He immediately kneels before my inert body, still in the chair. My face is puffy and my eyes as red as the indentations of my fingernails on my palms. I am now tearless and soulless.
“Liz?” he says in a low voice. He does not seem saddened in the least. Years have disappeared from his face and his eyes are bright and clear.
“Why, Alex, why?” I whisper.
“Because I love you more than anything in this world, and nothing is going to stop me from marrying you and raising a family with you. I don’t want the throne, Liz. I never did. It’s something I have never craved. Marie would make a much, much better ruler, trust me. I did it for us, for Moldavia, for my family and everyone else – so that everyone can have what they want.”
“The greater good,” I say dully.
“Yes, the greater good.” He clasps my face and runs the pad of his thumb down my dried cheeks. “Oh, Liz, Liz . . . you’re so beautiful.”
“I look awful.”
“No. You’re the most beautiful thing in the world to me. And finally now we are free. Free of responsibility, of sorts . . . free to do anything we wish. We can go around the world, do anything we want. Don’t you see? This is the best thing I could have ever done for us.”
My mind is still reeling from the shock of this afternoon’s events, but yes . . . I’m slowly beginning to see it too. Alex can be what he was when I first met him – a prince. Only now, he’s removed from the burden of responsibility. Yes, he will have responsibilities, but his life is not dictated to the whims of the palace so much anymore.
He grins. “So what do you say? Shall we set the date?”
It’s eight months later.
The day of my wedding dawns fair and bright. I wake up at five to begin my makeup and hair. Monsieur Danton teases my tresses into a mass of flowing waves that will gleam in the sun. Stella Catalan, now world famous as a Moldavian fashion export, has designed my wedding gown.
Even I cannot believe how gorgeous I look. The bodice is my dress is done up in ivory motifs of the azalea, which is the national flower of Moldavia, and seeded with pearls and little diamonds. The ivory gown is a puffed-up inverted flower, so elaborate that you should see me float in it. I’m a shimmering cloud.
For my wedding gift, the Queen has given me (yes, Queen Marie!) a diamond and emerald necklace so huge that my neck is practically embedded by its weight. It’s apparently a family heirloom. Her mother has augmented it with matching diamond and emerald earrings and a diamond bracelet. The royals are showering me with jewelry. Probably felt guilty for navigating me out of a Queendom. The safe in my room is a veritable treasure chest.
I have a tiara . . . and a silk train. You should see that train! It has to be carried by twelve pagegirls.
I am having a very public royal wedding. Moldavia and the world need its spectacle. They want to see me and Alex have our happy ending.
It’s time for me to be ferried to the church. I am going in a carriage pulled by horses. Yes! Just like Cinderella! I hope it doesn’t turn into a pumpkin halfway. That would totally ruin my dress.
The people line up the streets to see me. Since my Dad can’t be found, there’s no one to give me away, but that’s all right too. My Mom is here, and I’ve invited Mr. Mangorean and a few people from the hotel. (Not Cassandra Pelicano.) I’ve even invited Deanna, my old roommate. I’ve decided to forgive her.
When she flew in, we hugged each other fiercely with tears in our eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered over and over.
“It’s all right. You’re here and that’s all that matters.”
The people are cheering and waving at me as I pass. I wave back, smiling. I’m on live TV coverage. Even though I’m not Queen, this is an event big enough to rival Marie’s coronation.
I arrive at the cathedral. I climb out of the coach, tucking my train around me carefully. Guess who is my bridesmaid? Yes, it’s the new Queen herself! What a kick I’m having – a Queen as my bridesmaid on my wedding day.
Alex is waiting for me at the pulpit. So is the Archbishop, who will marry us as a sign of his acceptance. They both beam down at me as I enter. The guests stand on my account. I am truly a princess today.
Oh yeah, my new title. Princess Elizabeth.
I think I can get used to it.
Alex is so handsome in his black suit that I swoon. His hair is combed neatly and he has a mischievous look in his eyes. Since his abdication, we have not looked back. He has thrown himself into his work and humanitarian deeds, as befitting a prince of the realm. I have organized charities and devoted myself to causes. We set about healing the royal family and mending ties with Nuernberg.
As a sign of those mended ties, Tatiana and her father are at the wedding. They are seated in the first row beside the Queen Mother.
Alex does not take his eyes off me as I ascend the steps to the pulpit.
I love you more than anything in this world, they say.
And I love you more than anything and anyone, I silently say back.
The Archbishop commences the ceremony, and his words are half-drowned by the rushing of blood in my ears. I’m alive and with the man I love. We’re together despite all odds. He puts the ring on my finger – it’s a diamond so huge that it eclipses every single bauble I have ever seen. And he kisses me. Oh, how he kisses me. It’s sweet and filled with so much love and hope for our future than I can melt into his kiss forever.
Later, we will honeymoon in Indonesia. We will make love on the sands and drink from coconut husks and live like the beautiful, beautiful natives.
But for now, we are blessed as man and wife in the house of God. And happiness like I have never known it swarms my entire being and lifts me to the light of the stained windows.