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The Pauper Prince
“I hope that she towers over him!”
“I hope that, when she sits, he must remain standing in order to speak face-to-face!”
“I-I hope that when she looks down, she has trouble deciding if it’s her husband, or an ant that she sees!”
“I hope that he must stand on a box on their wedding day! And-and whenever they need to-!”
“Mara, all right, enough,” said Kelvin firmly, but without shouting.
The presentation was done, dinner had been consumed, the entertainment had packed away its tools of the trade. It was evening now and the first time that Kelvin and Mara were alone in their guest chambers. He had been slumped so casually in a cushioned chair that he sat almost sideways. Mara was not so relaxed, but she did listen to him, and was quiet. Not still, but quiet.
“Those were all very clever,” he said, “But before you continue, please; please tell me that you said none of those things to her?”
Her response was a pantomime of trying to beat back her outrage. Biting of lips, fidgeting, pacing-
“Oh, no,” said Kelvin with undisguised disappointment.
“I did not say those things,” she said quickly. “I exercised great restraint. Queenly restraint. You are the only one I say these things to, so that I might… vent. Only you.”
“Thank the Lord,” he said, unraveling himself in order to sit with proper posture. “By the way, did you say anything in response?”
“I…” she said, “Something diplomatic, I’m sure. Yes, um… I smiled and said something to the effect of, of, that if their children are as tall as Isabel, surely Anne would want their sons to be tall and strong? Yes, that’s what I said. Sweetly, mind you.”
Kelvin pondered this a bit, then showed a mild shrug. “That’s not bad. But dear, you must know that she was just talking, yes?”
“She’s a Queen,” said Mara. “Queens don’t just ‘talk.’ They speak, and others take action. And really, of all things for her to fret about. To be picking and pecking at– Ugh!” She draped an arm over her face dramatically. “‘Ohh, woe, my son must stand on his toes to kiss his wife! The entire kingdom is a laughingstock!” She scoffed, then began pacing anew.
“Yes, well,” he said, fighting against a smile, “Your point’s been made, dear. Now stop torturing your dress, and come: sit beside me.”
“What?” she said, looking down. Both hands held the loose folds of her skirt in a death grip. She had been unconsciously squeezing and rolling up the fabric. “Oh!” she cried, and tried to smooth out the many wrinkles. “Millicent will kill me for this.”
“No, she won’t,” he said. “She’ll nod and say ‘Right away, Your Highness’ when you bring it to her.”
“I don’t mean literal-” she said, then waved it off. “Oh, you know she’ll be thinking it. I would be.”
“Possibly,” he conceded, and moved to a small, cushioned davenport. “Sit, and relax.” He patted the spot beside him. She was still busy with fixing her dress. After the wrinkles were flattened to her satisfaction, she sighed loudly and began fiddling with her rings.
“Darling,” he said in obvious exasperation.
“Sit. Beside me.”
Her eyes went a little wide in surprise. Then: “Yes, dear,” she said quietly, and plopped down. She kept her hands daintily in her lap, but sneaked in more fidgeting that was poorly disguised as ‘fixing’ her rings.
Kelvin sighed and patted his lap. “On second thought,” he said, “Here is better.”
“On your lap is not very dignified,” she said.
“Neither is rolling your dress into a ball. Besides, it’s a little chilly in here. This will be warmer.”
That got a quiet ‘hmph.’ She did not dislike sitting on his lap. In fact, she had no count of how many times they’d… passed an evening’s time this way, but she still hesitated. Still… yes, it did help them warm up. Eventually she hopped over as asked, and let her arm drape over his shoulder. He took the blanket lying across the davenport and wrapped it around themselves, putting more of it on her. Finally he put his arm around her waist and pulled her closer.
“I think we both know,” he said, “That the wedding wouldn’t be called off for something like that.”
“Yes, I suppose not,” she said. “I don’t know why– I think my anger surprised even me. I suppose it’s…” She fell quiet suddenly, then looked his way. “You know that, growing up, I was ill-treated. Not just by my father, but by most others in the village. Whether it be because of fear of him, or his encouraging me to keep my distance from them. Other children, they used any reason they could to taunt me. My odd clothes. My crazy father. Having no mother. My height. Anything.”
She was silent again. Kelvin leaned in for a kiss, which she accepted. After they parted, she rested her head against his. “I think that I would laugh now if anyone thought to mock my height,” she said. “Or much of anything else, for what purpose would it serve? But to think that… that my daughter might go through what I had… it was all I could do to keep calm, and smile, and speak diplomatically.”
“It’s good that you managed it,” he said, stroking her hair gently. Mara closed her eyes and smiled. “And as for her suffering as you did, take heart that Isabel has an advantage that you didn’t: she’s a royal Princess. Being taunted about anything… Well, her tormentor would learn a harsh lesson indeed.”
“That is a comfort,” she said. “But to hear words like that coming from Anne – my friend – even the suggestion, which is really all it amounted to, that she could somehow be less desirable if taller than her son… It hurt.”
