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The Prize is Not as Great as You Think: Chapter 9

9) The Belle of the Ball


Margaritte did not know if she looked forward to the festivities after Prince Gerald’s investiture or not. There was to be a feast at the Guildhall and a ball as well. Well not a ball, but dancing, and she always excelled at dancing. At least the men all told her so even if she knew that she occasionally would stumble in figures whilst she did them. Their eyes never caught that, for men were always looking upon her face, her figure, her legs that showed as she danced. She had them all fooled, but did she fool herself the most? Her mother, thank goodness, had long ago left Steilenberg for their country manor, otherwise Margaritte knew she would have been berated about her skills.

The dowager baroness, for Margaritte was a Princess, her mother was not, did not like the society of Steilenberg. At least her mother did not like that part which Margaritte and her late father encouraged. That the Prince her father had now been dead for six months did not help Margaritte navigate the court of Steilenberg. Her half brother, William, though did his best. William was a Baron with the family’s sizable holdings, he was betting a great deal that she should land the Crown Prince as her husband. William knew Gerald much better than she though.

He had marched with the man in the St. Michael’s pageants for years. That helped to paint a friendship out of an acquaintance. Next year William’s own son was to march in the parade carrying the palanquin of the Saint's statue. William thought the new Crown Prince was sharp, having realized that the safest place for the spare heir was far from the court which was surrounded by vultures. Her brother and she were two of those vultures. They had done their best to promote Margaritte to the top of the pyramid of good Almondian women for the crown prince to wed.

Even the very day that Reginald had been killed they had been pursuing that plan. Margaritte had nearly given herself to the man. Years of kissing and caresses from admirers had fanned the flames of desire within her that fateful morning, and she had wished to culminate those passions in an act of lovemaking that still had been denied her.

Margaritte had to be pure for the Crown Prince lest word be spread that some man knew her carnally. That some man who she would give up all her charms to would then tell others of the deed, she found hard to credit, but her brother and her father had both told her such was the case. And should she have given them to Reginald, the Grand Principalities worst womanizer, then surely her reputation would have been destroyed.

“Play him just enough to arouse him. You know what I mean?” Her brother had said.

“Yes, I know when a man becomes so. When he is hard and stiff. Then he is mine?” she had asked.

The Baron had shaken his head, “Not entirely. He has known so many women that even should you marry him and be the Grand Princess, know that Reginald will cheat on you. Often. It is a drug that he can not free himself from. He must have variety often and he will not stop.”

She had done as her brother had said and the Prince surely became interested. But Reginald also had told her the truth.

That his interest was real but he could not choose her to be his bride unless the Principality required it. That the French had a candidate for the job as well. She knew the French or Germans married into the ruling branch of the FitzRoy Perry family often over the centuries. It had balanced out diplomacy. As did the other noble houses, such as Britain, Austria, the Low Countries, even Sweden once. Almondy was the largest of the secondary powers on the continent. They were a force to be reckoned with, a quarter the size of France in population, and land. And proportionately the same amount of soldiers, especially if a full induction of all serving men was undertaken.

Her brother sat in the Assembly and said that could be two million men or more. And Almondy was not ready for a war. Her brother William questioned her just as Reginald had before he had been blown to bits. Did she want to be a Grand Princess in wartime Almondy? An Almondy that became the battlefield between France and Germany. Knowing that it seemed destined to become such a battleground, how could the Principality afford a French Grand Princess? If the Germans were strong and won, then they would doubly hate the Almondians despite nearly a third of the population with Germanic heritage.

Though the same would be said about the French, and a French bride would probably guarantee an alliance with that nation. Margaritte could not think of that, for such way led to madness. Just as thinking of a life with Reginald, or worse, having given into the desire she had that morning when she held his hand to her breast. If she had succumbed to him then, she would have lost her most precious possession and then, what would she have to offer another. Especially with no promise of marriage by the Prince.

She knew now to hold onto her needs and guard it closely. Margaritte would speak to Prince Gerald, whom she had not much interaction with before. She had been introduced in years past. Then she had made eye contact with him several times over the last week. He had shaken his head with a little speed at the funeral of poor Reginald, and again today, after she had given him a big smile, ensuring he saw her figure. If Gerald liked girls then he would have liked what he saw.

