Hearing her daughter’s call, both Rihannan and Dimitri walked out of the room. Mai had arrived with Mary holding baskets filled with strawberries. When Mai saw Rihannan, she cheerfully run towards her.
“Mother! Look, I picked all these myself!”
Seeing her daughter holding up a basket filled to the brim with berries, Rihannan laughed.
“Mai, that’s too much. Even if every single person in this mansion eats strawberries every day, it will take them some time to finish them all!”
“I’ll eat all the leftovers! I swear I can do that!”
After Mai finished bragging about how many strawberries she could eat, Mary spoke.
“The princess was amazing. She picked up so many berries in such short time, it barely took her a second! If I had not stopped her, she’d have finished harvesting the whole forest… Oh, my goodness!”
Mary turned around to look at Dimitri, who’d changed into a completely different person. She was so surprised that she let go of the basket of berries. Dimitri sprang forward and caught the basket before it landed on the floor.
“Oh, my God. Who is this? Our handsome young lord Dimitri is finally back!”
Mary was astonished. In the short time it took them to go out for strawberries, Dimitri had changed from a furry monkey into a handsome young man.
Hearing Mary’s compliment, Dimitri smiled with satisfaction and focused his gaze on Mai. Mai also had a surprised expression on her face.
“Mai, my princess. How do I look? Do I look more handsome now that I’ve shaved?”
Mai studied every inch of his face as though she was a teacher looking for imperfections. She gave him a quick nod.
“Hmmm. At least you look better than before. Do not grow a beard again.”
Dimitri was brimming with happiness.
“Really? Then, Mai, can you give me a kiss on the cheek?”
Mai shuddered at her uncle’s silliness and run off to the kitchen. Rihannan gave the disheartened Dimitri a pat on the shoulder and offered him some comfort.
“Don’t be sad, Dimitri. One day you’ll receive a kiss from her for sure.”
Dimitri was still sad.
“It looks like Mai still hates me…”
“She is a little hard to please. She inherited that trait from her father. Don’t give up, Dimitri.”
After dinner, dessert was served with the many berries that Mai had picked up earlier that day. Mai talked excitedly about her adventures in the forest, making the whole family laugh with her funny occurrences.
When it got late, Rihannan put Mai to bed and tucked her in. She would usually fall fast asleep as soon as Rihannan covered her up with a blanket and gave her some soft pats on the chest, but for whatever reason, Mai could not fall asleep at all that night.
“Mai, are you not sleepy?”
Mai grabbed Rihannan’s hand and placed it on her face, rubbing her cheek into her palm.
“Yes, mother. But I’ll fall asleep faster if you lay down with me.”
Ever since they’ve arrived to Chrichton, Mai became clingier to her mother. It seemed like she held herself back in Arundel, where she had to keep up an appearance appropriate of a princess, but here she didn’t need to worry about protocol anymore.
Rihannan lied down next to her. Her charming daughter was the spitting image of her beautiful mother, with her shiny silver hair, exceptionally white skin and delicate face, she looked more after Rihannan then Igor. On the other hand, Rihannan thought that Mai had inherited the same deep purple eyes as her father. Actually, whenever she looked carefully into her eyes, she could even make the mistake of thinking she was indeed looking at Igor. Her personality also resembled her father’s in many aspects, so much so that Basil was said that Mai behaved exactly like young Igor.
“Mother, please, tell me the story of how you met father.”
Looking into her daughter’s sparkling purple eyes, Rihannan chuckled.
“Yes, please. Again.”
It was a story that had been told many times, but Mai always begged to listen to it one more time. Rihannan cleared her throat and began speaking.
“When I was ten, I visited the Royal Palace with my mother. While my mother was speaking to the Queen Mother, I was playing on my own in the Palace garden when…”
“When you met father, right? And father was lying on the grass at that time.”
Rihannan nodded. She could not understand why Mai always begged to listen to the same story when she already knew it by heart. However, Rihannan didn’t say anything and continued.
“That’s right. I didn’t even know your father was in the garden. Then, something caught my eye as I was looking at the garden flowers and butterflies.”
“You mean the cat that was trying to catch a bird to eat it, right?”
Rihannan couldn’t help bursting into laughter. She caressed her daughter’s hair lovingly. At this point, she wasn’t sure who was telling who the story anymore, or if they were simply discussing past events together.
“Yes. In the end, your father climbed up the tree and saved the little bird.”
And the story always ended up right there. Neither Igor nor Rihannan ever talked about the incredible miracle that happened later. After all, that miracle was their little secret, and only theirs.
Mai pulled Rihannan out of her reverie.
“What made you fall in love with father?”
“Well… his face…”
Rihannan blushed but her daughter didn’t even bat an eyelash. Even when Mai heard her mother’s embarrassing confession that she first fell in love with her father because of his looks, she was not surprised at all. In fact, the little girl only nodded her head, as though she agreed completely with Rihannan.
“Well, I also like father’s pretty face very much. I understand, mother.”
Rihannan suddenly realized that her daughter had inherited her tendency of preferring things based on their outward appearance.
