“I don’t know why they’re making me bother with all this. It’s not like they’re actually going to let me marry whoever I choose anyway.” The prince waved away the attendant who was about to lift his foot to slip on his shoe. “Go on. Out! The lot of you. Yes, you too. We can do the rest.”
As the door closed behind the troupe of dressers and footmen, hairdressers and tailors, he flung himself down into a chair next to the mannequin that held his gold brocade coat. “Come on out, they’ve all gone.”
On the window-seat at the far side of the room, the other boy had been keeping well out of the way of the bustle around the prince. He marked his place in the book he’d been trying to read, closed it and stood, pulling his own slightly crumpled coat straight.
The prince sighed. “You know what they’ll have done. They’ll have made a list of which girls are ‘suitable’ and they’ll make sure I dance with all of them so that no one can say I was favouring anyone and then they’ll come to a decision with no input from me and claim that I’ve fallen madly in love.”
The other boy pulled a chair near to the prince’s and grabbed a sweetmeat from the table that stood between them. “Think of the rest of us!” he said, with a grin. “Every girl in that room will be looking at you, wishing for your eye to fall on them, wanting you to dance with them. The rest of us are just props. The only reason any girl actually says ‘yes’ when we ask them to dance is because otherwise she’ll be standing there looking like no one wants her.”
The boy popped the sweet into his mouth and reached for the dish again at just the same moment as the prince did. For an instant, as their fingers touched, they looked at one another. Then, the boy scooped up a sweet, tossed it into his mouth and stood up, wiping his fingers on his breeches. He lifted the heavy brocade coat off the mannequin. “Come on, or they’ll all be back fussing over you again.”
The prince stood and slid his arms into the sleeves of the coat. Silently, the other boy eased the frill of the prince’s shirt out of the back of the collar and moved around him, tweaking and patting at the shirt. Under his hands, the boy could feel the fast, steady beat of the prince’s heart. No sound but the two of them breathing in time with each other.
“You want the diamond pin?” the boy said, standing back to take a look, leaning forward again to rearrange a ruffle.
The prince shook his head. He eased the shirt ruffles out of the end of the sleeves. He swallowed hard. “I have to be married,” he said. “But it doesn’t have to make a difference to you and me.”
The other boy nodded. “Sit!” he commanded.
The prince arranged his coat tails and sat.
The boy knelt at his feet and picked up the prince’s shoe, gold brocade to match the coat. He slid his hand around the prince’s calf and lifted his foot. He slipped on the shoe.