Posted on 2010-09-28
'From family attachment and habit, and thorough excellence of mind, he had loved her and watched over her from a girl, with an endeavour to improve her and an anxiety for her doing right which no other creature had at all shared.'
- "Emma", pg. 330
She remembered once, long ago, how she sat by her sister while the mehendi was being applied. It was the night before her wedding, and they had seemingly both secretly decided that they would take this time to be giggly and airy so that they did not have to think about their separation.
'How did you know?' she asked her. 'How could you be certain that he was the one?'
Her sister's eyes grew dreamy. 'I just knew,' she said, 'as soon as I saw him.' For her at least, leaving her home was the single minor drawback of the change her life was about to undergo.
The younger girl was not so fortunate. She was losing a sister, mother, playmate and friend all in one, although she was valiantly trying not to show it. 'Just like that?' she said, sceptically. 'After just seeing him among a row of all the others?'
Her sister giggled. 'Yes. I could tell all the others thought I would be doing myself a favour if I chose them. He, on the other hand...' She smiled fondly. '...he looked so nervous, and when he looked at me, I could tell he was petrified I might choose someone else. He was the only one who actually cared.' Then she laughed outright. 'He looked as if he might faint from relief when I placed the garland around his neck.'
The younger girl was still sceptical, but she said no more.
After that conversation with her sister, she had been telling her friend about it while he had been grooming the horses. She was perched on the edge of the stall in which he was working, legs swinging. As she talked he had nodded and made noises of agreement in the right places, and indeed, continued to do so even after she had ceased speaking.
She narrowed her eyes. 'Have you even been listening to me?'
He started, guiltily. 'Of course.'
'What did I say then?'
He thought for a moment. 'That it's unfair that people don't just let you rule the world?'
She tried not to smile. 'Very funny.' Then she wrinkled her nose as she regarded him. He looked hot, dirty and sweaty. 'Why do you even do all this? Why can't you just let the stable boys do their job?'
He looked over at her, seriously. 'If I'm going to be leading an army on horses some day, I should know how to care for them. And there is absolutely no shame in physical labour.'
She had to laugh at that. 'No shame in being seen like this?'
'At least I'm seen to be doing something useful more than I ever see you doing.'
If it had been anyone else saying that to her, they would have found themselves in the dungeons for a day, but since it was him, she only rolled her eyes. 'Excuse me, but I am going to be ruling this kingdom one day I'd say that's useful, even by your standards.'
He laughed. 'You won't rule the kingdom you'll marry some fool after seeing him once, gazing into his eyes and knowing he's the one for you, and then he'll take over, if your new brother-in-law won't already.'
She smiled, pleased that he had been listening after all, but then she set him right on several matters. 'My new brother,' she said loftily, 'has his own kingdom to look after, and as I am never going to marry, I will be the sole ruler of this kingdom.'
He raised an eyebrow, amused. 'And your lineage will continue... how?'
She waved a hand dismissively. 'I'm sure my sister can spare one of my future nephews or nieces.'
As the years passed, much had changed. Her friend was now the general that his father had been before him and did indeed command the armies he had spoken of. Her sister was the happy mother of several children, although living too far for more than an annual visit. Her father was on his deathbed, and his last wish was that she would marry before he died, would marry someone he knew he could entrust his kingdom to.
And that was how the sceptical girl though of age and really no longer a girl sad-eyed and serious, acquiesced to the scheme, though with no real hope that she would meet the eyes of a stranger and know they were destined for one another. She was not the sort of person to form such an attachment she did not love anyone easily; it took her time, though once she did, she was not fickle in her affections. Most of the few friends she made were lifelong.
Before she had finally agreed to oblige her father, she had spoken to her friend, asked his advice, almost desperate for some way out of her predicament, hoping he might take her side. However, he did not. He had looked grave and uncomfortable, but had told her in no uncertain terms that he thought it her duty to follow her father's last wishes.
