“Your most serene highnesses, thank you for having me,” said Arthur, offering a bow to the king and queen. “I trust hosting me won’t be too trying for your majesties.”
“No, no, it’s no trouble at all,” said Valentine, stepping away from his wife to shake Arthur’s hand. Arthur withdrew his arm from Viv’s, leaving her feeling exposed to the many piercing gazes of the nobles all around her. “Anything to help my soon-to-be daughter-in-law feel comfortable.”
With that, Valentine focused his attentions on Viv. She had believed that upon meeting Valentine, she would’ve felt the power of his gaze and wilted beneath it. But she found it hard to be nervous. His smile was simply so disarming that she could only smile in return. She curtsied and extended her hand for Valentine to kiss.
“Now, Dear,” said Valentine. “Did you have a comfortable journey? Did you see the breathtaking landscapes and the beautiful architecture?”
“To be honest, Highness,” replied Viv. “I slept through most of the journey. It was a long one, and I kept the curtains closed through most of it. The sun kept getting in my eyes.”
“Ah, it’s no matter. That means our carriage was comfortable, which is what I was hoping,” said Valentine, surprising Viv. She had expected him to be disappointed. “And, as for the sun, best get used to it, my Lady. It’s always sunny in Alterra.”
Viv and Valentine laughed heartily. Afterwards, a thick silence settled, one that no one was sure how to fill. It drawled on one minute, then two, then three, then four. The courtiers shuffled nervously. Several of them dispersed; content to have at least seen their future monarch. Still others persisted. They wanted to see their future sovereigns meet, and only that would satisfy them. Eventually, Arthur cleared his throat.
“Perhaps our children should be introduced,” said Arthur. “After all, they’re to be married in two months.”
“Of course,” said Valentine. He turned to Reggie and gestured for him to come forward. In all his panicked thoughts, he’d forgotten to mentally prepare himself. As a result, Reggie nearly let out a sob, but he bit it back just in time. It took a lot of effort to let go of the hands of his siblings. Addie gave a final pat to her brother’s back and watched on, nervous for his sake. “Lady Vivika, may I introduce my eldest son, Crown Prince Reginald Phoenix.”
“Lovely to meet you, your Majesty,” said Viv. Viv looked him over once more. A smile was on his face as he bowed to her, but it was clearly fake. There were just slightly too many exposed teeth. The light didn’t reach his eyes either. In fact, his eyes looked downright terrified. He even stayed a few inches away from Viv, as though she were afraid she’d bite him. Viv didn’t understand why he was behaving so strangely, but she curtsied anyways. At least her smile was genuine. “I’m looking forward to getting to know you.”
Reggie said nothing. He kept his smile firm, but seemed to have forgotten what to do next. Viv watched on as Reggie struggled to remember what he was supposed to do. What came after the curtsy? What was he to do? Viv tried hard not to spit out a sarcastic remark. Instead of following her instinct to make a joke, she extended her hand for him to kiss. That was, after all, what a gentleman was to do after a lady curtsied to him.
Right, he thought. Now we shake hands.
As Valentine had taught him, Reggie gripped Viv’s hand firmly and shook it. He had done it. Now all that was left to do was speak. He would’ve felt a lot more confident in his words if everyone weren’t staring at him so strangely.
“Welcome, my lady,” said Reggie, beginning to wilt under the scrutinizing looks. He swallowed hard and released Viv’s hand. He had spent weeks working up the nerve to say those three words. It had taken many hard hours of rehearsal to get it just right. They were simple, but eloquent. Coramund had told him that was all his first words to Viv had to be. Thus, those three words were enough. But the stare and the silence weighed down on him so heavily that he knew he had to say more. “Well… That’s about all I have to say. If you need me, I’ll be… around.”
With that he turned and sprinted up the palace steps, a ridiculous grin on his face. He rather thought that the welcoming went well. He was sophisticated and welcoming, and that was all he ever needed to be. All in all, he felt that his first impression on Vivika was a pleasant one.