As the days and weeks progressed, you began to look forward to your daily visits to the old cottage garden. You had started taking a lunch with you, so you could have an excuse to spend more time with him.
Your gardener. Zander. He was always kind, and never looked at you with the pity that you saw in the rest of the royal household. Everyone knew now about Wilfred’s affair, though no one spoke of it. In the morning your maid, Jessalyn, brought your tea and breakfast, sometimes helped with your hair, and clucked with concern over her ‘brave, strong lady’. But even her eyes held pity for you and your ‘situation’.
Zander was different. He treated you with respect, but never with pity or sympathy, and he never let you dwell on it. Your conversations were those of old friends. There was no feigned deference for royalty, no holding back of opinions or thoughts. You felt safe and comfortable with him. You could be honest about everything, in a manner that you hadn’t experienced in so long. It was freeing, in a way, and you began to feel flashes of your old self returning.
Your third wedding anniversary was just around the corner. Preparations were being made for the celebration. The princes of the other kingdoms were going to be visiting. All but Edward had married by now, and you sometimes found yourself wondering if your life would be different if you had gone with another prince.
You pulled your thoughts from that direction and returned to your room from the balcony. Jessalyn would be by soon to help you dress for the announcement ceremony.
From the corner of your eye, you caught a flash of movement. Your balcony was within sight of the balcony off Wilfred’s office. You turned to see Wilfred, his mistress in his arms, and you quickly ducked behind your curtains. The bastard. He’d never brought her here before. She wasn’t terribly attractive - mousy brown hair, plain features. But, she was born to nobility. You watched for a minute, until he turned her around, leaning her over the banister, lifting her skirt and dropping his pants. Something broke within you at that moment. Or, perhaps a better phrase is broke free.
You smiled brightly at the announcement ceremony, pretending nothing was wrong. Stephen and Cecile were there, Cecile getting close to giving birth to their first child. The other princes and their wives were there, as well. Even she was there, plain face smug. That night, as you sat pretending at dinner with all the guests, the King was speaking, feeling magnanimous at the prospect of his first grandchild being born, was asking each of his family members if there was some wish that he could grant.
“So, _______, is there a wish I can grant for you?” He asked.
“Actually, Your Majesty, there is. I would like to move to the little cottage in the old part of the chateau gardens.”
You thought for only a split-second before answering.
“Because I would like to be able to look out a window and not be confronted with the sight of my husband,” you didn’t even bother to hide the derision in your voice, “screwing his mistress out on the balcony.”
All sound stopped, jaws and utensils alike dropped.
“If I have to accept the fact that my husband is a cheater, I’d prefer to not have it thrown in my face,” you continued.
You pushed your plate away and stood, staring straight at Wilfred’s mistress.
“I find I’ve lost my appetite,” you said, walking out of the dining room without a backward glance, shoulders squared and head held high.
It was a couple of hours later. You were in your room, sketchbook in hand, your creative spark having reignited, when a knock sounded on your door.
You opened it to find Claude standing there.
“His Majesty says that the old cottage will require some renovations, but that it should be ready to move into by mid-summer.”
“Thank you.” You moved to close the door, but Claude cleared his throat.
“Your Highness.....” he offered quietly.
He looked genuinely uncomfortable, a rare look for Claude.
“I’m sorry, Your Highness.”
“The time for apologies has long since passed by, Claude. Is there anything else?”
You closed the door without another word, returning to your spot on the couch. You reached over to pick up your sketchbook, but grabbed a pillow instead, as tears came unbidden to your eyes.
You were sobbing so hard you didn’t hear the door to your room open, until you felt a hand on hour shoulder.
You jumped at the unfamiliar touch, to see Wilfred standing there. You saw the sorrow and regret in his eyes, but it was too late.
“Don’t touch me,” you hissed. “Get out.” You flung his hand from your shoulder.
“_______, I’m sorry. I never meant.....”
“I don’t care anymore, Wilfred. Get out. Close the door behind you.” You turned away from him, closing your eyes and resting your forehead on the damp pillow.
You could sense him standing behind you for a few more moments, before he turned around, his footfalls heavy in the silence, and it wasn’t until you heard the door close softly that you allowed yourself to cry again.