I had to wait outside for a while after realising I had actually gone into the tent to grab my clothes before being delightfully side-tracked. I sat on one of the benches by the tournament area. The king and lady were gone now, along with the crowd. All that was left were the guards stationed at Kaspar’s tent, trodden bits of food, flags and churned up mud. Everyone had gone back to their ordinary lives. I hoped their merriment would linger around a little longer. Dropping my head into my hands, I let myself get lost in thought.
I whipped my head up so fast I nearly hit myself in the eye with my bells. My heart did one big thud. Standing before me, addressing me with her eyebrows pinched in embarrassment, was Lady Delphine. I would have turned to check if she was speaking to someone else if I hadn’t been absolutely sure I was in the stand alone.
“Yes?” My eyes widened. “I mean, your Highness?” Addressing royalty used to be second nature to me, but it was clear I was out of practice. Where were my manners?
She smiled, clearly finding my fumbling entertaining. But not in a mocking way. She actually seemed comforted by my clumsiness.
“If you’re looking for the prince, I think he’s still in the tent,” I said, feeling like every word was tainted. I’d never spoken to the lady before. Had never been this close to her. In fact, it surprised me that I’d never really considered her to be a real person until right then. Even while I was performing for her, I only saw her as someone I needed approval from. It hit me at this moment why exactly I was had been trying so hard.
“Actually, I am here to talk to you. May I speak with you in private?”
This time, I did take a quick scan around. She wanted to talk to me? What? What was happening?!
She laughed softly. “Wallace. May I call you, Wallace?”
I gulped and nodded, my bells jiggling erratically. “Of course.” I gestured her to take a seat in the row before me like this stand was my home and then I felt utterly ridiculous. But she smiled politely, collected her beautiful skirts and lowered herself onto the wooden bench.
“Or we could go somewhere else if you prefer?” I blurted out. I had no idea what I was doing.
“Here is fine,” she replied, still smiling at me. There was a softness in her deep brown eyes that made me think she found me quite endearing. Like a fawn in the woods separated from its mother.
There was a delicateness to her beauty. Her dark hair and eyes against her ivory skin made her look almost doll-like. But, where my paleness had me looking like a sick patient, the hue of her skin was almost iridescent.
I nodded. A silence followed. Her easy smile pinched in the corners as if pained.
“It appears that Kaspar is quite fond of you.”
I think my lunch nearly came back up. A nervous laugh escaped me.
“What?” I cleared my throat. “I mean, what do you mean? I wouldn’t say fond of me. He likes my work, I guess.”
The arch of her eyebrow and the withered look she sent me said it all. I shut up.
She knew. Oh Lord, she knew everything. This was it. This was the end. She was going to tell King Cedric. I was going to be executed. Why was she here? To mock me? To get me to plead and beg for her forgiveness?
Her smile faded and her eyes clouded with sadness. She was a young woman, a similar age to me, but as I gazed at her, her skin shining in the sunlight, she looked like a lost child.
“Prince Kaspar does not love me.” The statement was so blunt that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. “It is obvious he loves another.” The pointed look she then struck me with made my body flush hot then shivering cold. This woman could say so much with just her eyes, it was incredible.
I opened my mouth to speak but she held up her palm. I was honestly glad for the interruption- to this day I know if I had been left to my own devices; I would have dug my own grave.
“But I want to be a good wife to him. For the sake of the kingdom.” She looked down at her lap. “We have been met with difficult times.” At this, my jaw clenched. As if sensing my hostility, her eyes met mine once more. Hard and steely. “Do you know why?”
“I know people are struggling,” was all I could say. I wanted to ask what was happening. I wanted to ask what the palace was hiding. But just like with Kaspar in the tent I didn’t want to play with an already delicate situation.
She nodded stiffly. “Kalmador is my home just as much as it is yours.” She studied me a moment, her gaze never leaving my face, like she was trying to solve a puzzle. The puzzle of mine and Kaspar’s relationship? “That is why I come to you now. As your princess, I require your assistance.”
I gulped. Was she toying with me?
“I have tried to be what Kaspar wants in a partner but the truth is… I do not know the man. I do not expect him to fall in love with me, but we must be a united front for our people.”
My shoulders relaxed. I hadn’t realised I had been sitting so stiffly.
“You know him better than I. Possibly better than anyone.” She shuffled uncomfortably, gathering her skirts and smoothing them over her lap. “Would you please tell me about the man I married?”
I blinked. “I’m not sure I understand, your Highness.”
“His likes. His dislikes.” She laughed, shaking her head. “I sound like a child.”
My heart swelled as I watched her, looking about us, anywhere but at me. There was a shimmer in her eyes now. A collection of tears she refused to shed.
“You sound like someone Kaspar will be proud to have by his side.”
Her gaze struck me. Colour rose to her cheeks, “Really?”
I smiled. “You share Kaspar’s values. And the fact that you are here, asking for advice from a fool tells me that you are not prideful.” She blushed harder. “Kaspar likes that his title means that he can help the kingdom, but I’m sure if he had not been born royal, he’d be just as content being a stable boy.”
She laughed. “A stable boy?”
“He loves his horses. If you want a way to get to his heart, it’s though his stallion, Bucky.”
She nodded so deep that if she had lifted her skirt it would have been a courtesy. She seemed to catch herself and quickly straightened. “Thank you, Wallace.”
“You’re welcome, your Highness.”
She picked herself up and left. I watched as she walked across the arena, the soft sway of her hips making her skirts swish about her ankles. She paused before Kaspar’s dressing tent but then seemed to change her mind and continued toward the palace, seemingly very aware of the two guards slipping into a step behind her.
I was alone again, gazing over at the tent where I had just kissed her husband. The backs of my eyes burned. Once again, my lunch made itself known. I gulped hard, swallowing it back down. My motley suddenly felt stuffy in the heat. I took off my hat and threw it to the ground before dropping my head in my hands and grabbing two fistfuls of hair.
“What are you doing?” I whispered to myself, letting the tears finally fall.