How to Woo the Prince: a Primer by his Aide
Frederic didn't really like to read. Reading involved a lot of sitting still, and not petting soft things, and not seeing other people. But he really liked Rita's bookstore—it smelled all nice and leathery and papery, and it was bright and inviting, and his favorite people were in it a lot.
This evening, the bookstore's shelves were half-empty piles of chaos. It was as though the books had turned into cats and started meandering everywhere in defiance of their human owners. Said human owners sat at a table sagging under more books than Frederic had read in his lifetime. As usual, Artus and Rita were in heated debate, but they also sat with knees touching.
"This is a classic, it has to go in the classics section," Artus said, in the voice he used whenever he was actually telling you to do something.
"Just because it's a super popular fantasy doesn't mean it's no longer fantasy! Don't you feel like you're betraying your people, saying real literature can't be genre fiction?"
"It should be organized where it can be found. Everyone will know to look for it in the classics."
"If they can't find it, they'll just ask us where it is."
"Why would you encourage that?"
Philippa had warned him that those two could go on forever like this, so Frederic just interrupted them. "Good evening, you two! I've come to fetch Philippa."
"Oh, hi Frederic!" Rita beamed. "Philippa's popped out on some inventory business, but she should be back soon. Are you excited for your date? Where are you going?"
Frederic puffed his chest. "I'll be taking her to the royal training grounds. I will show her around and then we'll have a sparring session."
Artus looked dubious. "Your date is going to be beating each other with a stick?"
"Pshaw!" Rita waved a hand. "I think it's a wonderful idea. You work up a sweat, learn how the other ticks, and with any luck you'll end up grappling each other on the ground! Flirtation under fire is always a crowd-pleaser!"
"Is there any romantic trope that you haven't named and extolled," Artus drawled while Frederic was busy imagining grappling with Philippa. "Just because some author thought it was a good idea doesn't make it a good idea."
Rita shushed him. "I managed to charm a prince all on my own. You're the one who promised to make Frederic like me but instead sent him running into Philippa's arms."
"What prince?" Artus started to ask, then reddened. "Well, I...fine, touché."
"I like you," Frederic objected, mostly because he wanted his brother to win whatever argument might be happening right now. But judging by their reactions, it didn't have the desired effect.
The back door creaked, and soon Philippa emerged from the maze of shelves and books. Like Artus, she didn't smile much, but Frederic thought she softened a little at seeing him, which made him feel nice. "M'lady, Your Highness. ...Cressofort."
"Lord Verger," Artus corrected with an upward turn of his mouth. He and Philippa must be good friends now if they had inside jokes, Frederic thought proudly.
"Then Lord Verger. A royal messenger came by and said to tell you that the king wishes to meet with you, and you should report to the palace first thing tomorrow morning."
The warm and fuzzy atmosphere Frederic was enjoying now tinged with alarm. "What for?"
"That was all they said."
Artus raked some hair back from his face. "No doubt His Majesty's gotten wind of my relationship with Lady Rita. Since he so desires an alliance with Beaudennes, his best recourse to do so would be to reestablish a relationship with me."
Frederic blinked. "So... he'll make you a prince again?"
"He'll start with a smaller offer than that, but reinstatement is in the realm of possibility," Artus agreed. "Unfortunately for him, whatever he offers, I'll decline."
Frederic's dreams of his brother back in his princely attire at all the princely functions ended as abruptly as it started. "You don't want to come back?" he asked, a little hurt.
"I will always love you as my brother, but I cannot suffer bearing his name again." Artus arched an eyebrow at him. "If you were to become king, I may reconsider."
People were really throwing a lot of new scenarios at him that he'd never thought about before, but anyway their other brother was pretty healthy, so Artus must have just meant that he still thought of them as family.
"Ehh, that's surprising," Rita remarked. "You're always so conscious about rank, but you'd turn down being a prince?"
When Artus looked back at Rita, it was with a gleam in his eye that took Frederic a second to recognize, having so long not seen it. "What do I need that for? I won the Battle of Tartenhal. I am the one you favor. If my own merit has earned me half this fortune, then I'm capable of reaching any further status I desire."
Although Artus was thinner than he used to be and his eyes more sunken, as he spoke now Frederic saw the Tutu that he'd known growing up: the Tutu that had always defended him, that had read him books at night, that had left for battlefields always promising a safe return.
Rita blinked at Artus a few times. "I... I'm glad you're sounding so confident. So much more confident..."
"Tutu was even more confident before!" Frederic said helpfully.
Artus gave her a look. "Is it that shocking?"
"Honestly, you're almost like a different person. But in a good way. I guess they say love changes you." Rita waggled her eyebrows.
"I suppose it has."
Philippa finally spoke. "Shall we get going, Your Highness?"
Frederic thought it was great how Philippa could make any sentence sound so commanding. "Yes, let's. We wouldn't want it to get dark. We'll take our leave, then. I hope you'll be able to make lots of progress on the library!"
"We'll do our best."
As Frederic and Philippa reached the door, he turned back to wave goodbye. When Artus and Rita waved back together, Frederic already couldn't wait to return.