The king’s party left early the next morning, each man feeling as tired as the ladies they left behind. The dancing had not ceased until a few hours shy of dawn, the band of musicians playing song after song from both Norwyn and Wilderose. Catalina’s chaperones were horrified at the blatant merrymaking, and by the end of the night Mistress Elvira’s eyebrows fairly flew off her face after endless eyebrow raises at Catalina’s behaviour. Catalina’s facade of a negotiating woman had gave way halfway through the evening for a softer and more becoming mask of a half-grown girl. Her ladies were the same, although Adele had certainly crossed the line of decency after winking and flirting outright with the Duke of Bolenurm. Catalina had thought he was handsome too, a tall young man with dancing green eyes and an amazing smile, and had told Adele as much. For herself were the eyes and full attention of the most attractive man in the room, and she had danced through the night with her heart full of the happiness that Frederick’s gaze brought her.
“Perhaps it had been love at first sight,” Maria said as she brushed Catalina’s hair, her mouth curved up in a mischievous grin.
“Perhaps,” echoed Catalina, “I have yet to talk to him though. He seems reserved, so I may have to wait until our wedding to speak to him. And you all were behaving atrociously last night...”
“...and have certainly crossed the line of decency,” finished Isobel with a perfect imitation of Mistress Elvira’s voice.
Catalina had to bit her lips to force down a burst of laughter. It would certainly be hard to keep a straight face in their sewing session that day, for all three ladies-in-waiting were sure to make sly jokes throughout. Adele brought in Catalina’s day dress and her undergarments, and together the three forced the Princess into the tight grasp of the bodice. When the last hook was in its place and the gauzy blue veiled placed over her face, Catalina picked up her sewing basket and lead the way down into her receiving room. Maria, Isobel and Adele came after her, bearing a large bundle of lace and ribbons in their arms. Settling themselves in front of the roaring fire, the four women of Wilderose began to put their final touch to the royal bridal gown.
“What do you think of the Crown Prince?” asked Catalina as she attached a yard of lace to her dress.
“Perfect,” said all three ladies together, each pair of their eyes glinting with laughter.
“No, be honest with me,” Catalina said, “Forget that I’m the Princess and you’re my ladies-in-waiting. Do you think I’ll be happy with him?”
“Well, he certainly seemed besotted with you,” Isobel told her.
“I haven’t talked to him yet, although he does seem like an amiable and lovely sort of person.”
“You won’t see him again until the wedding, will you?” Maria asked, “Although the King did say something about the Prince escorting you to the royal church. I did not know whether he meant the Crown Prince, since my Norwyn is not as good as yours.”
“No, I won’t,” Catalina sighed, “He meant the younger prince, although how that child will be able to escort me is beyond me. I think it is all for show, having the little prince taking his brother’s bride to the church. There will probably be a lord acting as his chaperone.”
“Surely the Prince is not that much younger than his brother,” Adele said, “But if so, I surely hope the lord chaperoning him is the handsome Duke of Bolenurm.”
“You are quite in love with him, aren’t you?” Catalina teased, “The young Prince really is very little. The Count of Marusa, the sun-browned one with jet black hair, told me that he is nearly ten years his brother’s junior. Since Frederick should be my age, that would make little Prince James about six or seven.”
“Well,” said Isobel, “I always thought the king himself would take you to church. This really is quite strange, although I am sure the little Prince will be just a darling.”
“As that old man kept reminding us, we are no longer in Wilderose,” Catalina said, a little annoyed frown on her face, “I guess this is another one of those Norwyn traditions, one that I will have to obey. Well, that is the price for marrying into the Norwyn royal family.”
“At least you’ll be happy,” said Maria as she sewed on the last cluster of pearls.
“I hope I will be,” Catalina replied, her lap buried in the extravagance of her wedding gown, “Although my happiness was and never will be a point of concern in this strategic marriage.”