Sova frowned as his mind racked through the many tales he had heard over the years. It was his recollection that a great deal of marriages among humans ended up being rather tragic. He offered the girl a somewhat stern look. “And why would you want to do that?”
While his question was well-intentioned, the two women in the room looked startled. A hiss fell from the otherwise silent wolfling in the room. And Miss Elanore’s face suddenly lost its usual smile.
Sova had forgotten that humans were rather attached to their ceremonies and traditions. They did not enjoy it when others cast doubt upon their value. He fluttered his lashes at the pretty human and tried to recover as best as he could. “After all, why marry him when you have me?!”
Elanore tilted her head at that outlandish declaration. “You silly owl,” she began to laugh. “I barely know you. I have known Edmund since I was a little girl!”
Sova pouted. “Now that’s hardly fair! He wins only because he was the first to meet you and tell you how cute you happen to be.”
She cried, “He never said anything like that!” Her outburst only served to embarrass her further. Elanore first placed her hands on her face before awkwardly moving them to her hips. She looked and sounded vexed as she tried to explain herself more clearly. “He’s not like you, throwing out compliments at every girl who walks by.”
Sova blinked at her. He was surprised by how far in her opinion he had already sunk. “Me? I am an owl. We’re supposed to do that!” He then perked up as he corrected her yet again. “And it’s not every girl. Like Miss Wolf here, I have yet to try anything with her!”
The wolf lady glared at him from her corner. “No, owl. If you had I would have flayed and roasted you over a fire. I would shut your flapping beak and listen to her unless you want this food shoved down your throat right now!”
Her threat made him realize how perilous his standing was. Sova withdrew under his covers and muttered,“I am listening now.”
When it was clear he would say no more, Elanore relaxed. She found a stool and placed it next to his bed.
Sova still would not come out from under his covers.
The young lady sounded almost apologetic as she tried once again to make conversation. “I take it that owls don’t really marry?”
He might have danced around the topic except that he was aware of his nurse bringing a plate in his general direction. Sova grimaced as he was forced to provide a straight answer. “No I can’t say we do. In general we mate and we move on.” Very quickly he added, “It is a far easier life that way. Besides—“ his voice trailed off. He wasn’t all too certain that the habits of owls was an appropriate topic. Instead he offered her an easier explanation. “Well I prefer not to. I like being free to do as I please.”
It was a true statement but only up to a certain point. His answer implied that he lived a carefree and lackadaisical life. And yet, he was still serving the same woman after all this time.
As far as Sova could tell, none of the guards had any real desire to do anything other than serve their queen. It struck many as peculiar. Some of the less kind thought her an enchantress who charmed them into service. But there was no magic. Indeed, at least one or two had made promises with her brothers. And the rest had far simpler reasons.
He was among the latter — drawn to Elisa out of curiosity. He had spent a great deal of time observing her . She glinted like a flawed jewel– opaque in parts and sparkling in others. She was a complex puzzle of a human who never stopped fascinating him.
Sova saw that same quality in Miss Elanore. While there was no physical resemblance to the Lady Elisa, he openly admired the young woman seated next to him. She brightened many things about her. And with her latest news, she seemed poised to shine brighter.
But for now Elanore was a young lady determined to make him change his mind. “I don’t see marriage as a burden,” she answered him seriously. “Not to Edmund.”
Sova was flighty but he was not foolish enough to argue this point. Instead he would make himself quite agreeable to Miss Elanore. “Of course you would not. Unicorns are loyal and faithful—oh, and long-lived. Really, Elanore! Why hurry to marry him at such a young age?”
He could not help himself, after all. And once again, he found a spoon of offensive mash pressed to his mouth. Sova glanced up at the wolf-lady and thought to refuse it, but her pale-colored eyes burned with indignation. Meekly, Sova opened his mouth and accepted the spoon’s contents.
He mournfully chewed the food.
Meanwhile, Elanore waited until the nurse had fed him a few more bites of his medicinal concoction before she tried to speak again. “Sova, you are right in that Edmund might go on forever. However, I will not.” She looked down at her lap where her fingers were twisting her skirts. “If I am lucky and nothing calamitous happens, I might still have thirty years or so of life. If I might have even half of that with Edmund, it would make me happy.”
“Has anyone told you what it might be like? His kind seek out quiet places and avoid conflict. They have children. They grow things. They don’t have adventures and wars.” He paused. “Are you certain? Humans are said to like exciting things.”
She almost smiled then. “But it is already exciting with him. He makes it easier to feel brave.”
He stared at the sentimental human.
“I know it might be hard for you to understand.” She folded her hands together. “But it feels like this. Natural and comfortable. You cannot know how happy I am today. I have always wanted to marry my first prince.”
Her simple declaration silenced both owl and wolf. This was human innocence at its best.
Sova chuckled. “Your prince is an apt term. He is a good person.”
She blushed. “Oh, he is. And he’s so handsome.”
Both owl and wolf tried not to snicker at such artless honesty. Particularly when the young lady was already turning a furious shade of crimson.
The wolf-nurse finally put her foot down. “Now Miss, should you be dallying here then if you are to marry this young prince? I take it that you may have to dress.”
“Oh!” Elanore looked around wildly, perhaps looking for a clock. “I suppose I forgot about that. But I came to see if he might be well enough to come attend the service. The friar promised to come by shortly before dinner and perform the ceremony.”
Sova glanced at his nurse, still holding another spoon of food for him to eat.
“He might be,” the wise nurse said. “If his appetite has returned.”
Sova sighed. He knew he would have to finish the entire bowl before such a thing would truly be allowed. “That should be no problem,” he state. “I am hungry already,” he volunteered with a pained look.
* * *
While Elanore wandered about offering more invitations to the afternoon ceremony, Edmund found himself at the receiving end of mountains of advice from his well-meaning mother and father.
It was a summons from the Lady Selva that finally allowed him to escape. He arrived in her chambers as quickly as he could manage, after promising his parents that he would come back in time to take prayers with Friar Lorrence.
When he arrived, he was not surprised to find both she and Lord Wolfram were waiting to receive him.