How to Woo the Prince: a Primer by his Aide
Artus's preparations with Rita were like a vacation from everything else he needed to do for the engagement party.
If it were any other social occasion for Frederic, that would be fine. This one, however, he had to plan with the Beaudennes, which was irritating and uncomfortable for several reasons.
But here he was, five days before the party. The invitations were sent. The menu was set. Decorations, ordered. That should have rested the matter, yet today Artus found himself summoned to meet with Marquis Beaudennes.
"My lord," Artus greeted most respectfully, though inwardly he seethed. It wasn't enough for this man to openly insult him at the veneration feast—now he was calling on Artus like he was some sort of page boy. Renaud was there too, standing behind his father like a contemptuous shadow. His glare was particularly dark today, so Artus took extra satisfaction in ignoring him. "Is something the matter?"
Renaud snapped before the marquis could reply. "Don't play coy. You know what you've done."
Artus's mind rushed through the brief history of his life that was relevant to Renaud. He was helping Rita. He rejected Renaud's color suggestions for the engagement party. "And what is that?"
"You've brazenly used this engagement to gain sway with our family."
"I can't see how, given that I'm not the one getting engaged."
The marquis lifted a hand to silence Renaud. "This is my own decision. Artus did not suggest it."
Artus didn't like it when other nobles made decisions about him. "Suggest what?"
"I'm not your enemy, Artus," the marquis said mildly. "Actually, this is some good news."
"As you know, territories you had as prince were dispersed among the nobility. In particular, I am in possession of the Verger estate."
That was neither good nor news. "I suppose my belated blessings are in order."
"You still have your tongue," drawled the marquis. "I spoke with the king earlier today. We have decided that you be given Verger back, and with it, you will be issued letters patent to make you the baron of Verger."
"Since my beloved daughter has acknowledged you irrevocably, you should be worthy of that acknowledgment. Entry into the peerage is the minimum requirement. Verger is a small price to pay, and it was once yours anyway."
Artus's mind was swirling. "Such big news, yet the king doesn't tell me himself?"
"Dear me, you're still disowned and unfavored, you're just also a lord. I'm sure neither of you wish to converse with each other more than is necessary." The marquis gave him a sly look. "But as a future in-law to the royals, I have some sway, if you want me to remind His Majesty all you've done for the crown."
"...No, that won't be necessary."
"Fair. I imagine the papers will be drawn after the engagement. Congratulations, Baron of Verger."
The marquis left gracefully, though Renaud lingered behind. "I'm watching you, Cressofort. Be happy with your barony, and don't even think about trying anything else."
Artus missed the days when Renaud ignored him. "Your father said this was his decision, not mine. Or are you calling him a liar?"
"You forced his hand. If you hadn't manipulated Marguerite into giving you that honoring, you would have nothing."
"I didn't do anything of the sort. Why would I put myself on a platter to be judged at your veneration feast?"
"Then why were you there?"
Artus had no reply. Renaud continued, "Marguerite's talked about you. She said you've been helping her practice her etiquette and teaching her protocol."
"The king told me to ensure she's a proper princess."
"You're clearly doing more than just that. It's pathetic, that a man of royal blood would cling to his brother's fiancée just to gain some favor."
"How dare you—" Artus snapped. "Don't play the doting brother just when it suits you."
Renaud smirked and opened his mouth to spew more, but the marquis called after him. Artus was left with directionless rage.
You're doing more than just that.
Then why were you there?
It's pathetic that you would cling to your brother's fiancée—
No matter what task Artus dedicated himself to for the rest of the day, Renaud's words echoed in his brain.
Of course Renaud would say that, Artus told himself as he filled out ledgers at his desk. Renaud was a useless man riding on the laurels of his family. What did he know about work? Artus was only doing the minimum required of his job. Rita was so uncouth and unlearned that they had to meet nearly every day. Naturally, this would mean the customers would start greeting him by name and maybe a child named Hugo would keep pretend-fighting with him while Rita was still busy. And it was expected to maintain good relations with your liege's fiancée, so that's why they spent hours talking about books and making other small talk. And once you became friends, it wasn't crazy to help them pick out outfits. Or to climb into suits of armor to attend a party from hell.
The door opened. Artus half-expected it to be Renaud which would be insane, but it was Frederic, peeking in sheepishly.
"Tutu, are you still awake?"
Was it that late? "Yes. Is something wrong?"
Frederic plunked onto Artus's empty bed. "I've been thinking about the engagement. I feel all weird about it, in my stomach and the like."
"You're nervous." That was rare. "What are you worried about?"
Frederic faceplanted on Artus's pillow. "Nervous, yes, that. Well, I like Rita, but I don't know if I like like her. Engagement like her."
Artus didn't know how to react to this statement, besides that they were surely at the age where more advanced vocabulary was expected. "It's a marriage of convenience. Just regular liking her is fortunate. In time, you'll… engagement like her."
Frederic rolled around. "Will I? What will that feel like?"
"I don't know. I've never been engaged."
"Then how do you know I'll engagement like her?"
Artus was starting to think Frederic came just because he couldn't sleep and not because this was a serious conversation. "You just will. That's how these things work. When you spend time with someone nice, you like them more and more."
"And then you get more and more comfortable with them."
"And it gets more and more fun because you have more and more things in common."
"And then you start to really look forward to the next time you meet them. Just looking at them makes you happy."
"And maybe someone will say, goodness you're spending a lot of time with them! And then you realize you do, and you didn't notice it at all!"
Frederic leapt out of bed. "Thanks Tutu! I know what to do now!"
What do you mean by that, Artus meant to ask. But he didn't, because he was just struck with a horrible realization. It was so horrible that he didn't even close the door that Frederic skipped out of. Instead he sat glued to his chair, the last two months flashing through his brain.
Finally he whispered into the dark: