To describe Chip and Ophelia's relationship, partners in crime didn't quite cover all of it. She wasn't sure exactly how to summarize the bond she held with the elder gentleman, but she had attempted to over the years and came up with brief descriptors that summarized pieces.
He wasn't a brother-figure, but he held the authority of one. When offering advice, she adhered to his words, especially on matters concerning parental figures, for which he had much experience. As far as she knew, he had tackled nearly every event in the book from sneaking out to skipping out of chores. He knew how to get a lower sentence (or chore list as it were) and whenever Ophelia had a run in with one of the maids, she used Chip's tactic to create a distraction so she could get away.
Chip wasn't a complete authority figure thought. He knew how to have fun, to enjoy himself, and especially how to make people laugh. When he moved to the village, she would often see him with a group of other youths and, while he was telling a tale, they all would be laughing and having a jovial time. She admired his ability to immerse himself it whatever situation he found himself in. Chip could go from a royal party to the local tavern and be as comfortable as can be without so much as a flinch. It was harder for Ophelia, mainly because she didn't want to be at those parties in the first place, but she tried to mirror his ease.
The elder boy wasn't afraid to talk about the hard stuff either. At eleven, when she asked him about his parents (she had always suspected Mrs. Potts wasn't his true mother), he hadn't even blinked before explaining the tale.
"Before the curse was put in the palace, about seven years prior to be more specific, my parents came to the palace seeking refuge. They were originally from Germany and spoke little French, but they managed to find the palace and your father's papa let us stay on the condition that they would work for him and his family. My mother became a maid under Mrs. Potts' charge and Papa went to work in the stables. Everything was fine; I was born later that year and, up until the curse, we were a happy family.
"But when the enchantress came, my mother, having always feared magic, fled the palace before the curse was placed over us. She left me in Mrs. Potts' care, thinking she would be back with help, but a snow storm started and I guess she got lost because Papa left soon after to find her. They never came back. Your papa sent out a search party but nothing was found except my father's shirt and my mother's scarf. I'd like to think they were still alive, but after everything, it's just easier to believe they're in heaven, you know?" Ophelia had nodded at the time, not completely understanding what he meant but glad he had explained it all the same.
The princess and the inventor's apprentice had formed a bond over the years, one that not even one of her brothers could dream of replicating. They danced together, they made up songs when she was younger; they were inseparable. Yet the one thing they didn't have to worry about was romantic feelings muddling their friendship which was surprising, at least to her. After all, Nan had been going on and on for ages about how one day, Ophelia would fall for the older boy. Then where would their friendship go? The princess chose to ignore her friend, as best she could at any rate, but sometimes she did wonder what would happen if she began to like Chip in a different way, or if he thought of her as more than friendship material. She never gave Nan the satisfaction of knowing how much it worried her though. There wasn't much fun in falling for the young lady's hypotheticals.
Ophelia was just counting her lucky stars that it hadn't happened yet. She wouldn't know how to tell him she didn't feel that same, or convince herself she didn't.
When the princess' feet were beginning to lose feeling, she suggested they stop. Chip readily agreed.
"Want to go to the balcony and get some fresh air?" He suggested. Ophelia nodded, liking the sound of that, and followed the young man's lead.
Various balconies and alcoves were hidden along the castle, especially around the ballroom, but the sitting room had the nicest ones in her mind. Clean marble railing and benches, four ceramic pots with red roses, and the perfect view of the moon; a spot couldn't get much better in her opinion.
Ophelia wandered over to the railing and casually leaned forward, her head craned back to look at the stars. Chip shut the door behind him then mimicked her position. He was so tall though it was hard to lean without nearly falling off the balcony. Chip managed nevertheless and eventually the two merely stared at the stars, taking in nature's beauty.
That was another thing the two enjoyed. When she was growing up, he had been the one to take her on adventures in the forest. He showed her the safe paths, the safe animals, the streams, the not so safe animals, and various other things. He told her which berries were best to eat at what time. By doing that, he often earned himself many different flavours of pie throughout the year.
