Previous canto: "The Royal Chambers"
by Kevin F. Story
A familiar, quiet knock sounded from the door.
The door swung open, and James entered quickly, silently closing it behind him.
“What happened, sire? You look a mess,” said James, quickly finding the prince's slippers and presenting them.
Delfort sat on the bed, accepting the slippers. “I'm not certain, James, but this is what I think.” He informed James of everything that happened, starting with his talk with Sir Reginald, breezing through his encounter with Pot, and finally relishing in his exploits with (or his being exploited by) Clara and Jaclynne, “who will die happy knowing her first time ever was with the future King of Darscinnia.”
James was both amazed and disgusted. “You mean the future King of a united Darscinnia and Inglende,” he corrected.
The prince ignored this. “I wish you had been there, James. You could have shared.”
James stood up. “Sire, we leave at noon after a private brunch with the mayor and his family. It would probably be best if we put this all behind us and continue our journey to meet your bride-to-be.”
Delfort observed the coolness James now presented. He had never seen James like this. They were always open to each other, but now James closed the metaphorical door. Delfort found his feet and slowly introduced them to the floor.
“Quite right, James. I shall never speak of it again.”
Prince Delfort descended the stairs and stood outside the door to the banquet hall. James and Sir Reginald followed closely behind, and when they, too, reached the door, the ceremonial guards opened it, banging their pikes loudly on the stone floor.
“His Majesty the Crown Prince of Darscinnia; and his entourage, Sir Reginald of Cangreene,” announced one of the guards.
The other guard looked at James. “Son, you can eat with the other servants in the storehouse.”
“He eats with me,” the prince commanded.
The guard sighed; he tried, after all. “Very well, my lord.”
The prince and his party proceeded to the banqueting table, where Mayor von Blochstorgg and others stood waiting.
“Good morrow, Your most Royal Excellency!” the mayor snivelled. He introduced a rotund, fleshy woman as his wife, Maria. She smiled wider than even her fatted face would allow. The mayor's personal advisor towered above her, an eagle-looking man with not a hair on his shiny scalp, just some wispy white ones around the edges. “The good doctor Lester Bickentawl.”
The prince noted with alarm the other guests.
“This is my only child, my son Jehosaphat.”
Pot smiled. “We've met. Your Highness.”
“And this is Dr Bickentawl's only daughter, the fair maiden Jaclynne.”
James shot the prince a look as Jaclynne curtseyed. Her hair was brushed out straight so that it flowed all around her adorable frame, a frame she had disclosed to the prince when the moon was high. It now wore a maroon gown which seemed to endlessly wrap around itself. She glowed still from her unforgettable evening.
“My dear cousin Clarabelle sends her warmest regards, my lord,” Jaclynne said, winking subtly. “She only wishes she could be here to see your handsome face.”
“Indeed,” snorted Dr Bickentawl as he adjusted his spectacles, “my niece was meant to join us, but woke up rather ill, according to my sister. Jitters about meeting a prince, if you ask me.” He chuckled and muttered something that sounded like “children” under his breath.
Prince Delfort was given the seat at the head of the somewhat short table, with the mayor seated at the other end (indeed, the arse, thought the prince). James and Reginald flanked him on the right, while (to his dismay) Jaclynne and Pot took up the left. Throughout the meal the mayor did most of the talking, boring the table with recounts of his time at a boarding school in Barnium-over-Wynn, eliciting yawns from the table with recitations of mediocre poetry he wrote at lyceum in Notlob Falls, and finally filling the table with genuine ennui by retelling of his absolutely ordinary boyhood in Porte Godfrey and environs. Sir Reginald did what he always did: he ate prolifically. James felt rather unhungry, especially sitting across from Jaclynne, who throughout the meal grinned unnervingly at him, at the prince, at everyone. The prince ate slowly in contemplative silence, seemingly stoic. Pot was in his own world, a state he probably enjoyed most of the time.
Delfort was a bit torn as he slowly ate the victuals before him. His experience last night was exciting, perhaps the best thing that had happened to him so far in his young life. Yet he could tell James disapproved. Was he jealous? or merely looking out for his old master and companion? Perhaps the prince could indulge and leave his attendant unawares. He glanced at Jaclynne. She smiled at him and blushed, turning to her plate and passing some bits of food around it. She was good, Delfort thought, but Clara was better, more lovely, more exciting. Delfort wondered if there were more young ladies like them in the kingdom, and if he could manage to sample them all.
A small slippered foot found that of Delfort. His eyes met hers and he blushed this time and moved his foot away. That magic punch, Delfort continued mentally, and that sweet smoke were the only reasons for the events of last night. Now he looked at Pot, who was staring into his silver goblet and picking bits from his teeth. Maybe Pot would grant him a small favour, something the prince could take with him on his journey. Otherwise there would be no way for Delfort to even talk to the fair maidens of this or the next land.
Delfort then looked back at Jaclynne. Maybe he could try again, he thought, without the influence of other things.
“Enjoying the food?” Delfort inquired stupidly.
Jaclynne looked up from her plate, at which she had resigned to staring. She smiled. “Yes, my lord, but not as much as I enjoyed your feast last night.”
“Indeed.” Delfort felt foolish. He stood up. Others tried to stand, but he stayed them with a hand, excusing himself, and leaving the banquet hall.
Delfort nodded to the guards and ascended the steps. He felt better now that he wasn't in that sweltering hall. (Perhaps he was the only one sweltering.) He found his chamber and slipped inside, locking shut the door. He sighed and turned into the room. Clara was standing before him. He froze.
“My lord!” she blushed, surprised at his entrance. “Is brunch already over?”
Delfort thawed slowly. “No, no. I needed some, er, air.”
Clara turned her surprise to a smile. She walked to him. She was wearing a heavy grey cloak, under which it appeared she wore only a sage slip.
“Is there anything I can do, my lord?” She was quite close. Her hand found his jacket buttons and followed them top to bottom.
“I thought you were ill.”
Clara stopped. “I was. Then I felt better. I realised I left my purse here last night, so I came back to get it, but I did not wish to disturb my handsome lord.” She touched his cheek, which blushed.
“Did you... did you find it?”
“I did, my lord.” She smiled. “But I found you, too. And you must leave today.”
“Yes, I must—”
“My lord.” Clara undid her cloak and let it fall to the floor. Her sheer slip billowed slightly with some breeze in the room. She grasped his hand, her eyes saying, “May I?” and led the prince away from the door. Delfort relaxed and let it all happen.
Prince Delfort's journey continues next time in "As Twice You Knew Me"...
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