Catharine woke as her mother entered, knocking firmly on the door. Alexander looked round, sleep blurring his eyes. Keleya said, “First, I must congratulate the pair of you for last night.” Catharine sat up, revealing a simple night gown, and she smiled as Keleya continued, “However, according to tradition, you two must be apart from each other until the marriage has been organised and a date set.” Alexander, sitting up, asked, “and how long until then?” Keleya replied, “Normally two months. There is a room on the floor below this one, for whoever chooses to take it.” Catharine made to say she would take it but Alexander said, “No, love. I’ll take it.” Catharine smiled, and did not complain, as Alexander kissed her gently. Keleya said, “I’ll be outside. Try not to be too long in getting ready, Alexander. Your sister wishes to see Catharine, as do her friends.” Alexander nodded, and as Keleya left, he stood and Catharine said, “It’s the room below this one at least” as he pulled his shirt on. Alexander, sitting on the edge of the bed, cupped Catharine’s cheek in his hand and replied softly, “it’ll ease the heartache slightly.” Catharine smiled faintly, and Alexander pressed his lips to hers in passion. The door opened and Anna said, “Alex, Keleya’s waiting for you, you’d best get going.” Catharine smiled as her hand slid gently from his, and Alexander looked back once before leaving. Anna, Sophia, Laura, Lucy and Katie sat on the edge of the bed or in several chairs, and Anna said, “Well” Sophia said, “More like wow! How do you feel, Cathy?”
Catharine replied, “oh... I don’t know! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, and...” Anna asked, “How’s the little one?” Catharine’s smile slowly disappeared, and she looked away. Anna, leaning forwards, asked, “Cathy? What’s the matter, are you alright?” Catharine replied, “I... I lost it. Last night.” Anna gasped, and then leaning forwards, she hugged Catharine around the shoulders and said, “I’m so sorry! Do you know how?” Catharine shook her head, and then looking at Katie, she smiled and reaching forwards to put a hand on Katie's arm, she said, “Besides, I’m not the only one who accepted an offer here!” Lucy said, “I know! How do you feel, Katie? I mean – we all know he loves you like mad!” Katie replied, “I... gods, I feel like Cathy; I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or... scream!” They laughed, and Catharine said, “I was slightly scared when Alex made the offer to me, though. I had no idea he was seriously considering it! When he told me you’d told him to consider it, Laura, I thought he just thought you were joking!” Laura said, “I’m glad he did listen to me, or I’d have made the offer for him myself.” Anna, Sophia, Lucy, Katie and Catharine looked at her briefly and Laura said, “OK, maybe I wouldn’t” and they laughed together. Catharine stood and said, “Just need to get ready, and... shall we go riding? I feel like getting out of the city.” Anna said, “Great – we’ll be in the courtyard.”
Catharine grinned, and disappeared into her bathroom. Anna, Katie, Laura, Lucy and Sophia crowded out of Catharine’s room just as Edrelaos tried to get in, and before long he was waiting just inside the door. Catharine returned about five minutes later, wearing a leaf green dress with a golden belt design sewn on the waist and down the skirt. She paused slightly and said in surprise, “Edrelaos! What brings you to my room?” Edrelaos replied, “congratulations, actually, ah... congratulations on you and Alexander.” Catharine smiled, and said, “thank you, Edrelaos. I wasn’t expecting him to do that – make the offer, I mean.” Edrelaos replied, “Yes, well, he is absolutely devoted to you, Catharine.” Catharine smiled and replied, “Yes... Edrelaos, did he ever speak to you about what he planned to do last night?” Edrelaos replied, “no. I was as surprised as you were, but I am glad he did it. I know he would have regretted it ever since.” Catharine smiled, and tying her hair up in a simple bun, she tied a band of cloth that went around her forehead at the base of her head, and said, “I should probably get going, Edrelaos. Only Anna, Sophia, Laura, Lucy, Katie and I were going to get out of the city with the horses – get some fresh air, you know.” Edrelaos nodded and replied, “I won’t keep your friends waiting. Congratulations again”, and bowing, he left. Catharine smiled, and taking a small satchel, she left her room. Entering the courtyard, she found Anna, Sophia, Laura, Lucy and Katie speaking to Thomas and Alexander. Alexander looked up at the movement as Catharine stepped to the top of the stairs and halted, and he smiled broadly.
