The Pauper Prince
Mara was by herself on the throne room’s dais, sitting in her designated chair to the right of the Queen’s. The Queen herself was not seated, but standing off to the side with the rest of the family. Mara had asked her to perform this ceremony for her, but the Queen’s reply was simple: “No.” It was the Princess’ idea, and so it would be her responsibility to see it through. Writing the speech, making the presentation…
One hour before the ceremony she had thrust the speech at Kelvin and requested advice. To her relief he was fine with it, until he mentioned in passing her memorizing it. This had not been brought to her attention previously, but then, he did have a point: standing there and reading a speech at someone, rather than delivering it as memorized, looked a bit more prepared and thus more regal and leaderly. Kelvin also agreed with the Queen that it was her honor to conduct the ceremony and no one else’s. In other words, No, he would not conduct it for her, either. Last of all, once he realized that this would be her first time performing such a ceremony, and by herself, he announced that he would watch. His thought: I will support my wife. Her thought: The more people watching me, the more likely I will botch it.
The King had not planned on attending, but Kelvin had changed his mind for him. Mara was aware of their presence, but tried avoiding eye contact with them. More reasons to be nervous, she did not need. But at one point curiosity got the better of her, and Kelvin managed to catch her attention. He flashed one of those smiles that had melted away the ice encasing her heart not so long ago. She could not help replying with one of her own before looking away and fighting to keep a serious expression. A regal expression. A queenly expression. She had tried to memorize her speech, but kept sneaking peeks at the words. It was not easy pretending that she was as calm as a sunset.
She could have really used a big bowl of nuts just then.
At the Princess’ request Miss Daphne was also here, standing near the royal family and holding Isabel, who was mostly quiet save for a few brief, random outbursts that Mara had been assured were simply “noises that infants make.” Heather stood beside Miss Daphne and was a model of quiet dignity and grace.
Solomon walked in and announced the visitors. Adrienne walked in first, followed by her husband and Annabelle. They looked nervously around the room, and Adrienne swallowed once upon seeing the royal family standing to the side of the room. But her friend was right ahead, sitting alone. It was odd to see, but somehow comforting.
Adrienne and her family stopped a dozen feet from the thrones. Mara rose, pretending not to be even more nervous than her friend, adjusted her clothing, fidgeted with her rings, and nodded to Adrienne’s husband and Annabelle to indicate that they should leave her side. They moved to one side of the room and looked on apprehensively. Meanwhile the Queen moved away from the King and Prince so Mara could see her from the corner of her eye.
Mara realized she still had her speech tucked under her arm and quickly set it on the chair. She cleared her throat quietly and tried to remember how it was supposed to begin.
“Uh, thank you for coming,” she said, and smiled, mostly in an effort to buy time to remember. Adrienne smiled back, then waited patiently.
She heard the Queen also quietly clearing her throat. Mara looked over to see the Queen holding out her hand and subtly pushing down with it. Perplexed, Mara began bending her knees, prompting the Queen to shake her head and hands vigorously. She recomposed herself, pointed subtly at Adrienne, and repeated the “down” gesture. Mara finally understood and nodded, then stopped abruptly after realizing that Adrienne was seeing her do this.
Mara took in a breath. “Please kneel,” she said, mimicking the Queen’s “down” gesture.
Adrienne paused, then lowered herself to one knee. She grunted quietly after reaching the hard, stone floor, but was stoic thereafter.
“Adrienne Meriwether…” said Mara, and then completely forgot what the rest was supposed to be. When in the course of… No. We are gathered here today… No! Idiot! She’s your friend! Speak to her! Say something! She can’t have a knee on hard ground all day, for goodness’ sake!
“You have shown excelle– exception– exemplary skill and knowledge,” she said finally, “In your duties and responsibilities as midwife, not just to myself, but to all others under your care. It was… it was your skill, your knowledge, your experience, your… resourcefulness, that served you so well on the day of my daughter’s birth.”
As if on cue, Isabel let out another random sound. This served to ease Mara’s fears somewhat. She looked down and smiled, then glanced at Isabel before forcing her expression to be nice and serious for her presentation. She took another breath.
“Adrienne,” she said, wholly abandoning whatever it was she’d written. “Because of you, our new Princess lives. You found a way to ensure it. Because of you, I live. The same threat that took my own mother’s life, you fought against and won. I am…” She spread her arms. “We are eternally grateful to you.”
“For your dedication to your craft, for your years of caring for others… for your years of caring about others, we commend you, and it is my esteemed pleasure… my pride… my joy that our beloved King and Queen have granted me the power and the authority to bestow upon you the title of Royal Midwife. So henceforth– Oh, do forgi– I mean– Please: rise. You may rise, dear.” She grimaced to herself and hoped nobody heard her say “dear.”
Adrienne stood with some minor difficulty and was unable to hide her surprise. Mara could not tell if it was a pleasant surprise or not, but kept on. “Are you able to read well?” she said. “To write?”
