Author: Witch Fu
The meal was progressing with a slowness that Willow attributed to her anxieties. She, too, was being led entirely uncertain as to the specifics of her requirements. She had been told countless times that contact between herself and the princess was to be extremely limited to necessary formal affairs, and not without first instruction. And yet, she was seated not a dozen chairs from her bride, as though they spent much of their time in each other's presence.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to predict her father's actions, and even his intentions. Would he even go as far as to be with her wife this very night?
A thought struck her with particular interest: There was jealousy and a certain cord of protection in her most recent of thoughts. It was more than obvious to her now that she would trade much to see that her father did not bed the princess. There was, of course, no real alternative as long as the king saw favor in it. And who, in his position, would find the Princess Tara anything other than favorable?
"Beautiful..." Willow muttered without her knowledge.
"I'm sorry, my lord, what was that?" A gentleman near her elbow asked with practiced interest.
Willow started and looked to the man, confused. "Oh, what?" she said flatly.
The man cleared his throat at the opportunity to speak at length. "You, only moments ago, said ‘beautiful' if I'm not mistaken."
Realizing her slip, Willow summed up, "Oh... yes, quite, Sir Hector, the sustenance, if I may be permitted to term it with such lowly verbage, is quite beautiful. Do you not think so?"
Though a bit thrown, Sir Hector accepted the compliment, and turned back to his plate and other interests.
"My food is beautiful?" Willow thought ruefully. "No small wonder the castle is afloat with rumors of my sanity." Sighing, and quite full, Willow lifted her arm slightly in beckon for another goblet of wine. "Who needs their wits about them when all in their company lack them on principal?"
The night was passing with an unreachable swiftness. It left Tara dazed. Nigh but hours ago she had been wed, and now sat among strangers that she had known at a greater length than her own husband. She dreaded what was to come, and time flew past her tauntingly.
The dancing had commenced. Tara enjoyed dancing in only the most minimal of capacities. So strict and rigid that drawing pleasure from it would have made her a block of oak.
According to the rules of society, and her place in it, Willow knew she had a requirement to dance, if not for a while. "Fine." she thought, "Who might I ask for a dance?" The wine was having some effects, though vague, and Willow could feel herself becoming increasingly at ease. With a look about the table, Willow realized that she didn't know the proper dancing order for her own wedding celebration. Hat it been someone else's, or perhaps a different occasion, there would be no confusion. But herself as the groom? She was tensed now, trying with depressing diligence to remember, or to think of, the appropriate course of action. She knew that for a prince to dance with someone other than his wife or Queen-mother without introduction would be pronouncing said lady his personal consort. Even slightly inebriated, Willow knew enough not to want that. She felt dumb, as though her mind were being slowed by muck. To her, there could only be one solution, and without her usual team of inhibitions, Willow stood surprisingly steady and began to walk.
She had heard that two things distracted beasts of limited intelligence (not limited to non-humans). The first was the melodious tremble of a stringed instrument. The other were lustrous items that drew the eye. And Willow found herself drawn. Half of her remained the stoic-trained, strong prince. While the other part of her, the part that smelled of wine, threw careless glances and openly admired the princess as she approached. Prince William commanded, "We dance with our Princess." and wine-scented-Willow insisted, "Pretty girl." Fortunately, they were one in the same.
Tara noticed the looks of pure surprise forming on the faces around her. They all seemed to be looking behind her. Turning, Tara looked to find her husband-Prince standing beside her. He smiled slightly, unsure, and he bent to take her hand. Tara gave it willingly, but she couldn't be sure of the intentions. With a rumbling voice that at once appealed and sounded wrong, the prince said quietly, "This dance, my bride?"
All within hearing distance gasped. Murmurs spread as the word passed, and Princess rose to meet Prince.
"Of course, my lord." Tara spoke, trying not to falter and refusing to meet Prince William's eye. "Surely, he must be mistaken in his intent. He cannot mean-"
The man heading the small orchestra spotted the pair in time to change the mood of music to a delicate waltz appropriate for the occasion. The transition was well-played, and Willow fell into step with ease of so numerous a lesson. She found that dancing with the princess was like dancing with fragrant, sweet-tasting air, and she could have easily lost herself in the drowsy confidence lent her by the drink and present company.
Tara tried desperately not to be stiff. The implications of this dance were something no one had expected, leastwise, herself. Had the Prince gone mad? Or was he, perhaps, a foolish boy vying for attention? If so, he was doing so with great success. Something about his features would not attest to foolishness, though, even if she could smell the wine on his breath.