Catharine smiled broadly, and hurried down the steps. Keleya approached from around the side of the stairs, and Alexander said to Anna and the others, “I’ll see you when you get back”, and hurried up the courtyard stairs. As he passed Catharine, a note passed from his hand to hers, and after a few steps, Catharine looked back up at him, just as he looked back at her. She nodded once, and continued down the stairs. Anna said, “Some of the servants are saddling the horses up. And Thomas wanted to come with us, is that alright?” Catharine replied, “That’s fine. The more the merrier, as many people say.” Katie said, “Thomas and I were planning on going into the city, if that’s alright with everybody...?” Catharine, laughing, replied, “I thought someone might say that, so I brought the bag down.” Reaching into it, she distributed several money purses, keeping the note Alexander had given her caught firmly between her fingers and Anna said, “I forgot about that. That was smart of you to put them all into the same bag, Cathy.” Catharine replied, “it was the only bag I had at the time, so.” As an afterthought, she said, “and congratulations to you two, Katie and Thomas – I never saw that one coming so soon.” Laura added, “Yes, I know – you two never seemed to spend much time together.”
Thomas, taking Katie's hand in his, replied, “well... we thought we’d keep it a low profile kind of romance, but it’s been going for quite a while.” Katie added, “since just after the, ah... the war. But like Thomas said, we’ve been keeping it a low profile romance.” Catharine, smiling, said, “Well, I’m really very glad for the both of you. You’re very much alike in more ways than you think.” Thomas replied, “Well, I’m glad to have the rest of my life to find out.” Sophia, clasping her hands mockingly to her ears, said, “aaahhhh, stop, please! You’re going to make me cry with the romance of it all! It’s bad enough with Catharine and Alexander, anyway.” Everyone laughed, and Catharine said, “It’s not like we MEANT to make a big thing out of it. It just... it just happened, and I’m glad it did.” Laura said, “I’m sorry, but his speech sounded so much like he planned it.” Lucy said, “No it didn’t, Laura, it sounded so romantic – it was sweet.” Catharine pulled a face and Lucy said, “I’m sorry, Cathy, but it WAS sweet.” Thomas said, “I should’ve just gone with improvisation with mine, shouldn’t I?” Katie replied, “your speech was just perfect, Thomas. Don’t start regretting perfect things, alright?” Thomas nodded, and looking at Katie's face, briefly, his arm slipped around her waist and he pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. Anna said, “OK, the horses are here. Katie, Thomas, hate to break it up, but it’s time for us to go.” Kati nodded once, blushing slightly, and before long, they were all trotting through the palace gates. Catharine slipped the note into the satchel, making a mental note to herself to read it when she got back to the palace.
As it happened, it was evening when Catharine got back to the palace with the others. Katie was almost asleep in the saddle when they got back, and Thomas, helping her down from the saddle, said, “Catharine, mind taking the horse back to the stables for Katie?” as he almost cradled Katie in his arms. Catharine replied, “Of course – and Thomas? It’s Cathy.” Thomas, looking back at Catharine, smiled and nodded, and carried Katie up the courtyard steps. Once the horses were being taken care of by several servants, Catharine returned to her room and quickly, eagerly, she opened the note Alexander had given to her that morning.
I have to talk to you. I need to see you. I’ll be waiting to hear from you.
Catharine smiled broadly, and pressing the note to her chest briefly, she turned and going to her desk, she sat down and began writing. Alexander was pacing slightly in his room, unable to get Catharine off his mind. He looked around as a thin rope with a note and a small pebble tied close to the end dropped onto his balcony. He went to the balcony, and looking up, he saw nobody. Alexander immediately untied the note, and opened it eagerly.
