Sinking to the polished marble floor, she curtsied before her king as she carefully kept her eyes lowered to the ground. She had never really spoken to the king before. When she had first come from her country, she had been formally presented to him, but formal presentations in the royal court left little room for pleasantries, and she could scarcely imagine what kind of a person he was if he had survived a marriage with Her Majesty, the Queen, for over twenty years. Though…she supposed there had to be a side to him that was much warmer. As her husband had explained, his grandfather – and her grandfather-in-law – had been kind to him when very few had paid attention to him, often times spending more time with him than with His Highness, the Crown Prince, who was usually cloistered away with this governor and that noble.
She felt a warm, leathery hand grasp hers, and she peered up through her lashes to see his smile. Almost immediately, she returned it in kind; she could see where her husband had inherited his good looks.
“How are you faring as of late? Well, I hope?”
“Good, good.” He patted her hands. “And I presume my grand-son has been a most excellent husband? Very indulging? Ah, well, I suppose that is a question that needs no answer. He does like you so very much. He’ll hardly talk about anything else.”
Eyes fluttering, her cheeks darkened, and the old man chuckled quietly to himself. “Oh, dear. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything. But you have taken to him quite as well as he has you, have you not?”
She nodded, and he beamed at her. His hand curling around his wispy beard, he nodded, obviously pleased with himself. “I knew you would make an excellent match for one another. Much better than Julius would have. Charming lad, Julius. But I’m afraid the poor boy has no room in his heart to spare after the passing of his wife, may God bless her sweet soul. I should think you would have liked her; my wife hated her, you see. Biscuit?”
She accepted the gift that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. So this was also the origin of his sweet tooth. Quietly snacking on the cookie, she sat in companionable silence with the king until he spoke again, this time in a much more serious tone.
“Unfortunately, my dear girl, I’ve not asked for this…rendez-vous as you would call it, yes?” At her nod, he continued: “I’ve not asked for this rendez-vous without an ulterior motive, as delightful as it is to spend time with my grand-daughter. Now, listen carefully, child, for what I am to tell you, you must safeguard in your heart for both your sake and your husband’s, as well as any children you two may bear in the future.”
She was immediately attentive.
“There may be a storm brewing upon our horizon. I, in my old age, must spend what little time I have left in preparing our country for the future that is beyond my reign, but I fear that Julius, with all his superiority and training, will be unable to ascend to the throne for various reasons that shall go unnamed. Your brother-in-law, as well as the rest of our family and Court are well aware of this.” He paused slightly. “You look rather lost. How can I help you find your way again?”
“Pardon my curiosity, but why is it that His Highness, the Crown Prince, will be unable to take the throne? As Your Majesty stated, is he not enlightened and fit to be king?”
He smiled sadly. “No man is so perfect. While he may seem well, his exterior strength may only be but a projection to protect him and his family. That is why you were granted upon my second grand-son, my dear, and not my eldest. As well as my desire not to grant any more burden to that poor child, Julius.”
“Then…” She looked up into his faded eyes.
“Yes, it is true. Your husband will become king of this nation one day, and you his queen. And I understand you are quite unnerved by the prospect. I was not much older than you both when I took the throne. But heed my words, child, when I tell you that there is no one better to turn to when confused and unsure than your spouse. I have told your husband the same; he’s a good child. He will come to you if he has anything weighing on his shoulders, which I am sure he will, come the proper time, so I implore you that when that time does come, to be good to him as you have been so far. Youth is a beautiful and precious time, and as one ages, one’s memory can turn foggy and dirty until they’ve lost sight of what made life so amusing and charming. So I implore you to help him just as he will try his best to help you. Strength from within leads to strength from our people. Remember that, child. Do not forget.”
When she nodded, his smile returned and he surprised her by gently patting her head as if she was of his own blood. He nodded to himself.
“I do believe I picked a magnificent bride. Welcome to the family, my dear. We are so happy to have you with us.”
And unlike the various other welcomes she had received from the members of the Court, she couldn’t help but feel that he spoke the truth when he spoke of his happiness. Smiling, she kissed her king’s hand before excusing herself and wandering aimlessly through the gardens until it was dinnertime, by which point she found her husband and tightly embraced her future king, glowing from the very first genuine blessing of their union.