The car pulled up outside the cathedral with the rear door exactly on the end of the red carpet. The precisely placed trooper crisply opened the door and Constantine Sjeldnjar emerged, unfolding his full length to the cheers of the crowd. Ignoring them he turned his beautifully suited and white haired person in place to help Rune emerge in her turn, the previously disembarked bridesmaids darting forward to help her with the skirts and train. When her skirts were straight, Rune took her father’s arm and with the bevy of bridesmaids and flower girls proceeded in loose order along the red carpet to the cathedral steps where they were greeted by the rector. Rune expected him to spout some religious homily but instead he smiled kindly, welcomed her warmly and advised, “Just remember to keep breathing and you’ll be fine, Your Highness. Keep it slow and down to your diaphragm and you won’t get into trouble.”
“Thank you.” Rune smiled at him from behind her veil. “Do you get many fainting brides?”
“Groomsmen are more of a problem,” the rector admitted, “but I shouldn’t keep you or the Archduke will think you’ve changed your mind.”
The bridal party went up the steps and in through the doors. They paused there to get into their formal order, flower girls deployed to the front and bridesmaids arrayed behind, then the bride’s father gave a nod to an attendant who spoke into a neat little phone or radio and then a fanfare of trumpets and other horns rang out. The bridal party started down the aisle.
“Her Highness has just entered the nave of the cathedral,” a commentator told the television audience. “She’s wearing the same veil of Bruniton lace that Queen Galina, her grandmother, wore for her wedding. That’s being held in place, as you can see in the close up, by the Princess Gudrun coronet – one of the four made for the daughters of the last elected Sjeldnjar King and kept in the Sjeldnjar vaults ever since. We had thought she might wear the Princess Dagny coronet she wore in her official portrait but Ruhtig Algernon has obviously given the first Sjeldnjar princess since those times her choice of the four Sjeldnjar coronets. Her dress-“
Rune was spared the commentary but she was feeling very glad of her veil. Everyone was looking at her, but at least they all looked pleased. Old friends from the orphanage and newer work friends on her right. On her left were a lot of military-looking men and their wives who should be the groom’s friends. Beyond them she could see dignitaries and beyond them again the Imperial and Royal families. The Emperor, Queen, Empress and her grandfather all smiled benevolently.
Then she saw him at the far end of the aisle, beyond the congregation. Steady and solid with his broad shoulders and neat, unfashionable beard. Dressed in a dark but beautifully cut suit livened up only by his tie and a Terrencian order he would have gotten for being an Archduke who’d reached his majority alive. He smiled and he was the only solid ground for miles, and she was going towards him.