A Parade for a King (gummyDiana)

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Excitement was in the air in the Kingdom of Cyrus as for the first time in many years a royal ball was to be held. An announce decreed stated that every eligible unmarried person across the Twelve Kingdoms was invited to the Castle Maddox for a parade that'd be like none other. For it's King, King Caden First of His Name, had not yet chosen a bride and his new royal advisor intended to give him the entire world to choose from.

In fact that very advisor was stalking down the hall with her clipboard in hand, running down a checklist to a page scurrying by her side, seeming perfectly delighted to be on board with this grand scheme.

"The bundles of juniper and lavender should arrive in three days, my lady! The Jarl Odgrid Eyolf of Gau has arrived and is being set up in the southern wing with his entourage. Oh! And Princess Yelena has ask for three dozen white doves to be released upon her entrance to the ball-"

"Doves!" Lady Gwenaelle shouted, stopping dead in her tracks in the middle of the hall. "I'm not releasing thirty-six birds into the ballroom only to have them shatting upon every noble in the kingdom. Explain to Princess Yelena that with the mount of guests attention, we simply do not have the time for extravagant entrances for each and every person that walks through the doors."

"She might threaten to leave, my lady." explained the page with some concern.

Lady Gwenaelle thought for a moment, tapping her fingers against her chin.

"Then let her leave. If she finds doves and catching attention more important than what's reasonable, then what good would she be as Queen of Cyrus! Now tell me, do you have a count of which castle staff wish to attend the ball as an honored and eligible guest?"

The page turned three shades of red, causing Gwen to blink in questioning confusing for several moments before the poor thing managed to spit out a reply.

"I- well. None, my lady! Not that King Caden isn't a wonderful catch and of course one would be blessed to be part of that union, but you see, well. We all want to see him matched to someone of his caliber - some-someone worthy of our king and country! Thus the staff have all politely declined and are quite content to work the event and..."

It took all of the grace and willpower in Gwen's body to keep a straight face as the page stammered on. Anyone who knew King Caden understood the man was, simply put, a pain in the ass. She could imagine the looks on the faces of every unmarried servant in the castle, jaw-dropping and immediately shouting By the gods, no! when receiving their invitation. Though she'd never once seem him mistreat someone who didn't deserve it, he had a very bad habit of sending people to spend the night in the Northern Tower when he got annoyed.

Except for her. But Gwen tolerated his nonsense about as much as she would tolerate a fly. He'd find himself up alone in that tower and wonder how it all got turned upside down long before he managed to lock her up there.

"I see. In that case, it will be appreciated to have extra hands helping manage the guests. I swear, a rowdy bunch of drunken villagers is worlds easier to wrangle than these blasted aristocrats."

Quickly Gwen finished up the rest of her check list and passed it off to the page. Once the young woman disappeared down the hall, Gwen stopped at a mirror to smooth out her appearance. Her auburn hair was bound in a long braid down her back. Spending her mornings out in the village preparing for the ball had made her freckles appear a little more prominent across her nose and cheeks. Gwen smoothed out the royal blue silk of her skirt until she was satisfied with looking neat and tidy.

Then, with only a nod of acknowledgement to a pair of guards, Lady Gwenaelle Belenet pushed her way into the King's royal chambers without announcement or ceremony.

"Caden, I expect you to be dressed for dinner! Something actually appropriate this time. You've skipped two days in a row and I won't have it. Do you have any idea how boring it is to sit there and listen to some twitter brained lord talk about shoe cobbling for two hours? For nothing!"
 
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"I believe avoiding such dull company was precisely the point of skipping those dinners."

At only 25 years old, King Caden Maddox didn't look old enough to be running a country, much less to have been running it for 10 years now. It didn't help that he looked young for his age and kept his face clean shaven, but dark brown hair unkempt. As if in preemptive disobedience to Gwen's directives, Caden was slouching casually in his squashiest armchair, one ankle on the other thigh, dressed in nothing more formal than a plain, loose shirt and worn, brown pants. He was sipping tea with one hand, and holding a newspaper with the other. He only looked up long enough to flash Gwen a mischievous grin and say his piece, putting his tea cup down, but ostensibly returning his attention to the newspaper he was holding.