He held her with such gentle perfection, she thought he must have practiced dancing from the moment of his birth. This was not the image of a hard king's heir. Or at least, none that she had imagined. Her limbs began to loosen despite her discomfort. Nearly all, now, stared at the sight of a young prince, dancing with his princess, and communicating to all of them that she alone was worthy of his bed, and his favor. Tara was pink with their attention.
As the dance came to it's natural end, Willow escorted Tara back to her seat. To her surprise, as she approached, all at the table rose ceremoniously. Most still held the look of utmost surprise, but few had already begun to scowl and move in restlessness.
Willow suddenly recalled that she was only to dance with the Princess once. That one dance was also to be the closing dance for the evening. She had ruined the night for all in attendance. With an improperly executed swallow, Willow coughed slightly and proceeded to bow her exit as best she could with Princess Tara's arm draped in her own. It was warm there, she thought absently.
"And now what?" Willow scrambled for a next move. Now outside of the hall, no one paused to check their volume, and many words were spoken of the recent proceedings.
Prince William had not moved from the place where he had exited the hall. Tara dared not disturb whatever mood that had caused the Prince to insult so many guests, "And to compliment me so." Tara refused to believe the latter. His sole reason for dancing with her was simply to prove himself quite capable and willing to dance, just not with any of them. And she was merely a possession of his that he could use to his liking, without disturbing his message.
Willow knew not of her farther disturbance, the dismissal of all other guests, but knew well that she had prematurely ended the celebration. She wondered briefly, where Peter was, to correct her mistakes or at least correct her harshly. He pestered her daily, intruding into her life where he was neither necessary nor wanted, and now he was nowhere in sight. She sighed. "I'm at a loss."
As if waking from a dream, Willow remembered that she was not alone. What could she say to the Princess? "Yes, well, I would probably take you to your chambers for our consummation now, except that I can't. And I can't explain why that is." Weakly, Willow turned to the Princess and smiled. Trying her best to remain formal, she blurted, "Princess, I will escort you to where you desire to be." She chose her words carefully, knowing that with her manners, the Princess was likely to do as the Prince suggested even if he did not intend a bias.
To Tara, the sentence held more suggestion than Willow had intended. "Alright. I am to decide the place of union?" That was not entirely understood by Tara, who would have preferred not to know or remember any of this night. Straightening, Tara remembered her place, and braved, "My chambers." It was too presumptuous to chose the Prince's own, and she had no other options, though she would have liked to keep that part of her life for herself.
Willow breathed in a sigh of relief. "Oh good. She is tired as well. Maybe I didn't end her evening too soon for her?" Aloud, she said. "Pray, I know not where to find your chambers, my lady. Would it vex you to lead me?"
Tara smiled lightly. The Prince was ever gentle with her. She hoped beyond reason that his demeanor passed into his manners elsewhere. Nodding once, she said quietly, "Of course, my lord. It would be my honor."
Willow cleared her throat uncomfortably. "I should say something gracious," Looking to the Princess with subtlety, "But I don't wish to accidentally say something about her lips... or maybe her eyes, they're nice..." Shaking her head to slight the uncharacteristic thoughts, Willow murmured, embarrassment still clouding her mind, "Thank you, my lady."
As they neared the door to her chambers, Tara was certain that she was the only guest who had ever wished for a longer distance from the dining hall. She slowed to signal their proximity.
The wine was decidedly not freed her of it's grasp as Willow stood in front of the Princess' door. Willow turned to face the lady Tara, uncertain if she should open the door or remain rooted. "Better to lack an act, than to impede upon my limitations." she thought. Bowing low, Willow spoke quietly, mysteriously unconfident of her faux-basso voice in the presence of her bride, "I bid you sleep well, good lady. May your dreams be pleasant."
And with that, he was gone. Tara didn't know whether to feel surprised or relieved. Confused, she decided, hit the mark fairly square. She opened the door to her room and climbed inside before he chanced to change his mind.
As Willow walked away from the Princess, her gait increasing with every other step, she tried not to think of her father and his intentions. He wouldn't chance tonight. She hated leaving the lady with questions of her wedding night, but it was better than the answers.
But what if? The thought stopped her progressive steps. She didn't want to chance that her father would surprise them all and attempt her bride this night.
Without knowing, or caring, how she would deflect the King, Willow turned on her heel walking back in the direction she had come from. Finding a vantage point where she could see and not be seen, she hunkered down for the night. She would wait all night, to be certain. "And what if I am discovered?" she thought warily. Stifling a yawn, Willow silently congratulated herself on the wedding, sarcastically. "Ah, the happily married couple."