“You must do what?”
Una glanced up from her place at one of the kitchen preparation tables as the figure that spoke to her placed his hand on her elbow, “Forgive me, Una, I must go to an emergency meeting with the knights about a rising issue in the Wood Between.”
Una could not help but frown a little. Her eyes dove back to the basket that she had been stuffing with food for what was going to be an early morning picnic in the gardens. It was the anniversary of the day that he and his band of misfits had come out of Goldstone Wood while she sat in a history lesson so long ago.
The girl’s frown deepened. She had been preparing for this for two days now. It was supposed to be their little romantic getaway, and of all times for duty to take the prince away from her, it had to be now. Knowing Aethelbald, she wasn’t expecting him to serenade her with love songs or write her poetry. Honestly, that was probably one thing that she had really come to love about him.
She was excited for it, her imagination soaring over all the different ways the day could go. One thing that came to mind was a scene of him sitting nearby, watching her as she twirled about the gardens. Another thing that came to mind was the two enjoying the morning weather and listening to the mysterious tune of the unseen wood thrush. Maybe they would go out and he would speak a few kind words to her and let her vent about the week she had, and he would smile and pull her close. A small hope came to her that he may even take a few moments to hold her in a slow dance with no fancy movements, just the two of them and the cool morning air blowing through her honey-colored tresses.
Now, though, and at other points recently as well, someone would summon her prince for something or another and he would have to leave her arms once again.
It irked her, it certainly did.
Her mouth twisted from a frown to a definite scowl. If only she could stop him from leaving. She knew he had to go, but she really didn’t want him to.
“Una, I shall return as soon as I can,” he placed a hand over hers, gently thumbing the back of her wrist, “so be ready to go on that picnic as soon as I come back, alright?”
She was silently fuming. However, the ‘silent’ part did not last long, “Why do you have to they are so I cannot stand with foolish and our picnic!”
Aethelbald blinked at her for a moment, then smiled, his hand rising to touch her cheek, “Don’t worry, my love. We’ll leave for the picnic as soon as I return.”
The prince leaned in to give her a quick kiss to her temple then squeezed her hand before leaving the room.
Una sighed, but attempted a smile for him. Suddenly, a slight snort from the back of the kitchen signaled the fact that she was not alone in the kitchen. Unintentionally, her ears strained to hear the whispering from the back of the kitchen.
“Can you believe how the Princess speaks? Her speech impediment makes her nearly impossible to understand.”
Another voice hushed the first, “Keep your voice down, you loon. What if she hears you?”
A third joined in, “And how she spoke in front of the Prince…”
The second spoke once more, “Her decorum is certainly lacking, I will give you that much.”
She knew her sentences did not quite run together correctly when she was disgruntled, but was it really that bad? Was it serious? Would people look down on her for it? More importantly, would people look down on Aethelbald because of it?
Worst of all, did it bother him to where he would stop loving her?
Una knew that a few of her prince’s knights would be staying behind. So, she took full advantage of that. She found them in the practice yard, as expected. Any who saw her immediately stopped their duels and bowed respectfully. Giving a light curtsy here and there along with the occasional “good morning”, Una strode across the yard over to two familiar figures. One had just taken a palmful of water and splashed it on his face and neck while the other was engaged in a duel with another knight. Both stopped at her approach.
She curtsied again and addressed them, “Morning, Sir Oeric, Sir Imoo. Might I have a word?”
The two knights turned their slightly bewildered gaze toward each other before returning their eyes to her. They nodded, bowing, “Of course, Princess, we are at your service.”
They followed the young woman into the back of the training yard, near a wall bearing wall-mounted blades and weapons along with a few barrels of a shimmering, incandescent powder. Seeing the knights and the Princess in serious conversation, the other knights and servants knew to stay away.
Now that she had actually gotten their attention, Una was slightly unsure as to what to do with it. It sounded like a perfectly solemn a legitimate concern in her head, but now that she had the attention of her husband’s servants, she was slightly unsure of how to bring it up.
So, the beginning of her query was impeccably graceful, “Um…”
Taking a deep breath as she watched their curious expressions, she continued, “Pardon my interruption, gentlemen. I merely have a quick question for you.”
The knights about the yard could not help themselves as they subtly turned their attention to the conversation in the corner. They watched the princess fiddle unconsciously with a fold in her dress. The expression on her face looked as though she was having trouble saying whatever it was she wanted to say. And, if the red blotches over her nose were anything to go by, the matter was rather embarrassing for her.
However, the king’s two knights stood blinking at her, looked at each other, then nearly threw their heads back and laughed. When they recovered themselves, they smiled, but any explanation they gave seemed insufficient, for the princess walked out of the practice yard a few moments later, a distant and forlorn look on her face.