If Margaritte had not been cultivated to marry the Prince then she could have been wed to any of half a dozen Almondian nabobs. Or dozens if she allowed herself to be courted by the other wealthy of Europe. The Glaus, the Renards, the Packers. All wanted to get to know her better, and that was just the families here in Steilenberg. The crossroads of Mittleuropa was also a place that could be used to make many rich. Perhaps that was the play to keep Almondy neutral. So many of the railways passed through Almondy now and the Grand Prince received a little tariff from everyone.

Did she like Gerald? Margaritte could not say, for she only had his looks and his actions to judge him on. She had not gotten to know him like she had Reginald.

She had loved that Prince, but then her father and the Grand Prince had been trying to make her love Reginald for years. She may have loved him, but she also loathed him.

All those girls he slept with. Carousing to late hours all the time. That was not what she wanted in a man.

Gerald, she had heard, often went to sleep before ten, retiring with some reading and a glass of warm milk. The capital was all a buzz about their new Crown Prince for he had made great changes for being in town just a little more than a week. The former Colonel of the Guards had committed suicide after Prince Gerald had demoted him. Gerald, rumor had it, berated the man in the hallway of the Celebont Palace for leading a unit ‘that could not protect a baby in a cradle,’ were the words that had been said.

Her brother had said the Colonel had been a fool. And that the talk about a baby and a cradle was not from Prince Gerald, but said by others. And was generous as well. The entire Guard corps was in an uproar. All officers had been recalled and many were standing guard for twelve hours a day as punishment for all their laxness before. Each day others were dismissed by the Crown Prince, losing honor. The papers said he was making enemies of a large group of men.

There had been one statement from Gerald that had been reported, “You all know about the bad apple in the barrel. Well I am doing my best to find the good ones. Now if these officers are serious about their service to Almondy, they have all been offered commissions in the regular army. Places where they may very well be called on to serve, in a few years or even mere months, in combat. All feel the winds of war about Europe, but these officers of ours have been attending every party in Steilenberg, Something they had rather have done, instead of guarding their Princes.”

The condemnation had the wags in the taverns making songs that satirized the Guard. Her cousin, Charles-Marie FitzRoy Perry, who was the Minister of the Military, had to speak up and say that his highness was concerned for the men in the Guards were quite good. The problem was just the indolent officers, and Prince Gerald was correcting that problem.

Gerald did look good in uniform. He spoke well, though she had heard that sniffle of a woman, Catherine Keller helped him write his speeches. Always at the palace. If Sir Pascal Renard had not claimed the woman for his own, Margaritte would be worried that Lady Keller was trying to get her claws into the Crown Prince. Clearly, Gerald was Margaritte’s property just as Reginald had been her property.

The other ladies who sought advantageous marriages in Steilenberg all knew that the Crown Prince was hers and not to interfere. Though Catherine Keller had not learned to play the game, for she had been too busy reading musty old law books.

Fool of a woman thought she could enter the world of men that way.

Margaritte would show that woman.

Tonight by virtue of her rank in Almondian society, Margaritte was the highest ranking lady of the court and would be seated next to the Crown Prince for balance. The Grand Prince had even sent her a note saying as it would warm his heart if she would ensure the succession of the crown. That she was his hope to do so, thinking that as she had been the last to see Reginald alive, it would be a continuation of Reginald’s life should she marry Gerald.

The Grand Prince had known that Reginald had gone to see her in order to talk of a marriage between them and he had been certain that when his son returned from his estate that they were going to make such an announcement.

Well she did not want to disabuse the old man, nor did she want to let the chance of being Grand Princess of Almondy slip through her fingers. Reginald had asked what would she do if she were not to become Grand Princess. That was just not worth thinking of for she had no idea what she would do. She had been trained to be Reginald’s Grand Princess since she was five. It would happen.

