In the early evening, cries of pain resounded throughout the palace. By about midnight, one final cry sounded. Catharine’s head rested back on the pillow as she gasped for breath. The thin wailing of a baby made her look round and Keleya put a small bundle wrapped in cloths into Catharine’s arms. “A son,” she said, smiling. “Lukas,” Catharine whispered, and looked up at her mother. Keleya rested a hand on her daughter’s shoulder, and as one of the midwives took the newly named baby and put him in a crib, Keleya said, “Get some sleep, Cathy. You won’t receive much of it after this.” The mother’s hand brushed across the hair of her daughter’s head as her daughter’s eyes closed, and then Keleya turned to leave the room. Anna, Sophia, Lucy and Laura all looked round as Keleya left the room and the midwives left the room. Keleya shut the door behind them, and Anna stepped forwards a couple of steps. “Anna, it’s OK. She’s still with us, but she’s resting, and saving up the remainder of her strength”, Keleya said, resting a hand on Anna’s shoulder. “And... and forgive me, Lady Keleya, but what about the baby?” Sophia asked. “It lives. A baby boy,” Keleya replied, “but you can’t see it right now. It’s gone midnight, and you all need to get some sleep. Needless to say, Catharine is not in a... healthy position to be receiving guests at this hour. Let her rest.” The next morning, Anna went to Catharine’s room, and knocking gently, she entered. Keleya and Catharine looked at the door.
Keleya, looking at her daughter, looked back to Anna and said, “I will take my leave for now.” Keleya left, and Anna moved to sit in a chair next to Catharine. Catharine sat up, and Anna asked, “How do you feel?” Catharine, sighing, replied, “I’m not really sure. Guilty, for not telling you sooner about my son, is probably a good place to start.” Anna replied, “I thought I made it clear yesterday that I was happy that you had managed to finally tame my wild, womanizing brother. And besides, I could want nobody else as a sister in marriage.” She took Catharine’s hand as she said this last sentence, and Catharine smiled. They both looked round as a midwife from the night before entered, and moving to the crib, she picked up baby Lukas, and handed him to his mother. “What have you decided to name him?” Anna asked. “Lukas,” Catharine replied, cradling him gently in her arms. There was a faint knock on the door, and the midwife opened it to reveal Sophia, Laura and Lucy standing together in the doorway. They entered after a brief hesitation, and taking chairs from various points in the room they all joined Anna next to Catharine. “How are you feeling, Cathy?” Sophia asked, concern obvious in her tone of voice. “I am fine, now, Sophia, thank you. Just trying to recover my strength,” Catharine replied. Lucy asked, “Is Alexander really the father?” Catharine looked to Anna, who said, “I told them everything you told me. Forgive me.”
Catharine replied, “After failing to tell you about your nephew until just before he was born, I think I can let this make us even. And in answer to your question, Lucy, my reply is yes.” Anna said, “I could always write a letter to him for you. And... Oh, I don’t know, tell him you had a throat infection or something.” Catharine replied, “But then he’d want to know why I never put it in a letter to him.” Anna insisted, “I can reason with him. And besides, if he loves you as much as you say he does, then he should be able to forgive you for not mentioning this.” Laura asked, “What’s his name?” Catharine replied, “Lukas. His name is Lukas.” Laura said, “That’s a good name, Cathy.” Lukas stirred slightly. They all watched him for a few moments, and Selstiern entered. “Ah... how do you feel, Cathy?” he asked. Catharine replied, “Fine”, and in an undertone, “though worse than I was originally”. Sophia tried to hide a small smile, and Anna said, “Well, we should leave Cathy to get some rest.” The four of them left, Selstiern reluctantly following and Catharine, now alone, rested her head back on the pillow, looking to the sky that was visible out of the balcony doorway. Two months later, Catharine was up on her feet again, and had been since two days after Lukas’s birth. She was out in the courtyard, returning Alexis to his stall after brushing him down when Alexander, Edward and several others from Eleaya including Thomas, Matthias and Katie trotted briskly into the courtyard. Alexander just saw Catharine approaching her mother inside the palace doors, and dismounting quickly, he hurried up the stairs.
