“If you will do me the favor of allowing me to say so, you seem a mite…unhappy, my liege.”
“Feh! Surely, you are being polite.” The Duke swirls the wine in his glass a minute, his face scrunched like he might be smelling something spoiled rather than something sweet. “It’s this prince of ours, this whole marrying affair—”
“I take it my liege approves little of the union?” I ask.
“Feh!” he says again. “The pick of the best women in the land, he has—strong, capable women, bred for generations upon generations to be as smart as they are able to bear proper heirs—and he goes and blinds himself on foreign beauty! Hmph. Not even out of strategic purposes, the way a smart heir does. No, he goes and chooses a complete stranger to make the marriage bed! It’s an embarrassment.”
“To whom, sire?”
“On the whole of the entire kingdom!” The Duke spreads his arms. “Everyone here should be ashamed of this display. Where was the king to counsel his son in these matters?”
“To hear tell correctly…” And here, I hesitate, for how can I make this sound like I was not in the room when it occurred? “As far as I am aware, his father was quite taken with his son’s bride. She is intelligent, well-spoken, and carries herself well. She is suitably beautiful. Her body is of the type sought after by kings for their sons and oft warred over. She will bear the kingdom a fine brood—should they even choose to have children.”
The Duke only makes a displeased sound from the back of his throat. The wine in his glass disappears down his gullet soon after. I wonder if he knows just how much that wine costs, or if he even knows what it tastes like.
“Foreign mutts,” he mutters. “Mixed blood bastard children we can’t even use for leverage.”
It would be far too easy to toss him into the nearby pool and make it seem an innocent accident, but that would ruin the lovely floating flower-and-votive arrangement that it took the gardener so long to prepare for the rehearsal party.
“You’ll forgive me for saying so, but I must suggest that your blatant disapproval for the future queen stems from basic ignorance.”
As to be expected, he takes offense to this. That he is still quite young, barely into his thirties (at least physically), and spent most of his years spoiled by his life as a soft-handed aristocrat probably helps. I clear my throat, casting a look over where the couple stands, joyfully receiving the guests still arriving. It’s the happiest I have seen the prince in years, even as he uses a cane to support his injured ankle. With his hair dyed over the same color as hers, they look similar, though she retains her exotic air even dressed in the appropriately regal dress by the royal seamstress. Many have already commented on the shells and flowers in her hair, how they can only have come from the nearby seashore. Whether it will become the new trend or something considered scandalous, time will only tell, but the soon-to-be-princess is undeniably elegant. Whether or not they think her ready for such a life, she certainly looks the part.
And anyway, what’s it matter, what the populace thinks? The prince is truly happy. What more should matter?
“Try not to take offense,” I tell the Duke. “You have been abroad organizing treaties on behalf of the kingdom—a thing for which you will certainly commended, once the wedding comes to pass and the dust settles—but surely even a few stories of how they came to even meet made it out to the outer provinces?”
“Rumors. Hearsay. Nothing that can be trusted,” he admits.
“Well! There’s the problem. Envious people can often be the most inventive storytellers. No, I think it would benefit his liege to hear the whole and honest story before coming to a decision.”
“And who do you propose will tell it to me?”
“Well, sir—” I smile. “I am not the royal bard for my looks.”
The Duke straightens. He collects another glass of wine from a passing servant. “Well, then? Tell it, Bard.”
It is not often in my place to be so forward as to steal the drink of one slightly higher on the ladder of aristocracy than myself, but knowing I am in a place where his power matters little in comparison to that of my patron’s, well… And it isn’t like he really needs another glass. The Duke appears to disagree, but what does he know?
“For that, my liege, you will have to wait until we are seated for dinner.”