* * *

“Ah, Princess Margaritte. I have been instructed to take you to the Crown Prince,” William Glau greeted her. Rumor was that with the new year he and several other friends who met daily with the Crown Prince would be made Barons of the court. They spent hours in service to the Crown Prince, it was said, making Gerald ready to lead the government, and these men had his full confidence.

Glau’s brother Louis was certainly wealthy and Glau had a great deal of money himself. It was also said that William was a lady’s man, though not on the scale that Reginald had been.

“Mister Glau, so good to see you once more,” She let him take and kiss her hand.

It was smart to be civil to the Crown Prince’s friends. “Come, there is a room full of people to navigate around. And in that dress, well we must let them all see you.”

“I think that was a compliment,” she smiled. It was not original but men always wanted to be thought of as brilliant.

“I hope you think that, and the likelihood that it was is a near certainty, though you are paid far too many compliments to your looks. I should like to learn more of you that I could compliment other attributes,” Glau said. That was a little forward but, better than the usual foolishness she heard.

She smiled, “You are very creative Mr. Glau. I have not heard this of you before.”

He frowned as he took her arm and began to walk a circuitous rout to a cluster of people near the high table. “Surely that was misspoken. If you do not follow the society papers I should be forced to eat my hat. And that will not do. I like my hat.”

“Ha, I am sure you do. Yes I read the society pages. Are you mentioned there?”

“Do you say that you read them and never see my name mentioned?” He countered.

“Does one read those pages to see other persons names mentioned? I must confess that I look only for my own. You are truly listed there?” Then she had to laugh, “Oh my, your face Mr. Glau. Of course I see your and your brother’s name listed. We are all fodder for the mill I guess.”

“I would not say that near his highness. He shall give you a farm analogy should you do so. Prince Gerald is very much a man who makes a play on his farm experiences,” William said.

Margaritte had heard that. Not that she was not surprised. It was thought that the Prince was eccentric. She had heard that the man had actually been milking cows when he had learned that Reginald had been killed and he had become the Crown Prince.

She was not a fool. She knew that there were poor branches of the FitzRoy Perry family. Some so poor that they engaged in trade. But to think that the man who had become the next in line to the Crown Prince and now was the Crown Prince should be near poverty and a farmer was hard to reconcile with the man who stood at the center of the cluster near the high table.

Gerald was a big man, even larger than Reginald and in better trim. There were ladies of the court who had been able to observe the fencing and combat practice that was conducted before the midday meal in the Celebont Palace courtyard. Despite the temperatures in the low sixties, Crown Prince Gerald by the end of the hour had worked up a good sweat and had stripped off his shirt yesterday as he retired into the barracks to shower. Her confidants had reported to her that he had massive shoulders and a slim waist.

If she was going to marry someone, that was her ideal. She had heard his core friends were very good with the sword as well. “Do you spar with his highness? I hear that he is spending time learning the sword.”

“I do, but he is not learning the sword. He was one of the best in his regiment before he left the army. Gerald says he is a little slow since leaving the service and becoming a farmer. That he had forgotten a lot, but he seems to best many of those he spars with. As for I and the others, we always were adequate, but Gerald insists we get better. Our friend Henry Levi, never fired a gun before and he has proved very good at stationery targets,” William said.

“Does he think you all must learn to be warriors?” she asked.

“Actually, his highness does. He thinks every man from seventeen to sixty best learn to fight and take orders in case we need a general mobilization. That is a possibility and doing so might make the Great Powers think a little before the fighting starts.” Glau said.

As he continued to guide her about, she was able to nod and curtsey to all those she should. She had a blue and white stripped gown and across the front a sash of the Order of the Lark. The honor for the twelve most important women of the realm. She had received that at the hand of the Grand Prince when she came of age on her seventeenth birthday.

Reginald had danced with her that night. Actually Prince Gerald had as well, though she barely remembered it. In this very hall, for her birthday was attached to her investiture in the order. Athelstan had danced and talked to her as well. Talked to her bosom. Reginald had held her close enough to crush her bosom. Prince Gerald, she now remembered, had met her eyes. He had called her Princess and had danced silently. But correctly. She finally remembered that. He did not make any mistake in his dance that night and led her about the floor perfectly. Few of the other princely partners of an age to appreciate her beauty had done as well.

