The Pauper Prince – Part 30

The Pauper Prince
Chapter 30

After breakfast, no time was wasted allowing the Princess to recover from her infamous “lost day” and get caught up on everything she’d missed. To begin with, little Isabel needed a baptism posthaste. The bishop had been on standby since her birth, and once the traditional, tent-sized, white baptismal dress was on her, off everyone rode to the chapel for the mandatory naming and dunking ceremony. Having only recently been introduced to the various concepts and traditions of any religion, never mind theirs, Mara failed to grasp the sense of urgency. In which case, she had no objection to the quickness of the ceremony – only confusion.

Almost immediately after Isabel was protected from the tragedy of a demise sans baptism, and after running a gauntlet of well-wishers outside the chapel, and after finally returning to the castle, Mara was informed that Isabel would be presented to the people. Kelvin then assured the concerned Princess that it did not mean that everyone in the kingdom would be queuing to visit her and the baby, but that the people within the castle would gather under the grand balcony and be introduced to her. Mara then remembered that Kelvin had done the same thing with her after the engagement was announced. For some reason it was important to the family to display people from above.

Solomon would make the speech to introduce the newest member of the royal family to the crowd below, for his voice could carry across an ocean, and he did enjoy the honor of announcing things and people.

The family had gathered just inside while Solomon received last-minute instructions. Most of them came from the King and Queen, though Mara tried to interject that he should thank everyone for coming, given their busy days at work, but the others did not appear to have heard her. When the Queen suggested that he “make certain that there is lightness” in his introduction, Mara suggested that he make a joke or two.

“You will not make any jokes,” warned the King to Solomon, without looking at her. She was properly contrite afterwards and made no more suggestions.

Mara enjoyed meeting “the people,” but big displays such as these terrified her. Memories began to return of her almost fainting during her own “presentation to the people” after being coaxed into joining Kelvin on the balcony. The gathered crowd may have been cheering and shouting huzzahs, but it would not have surprised her if a shower of rotten food had been flung at any moment. Back then she might have run back inside in reaction to such an assault and curled into a ball of humiliation. Now, she imagined that if she saw anyone so much as hold up an apple, she might hurl herself over the railing and beat the transgressor into unconsciousness before the fruit got anywhere near her daughter.

Mara shook such violent thoughts from her head. Where did they come from?? No, they would cheer and shout huzzahs. Surely they would. Knowing that, once again, she – no, not she, but her child – would be trotted out for display, her hands trembled too much to trust herself. Kelvin happily accepted the responsibility of carrying their child for this tradition. She only needed to look on lovingly this time.

Solomon approached the edge of the balcony, which caused a brief eruption of applause – one that was easily quieted. He then clasped his hands together and took a deep breath.

Good people of Gildern!” he could be heard to say from far and wide. “Our Most Royal Majesties, King Silas and Queen Lily, their noble son, His Royal Highness Prince Kelvin, and his exquisite bride, Her Royal Highness Princess Mara, bid you their warmest welcome and their deepest gratitude for joining them here and now, in spite of your busy days and nights, for this most happy occasion. This most joyful occasion, this shining moment of hope for us all. Please, good people, without further ado, join them in welcoming this most precious addition to their family – to our family – to all families in the kingdom of Gildern – Her Most Newborn Highness… Princess Isabel Cassandra Lily!

The crowd roared, which was the cue for the King and Queen to approach first and wave regally to the gathered. They lowered their hands and nodded to Kelvin, who smiled at Mara and walked forward. She stumbled at first, and almost stopped, but was pulled in his wake by an unseen force, until they both reached the edge. Mara peered over the railing and nearly swooned again. There was easily double the number of people from before. There had to be. Her memory couldn’t be that bad. She gripped the railing hard, dug her nails into the wood, and tried to breathe normally.

The applause went on and on. People shouted different things, such as the expected “huzzah!” and “congratulations!” Some took up a chant of “Long live the Princess!” which she thought was very kind of them to say about her child. It helped her to ease her death grip on the railing. Other words, she could not decipher, but decided to assume that they were complimentary.

She looked to Kelvin and their daughter, whom he carefully held just far out enough to be seen, but near enough not to put her in danger of falling. As expected she looked on lovingly, and after some time, the warm greeting from the throng conquered her terror, and she looked out amongst them and began blowing kisses and waving in a most assuredly non-regal manner. She tried shouting “Thank you!” into the crowd, but her words were buried by their clamor. She recognized many faces, but did not see ones she was particularly looking for, such as Adrienne and her family, or even Ophelia and her own little one.

