"You have to stay still!" I chided him with a small laugh. He'd grown more and more fidgety as I continued to paint that afternoon. "Come now Prince - surely you can hold a pose longer than that." I teased.
He pretended to be offended but I could see the smile and the twinkle in his eyes. "My fair artiste, I am terribly curious to see your progress."
"Well you'll have to wait my Prince." I said firmly and then hid behind the canvas once more. Sadly my skills would never create a fine likeness but I never claimed to be a master.
I knew I would not finish this painting in one session so when he was no longer able to sit still for even a moment, I carefully covered the canvas and put down my paints. "Perhaps we'll have to continue again another day your Highness."
He took my hand and pulled me closer to him and into the grove of blooms. "I'll sit for you any day - though I can't promise to stay entirely still." he said. He wrapped his arms around me and held me closely, looking deep into my eyes.
I was afraid to blink for his gaze was so intent. Slowly, his lips touched mine and lingered there awhile. I think, though I can't be sure, we left this earth in those sweet moments. Lost in our own realm.
It was never so easy as those carefree summer days. In those warm, comfortable hours we could cling only onto each other and forget all the cares that existed around us. "I want to marry you." he whispered, running his fingers through my hair.
"And I you..." I replied, turning my head from him and cursing the tears that sprang to my eyes.
"I should have thought it would make you happy love." Adam said, concerned etched across his face as he wiped the tears away.
"Nothing would bring me greater joy..." I said. "If only it were so easy."
The memory of that day in the hall was seered into my brain as if to bring me constant pain. I was walking back to my apartment when I heard raised voices and I slunk back, pressing myself against the wall lest I be seen.
"I shant marry her Father." Adam said, his voice and stance resolved. "I barely know the Princess and certainly don't have any feeling beyond friendship for her."
"Your feelings are not relevant, you will learn to appreciate her and she will make a good queen." The king replied, he looked distracted and unconcerned about what his son was saying. "It is your responsibility to marry and I have resolved the issue."
"Father, I love Suki - I have professed my love and on my honor intend to make her my wife." Adam replied, there was a small degree of trepidation in his voice but he stood his ground.
Previously absent from the conversation, his father, the king, whipped his head around and glared at his son. "Suki? That common maid you've had lurking about?! Ridiculous!"
"There's nothing COMMON about her! She's talented and elegant and I love her!" Adam shouted back.
"How ever much she might entertain you in the bedroom, she is neither a princess nor a queen - and she never will be! The decision has been made Adam! You WILL marry the Princess!" Though he was loud and angry - the King never looked out of control, he merely looked resolved.
"You see dear - you're nothing here. And you never will be." Queen Azula whispered in my ear. I clutched the suit of armor I was hiding behind to stop myself from jumping and showing her my fear. The only thing the Queen had ever given me was fear - and my name. Odd though it was, when the guards had first called me Suki it sounded so right in my head. Somehow, though I couldn't fathom how yet, I knew that my right and true name was Suki and had taken it as mine ever since then.
"Better you had died in that cell - forgotten by everyone." she said, a sick smile on her face.
I pushed away from the wall and straightened up, looking into her eyes without reservation. "Excuse me your Majesty." I said, shoving her slightly with my shoulder as I pushed passed her. I was a floor down and several rooms away before I collapsed against the wall, racked with fear and sadness.
Adam had noticed my anxiety since that day but I'd never let out that I knew of his father's plans. I chose to enjoy every moment I could with him until, no doubt, I would be cast out of the castle when his future wife came. I poured my wounded heart and pride into the piano when I could, hiding from all those that opposed me.
It wasn't until I felt Adam's hand resting on my cheek that I came back to the here and now. "Suki, my sweet, please do not look so sad." he said, dusting the tears away even as they fell. "I have no intention of marrying anyone but you. If it comes to it, I will abdicate and we can leave..."
"But Adam..." I started to protest.
"I'd rather be poor and happily living with you than be king and marry anyone else." he said. "But I will talk to my father, convince him to see reason..." he said, embracing me.
I held fast to him for several minutes. I was afraid he'd be ripped away from me by some invisible force! Slowly he pulled away but he had a secretive smile on his face as he did. "Now I have a little present for you." he said as he reached into his pocket. "No more than a bauble really..."
I stared at the ring as he slid it onto my finger. "That's no bauble!"
"Mmhmm, well maybe more than that..." he said with a grin.
