Nadine could not remember the last time she was so happy. It seemed to her that even the birds were joyous for her in their morning song. She hummed a tune of her own while she carried her son down to the dining hall for breakfast. She sat and smiled to the servant who brought a crib for the baby, but did not utilize it. Instead she sat the toddler with his back against her belly, and began handing him pieces of soft potato.
When her mother and father entered the room, her father stopped at the door.
“What is that thing doing in here?” he asked quietly, but heatedly.
“That thing,” Sathira said bitingly to him, “is your grandson, and one of the few things keeping your daughter from her hysteria. She can take it wherever she wants so long as she remains calm.”
“Honestly, how long will you let this nonsense go on?” the king grumbled. But Sathira had already left him to sit next to her daughter and grandson. He begrudgingly joined them, but stayed on the opposite side of his wife.
“Are you excited for your dress fitting today?” Sathira asked Nadine.
Nadine nodded. “I’ve been told that the final details have been added. Will we be going soon?”
The queen nodded. “After breakfast we will be leaving to the shop. I had asked if he could bring the dress to the castle, but he insisted that the dress not be relocated until the wedding day.”
“You could have made it an order,” the king said. “Let us see him refuse then.”
Sathira patted her husband’s arm. “Not every request needs to be followed, even from the royal family. Besides, it will do some good to get out of the castle.”
The king grumbled into his breakfast. Nadine watched the way he kept his gaze fixed on his meal, making no effort to look in her direction. She sighed and looked at her son. He was busy with his piece of potato. She kissed the top of his head and placed him in the crib.
The dress was beautiful. An a-line waist and a skirt that billowed out into a perfect bell of frothy, light-weight fabric. Highly detailed gold filigree patterns circled the waist and curved down to the edge of the skirt, where it circled around and came to a peak at the front. The same pattern crossed the breast at the top and covered the sleeves. Nadine turned this way and that while the tailor examined and snipped and cleaned up every inch of the gown.
“You have truly outdone yourself, sir,” Sathira said to the tailor. “You shall be the talk of the town.”
“I am honored your grace,” the tailor said, though he did not take his attention away from his work. “The opportunity to create the royal wedding dress is more than I could ever hope for.”
“It is wonderful,” Nadine told him. “It’s like something I would imagine in a dream.”
“Thank you very much, your highness.” The tailor stepped back for a final overview of his work. “I believe it is complete, if it is to your liking.”
Nadine nodded excitedly. “I almost never want to take it off.”
Sathira and the tailor laughed.
“I would suggest you do just that,” Sathira said, “else your dress may not last to the wedding.”
Nadine entered the dressing room, and immediately her handmaidens helped her out of the dress with precision and care. As she watched them, she noticed that one of the girls was wearing a necklace with a plain, translucent stone set in gold. Nadine’s brow furrowed with the thought that it may be her necklace, but she never knew of any of these girls to steal from her.
Not that I should care, she thought to herself. After all, that was his necklace. I don’t need that kind of reminder floating around. She can keep it.
Besides, came another thought, I have a permanent reminder of him to look at every day.
The girl seemed to notice Nadine’s unwavering gaze, and she nonchalantly tucked the gem inside her top.
Nadine’s thoughts were far away through the carriage ride back to the palace. However, when she saw Roger waiting in the entry hall her focus shifted entirely to him. He kissed her hand and bowed to her mother, and the three of them moved to the nearest sitting room to be served tea.
“I heard you were out for your dress fitting,” Roger said. “I’m sure you looked lovely in it.”
“The dress was lovely,” Nadine replied with returned excitement. “Everything had been wonderful so far.”
“I’m glad to hear. I love seeing the radiance of your smile.”
Nadine blushed, and was quick to hide it behind her fan. “Thank you.”
“Will you be staying for dinner, Roger?” Sathira stepped in, breaking the tension between the two.
“If you will have me,” he replied. “There is still much to do before the wedding, and so little time left to do it. A nice meal with my beloved before the rush would be much appreciated.”
Sathira smiled. “I believe we can oblige that.”
Nadine’s grin could not be contained by the fan, as her eyes sparkled and squinted with the force of it. Roger seemed to notice, because his smile similarly crinkled the corners of his eyes, though he put forth a valiant effort to keep his mouth constrained. The sight of it made her heart flutter, and she had to excuse herself to the other room to regain her composure. She could not remember the last time she had felt this way. Surely this was what love truly felt like. No more was she living a life of secrets and shame. This was a man who loved her for who she was, knowing who she was, and being able and willing to profess that love publicly. He even loved her son, and the sight of him playing with and smiling with the child filled her heart with such joy. They were going to be a happy family.
Dinner was a boisterous occasion. The invitation to dinner was extended to the royal family outside the castle, and they all made a point to attend. Cousins, aunts, uncles, and the like filled the seats around the tables in the grand dining hall. Course after course of fantastic food was brought and subsequently emptied and taken back to the kitchen. Nadine was the subject of much doting from the older and married relatives, and an equal amount of chiding from the unwed women near her age. She smiled through all of it, simply happy to be in the moment.