Gods, I thought you’d never write. I can’t help thinking back to last night, when you made the offer. I still can’t believe that I didn’t see it coming – I feel like I’m in a dream. I can’t help but count the days until I can finally be yours for good. I’m so happy, I don’t know whether to scream or laugh or cry! Gods, what have you done to me? I love you. I need to be with you.
Yours for eternity,
Alexander smiled, and going to the rope, he took the pebble and tossed it up in a wide arc so it landed on Catharine’s balcony. Taking a small box, he put it on a ledge to the left of the balcony opening, and putting the note in it, he stepped to the side into the balcony opening as his door opened. Edward entered, and said, “There you are, Alex.” Alexander smirked and replied, “Where else would I be this late in the evening, father?” Edward said, “Quite true, quite true, but... I just wanted to say well done for last night. I was very proud of you.” Alexander replied, “well, that makes two of you. Anna’s said much the same. I’m glad she accepted me, that’s all.” Edward replied, “yes, well, Anna has as much to proud of in you as I do. Now the pair of them will be inseparable. But I am still very proud of you, Alex.” Edward put a hand on his shoulder and they hugged briefly.
The next morning, Catharine and Alexander passed each other frequently in the corridors; their hands brushed, and occasionally they looked back to lock gazes for the briefest of moments before continuing on their separate ways. That evening, love notes passed on the rope between their two balconies:
I long to be with you again. I’m only half complete when I’m so far from you – it’s like I’m in a bad dream when I’m not by your side. I long to be able to call myself yours and to call you wife on our wedding day.
Yours for eternity,
Can’t you see? I was utterly yours the day you made your offer to me. I know I have said this before, but I could only ever be your woman. Alex, I can’t help thinking about our wedding day. Risekian says that Yiseka and Alendra are already working on the wedding dress, even though we have been engaged for only two days. It feels like so much longer than that, and yet I would eagerly wait for eternity to spend as long again with you. I am yours, and I can belong to nobody else.
I love you. I need you.
Yours for eternity and forever,
The next morning, Catharine woke early, just before dawn. Frowning slightly, she sat up, and looked at the opening which led to her balcony. Alexander sat on the banister, and he grinned broadly. Catharine stood by him in an instant, and they kissed passionately, hungrily. “What’re you doing up here? Someone could see us, and –” Catharine said, but Alexander rested a finger on her lips, and kissed her again, gently this time. “I had to see you again. I couldn’t bear it, I couldn’t stay away,” Alexander said, in a low voice. Catharine replied, “I know... I know, I couldn’t bear it either. Words... written words can’t describe this...” Alexander smiled and standing, his arms curved around Catharine’s shoulders. Together, they watched the sun rise, and then suddenly, they heard footsteps. “Alex, you should go,” Catharine said, looking at the door anxiously. “Shall I come back tomorrow morning?” Alexander asked, pausing as he stood on the balcony banister. “Do you really need to ask, Alex?” Catharine replied, laughing slightly, and they kissed again. With that, Alexander returned to his room, and Catharine, returning to her bed, lay back against the pillows and looked at the balcony again, smiling faintly. Not long after, Keleya entered; Catharine dozed lightly, with the morning sunshine lighting up her face. She woke as Keleya sat next to her, and said, “mother! What brings you to my room at this time of the morning?” Keleya said, “I’m proud of you, you know. Alexander is a good man, he’ll make you proud.” Catharine replied, “I know he will. I’m just... I’m just glad.”
When Catharine left her room, she wore a similar dress to the one she had worn the day before, but purple in colour. Edward had been walking along the corridor as Catharine had left her room, and he said, “Catharine!” Catharine, curtsying quickly, replied, “sire. How are you today?” Edward replied, “fine, but a marriage daughter has no need to curtsy to her marriage father.” Catharine smiled, and as she turned to walk with him down the corridor, she replied, “habits are difficult to break in three days, sire. Almost everyone can tell you that.” Edward smiled, and said, “I’m glad for both of you. It’s not everybody who finds a love quite like yours in their lives.” Catharine replied, “thank you, sire. It means a lot to me.” Edward smiled, and went to the left to speak to Keleya as Catharine stepped out into the courtyard. Anna, looking around, called, “Cathy!” and waved at her to join the group of them at the gate. Catharine joined them and Anna said, “I hear that ladies Alendra and Yiseka are already planning your wedding dress.” Catharine replied, “yes, that’s right, Anna. I couldn’t believe it, either, I mean – it’s only been three days, and...” she sighed and went on, “I’m still trying to get over the shock of it all, really” and smiled. Laura said, “I know how you mean, Cathy – I’m still slapping and pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming the fact that he took my advice and made you the offer. I just can’t believe he took me as serious.”