“I see that the Prince thinks of many things that will aid Almondy.”

“Margaritte, you best beware of Gerald. He might be the only thing that keeps Almondy safe these next years. The last thing he needs is to have a woman try to snare him in her web. He has been my friend near ten years and I should hate to see him manipulated. Why, I think I might do my best to cause such an action an inconvenience. That may be the reason he asked that I fetch you to his side. For I am the only one who knows you well enough to say that to you.”

“You know me well? We have met socially a few times these five years.” She hedged. They saw each other more than once each month. During the spring and summer in Steilenberg they probably encountered each other three times a week.

She felt pressure on her arm as he gripped it. “I am serious Margaritte. Gerald may marry you as a matter of state and he may fall in love with you, for you are designed for men to do so. But he has done more this week, then Reginald did in all the years that he was old enough to do anything for Almondy. Gerald may not stop us from being in the war that is coming. But of all the others in our realm, I can think of on one else who is trying. That alone should tell you to look at the man and see what you can do to help him. You better yourself at his expense and I shall ruin you.”

She looked at the man’s face and saw that he was in earnest. But then he was a young man. Just a few years older than she. All young men read books and heard great lines. Clichés. They then quoted them in passion, but with no ability to do anything about them. Glau though was rich and connected, outside of his connection to Gerald. He might indeed have a way of causing her harm. She would not like that at all.

She took a deep breath, “I shall not do anything that compromises our realm. But should the principality have need of me, you should remember that I have been raised to aid the realm as a Princess, as a Grand Princess. My father wished this and so to does our Grand Prince. If Prince Gerald can do his duty to aid the Principality, know that I am up to the task as well.”

Glau nodded, “Good, they you may be one of us yet. One of his Highnesses Musketeers. One for all and all for one, of course.”

“That’s the French book?”

“Precisely. Though all know that Dumas may have cast his piece in his native France, our Prince’s Guard were braver and more debonair then anything that the French Musketeers were. Our men served Prince Michael VII who sent men to guard the English Prince Charles when he snuck into Scotland and England. It was our guards that showed all Europe what flamboyance meant. Prince Gerald calls each of those that are aiding him a modern musketeer. So we call ourselves His Highnesses Musketeers.”

They were about to enter the circle near Gerald, “Who? You and Mr. Levi? He is the famous lecturer.”

“Yes. He is the one who debunked communism. Also Francois Diedrou and Sir David Lieven. Others too.”

She nodded, “What of Lady Catherine Keller? I hear she is often in the company of His Highness.”

William smiled, “Yes, she is our Constance. She writes all of his speeches. Not that anyone else has taken a name from the series, for we would be forced to call his highness D’Artagnan and quickly run out of names from the tale. Also we think if we did this, Henry was sure that the German ambassador would be upset. I thought then that we would counter with names from the Ring Cycle, but half of my friends hate that notion.”

She laughed. “Why last summer when they performed Siegfried at the Royal Opera house I was sure I saw you snoring in your box…” She then put her hand to her mouth for she knew she had seen that.

“Ha, I see you have been keeping track of me. The lady I escorted that night was so boring that I am afraid she had so little to add to any conversation that she put me to sleep long before any music did.”

Glau did not say who he escorted but Margaritte did not care. Glau was a charmer and had wealth beyond what one could imagine. If she had not been raised to marry the Crown Prince, perhaps she would have allowed him to escort her to the opera at some time.

“Well monsieur Aramis, for I am sure that would be your character, best present me to His Highness now.”

“Yes my lady.” If the part of Constance was taken from the Dumas’ book, who was the other woman? The Queen of France, Anne of Austria, or Milady d’Winter. No Margaritte refused to be the villain of the piece.

A moment later space was made next to the Crown Prince and she noticed that Lady Keller was part of the circle. In order to make room Lady Catherine was moved a little further away. She was on the arm of Sir Pascal Renard which was where she should be. Margaritte would have to encourage Sir Pascal to propose marriage to the wench and ensure she was out of the way. Constance from the Musketeers’ story indeed.

