“‘You must marry,’ the king said, his voice weak with age. ‘With or without love.’ Alas, the prince agreed to marry a beautiful lady of noble stature and fine reputation. Everyone approved and the wedding date was set. Then. One day it happened.” When Mum got to this part, she lowered her voice in a way that thundered, and a shiver always trickled down John’s spine. “While on holiday with his mates, the prince saw the most marvelous girl. She was kind and sweet, very smart—”
“Like you, Mum,” John whispered.
“—yet she seemed sad to him. Something troubled her. The prince wanted to be her friend. So he made her laugh and sing. Soon they were inseparable. And it happened. The prince experienced the powerful, moving sensation of love. It kept him awake at night. He thought of nothing but her. His friends chided him. ‘She’s not of noble birth,’ they said. ‘No one has ever heard of her,’ they said. Was she worthy to be the bride of a future king? As much as the prince loved her, would she make a suitable queen? Would the people love her? He was already engaged to a fine woman the people admired. Sadly, the prince knew he must return to his homeland and never see the girl again. Their love came too late. Leaving his friends to enjoy their last day on holiday, he traveled to his love’s modest home. While it was nothing like the palace where he lived, it was warm, cozy, and full of happiness. His heart swelled all the more with affection. He was served the most delicious tea and cakes. Her father regaled him with stories, even sang a few songs. They toured the family’s modest barn and talked to the animals. At last the hour came for the prince to depart. As he was about to tell the girl of his upcoming nuptials, he spied a beautiful, thick, white swan’s feather on the fireplace mantel.
“The prince could not speak. The moment was too sacred for words. At last he inquired, ‘Where’d you get this?’ He raised the shaft. ‘I found it in our chapel, after my prayers,’ she answered. Upon her confession, he embraced and kissed her sweetly, tenderly.”
“Blech.” Gus. Right on cue. Every time.
“The prince finally found love and proposed marriage, asking her to be his wife, his princess and future queen. To this very day, they are remembered for their deep love and affection. The girl who became a princess, then a queen, gave herself to charity and good works, to kindness and truth, and the kingdom prospered.” Mum patted each of them on the back. “The end. Now, bedtime. I’m running late. Molly?”
Mum kissed each son on the head before their nanny shuffled them off to bed—all while Gus proclaimed the story’s stupidity and that his dragon would burn up that swan and its feathers.
John, however, even at his young age, believed all the more in the white feather and true love.
Lying in bed, staring through the dark at the faint light coming in from under the door, he understood he was the prince in the old Lauchten tale. Bound by a writ, a law, to marry for the crown, the House of Blue, and a thousand years of Lauchtenland history.
Marriage was a must for every crown royal in the House of Blue. However, love was not.
Port Fressa, Lauchtenland
Whoever had penned his love story had a sordid sense of happily ever after. Even worse, the author had left him trapped between the inciting incident of Act One and the noble quest of Act Two.
Nearly a year after his wife’s death, Crown Prince John of the House of Blue remained trapped by grief. It was impossible to go backward, but unimaginable to move forward—however much he’d begun to desire it.
Death. Sorrow. Pain. He wearied of those black clouds hovering over him. Surely sunshine would break through sooner or later. Yet if and when it did, he’d resent it. Of that he was sure.
Until then, he remained under the protective umbrella of his royal duties as a future king, a working member of Lauchtenland’s “Family,” the House of Blue, smiling for the public and doing good, all the while with a tornado twisting inside.
On this particular Friday morning the queen had summoned him to her office. His secretary, Briggs, scheduled the appointment without notes so the purpose of the meeting remained a mystery.
More than likely she just wanted to visit with her son and heir. They’d chat about life—okay, John’s life—while sipping tea and savoring puffs. She called this sort of gathering “checking on things.”
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