Disclaimer: Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure belongs to ATLUS and its respective owners.

A/N: Hey, it's been a while. Never fear, though—I have not abandoned this story! You even have a slightly longer chapter this time around, so yay!

I feel like this is mostly a filler chapter, but I'll let you be the judge of that, and I hope that you enjoy it nonetheless.

Rhapsody: The Princely Chronicles

Chapter Six

"So, what did you think of the first round today, Your Highness?"

Prince Ferdinand pondered his response. "It was long and tiring," he responded truthfully. He chuckled. "It did have its interesting moments, though."

Franz grinned. "I heard about the last contestant. Pretty daring, going on stage in a costume. Even more daring since I heard some stories of the costume being a demonic dog." He sighed with a wistful smile. "I wish I could have seen it."

Hans sent a dead-panned look at Franz, the recipient immediately clearing his throat and straightening in response. His innocent air did not leave him, though, so Hans settled for rolling his eyes at his companion before turning his attention back to the prince. "We heard rumors of the contest that filtered through the castle," continued Hans, rephrasing his colleague's words. "Is the rumor true about the last contestant being on stage in some sort of costume?"

Ferdinand gave in and laughed again at the memory. "It's true, Hans. However, I would not have called it a 'demonic dog,' as Franz did. Sure, it had horns and bat wings, but I didn't disapprove of it."

"Horns and bat wings?" Franz whistled appreciatively, before he laughed, "Now I know that the little lady had guts."

Hans seconded Franz's last comment with a nod. "What did the other judges think, though? It's definitely a breach in tradition."

"Who cares what the other judges thought?" Franz interjected. "If Ferdinand says that he liked it, she should become an automatic winner. After all, it's his bride that this contest is selecting candidates for, not the old fogies on the panel that signed up to ogle at the young girls." He paused, then continued hurriedly, slightly abashed, "Er, excusing the Queen, Your Highness."

Ferdinand chuckled, having nearly forgotten that his mother had sat on the panel while Franz coined the other judges "old fogies". He knew that, whatever Franz said about the other judges, he honestly had nothing but respect for Queen Siegrind, and hadn't been grouping her with the others. "No offense taken, Franz."

Franz breathed a sigh of relief.

"Did you see anyone of interest?" asked Hans. "Excluding the gusty girl at the end?"

Ferdinand shook his head. "No one stuck out to me besides her." He shrugged. "I am not worried, though. I have high hopes for the last contestant, if only that there will hopefully be another winner besides Etoile Rosenqueen."

"Did Etoile trip on stage?" Franz asked a little too eagerly as he rejoined the conversation, his flush of embarrassment having disappeared. "Please tell me that she committed something to earn her demerit points."

Prince Ferdinand stared solemnly at Franz and sighed. "I am sorry to inform you, Franz, but unfortunately for us, she had nearly perfect marks."

Franz pretended to sob on Hans' shoulder, lightly punching his friend's armor in mock dismay. "Oh, say it isn't so…!" he wailed dramatically.

"Nearly perfect marks?" Hans questioned, ignoring his partner's actions. "If she always performs spectacularly, what could she possibly receive demerit marks for?"

"She winked at me. I had to mark her off for something."

Franz relinquished as dramatic act as he doubled over in laughter next to Hans, hanging onto Hans' shoulder for support. Hans couldn't resist joining in on his friend's laughter, either. Prince Ferdinand simply stared back, determinedly unashamed of his actions. Eventually, however, he could not maintain his own straight face, and he descended into wholehearted laughter with Franz and Hans.

"Nice one, sir," Franz managed to say between gasps for breath. He clapped Ferdinand on the shoulder. "I approve wholeheartedly of her demerit points!"

Hans simply rolled his eyes affectionately after his laughter ceased and decided to change the subject. "What do you plan on doing until the second round begins, Your Highness?"

Catching his breath, Ferdinand responded, still grinning, "I haven't decided yet. I had figured that I would simply spend it in my room until then." He paused for a second, slightly paling as he murmured, "At least, I figure that it's the best route to avoid being mobbed before the dance."

Franz nodded. "I would say so." He looked around conspiratorially, before leaning to dramatically whisper, "You'd better hurry then, Prince, I think I hear the hordes coming!"

Prince Ferdinand nodded with a grin. "I'd better hide quickly, then." With a backward wave, he retreated into his bedroom, closing the door quietly behind him.

The door closed behind Ferdinand with a soft click. As he leaned against the doorway, he couldn't help but smile. Franz and Hans always managed to make him laugh. He hoped that he had an opportunity to converse for longer periods of time with them once the Contest was over.

The Miss Marl's Contest.

Prince Ferdinand's smile fell slightly as he remembered Minister Golonzo skulking behind the curtain and his venomous parting words to Cornet after she exited off of the stage. His fingers clenched tensely against the grains of wood in his door.