“Because she’s your friend.”
“True,” she said. “Kelvin, I forgive her. I don’t think she knows that she offended, but I forgive her. I believe that she meant no malice. As for Isabel, well… I wish her to be protected from all harm, but I also don’t want her growing up with no humility. To think that being a Princess puts her above all others. Can we teach her compassion as well as strength? How do we do that?”
“You’re asking me?” he said. “I became a parent the same time you did.” She furrowed her brow. “Dearest, to start, we show her by our own examples. I most certainly have differences with my parents, but I’d like to think that I learned from their best examples. On the other hand, I think it’s fair to say that you learned from your father’s worst examples.” She regarded that with suspicion. “How not to be.”
She considered this a moment, then nodded slowly. She spoke softly next. “He taught me to fight with the children who taunted me. And… it gave me satisfaction in that moment. But they would never be my friends because of it.” She looked his way again. “When you and I first met, I would never have admitted it at the time, but I was relieved to be working a ‘safe’ job such as an inn, rather than out on a battlefield. He raised me to be… like him. And I tried to be. But during peaceful times, when I had to do other sort of work… I had to make myself want war. I don’t know if I’m making sense.” He smiled and nodded.
“To bring up another matter: there was something of a close call with the Ladies today,” she continued. “We – I mean all the young Ladies here – were talking about Lucinda, and her marriage to Richard due to her parents’ wealth. There was nothing surprising that the Ladies were against such, ah, ‘mingling of classes.’ Anne was no exception, though it would have been nice if she were. Needless to say, it made me a bit nervous.”
“-Nobody revealed knowing about me,” she finished. “Not that the truth would ever come from me, but sometimes I’m surprised that people haven’t worked it out.”
“I think that,” he said, “If anyone suspected, the mere notion is too fantastic for them to pursue. Royalty simply does not marry commoners.” He smiled slyly. “You refused to believe me until the proof was before your eyes!”
“And a little beyond,” she added with a sly smile of her own. They briefly traded more kisses, then both fell silent. She let her gaze wander and ended up studying the patterns in one of the window tapestries. Then she felt his hand rubbing her belly. She placed her own hand over his.
“Nothing much to feel right now,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s beautiful, either way.”
She scoffed. “Hardly. But thank you.”
“I mean it,” he said. “When I left for the war, you were the same size as now, and when I returned, and saw you so full with child…. With our child, I couldn’t believe my eyes. You’d never looked more beautiful.” She stared at him in near disbelief. He could fake sincerity for a laugh, but this would be an odd jest. “God willing, I’ll be here to see it from start to finish.”
She chuckled, in spite of efforts to avoid it. “To watch me swell like a tick? To waddle like a duckling? You find that beautiful?”
“I do,” he said with mild indignation. “Oh, laugh if you like.”
“Forgive me, dearest,” she said. “I didn’t mean to belittle. Never. But you know, I see myself and see only a great, big belly.”
“A ‘great, big belly’ that carries our child,” he said. “As I said, nothing more beautiful.” He rubbed her stomach again, then took up her hand to kiss it. A warmth that fully negated the chilly temperature of the room filled her body. She wrapped both arms around him and pulled him as close to her as could be without becoming one. She pressed her lips hard against his over and over, and would not relent. He was in no hurry to, either.
After several minutes she slid off his lap without losing her embrace. Slowly she moved one of her hands along his lap. “The beast pushed me off, my Lord. I think it has risen from its slumber. Shall I tame it for you?”
He growled playfully at her. She laughed and slid off the davenport to make ready. He took their blanket and draped it over her for warmth while kneeling on the cool floor. He closed his eyes, leaned back against the seat, relaxed, and let her work her magic. In no time he was swimming in a sea of pleasure, drowning in growing ecstasy-
A quiet knocking came at the door. He heard her sighing under the blanket and starting to stand, but he held a gentle hand on her back to stop her.
“They’ll hear nothing and go away,” he whispered.
“But what if-?”
“Shh!” He rubbed his hand along her back and waited. After a long pause, she resumed the taming of his beast. Soon it would roar–
Miss Daphne opened the door a crack, and peeked in. “Your Highness?” she said apprehensively.
It took him a moment to reclaim his senses. “What? Yes?” he said, mixing casualness with impatience.
“I beg your pardon, my Lord,” she said, stepping inside. “I thought that Her Highness might be present.”
“Unless Isabel is in dire need,” he said quickly, “She’s unavailable.”
“Oh, no, Your Highness,” she said. “Your little one sleeps now and is well. There is merely something I wished to mention to…” Her gaze drifted downwards enough to see feet sticking out from under the blanket draped across his lap. She realized that they were entirely at the wrong angle to be his, and were not a man’s. The nanny cried out in embarrassment and ran from the room without another word, only just remembering to shut the door behind herself.
Kelvin found that highly amusing, but Mara did not. She straightened up, letting the blanket fall away onto her shoulders. “Dear,” she said sternly, “Now it’ll take days to calm her down. She gets so… Ugh.”
