The heels of my shoes clicked loudly against the tiled floor of the hallway as I made my way towards my mother’s apartment. As I moved down the corridor I kept catching glimpses of myself in mirrors and in the windows. I was dressed simply today in a deep blue gown that pulled in tightly at the bodice and had a full skirt that flowed down to the floor. My dark hair wasn’t pinned back and was allowed to flow freely in waves to my waist.
I suppose you could call me pretty. The silkiness of my hair was rare and my facial features were very delicate, my dark eyes standing out against my pale skin, especially when they had been outlined in kohl. Many people had told me that I was elegant, and it is true that my limbs are very long and graceful, but that comes from having an excellent dance teacher rather than being naturally elegant.
I reached the door to my mother’s chambers and smoothed my dress down one last time before knocking.
‘Enter,’ the voice from within called. I opened the door and walked in confidently, my head held high. ‘Ah, my darling,’ my mother exclaimed, looking up from some papers that were lying on her desk.
‘Your majesty,’ I said, curtsying as social graces demanded. ‘You asked for me.’
‘Yes I did,’ she said, putting the papers into a neat pile and pushing them to one side of the impressive wooden desk. ‘Take a seat my dear.’ I did as I was told, sitting down in the chair on the opposite side of the desk, my back straight and my hands folded neatly in my lap as I had been taught. ‘Now my dear,’ the Queen said smiling, ‘I assume you know why you are here.’
‘I am afraid I do not your majesty,’ I replied, keeping my smile in place.
‘Oh,’ she said, her blue eyes looking surprised. ‘I assumed it would be obvious.’
Apparently not, I thought; something I would not dare say out loud.
‘Well I might as well get to the point. I have asked you here to discuss your suitors. Your father feels some sort of test is needed to prove their worth to you and ensure that they would make a good husband.’
‘I am unsure how I will be able to make this decision when I haven’t met any of the gentlemen yet,’ I pointed out. ‘Surely I should be allowed to speak to them to figure out if they would make a good husband.’
‘Yes and no,’ the Queen said ambiguously. ‘You shall be introduced to them officially tomorrow, but it is not appropriate for you to talk to them.’
‘Then how shall I get to know them? I have to know what sort of men they are before I choose one to spend the rest of my life with.’
‘Yes but that is not decided through conversation,’ she said, a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice. I couldn’t pretend that this didn’t please me. ‘That is what the test would be for; for your suitors to prove that they have the strength and intelligence to be a good husband.’
‘But I don’t care how strong they are,’ I protested. ‘All that matters to me is that I like them.’
‘I’m afraid you have a lot to learn Liliana,’ my mother said, looking down her nose at me in the way I hated. ‘You are the daughter of a king. You can’t marry just anyone, no matter how friendly they are. They have to have the strength to fight for our country if we ever went to war, the brain for politics so they can sit on the King’s Council, the money to be able to look after you and most importantly the status to make them worthy of marrying a princess.’
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t agree with any of the qualities my mother had just described. I prized a good sense of humor over strength, kindness over a political mind, trust over money and understanding over status. But the one thing I wanted in my marriage above anything else was love. I didn’t care if the man I married was the poorest beggar, because if he loved me then that would be enough.