Could Cornet really have been the "assassin"? Was she even the same Cornet that he had met in the woods? What if she was a different Cornet?

Prince Ferdinand shook his head immediately, dismissing the thought. Perhaps it was simply hope, but something told him that this was the same Cornet. It was the same feeling that had saved him in the past, so he decided to trust it. Cornet Espoir must be the same Cornet that traveled with the puppet Kururu earlier in the Wonder Woods.

As far the Minister Golonzo's "assassination" went, the plate of bobo left behind after the "attack" was enough to see that there hadn't truly been an assassin. Furthermore, the soldiers in charge of the investigation had tested the remains of the dish for poison, and no traces of the usual venoms were discovered. (In fact, the only thing they had concluded was that it had been a waste of a good dish of bobo. His heart ached at the wasted bobo that could have been his.)

However, despite the fact that there really hadn't been an "assassination attempt," Ferdinand knew that he couldn't ignore the situation, especially now that Minister Golonzo had identified a target. With his clout and stubbornness, the Minister would be willing to chase after Cornet to the ends of Marl Kingdom to administer "justice." Ferdinand sighed. The worse part of the matter was that Golonzo, even though unpopular, had enough power to carry out his declaration of war. If Cornet had enough political clout from her family, the way Etoile Rosenqueen did, she may be able to fight allegations. However, if she was simply a common girl…

Ferdinand ran a tense hand through his hair. He didn't want to think about how Minister Golonzo could make Cornet's life a living hell for attempting to bring him a dish of bobo. In fact, given the Minister's probable sights on the throne, Ferdinand would not be surprised if he sprung his allegations after Cornet was declared a candidate for the Queenship. The Minister would probably even hint that the Prince had been involved, attempting to push Ferdinand away from his inheritance.

Ferdinand's hand fisted against the door. As the Prince, he still had politics on his side. Minister Golonzo would not—could not—make such allegations lightly. Golonzo would probably wait until Ferdinand and Cornet were seen together before making such an accusation. As an additional plus, Minister Golonzo still obeyed Queen Siegrind. As long as the Queen was in power, Ferdinand should be fine. Cornet, on the other hand…

Was there no one whom could give her some protection politically…?

Prince Ferdinand's eyes widened. Of course! Wasn't there the chance that she was the granddaughter of Mustaki, the puppeteer hero of the war? If that was true, Minister Golonzo could not target lightly a member of the puppeteer's family without risking damage to the honor of the war hero—or to his own, should the allegations prove false, or if the puppeteer's honor and clout proved stronger than the minister's in the end.

Ferdinand smiled. Cornet might see the end of the Miss Marl's Contest, and he just might get to have the conversation with her that he didn't finish the first time around.

He pushed off the door and then was startled slightly by quiet knocks.

"Ferdinand?" his mother's voice called from behind the wood. "May I enter?"

Prince Ferdinand quickly stepped away from door to stand toward the center of the room. Knowing it was too late to pretend to have been studying, he simply moved aside to give his mother room to enter. "Come in," he answered.

The door opened with a smooth motion, his mother following with a dainty flourish and then closing the door behind her with little sound. Ferdinand could not help but admire her again as his mother moved ever-so-gracefully. He once again hoped that he would someday be as lithe.

"Have you been studying well during the interim between the rounds?" Queen Siegrind asked, knowing full well the answer she was about to receive but asking anyway.

Prince Ferdinand grinned at his mother, granting her his most innocent air. "Of course, Mom. I came straight to my room and have done nothing since."

His mother chuckled, rolling her eyes affectionately. "Of course you did. Why did I even ask?" She stepped lightly over to a nearby chair, sitting down with only the slightest rustle of her skirts. She then looked up and grinned at her son, clasping her hands in her lap as she attempted to reign in her excitement. "All right, now I get to pester you with questions, like any excited mother. What do you think of this girl that you're interested in?"

Ferdinand chuckled, moving over to sit in another nearby chair. If his mother was getting comfortable, she intended to use the entire interim time to talk with him. He may as well get comfortable as well. He leaned back in his chair and sighed, relaxed. "What do I think of her?" he reiterated. He looked at his mother with a grin. "I liked her style. Competing in a costume was pretty gutsy. It definitely set her apart from the rest."

His mother laughed. "Yes, I will grant her that much. The other judges didn't share your opinion, but their opinions don't really matter. We're looking for your bride, not theirs." She shrugged good-naturedly. "I am really happy that you have found someone that you're interested in. However, you must tell me," she said, leaning forward conspiratorially. "As you rarely put forth interest in meeting other girls, what has made this one so special? Have you met before?"