"I see no reason my presence should be necessary when you've done such a splendid job as hostess, which since this whole ball was your idea I'd say is rather fitting. And besides, we've still got three days before the ball begins, and until then, anyone in the palace is more freeloader than guest." He made absolutely no move to so much as leave his chair, much less call his chamberlain to have himself properly dressed.
 
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"The entire point of these dinners is to give you a chance to actually speak to and get to know these young women," she snatched the newspaper out of his hands and tossed it, "so that you might actually like the person you're going to spend the rest of your life with!"

Not stopping longer than to give him a pointed stare, Gwenaelle bustled over to his wardrobe and swung it open, already browsing and pushing aside several tunics in search for the perfect dinner attire.

"Not to mention forming a relationship with the many baronies, land owners, tradesmen... You've been scaring people out of the castle for years now, it's about time you actually made a few solid relationships. Someone besides Dylk."

Gwen pulled a choice of two tunics from the dresser and held them out for him to view. One of a rich red wine with gold embroidery, and one in a deep green and inlaid with black and silver.
 
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"Oh come, Gwen. You can't imagine I care what sort of woman I marry, and I have many solid relationships. Whether based off of loyalty, fear, or friendship, a relationship is a relationship." He let her take his newspaper with no fight, but continued to sit as he was, watching her rifle through his clothes so shamelessly.

He liked watching her like that. Bustling about as if she owned the castle and its owner. Of course, she wasn't the only one who'd tried, but most of the others had been older men, and had far less charitable reasons for interfering. With Gwen, he worried less that she'd tried to take his seat as real king, and more worried that her absence would be felt if she never became the true lady of the palace. She'd been quite determined to get him married off from the moment she'd returned from university, no doubt part of some scheme to have him perfectly situated before she could leave to be married herself. The thought brought a chuckle to his lips. As if she'd ever really feel that he was perfectly situated, considering the way she'd always fussed.

He waved his hand vaguely as she turned to him with the two choices. "The green one then, if you insist. And will you be dressing me yourself tonight as well, or have you a plan for that, too, if I decide I'd rather not? You know Maxwell is the only one in the castle who listens to my orders over yours, and no one else dares touch my person." He leaned his head against one fist, still smiling as he watched her, wondering what sort of bullheaded perfect plan she'd come up with this time to make him obey her. He didn't mind, since watching her devious mind work was much more the point than succeeding in his disobedience. In the end, he'd do what she said anyways.
 
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Gwenaelle cast him her best of imperious, serious scowls. This was precisely why not a woman or man in castle wanted to throw their name into the mix! With his wicked smirking and pesky nonsense, he thought he was the most clever and hilarious man! It would take an angel or a saint to have enough patience to deal with him on a daily basis!

Luckily, Gwen was immune to his shenanigans. Putting the wine tunic back into the armoire, she tossed the green one full at his head.

"You should care, you stupid ass! Heavens forbid, you marry some woman with the personality of a dead fish."

Now she moved over to a dresser and pulled a few of the drawers open. After shuffling through several pairs of breeches, she pulled out a simple black pair, then she moved on to checking belts.

"I can see it now. You giving a speech as she stands there with dead fish eyes. Dead fish eyes at dinner. ...dear gods, a dead fish wife in bed! For the rest of your life!"
 
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Caden just slung the tunic over one shoulder. He was not undressing in front of her. Thankfully, as royalty he never had, so she hadn't noticed when he'd realized she was a woman and he loved her and would feel horribly self-conscious to expose his naked body to her. He laughed at her horrified musings, though, easy as ever. She always did have the funniest way of saying things. "Assuming you don't mean a fishwife who is dead, I'd dare say a dead fish of a wife would suit me quite nicely. She'd never cause any trouble and I'd never be distracted by thoughts of bedding her. The castle would move exactly as it always has, without any concern of her interference or incompetence, and I dare say I'd find her company quite relaxing, as I could say whatever I like with no fear that she'd be present enough to judge me, much less gossip about me. Yes, come to think of it, if you find someone who seems like a bit of a dead fish to you, I'd appreciate it if you told me directly."

