Many days later, as Viv and Arthur rumbled down the road en route to the Alterran castle, the royal family stood waiting at the gate. Unlike in Underland, a throng of nobles and servants stood around the gate as well, chattering excitedly about the arrival of their future queen. Queen Coramund stood with her back ramrod straight, her gown dripping with jewels and a regal silver crown atop her head. Princess Adelaide stood beside her mother, hands clasped in front of her as she resisted the urge to scratch her neck. The lace collar of her emerald velvet dress itched mercilessly, but her mother would hear nothing about a princess being seen scratching herself in public. Or crying. Or sneezing. Or coughing. Or yawning. Or anything that was less than superhumanly dignified and perfect. Prince Jerald was free from Addie’s restrictions, jumping up and down the stairs freely, since Coramund didn’t see the point in exerting energy to try to reign in a five-year-old. The youngest member of the family, little Princess Celeste, was bundled up in a pink cashmere blanket, slumbering peacefully in her mother’s arms. Everyone was both nervous and excited about meeting Viv. The only two people who weren’t present were Valentine and Reggie.
Reggie was hiding, curled up in a ball in a little cubby under one of the sprawling castle’s many staircases. He’d discovered the cubby when he was eight years old, completely empty. He’d been able to crawl in and out freely and spent hours there relieving himself emotionally. It was a little snugger these days. Getting in involved a lot of wriggling, and getting out always had a few seconds of panic in which he believed he was stuck. He still risked it every once in a while. He went there to be alone, and more frequently, to cry. Coramund looked down on emotional outbursts within the royal family. Emotions and normal bodily functions were for the lower class, and she wasn’t afraid to enforce that belief with whatever means necessary. When Reggie felt overwhelmed, which happened as often as he drew breath, he had to hide to get it all out. It was either that, or face contempt-filled glares from his mother. He could only bear so many of those in the run of a day.
Valentine was roaming the castle in search of his eldest son. The envoys were due back any minute, and the first impression Reggie would make with Vivika was vital. He needed to be there when she first set foot on the castle grounds. Otherwise, she might think Reggie wanted nothing to do with her, that the marriage was something he wasn’t looking forward to. None of those assumptions would play in their favour, especially with the duke of Underland monitoring their every move. Valentine was worried that Reggie had run off into the forest on his horse, Xerxes. If he had, it would take all day to find him. He’d done things like that a few times in the past, primarily when women his age were visiting. The only women he got along with were Addie, Lottie, and her daughter Molly. Anyone other than that made him uncomfortable.
Valentine was completely unaware of Reggie’s niche under the stairs. He would’ve remained unaware had he not heard what seemed to be phantom sobbing coming from an empty hallway. He looked around in confusion until his eyes and his ears agreed that the sound was coming from a long-forgotten cupboard under the stairs. He approached cautiously, unsure of what was happening. Gingerly, he took hold of the brass handle and gave it a tug. The door swung open with a creak, shedding light on Reggie’s blotchy, tear-stained face. His big brown eyes widened to the size of tea saucers. A guilty expression came over him, closely resembling the face of a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
“I’m sorry, Papa,” Reggie blurted immediately. He wiped the tears from his cheeks and writhed free of the small space. “I’m sorry, I’ll get out there right now. I’m sorry.”
“Reggie, are you alright?” asked Valentine, watching as Reggie walked down the hallway. He followed after Reggie a few seconds later. “Did you… did something happen?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” insisted Reggie, shaking his head. Valentine caught up and strolled along side by side with his son. He was right now a foot or so taller than Reggie, but Valentine had the sneaking suspicion that he would soon shoot up like a beanstalk. Reggie seemed to be walking with purpose, desperate not to talk about what just happened. He couldn’t stand the embarrassment of telling his father that he wasn’t man enough to handle meeting his future wife without crying. “I’m sorry. I’m going. I’m sorry that I dragged you away from the welcome.”
“Yes, that’s all well and good, but why were you crying?”
“It’s nothing, nothing at all. We can’t linger too much longer. Lady Vivika will arrive and I won’t be there to greet her. That’d be a wonderful first impression, wouldn’t it?”
Reggie chuckled, hoping that Valentine would finally cease his questioning. Valentine decided that even if he kept pressing, Reggie wasn’t going to reveal anything he didn’t want to talk about. So he let it go. For the most part. He made a mental note to bring it up later. He made many mental notes in the run of a day. He forgot most of them by bedtime.