“Yes… thank you very much for understanding…”
Rihannan felt the urge of making Mai fall asleep as soon as possible.
“Mai, if you want to get up early to play tomorrow, you need to go to sleep now.”
Rihannan covered her daughter to the neck with the blanket and prepared to bid her sweet dreams. However, Mai still had something to say to her.
“Tomorrow is our last day here, right?”
“So, the time has come… ahh, time did fly by.”
“Are you sad?”
Their three-day short visit had come to an end. At first, Mai found this place a bit uncomfortable, but soon began to enjoy herself as though she’d been born and raised in Chrichton. Rihannan studied her daughter’s face carefully.
“Then, shall we stay a bit longer? Just for a couple more days?”
“No! Anything but that!”
Hearing her daughter’s adamant rejection, Rihannan looked at her, surprised.
“Why? I thought you said you were sad?”
“Father said that if mother ever mentioned staying longer, I should do whatever in my hands, cry, beg, throw a tantrum, anything, so we could go back home as soon as pos-… ah!”
Mai quickly covered her mouth with both hands, but it was already too late. She’d already sold herself and her father out. Rihannan’s eyes narrowed.
“Mai. What did you talk about with your father before coming here?”
Mai soon revealed the whole truth. The day before they boarded the ship to Chrichton, Igor told Mai in secret that if her mother ever talked about staying longer, it was her duty to immediately complain and beg to go back to Arundel. To even roll on the floor while throwing a tantrum, if necessary.
Rihannan couldn’t help but laugh out loud. She had been wondering to herself why Igor had suddenly agreed to let her travel to Chrichton, and now she knew the truth. Igor wanted them to go back home desperately.
“Mother, father did give me that order, but it is true that I want to go back to Arundel. It’s not like I don’t like it in here, but… I want to see father.”
Mai’s eyes shone with longing for her father. Since Igor and Mai spent the longest spending time together, it was only natural that she missed him dearly.
“Alright, I understand. Now go to sleep.”
Mai smiled shyly and closed her eyes. Not long after, she fell asleep.
Seeing her daughter calmly breathing, Rihannan remembered many things from her past. These past few years did feel like a dream. To give birth to her child and see her grow up were the happiest memories of her life, so much so that sometimes she found It had to believe that these memories were, in fact, her reality.
Mai smiled like an angel in her sleep upon hearing her mother’s whisper as though she’d heard her, even in a dream. Rihannan kissed her daughter’s forehead and whispered again.
“My daughter, Maiastra.”
The golden bird who could make wishes come true. After giving birth to Mai, Igor confessed that he’d thought of that name since a long time ago. He said that when there seemed no chance of their relationship ever healing again, he held onto one last desperate hope and thought of the name Maiastra.
Rihannan had asked why Maiastra, since the bird’s name in Arundel was Ataraxia. Igor explained that he’d chosen that name in case the worst possible outcome happened. If he did end up with no choice but to let his wife and daughter go back to Chrichton, the two of them would end up living there with their daughter’s name honoring Arundel’s golden bird, which might be embarrassing and uncomfortable for both. That’s by, fearing that her name might become a burden, he chose Chrichton’s version, Maiastra.
Rihannan laughed at his silliness. “You really are an idiot.”
With a smile on her lips, Rihannan hugged Mai firmly. it had been difficult to organize this trip. She’d originally intended on staying in Chrichton for a week, but seeing Igor’s firm refusal, she agreed on staying over for just three days. At first, she feared they might regret coming over for such short period of time, but just like Mai said, she longed to see her husband again as well. Rihannan closed her eyes while thinking how much she wanted to see Igor again, as soon as possible.
On their last day in Chrichton, Rihannan’s family escorted them to port, where she bid farewell to her uncle and cousin.
“Then, we shall take our leave. Please stay safe and healthy.”
“Alright, Rihannan. Next time I’ll go visit you.”
The Marquis made a goodbye gesture with his hand. Dimitri, on the other hand, exuded sadness in his face. After hugging Rihannan and bidding her a safe trip, he murmured angrily under his breath.
“Just three days. I really can’t forgive that guy…”
Seeing him speaking ill of her father in front of her, Mai raised her eyebrow, making Dimitri immediately shut his mouth. He was practically digging his own grave, speaking ill of Igor in front of Mai!
“Mai, last call. Can you give me a kiss in the cheek?”
Dimitri continued begging for her love till the very last minute, a behavior that bordered being too clingy. He even presented his own cheek on the same height level as Mai.
Actually, Dimitri had no hope of ever receiving a kiss from his niece. That shy princess would surely ignore him and turn her back to him. But a miracle occurred. Mai stepped closer to him, hugged him and kissed his cheek.
“It was very nice to see you. You should come to Arundel next time.”
Dimitri touched his cheek with a dumbfounded expression on his face. And with that final farewell, both Rihannan and Mai boarded their ship. The ship soon set sail, quickly disappearing in the horizon. The ship was sailing top speed towards the man that they both loved very much.