Margaritte looked at the other women that clustered near the Prince. There were other men who claimed that title just as other women were close enough to the blood line to claim the title Princess. But when the Grand Prince or Crown Prince were in the room, they were the only Princes of Almondy that mattered or that was really given any deference. Certainly there were relations who were highly placed in the government, counsellors to the Grand Prince, or Generals in the army. Other ‘Princes’ often held high position in the churches.

Gerald though, was a prize, and by the number of women about him, it was clear that her competition thought so as well. “Highness, I need to congratulate you but I should think that your ears have probably worn away by so many saying that. May I ask, when you harked back to your speech of pledging to do better for Almondy, and so many who heard it at the first Evensong over Prince Reginald, how may we who also pledged to do better, aid you?” There, that would be unexpected

“Very refreshing question highness, but a few others have asked that of me of late. I simply ask that you examine what you do each day here and see if your choices lead you to making Almondy better for all of us, or if it goes the other way. Our Cousin wishes he could do this thing for all of Almondy but he is tired and the tragedy has sapped his strength. He has little more to give after giving a lifetime. Athelstan, where has he gone to now, the bar? Well Athelstan will tell you how we both try to comfort Prince Michael Alan and he tells us just to lead the country. That is all he wants. So I try and want to do the right thing, the best thing for us all. If we all do that. It shall alleviate his pain,” Margaritte saw that she had allowed him to speak to something he was passionate about.

“Then I shall aid you in doing that. Uncle Michael Alan has long given me courtesy and presents and I want to make him smile brighter during this tragic time for him. For you though, it is a night of celebration. Have these many guests been entertaining you with their stories and exploits. Why Captain Cartier here was with Prince Liugi in his expedition to the North Pole not so long ago. On the Pole Star…” Margaritte pointed out one of the more famous attendees.

“Yes, I am impressed. I read about that in the papers.” Gerald turned to the explorer, “Will you come and speak to me at the Sundawn Palace. I am to take up residence tomorrow and if you speak to Krabe I should like to talk to you about that. Especially if you have any ideas that may aid us in infusing such adventurousness into some of our troops and officers. You are retired?”

Margaritte had done a good deed there, for Gerald wanted such men to aid him, his Musketeers. Well Cartier was perfect and one of the men who would remember he was championed by Margaritte. She would have to find other such men that she could recommend to the Prince. It would build in Gerald an obligation. Perhaps not one that would force the man to offer marriage, but it would add to that. It would also show how much of a help she could be to him in society.

And that was the ultimate test of a Grand Princess or Queen. How well she could take care of the politics of people’s emotions of his court would highlight that he needed such a spouse. That a woman who could ease ruffled feathers, or bring forward worthies to be noticed that had been overlooked would be the most valuable wife Gerald could find. Especially if she could do something between the French and Germans, though doubtful if in the same room. They would have their wall faces on. No true emotions to be betrayed for that would provide information on their thoughts and plans.

She had found two others that she was able to praise and have the Prince decide he must meet and talk to in the space of the next fifteen minutes. She also had a chance to talk to each of the current Musketeers of the Prince. Glau was the only one who would live up to the namesake of Aramis. She wondered if she need reread the book. She had read it once, but why read it again?

No, when they walked to their tables for dinner, she knew that she did not need to read the book, for what was happening in her principality in no way reflected that ending. There Dumas could control who was good and who was bad. Here in Almondy one day the French were good and the Germans bad, the next it was different. Then you had to add the anarchists that killed Reginald and had to ask of yourself, were the men who the Prince surrounded himself with actually swashbuckling guardsmen? The Royal Guard wore swords and she would have to watch Gerald train, but when was the last time a man fought a duel in the country? The 1820’s?

Sitting next to the Prince on his other side was Catherine Keller. How he could do that was beyond thinkable, but then other places at the high table were taken up by dignitaries of Almondy. No foreign power was close to him. The closest at the table below, the preferred spot of all in the room, were the Swiss Ambassador and his wife.