While her siblings did like the outdoors as well, it wasn't the same with them. Henri liked it for the challenge it possessed. He wanted to conquer, to defy, to win. He hadn't yet learned that one cannot win against nature. Damien wasn't about conquering, just observing, almost too passively. He was an analyzer by habit so nature came as more of an experiment than anything, at least lately. When he was younger she remembered he liked exploring in order to find new animals, but that had left him a few years prior. If anything, he only went outside the castle walls to please the family, to fit in. Ophelia wondered why he wanted to blend in, but she never asked. It wasn't her place to butt in. Not yet at any rate.
That left the baby of the family. Sweet Camilla, bless her little heart, but taking her in the forest was a challenge. Everything caught her attention; every flower petal, every blade of grass, and if one so much as took their eyes off her for a second, she was gone. It was reasonable behaviour though, considering she was only six, but it was still hard to tolerate sometimes. Perhaps when she was older and had been taught the ways of the forest, things would be easier.
"Ophelia," her name rolled off Chip's tongue, catching her attention.
"Yeah Chip?" She replied, glancing at him from the corner of her dark eyes. The tanned boy was still staring up at the sky, but he seemed to have something on his mind. She could tell by the way his nose was slightly crunched up, creating lines around the corners of his eyes. He had certain tells that she had picked up over the years, this being one of them. She briefly wondered if she had her own but, not wanting to get distracted, stored that thought away for later.
"I have something to tell you, and I'm not sure if you'll like what I have to say, but I wanted to tell you first before discussing it with our parents." This sent off warning bells in Ophelia's mind. Whenever parents were mentioned, it was never a good thing.
'Does he like me? Oh God what if he's in love with me and he's going to confess his feelings? I haven't read enough romance novels to be prepared!' The princess mentally panicked, trying to keep a calm face as her mind raced. She attempted to think of a way out of this possible disaster. What did people usually do in these situations?
'If only I had read one of Mama's books recently, then I'd at least have something to go on!'
"You can tell me Chip. I'm listening," she managed to say, not sure how the words made their way out of her throat but glad she had at least said something instead of continuing to silently stare at him in fear.
The young man nodded but said nothing for some time. Then his face broke out into a smile and he looked at her.
"I proposed to Kristie today and she said yes."
Ophelia blinked in surprise. That certainly wasn't what she was expecting! Yet she was relieved too. 'At least he's not in love with me.'
The young lady smiled in return. "That's great Chip, I'm so happy for you!"
Chip chuckled. "Yeah, it is. I'm just glad she said yes. It would have been really awkward to have to return that ring," he said with a shake of his head.
"Well of course she would say yes! She's been crazy for you since day one! Remind me again how long ago that was? It seems like you two have been courting for ages," she teased lightly.
Chip grinned. "Only eighteen months. We both wanted to make sure we really cared about each other before making this step. After all, people can make mistakes, and I'd rather not be married to the wrong person the rest of my life."
Ophelia nodded. "True enough."
'Marriage. Wow. Who would have thought,' she shook her head, a small smile on her face.
"Why did you think I wouldn't like what you had to say?" She inquired after a few minutes, staring at him inquisitively.
The elder boy shrugged, his cheeks painted a light shade of pink as he avoided her gaze.
"I don't know I just . . . I didn't want you to feel upset in case . . . in case . . ."
"In case I like you?" She finished for him.
Chip nodded. "Yeah, in case you have any . . . feelings for me."
Ophelia couldn't help but giggle. That giggle eventually morphed into a full out laugh and while she knew it was incredibly rude, she couldn't help it. Once she could breathe without giggling, she explained.
"I'm sorry to burst your bubble Chip, but I'm not romantically inclined towards you. Actually, I was panicking when you said that because I thought you were going to tell me you like me!"
Chip chuckled. "And what would be so bad about me liking you?"
