It’s just like Mom to hug me before Jarvis helps me into my suit jacket, so she won’t rumple it.
Dad watches with his hands in his pockets. “Your mother and I are proud of you, Eikko,” he says in Finnish.
“Not as proud as I am of you.”
My parents had been blindsided by my sudden ascent from Henri’s translator to future prince-consort of Illéa.
Mom initially handled it best: before her new maids had her things unpacked at the palace, she was sitting at the piano in the Women’s Room, having a passionate discussion of music with Eadlyn’s mother, conducted mostly in gestures and arpeggios. When Eadlyn’s grandmother Singer arrived, Mom made a new best friend, though even I couldn’t understand their mix of Finnish, English, Spanish—how did Mom even know Spanish?—and something that might have been Yiddish.
Dad’s meeting with Eadlyn’s father reportedly contained more silences than words, but his ice broke when Princess Gunilla of Swendway arrived with the foreign entourages. Gunilla de Monpezat turns out to be the professor behind a theory absolutely opposite to Dad’s views on WWIII, so she swept Dad up in a vast sequined embrace and hauled him into the nearest library.
Which brings us here, to my bedroom in the palace, where Jarvis is straightening the sharpest, most carefully tailored suit I’ve ever owned. There was talk of putting me in a uniform, because other princes of Illéa got married in uniforms, but I won’t wear a uniform I haven’t earned.
If Kile says one more time he’s a lover, not a fighter, I might make an exception to my rule of not punching people, though. It was funny the first twenty-seven times.
Once my jacket is arranged to Jarvis’ satisfaction, Mom opens a small wooden box and fastens to my lapel the enameled pin that she finds inside.
“Why a dandelion? It won’t match your princess’ bouquet.”
“It’s what I gave her after the Report where she announced her mother’s heart attack and the final six Elite.” Some see a weed. Some see a flower. Perspective.
“Omenalörtsy,” Dad says. He looks at Mom with a smile that lights both of them.
The crowds on either side of the street, as we ride to the cathedral in open cars, throw flowers—but not tomatoes or eggs, the way they did when Eadlyn tried that float ride to show off the Selection candidates.
Jarvis put clear polish on my nails so I don’t bite them any more.
My wave feels stiff. Mom takes to waving and smiling naturally. Dad has to be nudged to not stare straight ahead, until he sees the historic district. Then he has to be nudged not to point at the important buildings and definitely not to stand up in the car for a better view.
Narthex is a word I had to learn from Dad. It’s the lobby of a church—and in this cathedral, it’s bigger than our entire church back in Kent.
Studying Illéa’s history with Henri, I learned a lot more detail than I got in school, including how it could work that clergy are Ones, without their being a threat to the royal family. In Swendway, pastors marry and have kids—but in Illéa, the clergy are celibate, they change their names, and they take vows of poverty. They’re survivors of religious groups that helped Gregory Illéa overthrow the Chinese occupation government. So they became Ones, but they had no way to pass on their caste as individuals, and any wealth went to the church.
Coming from Swendway after dismantling of the caste system had started, we were allowed to have our little church with our own ways. At our meeting with the assistant bishop to plan Eadlyn’s wedding, I was asked if I’d raise our children in the state religion, which of course I would.
Nothing in a book could have prepared me for the blur of color and babble of voices in the narthex now. I know all of these people. . .
Well, I’ve met all of these people. A royal wedding calls for a lot of attendants, including Prince Osten as the head of the pages whose job would be keeping Eadlyn’s thirty-foot veil from dragging on the floor.
Tall, blond Prince Ahren, I talked with during the Selection, mostly about which books to use with Henri. He’ll be walking with Princess Camille of France, his bride of less than a year. Prince Kaden, a three-quarter-scale version of his older brother, is always underfoot somewhere. He’ll escort Josie Woodwork. Kile Woodwork—
“He’s a lover, not a fighter,” Kile says, shaking my hand. I mock-punch him in the upper arm.
“You’re taking in Lady Brice, right?” He doesn’t need my reminder, but details give my mind something solid to grip.
“Nope. Princess Caterina of Italy.” He has the tiniest bit of a smirk, like there’s a story here I should remember. “Lady Brice is with Prince Gustav of
Swendway.” Kile waves a hand toward an even taller, blonder man with a blue sash across his suit.
King-now-Prince Maxon chooses that moment to approach, holding a similar blue sash stretched between his hands. “Duck your head just a little so I don’t muss your hair.”
I do. It’s Ean, the most relaxed and smiling I’ve seen him, who adjusts the sash at my hip. “How do you like Hale’s design for your suit?”
“It’s great.” I swing my arms to prove it, halfway surprised at how far they move in a suit that fits so sleekly. “It’s all great.”
For a second, I feel tears welling behind my eyes. The cathedral and the royal attendants and the kindness of the rejected Elite and the former king about to be my father-in-law are all so much bigger than I am.