“I’m not the one who opened the door!”
“Oh, I suppose I’m used to her flustering by now,” she said. “Almost. But I am curious what she wants.”
“Did it sound urgent?” he asked.
“Then by all means,” he said, “Find her and ask. Later.”
She giggled. “Yes, dear.”
The adult’s breakfast had been served and consumed, but Isabel needed her second breakfast. Queen Anne was perplexed that her friend was still trying to ‘do everything’ for her daughter, but kept mostly mum about it. Mara preferred to feed Isabel alone, but allowed Miss Daphne’s presence to hear her news. Unfortunately she’d been given cause to regret this.
“Your Highness, I cannot apologize enough!”
“Yes, you can,” said Mara. “It’s been seven times now. I’ve counted. That’s six times more than needed. You are forgiven. Seven times, you’re forgiven!.” Isabel signaled the need to be moved to her mother’s other breast for more sustenance. She was burped and switched without missing a beat.
“When I heard no answer, I should have returned to-”
“Miss Daphne,” Mara groaned. “I need you to be silent, or this is what you’ll need to apologize for.” The nanny was quiet, but was clearly fighting the desire to continue apologizing. Mara watched the nanny as if daring her to speak again. To her credit, she did not. It was not a true silence; Isabel suckled, but this was a calming sound to her mother. After another round of fidgeting, Miss Daphne sat as quietly as she could across from her mistress.
Isabel finished her second breakfast. Miss Daphne set her inside her pen and made sure all toys were present and accounted for. She assisted Mara with cleaning up and fixing her dress, then sat across from her again. Mara sighed again and patted her knees.
“And now,” Mara said, “The matter that you sought me for?”
Miss Daphne cleared her throat. “Ah, yes, Your Highness. ‘The matter.’ It…” She was lost in thought a moment. Then: “You know, now I wonder if I should say anything.”
Mara was suddenly very tired. She rested the bridge of her nose on her hand and waited for Miss Daphne to make her decision. Finally the nanny cleared her throat – again – and spoke with renewed determination.
“I will say it,” she said, “I will say that…” And then stopped saying anything for a time. Mara did not move from her position. “I– Her Majesty Queen Genevieve. The Queen Mother. She was my first mistress.”
Mara now looked up and gave the nanny her full attention.
“I’m…” Miss Daphne continued, “I’m not certain if she or His Majesty King Rupert have recognized me, but he was my first charge. If you recall, she was the one who would not allow me to rest while ill. Or really, ever.” She was quiet again. Then: “That is all that I wanted you to know. Though… having said that, I think that perhaps I should not have?”
“Miss Daphne,” said Mara, “You know that you’re free to speak your mind with me. Always.” Now it was her turn to be lost in thought. Only the sounds of Isabel playing broke the quiet.
Mara returned to her thoughts. “I will say that this greatly colors my view of the Queen Mother. Except that I don’t think there would be anything I could say, exactly, that would not… do more harm than good? For example, if you wish for her to apologize-”
“It’s nothing like that, Ma’am,” said Miss Daphne. “It is… I know that it’s in the past. It was only something that I thought might be useful for you to know.”
“Thank you,” said Mara. “I know that it’s very difficult for you to unburden yourself. I’m glad that you shared this.” She sighed. “I do so loathe politics. But having watched Anne, I would say that she treats servants as… servants, which is typical of the high-born, but I don’t recall her being entirely indifferent to any that are ailing. Still… I will be more watchful. They will be of us, no doubt. That said, is there anything that you’d like me to do? For instance, you wonder if they remember you. Would you like me to remind them?”
“I…” she said. “Please don’t trouble yourself, Your Highness. I will not hide from them, but I will not make overtures, either. If they remember me, then I will respond to them in the manner most appropriate to the occasion. If they do not remember me… so be it.”
“So be it, then,” Mara echoed with a smile. She stood and straightened out her dress. “I should be on my way to the tournament. As you wish, I won’t make it a point of bringing you to their attention, but I won’t avoid speaking your name in public, either.” She winked. “That would make things a little too convoluted.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” she said. “Enjoy the tournament. Her Little Highness and I will be in their nursery. I hear that Princess Elizabeth will be there, as well. It would be good for them to become playmates and friends.”
Mara grew wistful. “I hope that she has many friends. From all walks of life.”
“As many as you?” said Miss Daphne. This puzzled Mara, but when she looked, the nanny had a pleasant expression, not impish. Miss Daphne shrugged. “I imagine that you had many friends growing up, is all. If I may, you are very kind, and people are drawn to that.”
Mara had no answer. The nanny knew of the treatment she had received from her father long past, and yet still held a view of her being unaffected by this from the start. She was rather moved by this thought. She watched Isabel playing contentedly in her pen, then smiled and squeezed Miss Daphne’s shoulder affectionately. Then she left the room, and walked in silence with Millicent and Fiona, who escorted her to the tournament and her seat beside Anne’s.