Finally the King and Queen gave the crowd final, regal waves and nods to indicate that the presentation was drawing to a close, and went inside first, followed by the Prince and Princesses, but not before the Prince held her up once more for the crowd. The cheering crescendoed, then dwindled as they finally returned inside. Solomon remained behind to thank the people again for coming, before dispersing them to their normal duties. When he also returned from the balcony, Mara intercepted.

“Thank you, dear Solomon,” she said. “You give such lovely speeches. Your voice is so… so compelling.”

“It was my honor, your Highness.” He never smiled, but could show a certain twinkle in his eye when called for.

“The honor is ours,” said Kelvin. “No one could have presented her better.”

“I do my best, your Highness,” he said with a small head bow. He made to leave again, and again Mara stopped him. She put a hand on his shoulder and leaned in.

“And thank you for–” she said quietly, then rethought her words. “I didn’t think anyone heard me earlier. They all work very hard, and… we were interrupting them for this, and… Well, that’s all. I just wanted to thank you for honoring that.”

“Your Highness,” he said, cocking an eyebrow, “I always hear you.” He then took his leave before she could say any more.

*****************

The common citizenry of Gildern was not expected to queue around the land to pay homage to their new Princess, but the uncommon citizenry was – or rather, they expected it for themselves. They expected the privilege of seeing the new royal baby up close. So there was a mid-day banquet in Isabel’s honor, attended by the local aristocracy and the court’s lingerers. Heather gave her Lady her fastest hair arrangement yet and made certain her clothing was just so. Mara just wanted to return to bed.

There was some kerfuffle between her and the family after she insisted that Isabel be behind her during the meal, in the royal cradle, and so within reach if needed. The family – mostly the King and Queen – argued that she would remain with Miss Daphne until the meal was finished, and then be brought out for presentation.

“Dearest,” said Kelvin, his arm around her, “What do you wish? I’ll support whatever you decide.”

“It…” she said, looking one to the other, then sighing. “It is just during the meal. Yes, Father. Mother Queen. I will… She will remain with Miss Daphne until ready.”

That settled, there was nothing else but for the new parents to briefly gush over Isabel and bandy words like “angel” about to describe her, before kissing her tiny hand and forehead and cheeks and sending her away with Miss Daphne. Or rather, not before Mara quietly ordered the nanny to fetch her immediately if needed, royal propriety be damned. Miss Daphne responded in the affirmative and took her leave.

****

The meal was not interrupted, though Mara expected it at any moment and had trouble relaxing. She kept glancing in the direction of the other room where Miss Daphne cared for her daughter, and sometimes tried to listen for cries. If anyone noticed her unease, no one spoke. Then the King stood and announced that the new Princess would be brought out for viewing. Miss Daphne was summoned and brought Isabel to Mara, who was again too nervous to hold her steadily in front of all those people. Kelvin had the honor of holding her up to their guests. Mara noticed that those of lesser rank than royalty began to kneel. She felt a chill. Scarcely out of her womb and her child was already commanding fealty. But she recognized that this was not the time or place for her to make an objection.

The new mother and father were seated on either side of Isabel’s cradle. Guests knew who was who, and organized themselves to approach from highest to lowest rank. Guest reactions ranged from delighted cooing to polite acknowledgment. Kelvin and Mara did their best to reciprocate with at least the same level of energy as their guests. Miss Daphne was always nearby, ready to intervene in case the little Princess became inconsolable for any reason. This needed to be done once during Duke Wilford’s and Dutchess Ruth’s viewing. Mara followed Miss Daphne from the room before the King and Queen could prevent it. She learned that it was not her breasts that Isabel needed, but a change of clothing. Now she knew three things about her daughter’s care: how to feed, burp and change her.

Lucinda’s friendship with Mara did not gain her a sooner place in the queue, but the Countess did not seem to mind. Count Richard congratulated the royal couple heartily and conversed with Kelvin, while Mara stood and hugged and kissed her Countess friend and made promises for tea soon. Lucinda had been away for most of Mara’s pregnancy, and Mara was eager to learn what she’d been up to. Mara’s smile was broad as the sea, but diminished some upon noticing that Lucinda was unexpectedly in the “polite acknowledgment” group. It was then that Mara noticed a certain… sadness? behind her eyes. Now they really needed to have tea soon.