She had looked up into his eyes and smiled a small, sad smile. 'Very well,' she had said, because she trusted his judgment above all others'.
And that was how she found herself decked in some of her best clothes in the grand hall, walking slowly among the rows of suitors, princes and kings from kingdoms far and wide. She had seen everyone, and had walked the full length of the hall twice without making her choice. She had not seen anyone she thought she could happily spend even an hour with, let alone the rest of her life.
Just then a movement caught her eye, and she saw one of the men he was young and handsome shift uncomfortably in his chair. She noticed that he seemed unable or unwilling to look at her, and was fidgeting with his cuff. Her sister's husband had been afraid that she would pick someone else, had he not? Did that mean that this young man was the one for her?
She slowed her pace in front of him, and he turned pale. The suspense was obviously affecting him, and he seemed the only one out of the potential suitors who looked like he might stand to lose more than the wealth of her kingdom and the trophy of a wife of her famed beauty. If he was the suitor in love with her, then surely it would constitute her best chance of happiness to reward him with her hand?
And yet she hesitated for a moment, the garland in her hands. She looked over to the front of the hall where her friend was standing, watching the proceedings with a grave face, no doubt in order to inform her father of her choice as soon as she made it. When she caught his eye, full of doubt, he gave her a rather strained smile which was perhaps meant to be encouraging, and she sighed and placed the garland around the neck of the man in front of her, sealing the fates of both.
Her father approved of her choice, and passed away soon afterwards in the company of the two apart from his elder daughter who were dearest to him: herself and her friend. She had not been close to her father for several years, and had indeed been a little afraid of him; sometimes the weight of his expectations had been felt to be just a little too heavy for her, and the memories of being his little girl, of having him delight in each new discovery or achievement or wonder of hers were blurred by time. But for those few brief moments, she felt as if they had made that connection once more. She only grieved that it took such circumstances to bring them back to one another.
In a quiet moment, her friend came up to speak to her. 'So?' he asked, eyebrow raised. 'Did you look into his eyes and know he was the one for you?' Perhaps she was imagining it, but his teasing sounded a little forced.
It only took her a moment to realise why. She knew that he was trying to hide his true concern for her future behind a laughing mask, and she could have kissed him for it. Still, it was the least she could do to put his mind at ease. 'I suppose so,' she said after a moment of thought. 'Like my sister.' Like her sister, she had picked the man who had looked terrified that he might not be chosen. It did not follow that he was necessarily her true love, but she would not worry her friend by admitting that. 'I think he is the one for me,' she said, more confidently than she felt.
It took her friend a moment to smile. 'That's... that's wonderful. Truly.' For a moment he was silent. Then, looking very serious, he said, 'You deserve all the happiness in the world; and I hope he gives it to you.'
He looked so solemn that for a moment she was tempted to make some teasing, playful reply to lighten his expression, but then it did not seem right when he was so much in earnest. 'Thank you,' she said quietly, instead.
Posted on 2010-10-02
'He took her hand... and was on the point of carrying it to his lips when... he suddenly let it go.
He would have judged better, she thought, if he had not stopped. The intention, however, was indubitable; [and] she thought nothing became him more. It was with him of so simple, yet so dignified a nature. She could not but recall the attempt with great satisfaction. It spoke such perfect amity.
He left immediately afterwards gone in a moment.'
- "Emma", pg. 306
Arrangements for her wedding would not begin for some few months to allow a mourning period for her father, and in truth she was relieved, for she did not feel in the mood to marry, ridiculous as that sounded, as she was not even really aware what sort of mood one had to be in to marry. Perhaps it would be better to say that she did not feel in the mood to be the centre of attention for once; she did not wish to be in the public eye; she wished to be quiet; she wished to think.
Due to this delay, courtship was thus allowed to progress at a slower pace. She and the prince she had finally settled on met daily in order to get to know each other, with her friend acting as chaperone.
