As the pair got closer and closer to the gate, Reggie’s heart beat faster and faster. The butterflies in his stomach fluttered more furiously than before. Every muscle in his body told him to run, to get away, to disappear into the woods and never come back. Instead, he dug his nails into his palms to take his mind off the knots in his stomach that were twisting tighter and tighter. Instead of thinking purely about how nervous he was, he tried to think of Lady Vivika. He was anxious beyond his tolerance level at the moment, and yes, it was because he was meeting her that day. But… he was also looking forward to it. What would she be like? Was she like Lottie? Was she quiet and kind, seeming to have seen everything and telling a million stories with only her eyes? Would she be like Addie, carefree and elegant? Would she be insatiably curious? Would she want to see and know everything that there is? Or, most horrifically of all, would she be like Coramund? Would she be disgusted with him and go out of her way to avoid him? Would she make sure that he knew that he was being ignored? Would she frown every time he was near and hiss insults when no one was around?
As soon as that possibility presented itself, Reggie’s anxieties tired of lurking in the back of his mind and pounced. After all the years he’d suffered from the ‘Fear Sickness’, as the court physicians had called it, he had learned to conceal his symptoms. Yes, he felt like he was dying, but that didn’t mean Valentine had to know about it. As Coramund had taught him, Valentine had enough to worry about in the run of a day as king of Alterra. Reggie didn’t have to concern Valentine with his annoying whining about ‘scared’ he was. Thus, Valentine was none the wiser. At last, the two arrived at the castle’s great double doors. The throng of nobles all around them, each vying for a glimpse of their future monarch, didn’t even notice the arrival of their king and crown prince. Only the royal family took notice. Valentine placed a kiss on Coramund’s cheek.
“So, where was the little coward hiding this time?” asked Coramund, shifting the now squirming baby in her arms. “His room, the attic, the library, or the orangery?”
“None of those, actually,” said Valentine, eyes fixated on the main road. He saw what he was expecting. The carriages were making their way around the bend and up to the castle. “Now, do try to be polite to our guests. They aren’t used to the way things are here.”
“But the girl will have to know,” said Coramund. “If she is to lead the Alterrans, she must behave like the Alterrans. And there’s no time like the present for her to learn the ways of the Alterran court. You know I prefer to lead by example, Darling.”
Valentine rolled his eyes. He may have been king, but he could never command Coramund. Jerald, having bounced around on the palace steps long enough to satisfy himself, rushed forward with a giggle, clinging onto his older brother’s hand. Even though Jerald was the root of most of Reggie’s miseries, he held no animosity for Jerald. He would play toy soldiers with Jerald, help him with his war studies, and make playful bets about who could catch the biggest rabbit when they went out hunting. Reggie smiled down at his brother, grateful for the comfort that his touch brought.
“Reggie, we’re getting a new sister today?” asked Jerald, smiling happily up at Reggie. Reggie nodded. “Is she nice?”
“I hope so,” said Reggie. His eyes were glued firmly on the carriage that no doubt carried Lady Vivika and the Duke. It grew bigger and bigger on the horizon. Reggie’s heart dropped when he realized that he had forgotten to bring a gift for Vivika. He took a few steadying breaths. They didn’t do much to help him. “I really, really hope so.”
A moment later, he felt a slight squeeze on his free hand. He knew it was Addie without even turning his head. She’d always been better at picking up on Reggie’s anxieties than anyone else. She knew that right now he needed a lot more support than a five-year-old could give. She hated pomp and pageantry and every event like the current one was nothing but. Still, she pushed aside her discomforts, even that blasted itchy lace collar, and gave Reggie an encouraging smile. He held onto her hand like a lifeline as Lady Vivika’s carriage pulled into the courtyard. The door opened. For a moment, Reggie was confused as to why a grown man was climbing out of the carriage rather than a teenage girl, but then he remembered that the Duke was accompanying his daughter. Arthur reached up inside the carriage to help Vivika before the footman could even step forward. That Arthur assisted Vivika out of the carriage himself was a major faux pas in the eyes of the courtiers. It gave one the appearance of being… common. As his judgements of Arthur’s action finally passed, Reggie looked up and saw her.
Of course, the screaming in his head didn’t stop, but it changed its tone as he took in the sight of her. It started as mindless terror, but it morphed into confused screaming, if such a thing existed. He swallowed hard as the two appraised each other. Neither one smiled. Neither one spoke. Neither one even moved for a few seconds. All they could do was look upon one another, committing to memory every detail of each other’s faces. After all, this was the face they’d be waking up to every morning from now on. This was the face they would hopefully learn to love. These were the faces they’d be sharing with their future children. These faces were important in a way that no others were. Amid all of the panicked chatter going on in Reggie’s head, most of it pertaining to insecurities of his appearance, one single thought appeared. At first, it went unnoticed, but it grew bigger and bigger until it overpowered every other thought. She’s beautiful.
At the same moment, another thought appeared in Viv’s mind. Oh my God, he looks like he’s about to shit his pants. A moment later, she pictured the scenario and had to suppress her giggles. To keep herself from laughing, she broke her gaze with Reggie looped arms with her father. Together, they walked towards the row of nobles awaiting them. Maids and footmen began unloading trunks from the carriages behind them, but Viv focused on the first impression she would make with the royal family. Arthur gave her extra time to prepare herself by speaking first.