The remaining days and weeks passed quickly until there were only three days until their wedding. Catharine had already seen the designs Yiseka and Alendra had drawn together for her wedding dress, and it was having the final touches put in place. The actual ceremony would take place in the palace hall where Alexander had made his offer. It was three days before, but Catharine couldn’t help but feel nervous. Edrea said, “Cathy, you can’t have cold feet now!” Catharine replied, “it’s just nerves, but... I’m just nervous in a good way, you know?” Edrea smiled hugging Catharine gently, she said, “I can’t believe my little sister’s getting married already.” Catharine smiled and replied, “I bet it makes you feel very old, big sister.” Edrea pushed Catharine away gently, gasping in mock hurt, and then chased her through the corridors. Catharine looked back at her sister, laughing, and turning back, she yelped in surprise as she ran into Alexander. A note passed from his hand to hers, as they had many times during the last two months, and Catharine continued to her room. Edrea, entering behind her, gasped and said, “You’re lucky mother didn’t see that, Cathy.” Catharine replied, “We just bumped into each other, that’s all.” Edrea said, “So I imagined seeing a note pass between you.” Catharine turned to her sister, gasping slightly, and Edrea, smiling, stepped towards her sister and said, “I’m sure mother would have done something to stop it was getting out of hand. But this sort of thing is expected.”
Catharine smiled, and Edrea said, “What does it say?” Catharine opened it eagerly, and both sisters read it eagerly, Edrea looking over Catharine’s shoulder:
Being able to see you for only a few minutes each day is unbearable. I have to see you, be with you every day. The past two months have passed so slowly, that I can’t bear not being by your side any more. Meet me in the fields, by the river the night before our wedding day, at midnight. I cannot wait to see your face again.
I love you. I need to be with you,
Edrea said, “Are all the notes like this, Cathy?” Catharine replied, “Well... this is the first where he’s spoken of meeting at midnight in the fields, but the beginning and ending are the same.” Edrea looked at her sister and said, “gods, this is so romantic of him!” Catharine replied, jokingly and laughing slightly, “now you see what I’ve put up with the past two months.” Edrea agreed, “And I’m extremely jealous for it. You have to meet him.” Catharine asked, “you sure?” Edrea replied, “And you’re showing Anna this.” They left the room, giggling.
Anna put the note down on the table and said, “What have you done to make my brother go from womanizer to romantic, Cathy?” Catharine laughed, “I wish I knew, Anna”, as Sophia pulled the note round so she, Laura, Lucy and Katie could read it. They were all in Anna’s room, and Edrea said, “Anna? This has been going on for the past two months, just so you know.” Anna said, “I just can’t believe my brother’s become such a person.” Catharine replied, “Well, if he hadn’t become a romantic, he wouldn’t have made the offer of marriage to me, and he wouldn’t have written me notes like this over the past two months. He’s a new man, Anna.” As Catharine leaned back against a low table, Anna said, “Well, you’re very lucky, Cathy. Not many women find a way to make a man into something like this.” Catharine smiled, and replied softly, “he’s just like a young man should be. Patient, humorous, good natured –” Laura cut in, “love struck, incredibly romantic” and Catharine laughed, “enough, please, Laura. I’m just glad you all understand.” There was a brief silence, and then Katie asked, “but what’ll you wear for it?” and she nodded at the note. Catharine smiled, and replied, “I’m not sure... but I have two days to plan for it, don’t I? And I’m sure I’ll need all the help I can get.” Sophia said, “We’ll help you”, and the others murmured in agreement. Catharine said, “But we can’t tell anybody, alright. Nothing we’ve said leaves this room.” Lucy smiled broadly and said, “That’s more like it, Cathy. How about we go to your room to find a good dress for it?” Catharine grinned, and nodded once.
