The Pauper Prince
By now Mara was determined to make her own way back to the guest room without a guide. This would be her second trip to and from in one day, and there were torches along the walls to offer a somewhat guided path. Before leaving the banquet hall, she made it a point of wishing the other ladies a good night, each of whom only muttered their replies. Somehow she had missed the Prince’s departure from the room, but the King and Queen were still there, keeping up conversation with lingering guests to the bitter end, so she went to them and waited quietly for either one of them to notice her. Eventually the King sensed her nearness, and turned quickly, as if reacting to a threat.
This startled her more than she had planned it to, but she was learning quickly enough that fear was fear regardless of its source, and needed conquering either way. She took in a sharp breath, then dropped into her final curtsey of the evening. “Your Majesties,” she said, struggling to keep her voice from trembling. “I just wanted to– to thank you for this– wonderful evening.”
“Oh,” said the King. “I didn’t realize you were still here.”
Mara smiled nervously. “I-I’ll be returning to my room soon,” she said. “I just wanted you to know that I really enjoyed the food, and drink, and– and entertainment. Thank you, Your Majesties.”
“It was for the Prince’s benefit, but you are most welcome,” said the King disinterestedly, and returned to his talk. It took Mara a few seconds to realize that her conversation with him was ended, and turned to leave the room. The Queen was closer to her than the King, and motioned at Mara to stop.
“You are most welcome, Lady Mara,” she said, nodded, then waved her on.
The banquet hall had been so brightly lit that the dimness of the hallway leading to it took her by surprise. But she would find her way back yet. She had made it halfway down before being startled by a man whispering her name.
She reached for a sword that was, once again, not at her side. And Kelvin once again emerged from the shadows. “That’s a habit you ought to break around here,” he said. “Come; we don’t have much time.” He motioned for her to follow, and he walked at a brisk pace.
“For what?” she said, hurrying to keep up with him.
“I negotiated fifteen minutes of time with you,” he said. “Alone. Shall I escort you back to your room?”
Mara’s answer was a girlish giggle – another “habit” she made a note to break.
Only 30 seconds of their precious time was lost making it back to the guest room. The two burst inside together and wasted no time burying each other in kisses and an unbreakable embrace. After several minutes of this, it was only the distant sound of other voices in other parts of the castle that prompted Kelvin to tear himself away, but only to slam the door shut before diving back in. Several minutes more before Mara’s unerring ability to worry about things prompted her to ease up, but only a little this time.
She spoke in between kisses. “Do you — know — how much — time — has passed?”
Kelvin took his time with his reply and conserved his breath to boot. “No.”
This time less than a minute passed before she pulled her lips away just enough to exchange breaths with him. She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against his. “This isn’t fair,” she whispered. “I want this for all night, but there’s no time.”
“Then let’s stop wasting it,” he whispered, and lunged forward into another embrace. She drew back for a moment, then gave in and lost herself again.
Halfway through their allotted time, Kelvin parted from her lips and gently kissed just below her ear, and then caressed his lips slowly down her neck. He had learned that first night at Erick’s, when they had given in to their mutual infatuation, that her neck was a very “sensitive” area. Tonight his attention to this area resulted in her effectively paralyzed with a mix of, for lack of a better term, relaxed pleasure. By the time he reached the bottom of her neck and start of her shoulder, her arms had dropped to her side, her eyes were closed and her head tilted to give him full rein to her.
If he did not know better, he would have thought her to be asleep, her face seemed so peaceful. Kelvin “woke” her with a gentle kiss to the lips, and then matched her earlier gesture of resting his forehead against hers.
“You’re right,” he whispered. “It isn’t fair.”
“Is there any hope for us?” she asked. “Do you think they’ll bless the marriage? Your father doesn’t like me, I can tell, so my hopes are not high.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked, straightening up. “He doesn’t dislike you. He’s angry with me for going against his wishes.”
“….I wish I could believe that’s the reason,” she whispered. “But he’s so… dismissive of me. And of you. Nothing you’ve said seems to move him. Please be plain with me. What do you think he’ll decide?”