It was awkward, for he simply stood at some small distance, with a deliberately blank, unreadable expression on his face, and if she ever included him in the conversation or made some teasing remark to him, he would merely frown slightly and incline his head towards the man sitting next to her as if reminding her why she was there. He seemed determined to make things as formal as possible, and he hardly spoke to her these days. They had for years and years been cheerful, easy friends the best of friends and now he was treating her as if they were hardly more than acquaintances. This hurt more than she could express, even to herself.
The prince was nice enough, she supposed. He was young, perhaps only some two or three years older than her some of the other suitors had been at least her father's age and he was handsome, in a boyish sort of way. He was soft-spoken and unfailingly polite, though at times a little abstracted. Perhaps they were not made for each other as her sister and brother-in-law had been, but she was fairly confident they would make a creditable couple, and would do well enough together.
As the weeks of the mourning period passed, she found herself getting no closer to a knowledge of her fiancι's true character. The only two words she yet had to describe him were "quiet" and "polite". For every twenty words she spoke he spoke perhaps one or two. It was beginning to drive her mad, and she longed for the equal conversations she could have with her friend, whether serious or bantering, heated or light-hearted. Without those, there was a void in her life which it seemed nothing else could fill.
It was a fortnight before her wedding date that her friend came to find her in the courtyard as she took her daily walk, his face set and determined, already in his full armour. Even then perhaps she had realised what it meant, but she had refused to believe her own foreboding until he told her in so many words, which he promptly did.
He informed her of recent intelligence he had received about the situation at the northern border of their kingdom: the small villages there were being attacked by the army from their northern neighbour who had long been waiting for an opportunity to extend his borders into their kingdom, and her father's death had provided that opportunity.
'I must go at once,' he said. 'I may be away some time.'
Something in the pit of her stomach sank. The thought of marrying as terrifyingly soon as in a fortnight had been hanging over her like a cloud of dread for some little time now, and the thought of marrying in a fortnight when he would not even be there to give her strength seemed like something insurmountable.
He silenced her with a finger on her lips. 'I must go,' he said gently. 'It is my duty to you to be present at your wedding, but it also my duty to the people to come to their aid when they are in need of it, and...'
'...the people must come first,' she finished, knowing he was right and hating him for it.
Still, she was adamant that she personally circle the flame and make the mark on his forehead. He stood tall and straight while she did so, and she could see in the man the fearless leader she had caught glimpses of even in the boy who had insisted on grooming the horses all those years ago.
Looking in his eyes now, although she had every confidence in him, she could not help feeling a dreadful fear that she might perhaps never see him again, and this thought caused something to clench inside of her. She pressed her lips together, trying not to cry, for she knew open displays of emotion made him uncomfortable.
'Be safe,' she said softly.
He nodded, and then suddenly caught up her hand in his. She looked up at him, eyes wide it was not like him to be demonstrative. Breath catching in her throat she waited, but then after a long moment he abruptly let her hand drop. 'Goodbye,' he said quietly, and in a moment he was gone.
She sank onto a bench slowly, and closed her eyes. The bubbling of the fountain mingled with the sound of the blood rushing in her ears. She was afraid to measure her sense of loss.
Even with her friend gone, life went on, and the wedding preparations progressed in earnest all around her. She felt like she was an outsider looking in on all the bustle around her; she did not feel a part of it. She was not joyfully anticipating it like her sister had years ago; she was dreading it. The prospect of a life spent beside the prince quiet, polite, deadly dull stretched out before her interminably.
And yet it was the duty she owed to her father and to her people, and whatever other faults she could have been accused of being rather spoilt, self-assured to an almost irritating degree and a little too apt to think well of herself neglecting her duty was something which could never have been laid at her charge.
And so she went about her tasks, assuming the duties her father and her friend had previously shared between them (and which her friend had, during her father's illness, all but taken upon himself), as well as assisting where she was needed in the details of her wedding.