He stood, collecting the breeches from her hands, and the belt she'd chosen as he'd been speaking. Quietly, and with a smile that didn't reach his eyes, he added, "And before you roll your eyes at me, thinking I'm joking to vex you, you should know I'm entirely serious. As long as I draw breath, no lady will be permitted to control palace affairs except for you, my dear, and I'd much rather a stupid wife to bore me for the rest of my life, than a clever one I must constantly remind of her place." He put the breeches over his shoulder as well, and gestured at the door, "If you'd allow, Gwen, I should like to get dressed for dinner." But he just leaned a palm against the table and cocked his head to one side, grin back to slightly mischievous. Far be it from him to ever banish her from his presence.
 
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Gwen was so completely horrified and appalled that he seemed to like the idea of a dead fish wife that she couldn't even dig up the will to properly chastise him for it at first. Her nose wrinkled up and if he hadn't take the breeches and belt from her hands, she might've chucked those at him too.

"First of all, your highly esteemed, though incredibly stupid royal majesty-" she started, even holding up two fingers to signal she was about to launch into one of her impressive speeches.

Except a knock at the door and the entrance of a servant gave her pause.

"I- Er... Forgive me for interrupting, but- You family has arrived and has been settled in, my lady! I- I thought you would like to know!"

Gwenaelle sighed. That meant she would be juggling his royal pain in the rear as well as her parents and brothers at dinner this evening. Well! She wasn't one to shirk from a challenge. Gwen gave Caden one last serious pointed look before she stepped over to a trunk and pulled out a pair of black leather boots.

"Wear these... and don't be late! If you're lucky they'll be serving dead fish wife for dinner."
 
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Caden leaned back a little, getting ready for one of Gwen's magnificent rants, but they were unfortunately interrupted by a poor, terrified servant. She'd never believe that the servants were more scared of her than him... at least when she was around.

When she left, he sighed and relaxed, calling his manservant Maxwell to have him properly cleaned and dressed. If he didn't show up, she'd give him no shortage of trouble later, and there was only some extent to which he could stand her barging into his space and tempting him to kiss her. He couldn't very well make any moves until this issue with her fiance was settled. Plus, enough of the female guests had arrived for him to start implementing his plan. He believed two of the ladies at the dinner tonight were from their southern, seaside border. A Lady Cressida Derrivan, eldest daughter of the Earl of Kellwen, and a Lady Brissh Halvard, 3rd daughter of Marquess Winterhound. He had to start somewhere.

A few hours later, he was announced into the dining hall. He entered the room with his face cold and serious, the regal face everyone except Gwen found at least a little scary. As he was always last, he scanned the room to check his pickings, before taking his seat at the head of the table. The duke families were seated closest to him, which unfortunately meant he was nowhere near either Gwen and her family or the two ladies he was interested in, but it was enough to see how everyone conducted themselves. "There is no need to stand on ceremony tonight." He said, shortly, "The chef has been busy tonight, let us not let it go to waste." He gestured to the servants to serve the food.
 
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Thank goodness he showed up. Sometimes Gwen couldn't be sure. She did catch his eye though and make a signal with her hands that he should smile. The man looked like he was ready to give a speech at a funeral! Gwen knew him well enough to know he had an entire arsenal of smirks and grins at his disposal, he certainly aimed enough of them in her direction. If it weren't for the dukes insisting they get more intimate time with the King, Gwenaelle might've been sitting closer to him so she could more easily guide his conversations towards the single young ladies at the dinner table.

Instead, Gwen was situated with her family, along with her gentle but quiet betrothed at one side and a Jarl of Gau on the other. It wasn't ideal, but she hoped everyone behaved themselves.

"You look most enchanting tonight, my dear," said Gerald, he betrothed. Gwen cast him a genuine smile. One couldn't hate dear Gerald. Though he was well over ten or more years her senior, and perhaps more like a friendly uncle than her future husband, he'd always been kind and perfectly lovely. Of course, he also had nothing to speak about other than fish and poetry... but Gwenaelle certainly could have ended up with someone worse.

