Author: Jeanne (a.k.a. kindagay)
"It is too early to start the day Nurse; I would much prefer to stay in bed. I like my bed, my bed is warm and soft and there are no silly Princes in it either."
"I should sincerely hope that there are not little Princess, however, on this day I cannot allow you to remain in slumber, your father shall deny you your right to the throne if you are not in the study at the stroke of nine. Come now my child, I have drawn you a hot bath."
"It is so unfair!" The princess pouted in protest.
She reluctantly climbed out of her large four poster bed and clumsily removed her night gown as she stumbled across the floor.
Soft, lively wisps of steam danced whimsically through the air as they broke free from the heat of a half filled tin bath which sat before the stone fireplace, where a small fire popped and crackled soothingly. Willow stepped first her right foot and then her left into the small metal tub and winced as the water stung her skin.
"I would much rather have been frozen awake, than scolded awake Nurse, please could you add a jug of cold water?"
"The water is not so hot Princess." Elizabeth argued even as she emptied a white jug of cold water into the bath. "Is that more to your liking my child?"
"Yes, thank you Nurse."
After her bath, as Elizabeth aided the princess in getting dried and dressed in one of her finest - and, as far as Willow was concerned, most annoying and uncomfortable - gowns, Willow shared some of her thoughts and worries about their plans.
"What if we are unable to locate Prince Charming's true love before the ball? We have only one week to do so."
"Have faith my child, all shall be as it is meant to be."
After a short silence, Willow continued with her thoughts.
"It is not that I am entirely opposed to the idea of marriage, just to the idea of marriage to a Prince, or to any man for that matter. Father makes it sound so very unappealing; he says that love has nothing to do with marriage."
"Perhaps that was true for him; it does not, however, mean that the same will be true for you."
"Did you love your husband, Nurse?"
"Very much so my child; he was a very good man."
"I am sorry that he passed away, I know that Tara misses him so and I should have liked to have met him."
"I am sure that he would have adored you." Elizabeth smiled affectionately at the young princess.
Following a hearty breakfast, Willow made a brief visit to Tara's room for some necessary moral support; which took the form of an extended, warm, gentle embrace; before making her way to the study with mere seconds to spare.
"Presenting her Royal Highness Queen Gertrude and his Royal Highness Prince Charming of Amberdale." The young footman announced formally.
The Queen entered proudly through the large oak doors, her head raised with self importance, her whole manner clearly conveying that she would settle for no less than complete attention and compliance.
The prince lagged reluctantly behind his mother, his head lowered petulantly. Willow smiled as she realised that the young man was not in the least bit happy to be there.
"Ah, Queen Gertrude, your presence is, as always, like a ray of sunshine." Willow's father gushed flatteringly.
"Ira, you are looking well." The Queen seemed less than enchanted by Ira's grovelling.
"And this must be your son? He is a very handsome, strapping young man. May I present my daughter, Willow."
Upon hearing her name, Willow mindlessly took a small step forwards and curtseyed politely.
Gertrude glanced speculatively towards the princess; it was clear from the Queen's false smile that Willow barely met her high standards.
"Yes well, I suppose we cannot all be blessed with great beauty can we now; and those are hardly child bearing hips. She is rather a poor specimen; however, my husband is indebted to you and it will not do for my son to still be unmarried when he turns twenty-one next month; so, assuming a more desirable match is not found at the ball, your daughter will suffice."
"Forgive me for my ignorance, but your husband failed to inform me about a ball?"
"It was my son's idea, not at all to my approval but his father over-indulges him. The Prince still entertains the childish, naive notion that one should marry for love, he seems to think that he has a soul mate and that she will somehow magically appear if he hosts a ball."
"I understand completely, Willow continues to believe such nonsense also."
By this point in the proceedings Willow had grown weary of being insulted and belittled and so she decided that it was time to put phase one of her plan into action.
"May I be excused father? Perhaps Prince Charming would accompany me in a stroll around the grounds whilst you and Queen Gertrude talk?"
"Yes of course, you two should become better acquainted if you are to one day be married." Ira was more than delighted to see his daughter taking some interest in the young Prince.
The two young royals walked through the castle in a slightly awkward silence until they reached the gardens, at which point they both stopped and turned to speak.
"I feel I should apologise for my mother's harsh words against you; she can be a little difficult to please." Prince Charming explained politely.
"Think nothing of it." Willow gave a small smile. "Is it true that you believe in soul mates?"
"I do, though my mother frequently tries to tell me that it is all nonsense."
"My nurse would say that your mother only does that because she herself never found her soul mate."
"Your nurse would probably be correct. Forgive me if I appear too forthright princess, but would I be correct in assuming that you are quite against the idea of you and I being married?"
"It is not anything against you Charming, is that your real name?"
"Sadly yes, although I prefer to be called by my second name, Henry."
"Very well. You see, the thing is Henry, I too believe in soul mates and I also believe that I have already found mine and, well, it is not you."
"Well that is a relief."
"Yes, quite." At this moment Willow decided to abandon the planned ‘coincidental' meeting with her nurse in favour of a more direct approach. "Henry, I would like for you to meet my nurse?"
"Your nurse? What an odd request princess."
"Trust me it is for a worthy cause and all shall become clear in time."
The prince and princess hurried through the gardens until they caught sight of Elizabeth sitting on an iron bench by the side of the pond. She was reading from a small, leather bound tome, which Willow instantly recognised as being one of her nurse's magic books.
"Nurse, nurse!" Willow called out breathlessly as she frantically waved to the older woman.
"Good morning princess."
"Nurse, may I present Prince Charming." Willow introduced her companion.
"Your majesty." Elizabeth gave a graceful curtsey and held out her hand to the prince. "It is an honour to meet you."
As Henry took Elizabeth's hand in greeting, she whispered a small incantation and glanced into the prince's eyes.
"I am happy to make your acquaintance." The prince returned the nurse's gesture with a warm smile, completely unaware of the small spell which had just been cast. "Your young charge was rather impatient for us to meet."
"Willow is impatient about most things; she has more energy than she knows what to do with."
"I can imagine that keeps life very interesting for you."
"Indeed it does." Elizabeth chuckled. "How are you enjoying our kingdom your majesty?"
"Sadly I have not seen enough of it to form much of an opinion; the castle and grounds however are extremely quaint and charming."
Just then, the nurse caught sight of Tara, who was curiously and anxiously stood waiting beneath a tree at the other side of the large pond.
"If you will excuse me, I think that my daughter wishes to see me."
Elizabeth gave another small curtsey and, as she departed over a small wooden bridge to meet Tara, Willow and Prince Charming made their way back into the castle where some light refreshments were served prior to the prince and Queen Gertrude's journey home.