“It is an anxious peace, Your Highness.”
Prince Royce paced around the war suite. His sword and scabbard hung from an ornate finial decorating one ear of his throne. His coat was draped over one arm of the chair. Various other royal accouterments were strewed around the room, left where he dropped them.
When he was troubled, Royce tended to strip. It was as if his clothing hindered his thought processes. The closer to naked he became, the clearer his thinking.
“But, at what price did we barter this peace?” Royce tugged at the linen cravat wrapped about his throat. “She is not our prisoner, she should not be held captive.”
The only other person with the prince was Fox Reed, his most trusted counselor. Fox argued for a swap of political hostages, an idea Royce balked at implementing.
“She cannot be a guest in the castle, it would not be safe for her, nor would it be seemly,” Fox insisted, “what with neither of you betrothed.”
“Still, Princess Lucienne is no commoner, she is entitled to a certain level of ceremony that is not possible if she is languishing in our dungeon.”
Royce sat down to pull off his boots.
“Were the princess a minor male heir, he would be my ward residing in a plush, private suite inside the castle” Royce said, tossing the offending shoes across the room. “Because Her Highness is a female, she is more dangerous? She must be held ransom in a dark, dank cell?”
Fox gathered the discarded clothing, depositing them in a messy heap near the hearth. The smoldering fire emitted little heat, and less light.
“It is a matter of propriety,” Fox said, wiping his hands on his pant legs. “There can be no appearance of scandal. Should her father, King Lurcen, suspect some sort of untoward behavior between the two of you, our negotiations are for naught.”
Royce leaned against the campaign table, maps and charts of his realm and Lurcen’s spread across the top.
“Perhaps they would be better to worry about a young ward in my care,” Royce said, working his socks off, and handing them to Fox to save him the trouble of picking them off the floor. “Surely, they all suspect I am no candidate as a swain for the princess.”
Holding the sour stockings at arm’s length, Fox added them to Royce’s growing pile.
“I am merely the messenger, My Lord,” Fox said, shrugging then folding his arms across his chest. “Please, Royce, shed no more clothing.”
“There must be something that can be done so that the Princess has accommodations more suiting her prestige,” Royce stopped short of untying his britches.
“I may be able to arrange something, but,” Fox’s voice trailed off.
“I don’t want to know what that is,” Royce finished the thought.
“She will be safe?” Royce asked, his head down.
“Her lodgings will be splendid?”
“Fit for a fairytale princess.”
“See to it, Fox,” Royce waved away his counselor.
The next time Royce saw Fox, it was from his tower window. Fox appeared to be simply taking a stroll through the royal gardens.
He stopped at an old growth magnolia. Its creamy white blooms enveloped the canopy with the scent of sweet tea and lemon. Many of the flowers had not yet unfolded. Fox gently pulled down a branch holding one of the buds and inhaled its heady perfume.
Still holding the branch, Fox whispered, “I hope that you are comfortable, My Lady.”
He carefully released the limb.
“There will be no lasting effects from your enchantment,” he said. “Once a peace treaty is parlayed, you will be restored. Until which time, you will remain the guest of Prince Royce in this Flower Fortress where your chastity will not be in jeopardy.”
Fox caressed the bud one more time.
“Were your father not so scurrilous in his dealings with Royce, perhaps a marriage could have been brokered, and you would have been ensconced in the palace,” Fox flicked the bud with a sharp fingernail. “As it stands now, I may be hard pressed to remember which of these aromatic buds is yours. You better pray your father is more generous with his treaty demands than he is with his daughter.”