Such as the Jarl Odgrid Eyolf of Gua sitting to her right. He was the only representative of Gau that had been sent to the event (at least that Gwen was aware of so far), a sort of border chief. The man's facial features were severe, every word he spoke sounded like he was casting a curse on everyone at the table.

"Strange for a King to have an advisor so young," Odgrid commented. "Yet one can appreciate how quickly the spirits of the kingdom lifted when you were appointed."

"A king needs an advisor that cares about the kingdom, that is true," agreed Gwen. "I am temporary, of course, but I intend to make sure he is accompanied by someone with knowledge and wisdom. In his next advisor and his future queen."
 
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Caden rolled his eyes at Gwen, but smiled at the closest duke. It wasn't a very nice smile, but it was more than his dull, imperial glares. The duke in question was moaning on about his daughter, an apparently single little thing, who was keeping her eyes glued to her food as if she couldn't hear a thing. The slight flush to her ears, and the way her head dipped slowly the longer he talked made it clear that she was just ever so slightly mortified or at least angry about it. Not a woman worth bothering one way or another.

Thankfully, the duke's insipid conversation allowed Caden to go on autopilot for their conversation, his eyes locking onto the two women he'd come here to see. Lady Cressida Derrivan was comporting herself perfectly, showing little emotion on her face beyond what was perfectly polite to. She was pretty, in a stately sort of way, but didn't seem to have enough energy and warmth for what he was looking for. It did, however, look like she'd make an excellent queen if Gwen went off and left him. Lady Brissh, on the other hand, looked quite fun, a short, slightly stocky girl with apple cheeks and a bright smile. Her father was a tough-looking bull of a man, with leathery skin and flowing white hair, and he also happened to be quite massive, making Lady Brissh look even smaller. Her eyes sparkled with that sort of childish excitement, but there was something sharp to her smile, as if she was a shark hiding her teeth. Not a great match for a gentle man who cared only for his poetry and his ocean exploits, but perhaps someone he could use.

His eyes flitted to Gwen, and narrowed slightly. Damn her, he should've reviewed the seating chart more carefully. For her to put the only representative from Gau right next to her.... Gau was their neighboring country, a cold place on their southeastern border, and they'd been eyeing Cyrus for as long as Caden had been king. When he'd ascended to the throne, he'd been too busy with internal affairs to worry about a neighboring country watching to see what he'd do. He'd had to establish his place, and that his youth did not mean he would be easy to take advantage of. But once he'd gotten decently established, he had used his purging of the aristocracy to foster the impression that Cyrus was unstable, while developing three separately-controlled military divisions, and weeding out spies. He expected Gau to pounce soon, but when Gwen had returned a year ago, he'd gotten quite distracted by her efforts to rid his court of any inefficiency, and had quite forgotten to take any further steps for his plans for Gau. Now to have her right up against a member of that society, talking of who knew what. The minute this ridiculous ball ended, he would need to deal with them directly.

"Your majesty?" Someone to his left diverted his attention. "My daughter Galinda had a gift she was hoping to give you. She is exceptionally skilled in embroider and-" He resisted the urge to groan. The ball was planned to be a little over an entire week long. One evening in such an insufferable format. He almost wanted to issue a declaration that everyone who came would be executed immediately.

At the very least, the dinner passed in an inoffensive manner, since only two people could really speak to him, and the social drinking afterwards was a better opportunity to actually get some work done. He approached Gwen's fiance first. Even if he hadn't been plotting to set the other man up, it was an innocent and reasonable choice, the elderly fiance of his advisor. "My Lord." He said, with a light bow. "How are you this evening?"
 
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"Ah! My King! What a pleasure it is to finally be meeting in person again. Lady Gwenaelle's letters never seem to do you justice," he chimed, the jovial and amused smile hinting that the lady's letters were just as curt and opinionated as the lady herself.

Sir Gerald Creswell cut an impressive figure, distinguished and handsome despite his portly figure. His brown hair was peppered with grey while his beard had already turned a dark silver. He was old enough to be Gwen's father, and in truth he was likely a great deal more intelligent and congenial to be around than the Lord Norton Belenet himself. Having spent time in the royal navy when he was young and then moving on to run his fishing empire, Sir Gerald was a well rounded and experienced gentleman which made him a wonderful catch for any woman.

