A rainy dull day. At work: coped with chaos, iced a wedding cake. (Wedding cakes, the most fun ever!) At home: tripped while planting geraniums and suffered what doctors call a “whacked tailbone”. Ouch. But the geraniums are what’s important.
… Christopher kept his left hand in his coat-pocket, so no one would gawk at the bandages around his knuckles. Besides, nobody would approve of him punching Prince Alexander. That much, he was sure of.
They ushered him into a room full of air and light. A balcony led to a garden encircled by walls of rose-bramble in full bloom. Windows stood open everywhere, admitting floods of sunshine; the white walls shone. Crown said in almost a whisper, “These are mother’s rooms.”
The queen’s royal chambers, then. The queen herself—Christopher had never seen any news-sheet engravings of her, the queen did not make public appearances, but who else could she be?—sat overlooking the pleasant garden, a lap blanket tucked around her. Her robe of knitted lace looked soft and warm as a grandmother’s. She was playing some board game, rolling dice and moving a game-piece, with the king and two knights for her opponents.
It seemed like an oddly familial scene: queen and king and knights sitting at ease around the gameboard. A third knight, informally dressed in a white shirt open at the throat, came in through a door at one side. His sleeves were rolled up. He carried a tray—a jug with faint steam rising and a teapot next to it, eggshell porcelain cups—and took it across, serving the queen with his own hands. Like a page, perhaps.
He offered the tray to the queen first, on bended knee, and the king seemed not to care (or notice). The king didn’t see it as an insult, then. Not when the queen was served before him, and not when the queen smiled and touched the knight’s hand, saying, “Percevale,” in thanks.
“Father,” Crown said coldly.
The king nodded. “Alexane.” The knights at the table rose and moved away, walking in step; they went to stand near the door. As for Crown, she looked aside hastily from her father, but seemed to drink in the sight of her mother. She hurried across the pleasant room with eager strides, to fall to one knee at the queen’s side.
“Mother,” she breathed, and the queen smiled at her.
“Alexane.” The king lifted a finger. Crown had laid a hand on her mother’s slipper, just touching it, no more. “Do not tire Amily.”
She snatched her hand back. “I’m sorry!” Even as she spoke, she was retreating, shaking her head in apology.
The queen stared after her, her hands gripping each other on the edge of the table. After a moment she kissed the tip of one finger and touched it to her slipper, just where Crown’s hand had rested. “A mother’s blessing,” she said.