In the week before the wedding, she was so busy that she had not even seen the prince for the past few days. In truth it had been a relief for her to be free from constantly trying to keep their conversation alive, and probably he had found it a relief to be free from constantly being prodded into talking. So she was surprised when he came to find her of his own volition when she was reviewing the taxes for the year.
'I was told you would be here,' he said, and he remained standing at some distance from her.
'Yes,' she said, and belatedly she made a gesture for him to seat himself. He did not seem to observe it, however, for he remained standing.
'I just wanted to say,' he began, and then he stopped, before starting again. 'I wanted to say, that you are a wonderful person, and you deserve all the happiness in the world.'
Her brow creased slightly. The words sounded slightly familiar, as if someone else had said them to her recently; but she could not quite recall who or when... And anyway, what on earth did the prince mean by telling her this? 'Thank you,' she said after a moment, not quite sure what response was expected of her. 'The same to you.'
He bowed in acknowledgement, and hovered on the spot for a moment longer before abruptly turning away and leaving the room.
If it hadn't been unladylike, she might have scratched her head in utter puzzlement.
If she had still been dwelling on what the prince had said to her and had been wondering at what it meant, all such thoughts were driven out of her head completely when she received the message that her friend had been injured in battle. She hardly even registered the news that the campaign had been successful and the northern villages were once more safe; she hardly cared; all she wanted was to know that her friend was safe.
Unfortunately, the messenger's words gave her every reason for alarm and very little for peace of mind. The injury was quite serious, he believed, though he had not seen it himself; as to whether it would prove to be fatal or not, he had heard the physicians were as yet uncertain; he had heard that the bleeding had been stemmed, but that there was still the risk of infection; in any case the general had been ordered total rest in the camp in the north, and was not to attempt a journey back until his recovery seemed more promising than it did currently.
She heard the message stoically, and only the pallor of her face and the whiteness of her knuckles as her grip on the arms of her chair tightened betrayed what she was feeling. When the messenger left, she excused herself and retired to her room where she could abandon the appearance of composure, pacing ceaselessly back and forth.
Her friend, her dearest friend lay injured somewhere, possibly dying, and she could not go to him. She was instead trapped here by her obligations, was expected to rejoice and celebrate, was expected to marry another, a thought which suddenly seemed unbearable.
Startled, she sank onto a chair and sat for a few minutes in a fixed attitude. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress; she touched, she admitted, she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was marrying the prince, which had always been rather distasteful, now utterly unthinkable? And why did she feel like her whole life would stretch out before her, withered and blighted beyond repair, if her friend's injury proved fatal? It darted through her with the speed of an arrow that she must marry no one but her friend!
She had grossly deceived not only herself, but also all those around her. She knew that it was not fair to the prince to be putting an end to their wedding at this stage, a mere few days before it was to take place, but she would have to be weak indeed to subject not only herself but also him to a life of misery simply to keep a promise which she now knew she could never fully honour.
She had been wrong to follow her father's request of choosing a bridegroom when her heart was already given to another, and had she not been so blinded, had she not been expecting some improbable, sweeping, fairytale romance like her sister's, had she had a little more insight into the workings of her own heart, she could have avoided the misery of her present predicament.
Well, she had gotten herself into it, and she would simply have to get herself out. She could never marry anyone except her friend, and if he died from his injury, or if he did not wish to marry her, then that made no difference to her resolution. If she could not spend her life with him, she would rather not spend it with anyone.
Posted on 2010-10-08
"I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing!"
- "Emma", pg. 70
And so that was how she came to be seeking out the prince of her own volition, in order to speak to him and explain that she could not possibly marry him. When she thought of his kind words to her only the previous day, her heart quailed within her, but she knew she had to do it. It was not honest to enter into marriage with him while loving another, and she would not do it. Ultimately, putting an end to the matter would be for his benefit as well.
The problem was, nobody seemed to know where he was. He was not in his rooms, nor had he been seen anywhere else in the palace. Finally one of the stable boys recollected seeing him ride off on his horse the previous evening.
