Aileen’s chambers were indeed fit for a princess. The room was a large semicircle, a wide window filling the great curved wall, a fireplace on one end and the Aileen’s four-posted bed on the other. The plaster ceiling was painted with a blue sky with fluffy, pink-edged clouds and little soaring birds. The rug over the smooth stone floors was thick and green like spring grass; the same green that tinted the gauzy curtains around Aileen’s bed. The walls were decorated with bright hangings depicting embroidered foxes and fairies gallivanting in a woven forest. Between the hangings were bronze sconces shaped like winged foxes holding little torches, like guardian angels keeping a vigilant watch over the princess while her Guardian of flesh and blood went out for her morning run.
Ameryn crossed to the bed and pulled back the curtain. All that could be seen of the princess was a thick wave of auburn hair splashing out from under the covers.
Ameryn reached over and pulled the covers back, revealing the princess’ porcelain face, her eyes roving under her closed lids, still chasing the fleeting images of her dream.
“Come on, Aileen. Rise and shine.”
She got a mumble in response. With a huff and half a smile, Ameryn went to the window and pulled back the heavy velvet curtain that thus far had been blocking out the morning light. Suddenly the room was flooded with light, which glimmered off the metallic threads in the tapestries and bed linens and bronze sconces, making the room look like a fairy land.
Aileen’s black eyebrows furrowed, but her eyes stayed closed. With a protesting grunt, she yanked the covers back over her face.
“Five more minutes.”
“I’m late as it is. Come on, you’re due in court in an hour. The guests start arriving today.”
Aileen’s eyes snapped open, as clear blue as the autumn sky that now filled the room’s massive, faceted window. “Today? Oh! It is today!” She bolted upright, rubbing her eyes.
“Thought that would get you,” Ameryn said, smiling triumphantly. “I’ll ring for brekkers.” She stepped over to the fireplace a pulled a long cord that hung by the door that led to Aileen’s sitting room.
“I’m not late? No one’s showed up yet, have they?” Aileen had lunged from her bed to her dressing table, and was now frantically running a brush through her thick auburn hair.
“Not that I could see. Slow down, or you’ll get all frizzy. Relax—you’ve got an hour.”
“Might not be long enough,” Aileen said, looking at her reflection with a worried expression, poking her face experimentally.
“Take care you don’t make yourself look too lovely,” Ameryn jested. “We don’t want to overwhelm the poor boys, now, do we?”
“All those people coming in, just to look at me—ugh! I’m too nervous to think straight.”
“Hopefully you won’t be too nervous to eat. I’d rather you not faint again. Not very ladylike, and rarely makes a good impression.”
“Ammy, I was twelve when that happened.”
“Still,” Ameryn said, crossing to the wardrobe and rifling through the princess’s gowns, “can’t be too careful. How about this one?” She pulled out a long gown of gold cloth, edged in embroidered doves and frosted with lace.
Aileen eyed it, biting her lip. “Don’t you think it’s a bit—fussy?”
“Court is fussy. So is courting, come to think of it.”
“Stop it, I’m nervous enough. How about the blue one?”
“Isn’t it rather every-day?”
Ameryn did her best to give a reassuring smile. “Whatever you feel comfortable about, dearie. It doesn’t matter.”
Aileen slumped in her seat. “I should wear the pink one. I look awful enough in it that maybe they’ll all take one look at me and run back to wherever they came from.”
“No such luck. You’d look lovely if all you wore was a potato sack.”
“Do I have one of those?”
“Not the last time I checked.”
Ameryn leaned against the wardrobe, examining her charge’s face. “I thought you loved your birthday celebration, Aileen. You were so excited about it last year.”
“Last year wasn’t the year. Back then I could keep it all at a safe distance—the choosing and all.” She sighed. “Besides, the preliminary formalities are—ugh!”
“Two ‘ughs’ in one morning. This does not bode well.”
“I know I’m the princess. I know that I have to marry someone to maintain the royal line. And I am excited to find out who that person is—the man I marry. But Ameryn,” she said, casting her clear blue eyes up at her Guardian’s, almost wearily, “I should so much like to fall in love for love’s sake, and not for politics.”
Ameryn looked down at Aileen, her only friend, and the closest thing to family she would ever have. She was a beautiful girl, full of life and spirit and creativity—and gentleness. She would be a perfect queen, and deserved the perfect king. In Ameryn’s mind, no man would ever be good enough for her princess—but for Aileen’s sake, she said, “You will, dearie. I know you will. And he’ll be wonderful, whoever he is.”
“Hmm,” Aileen murmured, and turned to the mirror again. She ran a finger through her hair, lost in her own thoughts for a moment or two.
“The green one,” she said at last.
“Right,” Ameryn replied, pulling a shimmering green gown from the wardrobe and giving it a brisk brushing down, making its golden embroidery spark in the morning light.