Of all people, the Countess Yvette, on her own husband’s arm, arrived to pay perfunctory, but polite, respects. When she turned to leave, Mara called to her and stood up. She smiled and pointed subtly.

“I beg your pardon,” she said, leaning closer to the perplexed Countess, “But when I see you from the side, it looks like– Well, would you happen to be-?” She held her hand out a few inches from her belly.

The Countess finally understood. “Oh!” she said, and nodded.

Mara’s smile all but lit the room now. She clasped her hands together in delight. “Oh, Countess, congratulations!” she gushed. “May I ask how far along?”

“Yes, congratulations,” added Kelvin, standing up to shake her husband’s hand.

“Uh…” she said, still mildly puzzled. She glanced at her husband and Kelvin before replying. “About four months. Your Highness.”

“Oh, how wonderful!” said Mara. “Your first?”

The Countess had been in profile all the while, then finally, slowly, turned toward the Princess. “Yes,” she said, a hint of a smile forming. “Our first. Your Highness.”

Mara could not help putting a friendly hand on her shoulder. The Countess glanced at it, then returned her attention to the Princess.

“I’m so happy for you,” said Mara. “For both of you. From both of us.” She pointed to herself and Kelvin. “I hope your child brings you nothing but happiness. And perhaps, since they’d be close in age, wouldn’t that be grand if our children ended up friends?”

Her husband agreed aloud while the Countess seemed at a loss for words. Finally she seemed to come to a decision, then spread her dress and made a slow, deep curtsey. She spoke while dipping. “That would be grand, indeed.” She spoke again after rising and looking Mara in the eyes. “Your Highness. Thank you.”

After the two departed, the royal couple sat again and prepared to receive more visitors. Mara felt Kelvin’s eyes on her. She looked his way to confirm this, then shrugged. “What?”

“Nothing,” he said, allowing a smile. “Or rather, you do remember that Countess Yvette was one of the women that I turned down, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said Mara, nodding. “I met her at our betrothal party. I thought I told you about that?”

“Mm,” he said, “Yes, I remember now. But still… And yet you… Darling, do you know what the word ‘guileless’ means?”

She thought for a moment, then shook her head. “‘Guyless?’ Does it mean something bad?”

“No,” he said. “I’ll let you look it up for yourself, then.”

“You won’t even give me a clue?” she said, but was interrupted by more visitors for the little Princess.

****

Eventually the queue dwindled away, and the guests had resumed mingling with each other, even Lucinda. Even though Mara had been sitting most of the time, it had been tiring for her. Kelvin excused himself from the receiving line so that he, too, could mingle. Mara’s preference was to see briefly to Lucinda, then beg her pardon and leave the banquet entirely for much-needed rest, but she perked up after catching some of the female staff sneaking glimpses of the baby as they went about their business. Mara flagged down one of them and gave her silent permission to view Isabel. And just like that, the rest of the women took this opportunity to gather around and behold the child up close. They giggled and cooed and chittered and chattered. Mara felt her energy returning, and smiled and laughed again. The Queen noticed this and began winding her way through the guests. She arrived as her daughter-in-law was standing up to hug a three-month-pregnant serving girl. The chattering stopped as all made their dips to the Queen.

“Oh, Mother Queen,” said Mara, beaming, “Marian here is with her second child!” She turned to Marian and took her hand. “I hope that your work has been lightened because of this? It must be quite tir-”

Princess Mara,” said the Queen, “Your attention to our servants is admirable, but they do have work to get back to.”

The workers dipped again and offered overlapping apologies before making a hasty retreat.

Mara masked her dismay by keeping up a smile. “Mother Queen, I was still speaking with them,” she said. “Surely there’s no sin in a five-minute rest from work?”

The Queen hmphed and spoke in a low tone. “I don’t suppose you realize what it looks like for you to greet servants as if old friends, while looking barely awake for our honored guests?”

“Barely…? But Mother Queen, I have been greeting our guests. Warmly. Kelvin was beside me all the while; you could ask him how I behaved. Lucinda and I are long overdue for a gathering, and I was quite pleased to see Countess Yvette again, and with a husband, and with child! Did you notice?”

“Mara-”

“That makes at least two women here with child,” she said. “I feel like… like we should be celebrating them, as well. Don’t you think?”