She did not like having to put off breaking it to him, but she had no choice. She would simply have to wait until he returned from his ride.
The prince had not yet returned, even though it was now the day before the wedding was supposed to take place. Most of the palace was frantic, and search parties had been sent out for him, against her wishes. Her feeling was that he had not been kidnapped or taken against his will and that if he had run away because he had not wanted to marry her, he should not be brought back and forced to do so, but she had been overruled by the other ministers who had gently tried to explain to her the scandal it would cause, the scandal his disappearance was already causing.
She did not care about the scandal. All she cared about at the moment was hearing further news of her friend. She had not received any reports since first hearing of his injury, and had no idea how he was faring. She tried to comfort herself with the reflection that if he had died, she would have heard of it as fast as a messenger could be sent, but her fears plagued her nevertheless.
She longed to saddle up her horse and ride north herself so that she could see with her own eyes how he was, so that she could nurse him herself. But she had her own duties towards her subjects here, and as he had so often told her in the past, and as he had reminded her just before he left, the people must come first. She almost regretted being able to see the justice of his words.
Scandal had well and truly broken out over the kingdom. The prince had not only run away from marrying her, he had returned to his own kingdom to secretly or rather, now not-so-secretly elope with the penniless young woman who was his sister's companion.
Apart from overwhelming relief that she would not have to marry him after all, and also that she would never have to undertake the unpleasant business of breaking off their engagement herself she was not unduly affected by the news. In fact, her subjects seemed far more upset for her than she was for herself, and everyone cursed that good-for-nothing young man who had led their beloved princess a merry dance only to finally run off with a woman who was little more than a servant.
She was actually a little worried that it might pose an issue for diplomacy, and was quick to announce to her people that she harboured no ill-will towards the prince or his kingdom, that she meant to effect no change in their current status as allies, and that she sincerely wished him well. Many were surprised at how well she was taking it, and greatly admired her grace under such humiliating circumstances.
For the first time in her life she felt rather guilty at being praised more than she deserved. She had no extraordinary fortitude to bear with such a rejection as the prince's if it had been her friend whom she had been about to marry and he had run off with another woman, then she would indeed have been wretched.
She sat cross-legged in her private prayer room, eyes closed, as she had taken to doing for the past several mornings. She had been in the same attitude for quite a while now she was not sure how long and her thoughts were unwavering. Please let him recover, please let him live, please don't let him die, please...
The vision of him lying alone, cold and still in a stretcher in some camp in the northern wilderness, kept returning to haunt her imagination. She took a deep, shuddering breath, inhaling the scent of the incense, trying to have faith, but she could not stop the hot tears which slipped out of her closed eyelids. If he were never to return... if she were never to have the opportunity to tell him just how much he meant to her...
There was a knock at the door, and she opened her eyes, annoyed at the interruption when she had expressly said she was not to be disturbed. Hurriedly wiping her eyes with the end of her sari, she stood. 'Come in,' she said, trying to keep her voice steady.
The door opened and her heart almost leapt out of her chest. It was him. He was here, his arm bandaged and in a sling; he was here, looking rather pale and fairly exhausted and somewhat worse for the wear; but he was here, and very much alive. She knew open displays of emotion made him uncomfortable, but she couldn't help herself; she rushed across the room to throw her arms around him, and promptly burst into tears.
To her surprise, instead of tensing until she let him go as he had used to do years ago when she had true to her contrary ways hugged him mainly to annoy him, this time his uninjured arm came around her after only a split second of hesitation. His hand stroked her hair. 'It's alright,' he said gently, as her sobs slowly faded. 'I came as soon as I heard I know how upset you must have been when you found out.' She had barely had time to wonder how he knew about her feelings before he said in a low, fervent voice, 'He's a disgrace to the name of man.'
She drew away from him slightly to look up into his face. 'What?'
