Prince Rupert let her cry for a few moments then fished a handkerchief out of a pocket and pressed it into her hand. “Here, use this,” he said kindly. “Is being married to me so bad, Lady Jonna, that you’d rather return to you father’s manor?”
“I’m not a Lady,” she sobbed. “I’m a pig herder, from a family of pig herders. I don’t know how to be married to a prince!”
“I would imagine,” answered Prince Rupert sensibly, “that some of it is very much like being married to anybody else. To tell you the truth I don’t have very much experience with young ladies, Lord Addew’s always been insistent that they would just lead to trouble. Having met some very…instructive older ladies who’ve visit here in the past few years I think I have some inkling of the nature of his concerns.”
Jonna dried her eyes, blew her nose loudly on the handkerchief, and asked curiously, “You really don’t know any girls?”
“Lord Addew doesn’t let any in and I don’t go out,” he shrugged, “so I don’t meet any.”
“Why don’t you go out?” She was still curious.
“I’m under a curse-.”
She interrupted, “What is it with curses and your family? Can’t any of you dodge?”
“I was in my cradle when it happened,” he said appeasingly, “I was too young to roll myself over, let alone dodge.”
“That’s a good reason,” Jonna agreed grudgingly. “So what is this curse? Do you turn into something dangerous once a month or something like that?”
“No, I don’t transform.” Prince Rupert sighed, “If I ever meet my brother, Prince Terrence, face to face then the nation will be at civil war. To avoid that, I’ve lived in here ever since the fairy made her pronouncement at my christening. My parents visit sometimes but of course my brother doesn’t.”
Jonna cast a critical eye over the courtyard and the tower. “It doesn’t look like you’ve been locked up here alone.”
“Well, no, I haven’t,” he agreed. “The Warden and his wife, nannies, a governess, tutors, instructors, guards and servants, there are a lot of people here besides me. No-one of your age and gender though. I suppose you know lots of men who are sort of my age?”
“I know a few,” she added shyly, “but I’ve not been walking out with anyone.”
“What does that mean?” He looked puzzled but interested.
“Walking out is when you start spending time with someone to find out whether you want to marry them.”
“We’re past that stage, aren’t we?” He smiled and offered her his hand. “Now why don’t we go and see what else my father has to say?”
They covered the return distance to the group by the carriage hand in hand.
“Wedding day nerves?” The king smiled benevolently. “I’m sorry everything was so rushed but once you rejected Prince Terrence I needed to act quickly.”
Prince Rupert turned to Jonna, surprised, “You turned down my brother? Why?”
“I was well and truly annoyed with him by the time I got him back to the palace,” she explained and dropped Prince Rupert’s hand so she could count off on her fingers. “He has no sense of direction. He insisted on trying to protect me from things that weren’t dangerous but then he was oblivious to things that were. He took me away from what I was supposed to be doing, which was minding the pigs, and he was fixated on something called the Carthmanian Protocols which had nothing to do with what we were doing.”
“Prince Terrence is not a woodsman,” admitted the king wryly, “but the Carthmanian Protocols? Perhaps I should review the details of that treaty…”
“But why did you need to act quickly once I said I wouldn’t marry Prince Terrence?” Jonna was still confused.
The king looked helplessly at Sir Wendell who explained smoothly, “Prince Terrence has a strong aversion to…physical intimacy and has long said that he would rather not marry and spend his energy on being the best Crown Prince and then King he can be, rather than spending much of his time trying to make sure he hadn’t completely ruined some poor woman’s life. He’s also pointed out that his brother leads a forcibly confined life and would have much more time to devote to being a good husband and father. Admirable sentiments but not necessarily practical.” Sir Wendell sighed. “We could have gotten him to the altar with you from a sense of obligation but when you turned him down, Prince Rupert became our only option for heirs. You have many fine qualities and no foreign ruler is going to marry off his daughter to spend most of her life in confinement, so-”
“So you mended best with what you had,” said Jonna tartly.
“Yes, we did,” agreed Sir Wendell mildly.
“Perhaps,” Prince Rupert intervened, noting the signs of rising temper on his new wife’s face, “it would be best if I took Jonna on a tour of our home now and introduced her to people.”
“But there should be a formal introduction to the staff,” protested Lord Addew.
“You can organise that, while we do this? Father, perhaps we will have the honour of you and Sir Wendell joining us at lunch when we can talk about other matters?” He took Jonna’s hand, bowed, which was followed by her bob, and led her towards the main entrance to the tower saying, “This is the way into the atrium.”
Jonna was heard to ask, “What’s an atrium?”
“A fancy word for entrance hall.”
“You know,” commented the king to Sir Wendell, “this could actually work.”