I know Eikko as well as he knows Eadlyn. And I can tell you, you are enough as well.
My right hand reaches up to touch the enameled dandelion boutonniere. Eadlyn chose me. Even if everything here is bigger than me, there is a spot where I fit.
The cluster of men around me is breached by a ricocheting Josie Woodwork, waving a bouquet of lilies of the valley and white roses. “It’s almost time. Erik, we’ve got to get you all lined up and marching before Eadlyn comes out, ’cause it’s bad luck for you to see her in her dress.”
“How is she?” The words sound stupid as I say them.
“Throwing up. But it’s the most ladylike vomiting I’ve ever seen.”
My stomach and heart want to change places. Eadlyn is throwing up at the thought of marrying me—
Josie grins. “She’s thrilled at marrying you. It’s all just. . . hitting her right now. Don’t worry.”
“Right.” I look up at Prince Maxon. “Did Queen. . . Princess. . . Lady America throw up before your wedding.”
“No.” His half-smile makes him look, for a second, just like Eadlyn when she’s not sure if something’s funny or not. “But I did. And there was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to marry her.”
On the long walk down the aisle, I will have my parents on either side of me. Waiting for my turn is the hardest part.
First goes the bishop, brilliant in white and gold, surrounded by his acolytes. The five pairs of attendants line up with the women’s dresses from darkest to lightest: starting with brilliant cobalt blue on Neena, who is escorted by Ean, and ending with sky blue on Lady Brice, who looks tiny beside Prince Gustav.
Halfway down that tremendous aisle, the wedding party looks like tiny enameled figures gliding through a jewel box. The fluting organ music—one of those marches that’s alternately exultant and somber—makes me feel like this is a play or a dream. Any minute now, the curtain will drop or I’ll wake up, and I’ll be alone in the dark, clutching a fading memory like a pillow.
It’s my turn. Mom squeezes my arm. Dad stares straight ahead and hums. And we’re off.
Waiting is not the hardest part. My heart wants to pound a different beat than the music, and my feet feel like lead. The number of faces it’s possible to pack into a cathedral. . . it has to be more than the population of my hometown. And they’re all looking at me.
Thousands must have seen my appearances on the Capital Report, but I couldn’t see them.
“One foot in front of the other,” Dad mutters in my left ear.
“Imagine them all naked,” Mom whispers in my right ear—but not so softly that Dad doesn’t hear it.
“Not in church, Essi.”
“Why not? God made our bodies.” Fortunately, this is in Finnish.
“Silloin heidän silmänsä avautuivat, ja he huomasivat olevansa alasti. He sitoivat yhteen viikunanlehtiä ja kietoivat ne vyötärölleen.”
“If the forbidden fruit made Adam and Eve ashamed to be naked, then shouldn’t a holy place make it okay?”
“Do I want to know what you were thinking at our wedding?”
“There was only one person I was imagining naked, Jussi.”
I can feel myself blushing. “Too much information, Mom.”
“What, you thought I didn’t find your father sexy?”
The two lines of attendants on the steps of the sanctuary feel like goal posts to some game. I’m half-considering sprinting for it—why can’t my parents flirt in a language I don’t speak?—when suddenly we’re there. Mom kisses me on the cheek. Dad shakes my hand, then offers Mom his arm to escort her to her seat. I turn—
In that breath, there are trumpets, trailed by a choir of heavenly unseen voices. The doors to the narthex open again, and there’s Eadlyn, flanked by her mother and father.
I don’t think I’m ever going to breathe again. Eadlyn in her coronation dress was magnificent. Eadlyn in her wedding gown is. . . like a rose opening in the morning light. Hale will probably happily tell me, later, how her skirt makes her seem to float and why the fabric has the sheen and translucence of petals and how Eadlyn can look simultaneously so immaculate and so vulnerable.
My hand reaches out to her before she’s more than three-quarters of the way down the aisle, and I don’t care if it looks wrong—she’s gazing right at me, with a smile so exultant it seems to want to leap off her mouth and tackle me.
Her father places her hand in mine. Princess America leans up to kiss my cheek. “Take good care of each other,” she says softly.
Heart pounding, I lead my bride to stand before the bishop.
“Eikko Petteri and Eadlyn Helena Margarete, have you come here to enter into marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?”
“Yes,” I say, a beat behind Eadlyn. The ripple of applause throughout the cathedral makes me jump. People remember that Capital Report where she chose love over the Selection.
But it would have been equally true if she’d married Henri or Kile, I want to say. She almost chose to sacrifice her heart for her country, and it was her free choice either way.
The bishop joins our hands. My throat dries up like the Angeles River in summer.
The expression in Eadlyn’s eyes would make me fly or faint or burst into flames.
One deep breath, then.
“I, Eikko Petteri, take you, Eadlyn Helena Margarete, for my lawful wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” The rhythm of the words carries me forward when my tongue would stumble.
