“Your Highness, are you almost…?” Lady Alenna Portieri could not believe her eyes. It was the hour in between lunchtime and Tea and, while she had expected to see the Princess readying herself, she had certainly not expected the situation she walked into. “How long have you been in the shower?”
“Uuuuuh…. like two minutes?” The bathroom looked like a Sauna, which was almost impressive for a bathroom so massive and ostentatious. To the Princess it seemed like the usual, but Alenna had seen the servant’s quarters and even some City Center apartments and this room alone was bigger than most of those apartments alone. Regardless of the size of the place, this amount of vapor was not the product of two minutes of hot water.
“Maria…” Alenna began to object, dropping protocol completely. To the Princess this was a clear sign that Lady in Waiting had left the building and this was now Admonishing Best Friend.
“Fine, like five…” The princess looked through the glass of her shower wall and noticed the figure of her friend, arms crossed and staring at her. She didn’t need to see her face clearly to pick out her expression. “...maybe ten?”
“Wha- ten…?!” The exasperation was easy to pick off from Lady Portieri’s voice. “Are you aware… how do you…?” Her voice got squeakier with every attempt at a question, before she let out an exasperated sigh. “We have no time for this. What do you mean ten minutes?! The Splendorian entourage is set to arrive, with your betrothed, in five minutes!” A small gasp was produced from the shower.
“Wait… five minutes?!” Maria rubbed off some fog out of the glass to take a look at her friend. Lenna’s cheeks were beginning to match her hair with an angry red hue. Though small, Maria had to admit her friend could be quite intimidating… in an angry imp sort of way. “What time even is it?”
Lenna rolled her eyes at the question, taking another sigh. She seemed thoroughly unsurprised and absolutely annoyed by her Royal friend’s behaviour. “Maria, it’s nearly three in the afternoon…”
“.... shit… okay, okay, we need a plan” The Princess retreated back into the shower, wetting her hair and putting something on it, much to Alenna’s annoyance, which was promptly voiced as the Princess sat down on the showerbench.
“No, you need to hurry!”
“My conditioner is still setting in, we can’t rush that, Lenna!” Not only was the Princess surprisingly calm about being late, seemingly used to the ordeal, she was also apparently unconcerned with the amount of water going down the drain as she sat, basking in the vapor clouds around her.
Lenna rubbed at the bridge of her nose, completely unimpressed with her friend’s behavior. “Well your hair is going to have to survive not being conditioned for a whole twenty four hours…”
It was at this moment that the princess suddenly gasped as the lightbulb literally above her head buzzed with energy, as electronic appliances usually did when confronted with the Princess’s thoughts or emotions. “Wait… are the Montias back yet?”
“Arrived this morning, why?” Lenna didn’t look up at the Princess in the shower, as to not exasperate herself further, it seemed. There was a slight groan in her tone. She knew well of her friend’s maquinations, and while she did not agree with them, she couldn’t do much more than entertain her whimsical notions.
“Well… Ren and Luca can greet him and I’ll finish getting ready and everyone’s happy!”
Alenna sighed once again. “You are stalling” she reminded the Princess, but got interrupted by her endless musings.
“No, I am serious. Just call Ren, she will meet Gryffin and his party on my behalf and that’s that! It’s not that far fetched, she is directly below me in the line of succession, not to mention one of my head Ladies in Waiting, and Luca is our official Chaperone, it could do good for him to see Gryffin, after all, it’s been years, maybe he wants to catch up with…”
“Maria.” The Lady cut the Princess off. If this had been a public instance, Portieri’s interruption might have come off as rude, but in such privacy, it was simply a friendly jab.
“What?” The Princess’s voice seemed small and squeaky, clearly riddled with anxiety, which sparked the Lady’s sympathy for a brief moment.