Adrienne shrugged. “I… Enough to get by. Your Highness.”
“That’s all right,” said Mara. She had been trying to hide her joy behind a mask of regality, but abandoned that, too. Her smile overflowed with pride. She was close to walking over and clasping the midwife’s hands, too, but managed to stop herself. “You will be supplied with a writer, an artist, or whomever you need. You will record your technique for preventing breech births, so that other women and children will benefit from your knowledge. So that others might live. It will be made available to any who desire and be spread throughout the land. Other midwives may seek you out for counseling and training. Other women may journey here just for your ministrations. It is almost assured that you will receive much more business. Is this something that you’re prepared for?”
Adrienne could only stare in shock at first. Mara winked on the side away from the royal family. Finally Adrienne snapped out of her trance. “Uh, uh, yes, your Highness,” she said, making head bows. “I am quite prepared. I thank you. Most kindly.”
Mara held up her hand. “And also, as Royal Midwife, you will be provided with a small, annual retainer for your new duties and responsibilities to the royal family. It is you who will provide birthing care for any and all future… ah, members of the family. Are you prepared for this?”
“Oh… I… Yes, your Highness!” said Adrienne breathlessly. Mara stole a glance at Adrienne’s family. She could not read past her husband’s shocked expression, but could tell even from there that Annabelle’s eyes were red from tears.
“Bear in mind that the retainer is–” Mara held up her thumb and index finger. “Small. Not enough to make your living, but a boost in business, we hope.”
“Yes,” said Adrienne, “Yes, of course, my Lady. Thank you.” She turned to face the royal family. “And thank you, your Majesties!” The King and Queen acknowledged her with very subtle head bows.
“Adrienne,” said Mara gently. The midwife looked her way. “Thank you. Now, don’t let us keep you from your day. I hope that you’ll consider celebrating, but if not… I’ll understand why. God bless you.”
Adrienne forgot where she was and who was watching, and began to rush forward, then remembered just in time, and backed away. The royal family came her way, though, and offered their own congratulations. Mara beckoned to Miss Daphne and Heather to join them and her. The King and Queen offered their hands to kiss, which she ran through in rapid succession, including the Prince’s. She cooed over Isabel and smiled at Heather, who also needed to wipe away a tear or two.
Mara offered her hand for kissing to be in step with the rest of the family, but Adrienne either did not see it or ignored it, and fell into a hug with her. Mara was startled, but recovered quickly, and began patting her back. Adrienne suddenly realized her faux pas and backed away from her and the others, bowing and apologizing and thanking them all the while. Mara smiled and wiggled her fingers to her in a most unregal form of waving.
After Adrienne and family had exited the room, Mara stopped her wiggly-wave and smiled at her in-laws. Kelvin seemed pleased, but her in-laws looked more skeptical. “Ah,” she said, “Father. Mother Queen. Again, I’m most grateful to you for abiding this. I know that it wasn’t perfect, but-“
“Your speech was too long,” said the King.
“You smiled too much,” said the Queen. “And called her ‘dear.'”
“Yes, Mother Queen.”
“And you allowed her to embrace your royal personage,” said the King.
“She was… quite pleased by the news?” said Mara.
“Remember: dignity,” said the Queen. “Always, dignity.”
“Yes, Mother Queen,” said Mara.
“You forgot to wear your tiara,” said the King. Mara’s eyes went wide. She felt at the top of her head. “It is a symbol of your authority.”
“I am so sorry, Father,” she said. “You’d said that, and I forgot to retrieve it from the vault!”
The Queen and King exchanged looks, then with Kelvin. The Queen cleared her throat. “Other than that,” she said, “Well done.” The King grunted and nodded in agreement. With that, they both departed to attend to other business.
Kelvin waited for them to leave before stepping up and putting an arm around her. “Hm,” he said. “They were impressed.”
“I can tell,” said Mara. “They could scarcely contain themselves over the criticism.”
He squeezed her affectionately. “You know Mother and Father,” he said. “They’re compelled to keep instructing you… and me. Their ‘well done’ is anyone else’s epic poem.”
Mara scoffed, then was quiet while considering this. “What about you?” she said. “What advice do you have?”
He looked up to think of a reply and scratched the back of his neck. Finally, he just shrugged. “Well, it was all you,” he said, which did not help her understand. “Practice. That’s all I have. For your first time, bestowing a title? ‘Well done,’ say I, too. It’s a good feeling, isn’t it?”
She looked down and smiled. “Yes,” she said. “I’m so glad I was able to honor her. She had asked me not to ‘exalt’ her, but also wanted more business, and after speaking with Mother Queen, this was the most effective way I could think of to make it happen. Now I suppose it’s our duty to give her more business, too, yes?”
She looked his way and smiled slyly, which got a blank look at first. Then he raised an eyebrow.
“You have shameful thoughts, wife,” he said. She giggled shamelessly.