"She's doing quite impressive things here, that girl," he remarked fondly, gesturing towards Gwen across the room. "The Jarl has been glued to her side almost since he arrived. I might be jealous if I didn't know a cur when I see one."
 
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Caden smiled at Sir Gerald, genuinely smiled. There was something soothing about the older gentleman. While by no means stupid, there was a guileless ease to Sir Gerald that made Caden want to step back and see the world as he saw it, a pleasure in the simple things in life, for all the wealth and honor he'd accumulated in his years. Too many years. Of course, there was also something satisfying about knowing that the other man had absolutely no ideas about Caden's plans for him, and would no doubt not suspect a thing even well after he was married off to a woman Caden had found for him.

"Impressive things indeed." He said, responding to Sir Gerald's compliments with his hands behind his back, turning to look at Gwen with the Jarl. "It is of course no wonder to me that the Jarl takes interest in her, when her presence has done so much for the courts this past year. I would have preferred to protect her from such dubious attentions, but as always she has proved too much a force of nature to go unnoticed even by our neighboring countries. I am sorry to have kept her from you another year longer, but I cannot regret taking proper advantage of her mind while we have her."

He shook his head and returned his attention to Sir Gerald. "The anticipated pleasures of being married, I admit, escape me. As a king, I can only see it as benefit or risk, and as a man, I'm much too busy to imagine I'd satisfy a wife properly. Perhaps you could enlighten me, sir, with my own nuptials so close if the lady has her way. What do you anticipate for the married state?"
 
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Sir Gerald gave a loud delighted laugh, heavily slapping the king on the back for an affectionate pat.

"Ah! Apologies unnecessary, your majesty. Dare I say if Lady Gwenaelle was ready for a wedding, not even you could stop her from planning the ceremonies! What has ever stopped our girl from doing what she desires to do? No, no, she feels she is needed here and one cannot help but respect a woman that understands where she belongs."

He did pause to stroke his bearded face and consider King Caden's questions, however. Occasionally shooting a glanced over to his betrothed and the Jarl that seemed to hang on her every word. Then he glanced back at the king to give him a bit of an appraisal.

"Well, well... let me think. Every man has his own needs and wants for certain. Take myself for instance! I am quite done with my adventuring by now, I am quite looking forward to spending my days retired by the seaside. My business can be ran from the wharf, lending me plenty of time to spend my evenings with the Missus and quite hopefully our children. Yes, yes, I am ready to settle down."
 
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Sir Gerald was probably one of the only people in the kingdom who dared touch Caden's person now that he'd purged the aristocracy, much less slapping his back. Caden was so surprised, he choked on his own spit and was wracked with a little bit of a cough. It really had been a while. The older man had a point, though. If Gwen had really wanted to get married, it would've happened with or without his approval, king or not.

It was weird to hear Gwen referred to as "the Missus," especially by old Sir Gerald, but this was as much confirmation of what Caden had mostly suspected Gerald was looking for since he'd started hatching this plan. He'd heard Gwen's opinions often enough - not to mention always with her unique way of phrasing things - to know that she didn't much care for Gerald's constant talks of fishing and boats. He almost wanted to laugh at the mental image of Gwen sitting by with a couple of children, bored out of her mind on the wharf with a retired husband.

"That sounds lovely." He wasn't lying. He'd get bored eventually, but it did sound nice to be able to take an extended vacation from constant policy meetings, watching for power-hungry aristocrats and overtaxed citizens, surviving assassination attempts, and keeping his eye on the neighboring countries. "Though I'm afraid, the best I can hope for in that regard is a queen who won't cause a fuss or try to kill me as soon as she's gotten a son out of me." He laughed, only mostly joking.

Gwen speared them both with a glance, and Caden rolled his eyes and offered Sir Gerald a bow. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm afraid your fiance will not let me be until I've spoken to each lady here."
 
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"Ah yes, best to get about your Kingly duty. Our Lady will accept nothing less," Sir Gerald agreed with a nod.