Then it’s Eadlyn’s turn. “I, Eadlyn Helena Margarete, take you, Eikko Petteri, for my lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
With each phrase, I feel the earth shift. It’s as if we’re surrounded by all the people who’ve said these vows before us—my parents, her parents, the people in the cathedral, all our ancestors, everyone who built and fought and died for Illéa—all united by our promises.
The ring I slip on Eadlyn’s finger is a new royal signet, the mate of the one she gave me, modified with a border of dandelions. The ring she puts on my left hand is a copy of my great-great-grandmother’s ring, with the basketweave bright and clear, done in strands of copper and rose gold.
We kneel for a blessing, still holding hands. I have to let go of Eadlyn when she stands, and I close my eyes because, while I know what comes next, it feels like I can push it into the future if I don’t see it coming.
“Are you, Eikko Petteri Koskinen, prepared to take this oath?”
The correct answer is yes. I’m surprised by how calm I sound.
“Do you vow to uphold the laws and honor of Illéa all the days of your life, at home and abroad, with justice and mercy, in accordance with the will of our queen, Eadlyn?”
“I do.” I straighten my back as the prince-consort’s crown settles onto my head.
Kile Woodwork helps me to my feet. “Lover, not a fighter,” he whispers, and it’s almost funny again because Eadlyn is raising her face for our first kiss as husband and wife. I intended to make it a peck—we’re in public, we’re in a cathedral, our parents are watching—but somehow it doesn’t turn out that way and by the time I breath, people are applauding.
I’m embarrassed to look at them, but everybody’s steering me to turn and look down the length of the cathedral—Eadlyn’s hand on my arm, Kile’s on my other arm, the bishop’s on my shoulder blade—and the crowd is on their feet, chanting “God save Queen Eadlyn and Prince Eikko.”
The tear on my cheek is because they pronounce Eikko more-or-less right.
“I feel like I’ve barely gotten to look at you,” I say as I lead Eadlyn to the dance floor.
Eadlyn laughs and spins, her dress foaming around her. “You just married me. And what were you looking at while we did all those photos?”
“The camera, mostly.”
“You stared at me through three of the five courses of dinner.”
“There were five courses?”
Right hand on her shoulder blade. Left arm out, clasp her hand. Look over her right shoulder. One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. “I can’t even look at you right now.”
“Try it.” Her tone is teasing, but she’s also grown up dancing like this.
“I’d go off-balance and step all over your feet.” I breathe in deeply enough to catch the subtle scents of her: white wine, lilies, roses, and something herbal. “What do I smell like to you?”
I feel her laugh as much as hear it over the violins. “Starch from your shirt. Soap. I don’t know. You. You smell like you. You smell like Eikko.” She lets me steer her into a spin. “Oh, and like cinnamon. I think there’s a spot on your lip.”
That kiss should throw me off-balance, but somehow it fits with the motion of the song. Henri, so gracious in defeat that I wanted to hug him and cry and laugh every time I talk with him, made our wedding cake: a tower of korvapuusti, wrapped in a web of icing that swirled into lace and pearls and flowers.
“I knew in my head that our wedding would be about more than us. It’s just. . . hitting me right now.”
Eadlyn tips her head so she can look at my face without breaking our rhythm. “Do you know the big thing I had to learn about being royal?”
“Probably not. You’re a few years ahead of me in lessons.”
“It’s a good thing when about more than just us is because people want to be part of it with us.”
We had fisksoppa for the soup course, too, golden with saffron, redolent with leeks, laden with salmon and cod. Nobody had to do that for me.
The sharp suit, the cake, the rings—so much of everything here could be explained by making me presentable or giving me what was believed due to even the most unlikely of princes. But nobody made Hale want to design our clothes. Nobody made Henri want to bake us his best and most beloved dessert. Nobody made whoever chose and cooked that fisksoppa think of making me feel a little more at home.
Eadlyn lifts her hand from my shoulder and touches my dandelion boutonniere.
“No matter how much bigger it all is than me, there’s a place where I fit,” I whisper in her right ear.
Many, many dances and toasts and hugs later, after we’ve left the ballroom in a flurry of flower petals, Jarvis peels me out of my suit, gives me another shave, and wraps me in a robe as soft as summer air.
Eadlyn is waiting for me in her chamber. Her hair is brushed out, falling like a dark river over a nightgown with enough lace and ribbons to pass as a bridal gown back in Kent.
We stare at each other, blushing and not sure what comes next. I mean, I know the mechanics and I want to kiss her until both our knees turn weak, but how exactly to start that with a wife. . . I’m not sure.
She hops up from her chair and turns on a music player.
It’s the same song as our first dance.
Eadlyn holds out her right hand, and I put my right hand under her shoulder blade, and this time when we dance, I gaze into her hazel eyes and don’t miss a single step.