ashamed.
Nico    "I guess I just don't have what it takes to be a spy."
Nico slowly lifted his head back up and our eyes met.
Nico    "I'll go back to Stein before a war breaks out over this. I'll tell King Byron everything.
Nico    "I can prove your innocence, Louis. I can stop the war.
Nico    "I'm so sorry for all the pain I've caused"
(Oh, Nico—)


Meanwhile, high-ranking court officials met in Giles's office.
Court Bureaucrat 1    "We've heard reports that Stein's army is massing at the border."
Court Bureaucrat 3    "That idiot Louis has single-handedly dragged us into a war."
Giles    "........."
Giles glowered in silence as the bureaucrats carried on.
Finally, they were interrupted by a knock on the door.
Sid    "What's with all the grim faces?"
Giles    "Sid—
Giles    "Do you have something for us?"
Sid    "I just might."
Sid grinned as he slid a piece of paper across the table.
Sid    "Seems Nico Meier, the princess's butler, is a spy from Stein."
Giles    "What?!"
Sid    "Someone asked me to look into who might've helped with her kidnapping.
Sid    "And surprise surprise, Nico turns out to be the same guy who forged the orders from Louis to attack the archduke."
The assembled court officials shared a moment of stunned silence.
Court Bureaucrat 2    "This is an outrage!"
The room burst into the sound of angry voices, but Giles stood up and shouted over the din.
Giles    "Where is Nico right now?"
Nico    "I'm so sorry for all the pain I've caused"
Tina    "Nico—"
Louis    "........."
At Nico's words, Louis pulled himself out of bed.
Tina    "Louis, your wound!"
Louis stopped in front of Nico, ignoring my protestations.
Louis    "You didn't just put Tina in danger—
Louis    "you've put all the people of Wysteria and Stein in peril."
Nico    "I know."
Nico winced, his head hung in shame.
Louis    "But I am not going to condemn you for what you've done.
Louis    "I suspect you've done a fair enough job of that yourself.
Louis    "And for coming here to confess your crimes to us personally—"
Nico    "Duke Howard—"
Louis    "You have my gratitude."
Nico finally lifted his head to look Louis in the eyes. Louis flashed him a gentle smile.
Louis    "A soldier uses his sword to fight for his leader, but a righteous man protects many things."
Nico looked like he was about to cry.
Nico    "You're too kind, Duke Howard. And Tina—I don't even know where to begin."
A faint smile spread across Nico's lips.
Nico    "I need to confess to Giles. Would you come with me, Tina?"
Tina    "Of course."
But just as I nodded—
I heard the sound of many hurried footsteps echoing outside Louis's door.
(What is going on out there?)


(What is going on out there?)
The door swung open with a loud bang.
Palace officials swarmed the room.
Court Bureaucrat 1    "That man is a spy from Stein!"
Court Bureaucrat 2    "Somebody tie him up!"
All the bureaucrats began shouting at once at the sight of Nico.
Alarmed by the vengeful glint in their eyes, I stepped in front of Nico to protect him.
Court Bureaucrat 1    "Your Royal Highness! That man has been spying for—"
Tina    "I know!
Tina    "But Nico says he's going to help us stop the war.
Tina    "So please, you all need to calm down and listen.
Tina    "We must allow Nico to return to Stein as soon as possible."
Court Bureaucrat 2    "You want to send a spy back to his masters?!"
The palace officials were far too bloodthirsty to listen. But Giles's quiet voice stood out above their objections.
Giles    "Your Highness, Nico knows far too much about Wysteria.
Giles    "As much as we would welcome his confession for framing Louis—
Giles    "it would be far too dangerous to allow him to return to Stein."
Tina    "Then what do you intend to do with him?"
Court Bureaucrat 1    "Espionage is a capital crime."
Tina    "Capital?"
(They could execute him for this?!)
I turned to look back at Nico and found him staring at his feet with a pained look on his face.
Nico    "........."
(No, not Nico!)
Court Bureaucrat 2    "Just step out of the way and let us take him into custody, Your Highness."
The palace officials began closing in.
(Step out of the way?
(I might as well execute him myself.)
I shook my head no, but that only stoked the fury in the nearest bureaucrat's eyes.
Court Bureaucrat 2    "Surely our own princess is not siding with the enemy in a time of war?!"
Louis    "Nico."
Louis's calm voice was like a cool breeze in the overheated room.
(What are you doing, Louis?)
Louis    "Are you willing to take a vow not to divulge any of Wysteria's secrets?
Louis    "If so, swear it upon your sword."
Louis's gaze was fixed upon Nico.
Nico    "Your Grace—"
Nico's voice rang out clear and strong in the suddenly hushed room.
Nico    "I swear it upon my sword, and upon my life."
Court Bureaucrat 1    "What fool would trust the vow of an enemy agent!"
The bureaucrat grabbed me by the shoulders to push me aside.
Tina    "Unhand me!"

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Tina    "Unhand me!"
(That hurts!)
I grimaced as the palace official grabbed at my shoulders.
Louis    "Don't you dare touch her."
Louis's voice was a low whisper, but there was nothing subtle about the way he tore the bureaucrat's fingers away.
(Thank you, Louis.)
Louis    "........."
Court Bureaucrat 1    "Fool!"
The bureaucrat shrank under Louis's glare, his arm still clutched in Louis's hand.
Giles    "Tina—"
Tina    "......"
I met Giles's inquisitive gaze.
Tina    "I want to believe in Nico's vow.
Tina    "I command Nico Meier, knight of Stein
Tina    "be extradited to Stein immediately."
Giles    "Yes, Your Highness."
Louis released his grip on the palace official at Giles's reply.
The bureaucrat glared at me, the resentment plain on his face.
(I can't even—)
Louis wrapped his arm around my shoulders.
Louis    "........."
(Where would I be without you, Louis?)
Giles and I led Nico out of the room.
I tried to ignore the harsh stares from the other court bureaucrats.
The following day, we received the official confirmation.
Nico had been returned to Stein.
(Hopefully this will stop the war before it begins,
(and clear Louis's name in the process!
(That's everything we can hope for, right?)
Nevertheless, after all that happened over the past few days, it was hard to imagine things could be resolved so easily.
I crossed my arms tightly in front of my chest.
(I wonder if Louis is awake yet?)
I hadn't seen Louis since the quarrel with the palace officials in his room.
After that, his doctor had promptly ordered him back to bed.
(I hope I can see him soon.)
But just as the thought crossed my mind—
Louis    "Tina."
I heard the voice I'd most wanted to hear, calling my name again.


