The mirror was mocking him. There was no other explanation. How could his hair look this scruffy and unkempt, and on today of all days? Mael dusted down his tunic, casting a woeful glance in the direction of the glass. Sub-par as his appearance was, it would just have to do.
He really could not wait any longer. He had put this day off for weeks as he tried to summon the courage to tell princess Elizabeth that he wished to take her to the Spring Ball. The event was the height of the goddess clan’s social calendar and it was there that he planned to tell her he loved her. He had even somehow managed to get Ludoshel’s blessing, his brother encouraging him to make the move.
But he had failed. There had been many opportunities when he was alone with Elizabeth and somehow he had flunked every single one.
First there was the time when she had healed him after training, the humiliation of his defeat swallowing his pre-prepared speech. Next he had gone for a walk only to find her by the lake, gazing into the crystal clear waters. She had looked so lovely, so utterly perfect that his larynx had rather inconveniently shut down. Then, only yesterday, he had found himself wandering at her side on the way back from the war room and did not realise he had wasted goodness knows how much time going on and on about Ludoshel’s latest strategy until the lady Elizabeth had taken her leave.
So here he was, the very morning of the Ball itself and he still had not asked her.
Smoothing down his mop of hair with his palm, Mael muttered the words he had crafted so carefully to himself, testing the way they sounded with different inflections. Princess Elizabeth. Would you do me the honour of allowing me to escort you to the Spring Ball? It was short, simple, concise. Now all he had to do was find the lady and say it, preferably without turning red.
With a sigh, Mael fanned out his powers, electricity shooting like sparks through the palace. He had not yet been allocated a Grace but he had power enough to trace the various energies of his brethren. Tarmiel and Sariel were in one of the studies while Nerobasta was, for some unaccountable reason, in his brother’s chambers, although Ludoshel’s aura suggested he was elsewhere. To his relief, he detected Princess Elizabeth in her own part of the castle on the first floor and, with a spring in his step, Mael headed towards her.
His footsteps echoed through lofty corridors lined with marble statues, their vaulted ceilings painted in pastels and gold. As Mael made his way to Elizabeth’s rooms, he sheepishly waved to the white winged guards as he passed, pointedly ignoring their obvious smirks. Did everyone in the damn palace know of his intentions? Still blushing furiously, Mael took several deep breaths as he knocked on Elizabeth’s door, his heart thrumming painfully in his chest with the anticipation.
Silence. He waited, and waited, and waited some more but still the lady did not answer his summons. A mixture of shame and dejection welled up in his breast; after all that she would not even see him? A painful lump formed in the back of his throat and he was on the point of skulking back through the castle when he realised the room before him was empty. There was no trace at all of Elizabeth’s gentle waves of energy.
Alarmed now, Mael flung open the door, panic near to paralysing him when he saw the window wide open. The fresh breeze carried the scent of apple blossom and mint into the room, along with a faint hint of jasmine, the Princess Elizabeth’s preferred perfume. But why would she leave through her own bedroom window? Scanning the horizon, Mael could just make out the silhouette of the goddess he sought, a shadow against the golden light in the sky.
Swiftly he followed, relishing the feel of the air as it ruffled through his feathers. Elizabeth soared, pirouetting in the wind and Mael started on seeing that she was heading towards the disused sky temple, a ruin long since abandoned to the weeds.
“What is she up to?” he muttered to himself as he stealthily followed in her wake. With careful movements of his feathers to adjust his trajectory, Mael fell through the air, quietly landing in a clump of trees laden with vines. There he crouched, his heart in his mouth as he saw Elizabeth running towards a being who was unnervingly familiar, the messy blonde locks those he had watched with dread on the battlefield as Ludoshel did his best to crush the demon prince.
He was on the point of running forwards to tackle the brute when the sound of a dog barking caught his attention. Elizabeth was kneeling down, the silver sound of her laughter flowing over the land as the demon released the hound only for it to leap into the goddess’ arms. The blonde joined her then, ruffling the animal’s ears, the pair appearing to share easy words as the dog cavorted between them.
Ice trickled down his spine as he watched and Mael moved closer, tiptoeing as quietly as a mouse to avoid detection. As their expressions grew clearer he could only stare, every nerve in his body shutting down with the pain as he saw Elizabeth smile before sliding into the demon’s arms, their lips tentatively pressing together. Their arms stayed entwined for what seemed like hours before they broke apart, their foreheads touching with obvious tenderness before the demon took off into the sky.
“I love you!” He heard the call on the wind. Elizabeth waved in response, hugging the dog to her chest as he departed, the aura of his power fading to nothing as he flew to the east.
“It’s so difficult, saying goodbye,” she murmured and Mael froze where he stood, cowering into the bushes to avoid detection.
“It’s alright Mael, I know you’re there,” Elizabeth continued with a chuckle, and Mael could hear the amusement ring in her tone. “It was good of you to watch out for me, although unnecessary. And you can come out now, Estarossa won’t bite.” At this, Mael have in to the inevitable and stepped forwards into the light as the dog growled with unmistakable menace.
He looked at the princess, the tranquil blue of her eyes and cherubic smile doing nothing to calm the rage which had started boiling inside him. “W-what is going on?” he managed to stutter, his anger not assuaged by as she shot him a guilty look. “What were you doing with that demon?”
“Oh Mael, please don’t call him that.” Elizabeth carefully lowered the dog to the floor, the pup running around in circles before whining and scampering off into the bushes. “He’s… he’s not what he seems,” she protested as she gazed directly into his eyes.
“Can you keep a secret?” she asked, her voice slightly hushed and, almost against his will he felt himself nod. “Meliodas is planning to defect to our side. He’s leaving the demon clan tonight to join our alliance. I’m sure my mother will come round. We’ve… we’re…”
“You love him.” As he spoke the words Mael could feel his insides churn with misery and disgust. He had always looked up to her, adored her, worshiped her and now here she was giving herself to that filth ? But he forced himself to maintain a steady countenance, a tactic that apparently worked as she beamed at him in return.
“I knew you would understand! You have always been such a good friend,” she replied as she stepped towards him, pulling him into a warm embrace. The feel of the bare skin of her arms against his own was enough to make him grit his teeth till the enamel almost broke.
“But… he’s dangerous!” Mael protested as Elizabeth broke away. “You know this! You’ve seen how many of our clan he’s slaughtered! He’s…”
“Changed,” Elizabeth interjected, her fingers digging slightly into his arm. “I mean, how many people have you seen him kill recently? He’s completely different now, I promise!
“Mael, do you trust me?” His mouth fell open, the words once more sticking in his throat, only this time for an entirely different reason. No! he wanted to scream, to yell to the sky. Can you not see he’s using you? Can you not see this will be ruin for us all?
Instead he murmured, “Of course I do,” biting his lip hard as she embraced him once more, the scent of jasmine doing nothing to sooth his frayed nerves. It will do him no good to lose her regard for him now; better to stay by her side where he can keep an eye on that monster and protect the woman who he has determined will one day his bride.
“I always will,” he added softly holding her close as, unseen by the lady, his jaw set and he stared angrily towards the azure blue of the sky.