Almondy had long had history with the Swiss, first when they were in their Cantons and then the Confederation. Almondy also took some pride in keeping Napoleon at bay while the Swiss did not. As the borders of the Cantons and the border of Almondy joined, they had to maintain relations. Though that did not mean they had not fought each other. Before Napoleon took over Switzerland and made of it the Helvetic Republic, the Cantons and Almondy had clashed more than a dozen times.

Was honoring the Swiss Ambassador a way to tell the world powers that were in attendance that Almondy wished to be neutral? That it thought it could be? Margaritte would have to think about that, for if such were the case then the git that the French Ambassador thought to push into the marriage bed of Gerald had been taken out of competition. Did that mean that Lady Keller was her rival? Were there any others?

She did not like this game and would have to find a way to pay a call upon the Grand Prince. Michael Alan would have some influence over his successor and help Margaritte become the next Grand Princess. Athelstan had always wanted to be of aid to her. She looked for him and found him seated further down the table. Raising her goblet to him, she caught his eye. He would know that they must talk.

Though she always had found talking to Athelstan a trial once she had begun to have a woman’s body. He seemed even more of a roué than most. If Athelstan could have touched her, kissed her, taken liberties, he would have done so. He gave off that air that men like he had. Athelstan was not filled with decency. She wondered if men could see such amongst themselves.

Athelstan was the son of the Grand Prince, though. He had connections. So many of her  friends thought that he was a conduit to power but they were wrong. Though he could take people to meet the Grand Prince.  Athelstan could get to the man in hours rather than days. Access to the royalty of any country, Almondy included, could be a slow process.

Finally the speeches came, and the last was that of the Crown Prince. Gerald rose and then Margaritte saw him glance at the Keller girl. He brought forth notes to read from. Gerald started with a joke that they should become used to his notes for he did not want to say something wrong or forage to say something he might have trouble remembering that was important to say. He had been speaking to his cows so long and he knew that they took everything he said just as he wanted, that speaking to a human audience caused him to make some adjustments.

Certainly that set the audience at its ease. Margaritte did not like the deprecation he indulged in, nor that he had looked to Lady Keller. She had helped to write the speech, so Margaritte had to remind herself that Catherine Keller was not a contender for the role of Grand Princess. She ranked so much lower than Margaritte that making her so was absurd.

The speech was not spectacular. Gerald thanked those who had heaped praise on him, but reminded all he had done relatively little yet to earn it. Many had talked of his years before his return to the capital he remarked. How he had been a good officer in the army and handled his duties to a high standard. His scholarship as a child and the courses he had completed at the university were mentioned often. It was said how he had become a leading citizen of Splatz in a short time. All were designed by those who spoke to make the Crown Prince seem qualified and an exceptional person.

Gerald spent a few moments debunking that. "Should I be all that has been said I am, I would very much like to shake my hand, for I assure you not half of what has been said of me is accurate. And please don't ask which half is the truth, for now, even I am hard pressed to remember what was true and what has been fabrication. Of course the right false praise I might never deny."

Then he was serious again and said he hoped he would lead as well as some of the great Princes, and prayed that no one would think of him with some of the lessor princes that had ruled Almondy. Gerald was smart enough to name the great ones and not name those who were insignificant in the leadership of the country’s long history.

Gerald added to what he had said at the ceremony at Evensong and at the Funeral. That his current agenda was narrow. Peace, prosperity and punishment for those who had killed Reginald. He praised Grand Prince Michael Alan. Then he praised others that he had met in the week since he had come back to Steilenberg. Those who had continued the task of governing the country when the Grand Prince was so beset by tragedy. All this played into the hands of those in the room. Mostly Almondians.

Perhaps Gerald was a great politician. He had every Almondian thinking that he would be a fabulous Prince. He said the right things and strayed from anything that would make him look dumb. His cow joke was at the beginning of his speech and by the end, as he talked of bringing to justice those who had murdered Reginald, everyone in the room was shouting and applauding at nearly the end of each of his sentences.