Catharine laughed and said, “so when are you all going to start dress hunting?” There was a stunned silence and Catharine said, “for the wedding? You didn't think you weren't coming, did you, because you’re all coming, of course you are.” As if they had planned it, Anna, Laura, Lucy, Sophia and Kati all made to hug Catharine at once. They all laughed, and Catharine said, “oh, you all are completely daft sometimes. But of course you’re all coming to the wedding – I know Alex would agree.” Taking Anna to one side, Catharine turned to her and said, “Anna, erm... I was wondering if you... if you’d like to be my witness.” Anna smiled, and said, “seriously?” Catharine nodded, and Anna almost squealed, “of course I would!” They hugged each other out of delight, and then looked around as Astreus trotted through the gate. “Astreus!” Catharine said, approaching him quickly. “Cathy. I came as soon as I heard the news. Congratulations,” said the centaur. Catharine smiled, and Astreus said, “you have been given an official centaur blessing – we performed the ceremony this morning, at dawn.” Catharine looked up at him, amazement on her face, and said, “thank you, Astreus!” Astreus replied, “I was not the one who mentioned the idea, though I did not disagree with it. It should be my eldest son you thank.” Catharine said, “would you mind passing on my thanks to your son?” Astreus nodded, and Catharine, smiling, said, “thank you, Astreus.” Keleya, reaching the top of the courtyard stairs, called, “Astreus!” As Keleya and Astreus talked, Catharine looked up.
Her balcony, and Alexander’s balcony, was situated on the right hand side of the palace. Alexander stood on his balcony, looking down on the courtyard below. His gaze met Catharine’s, and he smiled. Catharine smiled, and looking down slightly, she looked up again and her smile broadened. Alexander mouthed, “I love you” to her, and blushing slightly, Catharine repeated the gesture. Astreus, approaching her, looked up to the balcony as Alexander turned away and disappeared. “and I thought you weren’t meant to have any contact with him before the wedding,” the centaur commented, grinning broadly. “Don’t tell my mother!” Catharine replied, panicking slightly. Astreus chuckled and replied, “don’t worry. I’m not going to tell anybody about something I didn't see.” Catharine smiled, sighing in relief. “thank you, Astreus,” she said. Astreus replied, “You saved my life once, it is the least I could do. But now I must go – my people need me.” Catharine said, “It was good to see you again, Astreus. Feel free to visit whenever you can make the trip.” Astreus laughed and replied, “When can I NOT make the trip? The young ones are eager to get out of the forest whenever they can, so I don’t think it will be long before I return. And besides, your mother has invited me to your wedding.” Catharine smiled, and said, “I thought she might. So I will see you for definite in a few months. So long for now, Astreus.” With that, the centaur trotted through the palace gates again.
Catharine, turning, looked up at the balcony where Alexander had been. He was gone, and Catharine sighed, her hand subconsciously holding her elbow. Keleya watched her daughter, and couldn’t help but smile. She was proud of her daughter’s choice. Edrea, coming from the palace doors to stand beside her mother, said, “I’m surprised he didn’t make the offer sooner.” Keleya crossed her arms across her chest, and replied, “They’ll do well together. And I’m sure he had his reasons for making the offer when he did, Edrea.” Edrea said, “I’m sure he did. As long as Cathy’s happy, then I am sure he’s the right choice.” Continuing down the stairs, Edrea called, “Cathy!” Catharine looked around and Edrea said, “The gypsy market’s in town; mind coming with me to keep Anna and the others in check?” Catharine replied, “Of course, I’ll be there”, and looked up at Alexander's balcony one last time before moving away.