Tina    "Louis!"
Surprised and delighted, I turned to face him.
Tina    "Is it really okay for you to be walking around like this?"
Louis    "My fever's gone down, so it's no problem."
Tina    "You still look a little pale to me."
Louis    "I wanted to see you. There's something I need to know."
Louis ran a loving hand through my hair.
A warm feeling spread throughout my chest.
Giles    "I simply cannot allow you to choose Duke Howard as your prince consort.
Giles    "You'll have to find a new suitor, Your Highness."
Louis    "Tina, I love you."
Louis    "And I'll always love you. Even if you choose someone else."
(Am I really free to choose Louis again?)
The sensation of Louis's fingers running through my hair made the possibility feel so real.
(Can I really choose these hands?)
My heart raced with joy.
Louis    "Tina, can I hold you?"
Louis's voice was controlled, as if he was afraid to let his true emotions show.
I looked up to see Louis's eyes welling up with tears.
Tina    "Definitely not."
Louis    "Oh."
I reached out and pinched Louis's cheek.
Louis    "Ouch."
Louis's eyes widened in surprise.
Tina    "You need to promise me something first."
Louis    "Like what?"
Louis stared into my eyes, confused.
Tina    "Remember when you said that you'd understand if I chose someone else?
Tina    "And you said it perfectly stone-faced, as if you didn't even care.
Tina    "You have to promise me that you'll never say anything like that ever again."
My eyes filled with tears as I spoke.
Louis    "Tina, my love—"
Louis's voice wavered as he called my name.
He then wrapped his arms around me in a tight embrace.


Louis    "Tina, my love."
Still holding me tight in his arms, Louis lowered me down onto the sofa.
Tina    "L-Louis!"
His voice still hoarse, Louis whispered into my ear.
Louis    "You have no idea how hard it was to pretend I didn't care."
Tina    "What do you mean?"
Louis gave a short, dry laugh.
Louis    "It took everything I had not to fall apart when I said that to you.
Louis    "That's not how I felt at all."
Louis slowly placed his lips over mine, almost as if he were testing to see if my feelings were still true.
(I know that, Louis—)
His lips trembled slightly against mine.
Knowing he was in pain nearly broke my heart.
I threw my arms around Louis's neck and stroked his beautiful hair.
Louis    "You have my word, Tina.
Louis    "I'll never hide my feelings from you again."
Tina    "Thank you—"
Louis leaned forward and kissed as if he were sealing our vow with a sweet, gentle kiss.
Our bodies sunk deeper into the sofa as the kiss deepened.
Leo    "......"
Leo frowned at the high-ranking court officials assembled before him.
Minister 1    "Are you aware that the princess has been providing material support to our enemy at a time of war?"
Minister 2    "By returning Stein's spy, she may have allowed vital information to slip into enemy hands.
Minister 2    "It certainly calls her competence as princess into question."
Leo sighed deeply as the ministers continued their litany of grievances.
Leo    "Look at you—gossiping about the princess behind her back!
Leo    "Where is your pride as court bureaucrats?"
The room fell into a cold silence as Leo swept the room with his scornful gaze.
Minister 2    "Spare us your youthful insolence, Crawford!"
Leo    "Stein has yet to make any moves against us.
Leo    "Over the last day or two, we've seen no further signs that Byron is planning any sort of invasion.
Leo    "We don't need to stir up any trouble where where isn't any."
Minister 2    "......"
The high-ranking court officials launched back into their tirades, as if Leo said nothing at all.
Leo sighed again at the chaos around him.


That night—
The footsteps of two men echoed through the halls of Stein Castle.
Albert    "Nico."
Albert stopped and called out when he spotted Nico in the hall.
Nico grimaced when he turned and saw who had addressed him.
Albert    "They say you refused to talk during your debriefing.
Albert    "Why do you refuse to tell us anything about Wysteria?"
A thin smile spread across Nico's face.
Nico    "I've told you why, Albert.
Nico    "Because I won't betray those who have put their trust in me."
Albert looked at Nico's off-puttingly pleasant expression and sighed.
The days that followed were uneventful, but not entirely pleasant.
(Here we go again—)
Everywhere I went within the palace, I was forced to endure the sharp stares of bitter bureaucrats.
(Ever since I insisted that Nico be returned to Stein,
(they've all turned against me.)
Their angry glares hadn't softened one bit since the confrontation in Louis's room.
(How much longer do I have to endure this?)
Louis    "Tina."
Tina    "Hello, Louis."
Louis sighed as he walked toward me with a bundle of documents in his hand.
Louis    "Can you help me with something?"
Louis gestured towards the sheaf of papers and smiled.
Louis closed the study door behind us, placing the documents on the table behind us before pulling me into an embrace.
Louis    "Are you all right?"
Tina    "I'll be fine."
Ever since that day in Louis's room,
I've only ever felt at ease when I'm in his arms.
Tina    "Thank you for always being there for me, Louis."
Louis    "Of course."
Tina    "Do you think I'll regain their trust if this war doesn't happen?"
Louis    "I hope so."
(How much longer must I wait?)
Still uneasy, I nestled against Louis's chest.
He hugged me all the harder.


The next day, Giles summoned me to his office. I hadn't fully understood his message.
Tina    "A strike?"
Giles explained the situation, his expression grim.
Giles    "Yes, a strike. Even bureaucrats and top palace officials are allowed to strike in Wysteria.
Giles    "In this case, it's government employees, including many high-ranking court officials, who are striking."
Tina    "But why?"
Giles opened his mouth to answer my question, but hesitated for a moment.
Giles    "They have just one demand—
Giles    "The princess's abdication."
Tina    "Abdication?"
It took me a moment to dredge up the meaning of the word from my memories of Leo's lessons.
(Ah. They want me gone.)
Court Bureaucrat    "Surely our own princess is not siding with the enemy in a time of war?!"
I could never forget the contempt in that bureaucrat's eyes.
Giles    "I'm sure you can surmise their reasons.
Giles    "Many in the bureaucracy continue to hold a grudge over Nico's release.
Giles    "They believe it called into question your fitness as princess.
Giles    "With the threat of war with Stein still looming,
Giles    "many have become excessively sensitive to internal dissent.
Giles    "And so, they want you to relinquish your right to the throne."
Tina    "But—is that even possible?"
Giles looked away, seeming slightly uncomfortable.
Giles    "This wouldn't be the first time."
Giles studied me carefully before continuing.
Giles    "Should the strike continue, it will have disastrous effects on the citizens of Wysteria.
Giles    "I'm afraid this is an either-or situation."
Giles's voice was clear and direct.
Giles    "Either convince the ministers to abandon their strike, or—
Giles    "abdicate your position to a new princess."
Tina    "What!"
My head was spinning. Everything had changed so quickly.
Tina    "But—if I did abdicate, and you select a new princess—
Tina    "What would become of me?"
Giles frowned at the question.
Giles    "Before there could be a new princess elect—"
The wrinkles on Giles's forehead deepened.
Giles    "The current one would need to die."
Tina    "Die?!"