Catharine, turning suddenly, gasped as she saw him. Keleya smiled, and moving past Alexander, she murmured, “go easy on my daughter,” before she left to go down the stairs into the courtyard. Alexander almost didn’t hear her; his attention was focussed on Catharine and Lukas in her arms. “What’s he called?” Alexander asked after an awkward silence. “Lukas”, Catharine replied. “Alex... Alex, he’s your son,” she blurted out a moment later. Alexander stared at her in shock. “My... MY son?” he whispered briefly. Catharine nodded; “he was born two months ago,” she said. Alexander stepped closer, and looking at Lukas closely, a hand resting on the baby’s head, he said, “He’s got your eyes.” Looking at Catharine, who after a moment looked back at him, Alexander pressed his lips gently to hers. Anna’s shrill cry of “Alex!” from behind them made Catharine jerk back slightly. Alexander turned and hugged his sister as she jumped at him; he laughed slightly, and said, “Calm down, Anna. I’m still in one piece!” Anna replied, “And now a father. Catharine, you’re going to have to give me lessons on how to get a man under my control the way you’ve managed to get Alex under your control.” Hugging Alexander around his waist with one arm, Catharine replied, “It’s not really something that can ever be taught.”
Edward entered from outside, and seeing the three of them standing together, he approached them and taking Catharine’s hand, he pressed his lips to it out of courtesy and said, “I am glad to see you are well, Catharine.” Catharine replied, “Thank you, sire. I can easily say the same for you, and for Alex.” Edward, seeing Lukas stirring in Catharine’s arms, added, “And I see I must add my congratulations to my greetings.” Catharine, looking down at her son, looked back up again and replied, “Thank you, sire.” Keleya returned and said, “Come Edward, allow me to show you to your room.” The two of them left, and Katie, Thomas and Matthias entered. Alexander and Anna left together, and Katie, Thomas, Matthias and Catharine stood motionless for a moment. “Katie!” Catharine said, and hugged her as best as she could while trying not to squash her son. “You’re a mother now, eh,” Thomas said, looking Lukas in the face. Catharine replied, “Yes, I’m a mother and I love every minute of it – except for the midnight feeds, they’re a pain.” Matthias said, “You’re telling me. Thomas was a nightmare when he was a babe.” Thomas, blushing, replied in a murmur, “Dad! Enough of that – how old is he?” Catharine replied, “two months. And his name is Lukas.” Katie said, “The name suits him very well, Cathy.” Catharine replied, “thank you, Katie.” Together, Catharine and Katie went up to Catharine’s room to talk in private. “You know in a few weeks there’s going to be a special Serckrean event. It’s where the men are able to make offers of marriage to the women they want,” Catharine said. “What has that got to do with me?” Katie replied, frowning slightly, as Catharine set a sleeping Lukas in his crib.
Looking around at Katie, Catharine smiled and replied, “Haven’t Thomas’s attentions been obvious?” Katie's gaze immediately avoided Catharine’s as a knock came on the door and Anna, Sophia, Laura and Lucy entered. Anna, hearing this question, replied to it not realising that the question was meant for Katie, “oh, yeah. But for Katie, not for me, and I think Selstiern and Edrelaos are hankering after you again, Cathy.” Catharine, sitting down in one of several chairs set around a medium sized, circular table, replied, “yes, well, they can both find another woman because for me, it’s my heart that decides which man has won my heart, and neither of them has.” Katie, sitting down opposite Catharine, replied, “Yes, it’s obvious your heart isn’t paying any attention to either of them.” Sophia, sitting between Catharine and Katie, added cheekily, “if anything, it’s busy romancing its life away with Alexander.” Catharine smiled briefly, and returning her attention to Katie as Anna, Laura and Lucy sat down, she said, “Katie, haven’t you noticed Thomas’s attentions?” Katie replied, “my disability to read a man’s emotions is a serious flaw in my personality, I’m afraid.” Catharine smiled, and said, “Well, he does love you. One of the many side effects of healing a person is you unintentionally get to see a glimpse of their mind.