Imoo stopped laughing, breathed deeply, and turned to Oeric, “Was she serious?”
Aethelbald’s knights had certainly been no help, and the atmosphere had not gotten much more comfortable since then. She now, of her own accord, sat in front of one of the more knowledgeable folks in the palace, probably once a professor. He thumbed his chin and studied her, glancing between her face and a written volume in his hands.
She held her breath anxiously, “So do you think it can be fixed?”
The man smacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, “Well, my lady, it seems to be a situational condition, controlled entirely by your own mind.”
Una sighed and glanced sideways, “So can you fix it?”
Drawing his spectacles away from his face, he raised his eyes to address the Princess, “Well, I do not think I can really help with the matter, at least at this time. What happens is all on your own decisions. Thinking and planning out your sentences before you voice them may help a bit.”
Of all things, this was certainly something she had heard a thousand times before, more from herself than anyone else. None of this helped her at all, and she was left with the one thought that troubled her most. And she would be left to ponder and stress about this problem until Aethelbald returned from his meeting, which inevitably seemed like an eternity.
Did her speech impediment bother Aethelbald or make her any less lovable to him?
If there was any time she wished she could have her obnoxious furry bundle, it was now. Even some embroidery or her Wood to escape to. Anything to keep her from thinking about it. But Monster was back in Parumvir with her brother, the servants may balk at the idea of her doing embroidery, if she could even find any that wasn’t enchanted with the magic of her husband’s land. Even the Wood and writing her poetry would do absolutely no good, because it would do nothing but remind her of him.
So she sat, drumming her fingers on her lap and staring out the window and trying to focus on the beautiful landscapes outside; trying to convince herself that she wasn’t counting the seconds until Aethelbald returned.
Of course she was.
Finally, she set about to do something productive; namely, to tell the servants to inform Aethelbald of her desire to see him when he returned.
So, when the door to their chambers opened with no prelude save, “Una, I’m not sure why you think you need to ask the servants to see me when you should know by now I—” she launched herself from her chair into his rather unsuspecting arms.
He wrapped his arms around her and smiled, “What a greeting.”
However, her smile quickly melted into a firm determination, “Aethelbald. I must speak to you. Now.”
He raised his eyebrows but shrugged as she led him out into the gardens, the princess temporarily forgetting the picnic matter despite Aethelbald’s visible hunger after his full day of meetings. Nevertheless, he sat down on one of the benches and folded his arms so his chin rested on his hands, “Now, Una, what is this about?”
The Prince was smiling, and Una could almost feel herself losing her nerve. She knew her face was heating up, the splotches at the ready, but breathed deeply and tightened her mouth, intent on her purpose.
The girl clamped her hands into fists and blurted, “Does my speech impediment bother you?”
Astounded, he blinked a few times, trying to absorb the information she had just given as if he had not the slightest idea what she was talking about, “Speech impediment?”
A moment of silence passed, and her serious question had dulled to a timid murmur, “When I get flustered or angry…I cannot form sentences correctly, and they come out jumbled and nonsensical.”
Aethelbald stared at her for a few moments with a relatively blank expression. Finally, he brought his hand over his mouth and after a moment or two she heard a deep sound, and she realized he was laughing. He was laughing! She was having an existential crisis about his love for her and he was laughing!
The deep chuckles subsided and a look of tenderness passed his face, “My Una, Princess of the entire Far World, swayed by doubts and meaningless gossip even now?”
Her mouth hung, incredulous, “But…h-how did you…”
He continued with a smile, “My servants are most definitely not perfect. Many of them are much too uptight.”
Aethelbald rose to his feet and took her hands, “Una, you’ve spoken like that ever since before we met. Don’t you think I wouldn’t have pursued you if it bothered me that much? I’ve loved you when you’ve been to a dragon and back and you believe the way you talk is going to bother me?”
Leaning in close, he whispered in her ear, “If anything, I find it exceedingly adorable.”
She felt the blotches sprouting on her nose and tightened her mouth; until he loosened it with a kiss. Grasping her hand and tucking it in the crook of his elbow, Aethelbald drew her back towards the kitchens, “Now come along, Una. There is a picnic basket waiting for us to retrieve it and eagerly consume its contents.”
She opened her mouth to protest, “But, Aethelbald, I—”
“Next time, don’t let them get to you. Isn’t my opinion of you more important than that?”
The Prince turned around, and his smile answered her, “Really, Una. How could I hate the adorable things that come out of that beautiful mouth of yours?”
Una quickly clasped a hand over her mouth in embarrassment while her husband led them back to the kitchens, a joyful and sincere smile on his face.