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Louis Howard Sugar- Part 12

Tina    "I would need to die?"
Dumbstruck, all I could manage was to repeat Giles's words.
Giles    "Strictly speaking, you would only need to be 'officially' dead. That would be the story we tell the public.
Giles    "We would help you become someone else,
Giles    "and send you to live out your life in some faraway town where nobody knows you.
Giles    "But no one—even those of us here at the palace—could ever be told what became of you.
Giles    "Including Duke Howard."
Tina    "But—"
(That would mean I could never see Louis again?
(I'd be someone else. Somewhere far, far away from the man I love?)
I felt such despair at the possibility I couldn't even find the words to continue.
Giles    "Of course, that would be our last resort.
Giles    "I didn't nominate you as princess elect so I could ruin your life."
The grimace across Giles's face deepened as he spoke.
(I know that, Giles.)
As I hung my head, I recalled Giles's earlier words.
Giles    "I'm afraid this is an either-or situation.
Giles    "Either convince the ministers to abandon their strike, or—
Giles    "abdicate your position to a new princess."
(It couldn't be much more clear than that.
(If I fail to win them over, I'd have to quit as princess.
(And then I'd lose Louis forever.)
Giles    "Tina, I—"
I raised my head and, with renewed confidence in my voice, cut off Giles's awkward attempt to sympathize.
Tina    "I understand.
Tina    "I'll convince the bureaucrats to abandon their strike."
The higher-ranking members of the striking officials had assembled in the salon, where a gloomy silence was thick in the air.
Louis stepped through the door and regarded the ministers coolly.
Minister 1    "Your Grace. What are you doing here?"
Louis    "I might ask the same of you."
Louis fixed his icy gaze on the court official who had greeted him and began to speak.
Louis    "Do you not understand that by abandoning your official duties,
Louis    "you're bringing unnecessary suffering to the innocent citizens of Wysteria?"
Thin smiles spread across the faces of the assembled officials.
Minister 1    "We understand exactly what we're doing. It's a threat—and we don't make empty ones."
Minister 2    "If the princess doesn't want to see her people suffer, she can quit."
The court officials spoke without a trace of hesitation or doubt. Louis narrowed his eyes, unsure what else there was to be said.


I pushed open the door to the salon where I'd heard the higher-ranking members of the striking officials had assembled.
Tina    "Louis?"
Louis was already there, facing off against the ministers.
Louis    "Tina."
Minister 1    "Ah, Your Highness. I trust you've found your resolve to abdicate?"
I met the stares of the court officials.
Tina    "I have not.
Tina    "I do not believe I've erred in dealing with Nico."
At my words, a rustle of whispered voices spread across the ministers in attendance.
Tina    "If you have something to say about the matter, I invite you to speak to me about it directly.
Tina    "There is no need to involve common folk who know nothing of the situation."
Minister 2    "If you're so concerned about your 'common folk,'
Minister 2    "you would be wise to relinquish your tiara sooner, rather than later."
The minister snorted through his nose, seemingly amused with himself.
Tina    "........."
The minister's cruelty left me speechless.
Minister 1    "Did you not see this coming?
Minister 1    "After all, you brought this upon yourself."
Louis    "Shut up."
Louis's low, harsh voice sent chills down my spine, and the officials looked shaken as well.
Louis    "If you're so suspicious of Nico, then I invite you to do a thorough investigation of recent developments in Stein.
Louis    "See if you can find a shred of evidence that he's betrayed us.
Louis    "You're behaving like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.
Louis    "You have no grounds to defy Princess Tina whatsoever."


Louis spat his words at the striking officials, making no attempt to disguise his contempt. Unsettled, they averted their eyes.
Minister 1    "That's, er—"
Minister 2    "There's simply not enough research available to, um—"
The officials struggled to refute Louis's point.
Tina    "If you still have your doubts, I'll personally conduct an investigation to find out if any state secrets were leaked."
The officials re-focused their gazes on me.
Tina    "So please, I beg of you, return to your duties."
My head bowed, I awaited their response.
Tina    "Please—"
After a few moments of silence, the officials resumed speaking, their voices icy.
Minister 1    "Do you think bowing and asking nicely will make us accept you as princess?
Minister 1    "Will that change the fact that you've endangered our nation?"
Tina    "........."
I raised my head and stared silently at the ministers.
Minister 2    "This is a waste of our time."
And with that, all the officials closed me off from any further discussion. The conversation was over.
(Our people will begin to suffer for this soon.
(How had Giles put it?)
Giles    "We would help you become someone else,
Giles    "and send you to live out your life in some faraway town where nobody knows you.
Giles    "But no one—even those of us here at the palace—could ever be told what became of you.
Giles    "Including Duke Howard."
(If I can't win them over, then that means—)
(I'll have to—)
Louis    "Tina."
He stroked at my hair anxiously.
Tina    "Oh, Louis—"
(No, I shouldn't drag him into this.
(His wounds have only just healed. He has enough to worry about.)
Tina    "Don't worry, Louis. It'll be okay."
I flashed Louis the most convincing smile I could manage.
Louis frowned, reaching out a hand to gave my cheek a stiff pinch.
Tina    "Ow! What are you doing?!"


Tina    "Ow! What are you doing?!"
I looked up at Louis in surprise, my cheek stinging from the sudden pinch.
Louis    "No bravado. That's part of the deal."
Tina    "That wasn't bravado, that was—"
Louis fixed me with a mirthless glare.
(I can't lie to him.)
Tina    "You're right. I'm sorry."
The feelings of helplessness I'd tried so hard to hide came flooding out at once.
In desperate need of support, I leaned my head against Louis's chest.
Tina    "Giles told me that if I couldn't convince them to abandon the strike—
Tina    "I'd have to quit as princess.
Tina    "And then, you and I—we wouldn't ever be able to—"
Louis    "It's okay, Tina."
Louis hugged me tight.
Louis    "I'm right here with you.
Louis    "I'm not going to let them do this to you."
Louis whispered the words in a pained voice. They sounded more like a prayer than a promise.
Tina    "Thank you, Louis."
Enveloped by Louis's warmth, I felt myself beginning to relax.
But as soon as I remembered what was at stake, my heart began racing again.
Tina    "I won't let them win."
I made the proclamation with my head held high, and Louis responded with a smile.
(Because I need you by my side.)
The next five days passed in a flash.
Leo    "It's been nearly a week since the strike began."
Louis's face showed more and more signs of fatigue.
Giles    "The effects on the township are proving even more dire than we'd anticipated."
Leo    "Tina and Louis have already run themselves ragged."
Giles frowned as Leo sighed.
Giles    "You may be right. Between trying to convince the striking officials and attempting to do their abandoned jobs themselves,
Giles    "I doubt they've had more than a few hours of sleep over the last five days."
Leo    "If that."
Giles    "Especially Duke Howard. Even when Tina is taking a rest,
Giles    "Louis is still out there, gathering information about Nico."
Leo shook his head sadly.
Leo    "He's probably just wasting his energy at this point."
Giles    "What makes you say that?"
Leo    "He already brought the ministers solid evidence.
Leo    "But even once it became clear Nico was refusing to answer any questions about Wysteria,
Leo    "the ministers still wouldn't relent."
Giles    "I see..."
An oppressive silence filled the room.