Margaritte’s brother William was near the Swiss Ambassador at one of the main tables on the floor. William was now standing with other members of the Assembly, those in his party as well as others. They were shouting their enthusiasm and continued to applaud almost constantly. She looked up at Gerald and knew she had been applauding for near as long as her brother. The other men and women that were honored to be at the high table applauded as well. If Gerald could rule as well as he spoke, and by the look of the Royal Guard and the new Constables, he just might be able to, Gerald could be the Prince that they needed in these times. Much more so than Reginald ever would have been.

A meeting with Athelstan when the speeches were done was the first thing she needed to attend to, “He was magnificent. I am much relieved,” she said.

Athelstan said, “You were worried that the Diary Farmer would not perform well? He is a master of that I think. He and his friends debate each morning and throughout the day what to do to run the country and Lady Keller writes it all up so he will look good.”

That struck her funny, “I thought you too went to those meetings in the morning?”

“Of course,” he smiled. “It is how I know how all this had been staged.”

Margaritte knew that Athelstan was upset that he was not fully a part of the FitzRoy Perry family because of his illegitimacy. Being a bastard cut him off from some things that others who were not deserving, received just because of their parents being wed. She immediately thought Athelstan jealous of their cousin.

“Do you worry then about what will happen when he is Prince?” she asked.

He nodded, but then quickly started to shake his head. “Not if we can get the right people around him. I do not worry much about the Prince’s Ministers for they have been at their positions for some years and the government does run smoothly. Perhaps Lord Winter is tired. It is the new men he talks to. His friends. For instance that man Glau, whom I think you know. What qualifications does he have to help lead the government except that he is rich.”

“Very rich,” Margaritte said. “But I see your point. Do you think that I could be of use?”

“Yes.” Athelstan said quickly. “Yes. It is why father and I wanted you and Reginald to finally make plans. You can be of immense use to all should you emerge as the Prince’s intended.”

“Good, for that is why I came to you. I need to see his Highness, your father. I think that Prince Gerald needs a little push to remind him that he should pursue me. That he needs to look at me as the woman who can keep his Court for him. Not someone like that Catherine Keller.”

Athelstan looked to Lady Keller then back to Margaritte and she could see the hunger that usually was in his eyes when they were close. “You have nothing to worry about there. I think Sir David would beat cousin Gerald to the punch over the girl, and Sir Pascal Renard seems to make it clear that he has an interest in her. Gerald sees her as the woman who puts words into his mouth, or makes straight the meaning of what he wants to say. No, you have other competition.”

“Who! I would know.” She found herself inflamed.

He laughed then, “Do not worry. I do not think you need fear any lady in the realm for they will have seen your possessiveness and know to keep away. It is the ladies from outside our principality that you must worry about. These are instruments of their governments and they will be seen a great deal more now that the gauntlet is down.”

Margaritte shook her head. “Gauntlet?”

“You did not listen carefully enough to his speech. Look about the room and see all the various foreigners. They talk in their own groups. Peace. Gerald told them he wanted peace and some of them can provide alliances that will give it to us. If we are allied with France, they would have our new weapons of war, and we would have their millions of troops come and stand at our Eastern border. The same the other way with the Germans. Or even the Swiss. Combined with them, would anyone challenge us because we could lock up a great deal of the world’s wealth? Just a doubling of the tariffs on the cargo shipments that cross our nation’s railways would cause the world’s economy to become fragile. But I see this is too much for you. Come tomorrow at one, and join his Highness and I for lunch. Father knew he should have come out tonight but he did not want to grieve in front of anyone. Tomorrow you and I can tell him all the gossip from tonight and he will be pleased.” It was thus arranged and the following day she would get a great ally in her quest to wed Gerald.

With a new Crown Prince, one who is young and who is a bachelor, and when he becomes Grand Prince, will need a Grand Princess at his side. A lady to produce an heir to the throne, he is a catch. How good of one, and how much he has heated up the water that surrounds him, as well as he would plunge such a lady into is explored.

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Home      Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 3    Chapter 4   Chapter 5    Chapter 6  Chapter 7    Chapter 8    Chapter 9    Chapter 10+