The reception is an unqualified success. There is no doubt that I am the belle of the ball!
People have come from all over the planet just to welcome me home. And why not? I’ve been gone for four long years. I’m very pleased to see them all, even if some of them have come with what I consider to be dishonorable intentions—that is, the wooing of my baby sister. She’s too young to be thinking in terms of marriage yet. She’s barely gotten into long skirts, for crying out loud. Give her a chance to grow up first before you marry her off, Mother. What’s the rush? She has time. I’m the heir, after all. And even I am not ready to be wed.
Everyone’s very happy to see me, and I am showered with compliments and accolades and hugs. And compliments on my ensemble. I haven’t been hugged this much since I left home. I’m here to tell you this is one touchy feely planet. I’m not surprised, though. They all love me—I’m their darling crown prince. And I’m without question the most beautiful person here.
There is only one blemish that mars the beauty of my homecoming, and he’s here too, unfortunately. Orm Schlangeleben. My father’s vizier and personal adviser. I consider him no better than a wart upon my father’s hand—just about as attractive, and with a similar personality. A nastier man I never met. He has a nose large enough to bathe a small child in, and all of the charm of a sexually transmitted disease. Why my father cannot see that there is something wrong with him, I do not know. When I am king, I shall certainly dispense with the bastard’s services. Not that I am anxious for that to happen any time soon, but waiting for my father to see the truth about this man seems to be a losing proposition. I only wish he’d listen to me about him, but of course he doesn’t, for Father knows best.
The reception encompasses several of the public rooms of the palace, in order to accommodate the large number of guests that are attending. But it’s nothing that the staff can’t handle. They’re trained to do just this sort of thing—receptions, grand dinners, affairs of state. Sometimes at a moment’s notice. Only the best for the Royal family, don’t you know? Off-world visitors may be scarcer now than they once were, but there are plenty of people that come from the other cities on-planet. Even on days when there is nothing particularly grand going on, people float in and out of the palace for other reasons—seeking to have boons granted, wishes fulfilled, quests blessed. The usual.
My parents hold court in their throne room, which doubles tonight as a ballroom. The dancing will begin here soon. I look forward to that greatly. I’ve managed to get in some dancing while away at university, but not near enough. And I miss the native dances of our people. There is something so very elegant in the movements, something so very majestic—the steps are ingrained in me from childhood, back to the days when my mother was my first dance partner. I know that I was an apt pupil. I can hear the royal orchestra playing even now. Some things never change, praise the stars.
The Blommervermogens have been the ruling family on Rhealliticzk since long before I was born. My father’s father was king, and his father before him, and so on for generations. The current reign of King Liefde and Queen Kærlighed has been an enlightened and popular one. My parents are a very loving and handsome couple. Luci and I have never lacked for anything, especially their love. I hope to be as blessed when it is my turn to rule, and that the people love me even half as well as them.
I feel a rumbling in my intestines, and it occurs to me that in the excitement of preparing for this event, I have neglected to eat. Well, that is easily remedied. I follow my nose in the direction of the heavenly aromas which emanate from the dining hall. Relief for my hunger is but a few steps away!
A magnificent buffet has been set up which contains some of the finest foods our world has to offer. And yes, many are my favorites, as I had anticipated. I smile regally at everyone I meet along my path, my eyes affixed upon the feast before me. I still manage to offer them my usual blessing—the one reserved for the Royal Family. Two fingers, pointing toward my eyes, then toward the subject. This is to indicate that we are always watching out for our people. There is also a single blessing, involving but one finger, the middle one in fact, held alone and held high, to indicate the pride of the Blommervermogens. That one is my favorite.
Oh my. I see some of the roast hens I’ve been dying for. I know these have been chosen with me in mind. The chef has prepared them just the way I like them, with the multi-colored feathers arranged like a luscious rainbow around the bird, for dipping purposes, presented with a small dish containing a piquant sauce for dipping. My mouth is already watering at the sight. I could command one of the servants to make a plate for me—all I need do is snap my fingers and say it and it will be done—but since I’m already standing here, and since I really don’t want to wait, I think I’ll help myself, just this once, and….
Hel-lo! What the hell? Just as I reach for one of the delicate little birds, I find myself yanked unceremoniously away from the table, hand poised in mid-air. I stumble after the interloper, one hand going automatically to my beret, which is in danger of falling from my head, the other to my skirt. I think I’ve probably just given everyone in my immediate vicinity a quick peep at the royal jewels, as my skirt flips up for a second. Maybe two or three, even. I know, I can feel the sudden breeze upon my nether regions. There’s only me underneath, you know, in all my glory. Now I’m sure that the guests’ll be salivating for more than the food.
Damn, but Luci’s gotten strong. When did that happen? By the time I regain my balance, and manage to find some of my lost dignity, we’re already in the ballroom, and people are staring at us. What has she done to me? Is my hair out of place or what? Is my make-up gone awry? I’m torn between snapping at my sister or examining whatever damage she’s done to my appearance. I opt for the latter.
Swyddogh hastens to my side—apparently she took him by surprise as well—and I quickly take stock of my looks in the mirror he produces for my use. I turn my head first one way, then the other, smoothing my hair back as I do so. At least my make-up isn’t smudged, as I’m not carrying my extra with me and I’d hate to return to my room to fix my face, but I will if I have to. Everything seems to be in place, luckily, and I smile at my reflection. I nod to Swyddogh and he returns the mirror to its place of concealment.
Now to find out the reason for this imposition.
“What was the meaning of that!” I expostulate, my stomach growling, lending its support to my righteous indignation. But I stop in mid-complaint as I take a good hard look at my sister. She’s wearing a long gold gown which flows all the way to the floor, and her red-gold hair is woven into delicate plaits which frame her heart-shaped face, and the pale rose hat she is wearing is incredibly cute, decorated with small blue stones which gleam as they catch the gaslight. My stomach does a back flip as I realize that I’m going to have to watch out for her, very carefully, lest she be stolen away from us. My little sister has truly grown up.