Alenna’s tone mellowed out, the anger being substituted by an almost motherly demeanor. “You are rambling.” She sighed and thought for a moment, secretly thanking the Princess for her silence “Just… Look, I know you’re nervous, okay? And that is a hundred percent fair and valid, but you need to hurry the fuck up and…” A strange noise came from the shower, making Alenna’s exasperation return all at once. “Did you just blow your nose in the shower?”
“... yep” Maria’s tone was quiet and matter-of-factly, devoid of any actual shame, but definitely attempting to be at least slightly comedic in nature.
“You are disgusting” It was mostly a joking jab, evidenced by the Lady attempting to hold in her laughter.
“I am human!” Maria objected, with a fake offended gasp. “Princesses have cloggy noses too, you know? We also happen to shit and fart every once in a while!”
This time Alenna could not help but burst into a small laugh, half in disbelief at her friend’s blunt statement. “... I can’t believe you’re getting married in three months”
“I’ll be fine, nobody pays public attention to women in Splendor, I can just stand and look pretty without risking looking like a fool!” There it was again. The familiar squeak in Maria’s voice that betrayed her anxieties to those who knew her well. Alenna gave her a sympathetic sigh, before throwing another playful jab.
“That is the most backwards thing I’ve heard you say ever…”
“Am I wrong, though?”
A heavy sigh escaped the Lady, knowing it was no time to discuss these matters with the Princess. They were on a time crunch and she could not concede to the Princess’s dawdling.
“I’ll go get Ren. You hurry up and get ready! And please, for the love of God, clean up your vanity!” Despite having chambermaids and Ladies maids and all kinds of servants, the Princess’s vanity was always an utter and complete explosion, as if a hurricane had swept through. It was a well known fact in the Palace, so much so the Princess had always been jokingly known as Hurricane Maria.
“Will do, Mummy Dearest!” Maria jokingly said from the shower, as she rinsed out the conditioner from her hair.
“You are impossible…” Alenna barely held in her smirk as she walked out of the room, going forth in her search for Princess Eirene of Montia and her twin brother Luca.
It was a busy day. Hellishly busy. The Crown Princess of Crysea had been awake since the ass-crack of dawn and was now running on five cups of coffee and pure unadulterated rage. Catalina tore through the Palace like a swirling ice storm in high heels, ready to find anyone who was dawdling and promptly tear them a new one.
And yet she looked like an absolute Goddess.
Not one hair out of place, not one chip on her nails, not a single tan line or blemish on sight, gracefully draped in a matched wine colored pantsuit, with a black satin button-up shirt and balanced on black five-inch stilettos, which brought her up to six feet in height. Princess Catalina had always been a proper Queen if Crysea had ever seen one, and after five straight generations of Queens, this was quite the feat. She knew this and would not let anyone or anything convince her otherwise.
Still, every Queen needs a break, and this particular Not-Quite-a-Queen needed some breathing room, so as soon as she could catch some spare time, she went over to the nearest Balcony and lit up a cigarette, mint flavored, as she stared out at the city.
“Mind if I join you, Your Highness?” A solemn, deep voice burst from behind her. Catalina didn’t seem at all startled by the new presence, she didn’t even have to look back to identify her new company.
“Your Excellency.” She responded, solemnly accepting his presence with a nod. The tall, red haired man moved forward to lean on the balcony, standing next to the Princess. Henry Allard, Earl of Braun, had been Catalina’s close friend ever since he came back to Court after four long years of tending to his County following his father’s recent demise. The air of formality somewhat comforted her… or maybe it was just his general presence. Either way, she had grown to trust this man in the last few months. He was a very much needed friend in a time of uncertainty.
“How is your Lady Mother?” He asked, lighting a cigarette of his own. It certainly helped that they shared the same vice. It gave them a space for private conversation, on the balconies and smoking rooms of the Palace.
The Princess exhaled the smoke held in her lungs, masking a painful sigh behind the simple act of self indulgence.
