She smoothed down the great skirts of her dress, running her fingers through the forest of Lindal lace that adorned it. Her feet were becoming sore, for she had stood waiting for the last hour or so since she couldn’t sit down and crease her gown. The novelty of dressing in her best clothes had worn off easily, after she realized that she felt swamped in her enormous wedding gown and the many jewels around her necks and wrists were weighing her down. The Duke of Bolenurm and little Prince James were meant to escort her on this very last part of the journey to the altar, but they were late yet again. She shifted her weight onto her other foot, and stared out the high window from the Norwyn Tower.
A great river ran below the base of this age-old royal lodging, its water a dull grey to match the cheerless sky. The only bridge from one bank to the other was crowded with people: the old and the young, the rich and the poor, all jostling for a place before the great cathedral. Little girls were carrying baskets full of roses, tied up with twining blue and green ribbons to symbolize the joining of Wilderose and Norwyn. She could hear their high voices, some calling and others begging for passersby to buy a posy. Tall and solemn guards lined the path from the base of the bridge to the cathedral door, standing unnaturally straight with their proud heads to the sky. It was not meant to be long until the royal carriage bore the young royal bride to her wedding altar.
The throng suddenly parted as a group of noblemen rode out across the bridge, leading the shining four-horse carriage towards the Norwyn Tower. At the head of the procession were two riders, a tiny figure bouncing next to a much taller one. Catalina smiled as she recognised the fairly exploding ball of energy that is Prince James, and straightened from her recline against the wall.
“Isobel, are my skirts neat?” she asked, her hands smoothing the lacy layers.
“You look wonderful,” said Isobel simply, coming over to adjust the circlet of gold on Catalina’s head.
“I feel wonderful,” she replied, trying hard to resist the urge to clap in excitement.
“They’re here!” announced Adele, bursting into the room from the suite outside, “Maria’s showing the Prince and the Duke in.”
Almost as soon as the announcement left her lips, a smart rap was heard from the other side of the great oaken door. Catalina’s hands flew to her painted face, straightening her wedding veil for the umpteenth time. Isobel thrust a bouquet of flowing vines and roses into her arms, and Adele stationed herself by the door, ready to admit them in.
“Now,” mouthed Catalina.
Adele pulled open the doors, nodding her head at the herald on the other side.
“His Royal Highness Prince James, Duke of Estervale, Count of Belcliff,” proclaimed the herald, “and the Duke Henry of Bolenurm...”
The poor herald was pushed aside before he could finish, revealing a very excited little prince clad rather extravagantly in a white suit. His tiny stature was clothed in snowy silk from head to foot, with the hem of his shirt embroidered in gold and his slashed doublets lined with shimmering cloth of gold. He bounced over to Catalina’s side, calling out a cheerful greeting to Adele, Maria and Isobel as he did. She grinned at him from above, unable to bend down to face him due to her painfully tight corset.
“You look grand, sister,” he told her, his fingers touching the rich lace of her skirts gently, “You’re the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen!”
“And the only bride you’ve ever seen,” she added, laughing, “You look great yourself, Prince James of Norwyn.”
“Don’t call me that!” he pouted, punching her arm in a mocking manner.
“Prince Jamie!” said the half-serious voice of the Duke of Bolenurm from across the room, “Didn’t I tell you to not hit the bride?”
“Sorry, Cat,” he told her, “But don’t I look grand? Look at my new shirt and doublet! Mama sewed them herself, in between making shirts for Freddie. I dare say I look as good as you!”
“Maybe even better,” she said, and smiled as he glowed under her praise.
“Are you all prepared to travel to St Prisca’s Cathedral?” interjected the Duke of Bolenurm, “The carriage awaits below, and the service is scheduled to start in a quarter hour.”