Needless to say, there were two parties anticipating supper both with excitement and nervousness. Both found themselves standing in front of the mirror longer than usual that evening.
“Is there a royal guest tonight?” asked Maria as I got ready for dinner that night, noticing that I was a little more concerned about my appearance that I usually was. “I don’t think I saw any carriages arrive.”
“No,” I said, a little absentmindedly as I tried to decide on shoes. “Just an old friend.”
“I don’t think they’ll kick you out if your tie isn’t perfect,” said Mr. Cobbler, coming up behind his son, who was retying his tie for the umpteenth time. “Princess Anneliese said that it was quite a casual affair.”
Julian looked at his father, eyebrows raised. “Which means it will be the fanciest event I ever attend.”
Mr. Cobbler smiled. “Not necessarily.” He turned Julian to face him and spoke as he tied the tie properly. “The queen invited me to Princess Anneliese’ 18th birthday last year.” He smiled contentedly at his handiwork before he continued. “And we were both at the late king’s funeral.”
They were quiet for a moment as they recalled that solemn day. Julian remembered how Anneliese had managed to keep herself together for the entire ceremony. It wasn’t until after everyone had left and he had gone to see if she was alright, that she had fully broken down. Unlike what her appearance or upbringing might suggest she was one of the strongest people Julian knew. He wondered if that was still the same.
I really should not be this nervous, I told myself as I headed down for supper. Mr. Cobbler and Julian had not arrived yet when I entered the dining room, so only Mother sat at the table. At the head of the table, she was reading a letter.
“Listen to this, darling,” she said as I sat down. “We are recruiting less young men into the guard than we need.” She looked at me expectantly.
“Right,” I said, thinking quickly for ideas. “What if we raised the pay for guards so that there would be more incentive to become one?”
“I suppose...” said Mother, which I knew meant she was not fully satisfied with my answer.
I stared at the wall. “We could,” I spoke slowly, making sure my thoughts could catch up with my words. “We could offer to pay guards through their training period. Perhaps not full pay, maybe 75%. That way they are not left for three months with no money to send home.”
Mother smiled. “Yes, I believe that is what I will do.”
Someone cleared their throat and we turned to see Mr. Cobbler and Julian standing at the door. Both were smiling, and Julian looked impressed. They must have heard our conversation, I thought.
The dinner was going very well. Mother and Mr. Cobbler spoke the most with Julian and I contributing occasionally. As we started the third course, I saw Julian reaching for the wrong fork. Unsure of what else to do, I kicked him under the table. He looked up in surprise.
I pointedly looked at him and then picked up the proper fork. He smiled and nodded his head in thanks.
“So, Julian,” I said. “Where did you study again?”
“West Harbour, Your Highness,” he said.
“Did you like it there?”
“Yes, of course, I was very happy for the opportunity, and the school had a wonderful library.”
“Was it close to the docks?”
“A little nearer than I would have preferred.” He grinned. “On market days, it smelled very strongly of fish.”
I smiled. Julian hated the smell of fish. “You must have very much enjoyed that.”
“Indeed, Your Highness,” he said, looking down at his food, but glancing up to smirk at me.
And just like that, we were comfortable around each other again. The tension was shattered, replaced with an old familiarity. As the evening wore on and the familiarity stayed, I knew that I had been nervous for nothing. It would be nice to have him around again.