When I came to, I realized I had been asleep on my bed.
(When did that happen?
(Hadn't I been working in my study?)
I had absolutely no memory of falling asleep.
Louis    "Good morning."
When I looked up, I saw Louis sitting next to my bed, reading through a thick stack of documents.
I forced myself awake and spoke to him, my voice hoarse from just having woken.
Tina    "Did you carry me here?"
Louis set down his documents, smiled, and stood up.
He knelt over the bed to kiss me slowly.
Louis    "You should sleep a little longer.
Louis    "You still look exhausted."
Louis gently massaged the skin around my eyes.
Tina    "I can't look half as tired as you do."
Louis    "I'm fine."
It felt wonderful to be close to him and smiling together like this.
I could feel my anxieties melting away.
Until we were interrupted by an unexpected knock at the door.
Leo    "Tina? Louis? Are you in there?"
Tina    "Leo?"
The door opened to reveal Leo, who narrowed his eyes at the sight of us.
Leo    "Sorry to bother you.
Leo    "I've come to ask a favor of you."
Leo came inside, his expression uncharacteristically serious.
Tina    "A favor?"
Leo    "Yes. Giles and I will manage by ourselves today. We want you two to rest."
Tina    "What?"
I certainly hadn't expected that.
Louis    "........."
Leo    "You've both hit your physical limits. You need some time to rest and recuperate."
Tina    "But—"
(We have far too much to do!)
Louis cut me off.
Louis    "That's not a bad idea."
Tina    "You can't be serious!"
Louis    "Thank you, Leo."
Leo nodded and left the room without saying another word.
Tina    "We can't afford to take time off like this! You know how much—"
Louis didn't seem to be paying any attention to my objections.
He merely climbed into bed beside me.

Louis Part12_Ch.5.png  

Even as Louis climbed into bed with me, I didn't want to give up the fight.
Tina    "Louis, we need to get back to work."
Louis    "No, Tina."
Louis stroked my hair as he delivered this gentle rebuke.
Louis    "I won't let them destroy you like this."
Tina    "But—"
As I moved to rise out of bed, Louis wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me back down.
(What are you doing?)
Louis    "I'm going to sleep. You can do as you like."
Tina    "H-Hey!"
Louis stretched out on the bed, still holding me tight in his arms.
Louis    "Don't go anywhere, OK?"
Louis whispered in my ear, his voice deep and husky.
Tina    "Louis—"
I could feel Louis's heartbeat through his embrace.
(I can't believe he trapped me.)
But I had no strength to escape, as sleep soon caught up to me.
I began to doze off in Louis's embrace.
(I love his arms.
(I want Louis to stay by my side—
When I awoke, the room was still full of bright light.
I checked the clock. Only a little time had passed.
And yet, I felt completely rejuvenated.
I rolled over, my cheeks brushing against Louis's hair.
(That feels good.)
I closed my eyes again.
(I bet it was being in Louis's arms that made the sleep so satisfying.)
Louis    "Tina? Are you awake?"
Tina    "I am. Thank you, Louis."
He smiled at me, his eyes a bit more alive than before.
I reached out and massaged around his eyes, as he had often done for me.
(We've been working ourselves to the bone these last few days and getting absolutely nowhere.
(I wonder what things are like in town right now?)
Slowly, I opened my mouth to speak.
Tina    "Louis, listen—
Tina    "Do you want to go visit the town?"


Tina    "I guess you were right. You're not cute at all."
Louis    "I'm glad you finally understand."
Louis flashed me a mischievous smile.
Seeing that smile sent my heart aflutter.
I can't remember the last time that we were able to laugh like this.
(This just shows how much I need Louis by my side.)
But the pleasant moment was not to last.
We were soon interrupted by the sound of a child crying nearby.


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We set off in search of the crying child, and soon found him being comforted in his mother's arms.
Tina    "Is he all right?"
The mother lifted her head at the sound of my voice.
Mother    "Oh my! You're Princess Tina, aren't you? Whatever is Your Highness doing here?"
When the shock faded from the mother's face, it was replaced by a gloomy expression.
Tina    "Is something wrong?"
The child spoke up then.
Child    "Mommy, I'm hungry!"
Mother    "Not one shop in the whole town will sell us any food."
Tina    "They're not selling food?"
(What on earth is going on?)
The mother responded in a tired voice.
Mother    "They said they were having problems with distribution or something.
Mother    "They said they were nearly out of food for themselves!"
(Distribution problems? Is this because of the strike?)
Louis    "........."
Louis frowned, apparently having the exact same thought as I had.
Mother    "Everyone says the people in the palace are responsible!"
The woman suddenly raised her voice, and stepped up to Louis and I.
Mother    "For heaven's sake! You're royalty, aren't you?
Mother    "You need to do something! Please!"
The mother lightly stroked her child's head.
Mother    "I don't know how much longer this child can hold out—"
I stared at the child's eyes, which were red and puffy from crying.
(Am I responsible for this child's suffering?)
The thought hit me like a kick to the ribs.
(Is my stubbornness bringing the kingdom to ruin?)
I felt the world around me grow dark.
The mother finally gave us a shallow curtsy and led the child away.
Tina    "Louis, I—"
(Louis and I can't run this country by ourselves. We can't protect all of these people.
(I want to stay by his side, but—)
Tina    "I—"
(I can't let my people suffer just so we can be together.
(That's beyond selfish.)
Louis    "Tina."
I stood there, immobilized in my distress, as Louis embraced me.
Tina    "Louis—"
Louis    "Let's return to the palace."
The despair in his voice stabbed at my heart.


