It was almost impossible to believe that the Crown Prince was the son of his father, for the two could not differ more in manners and appearance. Apart from their shared green eyes and sharp nose, the Prince was the male version of his mother. Crowned with dark curls, he had the Queen’s smiling mouth and her olive skin. That particular smiling mouth was pressed into a nervous line as he watched Catalina walk up the aisle, his stomach flipping over and over again at the sight of her.
She was beautiful. Her pale cream gown swept behind her as she glided towards him, her head titled down like a demure maiden. Completely different from the girl who danced and winked at him that first night he met her: rosy-cheeked and breathless in her blue dress. He was glad that his father had agreed to let her wear the traditional Wilderose wedding dress, for it wouldn’t have been the same if she had been clad in the colourful gowns of Norwyn.
She was suddenly there in front of him, her brilliant blue eyes shining through her veil. The little Prince James behind him almost jumped out of his place to greet her. Henry of Bolenurm put out a hand to keep the boy still, reminding him that he was the ring bearer and not the bridegroom. The ceremony was over before Frederick knew what was happening, for he had been lost in the mysterious blue eyes of Catalina. Somehow he had managed to slip the gold band on her finger without realising it. With a shudder he realised that she had unveiled herself and they were all waiting for him. Awkwardly brushing his lips against her soft ones, he straightened up almost as soon as he touched her because he couldn’t stand the shock of the kiss.
For the remainder of the day they were placed beside each other, close enough to touch but kept apart by their formal duties. They rode through the streets towards the main palace, showered with the prayers and blessing of their people. Catalina smiled and waved as she was taught to, but underneath she was still struggling with her identity change. Suddenly a new burden under the name of Crown Princess of Norwyn had been thrust upon her, and she was scared.
The people of Espanta came to watch the new royal couple dine that night, jostling for a place at the palace doors. Norwyn’s nobility were all there, from the most influential Duke to the many Barons and their families. The Crown Prince and Princess presided over it all, sampling tiny morsels of the thirty courses that the cooks have whipped up. Catalina had no appetite, but even if she did she had no time to really eat. As the new Crown Princess and the lady of the feast that night, she was obliged to send the best dishes to the most influential of the nobility. After choosing plates of peacock and roast boar to send to the King’s favourites, she was so tired that she wished for nothing more than her bed.
Her husband (how strange that name was to her) was more relaxed than her, but it was expected as this was his court after all. He offered her food and ale several times through the night, but was mainly preoccupied with entertaining his friends. They did dance twice throughout the night, however those were only the formal slow dances. She had begun to miss the fast rhythm of the traditional Wilderosean dance, and the lilting tune of the flutes that accompanied it. It seemed like an eternity had passed before the group of young noblemen surrounding Frederick were signalled by the King. Everyone in the feasting hall stood up as Frederick’s friends hoisted him to his feet and almost pushed him towards the doors. Catalina noted with distaste that many of them were dead drunk.
“To bed, Prince Frederick, to bed!” some yelled vulgarly while looking back at Catalina.
She shouldn’t have been surprised at the turn of events, but she couldn’t help feeling shocked and angry. Yes, after every royal wedding there was a royal bedding ceremony, but these Norwyn noblemen had made it seem so dirty and cheap. From the table near the front, her ladies-in-waiting and some of the noblewomen had already risen. They came to her with their heads inclined, much more tactful than their male counterparts. She clenched her shaking fists beneath the table before standing up and curtseying to her parents-in-law.
“To bed, Princess Catalina,” she thought to herself as she exited the mess hall with her entourage. Except this time it wouldn’t be to her bed.