“I should think not.”

“Wh– But why not?”

“This is our celebration,” said the Queen. “They will surely have their own when the time comes. Now is Princess Isabel’s presentation to the upper classes. She was already presented to the lower class.”

Mara felt her eyes narrowing, then made sure to keep them wide, or at least “normal” for the Queen.  “I… Mother Queen, I was not aware that we were discriminating here against who may view my child,” she said. “It is duly noted. I was in error in sharing our joy with anyone willing to receive it.”

The Queen narrowed her own eyes, subtly. “I’m not sure that I like your tone,” she said.

“My tone?” said the Princess. “I thought my tone has been unwavering.”

“Your words, then,” she said. “Child, my only desire here is to remind you to always be aware of your surroundings. Of whom you’re among, and what their needs are.”

“…You are most gracious to remind me,” said Mara. “Mother Queen.”

A young Duchess approached demurely. She dipped to them both, then begged their indulgence to view the little Princess once again. After a pause that stopped just short of being awkward, Mara smiled broadly and assured the Duchess that it was her pleasure.

Until now Isabel had been resting in her cradle. Mara carefully retrieved the sleepy little girl and held her for the doting Duchess. But after mere seconds of cooing, Isabel began squirming, and finally belted out a mighty bout of tears. The Duchess stepped back and apologized as if she were the cause. Mara turned to call for Miss Daphne, but she was already at Mara’s side, offering to take Isabel away.

“Is it me?” said Mara. “Am I holding her wrong?”

“Surely not, your Highness,” said Miss Daphne. “Don’t worry; I’ll see to her needs. She’ll be fine.”

“Please,” said Mara, “Do bring her next door. I’ll be there presently.” She reached out to the Duchess. “Oh, Duchess, it’s nothing you did, I’m sure. I do hope you’ll excuse me. I’m just going to see to what’s troubling her.” The Duchess dipped again and returned to the party. Mara turned to the Queen and dipped quickly. “Mother Queen, I’ll be back soon.”

She made to leave, but the Queen caught her hand. Not tightly, but firmly enough that it made Mara pause and look back at her. She glanced at her hand a few times as if trying to decide whether to yank it free. The Queen spoke again in low tones.

“This is yet another lesson for you to learn, child,” she said. “The nanny knows to come for you, if Isabel needs you. We have a nanny, and nurses, for just this reason. They are all here to look after Isabel. So unless she returns, you’re free to meet your other obligations.”

Other…obligations?”

“Yes,” said the Queen, gesturing to the whole room. “To your guests. To your peers. You are their hostess, child. Remember that.”

“They have been fed,” said Mara. “We have music and games. They have all seen her up close and spoken to me and Kelvin. We have been gracious and friendly with them all. He’s out there now, being their ‘host.’ When I’ve seen to Isabel, I plan to return and see Lucinda again, and possibly Yvette, if she’s no longer detesting me. And any other ‘peers’ who wish to engage me. But not before Isabel has been tended to.”

The Queen sighed in frustration. “Child, when will you learn to balance your obligations? Your priorities?”

Mara was lost in thought. In her mind her own admonition to staff and assistants echoed: Stand up straight, look me in the eye, and… She would never call the Queen “Lily,” but slowly, she looked the Queen full in the face. She straightened, slowly, to her full height, adding at least two inches from the usual slouch that she utilized around those shorter than she, including the Queen. It was possible that this was the first time the Queen had seen the Princess stand this tall. Her eyes widened just a bit in surprise, then subsided.

Mara’s voice was the calm before a storm. “Your Majesty,” she said. “You are keeping me from my daughter.” Then she was perfectly still.

The Queen intended to make a reply, but had none to make. She simply let go of Mara’s hand without any words. Mara, also without words, let her hand drop, and waited. Eventually the Queen cleared her throat and waved toward the next room.

“Why are you standing there?” she said. “My granddaughter needs you. She needs her mother. Go.”

Mara stepped back and executed a perfect curtsey before turning and walking confidently, but quickly, towards her child.

****

Kelvin knocked on the door of the room where his wife was last seen. Miss Daphne opened it just a bit, using her body to block any views. Kelvin could easily see over her head, though, and did not need to be told that the Princess was inside, nursing their daughter. Mara heard his voice and gave permission to enter before Miss Daphne could even ask. She had her back to the door – her bare back, in fact – which annoyed him. Her current gowns and dresses only opened from the back, so she and Miss Daphne had had to flip down her entire top in order to uncover her breasts for Isabel.