The King was willful and stubborn in regards to Adam's marriage but he met resistance at every turn from Adam. When Adam suggested he would abdicate if necessary, the King very nearly passed out. "It's HER fault John has been exiled and now you say it will be HER that takes my other son from me!" he shouted so loud I could hear him from the library.
"No it's John's fault he was exiled!" Adam shouted back, fury in his voice at the mention of his brother. "He's lower than the lowest criminal father, as you well know!" The heavy wooden door slammed as Adam stomped out of the room.
A few weeks later the King fell ill, and though some speculated that it was due to the stress Prince Adam was putting on him, the physicians agreed it was a sickness of some sort. The Queen left the castle quickly after - eager to be away from the illness and supposedly fearful for her health and the health of the baby. I wasn't so sure she truly was with child or used it as an excuse to leave.
I heard the bell ringing and looked around for an attendant or servant but no one came at the king's call. I closed the book I was reading and put it down on the table. "Your Majesty" I said with a curtsy. "Did you require something?" I asked before I noticed his tray from breakfast still sat by his bedside and his bedsheet were horribly tangled.
"What are you doing here?" he asked coldly, even as I straightened his bed and picked up the tray. "This is not your work - certainly not the work of a would-be Princess."
"Majesty, I'm afraid you are wrong. It is our duty to help the sick - no matter who we are." I said. Still balancing the tray, I curtsied again at the door. "It's the work of all good people sir. If you need anything else, I'm only in the other room and will be happy to help until the servants return from the village."
As the King's illness progressed, I went to his bedside often to take away his tray or bring his next meal. Before long he asked me to return with my book and read to him. "I can now see why my son admires you." he said when I took a moment to turn the page. I smiled in reply, unsure as how was best to respond. "If he means to marry you - I will not stand in the way."
"Thank you Your Majesty." I said, bowing my head.
On the day of our wedding, the King seemed very much recovered and Queen Azula had returned to the castle as well - though I had little desire to have her there I couldn't exactly refuse her either. The royal tradition was that the bride and groom would come before the monarch to have their union blessed before the procession to the church. A host of maids and servants had flocked around me all morning making sure everything was perfect before that moment.
As I knelt before the dais with Adam at my side, I truly felt like the princess I was about to become.
After the traditional blessing, the King asked us to rise and smiled. "Despite my own efforts, my son has found his own mate and partner," he paused and placed our hands together. "And I think she will make a perfect princess for our kingdom."
Queen Azula joined him on the dais, though she did not look as pleased about our union as the King was now, she had her own part to play in this ceremony. "If your mother were here, she would be quite please with this young woman," the King said, looking on me with fatherly affection.
He stepped aside so that the Queen could move to the center and place her hands on ours. "May the heavens bless your union with love and children." she said shortly, struggling to contain the contempt. "May you bring forth an heir and good fortune for the kingdom."
The King, unaware of his wife's hatred for me, smiled and took her hand. "Now we may proceed to the church so the union may take place!" he said cheerfully. Only a handful of special guests and the household were in attendance for this particular part of the day but they cheered as we turned back to face them. I saw the Princess - the one the King had been pushing Adam on - smiling amongst the guests as well.
The procession of carriages wound through the village and several of the people I'd known as my friends were there to cheer for us. They waved and tossed rice toward the passing carriages and I leaned out, waving eagerly to them all. One of the attendants in the carriage passed me a pouch of gold coins and I happily tossed them out toward the small crowd. "Oh how I wish they could be there as well," I said as I sat back in the carriage.
Even though the trip from the castle to the church was short and I couldn't imagine there was anything wrong with my dress or hair, I still had a half dozen people fussing with me as soon as we entered the building. I waved them off as soon as I could get my hand free and assured them everything was perfect. I peaked out the door and could see Adam waiting at the front. "It's time." I said.
Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today in the presence of these witnesses, to join His Royal Highness Prince Adam Charles Stewart and Miss Suki Anne Delaford in matrimony,
which is commended to be honorable among all men;
and therefore – is not by any – to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly – but reverently, discreetly, advisedly and solemnly.
Into this holy estate these two persons present now come to be joined.
If any person can show just cause why they may not be joined together – let them speak now or forever hold their peace.
Do you, Prince Adam Charles Stewart, take Suki Anne Delaford, to be your wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do so part?
"I do." Adam said with a twinkle in his eye.
Do you, Suki Anne Delaford, take His Royal Highness Prince Adam Charles Stewart, to be your husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do so part?
"I do." I said smiling.
Originally I had them get married in the throne room...I changed my mind :P