“When I once healed Thomas in the war, I couldn’t help but sense he was thinking about you, wondering if he’d ever get to see your beautiful face. That’s in all seriousness – he sensed me though, and tried to make me promise not to tell you. But I think he’d just be banging his head against the brick wall of his nerves, so I’m telling you anyway. There’s no need to question his feelings, Katie, Thomas loves you fair and square.” Katie replied, “thank you for the reassurance.” Anna said, “So I take it this means a trip into Serckrea’s high street is in order sooner or later then, Cathy?” Catharine replied, “You know me too well, Anna.” There was a knock on the door and Selstiern entered. “Forgive me for intruding, but I would just like a word with Catharine in private,” he said. Catharine stood up and looking at her friend she said, “I’ll just be a moment.” Stepping outside, Catharine turned to Selstiern and replied, “Selstiern, are you ever going to give up?” Selstiern replied, “Not while there’s still a chance of winning your heart.” Catharine replied, “Is there any chance of winning a heart that has already been won by another, Selstiern? You’re wasting your time with me.” Selstiern replied, “at least allow me to invite you to dinner tonight. One final attempt to change your mind, that’s all I ask.” Catharine replied, “on the condition that should I choose not to be yours, you leave me be.” Selstiern replied, “Of course, Catharine. But I am confident that you will be mine.” Catharine slapped his hand away as he made to stroke her cheek and returned to her room. All too soon, she found herself standing in her room alone.
It was early evening, and she chose an old, relatively plain dress. There was a knock on her door, and her heart leapt when she saw it was Alexander. “I heard Selstiern boasting that he had won your heart,” he said. “You can’t believe it, Alex. My heart was never his to begin with,” she replied. Alexander, stepping towards Catharine, replied, “I know it’s not true, Cathy, I know”, and in his love, he kissed her passionately. He then held her in his arms, and for a long moment, they did not move, did not speak. Looking up at Alexander, Catharine said, “Wait here for me. Please, wait for me.” Alexander replied, “of course. I’ll be here, waiting.” Catharine went to the door, and looking back briefly, she left her room. Selstiern opened the door himself and said, “I thought you’d never come.” Catharine replied, “I was sorely tempted not to come, believe me, Selstiern.” Selstiern, pressing a hand to his chest, said, “that hurts coming from an angel such as yourself” as Catharine brushed past him. “Wine?” he offered, pouring out two glasses. Catharine accepted a glass, and moved out onto his balcony. Selstiern joined her, and said, “Serckrean architecture never ceases to amaze me each time I visit Seleucia.” Catharine replied, “it is unique, my Lord, in that we have the ability to combine architecture with magic.”
Selstiern stepped close behind her as she said this, setting his glass down on a cabinet surface inside his room, and his arms wound around Catharine’s waist. Catharine pushed his arms away, and Selstiern, slipping his arms around her waist once again, pressed his lips firmly to the base of her neck. Catharine’s slap to his cheek forced Selstiern back into his room, and Catharine said forcefully, coolly, “let me make one thing painfully and obviously clear, my Lord: my heart has not been won over by you. And it never will be, because it has already been won by another.” There was a moment’s pause, and then Catharine said, “I have to go. Excuse me”, and left the room. Returning to her room, she looked around for Alexander; she found him on the balcony. He turned, and Catharine, going to him, said, “I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t be his–” Alexander, his arms slipping around Catharine’s waist as they had done so many times before, replied, “I know, I know.” Catharine’s back hit the wall of the opening that led to the balcony. Looking in Alexander's eyes, her hand landed on his chest as she said quietly, “I was... I was scared I would lose you. And yet... with you, I’m scared of the way you take away all my control. Of the way you seem to complete me.” Alexander was silent for a moment; he said, “You have no need to be scared of me, Cathy.” Cathy whispered, “I know”, and then his lips met hers, gently. Her hand brushed up to his cheek; he kissed her again, this time with more passion. And then again, again, until he could no longer control the passionate desire burning in his heart.
Catharine gasped in pleasure as Alexander's lips made eager, hungry claims on her neck, her shoulder; his hand slid up her thigh as her hands fumbled with his shirt. Their bodies pressed together, eager to explore. This, their third encounter, was by far their most passionate. It was frenzied and reckless as Alexander took her, claimed her, as he loved her; as Catharine lost herself to the pleasure flowing through her like a river. They both forgot all the problems that the morning would bring, as more important matters came to their attention, yet when she slept in his arms after, ravaged yet unconquered, Alexander knew his heart was well and truly in submission. Alexander stood by the opening to the balcony, half dressed. He turned as Catharine stirred slightly. Looking up at him, she smiled, and wiping the sleep from her eyes, she sat up and whispered, “You stayed with me.” Alexander, sitting on the edge of the bed, leaned toward her and replied, “I’ll stay with you for eternity” and pressed his lips gently, tenderly to hers. Catharine smiled, and a few minutes later, they left her room together. Standing in the courtyard with baby Lukas, waiting for Anna, Sophia, Lucy, Laura and Edrelaos, they did not notice that they were the source of speculation from Keleya and Edward. “They love each other, Edward,” Keleya said, turning back to Edward from the balcony.
