He was standing by the foot of the steps when the carriage arrived. Shifting his weight to his other leg, he unclasped his hands as he watched the horses slow so that, when the coach finally did come to a stop, he could open the door himself and help the lady down.
She tightly held his hand as she slowly climbed down the steps. Smiling up at him, she brushed the loose strands of her hair away from her face.
“It’s wonderful to see you again,” she winked. “It’s been so long.”
He gave her a tight smile in return. “Too long.”
She nodded and pressed close to him as she noticed the assembly of the entire royal court flanking the impressive stairwell. Though she looked haggard, she did her best to put on an air of indifference. But he could feel her hands shaking, so he put his coat around her small shoulders and shepherded her away from the curious, judgmental eyes that surrounded them. The last thing she needed right now, he thought gravely, was the sort of excitement that the nobility so reveled in.
. . .
“And I hope you will use all candor and frankness at your disposal when you tell me how you have been faring as of late.”
“Very well, thank you.”
The King nodded slowly as he studied the pallor of the princess’ face.
“And your husband?”
Her husband sat silently, perched on the edge of his seat, with his eyes nearly closed.
“As well as I possibly can be,” he replied. His eyes nervously flickered towards his spouse. She was trying her best not to let anyone catch on, but with just half a day together, he had noticed how weak she had gotten since their private rendez-vous at the Juno Estate. It drove him up the wall to see how their child seemed to gnaw away at her health. He would have preferred if that didn’t happen; he wanted to love his child with all his heart, and he probably already did. But that love was far overshadowed by his fear, and as he sat there beside her, he couldn’t help but feel the fear grow stronger and stronger until finally, she was looking at him with wide eyes as they lay together in bed at the end of the long day.
“Why would I be scared?”
He said nothing until she turned to face him. Prying his fist open, she lightly traced the lines of his palm.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re upset,” she said softly. “I’ve never seen you like this. Was it something I said? I did not mean to cause so much offense to your grandmother.”
He closed his eyes as his wife came to lean on him. Her head resting on his shoulder, she quietly waited; to her it seemed as if they had all the time in the world, now that they were finally together again. Nothing could ever tear them apart again; not tradition, not time, not even Death itself.
“…I was told that you wrote your will.”
“Only because they told me to. I personally thought of it as another one of those silly, superstitious tasks.”
“Céline,” he whispered. “Oh, Céline.”
“What is it, mon cher?”
He struggled to find the courage to tell her of his fears. The last thing he wanted was to scare her. Obviously she thought little of the past. With all her confidence invested in…in God knew who, she sat there with her pretty little smile as she puzzled over his panic as if she came from a world where no one had ever died from childbirth – not even the late princess and queen of this nation.
“…I don’t know what I would do if I lost you. Julius lost the right to rule because of his grief over Lottie. Who is to say that I won’t descend into complete madness?”
“Because you are not your brother, and I am not his wife. You are yourself, and I am your wife.”
“If you find it so difficult to put your faith into God, put your faith into me. I don’t want to leave you either. I like here very much. Too much to leave, in fact.”
He nodded and she kissed him softly.
“Ne t’inquiète pas, mon coeur. I promise to stay right here next to you.”
Yes, of course. If not God, then his wife, the love of his life.
Sa belle femme.