Meanwhile, Gwenaelle was having a devil of a time trying to steer the Jarl Odgrid towards literally anyone else so that she might get on about her matchmaking duties. The man had been glued to her since dinner, asking all manner of mundane questions about her schooling and future plans, that honestly didn't seem at all important to future relations with Gau. She might've suspected he himself was looking for a good marriage candidate, but he was unaffected by her announcement of her fiancé, and no interest meeting any of the other perfectly eligible women she'd invited for the royal ball.

She finally found her moment of escape when one of his pages relayed a message to him, for which he then excused himself. Gwen gave a heavy relieved sigh once he was out of ear shot.

Finally! Now to get to work!

Gwen hadn't failed to notice that Caden had wasted much of his time socializing with her fiancé instead of actually talking to his guests. Her pointed stare seemed to do the trick of breaking up their conversation, however. Brightening into a triumphant smile, she scanned the room for a perfect first candidate to introduce to Caden.
 
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firejay1

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Caden moved before Gwen could drag him into conversation with her idea of the perfect woman - a woman he was quite certain he'd personally hate, and would fail to help him with his objective at all. Honestly, he didn't want to know what sort of woman she thought he could "like spending the rest of your life with!"

He intruded on the Marquess of Winterhound and his daughter, bowing to announce his intention to speak with them. It rarely took much time for people to notice him, especially with half the people in the room obviously eyeing him. "Marquess, it's been some time since you last graced us with your presence at court."

The marquess grunted. He'd never been a man of many words. And he hated politics. Two qualities that made him one of Caden's favorite nobles. It didn't, however, facilitate much in the way of conversation, so Caden continued, "I don't believe I'm acquainted with the lady next to you. Am I correct in assuming you are one of the marquess' daughters?"

While he'd initially noticed mainly her stocky frame and round cheeks, up close, her features were pleasing to look at. They were even more so when she smiled at him, and he got the full brunt of her cheery smile. As he'd thought from across the table, there was a sharpness to him. The marquess was not known for his wit, but Caden had always suspected that was more to do with his apathy towards polite society than an inability to play that game. Lady Brissh certainly cemented that opinion. "Yes, your majesty! I'm Brissh, his lordship's third daughter. Why did you come to see me first!? My sisters will be the most jealous to hear that. They wanted to come, you know, but they both have their hands full with their children." She sounded stupider than she looked, but Caden didn't trust that for a minute. "Are you going to compliment me on my dress? They'll absolutely fall over themselves with envy." She rattled on. "And when I return, they'll want to hear all about you and what the other ladies wore and which lords got together with which ladies during the ball- Oh, you can't imagine your majesty will be the only one to find a bride. After all, so many young people have been invited, for however long it takes for your majesty and the lady to become engaged, and I wouldn't expect that to be quick at all, and in such close quarters, there's bound to be a romance or two, and I'm determined to have my fill of them, at least in gossip if nothing else."

Caden raised his eyebrows, "You don't expect to be among them, my lady?"

Lady Brissh laughed, startling her father from what seemed to be a momentary standing nap. "Of course not, your majesty. I have no interest in men whose hearts are swayed in a few short weeks, and especially not in men whose fancy is already taken."

"Your words have some wisdom for the first group, but for the latter... I'm sure such men would not have come to the festivities without their partners already announced."

"But your majesty. Don't you think that's only if they had a choice in the matter?" Her eyes twinkled, and Caden knew right then and there that Lady Brissh was absolutely the wrong person for Sir Gerald.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean." He said, blithely.

"Oh, y'know. Men whose mothers don't approve of their lovers, or whose heart's desires are already engaged, that sort of thing. Sure, it's good enough for the more ambitious ladies to settle with or 'heal' if you will, someone like that, but I for one should hate to be anyone's second choice!"

Caden smiled widely at her, "I couldn't agree more, Lady Brissh." He held out his hand to kiss the back of hers and she obliged. She was fun, and since she'd made her intentions clear, he imagined would be the most relaxing guest to be around.
 
