Four days later, Rowena and Artem were married. The ceremony was quiet, in the private chapel in the palace grounds. Artem didn’t think Rowena could cope with another big wedding, but their little ceremony was just as beautiful as Rowena’s wedding to Felipe. Artem was dressed simply in brown trousers and a clean shirt with a plain dark brown jacket on top. Rowena looked even more beautiful in a simple white dress, with a tight bodice and straight skirt. Her hair had been brushed and hung simply in waves down her back. She looked like any other country bride, a smile on her face and her skin glowing with happiness.
There were very few guests invited. Rowena’s father and stepmother, Felipe, Vincent, Ani and Bledri came from Madrimar to take on the roles of best man and chief bridesmaid. Fialka had been invited but Ani said that her dislike of occasions with a lot of emotion prevented her from coming. Karthik had been invited out of politeness, despite Rowena’s insistence that he shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Genata.
‘He’s a killer, a cold-blooded killer,’ Rowena had said emphatically. ‘I will not have him anywhere near us.
‘I’ve killed people,’ Artem said. ‘Does that make me a bad guy?’
‘No of course not, but you’re different. You didn’t order the murder of your own father.’
‘All the same, I’d like to ask him.’
But there had been no need for Rowena to worry, Karthik refused the invitation, making it very clear he wanted to cut all ties with the man his father had adopted. Artem pretended not to be bothered by it, but Rowena could tell it hurt him to be abandoned by the closest thing to family he had left.
The priest conducted the ceremony with great grace considering the last time he had seen the Princess he had been about to marry her to another man. But he didn’t allow it to affect his judgment, conducting the ceremony as beautifully as he had the first time, but without the formalities required of the state wedding Rowena had planned with Felipe.
‘Artem, do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?’
‘I do,’ Artem said, slipping the wedding ring onto Rowena’s finger.
‘And do you, Rowena, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?’
‘I do,’ she said, putting her ring on Artem’s finger. ‘With all my heart yes.’ Tears welled up inside Ani’s eyes and she began sobbing as Artem’s arm went around Rowena’s waist, pulling her into a passionate kiss. The small group of guests erupted into cheers and applause, even Rowena’s father stood up in respect.
‘Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you. May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth,’ the priest recited to complete the wedding ceremony. ‘I am now please to pronounce you husband and wife.’
The couple left the chapel and were showered with confetti and paper for luck before returning to the palace to prepare for the celebratory feast that would take place that evening. Artem had fought violently against it but Rowena had insisted that they had to follow some conventions or people would start to feel left out. So once again an invite was sent out to every noble family in Fersere to attend the wedding banquet of Crown Princess Rowena and her new husband Prince Artem.
Although Artem had protested about having a formal banquet and ball, you would not have been able to guess during the event. He led Rowena bravely out onto the dance floor for the first dance, which as the new couple, they were expected to dance alone.
‘Are you sure this is a good idea?’ Rowena asked as Artem put one hand on her waist and the other holding her hand.
‘Have some faith,’ he said, a cheeky smile on his lips. The band struck up a waltz and Artem began to lead his wife around the floor. He was light on his feet and was almost as elegant as Rowena as they twirled around the floor.
‘You’ve been having lessons,’ Rowena exclaimed, stunned by the improvement in his dancing.
‘Your stepmother suggested it after seeing me dance so appallingly at our last banquet.’
‘You really made the effort to learn how to dance?’
‘I’m part of your world now, I might as well try to learn some of your customs.’
‘You know I love you,’ Rowena said, smiling like a lunatic up at her handsome husband.
‘I do, but you can never say it too often.’
‘I love you Artem Novak, with every inch of myself. I love you.’
‘I love you too, Rowena Novak. You are my life and I wouldn’t wish for anything different.’ He stopped spinning to pull Rowena close and kiss her. The crowd hardly noticed the couple standing still in the middle of the dance floor, they were so absorbed in their own dancing and private conversations. But this meant they didn’t see their future Queen at her most radiant, in the arms of her Prince, completely and utterly content.