He didn’t notice her tears until the middle of the third act, but when he did, he reached for her hand and held her close. Much to his surprise, she accepted him and leaned into him, making his heart flutter in spite of his worry and confusion. Why was she crying? She didn’t seem much like someone to be easily swept away by bouts of passion, but surely, she was crying because of the opera? He didn’t think there could be any other reason. She had seemed fine throughout dinner, and on the short carriage ride to the opera house. But then again, what would he know? After he had come back from his diplomatic duties, and she had recovered from consumption, he had been careful to keep his distance. Honestly he wasn’t sure if she really didn’t care for him as he suspected, but it was better to be safe than sorry, and he didn’t want to make her any more uncomfortable than she might already be in a new and foreign country.
Not that that sort of thought process held in the face of her tears. Feeling a sadness he’d never really felt before, he pressed his lips faintly against her head as he held her tightly until her tears had subsided and then pulled out his handkerchief to gently dry her tears. When the last had been wiped away, they sat quietly in the dark of their private box before she apologized.
“I don’t know what came over me.”
“Please don’t apologize,” he said softly. “I only wish I could have done something to prevent you from being compelled to weep.”
She merely looked down at the soft silk in her hands. In the dim light of the stage, she could just barely make out the royal crest of her husband’s lineage that had been so delicately and painstakingly stitched in. She realized that it was the one that she had made for him.
“Would you like to retire for the evening?”
It seemed strange to her that he would use the kerchief that she had made for him. He had seemed so cold and distant ever since he had returned. She wondered if it was because he had met someone while he had been away; he’d been gone for a long time, and surely there were women there who could capture his interest far better than she ever could. After all was she not always bothering him with her questions and ignorance? Even if he had remained at her bedside until she was well again… Couldn’t all of that just be a show? Once she was better, he’d always been conveniently preoccupied and unavailable for their usual shared activities. Why, he was so busy in fact that he had moved back to his former apartments as “His Highness did not wish to disturb my lady’s rest” as she had been told.
“…No, I’m quite alright.”
“Are you sure? I’ve no problem at all leaving if returning home would make you more comfortable.”
She studied him for some time, catching the worry on his face. Wringing her hands, she looked down into her lap. Feeling the weight of her silk dress and the jewels delicately arranged on her head, she murmured, “Then perhaps retiring for the evening would be a good idea.”
She knew that they would be required to do some explaining for snubbing half of the much anticipated opera, but she was much too tired to worry. Though the royal physician had released her from bedrest, she still felt weak at times, and with the cold of winter fast approaching… She shivered all throughout the carriage ride to the palace. Even with the warm fur wrapped all around her, she felt her teeth chatter as she burrowed further within the depths, when she felt something warm slip into the folds of her blanket.
“I shan’t have you bedridden again,” was all he said. Warmth radiating from the smooth stone, she held it in her lap before pulling out from the depths of fur and reaching for his hand. She moved closer and put her fur around him. Carefully averting his looks, she looked out the frosted window, all the while thinking of how much warmer it was to be pressed close to him than the warm stone could ever be.
. . .
She dismissed her ladies-in-waiting without blowing out the candles. She sat in bed for some time, an old storybook sitting dead in her lap like a brick. She had been struggling through it for the past few days now, but it wasn’t quite like anything when her husband had read it to her. He had always made it so interesting – even the most boring parts – as well as easy for her to understand. When she hadn’t understood something, he would always set the book down and made it so that she understood. Even if it took several explanations, he never gave up until she was able to understand, at which he would have the biggest smile.
It had been some time since he had smiled at her like that. She wished he would smile at her like that more often. Or even look at her for the matter. He had spoken to her more in this one evening than he had in the past few weeks, and it made her so…just so… It haunted her. Had she done something wrong? Did he hate her? Or had he really, truly found another woman? She knew that those of the Court were particularly notorious for wandering from bed to bed. And why wouldn’t they? Very few of them, if any at all, married for love. Why wouldn’t they drift from this lover to that when they were trapped within a loveless marriage that hadn’t been of their own will?
On the verge of tears again, the princess covered her eyes in shame – why was she so upset? Never had they ever said that they were anything more than a marriage of convenience and political maneuvering – when she heard a soft knock. Hurriedly drying her eyes, she sniffled before asking in her heavy accent, “Who is it?”
“I realize how late it is, and how tired you must be, but there is something I would like to ask you…”
When he came in, she had long hid the book under her pillow. Sitting up straight, she asked what he wished to ask her. He stood closer to the doors than to her bed.
“…My sister, she… She wants to know if you would be so kind as to accompany her to a show tomorrow evening. It is the debut of a composer she has acted as benefactress for, and she would very much like for you to accompany her. I promised her I would ask you, but if you would rather abstain, I understand as will she. After tonight, I… I don’t want to ask you for something that which you don’t wish to do.”