Kelvin sighed, closed his eyes, and again rested his head against hers. “Plain, hm?” he said. “He won’t make this easy for us.” He stood up and met her gaze. “I was only able to arrange our meeting now because he stopped me tonight from announcing our engagement. I agreed, on the condition that he ease up his decree that we not ‘associate’ with one another. Of course, he also had to trust me not to, ah, deflower you.”
“What does that mean?”
Kelvin looked at her quizzically. “Well, not to… dishonor you?” he said. “Remove your purity? Or if you must, our purity.”
Mara still appeared to be uncomprehending. Kelvin shrugged. “You know, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I respect that we must wait till the wedding night, difficult as it may be.”
“Oh… All right,” she said uncertainly. Then she seemed to notice her surroundings for the first time. “Is it me, or is the room brighter than…? Oh…” She looked about to see lighted candles lined up on every flat piece of furniture in the room, save for the bed. The fireplace was also ablaze. It could almost be mistaken for daylight inside the room.
“Who lit all these candles??” she asked. “And how did I not notice them?”
“We were both a bit busy,” he said, nudging her in the arm. “Perhaps your servant girl lit them. We do this for guests in case they want to stay up longer at night.”
“Heather did this?” she asked. “Oh! I promised to give her a good report to the Queen, and I didn’t get the chance tonight.”
“Fret not,” he said. “You’ll have other chances.”
“I’m not sure I like thinking of her as a ‘servant,’ but she really was very… um… what’s the word? Oh, competent. And attentive. Very polite, too.”
“Yes, by all means, tell the Queen about her,” he said. “That’s very kind of you, you know, to go out of your way for that.”
“Why is that very kind? She did a good job. And I did promise.”
Kelvin only smiled, tucked his hand under her chin, and leaned in for a gentle brush of their lips. “It just is,” he whispered. “I realize that this has been a… challenging day for you, but have you enjoyed it? Did you enjoy the banquet tonight?”
“The banquet??” she said, and chuckled. “Is every meal like that? I don’t think I need any food or drink for another week! And all those entertainers; they were so good, and– and I can’t find the right words to explain how…”
“Yes. I think that’s the word I need,” she said. “It is overwhelming. I keep expecting to wake up, but I never have dreams like this. Mine are usually… Actually, that doesn’t matter. They’re just not like this. Certainly not about castles or royalty or even– uh, love.”
Kelvin smiled dreamily. “Did you talk to anyone?” he asked. “Make any fast friends?”
“With the women tonight?” she asked, then shook her head. “Not really. A few things were said, and then they spent the rest of the time talking amongst themselves.”
“Now that was rude.”
“Oh, pay that no mind,” she said. “I’ve endured far worse than being ignored by rich people. Wait: were any of those women ones that you had– Well, rejected?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” he said. “They are wives to some of the Lords here. Two Duchesses and-”
“-A Countess,” she said. “She told me that. And one of the women kept fanning herself. I thought it was too cool in the room for that. Don’t you think?”
“Oh, you must mean Ruth, Duchess of Gimsley, wife of Duke Wilford.”
“Why do rich people have such long introductions?”
Kelvin paused, then smiled and chuckled. “Ah– Well, perhaps so they can hear their own names longer. Anyway, Mother tells me that the Duchess is going through ‘the second change,’ which I hear that older women do. Apparently it involves heating up. Hence all the fanning.”
“Oh,” said Mara flatly. “Something I should be looking forward to, then.”
“If it means your living that long, then I’m for it,” said Kelvin. He sighed. “Alas, I think our time together is ending soon. I must honor that with my father. And it makes me sad that you don’t believe me, but no, he does not dislike you. He’s… a complicated man. It would take a long time and many tales to adequately describe him.”
“I’ll just have to trust you, then.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Your patience, and faith, makes this endurable. I cannot predict their final decision, but as long as you’re as sweet, and as kind and as thoughtful towards them as you are towards me, then there is no blame — or shame — on you, should the worst happen. And that’s a thought I will not entertain right now.” He took up her hand and kissed it gently, then held it and patted it slowly while apparently lost in thought. He smiled sadly and pulled away from her to leave.
“May your dreams be like a glimpse of heaven,” he said, backing away slowly.
She started to reply, but hesitated when she could think of nothing equal to it, and ultimately settled for, “And yours.”