“She has been in better spirits lately…” It was a known fact in the Vallirian Court that ever since the birth of Princess Maria, Queen Ariana’s health had been less than stellar, but in the years following the loss of her husband it had only taken a turn for the worse. Her heart was weak, and her lungs seemed to lack a taste for air. The verdict was that the heartbreak of widowhood had proven too much for the sickly young Queen, leaving her eldest daughter to carry out much of her duties. Catalina tended to put on a brave face. This was, after all, the way of things.
The Queen is Dead, Long Live The Queen.
If only the Queen were actually dead and not stuck in a shitty middle state, things might have been easier. Still, Catalina knew it was wrong to wish death on the sickly, no matter how close to it they might seem.
It was the Earl’s voice that interrupted her brief musings. “But not well enough to plan her daughter’s Engagement Ball, is she?” He said, receiving a dirty look from the Princess. “What? Am I lying?”
“It does not do well to speak ill of your elders, Your Excellency” Catalina said, taking a serious tone, hiding behind protocol to shelter her emotions. In truth, she knew Henry was right, but she couldn’t simply up and admit it like it was nothing.
But Henry saw right through it. He always did, and so he challenged her formal stance by fading into an exceedingly familiar tone. He put a hand on the small of her back and looked at her intently, seeking her gaze. “Cate…” His voice was soft, like lined with velvet, and he used that name… the one that seemed only reserved for him to use. It inevitably pulled the Princess’s gaze to him, icy bronze eyes meeting warm silver. “If we could not speak ill of our elders, how would we ever change the ways of the world?” he asked.
In that brief moment, Catalina was Substitute Queen no longer. She was just Cate, just a twenty-seven year-old girl who had been losing her mother for most of her life, stuck in between, having to raise herself and her sister in order to be a good enough replacement in her constant absence. Setting Royal Duties aside, if not for her People’s sake, it was all for Maria.
Maria was the main reason she even did any of this at all. Catalina could not let her share the pressure. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself knowing Maria had to pull some of her weight along. And so, Catalina pulled all of it, for both of them.
If anyone understood that it was Henry. “I am not Queen yet. I cannot change things until I am, you know that full well” She retorted, always unwilling to verbally admit her true feelings, as much as he might know them.
Henry threw his cigarette off the Palace balcony and placed his other hand on her cheek, the other still resting at her lower back, wrapping her gently in a distanced embrace. Cate leaned on his hand, closing her eyes for a brief moment as a soothing feeling washed through her. Henry had that effect on people. It was his Gift after all. Just like Cate could create shards of ice from her skin, just like Maria made lights buzz and flicker, Henry had a soothing presence, a way to make you confide in him with a look and a gentle touch. For a brief moment, he became everything.
It was then that Catalina realized they were a bit too close, her lips almost resting on his, and she pulled away, taking a step back and breaking the soothing embrace. “Not here” she said, her eyes once again frosting over, the icy walls back up just as quickly as they’d been torn down.
The earl raised a brow, a small smirk sneaking onto his face “Not here?” He inquired, with a cheeky glint in his silver eyes. “You mean… there is a place”
The Princess did her best to hide the glowing red she felt rising to her cheeks. “I have to get back to work” she said, in a tone that clearly attempted to be stern and yet completely failed to be at all convincing. “I will see you at the Ball, Your Excellency”.
Henry’s smirk dropped, not out of any sour feeling, but to match Catalina’s sharp and distant demeanor. A ghost of it was still left, though, lingering on his face as he deeply bowed. “So I shall, Your Highness” he said, also taking a formal tone that was almost mockingly flirtatious. “and maybe I can see you after” he added, the smirk fading back in as he looked into the eyes of the now flustered Heir that stood a few feet from him.
“Yes, perhaps… If I feel so inclined” Catalina said, her voice catching in her throat at her attempt to remain stoic. To any stranger or passerby, this hint was imperceptible… but Henry knew her well. “Good afternoon, then, Your Highness,” he said as Catalina made her way back into the hallway, in a way better mood than when she had left it.