Upon our return from town, Louis escorted me to my chamber as always.
(I just want to be with together.)
My desire was almost overpowering as we stood and talked in front of my door.
I released my hand from his.
Louis    "Tina—"
(I can't allow things to continue like this.
(There's nothing I can say or do to change the minds of the striking bureaucrats.
(That means I only have the one option left.)
Tina    "Louis, I want to be alone for a while."
Louis    "And if I begged you not to?"
Tina    "I'm sorry."
Louis studied me, his eyes pained.
I suspect he knew exactly what I was thinking.
(I would do anything to stop this.
(I don't want to lose you, Louis. But—)
Mother    "For heaven's sake! You're royalty, aren't you?
Mother    "You need to do something! Please!"
Mother    "I don't know how much longer this child can hold out—"
(The same thing is probably happening all over Wysteria right now.)
Tina    "Louis, I—"
(I want to be by your side.
(Because I love you so much.)
Louis    "Tina."
Louis extended a hand out to me. A hand I loved so dearly. A hand that was always there to protect me.
I refused it.
Louis    "........."
Tina    "I'm sorry."
Tina    "Louis, we did everything we could.
Tina    "But it's not enough to protect the people I care about."
Louis    "......"
Louis's face fell at my words.
Louis    "Tina, I—"
Tina    "Please, I need to be alone."
I didn't wait for Louis's response before I opened my bedroom door and quickly shut it behind me.
I leaned against it from the inside, to keep him from following me in. The sound of Louis calling my name rang in my ears.
Tina    "........."
It took all my strength to avoid completely breaking down in tears.
As Alyn patrolled the palace, he happened across Louis standing despondently in the hall.
Alyn    "Are you all right, Louis? You look awful."
Louis    "Alyn—"
Alyn frowned, concerned at the tone of Louis's voice. He'd never heard him sound so frail before.
Alyn    "Seriously, are you okay Louis?"
Louis    "I just don't know what to do."
Louis's voice was an unsteady whisper.
Louis    "I—I want to protect Tina,
Louis    "and the things that are important to her—
Louis    "But I—"
Alyn looked at Louis's clenched fists and took a sharp breath.
Alyn    "Tell me."
His face grim, Louis turned and walked away.
Louis    "Forget about it. I've wasted your time."
Alyn    "......"
Alyn watched in silence as Louis disappeared down the hallway.


(I need to prepare myself for this.)
My head was bleary from all the crying and internal debating.
(I can't allow my selfishness to destroy the kingdom.)
I dug my fingernails into my palms.
(I have to find the will...
(The will to lead a life without Louis.)
My legs trembling, I rose and made my way to the door.
(I have to tell Giles.)
Giles    "Do you understand what you're saying?"
Tina    "Yes. I'm stepping down as princess."
Giles    "........."
For a moment, Giles could manage nothing more than a pained grimace.
But he quickly regained his composure, and locked his eyes upon me.
Giles    "If you step down, you won't be able to continue your relationship with Duke Howard."
Tina    "I know that."
I looked up at Giles.
Tina    "I hate everything about it.
Tina    "A life without Louis is no life at all.
Tina    "I'll regret this until the day I die. I'll never stop loving him.
Tina    "I already miss him so, so much."
I dug my nails into the palms of my hands again, in an attempt to hold back the tears.
Giles    "Tina—"
Tina    "But as princess of Wysteria,
Tina    "my first duty is to my people.
Tina    "Consider this my final act to protect them."
Giles abruptly turned away, a deep sadness in his eyes.
Giles    "Leo and I—we did everything we could to sway them."
Giles's usually steady voice wavered as he spoke.
Giles    "I'm sorry I failed you."
Tina    "Oh, Giles—"
At that moment, I felt Giles's pain nearly as deeply as I felt my own.
The last thing I wanted to do was blame him for what happened.
Tina    "Thank you."
(What will Louis say when he finds out?
(Will he cry? Will he get mad?
(Was he crying in front of my door earlier?)
Just imagining the possibility nearly broke my heart.
Tina    "What will happen to me now?"
Giles    "We will work out the particulars of your relocation.
Giles    "In the meantime, we'll keep you confined in the clock tower."
Tina    "Then that means—"
(I won't be able to see Louis again.)
I had come to this decision myself, but I still grew faint as the reality of it set in.
Giles    "Would you like to meet with Duke Howard first?"
I shook my head.
(Seeing him again would only weaken my resolve.)
Tina    "No. Just take me to the clock tower."

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Louis Howard Sugar- ending~

Flanked by Giles and a palace guard, I climbed the steps one by one.
(I've climbed these stairs before.)
As my footsteps echoed throughout the tower, I thought back to when I followed Louis here on the night of my final lesson.
(I didn't know anything about Louis back then.
(But I was so eager to learn more that I followed him up here.
(I thought he might kiss me that night.
(I was so nervous.)
I lifted my head high to hold back the tears.
(Louis has protected me ever since.
(He truly loved me.)
Louis    "I finally found something that was important to me."
Louis    "I love you."
(I love you too, Louis.)
The procession finally stopped, and Giles turned to address me, his voice raw.
Giles    "Here we are."
When he opened the door, the cool air from inside the room brushed my check.
Giles    "You'll need to live here while we arrange for your relocation."
I turned to look at Giles.
Tina    "Giles—
Tina    "Thank you, for everything.
Tina    "Tell Louis to...find happiness."
Giles took a deep breath, bowed deeply and left the room.
He shut the door quietly behind him.
(I just have to remember that doing this will keep the country together.)
The 12 o'clock bell chimed as I looked around the bare room.
The loud clanging reverberated throughout my head, as if to mark the moment I awoke from my dream.
(I guess my magic has run out.)
I felt as though a gaping hole had just opened in my heart.
I couldn't hold back the tears any longer.
Tina    "Aaaaaah!!!"
My sobs gave way to anguished wails that echoed throughout the empty clock tower.