“I would be honored to accompany her,” she replied softly.
He nodded before bowing. “Then I bid you good night.” And turned to leave, when she sneezed. He froze.
“Excuse me,” she mumbled to herself. She reached for a cloth to wipe her nose, when she saw her husband staring at her.
“…It’s drafty in here.”
“…No, it’s extremely drafty in here.” He looked all around them. “You shouldn’t sleep here in these apartments. It’s too cold. You must sleep in my apartment at least for tonight.”
She stared at him, but he didn’t even realize how embarrassing his words sounded, so opposed to the draft was he. Asking for her hand, he promised she would feel more comfortable elsewhere. She reluctantly accepted his proposition, wondering what his ulterior motive was.
She had only been in her husband’s private apartments once or twice, so she had quite easily forgotten its design, but as she stepped past him and into the room, she was reminded of the time they had snuck out. The windows were closest to the gardens, where there was a maze of rose hedges that could be used to very easily discombobulate the guards and waiting hands. They had carefully planned everything after she had asked him what his people were like, and, after dressing up in poor, raggedy clothing they had bought from some poor chap, they had left the royal grounds completely unattended.
She remembered the smoke of the bonfires, the sizzling and mouthwatering fragrance of roasting game, the clamor of the people, and the general liveliness and excitement that the Court was bereft of. Never before had she been so excited, and it must have shown too, because her husband had never once stopped smiling as he taught her everything that she wanted to know. He had tightly held her hand and guided her as they had blended in with their people, and for the first time, she had felt…unburdened. No longer did she have to worry about providing an heir, no longer was she thinking of what her new people thought of her, what she could and couldn’t say and do before her new peers. All she had to do was point and ask, and he would provide her the answers. Simple and refreshing and just absolutely beautiful.
He had apparently been writing a letter before coming to her rooms, as the faint glimmer of drying ink winked at her from his writing desk. Gathering her nightgown up, she hesitantly climbed into his bed. It was much different from her own. While hers was more in the fashion of the one she had had back home – while her adopted Court was much more austere, to say that they hadn’t at least tried to make her transition slightly easier would be a lie – his was more a solid, pragmatic design with four beams that rocketed high into the ceiling.
“The brocade ought to keep the warmth in.”
“Will you be sleeping here as well?”
He paused slightly. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, but she thought she saw his face fall. “…I would hate to disturb you.”
“Then where will you sleep?”
She had suspected as much, but when he didn’t answer, she moved over. “Please. I do not wish to be a burden.”
“Are you sure?”
She nodded from where she lay. Closing her eyes, she listened to him blow out the candles before settling in beside her and closing the curtains. True to his words, she felt significantly warmer in his bed than in her own but still couldn’t fall asleep. Wide awake, she stared up into the inky darkness, when she finally broke under the pressure.
“…It was because I wondered if it would ever be possible for someone to love me as much as Pollux loved Télaïre.”
She wondered if he had already fallen asleep. Maybe it was for the better if he was.
“I…was afraid that something had happened while you were away. That you had found someone else, and I worried that I couldn’t compare to her. Perhaps she was more interesting than I, or more beautiful, but… I didn’t know if all you had said and done before you left was simply an act. After you returned, you were so aloof. I’m sorry for misunderstanding. I had just hoped that we would-“
“…I thought you hated me.”
She fell silent as the voice beside her grew louder. “I thought you hated me. That was why I was so aloof. I didn’t want to burden you, so I thought giving you space was for the best, but I see how wrong I was. I’m sorry. I should have at least spoken to you about this sooner, instead of leaving it be. I made you cry, didn’t I?”
She didn’t tell him that he was making her cry now, so relieved was she that he didn’t hate her. She felt him shift before his hand fell on her shoulder gently and slid down to her hand. Trying her best to swallow past her tears, she buried her face into his chest as he brought her closer to him.
“My sincerest apologies. I never meant to hurt you. It was never my intention at all. How can I ever make up for my mistake?”
“…Will you walk with me tomorrow?” Struggling through her tears, she tightly held his hand.
“Of course I will. I confess I missed our strolls.”
She cried harder. She was so glad that he had missed their strolls. She had been so scared; without him, she had felt so alone. Of course, she had made friends with his sisters, and there were a few servants here and there who were always interesting to talk to, but there hadn’t been anyone to replace the gaping hole he had left in her chest. There had been no one like him, and how he had made her feel with all his comforting and pleasing ways, so she was so glad that he was here again, and that they would be going on their daily stroll through the snow together. She was so relieved that he had missed her as much as she had missed him and as they lay in bed together for the first time in several months, she tightly clung to him and he her as if they were afraid to lose each other once more.