Prince, 72

A Royal Wedding Is A Political Event, but There’s No Reason Why You Can’t Enjoy It

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“Prince Franz?”

“Hm?” Franz looked up at Helena, who was looking at him. “What is it?”

“Are you listening?”

“Of course,” Franz lied. He had not been listening. There was some kind of situation down south. He had a letter from Hans claiming that Geoffrey had staged a coup and tried to kill Dahlia, and a letter from Dahlia—probably—claiming that Hans had seized the throne and that she was hiding with Geoffrey. He wasn’t sure what to believe, but it was evident that his sister was in danger.

“Do you have an opinion to offer?”

“About the food at the wedding?” Franz asked. “Not really. I think we should have some.”

“We’ll be removing some of the hotter dishes your people added to the list.”

“That’s fine,” Franz said with a wave of his hand. “It’s just food. I wouldn’t want to offend any northerners by making them eat anything with flavour. What else?”

Gabrielle sighed beside him, quietly. He didn’t think anyone else heard. “Very well,” said the taut woman overseeing the wedding plans. Her name was Gardenia the Younger. “Let’s move on to the floral arrangements.”

Franz resisted the urge to ask if she was an expert in flowers. Probably that was a joke she got often, and he was pretty sure she already hated him. Plus, Boey’s voice in his head reminded Franz that the less fun he poked at these people, the sooner they could move on to more important matters.

“Given that it will be a winter wedding,” Gardenia went on, “winter flowers would be the most obvious.”

“Snowdrops grow around the capital,” Helena pointed out. “Ven Sancte lands.”

“I don’t like white flowers,” Gabrielle said, surprising Franz. He hadn’t expected her to care about floral arrangements. “Especially not if they’re going to be everywhere. I’d rather something colourful.”

“Pansies?” Gardenia asked. “They’re a little simple, but they’ll be very colourful.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” said Elenora Suntower. “They grow up north, feature on a lot of northern heraldry. It might be seen as a slight.”

“We don’t have to use winter flowers,” Franz said, watching Gabrielle out of one eye. She didn’t look happy. “There are plenty of greenhouses, and they have plenty of time to grow something else.”

“That’s true, but it could be seen as too extravagant,” rumbled Kenneth Wrathwate.

“Who cares?” Franz asked with a shrug. “They’re just flowers. I’m not suggesting we carve them from gold. You really think that people will get offended that we wanted some nice flowers at our wedding?”

“I think that using snowdrops would show the princess’s roots and seem sensible at the same time,” Kenneth said with a nod.

“I said I don’t like white flowers.”

“Does it really matter, Gabrielle?” Georgina asked gently. “They’re only flowers.”

Gabrielle looked at her mother a moment, and then sighed again. “No, I guess it doesn’t.”

Franz frowned. “In Kyaine, white flowers are a bad omen. We only use them for funerals. If you have them at the wedding, my family is going to perceive it as an insult—you’ll be telling them you don’t think our marriage will last long.”

The room went quiet for a second at that. “I’ve never heard of that custom,” said Elenora, skeptical.

Franz shrugged. “You were in Kyaine for six months, Elenora. I was there rather longer; I’ve seen my share of funeral wreaths.”

“There are other flowers that will be fitting,” said Gardenia, perhaps sensing the edge in Franz’s tone. “Maybe we should move on to…”

“I’m sorry,” said Franz, standing up. “I’ve just remembered something I need to speak with the princess about. We’ll be right back.”

“Surely you can discuss it afterwards,” Gerard said, as Franz pulled Gabrielle to her feet.

“It’s important,” Franz assured him over his shoulder while walking Gabrielle over to the adjacent sitting room. He closed the door. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Gabrielle said. “What’s going on?”

“What’s going on is that you shouldn’t let them bully you into not having what you want at the wedding,” Franz said.

Gabrielle frowned. “I’m not. It doesn’t matter what the flowers are.”

“I think it does, actually,” Franz said. He took her other hand. “I know it’s all a political spectacle. But it’s our political spectacle.” He jerked his head at the door now. “Why are we letting a committee decide what we’re going to eat and what the floral arrangements are going to be?”

“Because it’s not important,” Gabrielle insisted. “It’s just trappings. What matters is that we end up married.”

“If that were true, we could sneak off to a small cathedral, bring Boey and Hector and Olivia, and come back married in half an hour.”

Gabrielle chuckled. “I guess. This is all tedious for you, isn’t it?”

Franz shook his head. “It’s not me I’m worried about. I can see you getting more and more unhappy. You must have imagined what you thought your wedding would be like. I did.”

“Of course I did. But it doesn’t…”

“Stop saying it doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t.”

“It does.”

Gabrielle sighed, stepped further into the room, sank into one of the chairs. “It’s just decorations and cake. It’s frivolous. It’s stupid to get all fussed up because I don’t like the colour of the tablecloths.”

