“Wilhelm,” Ehren said, noticing him before either king did. They sat together at an empty table, none of the piles of food from the previous evening. “You had an enjoyable ride?”
“Yes, it was…” Wilhelm fumbled for the appropriate word, looking at King Nikolai to remind himself not to be rude. He wished Aldrik were there. “Relaxing,” seemed to do the trick.
“Relaxing,” his father said. “Do not get too accustomed to that.”
Nikolai laughed heartily. Clearly the seriousness of the statement was lost on him. Penrod valued hard work, dedication, long hours spent training or plotting military tactics. The von Ledersteins did nothing in the way of relaxation.
Wilhelm noticed Lilita eyeing him suspiciously as they took their seats at the table. She knew the lie he had told. Fortunately, no one else noticed the tension still held tight in his shoulders. At least they did not protest his story if they had noticed.
“The barracks are quite impressive,” Penrod said. “The army here is small, but they are certainly well maintained. It would do us well to take some of Nikolai’s ideas back to Gavelon with us.”
“By all means. Whatever should benefit both of our great nations shall be shared between us freely,” Nikolai said.
“I look forward to seeing them,” Wilhelm said, surprised that such a poorly defended castle would have such an army with barracks that could impress his father. Maybe that is why they did not need extra stone walls surrounding them. Although he still believed it would help the soldiers to have an extra defense instead of expending extra energy fighting.
“You will. Tomorrow. We can go there together. I would like your opinion on how we could make use of Nikolai’s designs.”
Wilhelm sat up a bit straighter. His father actually wanted his opinion. Not simply to tell Wilhelm his opinion and expect him to agree. Or Penrod wanted to come off as wanting his opinion to make it seem as though Wilhelm had more of a voice in matters than he actually did.
Before Wilhelm could respond, which was probably for the best as he was a bit lost for words, Queen Frieda and Queen Valya entered the dining room, freshly washed and dressed in different gowns than they were last seen in.
“I hope we did not make you wait,” Valya said.
Both of the queens visibly composed themselves when they entered the room. It appeared that they were laughing before they entered and were working desperately to suppress whatever had tickled them so.
“Of course not, my dear,” Nikolai responded. “Wilhelm and Lilita had only just joined us as well.”
“Oh?” Frieda said, her brows raised in intrigue.
“Yes,” Wilhelm said. “We went riding as well.”
“It seems your ride was more enjoyable, however,” Lilita added.
“It turns out Frieda is quite the equestrian,” Valya said. “We had a bit too much fun and wished to bath and put on some less…dusty clothing before we dined.”
“No trouble at all. I am pleased you two are getting along so finely,” Nikolai said. “We will hope our children will get on half as well as you two have.”
Nikolai chuckled as the queens smiled at the idea, but Wilhelm felt the color leave his face. He was not sure he would ever have half the fun with Lilita as their mothers had shortly after meeting one another.
“Time will tell,” Lilita said.
“They have only just met,” Ehren said, looking as uncomfortable at the rush to get along as Wilhelm felt.
“I’m sure they will get along splendidly,” Penrod said, rushing to mask whatever doubt Ehren was implying. “If their parents’ are any example, I am sure they will find a mutual appreciation and respect to base their future marriage on.”
“I certainly hope they find more than that together,” Nikolai said. “But I think we have embarrassed them enough for this evening. At least enough to put off teasing them further until dessert.” Nikolai lifted his chin toward a servant stationed against the far wall. The servant promptly left the room at the wordless signal. Moments later, a line of servants, each holding a goblet and a finely decorated plate marched out of the kitchen, surrounding the guests at the table and plated an individual setting down in front of each of them.
The dinner was far less extravagant than the one they were greeted with the previous night. Wilhelm could not decide which was more representative of the way they typically ate. He imagined this was more true to life. A simple plate of carved pork drenched in a remarkable smelling gravy and an assortment of fresh, sweet berries.