As the 12 o'clock bell rang, a single horse galloped forth from the palace stables.
Louis    "........."
From astride the horse, Louis looked up for a moment at the clock tower.
But whatever he'd been thinking was interrupted by a slightly panicked voice calling out to him.
Alyn    "Louis?!"
Louis    "Alyn?"
Louis pulled on the reins to bring his horse to a halt.
Alyn    "Where are you off to at this time of night?"
Louis smiled at Alyn's question.
Louis    "I'm off to protect Tina and her people—
Louis    "in the only way left that I know how."
Louis peered down the road, a determined glint in his eyes.
Louis    "I am going to get myself killed."
Alyn    "What?!"
But Louis's only response was to kick his horse back into motion.
Alyn    "W-Wait! Louis, stop!"
Louis didn't turn back as his horse galloped away from the palace.
Dawn broke, and with it, the news of the princess's sudden death.
The news spread throughout the kingdom like wildfire.
So fast, in fact, it had already reached Stein castle.
Nico    "What did you just say?"
Albert    "I said the princess of Wysteria is dead."
Nico    "What do you mean, she's dead?!"
Albert paused at Nico's panicked reply.
Albert    "It means what it means. Whether from some disease or an assassin's blade, I don't know.
Albert    "But they're apparently trying to find a new princess elect now."
Nico's face sunk further as Albert continued to speak.
Nico    "........."
Albert    "Hey, where are you going?"
Ignoring Albert's calls,
Nico stood up and bolted out the door, his fists tightly clenched.


(What time is it?)
With the tower's bells silent in mourning for the dead princess, there was no way to tell the time from my windowless room.
But from the intervals between visits from the guardsman who brings my food, I gathered it was sometime in the evening.
Tina    "When are they going to take me out of here?"
Being in the clock tower made me feel that Louis was still close by.
How desperately I wanted to open that door and go find him.
(Oh, Louis.)
I remembered the way he called my name from outside my door the last time I saw him.
My heart ached when I realized it was our final goodbye.
(I wish I'd said a proper farewell.
(But it's too late for that now.)
Footsteps on the stairs pulled me back to the present.
(Is it mealtime already?)
My eyes turned to the door.
I could hear the rattling of a key being clumsily turned in the lock.
(That's not the guard—)
I rose to my feet, suddenly worried.
Nico    "Tina."
Tina    "Nico?!"
Nico stepped into the room, still wearing his Steinig knight's uniform.
Tina    "What are you doing here?!"
Nico    "Shhh. We have to be quiet."
Nico lowered his voice to a whisper as he continued.
Nico    "I can't stay for long."
Nico stepped closer and handed me a small package.
Tina    "What's this?"
Nico    "Louis asked me to give it to you."
Tina    "What?!"
I hadn't expected to hear that name again. I accepted the package with trembling fingers.
(Louis? But how?)
I opened the package slowly.
I peeled away the final layer of wrapping to reveal...
The white stuffed bear we'd seen in the town's doll shop.


Tina    "I can't believe it."
I hugged the white bear against my chest and looked up at Nico.
Tina    "That bear looks a lot like you, Louis."
Louis    "What are you talking about?"
Tina    "Look how fluffy and cute it is!"
Louis    "I am neither fluffy nor cute."
My heart ached at the memory of Louis. I squeezed the bear tighter.
(How did Louis get this?
(No—that's not the important question.)
Tina    "When did you see Louis, Nico?"
Nico    "Just this morning.
Nico    "I didn't believe it when I'd heard that you'd died, so I came to the palace to ask him.
Nico    "It wasn't here that I met him, though"
(Not here? Then where?)
Nico continued as I tried to calm myself down.
Nico    "Louis told me why you had to step down.
Nico    "This is all my fault. I know an apology won't fix anything, but—I'm so terribly sorry."
Tina    "No, Nico. This isn't your fault.
Tina    "But I still don't understand—where did you meet Louis?"
Nico    "I met him when..."
But just as Nico launched into his explanation,
we heard voices coming from the hall outside.
(Someone's coming!)
Nico    "I gotta go!"
Nico    "Sorry there's no time to explain, but I have a message from Louis."
Nico turned back to face me, his hand on the doorknob.
Nico    "Louis said, 'I'm sorry that this is all I can give you right now.
Nico    "'Wait for me. The bear will keep you company.'"
("Wait for me?")
For the first time in a long while, I felt a glimmer of hope.
(Louis is coming to rescue me?)
Nico    "I wish I could do more for you.
Nico    "I'm sorry. I have to go."
Tina    "It's okay. Thank you, Nico."
Nico smiled as he slipped quietly through the door.
Tina    "........."
Alone once more in the room, I looked down at the bear.
(Did Louis really mean that?)
It seemed like he was coming for me.
The very thought made me long to be in his arms once more.
Tina    "No."
Desperate to push those feelings back down, I squeezed the bear hard to my chest.


Sid set aside his drink and narrowed his eyes.
The man who just entered could not have looked more out of place in the sparsely occupied tavern.
Sid    "This isn't a place for you pampered aristocrat types."
Louis    "Hello, Sid."
Louis proceeded straight towards Sid, breathing heavily from his ride.
Though the seats near Sid were empty, Louis opted to stand.
Louis    "I need a favor."
Sid    "You need a favor? From me? You've got to be kidding me."
After a few amused chuckles, Sid turned his attention away from Louis back to his drink.
After watching in silence for a moment, Louis knelt on the dirty tavern floor in front of Sid.
Sid    "What are you doing? Get up!"
Sid set his drink down and scowled at Louis.
Louis    "Your Grace, the eminent Lloyd Grandier. It is an honor—"
Sid's eyebrows flared at the mention of the name.
Sid    "Do you wanna die? Because if you ever call me that again—"
Louis    "........."
Still kneeling, Louis looked up at Sid, meeting his furious gaze head on.
After a moment, Sid sighed.
Sid    "Fine. This favor of yours...
Sid    "Spit it out."
I lowered myself onto the bed, still clutching the bear.
(Louis is coming to rescue me?)
But after mulling over the thought for a moment, I shook my head.
(That wouldn't even matter.
(Even if he does come for me,
(I couldn't be with a duke if I'm officially dead.)
And yet, that glimmer of hope had managed to ease the dread in my heart.
I took a deep sigh, but was interrupted by a knock at the door.
Tina    "Yes?"
Giles    "Forgive the intrusion."
Giles entered, his face grave.
Tina    "Giles! Has something happened?"
Giles    "The striking officials have returned to their duties.
Giles    "Little by little, life should be returning to normal in town."
Tina    "I'm glad to hear that."
As pleased as I was by Giles's news, the gloom on his face had me worried.
Giles    "There's more.
Giles    "Your relocation has been arranged."
Tina    "So soon?"
Giles    "You'll leave first thing tomorrow morning."
Tina    "I see..."
(I never imagined it would happen so fast.)
I could feel the hope that had taken root in my heart wither and die.
(I shouldn't be so upset by this.
(This is exactly what I'd agreed to.)
I recited these words in my mind as I fought to keep the tears at bay.
Tina    "Giles..."
I stared up at Giles, choosing my words with care.
Tina    "May I ask you for one final favor?"

