For a moment, the two pairs of eyes collided with each other. Meanwhile, the knights helped the boy stand next to Erna.
Is this Kalion? she thought. She continued to gape at him in surprise. We are of a similar age but… Kalion was incredibly little. The difference in their physique became remarkably more prominent when they stood next to each other.
A few people at the back couldn’t stand it and burst into laughter. The echo spread across the room as if it were contagious. Vannessa was the only one among them who hadn’t succumbed to the viral laughter. She was contemplating on ways to mitigate this situation.
Erna bit her lips as she took in the raucous laughter. She knew all too well that she had become a spectacle. But she didn’t expect Kalion, a peer who shared her plight, to be also included in the people’s ridicule. She felt sorry for him.
“What, this pumpkin?”
For a moment, Erna doubted her ears. Bewildered, she looked at her side with her mouth agape. Although the voice was heavily cracked, it was uniquely low, belonging to someone at the ripe of puberty. It definitely wasn’t Vanessa’s voice, so it must be Kalion’s…
“What are you looking at? I’m talking about you.” Kalion looked down at an embarrassed Erna as if she was a pathetic being. At that moment, Erna’s mind finally registered what Kalion had really called her.
Pumpkin? For a moment, Erna’s mind became blank. Of course, she knew what he meant. But did this mean that as soon as he had laid his eyes on her, ‘pumpkin’ was the word that had crossed him? Kalion’s words cut her deep, making her want to cry. In all honesty, Erna had been suppressing everything inside her heart.
Her mother’s death; the unfair treatment; the contempt; the fear of being abandoned in another country because she was a royal family member whose death no one cared about. She had endured it all silently. The reason why Erna had been able to maintain her calm so far was because she was still the Princess of Haband and now she was going to become the Grand Duke of Hessenguard. It was a heavy responsibility that she had never wanted in the first place.
But the moment she heard a boy, whom she met for the first time, call her names, her wall of patience crumbled. The hand that held the bouquet trembled; meanwhile, Kalion turned his head and urged Vanessa.
“What are you doing? Quickly finish this meaningless ceremony…”
His urgent voice was shortly interrupted. Kalion turned towards the side, from where the sound came. Erna, who was looking at him blankly with her mouth agape, was now glaring at him with a burning gaze. Witnessing those eyes, Kalion and Vanessa, who was about to officiate, were both at loss for words.
Then, Erna spoke loudly, audible enough for everyone to listen.
“Like a dried earthworm.”
Kalion’s jaws dropped when the words left Erna’s lips. But she was yet to finish.
“Didn’t you hear it properly? I said you look like a dried earthworm.”
A deep frown marred Kalion’s forehead, but Erna wasn’t intimidated by him at all. In the meantime, the cacophony of untamed laughter ceased. Erna had had her head hung low since the moment she entered the ceremonial hall, causing everyone to assume she was weak. When they mocked her, she remained mum and tolerated all the unkind whispers about her. Likewise, they expected the same when Kalion passed a rude comment on her physique. They thought she would endure it all in silence.
Erna bit her teeth seeing their thoughts clearly reflecting in their eyes. The atmosphere in the ceremonial hall became tense, freezing rapidly.
“How dare you speak rudely to our Prince!” When the knight who helped Kalion raised his voice, a knight from Haband, who came with Erna, responded. “Wasn’t it your Prince who started with the rude talk?”
The ones who laughed together, now began to fume at the thought of their nation being insulted. The knights’ voices grew louder, their hands clasping the hilts of their swords. The faces of the women, caught in between the commotion, paled in fear. They realized that they were not in a situation to laugh at anyone. Only then did they regret their actions, but things had already gone south.
“This is a sacred place. Please be quiet.” Vanessa interfered, managing to clear the tension. She raised her hand lightly as if warning everyone that she would not tolerate any further commotion. At her words, the knights on both kingdoms took their hands off their swords and straightened their backs. Vanessa then turned towards Erna and Kalion and said, “Now, may I commence the ceremony?”