“Hm,” Franz said. He went over and sat beside her. “Far be it for me to tell you you’re…”

“Then don’t.”

“Wrong, my queen,” Franz finished, undeterred. “But I think you’re full of shit. I think you’re trying not to get fussed about it because you don’t want people to think you’re frivolous for caring about the colour of the tablecloths.” That Gabrielle didn’t answer was answer enough for Franz. He waited for her to look at him again before putting as much reassurance into his voice as Boey always did for him. “Nobody’s going to think that, Gabrielle.”

“They will, though. I need to work with these people, and I need them to take me seriously. I can’t have them remembering me as the girl who cried because she didn’t get a bouquet of her favourite flowers.”

Franz took her hand again. “And I think that if you demand your favourite flowers, they’re going to remember that you’re the fucking queen and can have whatever you want at your own wedding and also that you can kill them with your bare hands.”

Gabrielle laughed. “I guess. But still.”

“No. I’m going to go in there and tell them that they’re all fired from the wedding committee. You and I can sit down with Gardenia the Younger, and we’ll get her to organize a wedding that we’ll enjoy. Have you picked a dress yet?”

“I have it narrowed down to a few options,” Gabrielle muttered, red in the face.

“Do you like any of them?” Franz didn’t want to put words in her mouth, so he stopped at that.

“Not really.”

“Then tomorrow you and Olivia and whoever else you want to take are going to go around to all the best tailors in the city and find one who will make you a dress that you want.”

Gabrielle laughed, just once. “This is so stupid. I could just wear my armour to the ceremony.”

Franz ran a hand down her arm. “But you want to wear a fancy, frilly, pretty dress.”

She was quiet for a second, and then she nodded, a bit misty-eyed. “I do, actually. And I want to have my hair up in this big tower like in this painting I saw once. It’s so old-fashioned nobody does it anymore, but I really like the way it looks. And I want…big, stupid dramatic flowers everywhere.”

Franz smiled. “Then that’s what we’ll have.”

“My parents will throw a fit.”

“Your parents’ wedding was twenty-five years ago. Maybe they didn’t get what they wanted then, but too bad for them. They don’t get to take it out on you.”

“Okay,” Gabrielle said quietly. She leaned over and hugged Franz. “Thank you. You’re right, I shouldn’t be…afraid. People can want frivolous things sometimes.”

“Exactly. And when better to want them then on a day that’s entirely about you?”

“About both of us.” Gabrielle pulled away. “What do you want?”

Franz thought about saying he didn’t want anything. But that would be stupid after the conversation they’d just had. “I want a lot of music, the good kind. I want the party afterwards to be an actual fun party, not the boring work kind. And I want good wine, and food that tastes like something.” She laughed at that too. “And I want Boey involved in the ceremony.”

“Me too,” Gabrielle agreed. “I wouldn’t want him excluded. I was thinking he could tie us together. If he’s okay with that.”

“I’ll ask him.” Franz wanted that too. He was pretty sure Boey wouldn’t complain. “I’ve also always kind of wanted to wear a dress to my wedding.”

“Really?” Gabrielle asked, an eyebrow quirked.

Franz nodded. “In wedding portraits the lady’s dress is always so amazing and the man is always dressed in boring formalwear. So I always thought it would be fun if I could wear a dress too. I know it’s a stupid idea, but…”

“I’m okay with it.”

Franz blinked. “Well…okay. I’ll think about it.”

Gabrielle took a deep breath. “I also want my friends from the fortress to come as guests, not security. Which my parents vetoed before I ever suggested it.”

“Too bad,” Franz told her. “They’re coming. How attached are you to having Gavin hold the rings?”

“I’m not that attached to Gavin being there.”

That wasn’t true, but Franz nodded. “I’d like Donny and Flora to do it.”

“Me too. I think it would mean a lot to Hector to be your best man.”

“I’d like that. I want Frederick and Silas as ushers, too.” Franz thought about it. “I’d also like it if Pauline Swiftheart could not officiate the ceremony.”

Gabrielle grinned. “I think that one’s going to be a non-starter, sorry.”

“Oh well.” Franz gave a shrug. “It was worth a shot.”

“Not really.”

“Not really. So here’s what I think we should do,” Franz said. “I know I said they were fired, but I think we should go back in there and agree with everything they all say. And then once they get tired, we’ll eat supper with Gardenia and tell her what we actually want.”

“She’s going to tell my parents.”

“No she won’t. I bet she thinks this whole process is stupid too.”

Gabrielle nodded, standing up. “Probably. Thank you. Really.”

“It’s nothing,” Franz said. “I’m here for you, Gabrielle.”

“I know. It means a lot to me.” She kissed him, then started back towards the main room. “Let’s go play pretend.”

“We should probably save that for the bedroom,” Franz teased.

“You know, I have some spare dresses you could wear at any time.”

Franz grinned, put his arm in hers, and headed back to work.

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