He shook his head, not looking at her. 'I hope you'll soon come to realise that you will be far better off without him. If he could do that to you, then he's obviously not the one for you.'
Suddenly she understood. He thought her heartbroken over the prince's defection. 'I know he's not,' she said, looking up at him frankly. 'You know, I never really thought he was.'
He looked taken aback. 'But that day you told me'
She smiled ruefully. 'I think I was trying to convince myself I never really felt any connection with him.'
He searched her face intently, as if finding it difficult to believe that she spoke the truth. 'But then why choose him?'
She rolled her eyes. 'If not him, then someone else I knew nothing about. It was not much of a choice. I think I would prefer to remain alone for the rest of my life rather than make such a choice.' She forced a smile. 'I suppose I am lucky, for it looks like I will be now.'
'No,' he said quietly.
Suddenly she was very aware that neither of them had stepped out of their embrace. 'Oh?' she said softly.
'If I have to go to the ends of the earth, I will find someone for you, someone who deserves you.'
The disappointment was almost unbearable. She staggered back, out of his arms. 'No,' she said, unable to keep the spark of anger out of her voice.
He looked startled. 'But your father's last wish'
'If my father had known,' she said firmly, 'how dreadfully unhappy it would make me to be married against my will to someone I know nothing about, then he would never have asked it of me.' She shook her head. 'No, I am determined that only the deepest love will ever induce me to marry.'
'If you would just let me help you'
'I will make my own choice.' Her tone brooked no argument.
He shook his head, looking frustrated. 'And just how do you propose to do that?'
How indeed. All her life, she had been brought up to listen to her elders, to do as they said, to do her duty, to follow a predetermined path for her life which had been set out by others, to do what was expected of her. Despite of her position of comparative power, she had never once in her life made a choice for herself. Something in her snapped. 'Sit down,' she said suddenly.
'Just do it.'
He sank slowly to the floor and crossed his legs. Turning away for a moment, she went over to the idol which had pride of place in the prayer room, and removed the garland which had been adorning it.
He had been watching her movements with a kind of resigned bewilderment, and even when she approached him with the garland in her hands he seemed no closer to comprehending her intention.
In one decisive movement she placed it around his neck.
He froze, and for a moment he looked up at her in profound disbelief.
She couldn't help herself. He looked so comical as he stared up at her with his eyes wide and mouth slightly open, that inappropriate as the timing was she could not help giggling, bringing up one hand to cover her smiling mouth.
Immediately his eyes hardened and his face was stony. Standing abruptly, he pulled off the garland and stiffly handed it back to her. 'That was badly done,' he said coldly, determinedly not looking at her. 'Perhaps you may find it amusing, but such a joke is in decidedly poor taste.'
Her heart plummeted, and as he turned to leave she stopped him by taking his hand. Reluctantly he turned back to look at her, and she was horribly aware that it was only out of deference for her status that he did so instead of storming out as he no doubt wished to do.
Her eyes looked into his pleadingly, begging him to understand. 'I was not joking,' she said softly. 'I would never joke about that. I told you I would make my own choice, and I did. I want to marry you.'
He said nothing and his expression was unreadable. She bit her lip. Courage wavering, she added hesitantly, 'Only if it is what you want too, of course.'
For one long moment his eyes searched her face and she waited, heart pounding, for his answer. Then all her fears and doubts were banished as he lowered his head to cover her lips with his.
Posted on 2010-10-14
'It was in every respect so proper, suitable and unexceptionable a connexion, and in one respect, one point of the highest importance, so peculiarly eligible, so singularly fortunate, that now it seemed as if [she] could not safely have attached herself to any other creature...
...the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.'
- "Emma", pgs. 372, 386
Perhaps it would have been wiser to wait some time before announcing their engagement to the ministers and to the populace, but she did not wish to make it clandestine and secretive. She was not ashamed of him, and she wished to share her happiness with everyone.
