“Your highness? Are you enjoying your supper?” A soft voice asked at my side.
“Quite, my lady. I am simply pleased to be here in your father’s court. Tell me of your land.” After sidestepping her questions, I tried to give the beautiful, gracious girl my full attention as she methodically told me about the number and size of their farmlands, the success of their trades with the neighboring people, and the beauty of the countryside. However, my mind was not as obedient as I had hoped with my betrothed. She was beautiful and well spoken, yes, but my limited time with her had disappointed me. I was used to my sister’s sharp mind. I was used to Ella’s strong character and outspokenness. How could I focus on this soft and delicate creature?
The lord of Pentsmont, Mathis, was an older gentleman with many children. He was the most jovial of men, but seemed to have fear behind his genteel manner. Was this why I had been betrothed to Adrianna, the youngest and only unmarried child of the Lord of Pentsmont? Had my father, the great warrior and “banisher of evil” made this contract in order to protect this man’s land and people? I glanced at Stephen, suddenly anxious to seek his council. He always seemed to know what was going on. What had he learned?
But this glance only served to unsettle my soul. He was staring in his serious way at Ella as she spoke jovially to Mathis. I tried to assure myself many things in that moment of jealousy. One, that perhaps Stephen was only listening to the conversation, observing as he was so prone to do. Two, I reminded myself that Ella must not have feelings for me, and I was, after all, betrothed to this quiet being at my side. Three, I argued with whether it would truly be a problem if Stephen sought Ella’s affection... Just as my thoughts began to annoy me greatly, I realized that Mathis and Ella were looking in my direction, obviously having said something to include me in their animated conversation.
I smiled and took a long drink of my ale, chuckling as I set down my cup, “You must excuse me, for I am quite distracted!” I paused to look meaningfully at Adrianna, who blushed with pleasure, “Please repeat your question, sir.”
Mathis looked pointedly at Agatha, whose eyes twinkled mysteriously. Obviously I had really missed a great joke. My sister spoke up from her seat on the other side of Ella. “We were discussing, brother, the history of our late father’s kingdom. Specifically, the Lord Mathis, here, is questioning your position on the ‘troublesome magic beings’ in our forests.”
How mischievous my sister was!Her time with Ella was surely bringing strength and myrth to her personality. While I was glad for this positive change, I also dreaded the answer to this question. I was of yet rather undecided, and knowing Ella was in our company made me wonder how to respond diplomatically. I could feel the eyes of many, waiting for wisdom to flow from me; And I felt young and unprepared. I cleared my throat and put down my meat.
“To be frank, sir, a King has a great responsibility to be wise and establish his place as a great protector and politician. I have been seeking the advice of my council and studying and observing for myself the history and people of my kingdom. I take this task very gravely, and although many of my Great Father’s policies are still in place, I am not unwilling to change them as I see best suites my family’s legacy.”
During this brief statement, I had looked individually at the surrounding audience, but had purposely avoided Ella’s bewitching eyes, afraid of what I might see there, or that I may be distracted by them. I could also feel everyone staring at me, soaking in my sentiments and judging me by them. Mathis stood and came around his daughter’s chair to embrace me.
“You have made this old man very pleased. It is my honor that you should take my daughter’s hand in marriage. Now, come! It is time to sing and dance! Let us celebrate your arrival!”