“Tell me a story please,” asked the little prince one evening as they sat over dinner in a prestigious household.
“About what, Prince James?” Catalina had replied, although she knew what he wanted.
“Your life in Wilderose,” he told her, “Yesterday you got to the part where your mother the queen rode out to battle, remember?”
“But shouldn’t we be talking to the hosts and exchanging stories with them? You’ve heard from me every single night for most of this week already,” she said, smiling at his childish manner.
“Oh, Harry and your ladies can take care of that. I’m the Prince, you should be pleasing me above all these lords and ladies. So tell me a story please.”
“Right,” she began, finishing up a last spoonful of soup, “My mother is the Warrior Queen of Wilderose, a veiled soldier. She is famous throughout the lands as Battle Raven, for her sleek black hair and flowing veil in the colour of death. She is not a fighting soldier as such, no, my mother is a commander.”
“But I thought it was wrong for women to take up arms, or even command an army,” the little boy said, “My father said that it’s a sin for women to take up the jobs of men.”
“But that is in your country,” she said, “Now, Wilderosean women are properly veiled and kept to decent hours, unlike the ladies of the Norwyn court. However we valued intelligence and skills of combat in women, and my mother is a prime example of both of these skills. She does not fight, not at all, but she rides to battle with my father and helps him to command and plan his attacks.”
“What kind of attacks? Raging wars against the Rochnan? Glorious battles and then victories?”
“Not all of the time,” she told him, pausing for a moment to bite and chew a morsel of meat, “My parents are crusaders, clearing the way for the only faith that should exist, and for the only true God. We fight many, the non-believers who live in eternal sin. But yes, my mother plans attacks as well as a seasoned general, and she rides to battle alongside my father like a true soldier. She holds no weapons, she is not armed to kill, but the sight of her in her flowing veil is enough to spur our men on.”
“Have you ever been?” the prince asked his sister-in-law, his eyes shining.
“No, mother always said that not a man on this earth would accept my hand if I rode out to battle with a breastplate and streaming gauze veils flying behind me,” Catalina said.
“Well, why did she then?” demanded Jamie, “Was she not afraid for herself?”
“She was already married to my father by then. But eat up your supper, Prince James,” she told him, a little excuse to eat her own food, “It’s getting cold and everyone is waiting for you before they serve up pudding.”
“Oh, all right,” he grumbled, but picked up his fork obediently nevertheless, “And stop calling me Prince James. I like Jamie, or even better, call me brother.”
“Of course, brother,” said Catalina in a teasing voice, placing the last piece of vegetable in her mouth.
It was not until much later in the night that Catalina got a chance to finish her story, for the lady of the house, Countess Visconti, had engaged her in lively conversation for most of the evening. After a course of beautiful pudding, they had immersed themselves in great music and dancing. James had stood up and bowed to Catalina, asking for her first dance in a voice dripping with attempted grandeur. She had laughed, and gracefully slipped her hand into his chubby ones.
“Can you tell me the rest of that story after this dance?” he had asked her as they positioned themselves in line.
“I can try,” she told him as the music strike up and they began to dance, “But I think I may be too breathless after this Norwyn folk dance.”
“What about now?” he asked her.
“Let us just dance and enjoy ourselves. I’ll tell you the rest of it later on, just come and sit by me after the fourth or fifth jig.”