She shrugged, glancing down at her hands. "I don't know. I just . . . I wouldn't want to ruin our friendship. You mean so much to me, and it would be terrible to lose that to something as fickle as love."
"Now who told you love was fickle?" He tisked, flicking her ear gently. She pouted, hating when he did that, but answered all the same.
"I've seen enough ladies-in-waiting "fall in love" to know that it isn't as great as it's made to be."
Chip shook his head with a frown. "That's not real love. The purest kind of love, and the one that never leaves a person, is only found once in a lifetime. Look at your mama and papa. She loved him even in his beastly form, and that didn't change after everything they went through. Don't you think that kind of love takes courage?"
"I suppose so," she said with a nod. "Is that how you feel about Kristie?"
He nodded without hesitation. "I wouldn't marry her if I didn't. You know her; she's perfect for me. We're just meant to be. I can't explain it really. You have to feel it to get it."
Ophelia did know the book store owner's grand-daughter quite well. She was a sweet girl with a quick mind and optimistic outlook, exactly what an inventor would need in years to come. Kristie was pretty too, not that it mattered much, but Ophelia always thought she looked lovely without much effort. Her black hair went down to her waist and she typically kept it under control with a simple head band that complimented her diamond eyes nicely. Whenever the two had seen each other, which wasn't too often, Kristie was always kind to the princess but not enough to be thought of as ass-kissing.
Chip placed his hand on her shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. "One day you'll find a boy and he's going to turn your world upside down in the best way possible. Then you'll understand what I'm talking about. And when you do find him, come tell me so I can brag about how right I was."
The princess chuckled and agreed. "I'm not interested in boys much right now. They're odd," she replied.
"Yeah," he smirked, "well don't worry, we also think girls are pretty strange. But eventually those feelings will leave and you'll see them in a different light," he promised.
Personally, Ophelia didn't mind if her opinion of them never changed. Boys, especially ones like Chris, just confused her. It was easier if she kept them in the friend-zone, at least until she "matured" as her mama often said.
"So, tell me all about the wedding! Have you started planning yet?"
Chip shook his head. "Not really. That's why I wanted to talk to your parents. I'm thinking of having the reception in the castle's garden, but I want to check it over with them before talking to Kristie about it. We wouldn't be having it for a while anyway. I want to build a house for us first which could take a while, plus we have to save up the money."
"Why not just buy a house? You know my papa thinks of you like a third son. I'm sure he wouldn't mind helping you out," she suggested.
"No," Chip shook his head. "While I know he would do that, I don't want him to. This is the start of my new life with Kristie and I want to do it right. I don't want to have to rely on others to provide for us. Besides, I've been helping build houses around town since the beginning of the year. By the time I start, I should have enough experience to make a lovely house for Kristie and our kids."
Ophelia raised an eyebrow. "Is she with child?"
"No!" Chip said almost too loudly, his face turnip red. He cleared his throat awkwardly. "I meant for our future children."
The princess nodded, trying not to smirk. "And how many do you two want?"
Chip shrugged. "We haven't talked much about it, but as long as we have a little girl, I think we'll be okay. Kristie's always wanted a daughter and I need someone to take over the "princess" nickname," he chuckled.
The young man straightened up and let out a sigh. "I'm going to head inside and tell the others. You coming?"
Ophelia shook her head. "Not right now. I'm going to see if I can find the centaur constellation before heading to bed." She leaned up on her tip toes and kissed his cheek. "Goodnight, and congratulations once again. I know you're going to make a great husband and father."
Chip gave her a hug, picking her off the ground as was usual, then ruffled her hair affectionately before disappearing.
The princess turned her gaze back to the stars and sighed to herself. She wondered what her parents' reaction would be to Chip's engagement. 'Hmm, maybe I can arrange for some entertainment during the wedding . . .' With that, the princess went back into the sitting room, hoping Chip would like her idea. After all, he had never been opposed to the gypsy dancers and fortune tellers before.