“I cannot help but worry that your daughter’s heart is not fully in it, Keleya. Forgive me for being blunt, but that is what I’m concerned about,” Edward said. Keleya replied, “She asked your son to wait in her room last night, denied Selstiern to be with him. If that is not love, then I am at a loss as to what it is.” Edward said, “Yet he has already denied her once. She might be... saving some small piece of her heart; just as a precaution should he prove to deny her again. You know her better than I do, Keleya – is her heart fully in this relationship?” Keleya replied, “She hides that even from me, Edward. Look, if your mind really needs appeasement and assurance, just ask her. I am sure she would not mind.” Catharine and Alexander spent the day together in the city with Lukas, looking around the various markets. Anna, Laura, Sophia and Lucy all saw small signs that showed there was something between Catharine and Alexander: his hand resting on hers; their proximity to each other whenever they stopped in a shop; their gazes meeting and, frequently, their hands linking whenever they thought the others weren’t looking. When it was close to evening, Catharine realised she had left a bag behind. Handing Lukas to Anna, she said, “I’ll be right back”, and headed up an alleyway, a shortcut back to where she had been with the others.
Suddenly, she was grabbed from behind and forced against a wall. Selstiern growled, “You will be mine,” and crushed his lips against her cheek; she pushed him away, and he slapped her, forcing her to the ground. Her shoulder hit the ground forcefully, and looking back up at Selstiern, Catharine replied, “I’m not yours, Selstiern. I never will be; I already belong to another.” She crawled back desperately, trying to get away from Selstiern. Selstiern suddenly pitched forwards over her; flecks of bloody spit fell onto Catharine’s face. A sword fell to the ground and Alexander, pushing Selstiern to one side, fell to his knees and hugged Catharine tightly around her shoulders. “It’s alright, Cathy. I’ve got you; you’re safe,” he said, his breath warming her hair as Catharine sobbed dryly. Edward and Keleya appeared at the end of the alleyway, followed by Anna, Sophia, Laura, Lucy and Edrelaos. “Don’t let me go,” Catharine whispered as Edward and Keleya approached. Edward heard this, as well as Alexander's reply, “I never will, Cathy.” Keleya, feeling for a pulse, stood up and said, “He’s dead. I must thank you, Alexander. Selstiern was terrorising my daughter for quite some time. This is a clear case of defence, nothing more, and nothing less.”
Alexander helped Catharine to her feet, one arm still around her shoulders; he never removed it once as they returned to the palace, Anna having gotten Catharine’s bag for her. When they reached Catharine’s room, Catharine looked up at Alexander and said softly, “Alex, stay with me. Please...” Alexander looked to Keleya, who nodded once. Edward nodded as well, and both left, along with Anna, Laura, Sophia and Lucy and Edrelaos. “I thought he’d hurt me... or worse,” Catharine said quietly, as they sat together on the edge of the bed. “I couldn’t let him hurt you. It would have been like hurting a part of me,” Alexander replied. Eventually, Catharine slept in Alexander's arms, her arm resting on his chest. At dawn, Keleya returned briefly and asked softly, “how is she?” Alexander replied, “She’s fine, just sleeping. I’ve fed Lukas during the night with a small beaker.” Keleya, nodding slowly, said, “You’d make a good father, Alex, I willingly give you that.” She left, and Alexander returned to Catharine. Later that morning, Catharine went to a small room with several chairs in it, surrounding a table. There were several windows facing out onto the courtyard; Edward was seated in one of the chairs. “Catharine, I’m glad you could make it,” Edward said, standing.
