She was more quiet than usual as she adjusted his cravat. Carefully studying her expression, he caught the hands slowly drifting down from the silk cloth before asking her what was wrong.
“You’re leaving today.”
The words hung heavily in the air, surprising him. For some reason, he had never particularly entertained the possibility of her reciprocating his feelings. But as he stood in the early morning light, their bedsheets rumpled twice as much as usual thanks to serving two, rather than the usual one, he began to suspect that his assumption had been made hastily.
Though he knew it was an inappropriate reaction, he couldn’t help but smile. So his heart wasn’t the only broken one this morning.
“The sooner I leave, the sooner I can return.”
“…Yes. That is true.”
He surprised her with a light kiss on her palm. Folding her fingers closed, he gave her a forlorn smile.
“Forgive me.” For not being able to better comfort you.
She wanted to say something more. She didn’t really know what – what did one say to one’s first friend and first love? – but she felt the pressing need to say something. But other than replying that it was okay, that there was nothing to forgive, there was no other words she could possibly offer him, and she loathed to offer him those which were available to her as it wasn’t okay and there was something to forgive. It wasn’t okay that he was leaving just after he had begun to make her miss him every second he wasn’t with her. It wasn’t okay that he was traveling to some far-off country just when she had become comfortable in her – in their – new home so that all their work would be undone and she would be as uncomfortable as her first day in this foreign court. Even if this goodbye held no permanence, even if he was to return in a few months’ time, she felt ruthless and reckless. How was she to endure several months when she could barely survive several hours?
When he left, she remained in their room for some time. Frozen on their bed, she already began reminiscing over the nights before when they’d be awake together until the early hours of the following day, playing chess together. She thought of how he’d always ask for a steaming silver pot of chocolat chaud – her favorite – and how he’d always make her giggle whenever she burnt her tongue with one of his silly puns. She thought of how he’d read her those stories, translating them from his native tongue so that she may enjoy them just as well as anyone of their kingdom could, and how nice and soothing his voice was as it lead her past the nightmares and lulled her to sleep. She thought of his laugh, and his now-familiar silhouette, and the simple comfort of just knowing that somewhere, nearby, was someone who genuinely cared for her.
Her chest tightened at the thought of the coming months. How in God’s name was she to endure without him? Now she would be truly lost without him. How could she bear such suffocating loneliness? She…
She blinked. Oh, of course, they could… Of course! But only if he were to agree. It would only work if he wished the same after all.
Enlivened by her realization, the Princess rose from the bed and, gathering her dress in her arms, hurried out of the suite and to the gilded gates of the palace, praying to the Creator that it – that she – wasn’t too late.
. . .
Turning away from the carriage, the Prince looked up the never-ending stairwell leading to his birthplace, where, much to his amazement, he saw his wife. Stepping off completely, he stared as she ignored the cold and rushed towards him, barefooted and dressed in nothing but her nightgown.
With a grunt, he swallowed her momentum and caught her. Immediately holding her to save her poor feet from any more abuse, he made to ask her what had inspired such urgency, when she breathlessly asked if he would write to her.
The Prince blinked in surprise.
She must have mistaken his silence for rejection, as her rosy cheeks reddened to an even darker shade. Tightly balling up her gown, she glanced away, unsure of how to explain herself and her impropriety.
“How could I not?” he asked. “How else would a man be expected to tolerate such a horrid punishment as one of the denial of his happiness?”
He was glad to see her flush for a third time. Smiling, he reveled in the beauty of his wife, glad that his last memory of her would be one of her smile.
. . .
She nursed the teacup of hot chocolate, the warmth seeping through the fine-bone china and into her cold fingers. Buried under layers and layers of furs, she watched the glittering snow drift from the silver sky, as she remembered the way he had carried her back up all those steps and had returned her to their bed, where he had waited with her until the servant had arrived with the silver pot and then poured her a cup alongside one for himself. She remembered the way she had had to comfort him this time when he stung his tongue with the searing heat, and how embarrassed he had looked. She remembered the way it had been half past noon when he had finally torn himself away with great effort, already half-a-day behind on his travels. But most importantly, she remembered the taste of chocolate and oranges from his light kiss and his soft smile as he answered her goodbye with à bientôt.
See you soon.