«Royal Challenge»

Giles    "I trust this is the one?"
Tina    "Thank you, Giles."
I'd asked Giles to bring me the dress Louis and I had picked for the official announcement of our engagement.
The night we'd selected it had been a happy memory, and I wanted to wear it, even if it had to be while I was alone in this room.
Giles    "Shall I summon a maid to help you?"
Tina    "No, I can put it on myself.
Tina    "Thank you."
I smiled, and Giles made a subtle exit.
Slowly and carefully, I slipped on the blue dress.
I tried to remember the conversation Louis and I'd had when I first tried it on.
Tina    "Isn't it a little early to be choosing a dress?"
That night, Giles sent a maid to my chamber with a dozen different formal gowns.
I'd only just learned we'd be having the announcement ceremony and was still utterly bewildered.
Louis    "I suppose it is."
Louis smiled as he watched me try on the beautiful garment.
Louis    "I'm happy I got to see an early preview of how beautiful you look in that dress."
Tina    "Me too."
The passionate glint in his eyes was beginning to make me feel a little embarrassed.
I smiled at him.
Louis    "You might as well try it with the accessories."
Tina    "I don't know, Louis—I'd hate for them to get damaged."
Louis    "They're not quite as fragile as that."
Smiling, Louis pulled a bracelet from the case that came with the dress.
Louis    "Put out your hand."
Tina    "All right—"
I held out my right hand, and Louis wrapped his finger lightly around the palm.
(These hands.
(These are the hands that belong to my prince.)
The reality of our situation struck me just then.
Tina    "I can't believe this is happening."
Louis    "Neither can I.
Louis    "You've come so far from that girl I met digging in dirt in the palace courtyard."
Louis said teasingly.
Tina    "And how far you've come from that heartless ice sculpture you used to be."
My slightly irritated retort drew an uncomfortable laugh from Louis.
Louis    "I suppose I had that coming."
Tina    "No, you didn't."
I shook my head and looked up at Louis.
Tina    "I understand why you felt you had to be that way."
Louis closed the bracelet's clasp and gave me a light hug.
Then he whispered gently in my ear.
Louis    "Thank you for choosing me."
(That should be my line.)
Tina    "Thank you for always being there for me.
Tina    "I love you, Louis."
I pressed my lips lightly against Louis's, and he smiled happily.
As I snapped back to reality, tears streamed down my cheeks.
(Oh, Louis—
(How am I supposed to go on without you?)
I knew I'd have regrets, but I hadn't realized just how deeply I'd lament my decision.
My heart felt as though it was about to shatter.
I closed my eyes as I hugged the bear tight.
(I'm scared.
(I need you.)

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 I wasn't sure when exactly I'd fallen asleep.
But I woke with a start on my unfamiliar bed.
(How much longer until dawn?)
The knock on the door meaning my escorts had arrived could come at any moment, and the thought terrified me.
I found Louis's bear and hugged it tightly to my chest.
(I'm sorry, Louis.)
Just then, I heard footsteps on the clock tower stairs.
Tina    "So soon?!"
My escorts had arrived.
I trembled as I rose out of bed, focusing my gaze upon the door.
I could hear the key turning in the lock.
I squeezed my eyes shut as the door slowly opened.
(Goodbye, Louis.)
With the real Louis likely miles away, I could only bid farewell to the one inside my heart.
It was well before dawn when an unexpected visitor appeared at the Howard manor.
Attendant    "I'll ask you to state your business or leave immediately!"
Duke Howard's attendants assembled around the intruder, wary of the man who had pushed his way inside the mansion.
Sid    "Is that any way to greet your new lord?
Sid    "Guess I can't blame you for not remembering me. I haven't been here since I was a kid."
Attendant    "What are you talking about?"
The man's words had the attendants in an uproar.
Sid    "As of right this very minute, the duchy of Howard has been annexed by the archduchy of Grandier."
Attendant    "Who are you to speak such nonsense?"
The visitor answered the question with a malicious smile.
He shook his head slowly and continued.
Sid    "I'm the son of Archduke Grandier. Much as it pains me to admit it."
The attendants' whispers gave way to gasps and squeals of protest.
Sid    "From today onward, this is my duchy.
Sid    "Although I'll leave the hassle of ruling it to my father. He seems to enjoy that sort of thing."
All the eyes of the dumbfounded attendants were squarely on Sid.
Sid    "Thanks to Louis, your quaint little duchy is now part of a big fancy archduchy.
Sid    "I thought you'd be happy to hear it."
Finally, one of the attendants worked up the presence of mind to ask Sid a question.
Attendant    "Are you saying Duke Howard knows about this?"
Sid    "Louis? He's dead."
Attendant    "What?!"
The attendants gasped in near unison.
Sid    "He's never coming back."


Sid    "Louis? He's dead."
Sid    "He's never coming back."
The attendants gasped in near unison.
Attendant    "Duke Howard is—dead?"
Sid    "Yep.
Sid    "The details are all in his will. I'd give it a look if I were you."
Sid handed the letter to one of the attendants. While they pored over it, he recalled the events of a few hours earlier.
Sid    "Fine.
Sid    "This favor of yours—spit it out."
Louis looked directly at Sid and began to speak.
Louis    "I want to transfer dominion of the Howard duchy to your father.
Louis    "And in return—
Louis    "I want you to erase my existence from the face of the earth."
Sid    "Uh—"
For once, Sid was shocked into silence.
After a moment, he squinted his eyes and studied Louis, as if he were searching out his true intentions.
Sid    "And then what? What happens to Louis Howard?
Sid    "Where are you gonna go when you don't even have your manor anymore?"
Louis    "As for me—"
Louis again met Sid's gaze.
Louis    "I'll be going to protect someone important to me.
Louis    "And if it costs me everything I have, then so be it."
Sid couldn't help but smile as he remembered Louis's words.
Sid    "She must be some amazing princess to make an ice sculpture say such pretty things."
Sid muttered the comment under his breath, then raised his head and called out to the attendants.
Sid    "Hey, you lot."
Attendant    "Yes, sir?"
Sid    "Bring out a bottle of the finest liquor you've got."
Attendant    "S-Sir?"
Sid smiled at the attendants, who were once again taken aback by his words.
Sid    "We've gotta drink a toast to the late Louis Howard, don't we?"
I squeezed my eyes tight as the door slowly opened.
I didn't dare to let a glimmer of light through.
Because as soon as I did, I'd have no choice but to face the awful reality of my situation.
(There was so much more I wanted to do with Louis.
(So many things to talk about, so many places to go.
(I'd settle just to hear him say my name again—
(in that beautiful voice of his.)
The door opened.
???    "Tina."
That voice—it can't be.