“Meetings to discuss pressing matters are often best made a priority, sire,” Catharine replied, pausing in front of him. She wore a pale blue dress, which clung to her torso; the skirt hung from her waist down to her ankles. Her hair hung straight down her back, a small clip holding it back on one side. Edward said, “I, ah... I notice that you and Alexander have become close. Very close.” Catharine smiled a small smile, looking down slightly, and Edward asked bluntly, “do you love him?”Catharine’s head jerked up and she stared at him briefly, as though unable to believe that he had asked the question. “Excuse me?” she said in a gentle voice. “Look, I believe my son would do anything for you. I just wish to be sure that the feelings are returned, and that you are not toying with my son’s emotions,” Edward explained. Catharine was silent; opening her mouth, she hesitated and then replied, “sire, I... if I did not feel the same about Alex as he does about me, then he would know. I make a point of not toying with a man’s emotions, and Alex would be no exception to this principle. That’s the truth, sire, I promise you.” Edward said, “That does not answer the question. Do you love, my son?” Catharine, who had turned away, turned back and blurted, “Yes!” and there was silence in the room. “Yes,” Catharine said, in a small voice, “more than you can know. More than anyone but he can know.”
Edward looked at her as she went on, “I admit, when I first met him, I thought he was proud, and arrogant. Now, I think I’ll be lucky just to spend one day with him alone. He means the world to me.” Edward said sternly, “I am considering doing whatever it takes to keep you two separated.” Catharine, a shocked expression clear on her face, replied, “What? No – you can’t! Please, no, I beg you.” Edward demanded, “Why?” Catharine retorted, “Because your son is all I can think about! I’m only happy when he’s around, he –” Catharine sighed, and went on in a soft voice, “he’s kind, he’s funny, he’s intelligent. Yes, he’s cocky, and yes, he’s messed around with women before, but I don’t mind that. You worry that I don’t love him, but the truth is I do, more than anything, or anyone else in this entire world. “No other man can even come close to him.” Edward, taking a step closer to Catharine, softened his expression and asked, “So I shouldn’t have an excellently good reason to separate you both from each other?” Catharine replied in a whisper, “no. No, you shouldn’t have any reason to break a woman’s heart”, and her eyes flicked to his face. After a few moments of awkward silence, Alexander's voice could be heard in the corridor. Catharine looked almost automatically and quickly at the door, and then looked slowly back at Edward.
Nodding at the door, Edward said, “Go to him.” Catharine, hesitating a moment, breathed, “thank you” and going to the door, she pulled it open. Alexander stood outside, and Catharine, smiling, stepped into his arms. “What were you two talking about?” Alexander said gently into Catharine’s ear. “He just wanted assurance of our relationship,” Catharine replied, and looking up at him for a moment, she pulled his head down to kiss him. As she withdrew from it, Anna approached, baby Lukas in her arms. Catharine, stepping past Alexander, took the baby from his sister, saying, “thank you, Anna. Hey boy”; this last part was directed at her son, as she looked down at him with a smile on her face. Alexander's arm slid comfortingly around her shoulders, and Catharine smiled up at him. “Come on, you two lovebirds, the Seleucian high street’s waiting for us,” Anna teased, heading back the way she had come. “Coming, Anna,” Catharine and Alexander chorused together, and looking at Edward, Catharine smiled in gratitude, and stepped out of his sight. Keleya stepped forwards from a side doorway and said, “Are you assured of my daughter’s feelings towards your son now, Edward?” Edward replied, “very much so, Keleya. Now my mind is at peace.”
Keleya smiled, and said, “That is good. Hopefully, you will never doubt my daughter again.” Edward replied, “I hope never to have a reason to, Keleya. And I won’t as long as she is true to him.” Keleya replied, “She always will be. Of that I am certain.” Meanwhile, Catharine and Alexander walked together along the Seleucian high street, their hands linked; Catharine held Lukas in the crook of her free elbow. Alexander was quiet, and a concerned expression on her face, Catharine turned to him, and standing in front of him, she said, “if... if there was ever something troubling you, you would tell me, wouldn’t you?” Alexander replied, “of course I would, Cathy. There is nothing troubling me, I promise you that.” Catharine smiled, and said, “you could be more talkative then, Alex. Come on; let’s go find your sister. I am sure she will be the death of Seleucian dress makers everywhere.” Alexander grinned, and replied, “I am sure she will know when to stop, Cathy. And besides, she is determined to find one for you for this Serckrean marriage offers ball.” Catharine, turning to Alexander again, said, “Did Anna tell you about that?” Alexander replied, “No, Laura did, actually. She told me to make you an offer.” Catharine, smirking broadly, scoffed and exclaimed, “That sounds so much like Laura. Trust her to make a comment like that.”
