Nadine was inconsolable. She spent entire days holed up in her room, refusing food and shirking all request and visitors. A small mound of gifts and flowers began piling in the corner. None of them were touched. Queen Sathira had just about worn out her last efforts to communicate with her daughter when one night she suddenly burst through the door into the queen’s chamber.
“Have you found him?” Nadine asked her startled mother. She had dark bags under her eyes and was looking pale.
Sathira set her book down and rose from her chair. “Found whom, dear?”
Nadine slammed her hand against the wall, making her mother draw back a bit. “You know damn well whom, mother!”
Sathira moved carefully toward her daughter. “Nadine, dear, come sit down. Please.”
“I will not. I cannot. I will not rest until I find him again.” Nadine was moving swiftly around the room, never pausing. “My life means nothing now! I mean nothing.”
“You mean everything,” came a voice from the doorway.
Nadine whipped around to face the one who dared intrude on her self-loathing. It was Roger, straight-backed, holding a bouquet in one hand.
“Please,” Roger cooed as he cautiously entered, “allow me just a few moments of your time to show you it’s true.”
“Yes, daugther,” Sathira pleaded, “please. Take your mind off your troubles, at least for a while.”
Roger approached Nadine, who was frozen in an arched poise. He gave a full bow and offered the bouquet to her.
“We will send the guards out once again to find him,” the queen assured. “No matter where he’s gone. Now, please go out and have a lovely time.”
Nadine stayed frozen. Her eyes darted from her mother to her suitor. Sathira was wringing her hands. Roger stayed as immobile as her, waiting for her decision. Finally, mechanically, she straightened herself, smoothed her gown, and took the bouquet. “I must change,” she said in a quiet monotone. “I will have our servants bring you chocolate while you wait.”
Roger and Sathira were quietly talking about nothing in particular while they held tiny cups of chocolate that they never drank from when Nadine re-entered. Her dress was a stunning afternoon affair with her hair coiffed under a decorated hat. The bags under her eyes and the tear stains under her cheeks were expertly covered with the finest makeup. She seemed like a whole new woman. A servant announced her, and Roger set down his cup and rose from his seat. He was beaming with delight at the sight of her.
“Your Highness, if you do not mind my saying, you look ravishing,” he told her.
Her smile of response felt to her like it required all the effort of every muscle in her face, but it seemed to pass inspection.
Roger approached her and offered his arm. “Shall we?”
Nadine nodded and placed her hand delicately onto his arm. She was a perfect, porcelain, mechanical doll all the way out to the courtyard. Along the way, Roger made no attempt at idle conversation, but he did greet and acknowledge every servant that they passed. It was only when they reached the light and fresh air of the courtyard that he finally addressed her.
“I’ve been told that the courtyard is your favorite part of the castle,” he said casually. “Is that correct?”
Nadine nodded. “Yes. I used to spend every moment I could out here, when I was younger.”
“I can see why. It truly is a beautiful place.”
The princess gave another, silent nod.
The two traversed the lined path that swirled inward around the courtyard, its progress only interrupted by the cross of paved walkway that jutted from the four entrances to a central dias. In between the two conflicting designs was a variety of lush foliage, all imported from far off places and painstakingly cared for by the castle gardeners. The sight and fragrance of the strange and beautiful plants began to draw Nadine out of her cloistered depression, and her movements became more relaxed.
Roger seemed to sense it, and she caught him smiling down at her as they went.
“Do you enjoy the arts?” he asked her.
“I do,” she said.
“Then would you do me the honour of accompanying me to the ballet? I have a box there, and they are having a performance tonight.”
Nadine stiffened again.
“I apologize if I’m being too forward,” Roger quickly added. “I understand that things have been difficult for you these past few months.”
The princess looked down at the path. Roger let her fall into silence while they continued their trek. They had just reached the opposite end of the courtyard when she finally said, “Roger, why are you here?”
“I enjoy your company, your highness.”
“You don’t know me, though.”
“I would like to,” Roger said with a glance to her, “if you’ll permit me.”
Nadine did not look up from the path. “And…What are your thoughts on…” She was absently rubbing the palm of her hand.
It did not take long for Roger to fill in the blanks. He gave a small sigh, stopped, and gently took her hand. He unfolded her fingers to reveal the scar on her palm, and lightly traced his own finger across it. “You are a very brave woman, Nadine. You have made decisions based on your own judgement, and followed through with conviction. I want that in a wife. It seems far more exciting than someone who only thinks of others’ perception.”
Nadine was looking at him now. Roger looked into her eyes and said, “I want to be there with you, and your son, through all the wild fancies you have. If you will have me there.”
Roger watched as a tear rolled down the flawless mask of makeup on Nadine’s face, followed by another. Suddenly Nadine’s face was buried into his chest, her arms wrapped tightly around him, and her body heaving with powerful, but quiet, sobs.