“You’re much prettier when you don’t fidget.” Damien clasped Sawyer’s hand tightly, his wide smile intended to calm her nerves. “A princess never fidgets.”
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, standing a little taller. “You’re right.” She pasted a plastic smile on her face and pushed aside her fear. “I’m ready.”
Damien and Sawyer were the last to attend the picnic. Although it was tradition for nobility to arrive at public events later than everyone else, Sawyer couldn’t help but feel that Damien enjoyed making an entrance. He paused for a moment at the main garden gates, allowing the bright light of the sun to illuminate them both. It was difficult for Sawyer to see with the sun shining in her eyes, but she did not let her smile falter. She grabbed hold of Damien’s arm and pushed down the butterflies in her stomach. She was betrothed to Damien; performing would always be a part of her life now.
The crowd erupted with applause for their prince and their future princess. Damien’s face was flush with the thrill of his people’s accolades. People, both noble and common, lined the delicate garden path, smiling and bowing as he walked by. Sawyer, however, admired the landscape much more than the praise. She knew very little of it was for her anyway. Instead, she focused her attention on the rainbow of rose bushes around her, asking Damien if they could pause for a moment so she could admire the lilac colored roses more closely before moving on. She marveled at the sweet scent of lavender as they continued their stroll, and couldn’t help but delight in the feathery yellow yarrow leaves as they wound their way up the stone wall behind them. Her favorite part of the garden, however, was the vibrant pink and red English daisies that were hearty enough to have grown in even her much simpler garden back home. She plucked one carefully and tucked it behind her ear, not caring in the least if her father might find it childish. She smiled happily at Damien as he allowed her this brief moment of amusement before they had to join the others. He patted her arm lovingly and strode confidently to the center of the garden, finally taking his place with the royal family. Everett was there, standing alongside a very healthy looking Cait.
Sawyer settled in a bit uneasily between Damien and his step-mother. Everett and Cait were situated on the other side of the king and queen, too far away for Sawyer to check in on her little sister, despite the ache in her chest that longed to know she was well. After Everett had left her room last night, Sawyer had fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep. She’d slept so long that when she woke, there hadn’t been time to steal even a moment with Cait before the picnic. In fact, she’d barely had time to get dressed. And despite Camille’s strong assurances her sister had faired the night well, Sawyer’s heart wouldn’t rest until she could see and hear so for herself.
The king and queen greeted their guests, congratulating all of the newly matched couples. As they did so, the queen reached over and clasped Sawyer’s hand in her own, a loving smile stretching from ear to ear. Sawyer felt uncomfortable with the queen’s very public display of affection towards her, but she fought to keep the fake joy alight on her face. It was easier if she pretended she was at war and her life depended on her outside to not betray the unrest which stirred inside her. If she thought of the immensity of her duty, the significance of her soon to be status as princess, if she let her mind linger there for too long, she feared she would be overwhelmed. Somehow pretending she was at war seemed easier.
After the king and queen had invited everyone to the tables for food, Sawyer reached out and touched her sister lightly on the arm. Everett had excused himself to get them both something to drink and Sawyer was thankful she could steal a brief moment alone with Cait.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, careful to keep a smile light across her lips for anyone who might be watching.
“I’m fine, sister,” Cait replied, careful not to look Sawyer in the eye. “It was no worse than usual, and after a good night’s sleep all is well.”
“But Cait -” Sawyer started.