The uproar the news caused was profound, and yet after the shock had worn off a little, most people were inclined to think it a very good thing. To be sure he was not her equal in rank, but the general was widely considered a brave, kind, gentlemanlike man, and they had every reason to hope that their princess had her fairest chance of happiness with him. Also an important factor was the fact that the general had no kingdom of his own, and therefore would not take their princess away from them and she would still remain their ruler instead of bringing in some distant cousin or nephew while she went away with her husband and left them.
In fact, the ministers who had been closely acquainted with both the princess and her husband-to-be since the earliest years of their childhood had even more reason to approve. They knew that he had been the late king's right hand for several years now, and that during the monarch's last illness he had all but run the kingdom himself. They were sure the kingdom could not have been placed in safer or more responsible hands. As for the princess, they had always known her and the general to be good friends, and if that was not a sound foundation for marriage, then what was?
The wedding itself would have to be prepared again from scratch, for all the arrangements for the abandoned one of a couple of weeks ago had been undone. In truth she was glad for it, for the state of her mind and heart were so different now as compared to then, that only a fresh beginning would do. The entire proceeding must reflect just how differently she felt.
It would give some time for his injury to heal, and for the people to get used to the idea, and as such the delay was not as undesirable as it might have been. And it would, she thought with a smile, give her friend some time to get used to the new attentions accorded to him as her future husband. He was still unused to people bowing as he passed them, and did not quite relish having his every move observed and wondered at.
She sought him out as he was getting measured for his new wedding clothes. 'So I heard you groomed your own horse again instead of leaving it to the stable boys,' she said, smiling.
He looked mildly surprised. 'How did you know?'
'For once it was not from the state of your clothing after.' She raised a playful eyebrow. 'I heard it from my maid who heard it from one of the footmen, who heard it from his cousin the blacksmith, who heard it from his wife who heard it being discussed in the market by someone who had heard the stable boys talking about it.'
He stood tall, and his expression grew slightly defiant. 'And have you come to tell me to stop doing it?'
She shook her head, smiling reassuringly. 'I would not change you.' Then she laughed outright. 'The man I was previously engaged to was discussed by the whole kingdom because he ran off with another woman. If you are discussed everywhere because you groom your own horse, I would be grateful to compound for nothing worse.'
His expression lightened and he smiled with her. 'Perhaps I may even set a trend.'
Before she could make a teasing reply that that would happen when hell froze over, the tailor who had been conducting the measurements spoke again. 'Just raise your right arm a little for me, your Majesty.'
Her future husband stiffened. Although obliging by lifting his arm, he corrected the man quietly. 'I possess no title. There is no need to address me as anything except "sir", if you wish it.'
The man apologised immediately, looking a little surprised and a little afraid of having given offence.
She took pity on him and spoke what she knew he was thinking to her friend. 'You will have that title one day soon, you know.'
He looked rather troubled at the thought. 'It is your birthright I would not wish to take it from you.'
She smiled lovingly up at him, taking his hand. 'I want you to share every part of my life. I want you to be accorded the same love and respect by the people. I want you to be by my side as I rule and I could not do it without you.'
His heart was too full to speak, but the gentle pressure he exerted on her fingers and the expression of his eyes were quite eloquent enough to make up for his unready words.
Now he was just doing it on purpose. Grooming his own horse, walking about town instead of taking a chariot or at the very least a palanquin, seating himself at his usual spot at the dining table instead of taking the head and bowing back to those who bowed to him, among other things.
Her future husband had quickly earned himself a name for good-natured eccentricity, and perhaps she should have taken him in hand and spoken to him about maintaining an image as befitted his status as the royal consort and future king, but she was too amused to care. It was refreshing to see his genuine humility, and witnessing the utterly shocked expressions on the faces of those who found their future king bowing back to them with as much deference as they had just shown him simply made her laugh and laugh.
Everything made her smile these days, and she could not remember ever being happier. And yet it was a quiet, unimposing sort of happiness, consisting of exchanged smiles, intertwined hands and conversation which made room for rational planning as well as sweet nothings.
