How to Woo the Prince: a Primer by his Aide
Despite Renaud’s constant interference with Artus's planning, Frederic's palace had never shone so brightly. Half of the sparkles gleamed off polished surfaces and decorations; the other half came with the guests. Anyone of note was there, not least of all the Beaudennes and the royal family.
Frederic threaded through the party, mingling and laughing with everyone. He was doing fine, so Artus opted to stay in the shadows with the staff, making sure everything was timely and perfect. Occasionally he had to remind himself that this was a joyous occasion.
Nevertheless Rita found him, because of course she did. She looked glowing as always, but now her hair was perfectly pinned and her dress draped in flattering silhouettes from every angle. It was the outfit he'd suggested at the shop, tailored and accented in Beaudennes green.
Rita huffed. "Wow, you've really managed to hide yourself. I looked all over for you. I thought you'd just be with Prince Frederic."
"I avoid talking to this crowd if possible." There was no point in hiding that from Rita. "There's still a lot to do, so excuse me."
"Hey, hey wait!"
"What is it?"
"Umm, well, how do I look?" She gave a small spin.
Maybe he said that too earnestly, because they stared at each other for an awkward beat, which was enough time for Renaud to narrow in on them.
The Beaudennes heir didn't bother with pleasantries. "What are you two talking about?"
"Oh, Renaud! Nothing really." Rita stared at her brother like she was waiting for him to leave. Her brother stared back as if waiting for her to leave with him.
Artus cleared his throat. "You must have many to greet, my lady. I won't take any more of your time."
"That's right, Marguerite. That group of ladies over there has been waiting to make your acquaintance. I'll escort you."
Artus left before Rita could sway him once again.
He would be lying if he said he hadn't thought about interfering with the engagement. After all, he was a lord again, no matter how minor. He was smart enough to accumulate wealth, and Rita was senseless enough not to care about it anyway. Frederic could find someone else to love; Artus's small heart was now filled.
But he had long decided that the date was all he would allow himself, because deep inside he knew that he could still be prince and remain unworthy. Rita was someone who nearly destroyed her reputation to spare him from shame, a problem her father the marquis gave up a barony to solve. She was someone who welcomed everyone and didn't let mistakes chain her down. Artus, who still relived the mistakes he made as a teenager and spent public functions hiding from nobles, could not stand proudly at her side.
As if on cue, Frederic raised a glass, and the party hushed. Only the man's bright expression hadn't changed from boyhood—the prince was taller and broader than Artus, his combed-back hair sleek, his white outfit a bold outline for his princely aura. Frederic deserved everything, Artus thought to himself, and when everyone clapped for his introduction, Artus clapped the hardest.
"Thank you all for coming," Frederic said. "It's an honor to host all of you here in my palace. It seems like it's an open secret as to what this party is for—" —an excited titter rushed through the crowd— "—so I may as well not delay any longer."
Artus found Rita in the crowd. She had her hands pressed together at her chest, her eyes focused on Frederic.
"I was to announce my engagement to Marguerite Beaudennes." Frederic took a deep breath. "So I deeply regret to inform you that we have agreed not to move forward with that. We both hope you still enjoy the rest of your time at the party. Good night!"
Silence. A few glasses shattered on the ground. Artus stared, not understanding.
The next to speak was the marquis. This was the first time Artus heard him stutter. "P-pardon me, but did I hear correctly? You are...not...engaged? You...agreed...?"
Rita raised her hand. "Yes, the prince said it well. We're not engaged!"
Even the king sounded choked. "Why?"
"We decided we were not compatible," Frederic said cheerily. Rita nodded in the background. "But good news, we've found people we would like to be compatible with and have become great friends!"
"Great friends!" Rita echoed.
"Friends," echoed the king, nearly drowned by the crowd erupting with gossip.
"And who are these other people?" the marquis demanded.
Artus sagged against the wall. Then in the next instant, he was rushing forward. Whatever Frederic's answer to the marquis, now wasn't the time to give it. He pushed past the crowd and had just pushed past Renaud when Renaud yanked him back hard.
"You did this!" Renaud roared as Artus crashed to the ground. "I knew you were up to something!"
Artus's teeth were rattling. "What?! Why would I do this, you buffoon?!"
"Hands off Tutu!" Frederic yelled, as Rita rushed over.
"Artus! Renaud, what are you doing?!"
"This man ruined your marriage—"
"We both agreed to dissolve it! Weren't you listening?"
"Dear Marguerite, maybe you think you agreed—"
"Artus didn't know anything! Look at him! He's in shock! Philippa, can you help him?"
Artus tried to object, but it just came out in babbling noises. Philippa yanked him to his feet, only slightly gentler than Renaud, and hauled him away.
Renaud was still waving his arms at Rita. "Think this through, this is your engagement to Prince Frederic. How come we're only just hearing of this?"
"Unfortunately by the time we decided, all the party preparations were done."
"There it is, you're just being hasty—"
"If you keep this up, I'm going to be really mad at you!" Rita turned huffily from Renaud, who looked like he'd been physically stabbed before Artus lost sight of them to the crowd.