“Oh, I’m so glad that you were able to find yourself a man,” Nadine’s aunt Saphnia was telling her. “We were beginning to get worried.”
“Thank you,” Nadine said to her. “I do believe we will be very happy.”
“It’s not all about happiness,” Marissa, one of her cousins, chimed in. “It’s about the status, and Roger has that. His bloodline is so thick with members of the court, you’ll have an heir that will know how to rule before he knows how to talk.”
Nadine smiled politely. “I’m sure my child with him will be quite proficient in the courts, but I already have an heir.”
“I’m speaking of a proper heir,” her cousin said, and her aunt tapped her with her fan.
Nadine’s smile tightened. “Excuse me, I believe someone is calling me name.”
She stepped away from the two and looked around the room. From where she could see, her parents sat at the head table and greeted family that approached them, but did not rise to mingle themselves, and Roger weathered the flood of family with a smile of his own, accepting congratulations, warnings, and masculine jabs with grace. Nadine’s smile regained its genuinity at that sight. He did know how to handle the courtesies of the position well.
At first they could not hear the commotion above the drone of the party. It wasn’t until a guard burst into the hall that their attention was drawn to the sounds of running and the clash of steel.
“The castle is besieged! Everyone, please follow me to a safer location!”
The crowd immediately began voicing concern and outrage while a handful of additional guards joined to help usher them all to safety.
Nadine gasped and turned to her mother. “My son! Someone needs to get my son!”
Sathira took her daughter’s arm and began leading her with the crowd. “I’m sure someone will, dear. But we have to get you to safety.”
The princess pulled away from the queen and went to her father. “Father, send a guard to fetch my baby! Please!”
The king shook his head and pushed her along. “It’s not worth losing our men to save that thing. You and Roger will make a fine heir together, once this has calmed down and you’ve been wed.”
Nadine broke away from her father and gave him a look of disgust. “That thing is my son. He is your grandson, and I will be damned if I leave him to die.”
Nadine hurried away to find someone who would listen to her. She found Roger and ran to him. “The baby! Roger the baby is in my room. We have to get him!”
Roger nodded and approached one of the guards. “We need to get to the princess’s room. Will you accompany us, or provide me with a weapon?”
“I shall do both. Come with me.” The guard led them out a different door into a service corridor. He reached into an outcropping and produced a rapier and dagger, then handed them to Roger.
Roger took the rapier and handed the smaller blade to his betrothed. “It may not be much, but at least you will have some line of defense.”
Nadine took the blade with shaking hands. She could not force out words, but gave a tight nod.
The guard led them further through the tight corridors and up spiralling ramps. Just on the other side of the walls they could hear the continued havoc of shouting and fighting.
“Who is attacking?” Roger asked.
“A group of dragonians,” the guard replied. “They somehow got in from above, completely bypassing our defenses.”
“But dragonians can’t fly,” puzzled Roger.
“Well apparently they can now.”
The trio burst out into the hall proper and were surrounded by the chaos of fighting. Knights, guards, and dragonians clashed in physical combat as far as they could see. Roger and the guard kept to either side of the princess as they made their way carefully down toward the princess’s bedchamber. One of the invaders noticed them and leaped at the princes, but was quickly struck down by the guard. Nadine turned her head away from the sight before she could see any of the gore, and pressed onward toward her goal. She held her dagger out in front of her, unsure if it would do her any good should one of the fiends attack her more directly. The guard and her betrothed stayed at her back and side, pressing her to the wall and fending off any who should approach. Every so often she would feel one of them press into her, or move across her tail, at times going so far as to knock her shoulder into the stone brick. This would usually be accompanied by the all-to-close sound of metal on metal, and strained grunting. Nadine kept her gaze forward, her heart pounding in her chest, and let the reality of her surroundings fade into a muffled, far away version of itself.
The door was very close now. Two dragonians were standing to either side of it, their blades bared. When they saw Nadine approach, they gave her a smile that made her stomach drop. They called off the nearby dragonians from their attack and opened the door.
“Go right ahead, your highness,” one of them, a woman who she recognized as one of her handmaidens, gestured her in. She allowed Roger as well, but held a hand to the guard. “Ah, ah. Royals only.”
“Your name is Kate, correct?” Nadine asked her. “Why are you doing this?”
Kate gave the princess a look that seemed disappointed. “If any one of you slithering assholes would understand, I would have thought it’d be you.” Then she turned her face pointedly away.
Nadine moved swiftly into the chamber and to the bassinet, then felt cold when she found it empty. She looked around the chamber in a frenzy, and heard cooing coming from behind the dressing screen. She had almost reached it when a familiar voice joined the soft noises.
“It sounds like mama’s here.”