I always found talking to my mother an exhausting experience, so when I emerged from her rooms after our little chat I was ready to take a nap. I didn’t feel like going back to my bedroom; I knew Elisabeth would be there waiting for me, but was unsure where I could go. I could visit the library, but there were always other people there; the lords and ladies who lived at court spent a lot of their time in there on rainy days when they could not go out and walk in the palace grounds.
So I turned and headed in the opposite direction to both my room and the library, walking instead towards my sister’s room. I thought she would have some good advice for me, as my father had held a similar contest for her two years ago when it was time for her to marry.
There were very few people walking down these corridors as the rooms where the royal family lived were cut off from the rest of the palace, so I only passed a servant or two, who hastily bowed as I walked past, and a member of my father’s Council, returning from an important meeting no doubt. The latter didn’t stop when he saw me, but I could feel his eyes watching me as we passed each other. That was one of the things I hated about this castle; you always felt like you were being watched.
I picked up my pace until I arrived outside the door to my sister’s apartment. I hoped her husband would be out as I knocked on the door. I wouldn’t want to walk in on something I shouldn’t.
‘Who is it?’ Helena’s voice called out from inside.
‘It’s me,’ I called back.
‘Who is me?’
‘Oh come on in then Lili.’ I heard feet hitting the floor and saw my sister putting on a dressing gown as I entered. ‘What brings you here sister?’
‘I’ve just had an instruction talk with mother,’ I moaned, immediately walking over to Helena’s large comfortable bed and collapsing on it. ‘It was terrible.’
‘They always are,’ Helena said sympathetically.
‘Good to know things get better,’ I said sarcastically, making my sister giggle. ‘Why are you still in bed?’ I asked, taking in my sister’s white nightgown that she was hiding under her dressing gown. ‘It’s nearly midday.’
‘Well as I have no business to attend to this morning and we are practically confined to our rooms now we are housing your guests, I didn’t see much point in making the effort to get dressed.’
‘That’s shocking,’ I said, pulling a mock astonished face. ‘Surely as a married woman you should behave properly.’
‘Not at all,’ Helena said, lying next to me on the bed. ‘In fact now I’m married I can behave how I like because I’m not trying to catch a husband. You’ll enjoy being married; it means you don’t have to take orders from mother.’
‘But I don’t even want to get married, not like this. Why can’t I meet someone and fall in love like normal people?’
‘Because, future Queen or not, you are a princess.’ Helena took my face in her hands, making both of us sit up on her bed, our eyes locked. ‘We’re not like the people out there. We’re special.’
‘Well maybe I’m tired of being special,’ I said, shrugging Helena’s hands off my face. ‘I’m not going to be able to find a man who loves me and ticks all the right boxes for mother and father. No man is that perfect.’
‘Love doesn’t always come instantly,’ Helena said wrapping her arms around me and holding me close.
‘Do you love Liam? Father chose him for you using a process like this.’
‘I can’t lie to you; I didn’t at first. In fact I hated him. I thought he was too politically driven and insensitive for my tastes, but father insisted I chose him, so I did. I thought I would never be able to love him, but after we were married I got to know him better and found that he is actually a very caring man and capable of love. In time I grew to love him.’
‘Then you must be very lucky.’
‘And you will be too,’ Helena insisted, clasping my hands and kissing the top of my head. ‘Any man would be mad not to worship the ground you walk on; you are everything a man should want.’
‘It doesn’t stop Julian from teasing me,’ I said, a smile creeping back onto my face.
‘Yes, well that’s Julian.’ I could hear the laugh in Helena’s voice, which made me giggle. ‘He’s your brother, it’s what he’s meant to do.’ I felt so safe, sitting there in Helena’s arms. She was only two years older than me but I felt like she was more of a mother figure to me than the Queen had ever been. ‘I promise you we will find you a good husband. You will be happy, I know it.’
I didn’t reply. There was nothing I could say. I only wished I could be as confident as my sister that the man I loved was already in this palace, waiting for me.