Chapter 1

Eighteen months earlier

The door swung back violently at about eleven at night, revealing a small company of men standing before the threshold. The tallest of them all, a lean man well into his forties, stepped forward and demanded entrance with an arrogant toss of his head. His accent was strange, a lilting voice speaking rough Latin. The poor Wilderosean housekeeper stuttered in the middle of the hallway, not understanding his request at all. He tried another language, and yet another before the boy behind him spoke out in perfect Wilderosean.

“Excuse me, but my father the King would like to be admitted and shown to the Princess Catalina,” he said, tempering his father’s crude request to something more palatable.

The housekeeper dropped into a curtsey as the word “king” left his mouth. Her clear voice replied with a quiet dignity that was rather surprising, considering she was clad in her nightgown with a shawl thrown hastily over the top.

“Your Majesty, my lords. We are honoured with your presence tonight, however the Princess had retired to bed an hour earlier. We will gladly provide you with any refreshments needed, and will relay any messages you left to her royal highness.”

The prince turned around to translate the housekeeper’s words to his father and their party of lords, cringing at the thought of how angry his father would be when he learned that he had been declined. Declined a meeting with the Princess by none other than a housekeeper at that. So he was not surprised to be brushed aside as the king admitted himself into the Princess’s lodging.

“You can either tell her to get down here, or tell her that I will get up there,” he said angrily to the housekeeper, “Either way I will see the Princess tonight.”

“It is late, your Majesty, and the Princess is not dressed as she should be for company,” she pleaded to the prince, “And our Wilderosean tradition had stated that the groom’s family may not see the bride until the day of the wedding.”

“She is in my land, and will be marrying my son,” the King snapped, frustrated that he needed a translator for his angry words, “Therefore she will follow our marriage tradition, and that requires me to see the bride right now.”

After further harsh words, the housekeeper rang the bell to summon the household’s servants. Candles were lit and flask after flask of wine brought out to entertain the king. The old housekeeper herself mounted the stairs towards the Princess’ chamber, having given in to the King’s request. She did not have much of a choice, and it was far less shameful to notify and dress the Princess than to have this rude man bursting into her bedroom. The Princess’ maid of the chamber answered her knock, and together they helped ready Wilderose’s most beautiful woman.

“No, lace me into the royal blue velvet,” Princess Catalina said, shaking her head at the maid’s choice of a moss green gown, “He wanted to see the Wilderosean princess, and so I will greet him in our colours. But Mistress Elvira, is the King’s party truly here? I don’t believe for a second that a royal man would force entry...”

“Yes, Princess, he is,” Mistress Elvira replied, her voice clipped at the memory of that impolite old man demanding entry, “He brought his son, the Crown Prince Frederick, too”

“My husband-to-be?” asked Catalina, her face composed and serene as though she had not been woken up at midnight to greet her father-in-law.

“Yes.”

“Tell me, is he as handsome as they say?” she asked, unable to contain that morsel of girlish curiosity.

“Even more so,” replied the old housekeeper, smiling to see the Princess’s eyes lit up in delight, “He apologised for his father’s behaviour, and best of all he speaks perfect Wilderosean.”

“Well, perhaps I may be able to enjoy life in this miserable country after all,” Catalina smiled, “If he is as witty and as sweet as he is handsome, I may just be the happiest wife in all of Wilderose and Norwyn!”

“Of course you will, Princess,” agreed Mistress Elvira, smoothing out the skirt of Catalina’s gown and tucking in a strand of her hair into her hood, “There you are, as composed and beautiful as if you’ve prepared for this all your life.”

“But I have,” said Catalina, smiling at her pretty reflection in the mirror, “Betrothed at two, now soon to be married. I am ready as ever to meet the King of Norwyn. Take me to them, Mistress Elvira.”

The End

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