‘You must try these pigeon pastries, Your Grace.’ The Lord who hosted tonight’s introduction feast offered First Princess Alexa a bronze platter with a pile of sketchy looking squares that were apparently supposed to be edible. The Lord smiled amused when he saw the dubious expression on Alexa’s face. ‘I know they don’t look like much, but my cook is actually quite famous for them.’
‘Alright then,’ Alexa laughed. She bravely took one of the baked squares from the platter. Still slightly hesitant, she put it in her mouth. ‘Not bad,’ she admitted, surprised, after she had chewed on it for a few seconds. ‘My compliments to your cook, My Lord.’
The Lord was clearly pleased with her positive assessment. He handed the platter back to a nearby servant in exchange for a cup of wine. ‘I do hope you are enjoying the feast, Your Grace?’
‘You have thrown us a wonderful feast, My Lord,’ Alexa replied politely. ‘I must thank you for being such a gracious host.’
‘We are most delighted that you and the Crown Prince have graced us with your presence this evening.’ The Lord raised his cup to her. Then he finished it in one swig without taking his eyes off her. ‘You look absolutely radiant, Princess Alexa. I was wondering if you would do me the honor of a dance?’ he asked.
‘It would be my pleasure,’ Alexa nodded, friendly. She put down her own cup and accepted the arm of her host, who led her to the area where several other couples were dancing. They continued to make polite small talk during their dance. Thankfully, he was not a toe-stepper, like the host of their last feast had been. Alexa still had bruises on her toes from that evening. No, their current host elegantly twirled her around, but his breath was thick from all the wine he had drunk this evening. It made Alexa slightly nauseous, so after two songs she politely excused herself.
Relieved that the Lord let her go without protesting, Alexa stepped away from the dancefloor. She asked a servant to bring her some water. She had suddenly lost her appetite for wine. Before the servant had even returned with the requested water though, Alexa was already approached by someone else. A woman this time. She was not the hostess, but Alexa remembered being introduced to this Lady during the afternoon.
‘May I speak with you, Your Grace?’ the Lady asked timidly.
‘Please,’ Alexa motioned her to come closer, while she searched her brain for the woman’s name. ‘What can I do for you, Lady Malyse?’
‘I was wondering if you would allow me to discuss a matter of concern with you.’
‘Of course,’ Alexa nodded. These types of requests no longer surprised Alexa. Many Ladies had already approached her during the course of her presentation journey. They had each brought matters of their concern to her attention, in the hope that Alexa would pass them on to Prince Thasos and persuade him to help in some way. Alexa had gotten used to it by now and willingly lent an ear to all of them. The servant returned and handed her a cup of fresh water.
‘Let us find a more quiet place where we can talk,’ Alexa suggested, eager to get away from the dancefloor and their drunk host. The young woman obediently followed her to a quiet corner in the ballroom and sat down on a luxurious lounge.
‘What concerns you, Lady Malyse, and how can I help you with that?’ Alexa came straight to the point.
Lady Malyse blushed. ‘It concerns the children, Princess Alexa. After the war, many children in the country were left fatherless, but here… Do you know what our city is known for, Your Grace?’
‘I have seen the most wonderful examples of it today actually. I know the people of Sameï are famous for their tailoring, sewing and weaving skills. I was gifted a beautiful gown and an exquisite tapestry featuring my wedding to Prince Thasos for our home,’ Alexa acknowledged their skills.
‘Indeed,’ Lady Malyse nodded, seemingly pleased. ‘Boys and girls in Sameï grow up being taught to work with different fabrics from a very young age, to keep the tradition of our city alive. We are the best in the country and that is why, during the war, Sameï provided all the clothing, tents and other fabrics needed in the war for the army of Regantis.’
‘A very noble task,’ Alexa praised her.
‘That is true,’ Lady Malyse agreed, but she shifted uncomfortably. ‘However, it did require a great number of our men and women to travel with the army, so they could make repairs and create new clothing whenever necessary. Unfortunately, many of them did not survive the war and they have left behind many orphaned children.’