“Kay!” she whines, clutching at my arm, digging her nails into my wrist. “Stay with me, please! I don’t want to be courted. Not yet!”
“Very well,” I grumble, my dreams of food dissipating in view of the tears which threaten to mar my sister’s beauty. Some homecoming. I can’t even eat. But Luci needs me, so I can hardly complain, now can I?
At least not here and now.
“Just what is it you want me to do, Luci?” I sigh.
“Just stay with me and meet the suitors that are here to meet me. Hopefully there won’t be too many of them. You know men better than I do, brother. Look them over and help me determine which are worthy men and which are no better than Klytemnestrian saarbuckets!”
To say I am shocked by my sister’s language is an understatement, but before I get a chance to ask her where the doogle blazes she learned those words, Swyddogh is digging his elbow into my side, so I have to pause and glare at him instead.
“Your parents are beckoning, your royal highness,” he whispers discreetly, and I withdraw my anger quickly. This is one of the things that I have him around for, to keep me on my toes and to remind me of where I should be.
“Thanks, Swy.” I glance toward the thrones, where Father and Mother sit. Father does indeed have a finger crooked toward us. “Come, Luci.” This time I’m leading her, as we hasten across the room.
And now we stand. And stand. And stand. While a parade of idiots present themselves in all their borrowed finery and ogle my sister. It’s all I can do to keep from punching each and every one in his stupid face. But I can say without hesitation that none of them are worthy of the honor of courting my beloved little sister.
It is closer to the time of the dance, now, I can feel it—the music is reverberating through my feet. We must at least find Luci a suitable partner. I have been aware for some time now that some of the locals have been included as guests for this occasion. Two of them are staring at us now, rather openly, from across the room.
There can only be one reason for that. I preen at the knowledge of my attractiveness. As they begin to move toward us, I know instinctively what their purpose is. Now the question remains, what will my answer be? Will I actually dance with one of the locals? Or shall I turn him down? I can’t help but smirk, as I debate my decision.
“Okay Reno, remember you are here to attract her. Keep your mind on her and I think everything will be fine,” Jaou whispers in my ear as we look over the throng of people from the balcony.
“I know why we are here, Jaou,” I snipe back at him. My scent must be drifting onto the crowd, heads are beginning to turn as I knew they would. After having spent the day basking in the light of the guardian there is no way I wouldn’t be attractive even to these animals. Yet dressed up in their finery, many of them are attractive—in their own way. I nod discreetly at a few people I work with in the castle as they realize who Jaou and I are. The office of Interspecies Cooperation may be a farce as far as most people on both sides are concerned, but at least we try to keep relations smooth and communications open.
“Let’s make our way towards the throne. The Princess is there and we can make her acquaintance and our respects to the Royal Family at the same time,” Jaou suggests. It’s a good idea and although I’m reluctant, we might as well get this over with right up front. I let Jaou lead me down the stairs and we venture towards the Royal family, who are greeting the line of their guests.
I hear the orchestra playing in the distance. Oh great, dancing. I’ll probably have to dance with her. It’s not that I can’t dance, I’ve been known to be rather light on my feet, but the only female I’ve ever danced with would be my mother. I suppose dancing with her won’t be much different than dancing with anyone else, as long as it isn’t a slow dance where I’m required to hold her close. Gods, what is my mother thinking. There’s no way I can be with a woman, the very idea repulses me.
It’s started of course, the murmuring and whispering of voices as Jaou and I make our way across the floor. The crowd parts before us like water before the prow of a boat. All eyes turn to us as we approach. Even guests waiting in line to pay their respects step back and allow us to proceed before them. Actually I wouldn’t have minded waiting at the back of the line for our turn, but my brother grabs my elbow and as the others step back, he propels me forward. I keep my eyes downcast. I don’t need to make eye contact with anyone other than the Royal family. I don’t want anyone to misinterpret my glance and think that the state I’m currently in is for them.
“Well, well. The little princeling is home and all dressed up. He sure makes a pretty picture, too bad he doesn’t have a brain behind all that plumage,” Jaou whispers for my ears only. At the foot of the dais, I take a deep breath and finally raise my eyes, locking them not on the Princess, but the Prince. Jaou wasn’t kidding, he is quite attractive and I can see that he’s completely aware of his beauty. Having chosen white, he stands out not only from the crowd but from every other guest in the hall. To my amazed eyes, none look more beautiful. Unfortunately I’m not for him. He—even though he is rather conceited—would’ve been far preferable to the young woman at his side.
She’s a beautiful young woman, to be sure. Her golden gown sets off her appearance quite regally, her long red tresses have been arranged beautifully. Were it not for her brother, and my predilections for men, she would be the belle of the ball.
“Isn’t she beautiful, brother?” Jaou whispers as we wait for the two men before us to speak their piece. My brother should have been mother’s choice for this pretty princess, as he does prefer females, unlike me. So why me, I can’t help but wonder again.
“I suppose so,” I whisper back, barely able to glance at her, after dragging my eyes away from the Princeling. Then it’s our turn. Jaou, being my second speaks for me. We bow in synch with one another and with all the grace our father has taught us.
“Greetings King Liefde and Queen Kaerlighed, from the court of the First Mother Fatinalalinalea Sameeleon. I am the first son, Jaouseptanetah Sameeleon and this is my brother and third son, Renophoatien Sameeleon. At your service.” Jaou formally greets them. “We are here to celebrate your son’s return and to request that my brother be given formal permission to pay court to your daughter.”
to be continued
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♥ Julie and Sui