Kelvin removed his cloak and draped it over her shoulders, then sat beside her and put an arm around her to keep it in place. “Why didn’t you give her a blanket or some other covering?” he asked the nanny pointedly.

“Forgive me, your Highness,” she said. “I have been trying to find one, but there seems to be none here, and then you… er…”

“Don’t be angry with her, Dearest,” said Mara. “The room is warm enough, anyway. It’s all right, Miss Daphne.”

“Hm,” he grunted, then returned his attention to his two ladies. This was the first time he had seen Mara nursing their daughter, and it took no time for him to get lost in the scene. Mara looked his way and smiled. Their eyes met, and they kissed several times before hearing Miss Daphne quietly clearing her throat.

She had come over to stand in front of them but was actively averting her eyes. “Your Highness,” she said quietly, “I will wait for you just outside. You need only call out, and I would be back in an instant.”

“Oh? You needn’t do that,” said Mara. “You may stay if you wish.”

“I… Well, you two are… Clearly you’re-”

“Thank you, Nanny,” said Kelvin. “We’ll call you if needed.”

Miss Daphne dipped to them both, then left without another word. Mara waited for the door to shut behind the nanny before speaking. “Sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking.”

Kelvin grinned, then leaned closer for more kisses. He managed to stop himself before trying to make even more children right then and there, and made himself sit up straight. He resumed draping his arm around her and watching and listening to Isabel’s suckling.

“What does that feel like?” he asked.

“Ohhh,” she said, “Calming. And relaxing. It especially helps now. For instance, Mother Queen: is she still upset with me?”

“Not that I’d noticed,” he said. “But she did ask me to check on you. How… upset are we talking about? I saw you two speaking, but you didn’t seem angry.”

“We were both hiding it well, I suppose,” she said, shrugging.

Kelvin furrowed his brow. “I don’t think I like that,” he said. “I won’t hear of my two favorite mothers at each other’s throats.”

Mara scoffed. “Oh, it wasn’t like that,” she said. “I just.. I’ll never understand why it offends her so when I’m friendly with the staff.”

“Ohh, that,” he said. “She said something about that to me. How embarrassing it was to the other guests to see you having fun with the server girls. Was that it?”

“I suppose,” she grumbled. “And were they ’embarrassed?’ Were our guests shaken to their cores to see servants enjoying themselves in their presence?”

“Not shaken,” he said. “Stirred. There was a bit of, ah, clucking. ‘Oh, what was her Highness doing?’ ‘Oh, how vulgar!’ That sort of thing.”

Isabel pulled away from her breast, so Mara took that moment to show Kelvin her expertise in burping and switching breasts for a proper meal. He rubbed her arm, they shared more kisses, and she returned to brooding.

“Are you upset with me, too?” she asked.

“Why, do I seem it?” he said. She shrugged. “I’m not. Presenting a good image is important to Mother. And Father, but to a lesser extent. He may run the kingdom, but she runs the castle, so is used to everything being ‘just so.’ ”

Mara sighed. “I’m doing the best I can, Darling,” she said. “I don’t do what I do, expecting to ’embarrass’ anyone. I can think of no reason not to treat everyone with respect, not just the rich and powerful. Is this wrong?”

“Not at all.”

She sighed again. ” ‘Clucking,’ hm?” she said, then scoffed. ” ‘Vulgar.’ Really. They should all be used to me by now, Kelvin. I used to care, but now… it’s so pointless. I no longer care. I.. I will treat everyone with respect no matter their rank or standing, and they should know that it’s the way things are here. I will learn people’s names and I will speak to them as… as people and not as beasts of burden. And if they must cluck about that, they can cluck somewhere else.”

“Well said.”

“And Kelvin,” she said, “You know that I love your mother dearly. Not just as my queen and my sovereign, but… she’s as close to a mother as I’ve ever had, though I will always keep my true mother close in my heart.”

“I know.”

“For my own mother, for Cassandra, I want to honor her by raising Isabel the best that I can, in her name. I want to be here for her, whenever she needs me. I need Miss Daphne, but to assist me with Isabel, not to be me.”

“I know.”

“But…” she said, “Dear Kelvin, please know that I say this with the deepest respect, but Mother Queen… she keeps pushing me to be a woman that I don’t want to be. That I cannot be. And… I only wish she would accept that. Accept that I am a commoner and a Princess, and that will not change. I don’t want it to change.”

