The next week Camilla did come with Al’bert to see the watchmaker, although she had absolutely no interest in watches or the gnomes who made them. Fangline, as usual, was delighted to see his best friend, who seemed equally pleased to be in the company of the prince again. Camilla firmly held the position of third wheel for the entire day, but she did notice Fangline colored against his will when he saw her first, and that was enough compensation for her.
The gnome was a curious sort, if a bit lacking in grooming skills, who wore all kinds of tiny contraptions on his person, and seemed to mutter a lot of nonsense under his breath when he wasn’t explaining his handiwork or answering questions. He was surrounded in this particular sitting room, which was deep green and mahogany, by a handful of royal elves that nearly all found him interesting and delightful. Fangline was at least as riveted by the gnome as anyone else, and asked the majority of questions of the small creature.
“What else do you make, besides watches?” he asked the gnome.
“A number of things,” replied the gnome, as if the answer was obvious and complete. He turned to show Al’bert how to wind the pocket-watch he was puzzling over, which was a pewter shade with a glass back that showed the inner workings of the gears and rods and ticked with mild precision.
“Care to relate what?” asked Fangline, vying for the gnome’s attention, which was difficult.
“It would be impossible to list it all within the next hour, your highness,” said the gnome, still fiddling with Al’bert’s watch, as the Comte was having a difficult time figuring out what the gnome wanted him to do with it. It made a noise like a bell and the face sprung open, revealing the inner workings from the front side, so one could see through the open spaces of the marching gears to the ornate rug on the floor below. Al’bert took his hands away, for fear of ruining it’s delicate workings, and let the gnome take the business over entirely.
The gnome seemed quite put out by Al’bert’s ineptitude with mechanisms, but worked it again, showing him how to manipulate the watch. Fangline, his curiosity momentarily subdued, seemed to find Al’bert’s fear of the watch very amusing, and demanded one of his own.
Camilla noticed how Fangline seemed to learn anything he was interested in very quickly. In the case of the watch, he worked it with ease after being only shown once, and promised the gnome that he would provide Al’bert with tutelage in the matter later. The prince learned so quickly, Camilla thought, that it seemed there was very little that did not bore him after a brief time.
“Ah, you’re still here,” smiled Fangline’s aunt Ellinya as she came into the room. She looked lovely, as usual, and graceful. Her eyes were green, like Fangline’s, and she supposed they shared that trait. Fangline seemed to despise her, for reasons Camilla didn’t know.
“His Majesty is embroiled and can’t meet with you, which I promise you he sorely regrets, but he would like some of your handiwork, if you have anything for him,” Ellinya told the gnome, her smile warm and pleasant.
The gnome took note of Ellinya, then turned to his satchels, brown and rugged, and a small case he carried with him.
“There was something…” he muttered, and he rummaged through all that he had in search of it, until finally, upon patting his pocket at last, he pulled out a slender golden watch on a thin, smooth chain.
Its workmanship was remarkable in its delicacy, all etched with leaves and branches, and as he touched a tiny clasp on the side, it sprung open to reveal an elegant face made of ivory, with ebony for hands and willowy hour marks. As silence fell in the room, Camilla could hear the sound it made: soft ticks in perfect rhythm, like footsteps in sand, or the heartbeat of a fairy.
“It’s beautiful,” sighed Ellinya, radiant with happiness. “The king will love it, I know he will.”
“It is beautiful,” said Fangline, as the gnome slid the golden watch into a small velvet bag and gave it to his aunt. Of this, Fangline said nothing more.
As the day ebbed, Camilla concerned herself with enjoying the palace gardens while Al’bert and Fangline discussed their own interests until her eyes crossed with boredom. She walked down the path, and eventually lost herself in the flowers and greenery that surrounded her. It was all very beautiful, and better than what the Fromage estate managed. She supposed that was how it should be, anyway, and decided to dismiss any sort of jealousy that could emerge and just enjoy herself. Eventually, though, as she was walking, she heard a snip-snip along the path and was curious to discover the cause of the sound. Turning the corner, she found the palace gardener, whom everyone called “Gaffer” for some inane reason, trimming a hedge.
He saw her and smiled, and she liked his smile. He had a sort of seasoned pleasantness about him.
“Good afternoon, lassie,” he said to her, tipping his worn straw hat. She was very bored, since Fangline had been entirely ignoring her for most of the day, and welcomed some semblance of conversation, even if it was with the gardener.
“Hello, Gaffer,” she said, sighing and making no pretense at hiding her boredom as she wanly brushed a budding rose with her fingertips.
“Somethin’ amiss?” he asked her, trimming a branch.
She pondered the gardener, and found him entirely harmless, so figured he was probably the safest stranger in the world she could spill her woes on. Besides, she could always use her power on him to make sure he stayed silent, if need be.
“It’s Prince Fangline,” she said wearily. “He never shows any interest in me, even though he invited me to come with Al’bert today. What am I doing wrong?”
Gaffer leaned his arms on the hedge and regarded her for a long moment.
“I wouldn’t say yer doin’ anythin’ wrong, lass,” he said to her. “Yer a lovely lass, an’ prob’ly aren’t hurtin’ fer suitors.”
Camilla always enjoyed a good compliment.
“Thank you,” she said, feigning demureness.
“It’s Fangline, yeh know,” he said. “He’s just a bit different, but if he’s aware yeh exist, then yer doin’ a whole lot better than any other lass ever has, as far as I know.”
“I don’t really know what to do,” she said openly.
“Well…” said Gaffer. “All I know is this: Tha’ Fangline could use a good woman ter give ‘im some direction. That’s all he’s lookin’ for, lassie. He’s lost, an’ tryin’ ter find his way.”
Camilla fell into deep thought over the matter, and Gaffer began to whistle and trim a rose bush.
That night, Fangline found Camilla alone in the green and mahogany sitting room, near the fire.
All between them was vaguely uncomfortable, due to their letter writing, and she’d let him avoid her for the day because of it. This meeting was unexpected; Al’bert should have been here, but Camilla suspected he had found a lovely young scullery maid or something of the like and was temporarily detained.
Camilla was determined, however, to remain a façade of unflappable. As she saw him, she gave him the sort of nod and curtsy that would reflect his station, yet subtle and plain for the intimate circumstances that surrounded them. His green eyes left her, and then came back.
“Just… Fangline,” he said.
“Fangline,” she said, more quietly.
There was a long pause.
He approached her and then, after a moment, took her hand. This he pulled gently, bringing her towards him, and then he kissed her. It was a hesitant, almost awkward kiss, and Camilla hovered between returning it and allowing him his say without her intervention.
He stopped, but lingered near her, as if unsure of what he’d done or what to do now, and Camilla decided it was time for her to take over matters. She took his face into her hands and kissed him with warmth, which slowly brought him to embrace her and return her affection with surety.
It was in this way with kisses that they spent the next fifteen minutes beside the fire, during which the winter of Fangline melted into a brief spring.
“Ahem,” said Geeves, who was ever-present at the wrong times. He was standing very reservedly near the door, and looking entirely unabashed. “My humblest apologies, Comtesse, but your carriage is waiting, along with le Comte.”
She felt her face must be flushed beyond dignity, but gathered herself and thanked the butler, then looked at Fangline, who put something small and cool into her hand.
“Good-bye, Camilla,” he said to her.
She curtsied and left, and as she looked into her hand, she saw a pocket-watch, equal in beauty to that given to the king, but forged from shining silver.