???    "Open your eyes, Tina."
I felt the gentle caress of someone's fingertips through my hair.
(Not "someone's."
(I know these fingertips well.)
I slowly opened my eyes.
Tina    "Louis?"
Louis was by my side, gazing tenderly at me.
Tina    "Is this a dream?"
I gingerly extended hand to touch his cheek.
Smiling, Louis placed his hand on top of mine.
Louis    "It's not a dream.
Louis    "I'm here to whisk you away."
Tina    "But—"
Gently pulling his hand away from mine, Louis wrapped his arms around me in a warm embrace.
Tina    "Louis I—"
Overwhelmed with joy that my wish to see Louis again had come true—he really was there.
Tina    "You don't understand. We can't—"
Louis    "Listen to what I have to say. Promise you won't get angry, okay?"
Louis whispered in my ear, his arms wrapped tightly around me.
Louis    "I'm dead too, just like you.
Louis    "So I can now protect you in our own version of heaven."
Tina    "What? What did you do?"
My heart sank as I registered the meaning of Louis's words.
Louis    "Duke Howard is no more.
Louis    "Now I'm just a common man who loves you.
Louis    "I hope you can still love me like this."
Louis stared deep into my eyes, a brief flash of worry crossing his face.
Tina    "You fool!"
Unable to hold myself back any longer, I wrapped arms around Louis's neck, pulling myself on tiptoe to give him an urgent kiss.
Just as I thought my tears had finally dried, I began crying again.
Slowly pulling away from the kiss, I squeezed Louis tight.
Tina    "Oh you—why would you do something like that?"
Louis    "I'm sorry. It was all I could think of."
There was a hint of sadness in Louis's laugh as he wrapped his arms around me.
(No—I'm the fool.
(To be so happy, so relieved
(that Louis threw away everything for me.)
Tina    "Take me out of here, Louis.
Tina    "I don't care where we go, as long as we're together."
I buried my face in his chest.
Tina    "Never leave me again, Louis."
Louis looked at me with a warm smile across his face, and leaned forward to kiss me sweetly.


The early morning light cast silhouettes of the two figures fleeing from the clock tower.
Giles smiled as he gazed at them through his window. He didn't even turn to look when he heard the footsteps behind him.
Leo    "We really ought to get a locksmith out there to take a look at that clock tower door."
Giles    "It's not like you to be up this early, Leo."
Leo    "Just like you, it seems, I didn't want to miss the happy ending."
Leo didn't so much as glance at Giles as he pressed his face against the glass.
Leo    "I'm really going to miss Tina. She was such a breath of air in this stuffy old palace."
But Leo's smile was pure and free of regrets.
The two men watched as the silhouettes disappeared out of sight.
Giles    "Well then—"
Giles clapped his hands together, and turned to face Leo, a smile on his face.
Giles    "Things are about to become awfully busy around here.
Giles    "In a single tragic stroke, we've lost an exceptional duke and a promising princess."
Leo returned Giles's smile.
Leo    "I doubt that's all we'll be losing. The palace bureaucracy could certainly use some tidying up."
Leo's eyes hardened as his smile narrowed.
Leo    "There's some very stubborn filth that needs to be scoured away."
Giles nodded.
He reached out and yanked the curtain over the window, as if to conceal the rest of their meeting from prying eyes.
Many years later—
The events of that night were lost to history, and any doubts about the two untimely deaths were long forgotten.
In a small town in a distant land, far away from Wysteria,
there was an orphanage where the halls echoed with the laughter of children.
Tina    "Quiet down, kids. It's nap time."
I strode through the rooms, corralling any stragglers.
Child 1    "I hate naps!"
Louis    "You'll learn to love them."
Child 1    "Hey!"
Louis scooped up the child that had slipped from my grasp.
Tina    "Thanks, Louis."
Still holding the child in his arms, Louis smiled at me.
Louis    "My pleasure."


Louis and I carried the children to their bedrooms.
I set about gathering the picture books scattered across the floor.
Among them I discovered a copy of "The White Flower."
I couldn't help but remember my life at the palace.
(I hope everyone's still well.)
I recalled their faces as I absent-mindedly flipped through the book.
I looked over to Louis, busy putting children to bed.
The gentle smile on his face made me smile too.
(I never imagined our lives would turn out like this.
(Not even in my wildest dreams.)
Suddenly, a nearby child reached out from his bed and tugged at my sleeve.
Tina    "What is it?"
Child 1    "Are you going to dance in the garden again?"
Tina    "What?"
Child 1    "Everyone knows you and Louis go out and dance in the garden during our nap time."
Child 2    "I want to dance with you too!"
Tina    "Well, maybe after your nap."
A strong pair of arms wrapped around my waist.
They pulled me away from the child's bed.
Louis    "Unacceptable."
Tina    "Louis!"
Louis    "Only I'm allowed to dance with Tina."
Louis's voice tickled as he whispered in my ear.
Tina    "L-Louis!"
Child 3    "Well, I want to dance with Louis!"
Louis    "Equally unacceptable."
Child 3    "Awwwww!"
Louis took my hand and smiled, ignoring the loud complaints of the children.
Louis    "Shall we, Tina?"
Tina    "........."
Louis acts like such a child sometimes, but I adore it when he does.
I always play along.
The sun was high overhead in the garden, and a gentle breeze brushed past our cheeks.
When the garden is quiet like this, it always feels like Louis and I are the only people on earth.
Tina    "You haven't changed a bit, Louis."
Louis    "Of course not."
Louis looked over his shoulder at me, his eyes crinkling as he smiled and said,
Louis    "For I alone am your prince."
Louis's smile warmed my heart so much it took everything for me not to hide my face in embarrassment.
Tina    "I haven't been princess for a long time."
Louis    "You will always be my princess, Tina."
Louis gave me a formal bow and extended an elegant hand.
Louis    "May I have this dance, Your Highness?"
Louis's smile hadn't changed one bit since that night in the palace courtyard.
(Nothing has changed since that day.
(You're the only prince for me, Louis.)
Tina    "I would be delighted."
I lay my fingertips upon his hand and returned his smile.
(It's such a miracle we're still together.)
Tina    "Louis."
Louis    "Yes?"
Tina    "I love you."
Louis    "I know."
As Louis and I danced in the garden, he pulled me in close.
Louis    "And I love you too, Tina."
Louis said as he leaned in for a slow, passionate kiss.
My legs grew weak as the kiss continued in the warm afternoon sun.
Congratulations, you've completed the Sugar Ending!



Louis Part13_end-01.png  

=============== 題外話心得談 ===============

常常不自覺恍神....,part 12那就貼上文字後...忘了存檔~就把文件滑掉了(我在幹什麼!!!)



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