The Toy in the Summer Palace - Chapter 8.1
“You really didn’t do anything to upset the Empress and the Prince, did you?”
Mistake… What would be considered a mistake? She hadn’t done anything specifically wrong, but perhaps not being a bother to people of high rank?
Senita, uncertain, murmured hesitantly.
“That’s a relief.”
Sighs were exhaled. Following the sound, Senita let her head droop. It wasn’t a good thing that the Empress and the Prince were kind to her. She felt so foolish for being flustered without understanding why.
Did her clumsiness cause a bother to her aunt? Would it lead to difficulties in staying at the palace?
The more she pondered, the more her anxiety seemed to snowball.
Nora took hold of Senita’s cheeks, gently lifting her downcast face. As a result, tears welled in her eyes, leaving her feeling helpless. Her lips were sore from being bitten so hard to hold back her tears.
Nora’s expression softened as she observed this, offering a wry smile and patting Senita’s golden head with tenderness.
“You should be thankful to the prince for saving you and to the empress for showing mercy.”
Senita sniffled and nodded faintly.
“Don’t let them down.”
Nora embraced the child’s arms tightly. Senita pressed her lips together firmly, noting the seriousness in her aunt’s expression.
“Even if it’s just a small thing, it might happen again today… Follow orders, don’t act rudely, and stay composed. Can you promise me that?”
“Yes, I promise.”
She would make sure to keep that promise. She would adhere to it without fail, just as her aunt instructed.
As Senita renewed her vow over and over, she blinked her eyes, and the tears that had formed rolled down her round cheeks. Nora gently wiped away the tears with a tender touch.
As she extinguished the lamp, the room was engulfed in deep darkness. Senita lay on the bed, carefully sliding her hand under the pillow. She touched something soft, a secret possession. It was the prince’s handkerchief.
Senita retrieved it and clutched it tightly with both hands. She buried her nose in it, taking a deep breath to savor its pleasant scent, the prince’s scent.
Even though he understood her unspoken concerns, the prince still acknowledged them. Her worries and her embarrassment were challenges he recognized, even without her having to voice them to Gaspar.
She would forever cherish this kindness. These memories brought her immense joy. Senita closed her eyes, uttering a silent prayer.
Senita resolved to be exceedingly cautious. She wouldn’t even think of the Empress or the prince again. She would wholeheartedly focus on fulfilling whatever tasks were assigned to her. She had already experienced an extraordinary stroke of luck; she wasn’t entitled to hope for anything more.
However, fate often has other plans, indifferent to the determinations of a humble maid.
* * *
Senita swiftly inclined her head in response to Iskandar’s greeting from the sofa. Is this level of politeness perhaps too excessive? After the incident earlier, her heart continued to tremble, fearing another mistake.
The prince’s servant had appeared at the start of the afternoon. He informed Senita that she had been summoned and escorted her to the prince’s quarters. Without a word, Senita had been transported there, and she now found herself seated in the same spot as the day before, wringing her hands together nervously.
Why? Why had she been brought back here? Had she done something wrong? Perhaps it would have been better if she hadn’t…
“What about your legs?”
Senita’s gaze lowered to her ankle, swathed in a bandage, at the prince’s inquiry. It had been throbbing just moments ago, but now she couldn’t even tell if it hurt.
“Is it hurting?”
It wasn’t a lie.
“Good to hear.”
His words were sweet and tender. The prince’s voice was just as mellifluous today. Perhaps even more so, like the plums she had eaten yesterday.
Unsure of how to respond, Senita averted her gaze. All she could see were his toes, yet even that was enough to set her mind aflutter like waves crashing on the shore.
“Today, Senita will be my playmate.”
His next words took her by surprise.
Senita’s head involuntarily lifted. Their eyes met. His raven-black hair was a touch more tousled than yesterday, and his attire, consisting of a silk robe thrown casually over his indoor shirt and trousers, appeared more relaxed.
Senita echoed dumbfoundedly, her eyes alight with a warm gold akin to sunlight.
He affirmed it, yet the notion was perplexing to grasp.
Playmate? How could someone like her possibly serve as his playmate?
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