He had nodded in agreement, and they stepped and stomped their way across the hall with the energy fitting for a first dance. They were a mismatched pair, the tall and womanly princess bending down to face the little prince with a gap-toothed smile. James had thrown off his shirtsleeves and came back to ask for Catalina’s hand for the second dance, to which she happily obliged. The young prince was exhausted by the third song, during which the Wilderosean princess waltzed with the Duke of Bolenurm. She danced her last dance with the Count of Visconti, then retired to her seat early so that she would be there when Jamie went looking for her. The boy came to her side after the fifth jig, just as promised, with flushed cheeks and shining eyes.
“Please finish telling it now,” he begged her as he settled himself upon a plump chair.
“You will never relent, will you?” she said affectionately, already liking this boy as much as though he was her own brother, “All right, where was I? The Battle Raven and her campaigns?”
“Yes, and also where you were during all this,” he told her.
“My mother the Warrior Queen of Wilderose had told me and my sisters that none of us will become a Battle Raven like her, for she had wanted us to live a life more luxurious than her own,” she began, “We were there during all the battles and all the crusades, of course, but she did not wish this hard life upon us for beyond our childhood. I grew up watching my parents lead countless wars, and my childhood was that of a wandering court, travelling across Wilderose as we conquered more and more land.”
“So you lived in a camp for soldiers and knights, and had all the glory of conquerors?”
“Not all the time. There was a particularly hard year where we had to camp outside the fort of the Hastell, waiting for the right time to attack. An enemy had passed by our guards, and set alight our food store. It took some time for my parent’s court to recover, but under father’s iron will and mother’s commanding hands, we conquered that fort.”
“So you never had a real palace with a city and everything? It was always camps?”
“No, we did settle down eventually. The year I turned nine my parents drove a great attack towards the famed citadel of the Lindal, and we flew the blue and white flags of the Wilderose royal family overhead as we entered the fortress after a conqueror’s victory. But that is a very long story, so I think I will keep it for another day.”
“But the dance is barely over!” protested little Prince James, “You always end at the most exciting place!”
“It’s late, Jamie,” she said, subtly averting her eyes as he yawned, “Perhaps tomorrow, if you would grace me with your presence by my litter again.”
“But that will be the last day of our journey,” he told her, “What if you never finish telling me all of it?”
“We’ll have all the days after my wedding to your brother,” she assured him, “I think you will end up being bored to death of my stories.”
“Never!” he told her, “Never ever ever, not until I grow old and looks like a prune! Promise me to keep telling me stories, even after I finish escorting you to your wedding?”
“Promise,” she told him as she stood up, “Good night, my dearest Prince James. Until tomorrow.”
“Good night sister,” he told her, and squeezed both her hands heartily.
She said her round of farewells to the Count and Countess of Visconti and all their guests, then glided out of the dining hall with her three ladies at her heels. She was wearied to the very marrow of her bone, for the litter was rather uncomfortable and cold, but her conversations with her brother-in-law had brought much light to her dull day. In her room, she tore the veil off her face and stepped out of her pinching slippers. After some help from a very much moonstruck Adele, she slipped out of her gown and into a fine lawn nightdress, and had her pinned up curls plaited into a long braid down her back. Kneeling by the side of her bed, she prayed to the only true God there is for her parents’ welfare. With her last whisper, she prayed that her husband-to-be will be as lively and caring as his little brother. If that one wish of hers was granted, two days from now she would step down from the altar as the happiest woman alive.