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Diana

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Ignoring that she had a very important agenda, Gwenaelle quite loved the social aspect of getting to know the nobles and their intricate and silly lives. She chatted up a young princess from a very far small country, finding her tales of wandering llamas hilarious and her disposition sweet and kind. In Gwen's opinion, someone kind would be the perfect Queen for the country, and if she were the right sort of sweet, all of Caden's trickery would just bounce right off her.

Gwen occasionally would spy in Caden's direction to make sure he was doing what he was told, and at first she was quite pleased to find him chatting with the Lady Brissh. The Lady was a subtly clever woman and someone Gwenaelle had a great deal of respect for and would absolutely make an amazing Queen. Caden even seemed to be enjoying the conversation without his usual eye-rolling or antagonizing, which was a very good sign. Gwen should've been pleased!

...so why did she find herself so suddenly suspicious.

The young princess' next story about llamas being better than horses fell on deaf ears, as Gwenaelle leaned back to get a better look at the King and his current lovely guest. Maybe pairing him with someone so clever wouldn't be such a good idea. If they got along too well, who would curb his awful impulses to do dangerous things? Lady Brissh wasn't known for being impulsive herself, but who was to say she wouldn't give Caden the wrong sort of encouragement.

Bidding the princess a polite goodbye, Gwenaelle immediately made a beeline for the king. It was time to break up that conversation!
 
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Lady Brissh grinned almost slyly. "The king himself, kissing my hand! It seems I already have much in the way of a story to tell my sisters."

"And I'm sure many more, if you'd agree to help me, my lady." Caden answered, matching her expression.

"I'm sure I can't imagine how a lady all the way from Winterhound might help a king, but I should never turn down so potentially amusing a request."

Caden looked over the congregation, eyes skipping over Gwen naturally as he tried to pick out the other ladies in the congregation. "Your insight should be sufficient. As you know, I can hardly speak to every lady even supposing my every conversation were not being watched by everyone present. I should like you to converse with ladies on my behalf, give me your impressions."

The lady laughed. "Oh, so little a thing! I see no reason why not. That was as much as my plan in coming, regardless. What does your Majesty suggest for how I might consult with you away from prying eyes?"

"I shall-"

"-Your Majesty!" Lady Brissh interrupted, surprising him. He was about to follow her gaze where she was looking, but didn't have time before Gwen was right in front of the two of them, all puffed up like she was on a mission, though she only knew to do what.
 
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"Lady Brissh! It is an absolute pleasure to see you again, I hope our gracious King has been good company," Genaelle chirped pleasantly, clasping her hands behind her back and at least making an attempt not to too suspiciously eye Caden up and down. She wouldn't put it past him to be plotting some sort of wicked prank to scare off half the ladies in the land, starting with the poor Lady Brissh.

"I do not wish to interrupt a pleasant conversation. but his majesty does have many others to greet this evening. In fact Princess Llama-- Princess Laura was just telling me the most delightful stories."
 
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The minute the word "llama" came out of Gwen's mouth, a burst of inappropriately loud laughter popped out of Caden's mouth. During official meetings, he had steeled his mind for her occasional hilarious nonsense, but he hadn't been ready for it at this moment, too busy trying his best to look innocent of any schemes. But kings did not turn red or slap their hands over their mouths like children, so he covered up the laugh with a cough that was more meant to tell people to let it go than to actually convince anyone he hadn't just been about to laugh his ass off.

The laugh also unfortunately prevented him from having any clue what the princess' real name was.

"Of course!" Lady Brissh said, brightly, acting perfectly as though nothing had happened. "I should hate to take his majesty away from all the eligible ladies here, and of course from you, Lady Gwenaelle. His majesty was just indulging me a bit concerning my sisters. They so wished to be here, and demanded I bring back a description of the palace gardens, and I believe I was cajoling his majesty into showing me around them tomorrow afternoon. Would you allow it, Lady Gwenaelle? We could make a group excursion of it!" It was a good idea to make it possible for them to finish this conversation without drawing any suspicion to their relationship, but Caden suppressed the groan at being left alone with a gaggle of women in a place as "romantic" as the palace gardens. He glowered at Gwen to refuse, but that was more likely to encourage her than anything else.
 
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