Alexander replied, “Yes, which is why I told her I would have to think about it.” Catharine, looking back at Alexander, felt her smile shrink slightly. Alexander sighed, and stepping close to her, he said softly, “Let’s get away from these crowds; away someplace where we can be ourselves.” Catharine replied in a murmur, “There’s no place like that inside the city limits, Alex.” Alexander, smirking, took Catharine’s hand again and replied, “Then let’s go outside the city limits.” Catharine smiled again, faintly, and allowed Alexander to lead her back to the palace. Going around the side, they left through the side door and went down across the field, across the stream, and to Harold Eadrig's grave. They spent the remainder of the day there; Alexander's head resting in Catharine’s lap as she sat with her back against a tree, an exotic purple flower tucked behind her right ear. She seemed unable to see anything else as they remained motionless like this for hours. She held Lukas in her arms, and eventually she stirred. Brushing her hand over Alexander's face, she smiled as his head stirred and he looked up at her. Sitting up, he leaned towards her and pressed his lips to hers. Lukas gurgled gently, and Catharine, laughing slightly, looked down at her son.
“When is that marriage ball event?” Alexander asked. “In three weeks,” Catharine replied, rising to her feet. Astreus, moving forwards from amongst the trees, said, “Catharine.” Turning, Catharine smiled and said, “Astreus! What brings you this far from the heart of the forest?” Alexander moved to Catharine’s side as Astreus said, “we’re having a small celebration for our victory against Doleatraya. We would like for you both to join us.” Catharine and Alexander looked at each other briefly, and Catharine replied, “That would be nice. Thank you, Astreus.” The centaur bowed slightly and said, “This way.”Alexander and Catharine followed Astreus through the trees until they reached a large glade. Here, centaurs had gathered in large numbers; men, women and children. A centaur woman stepped towards Catharine, offering to take Lukas and look after him for Catharine. Catharine willingly agreed, and looking around at Alexander, she said, “She is Astreus’s woman, Alex. We can trust her with him.” Alexander replied, “I trust you and your judgement, Cathy. You know these people better than I do.” Catharine said, “thank you for trusting me” and taking his hand, she said, “Come – let’s go and have some fun.” Alexander smiled as well, and followed Catharine.
The rest of the evening and most of the night was spent dancing, singing and enjoying the food the centaurs had prepared. When Catharine and Alexander returned to the palace, it was almost midnight. Keleya was waiting for both of them at the top of the courtyard steps. “I trust you enjoyed yourselves,” she said as they approached her. “As long as Catharine enjoyed herself, then so did I,” Alexander said, slipping an arm around Catharine’s shoulders. “Get some sleep, both of you,” Keleya said, smiling. Alexander, Catharine and Lukas stepped past her, smiling and chatting about the evening they had had. Keleya stood waiting a moment, and then turning, she followed them into the palace. The next morning, Catharine and Alexander were woken by Anna. She opened the door, and taking a stray pillow from the floor, she threw it gently at Catharine’s head. “Come on, sleepy head!” she said, as Catharine stirred, and leaning on her elbow, brushed her fingers over one eye, and then the other. Alexander stirred, and Anna, noticing him, said, “oh, gods! I’m sorry – I’ll just... I’ll just be outside.” She stepped towards the door and as Katie made to enter, Anna grasped her arm firmly, and turning the young woman, they walked out again.
Catharine smiled, her head resting on the pillow again. Alexander leaned over and pressing his lips gently to her neck, he murmured, “morning”. Catharine smiled and looking at him she replied, “morning to you too.” Alexander pressed his lips to Catharine’s, and Catharine said, “Come on – knowing your sister, she’s not going to wait forever for us to get ready.” Alexander leaned back on his elbows and watched as Catharine, reaching for a simple robe, pulled it on and went to her bathroom. She looked at him quickly and smiled a small smile. Alexander dressed quickly, and looked round as Catharine joined him. She wore a light blue dress, with a simple white belt design sewn in around her waist. Alexander smiled briefly, and Catharine, taking his hand in hers, led him out of her room. They spent the day once again in the Seleucian high street, and eventually found a dress for Catharine for the Serckrean ball, even though it was some time yet until the ball of marriage offers.