Alexander looked round as Catharine, Lucy, Laura, Sophia, Anna, Katie and Edrea stepped out into the courtyard and began descending the courtyard stairs, chatting gaily to each other. Catharine, who had stepped out of the palace last carrying Lukas, saw Alexander watching them, watching her, and smiled. As Catharine stepped past him, he heard her whisper, “I’ll be there.” Anna called, “come on, Cathy, let’s go! It’s the last day of the gypsy market today, and they’ll be gone if we don’t go now.” Turning away from Alexander, Catharine replied, “alright, Anna, but I need some help sorting out Lukas – Leucia fashioned this type of sling so I can carry him on my back. Alexis!” Alexis trotted over in his saddle and bridle, and Catharine, standing still as Anna tied the sling in a knot that rested over her heart, caught Alexis’s reins and mounted smoothly. Alexander watched as his sister and his promised bride trotted out of the palace gates with their friends and Catharine’s sister. Keleya, standing slightly behind him, said, “You’ve made her very happy by making the offer to her.” Alexander turned to face her and replied, “I could only choose her to make the offer to. I don’t know any other women in Serckrea, and –” Keleya said, “– and the women in Eladreaya did not have such a hold over your heart?” Alexander, closing his mouth after a moment’s hesitation, nodded.
Keleya said, “Well, for whatever reason your heart told you to make the offer to my daughter, I am confident you will make her happy.” Alexander smirked and nodded. Keleya said, “And as for the planned meeting the night before your wedding... try not to stay out too late.” Alexander stared at her, and Keleya, smiling, said, “Catharine did not tell me, and nor did any of her friends. Your sister did not tell me, either. I have my ways of finding out these little details, Alexander.” Alexander nodded; his shoulders were slowly relaxing in relief. Keleya smiled, and left him to his thoughts. Alexander turned back to the palace gates, his expression smoothing to one of thoughtfulness. Catharine, on the other hand, was wandering through the gypsy market, casting an eye over the various stalls that had been set up in the marketplace. A middle aged gypsy woman saw Catharine as she stepped out of her caravan; a young boy was balanced on her hip. Catharine was slowly approaching the woman’s stall, and had unintentionally become separated from her friends and sister. The gypsy woman set the boy down on his feet, and running over to Catharine, the young boy held out a small bunch of peonies that he had been holding in his hand the entire time. Catharine crouched, and smiling took the bunch of peonies; she said, “thank you”, and smelled them briefly. As she stood, the boy took her free hand and began pulling her towards the stall; Catharine, smiling, stepped forwards a few steps.
Seeing the woman, Catharine stopped and gasped. “Leana? Leana, that is you,” she said, and smiling, she stepped forwards. The gypsy woman took Catharine’s hand and pressed it to her forehead; she lifted her head and said, “You’ve grown so much, Catharine.” Noticing the ring on Catharine’s finger, Leana said, “and you are promised in marriage.” Catharine replied, “as you predicted, Leana. To a prince, of Eladreaya.” Leana said, “and his name?” as she turned away to look for something in a bag at the side of the caravan. “Alexander. Begins with the letter a, as you predicted again,” Catharine replied, smiling. Leana said, “and the child?” Catharine replied, “a boy, named Lukas. Born four months ago.” She turned so Leana could see Lukas balanced on her back. Leana smiled, and stepped forwards, but suddenly she stopped, and looked at Catharine questioningly. Catharine nodded, and as Leana supported Lukas, Catharine undid the knot in the sling, and Leana cradled Lukas in her arms. “thank you,” Leana said, smiling at Catharine. “for predicting my life so accurately, this is the least I could do for my oldest friend,” Catharine replied, smiling broadly. Leana held Lukas steady as Catharine tied the knot in the sling again. Anna, Sophia, Laura, Edrea, Katie and Lucy appeared, and Anna said, “Catharine, there you are – we thought you’d been kidnapped or worse!”
Catharine replied, “of course not. Anna, meet Leana. She predicted my life a few years ago, and very accurately at that.” Leana curtsied quickly, and taking Anna’s hand, she gasped. “What is it?” Anna asked. Leana replied, “do you know of a man called Joshua?” Anna, looking round at Sophia, looked back at Leana and replied questioningly, “you mean Sophia’s brother, Joshua? I haven’t seen him in years, but yes, I know of him. We used to play together as children, and –” Leana said quickly, “and you were childhood sweethearts, though you never told anyone except Sophia about it.” Anna stared at Leana and replied, “yes, but how did you know?” Catharine said, “I forgot to mention that Leana is one of the few gypsies who can truly tell a person’s fortune and future.” Leana said, “Anna, beware your heart when around Joshua.” Sophia said, “I guess now’s a good time to say that Joshua’s still unmarried, and planning on coming to visit from home in Asdreton town.” Anna said, “I guess that means extra time in Seleucia’s high street is in order.” Leucia said, “well... actually, I was taking a dress making course from Ansen; I could make them and send them on to Eleaya, if you wanted.” Anna said, “Leucia, that’s so kind of you. thank you.” Turning back to Leana, Anna put a silver coin in the gypsy’s hand and said, “thank you, Leana.” Leana chuckled and replied, “for a friend of Catharine’s, it is no problem whatsoever. Does anyone else wish to have a reading?” Edrea, stepping forwards, said, “it’s about time I had one, really. I was ill the day Catharine had hers.” Catharine chuckled and said, “and you were green with envy.”
