Traces of her youthful beauty were still present in the Queen Dowager’s face to this very day. Even with her age – and the respect demanded of – it took no stretch of an imagination to glimpse the legendary beauty of the Queen Dowager. Even the Princess, who had never really seen a portrait of the imperial widow in her younger days could see as she glanced at her from time to time. Not that she would tell her grandmother-in-law what she thought; she had forgotten the translation for beauty – as well as a large part of her English vocabulary – ever since she had received the invitation that she had had no choice but to accept.
She always hated these formalities. It was so easy to see how the Queen had only made the effort so as to steal away the weapons of their family’s political enemies. The royal family must, after all, appear to be strong and unified before its people at all times. More so in times like these, where unease could very easily shift to violent rampage. And while she understood, she still hated them. The awkward silence, the tea she couldn’t taste in spite of its holy fragrance, the quiet rustle of the ladies-in-waiting as they held their breath in hopes of preserving the wordless conversation taking place between the young princess and the Queen – it was almost too terrible for her to bear. Not only because her husband wouldn’t be waiting for her with open arms and a patient ear, but also because the Queen always – always – wanted to discuss one subject and one subject only – the subject of children.
She was growing to love her husband, it was true. And while the birth of children didn’t require anything but the will of two people and nothing more – not even that mythical love – C.C. always felt her stomach twist at the thought of engaging in such affairs without mutual affection. She thought fondly of her husband. She always smiled when a servant delivered her his letter, and once or twice, she had even flushed at the sight of his spidery, slanted writing. And of course, not a day went by when she didn’t wish that he was here, and when she didn’t think about the kiss they had shared before he had left. But to say that she loved him would be to lie. She didn’t love him. She didn’t know him well enough to. But that wasn’t to say that she wouldn’t in due time.
That wasn’t to say that she wasn’t falling in love with him now.
But no matter what was happening in regard to how she felt about him, it was still too early to consider conjugal consummation. It just felt too…forced. And rushed. Even with the pressures from her brother-in-law and her Majesty, the Queen Dowager, and her own mother, as well as the public, she still felt sick at the thought. Her only comfort in it all was that her husband agreed with her and had promised to wait until she was comfortable.
When the Princess was released from her weekly punishment, she quietly shed the ladies trailing after her as she retreated into her suite. Brushing her hair away from her face, she sighed. Moving to the table before the fireplace, she took a seat and placed the flat velvet box from the table into her lap.
He had sent it to her some weeks ago. Unmentioned in the accompanying letter, it had been set before her and since then, had yet to be opened. She wasn’t quite sure why, but opening the box seemed so…wrong. It seemed so wrong to open it if he wasn’t there, so she had let it be on the table it had been placed upon by one of her maids.
But perhaps it would be better to get it over with. Perhaps it would be better to cut off the suspense and simply open the lid and see what lay inside. She wasn’t quite sure why she had placed so much significance upon the gift; perhaps it was because it was the first gift he had given her. The first real gift – the harp, though it had touched her, had been an appeasement, a peace treaty, after all. No, this…box, whatever it was, was the first actual gift he, as a husband, would give to her – his wife. And it scared her more than anything. Not because she shied away from such a title. Rather, she thought herself rather fortunate in the way that she was his wife, and not some other man’s.
It was just that, for some reason, she felt that the moment she opened that box, she would have to assume the other duties of such a position. Not only the duties of going on strolls with him and drinking tea with him and accompanying him to whatever social functions there were, but the other ones, like becoming a role model for not only the women of this country, but for the mothers as well as the moment she opened that box, she would have to become a mother herself. And it scared her more than anything.
How could it not? She was still young, and knew little of the world. And yet, in spite of this, she was still expected to raise a child and give him or her all the knowledge and support in the world so that they may one day grow into fine, strong leaders of the world. For that was what their destiny would be, just as it had been her destiny and her husband’s destiny and their forefathers’ before them.
The Princess stared at the box in her lap, all the while the Queen Dowager’s words echoed in her mind: “Your first and foremost duty is to bear an heir for the preservation of this holy bloodline, and nothing more.” She didn’t know if her husband agreed. It certainly didn’t seem like it, but she knew how tricky and deceptive men could be – especially if it was to get something that they wanted. And while she wanted to believe that he didn’t…
She stared at the unopened letter that had been lying on the table next to where the box had been. It had arrived some time ago, but she had yet to open it – something that would have been unheard of just a few weeks ago. But now, after so many cups of tea, and so many awkward silences, she could do nothing but stare at the letter that had traveled so far and through so much just so that his Highness, the Second Prince, could woo her with his sweet words.
Never before had she felt so much sadness.