The period of courtship was hardly different to every other period of their lives before that. With them it was the established intimacy of old friends, and having made the transition from friends to lovers in the span of a morning, they had progressed too far beyond coy looks and demure flirtations to begin with them now. They did submit to one of the ministers chaperoning them, because little as they liked it, they knew that they must uphold not only true propriety, but also the appearance of it, however ridiculous it was for them to be chaperoned when they had been alone with each other so many times before.
The wedding date was nearing now, and this time she was taking a genuine interest in the preparations. Even if the end result of being married to him was all she really cared about, she wished the wedding to be grand, as befitted her status, and the status which was soon to be his. Nobody should think that she was marrying him as a last resort or as a second choice; she wished to make it clear that she was honoured to be his wife.
Accordingly, she was sitting with the decorators, trying to choose the flowers she wanted. 'Should the garlands have red, pink and white carnations, or just red and white, or just pink and white?' she asked him.
He shrugged, looking as if he wished he could go to his military strategy meeting. 'Whichever you like.'
'Yes, but which do you prefer?'
'I don't know! Does it really matter which I prefer?'
She glared at him, annoyed at his lack of interest in the arrangements. 'This is your wedding as well as mine. Of course it matters.'
He raised an eyebrow, smiling wryly. 'No, it doesn't. You've already decided which one you want, and no matter what I say, that will be the one we will end up having.' She didn't know whether to be amused or irritated that he knew her so well. 'And besides,' he said, eyes bright, 'all that matters to me is that at the end of the day, you will be my wife.'
She could not stay angry with him after that, but nevertheless she was not about to give up. 'Just pick a garland,' she said encouragingly. 'It's not difficult.'
He regarded them for a moment, deep in thought. 'How about that one?' he said, pointing to the red, pink and white one.
She frowned. 'Don't you think the red and pink clash a little?'
He glanced over at her, amusement dancing in his eyes. 'Yes, perhaps you're right. I actually prefer the pink and white.'
She hesitated. 'The pink seems a bit too soft in colour, don't you think? It doesn't provide enough definition against the white.'
He nodded sagely. 'I completely agree, and in fact the one I find I like best of all is the red and white one.'
She smiled approvingly. 'Perfect choice.'
For a moment they looked at one another, and then they could not contain their laughter.
'I can't believe we've managed to stir up as much gossip among the people as when we announced our engagement. It's been a month and they're still talking about it.' In the darkness his voice sounded amused.
She poked his side. 'And whose fault is that? I was perfectly happy to let you be crowned king after the wedding, as is usual.'
His hand caught her smaller one, partly to stop her poking him. 'The kingdom is yours, and you were born to rule it. I can guide you and advise you, but I could never take it from you completely.'
She squeezed his hand. 'I know that,' she said softly. 'But still I would like people to acknowledge that we are equals. Perhaps we can give you a title of some sort.'
'Like what? The Gorgeous General? The Wonderful Warrior? Or perhaps Court Jester?'
She could not help giggling. 'The last one is tempting, I admit. But I am serious about the title. Could you perhaps be Prince?'
He grimaced. 'Makes me sound like I'm your son.'
'What do you think of Baron?'
'Now I sound like I'm your uncle.'
'How about Duke?'
'That's an old man title.'
She could not resist. 'Perfect for you, then.'
His hand tickled her ribs until she could hardly breathe for laughing even as she begged him to stop. Finally he let her rest. 'I may be a dozen years your senior, but might I remind you that I haven't quite reached the age of senility just yet? I'm not the one who belongs in a madhouse.'
'Is that any way to talk to your queen?' she said in mock-severity. 'Perhaps,' she breathed, as she pressed herself against him, 'you need to be taught who is the true ruler here.'
His eyes were alight as a slow smile spread across his face. 'I would be glad for the lesson, your Majesty.'The End