“We hope this will be sufficient,” Valya said. “We eat lighter for a day’s time before the festival begins.”
“As of supper tomorrow there will be more food that you will know what to do with until the festival ends,” Nikolai added.
“This looks delightful,” Frieda assured them.
The conversation was polite and, with less wine to be passed around, remained that way throughout the meal. Supper was, in fact, delightful and the dessert was a sweet berry tart accompanied by an equally sweet tasting wine.
After dinner, Wilhelm requested to be shown where his advisor Aldrik was staying. The king of Lelonia happily agreed to have one of his servants bring him there. After a walk that seemed far too long and complicated, he successfully arrived at the room that was in fact Aldrik’s and not his own room, which is what he was expecting after the previous disobedience of the servants.
“Prince Wilhelm. Please, come inside,” Aldrik opened the door enough to let Wilhelm enter.
“Thank you, Aldrik. I hope I am not disturbing you,” Wilhelm said genuinely, though he likely would have remained had his advisor expressed that it was not a good time to be visiting.
“Of course not.” Aldrik closed the door, nodding politely to the servant who had escorted Wilhelm there. The servant nodded in response causing Wilhelm to wondering why he could still not get a response from any of them. The thought was fleeting, however. Too many other thoughts were occupying his mind.
Wilhelm sat in the only chair in the room while Aldrik stood on the thick carpet adorned with carefully threaded colorful flowers. He did not appear to be put off by this unspoken arrangement. Wilhelm did not notice how unfair this may have been anyhow.
“Is something troubling you, sire?” Aldrik asked, acknowledging Wilhelm’s furrowed brow and hands clasped so tightly together his knuckles had gone white.
“No,” Wilhelm answered, then quickly corrected himself, “yes.” He let his hands go, shaking them out once, more from his unplaced frustration than to relieve them.
Aldrik lowered his head, gazing knowingly at Wilhelm. The prince took a breath and relaxed his shoulders as much as he could.
“There is something about her,” he finally said.
Aldrik’s expression took on intrigue.
“She unsettles me.”
Aldrik relaxed himself with a sigh. “Perhaps that is a good sign, sire,” he suggested.
“It is not a good feeling that she gives me,” Wilhelm explained. “Were this not for the good of Gavelon, I would leave here this instant.”
“Give it time, sire. You have only just become acquainted. I am certain by the end of the festival you will find you have more in common with this girl than you believe at present.”
“I doubt that.”
“She is no more a willing participant in this arrangement than you are. She was born into her role, just as you were, and she is entering this alliance for the good of her own people. You may not be as different as you think.”
Wilhelm considered this for a moment. She was doing this for the same reason he was. Regardless of their initial feelings they would be joined in marriage soon enough. When he ruled their combined kingdoms, she would be the woman sitting at his side. The least he could do was find some understanding in her peculiar nature and learn to be more settled, if not comfortable, in her presence.
“Thank you, Aldrik. Your encouragement in this matter is most appreciated. I should be going now.”
Wilhelm tried to pay attention to all the twists and turns they were taking as the servant brought him back to his own room. He also tried to remember the face of the servant he was following behind. It was difficult, as she never turned back to check on him. He considered disappearing into a room or trying a closed door as they passed, wondering if the servant would even notice he was no longer there. He did not wish to make a fool of himself or give his hosts reason to question him. So, instead of going off alone, he allowed himself to be taken to bed. The lush bedding was just as inviting as the night before. He hoped to get some brought to Gavelon later on. Possibly hire on some of the kitchen staff as well.
These people had a troubling lack of concern for their safety, but they certainly knew how to keep themselves happy. Still, they showed no sign of trouble in their current standing, no worry over their safety, implying that there was no reason to worry. The only reason for that Wilhelm could imagine was that there was no threat to concern themselves over because they had a solid defense, even if Wilhelm had not figured out what that was yet. In the morning, he would see their barracks that earned the praise of his father and no disapproval from his difficult to please uncle. That should give him some answers.