Prince Ferdinand couldn't hide the light blush that graced his cheeks. His mother was good. Ferdinand wondered if her (for the most part) consistent all-knowing insight was something that developed after she became queen, if this was something that developed after she became a mother, or if this was something that all women secretly possessed. He was slightly afraid if the answer turned out to be the latter—who knew what Cornet might already know, then?

He pondered how to phrase his answer, but between his mother's excited and expectant gaze and his memory of meeting Cornet in the woods (he briefly wondered if she had kept the scrap of makeshift bandage or tossed it, as girls tended to do strange things when boys were concerned), he suddenly found heat rising in his cheeks, and he looked away, feeling embarrassed.

"Aha!" his mother announced triumphantly with a grin. "You have met the lucky lady before! What was she like? Are you on a first-name basis with her? Where is she from?" She leaned back in her chair and pulled out her fan, fanning herself lightly with it. "Ah, my son is growing up so fast. Where have the years gone?"

Ferdinand crossed his arms over his chest as his blush deepened. He looked determinedly away. "Stop teasing me, Mom! This isn't funny."

His mother sighed in a pretense of exasperation as she lowered her fan, closing it was with a quiet click. "You won't grant your mother a small amount of joy in her old age?"

"Please don't try that with me, Mom. You're not old yet, so you're not allowed to use that excuse." He chuckled, which was what Queen Siegrind was aiming for. She grinned at him in return.

"So," she continued, "how did you meet Cornet? You admitted that you had met before."

Ferdinand nodded. "I met her a few days ago, the last time that I went to the Wonder Woods after visiting Orange."

"Ah, the trip in which you didn't get your intended bobo."

Must she tease him about that, too? He must make it too obvious, or she must know him that well. Then again, she was his mother. "Yes, Mom, the trip in which I didn't get my bobo," he sighed, but trailed off wistfully.

His mother simply grinned at him. "All right, all right. I'm sorry for interrupting you. Please continue." She was sitting with an inch or two of space between herself and the backrest, his mother's equivalent of sitting at the edge of her seat in expectation.

Prince Ferdinand rolled his eyes affectionately—inside his mind, of course, as he would not dare do so literally in front of his mother. "I was resting against a tree, mulling over how the trip into Orange had gone, and she and her puppet companion walked by. They were looking for Red Imotium."

"She had a puppet companion?" his mother asked, interested. "It was walking on its own?"

"Actually, it was flying. It's a small fairy puppet," he responded, gesturing Kururu's approximate height with his hands. "I was wondering if she could be a relative of Mustaki?" He slid the question in as casually as possible, but their futures just might depend on the answer. He waited with a hitched breath.

His mother hummed. "She probably is. There are not many people left who can communicate with puppets, much less control them. She probably is of Ancient descent." A thoughtful look suddenly crossed her features. "I wonder…"

Ferdinand, having relaxed at the probability of Cornet's political protection from Golonzo, perked up with curiosity. "You wonder what, Mom?"

"Did she have a horn with her?"

He furrowed his eyebrows. A horn? "Do you mean like a musical horn or a hunting horn?" he asked.

"A musical horn," his mother clarified with a nod. "Did she have one?"

Why was his mother interested in a horn? He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling in thought. Did Cornet have a horn with her? He wasn't sure if he remembered if she did; he had been more worried with her suddenly discovering him, and then he was preoccupied with the dragon. "I'm not sure," he finally said. "Why do you ask?"

His mother exhaled a sigh of disappointment, but she waved the question off. "Don't worry about it. It's a story for another time, but I think you'll enjoy it. For now," her eyes regained their excited gleam, and Ferdinand knew that he'd be continuing the story again, "I would like to hear the rest of the story in the forest."

Ferdinand shrugged off the confusion left behind from his mother's question. There was no use in pressuring her to explain herself; she would do so in her own time. "As I said, she was in the Wonder Woods looking for Red Imotium. She mentioned to her puppet that—"

"To her puppet?" his mother interrupted. "Not to you?"

"She was a good distance away and had not noticed me," Ferdinand explained, adding silently, "I was also kind of hiding behind a tree. And some bushes. They make great cover when girls unexpectedly appear out of nowhere."

"All right, as long as it does not indicate a lack of awareness," his mother added, a hint of concern lacing her words.

Ferdinand shook his head. "I did not make my presence known and was a distance away. I wouldn't worry about her awareness." He added silent again, "I might worry about her stubbornness. She almost died because of it."

Queen Siegrind hummed again, signaling that it was time for him to continue his story. Prince Ferdinand nodded slightly.

"Cornet mentioned to her puppet that the Red Imotium had been disappearing as of late. I wondered if that might mean that there were bandits nearby who were stealing Imotium. I became concerned for her well-being, so I decided to make sure that she would be safe." Prince Ferdinand desperately hoped that his mother would not compare his actions to him stalking her.