“I know.”

“You keep saying that,” she said. “Are you listening?”

“Every word,” he said, kissing her cheek. “There’s just been nothing else to say. But I haven’t finished telling you what happened.”

“Oh,” she said. “Please forgive me. I… did go on, didn’t I?”

“No worries,” he said. “It’s a good thing Isabel is here to calm and relax you.” He winked. “Imagine the chaos if she weren’t??”

Mara looked down to stifle her laugh, but then smiled. “You’re mocking me,” she said. “But for once, I don’t mind it.”

“Hm,” he said, stealing a kiss. She allowed the theft. “Do you want to know what Mother said to me? And to Father?”

“Is it bad?”

“I’ll let you decide,” he said. “She said that, just before you left to come here to Isabel, she saw you, standing tall. Proud. Regal. And absolutely fearless. She said that you looked like… a Queen.”

Mara started to laugh in disbelief, but it caught in her throat when she looked at Kelvin. There was no mischief in his face. No impish smile nor hint of a wink. Only unabashed pride. She furrowed her brow ever so slightly.

“Me?”

“You,” he said. “Before her eyes, you became our next Queen.”

“Well, I…” she said quietly, glancing here and there, unable to focus on anything for more than a second. “I just wanted to come here. To… be with Isabel, and… she wouldn’t let me, and…”

“Courage comes from strange places,” he said. “You’ll become a ‘Queen’ again, Darling. More and more often, until it will be as natural to you as if you’d been born to it.”

She pondered this, then slowly let her head rest against his shoulder. “As long as you’re my King,” she said.

*****************

The food, drink and party favors were stowed away, the baby was put down for the night, the moon was high and shining, and the cool, night air was blowing softly across the Prince and Princess in their bed. The day was done. Mara had her arm draped across his chest. She kissed his shoulder.

“Was this all one day?” she said.

“I think so,” said Kelvin. “Tired, dearest?”

“Beyond all reason,” she said, closing her eyes. “How did that happen? I’ve done not a lick of real work today, but am spent. Didn’t I… didn’t I say some time ago that I didn’t want a life of luxury and idleness?”

“I vaguely recall that,” he said. “Very well: tomorrow, you’ll start washing out latrines again. And haul filled water jugs around the castle, without spilling a drop. For old-time’s sake.”

She smiled and hummed. “Only if you’re there with me. Kenneth.”

“Yes,” he said. “I’ll be supervising.”

She chuckled. “Well,” she said, “Until I give up my life of indulgence, do you mind if I just sleep tonight, and forgo any nightly pleasure? I need time to heal, I’m afraid. I am willing, but my body says no.”

“Rest well, and get well,” he said.

“Mmmm…”

A near-perfect silence followed. Mara was asleep in seconds, her breathing already slow and deep. He loved the gentle warming of his neck and shoulders from her

-KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK-

“-waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-”

Kelvin sat up in bed so quickly, Mara’s arm was tossed aside, the momentum almost turning her onto her back. Like him she was jolted awake. They squinted in the darkness towards the noise coming from the other side of their door. A baby’s cry, muffled. Isabel.

-KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK-

“-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-”

Kelvin climbed out of bed and bade Mara to stay behind. He fumbled for his robe that was easy to find when there was enough light, but not now. A hand on his shoulder startled him, but of course it was only his wife, disobeying his order to stay in bed. She had retrieved her own robe but was too tired to bother closing it all the way.

Kelvin fussed with her robe as she swayed tiredly. He opened the door a crack, allowing Isabel’s cries to fill the room and not just the hallway. “-AAAAAAAAAAAAAA-” Miss Daphne, in her own robe, peered at him contritely. Kelvin sighed and opened the door enough for both of them to see.

“I beg your Highness’ pardon,” she said, “But the Princess Isabel needs to be fed!”

He felt Mara leaning against him now. They exchanged exhausted looks.

Mara spent a good portion of the visit explaining to her vexed husband that the nanny had standing orders to seek her out first for feedings, and that wet nurses were a last option only. The nanny assured the Prince that Isabel would be sleeping through the night soon enough. As soon as three months, perhaps. Or six. Or nine. Or twelve, Heaven forbid. Or-

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About herdthinner

Writer and artist who pays the bills with another job
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