The royal procession crested down Summer Hill and reached the gates of Marisdon. The Lord Mayor and the heads of each of the four guilds bowed and officially welcomed us into the city. It seemed as if everyone in Marisdon had turned out to watch me travel to Ginger Harbor and board the ship that would take me to my new home, my new life. The crowd erupted in thunderous applause as the battalion of guards gave way to the royal carriage and they were able to catch a glimpse of the king and queen. My father loved the adulation of his people and I hoped that this sign of their affection would put him into a good mood. Recently, the king had been so tense around my mother, sister and I. Not even my mother’s pregnancy and the prospect of a prince seemed to lighten his spirits.
I waved to the small folk as they called my name and threw little bouquets of flowers into my carriage. Marisdon and its inhabitants had always sickened me a little. The city always smelled of spices, horse manure and iron. The people of Marisdon always looked dirty to me with their smudged faces and clothing, yet I had to hide all of that as we processed through the increasingly narrow streets. The city had been decorated for the occasion; gold and blue streamers hung between the buildings.
In front of the Temple of the Holy Mother I knelt on a plush blue cushion as my aunt, the reigning high priestess, sang a prayersong of protection over me. Her sister priestess presented me with a long ribbon of Pendlish lace to bind my husband’s hands on our wedding day. In the front of the Farm Guild’s House I tried not to cry as a pageant with children depicted my birth along with my poor brother, Edouard’s. In front of the Clerk’s Guild House I was presented with a gilded book of Pendland’s history, illustrated in brillant colors and edged in gold. I was pleased to receive it personally from my favorite tutor, Dr. Bettina Featherstone, and my father’s Lord Chancellor and friend, Tomas Moreweather. The children of the Merchant’s Guild sang a song honoring my beauty and wishing me a fruitful marriage. I thought the song to be impertinent, but I am biased against them. I believe that the Merchant’s Guild would sell our entire country if they received the right offer.
At Port Matilda, I had to say goodbye to my parents and to Meri. I bowed before my father and asked for his blessing. He raised me up and kissed me on both cheeks. He whispered, “No matters what happens, dearest, always remember how much I love you.” I felt warm inside as I walked away and bowed in front of my mother. When my mother raised me up and embraced me, I was shocked to find her trembling.
I loved my mother, but I never thought that she loved me or any of us, until I saw how Edouard’s death devastated her. My mother was always the perfect queen; hard, cold and strong as a statue. My father was the open and affectionate parent. But that day, my mother embraced me tightly, so tightly that I felt her child stir in her belly, and said, “Never forget who you are, my love. You are from a long line of kings and queens from not just Verula, but of Pendland as well. Never forget you are a princess.” I kissed my mother on both cheeks and patted her belly. I had been touched by her embrace, but I could not help but think that her last words to me were of politics and protecting the family honor.
I never wanted to leave Meri’s arms. I had the oddest feeling that if I were to let her go that I would never see her again. As she held me she begged me to write to her often and tell her of my new life in Augustine so that she could pretend that I was still with her. I did not know what I was going to do without Meri to guide me, to ensure that I did the right thing.
Once I was aboard the ship, I turned around and took one last look at my family. Meri and our mother stood together, arm in arm. My father stood off to the side and looked at them through squinted eyes. I should have had the sense then, that something was wrong.