Thankfully, for once, his mother appeared to decide not to tease him. Instead, she complimented, "That was chivalrous of you." She smiled at him. "I'm proud of you."

Ferdinand glowed internally, but did his best to hide it, only smiling. "Thank you."

"So? What happened next?" his mother asked, her excitement building.

Prince Ferdinand was tempted to say, "Then I kind of went and slew a dragon for her. That's a nice way to start a relationship, right? You know, rescuing the damsel in distress and the like?" Instead, he said, "I had brought Imotium with me, and some of it was Red Imotium. I had hoped to start a conversation by helping her look for Imotium after offering her some of mine." He paused. "However, her puppet found me first."

Queen Siegrind chuckled. "Her puppet did? What did it do?"

"I managed to keep her quiet," he responded. "Then I offered her the Imotium to take to Cornet. However, the puppet planned on revealing my presence after taking the Imotium."

"Did you get to talk to Cornet then?"

Ferdinand shook his head. "No. Several cats wearing overalls appeared."

"Cats wearing overalls?" His mother's eyebrows knit together in confusion. "That's rather strange."

"It is," Prince Ferdinand nodded. "Apparently, they had been the ones taking the Red Imotium. Their mistress was a cat-lady named Miss Myao. She claimed to be an underling of Marjoly."

"Marjoly?" his mother reiterated in a quiet whisper, her face somber. "That's not good. While that's not a name I have heard in a long while, it's also not one used lightly." She took a quiet breath. "What happened then?"

"She demanded that Cornet hand over her Red Imotium. She said that if she did not hand it over, she would summon her dragon."

"A dragon?"

Ferdinand nodded. "She actually summoned it. It was quite large." He paused. "However, Cornet refused to hand over her Imotium. Her puppet did, and tried to convince her to do the same, but Cornet wouldn't budge."

His mother chuckled lightly. "Well, courage in the face of injustice is a good trait, but one needs to remember self-preservation, too. In this instance, I would have accepted it if she had handed over the Imotium, but I find myself more impressed that she didn't."

"I agree. I admired her courage and tenacity, but I was really concerned that she was about to die." He shook his head to himself. "Anyway, at that point, Miss Myao told her dragon to attack her. I didn't want to let her get hurt, so I jumped in and managed to defeat the dragon. After that, Miss Myao and her cats left, and it was just Cornet and myself."

Ferdinand paused, but Queen Siegrind wasn't having that. "And then?" she pushed excitedly.

"Nothing." When his mother looked confused, Ferdinand shrugged lightly. "I didn't have a good opportunity to speak to her. She had a cut on her hand, so I bandaged it for her. However, she was in shock from the dragon, and my attendants came looking for me a moment later." He sighed unhappily. "She couldn't even tell me her name herself. The only reason that I know that her name's Cornet is because I was listening earlier when her puppet called her by name."

Queen Siegrind huffed. "Honestly. Why couldn't your attendants have found you a moment later?"

Prince Ferdinand chuckled, waving his hands before him in an attempt to placate his mother. "It's all right, really. After all, I'll probably get a chance to speak to her here, right? Then I'll find out if it's really her."

His mother nodded, relinquishing some of her annoyance. "All right," she said. Suddenly, she brightened. "I just thought of something. You have a better way of knowing if this is the Cornet that you met in the forest."

He straightened. "How?"

"Well, she's a puppeteer, no?" she asked. Ferdinand nodded. "Then, regardless of whether she uses the fairy puppet, she'll probably be using puppets in the second round. If she uses puppets, there's a very good probability that she's the one."

His mother was right. "And if she can use her puppets in battle, there will be no doubt whether she is a relative of Mustaki!" Ferdinand finished happily.

Queen Siegrind nodded. "Of course."

Ferdinand began to stand, but his mother reached over to take his arm. "What is it, Mom?" His eyebrows furrowed in concern at the clouded expression on her face.

"I…" she paused for a second, before turning back to look at him. "I wanted to ask you something about Cornet, actually. I heard a rumor from—"

Gooooong! Gooooong!

"What is it, Mom?" Ferdinand asked again, concerned.

Queen Siegrind sighed as she shook her head. "Later, Ferdinand. Don't worry about it." She offered a smile. "Let's go. The second round is about to start."

A/N: So, what was Queen Siegrind about to ask? I guess that we'll have to wait to find out!

I'm not sure if I'm going to post Chapter Seven sooner rather than later, and since I'm heading back to school, I'm not sure when I'll have the chance to update again. I'm sorry for the wait, and thank you for your continued patience!

Also, I hate to sound like a review monger, and I'm not going to withhold chapters for them, but if it at all possible, would you leave a review? I will continue writing my best, but without comments, I don't know how you all think this is turning out right now. I'd appreciate it greatly if you could leave even a few words. Thanks, everyone!