To Save a King (True Blue Royal #2) by Rachel Hauck

“Did he look in the Heart of God?” John peered up at his mother. Surely, the prince would find love there. ’Tis where he’d look if he were bound by this writ, this law of love.

“That’s not part of the story, dummy.”

“Gus,” Mum said. “Words.”

He shrank back, shoving another cookie into his mouth from the endless pile in his hand.

“There was no Heart of God when the prince looked for love.” Mum glanced toward the door where Dad leaned against the opening, smiling, hands in his tuxedo pockets.

No Heart of God for the fairy-tale prince? As far as John knew, the lights of the eight ancient cathedrals—which formed a heart—existed since the dawn of time.

John gazed from Dad to Mum then Dad again. Was that the look of love? Staring at one another with googly eyes—which made him squirm.

“Hurry, love,” Dad said. “It’s almost eight. Boys, listen to your mum’s story then straight to bed. If you need anything, call Molly.”

“Now you’re the one interrupting.” Mum shooed Dad with a flick of her hand. “I’ve lost my place again.”

“The prince couldn’t find a stupid girlfriend.” Gus scooted to the edge of the couch and brushed his crumbs to the floor.

“You will clean that up, young man.” Mum sounded irritated. Thank you, Gus. “Our poor prince is lost, looking for love. With no Heart of God to guide him, the prince had to do it all on his own. One day, his father, the king, sent him to faraway lands, braving stormy seas, to find a suitable princess. But again, none was found.

“Years passed and still no bride. What was he to do? A king without a bride in his kingdom was no king at all. Finally the king demanded the prince marry one of the beautiful maidens of his kingdom.”

“This sounds like Cinderella. I hate Cinderella.” Gus was kneeling on the plush carpet, gathering crumbs in his hand and dumping them into a china dish on the end table.

Mum frowned at the crumb deposits but pushed on with the tale. “But the prince insisted he must marry for love. He was so desperate he stayed behind in the abbey after vespers one day to say his own prayers. Did they avail anything? Was there any being to hear his plea? The prince had no idea, but he believed. Then it happened. The king announced a great ball and invited all the eligible maidens in the land.”

“Cinderella,” Gus muttered.

One more interruption, and John would sock him. Right in the nose. He balled his fist, ready to fire. They’d be sent to bed without the rest of the story, and maybe he’d even be grounded from his video games, but it’d be worth it.

“All the daughters of Lauchtenland, from high to low, purchased beautiful gowns from the shops in the Midlands, or sewed them at home, with their mums frantically supervising. They must be beautiful. They must impress the prince. A girl could do a lot of good being married to a future king. The night of the ball arrived, and the room was filled with women from every branch of society, their brightly colored gowns like the colors of the earth and sky. Red ones, blue ones, green ones. Purple, gold, black, and white. Sparkling bobbles on their ears and around their necks caught the light. The prince was both overwhelmed and overjoyed. Surely one woman in the room would steal his heart. The king agreed. Tonight, his son would find a bride. The fairest of them all would dance in his arms, and together they’d fall madly in love. By dawn’s glorious light, the prince had danced with so many fair maidens his fine shoes were worn out. ‘Well, son, did you find love?’ the king asked. ‘No father,’ he said. ‘Sadly, no.’”

“What a loser.” Gus was back on the couch, half awake, half asleep, a cookie crumb clinging to his lower lip.

“‘What are we to do?’ the king asked of his queen. ‘Believe,’ she said. ‘He will find love when the swans return to the garden pond.’ But the swans returned every year, the king protested, and his son had yet to find love.

“The next day as the prince concluded his morning vespers, a thick white feather fell from the abbey’s rafters. Picking up the large, perfect plume, the prince searched for the trespassing bird, most likely wounded and in need of rescue. Was he perched on a windowsill or on the flat surface of the wide rafters? He called for the gardener and the abbey caretaker. They searched along with the prince but no bird was found.

“Remembering the queen’s prediction, the prince tucked the feather into his pocket, believing with all his heart this fine plume was a sign of his coming true love. Time passed and the king grew old. People feared there would be no new king because the crown prince had not found a bride and thus had not taken his oath to serve the people.