Holding her hand out confidently, Edrea replied, “I was NOT green, Cathy”. Taking Edrea’s hand, Leana smirked, and said, “Edrea, you should beware of the noble thief with the mullet hair cut.” Edrea, looking round at Leana, asked, “why? What’s he going to try and steal?” Leana replied, “he’s going to try and steal... your purse first, but then he will steal your heart.” Handing the gypsy a silver coin, Edrea said, “thank you, Leana.” One by one, Katie, Lucy, Sophia and Laura also had their fortunes told, and each paid a silver coin. “thank you, ladies. At last I can afford a decent room for the night for myself and Marcus,” Leana said as Laura stepped back. Looking down, she smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair. As Anna, Sophia, Laura, Lucy, Katie, Edrea and Leucia turned away to visit a different stall, Leana said, “Catharine.” Catharine looked back at the gypsy, and Leana held out her hand. “This is for you, courtesy of Lord Peksander,” she said, and a necklace with a heart shaped ruby with silver on its edges dropped into Catharine’s hand. Catharine looked from the necklace to Leana, and then a movement from behind the gypsy caught the Princess’s gaze. Peksander stood there, a hooded cloak only just leaving his face visible. He smiled, and Catharine, smiling, mouthed, “thank you.” Leana looked round at the god and then gypsy and princess said their farewells. Looking around, Catharine gasped as Edrea put her hands on her sister’s shoulders and said, “come on, Cathy. We’re this way.”
That evening, Catharine was sitting at her desk. The ruby necklace Peksander had given her through Leana was resting on a folded piece of cloth next to her arm. Putting the note Alexander had given her that morning in a drawer, Catharine looked at it, and then taking it in her hand, she fastened the clasp at the back of her neck. Looking in the mirror that hung over her desk, Catharine was struck by how beautiful the necklace was. There was the whistle of a bird from her balcony, and looking, around, Catharine smiled; removing the necklace, she put it back on the folded cloth and went out to the balcony. Alexander was stepping over the railing as Catharine reached the opening to her balcony, and stepping towards her, Alexander pressed his lips to her mouth in passionate love. “I’ve not been able to think of anything but you all day,” he told her, “you’re all I can think about nowadays, what with our wedding so soon.” Catharine smiled, and replied, “I can’t wait until you call me your wife.” Alexander smiled, and as his hand curved around her cheek, he said, “gods, you’re so beautiful. The... most beautiful woman I know I’ve ever met.” He pressed his lips to hers again, but gently this time. “you’ll be there the night before our wedding? In the fields, will you be there for our meeting?” Catharine asked, and Alexander replied, “I will be there for you for all eternity, my love.” Catharine smiled, and as Alexander pressed yet another kiss to her lips, footsteps walked past the door.
Catharine broke away and said, “you should go.” Alexander replied, “I don’t want to. I’d much rather stay with you.” Catharine replied, “and I want nothing more than to be with you, but we can’t afford to be caught. Go, now, before somebody sees us.” she went with him to the edge of the balcony and as he sat astride the balcony banister, Alexander leaned to her; she couldn’t resist as his lips pressed against hers for the final time that evening, and then he was gone, climbing down a curling fern to his balcony. Anna entered his room, saying, “Alex?” and saw Alexander stepping down from the banister surrounding his balcony. Anna raised an eyebrow, smirked and sighed as she stepped towards him. “What?” Alexander chuckled as he stepped into his bedroom and sat on the edge of a table. “you really are hopelessly in love, aren’t you?” Anna asked, smiling as she stood opposite him, her arms folded across her chest. “There’s nothing I can’t love about Cathy,” Alexander replied. “I know about the meeting you and Cathy are planning,” Anna said, “but I’m not here to stop you. I think you should push it forwards an hour – otherwise you won’t stay awake during the wedding ceremony, and nobody likes seeing the couple falling asleep during the service.” Alexander chuckled briefly, and replied, “alright. Can you let Cathy know – I’m not really up for climbing up the plant again.” Anna replied, “alright, just – don’t climb, use the stairs.” Alexander asked, “where would be the fun in that?”