‘I am terribly sorry to hear that,’ Alexa said emphatically. ‘No child should have to grow up without a mother and a father. I know from experience that it can be very difficult.’
‘Of course, I am so sorry, Your Grace…,’ Lady Malyse suddenly sat up straight and seemed unsettled, ‘I did not mean to… I hope I didn’t…’
‘That is quite alright, Lady Malyse,’ Alexa reassured her. ‘So you have many orphaned children here in Sameï?’
‘Yes, I fear we have the highest population of orphans in all of Regantis,’ Lady Malyse sighed with sadness. ‘During the war, many of these children were staying with relatives or in special houses designed for the occasion. Their parents sent part of their wages to support the children, but after their parents died the payments stopped as well. Many families can no longer care for the children of their relatives now that they’re orphans and most of the special houses cannot be sustained without monetary support. We need more orphanages and more support to make sure all these children are cared for. I know that many of these orphans are not the sons and daughters of Lords and Ladies, but even though they are not of noble birth I still feel that…’
‘That shouldn’t matter,’ Alexa interrupted her. Her heart filled with compassion for these poor children. She knew exactly how they felt, although she was fully aware that her circumstances were lucky in comparison. ‘These brave mothers and fathers gave their lives to protect our country. The least our country can do in return is to make sure their children are looked after.’
‘Thank you, Princess Alexa,’ Lady Malyse sighed with relief. ‘It means so much to hear you say that. Not everyone here agrees with me that these children are worth our concern. I am grateful that you see it differently.’
‘It tells me a lot about you that you care.’ Alexa reached out and gently squeezed Lady Malyse’s hand. ‘And I mean that in the best possible way. I believe that living in privileged circumstances also brings on a certain responsibility. I am grateful that you have brought this matter to my attention.’
‘Will you discuss this with the Crown Prince?’ Lady Malyse asked shyly, yet hopefully. ‘It is widely known that you possess his heart, but I am hoping that you have his ear as well?’
Alexa couldn’t help but laugh out loud. It was funny how quickly stories about their romance had spread throughout the country. The first couple of visits they had made during her presentation journey had made it perfectly clear to everyone who was paying attention that the Crown Prince and his new wife were very much in love. Soon, rumors had followed them everywhere they went and eventually even traveled ahead of them. Apparently, now most of the people in Regantis were convinced that Alexa was created by the Gods to be the perfect match for the previous perpetual bachelor Crown Prince. Alexa’s favorite rumor even went as far as to say that the Gods had invited Prince Thasos beyond the Heavenly Gates one night, where they had him drink from the Lover’s Well. After he had quenched his thirst, Alexa apparently sprouted from the Well and the Gods enchanted them both to fall madly in love with each other at first sight, after which Thasos had descended back to earth with her. The rumors became more bizarre every time Alexa had heard them and she and Thasos often chuckled about it.
‘How boring our real story must seem now,’ Thasos had laughed after Alexa told him about the latest version she heard last week.
‘Don’t worry,’ Alexa grinned at Lady Malyse, still amused by this memory. ‘I promise you that I will talk to the Crown Prince about this.’
‘Talk to me about what?’ Thasos asked while he approached the women. Lady Malyse immediately stood up to respectfully curtsy and Alexa stood up as well. Thasos placed his hand on the small of Alexa’s back and tenderly kissed her temple.
Alexa smiled lovingly at her husband. ‘An important concern that Lady Malyse has raised with me.’
‘I look forward to hearing all about it,’ Prince Thasos nodded politely towards the blushing young Lady. ‘I do hope it can wait until later though? I was hoping that Princess Alexa and I could retire for the night, it has been a long day.’
‘Of course, Your Grace,’ Lady Malyse curtsied and turned back to Alexa. ‘I appreciate that you have allowed me to speak with you, First Princess. Good night, Your Graces.’ Lady Malyse respectfully retreated and left the newlyweds alone.
‘Let’s go, before someone else grabs us again,’ Thasos mumbled quietly in Alexa’s ear. He grabbed her hand. ‘I have already excused ourselves with our host. You have a terrible headache.’
‘Good to know,’ Alexa laughed. She willingly followed Thasos back to the room they were staying in.