The next two days passed quickly. Alendra and Yiseka appeared with the wedding dress the day before. It looked stunning. It appeared to all be made of a single piece of cloth: the bodice led into the simple skirt that flowed about Catharine’s ankles, and the sleeves! Made of fine, clear white muslin, they were attached to the bodice on the lower side, and tied across Catharine’s back with ties on the upper side. The bodice had a low back, and Catharine couldn’t help but stare at herself in the floor length mirror being held up by two servants. “it’s beautiful,” she said in a quiet voice. There was a knock on the door, and Anna entered. Curtsying to Alendra and Yiseka, Anna turned to Catharine, and stared for a moment. “Heavens!” she gasped as Sophia, Laura, Edrea, Leucia, Katie and Lucy entered. They all stared at Catharine, and she grinned. “You look amazing!” Leucia said. Catharine, shifting on her feet, asked, “do I really?” Sophia said, “if I didn’t know you as well as I do, Cathy, I’d say you were a goddess!” Alendra and Yiseka, looking at each other, pouted and raised their eyebrows simultaneously. Laura said, “you look gorgeous, Cathy.” Alendra said, “what about the necklace Peksander gave you, Catharine?” Lucy asked, “what necklace? When was this, Cathy?” Catharine, stepping off of the low stool, approached her desk where a small jewellery box was. Opening it, she reached to where the ruby necklace was kept in a small bag. Approaching her friends and sister, Catharine showed the necklace to them, and Edrea helped her put it on.
Turning to the mirror, Catharine smiled faintly. Edrea said, “you look stunning, Cathy.” Catharine smiled again, and then changed quickly. The rest of the day dragged on, with the final touches for the preparations for the wedding the next day in full swing all over the palace, and indeed all over Seleucia. The best bakeries were all baking with their best recipes to provide bread, cupcakes, and brownies for the meals, and the best bakery was also making the wedding cake. The best butchers had gathered to put together a list of all the meats wanted for the wedding meals, as had the grocers. Candles were being delivered from the best candle stick makers all over the city, and musicians came in that afternoon to practise for the bridal dance. Decorators with white lilies and daisies came in to decorate the hall where the ceremony would take place, and to oversee it all, Risekian, Xikluen and Peksander came into existence to join with Alendra and Yiseka. Meanwhile, Catharine watched it all from her balcony, unable to believe the business going on below her and the purpose in the step of everyone she could see. All too soon, though, the sun set and Catharine slept for a few hours, before Anna and Edrea woke her. Changing into a simple, navy blue dress, Catharine pulled a cloak on over the top and pulling the hood up, she followed Anna and Edrea to the main hall where Sophia and Laura were waiting for them.
Reaching the gate at the side of the courtyard, Edrea said quietly, “good luck, Cathy. have fun”, and Catharine, smiling, pushed the gate open and stepped through. Stopping for a moment, she called softly, “Alex?” Pulling her hood back, Catharine looked to one side and called again, “Alex?” There was movement to her right, and looking round, Catharine sighed as Alexander approached her. They kissed passionately, and as they walked down to the river, Anna closed the gate slowly and quietly and said, “success”, smiling broadly. Meanwhile, Alexander and Catharine walked slowly towards the river. Catharine turned as clouds shifted past the moon, and its light fell on her face. She smiled, and Alexander, lifting his hand to her cheek, pressed his lips to hers gently. They then crossed the river, and arrived in a clearing not far from Harold Eadrig's grave. There was the river running by, and the moon illuminated them both. For what seemed like hours, they stood in silence, allowing the silence to say what could not be said with words, their foreheads resting gently against each other, and their hands linked. Suddenly, a church bell began tolling, and Catharine looked up. “you hear that?” she asked softly. “Yes. It’s midnight,” Alexander replied, turning Catharine’s face to him, his hand brushing past her face. “it’s our wedding day”, she said softly, smiling broadly.