"L-location?" Jenny ventured.
"What's wrong with here?"
There was a tense moment, then the group relaxed, en masse. "The palace would be a fine place. We can have the ceremony in the main ballroom, and have the reception on the grounds."
"Better have a Plan B," the king warned, propping his feet up on the table. "What if the weather's shitty?"
"I will work on a Plan B," Edmund promised, making a note on his clipboard. "Very well, then. Next?"
Emboldened, the dress designer stepped forward. "Horrance Tyler, my lady. We met the other day."
"Hi, Horrance. Whatcha got?"
The stuff, Christina later thought, nightmares were made of.
"No. I'd disappear in that thing. My goal, on my wedding day, is not to look like a big-ass meringue."
"But it's so flattering to your coloring—"
"Big-ass meringue, Horrance. Sorry. That one, too," she said, pointing to a perfectly lovely dress with a scalloped neckline and, yes, a rather large, full skirt and eight-foot train. "I don't want a dress ten times as big as I am. And no train. Have you ever walked in a train, Horrance? Don't answer that Anyway, I haven't, and the day a zillion people are watching me? Not a good day to start. Next."
The flipping of sketchbook pages lulled the king to sleep, and soon his gentle snores filled the room as Christina worked through the sketches.
"Nope. Too nunlike."
"Too much lace."
"Not enough lace."
"Too Amazonian—what's with the silver belt? Am I fighting crime after the reception?"
"What are you talking about, too pretty?" David said, jerked out of his own near-slumber.
"It's too pretty for me. Too fancy, I guess is what I mean." She pointed. "Look at it—silver shoulder straps! And diamonds on the bodice. I'm a Wal-Mart girl, get it? Hey, Horrance, it's not personal, okay?" she said to the designer, who was manfully fighting tears. "They're gorgeous dresses, they really really are. They're just.. .just not me, get it?"
"I get it," Horrance said, slightly mollified, as he grabbed the seventh sketchbook.
"Too plain. It'd be great for a regular dance, but not for a wedding gown. It's very pretty, though," she added hastily.
"Not much of one, my lady, it's—"
"It's a train, Horrance. A beautiful train, but a train. Choo-choo. Next."
"Neckline's too high. I'd be tugging at it all day. On camera. It's probably just—what's that?"
Frozen in the act of slamming the last book shut, Horrance said, "Those are my sketches for a bridesmaid's gown, my lady."
Christina pulled the book toward her and stared hungrily at the page. It was an A-line gown, strapless, with an inch-wide ribbon around the middle, right below the breasts. It was ice-blue, and came with a floor-length, off-the-shoulder cape in the same color.
"That's the one. That's what I want" She couldn't look away from the sketch. It was glorious! Plain, but beautiful.
"In—in that color?"
"Yes. Don't change a thing."
Prince David chuckled. "So. Not white."
"Drop dead, white bread. I just like the color, is all."
"Oh, but... a princess of the realm really should be married in white—"
The king snorted and woke up. "Eh? What's up now?"
"The lady Christina wants to get married in blue," Horrance tattled.
King Alexander blinked. "Um ... I dunno, kid, that's kind of. .. different... even for us ..."
The protocol officer stepped in. "Actually, Majesty, the tradition of wearing white wedding gowns was started in England. By Queen Victoria."
"And everybody jumped on the bandwagon. The English bandwagon," Christina added.
"Well, screw that!" the king said loudly. "Alaskans do things their own way, dammit The kid wants blue, it's blue. Let the House of Windsor chew on that."
"Thanks, Al." Thank you! she mouthed to the protocol officer, who smiled graciously.
"It's nice," David said, looking at the sketch. "It'll bring out your blue eyes."
"Her eyes are green, "Jenny protested.
"You guys, focus, please? And my eyes are hazel— blue-green. Besides, I've already given up forty-five minutes of my life I'll never get back. What's next?"
"Well, the shoes should be—"
"Forget it. I'll pick out a pair of nice flats the next time I'm at Payless."
"I beg your pardon—you certainly will not," Edmund said.
"Watch me. Next!"
"Bridemaids' gowns?" David asked, scooching a little closer to Christina, the better to help her fend off Edmund's strangling hands.
"Oh. Was I going to have some of those?"
"Christina moved around a lot as a kid," David explained. "She doesn't have a lot of close friends."
"We were dunking the princesses," Edmund said.
"Which is fine," Christina said, turning to David, "but does your sister talk?"
"Kamryn, you mean?"
"She hasn't said two words to me the whole time I've been here, but she keeps throwing stuff at me!"
"She likes you."
"So," Edmund said loudly, "the princesses."
"And Jenny," Christina added. Jenny's mouth popped open. "Oh, my lady, I couldn't! It wouldn't be appropriate, it—"
"No, I want you to, Jenny. You're going to work like a dog on this—why shouldn't you get some of the glory?" Besides, the woman had really saved her bacon, stepping in with that tidbit about Queen Victoria. Talk about a true (if brand new) friend!
"Well, I—I would be honored, my lady." Jenny was flushing to the roots with pleasure. "Really, I— my mother will be so pleased."
"Okay. You can tell Mom later. So, bridesmaids-Princess Kathryn, Princess Alexandria, Jenny. Are there any—um—does your mom—I mean, the late queen—anybody in her family that you might like—"
"No," David said firmly.
"Okay!" Christina said brightly. "Bridesmaids' gowns, right? Right. Whatcha got, Horrance? Come on, don't be scared. You can do it."
"Nope. It's those high necklines again ... yech. And the color! They look like they're wearing steel."
"It's gray, miss. The new black."
"Black is the new black, Horrance. Um ... this is close," she said, tapping a picture. "But too sparkly. And that looks like heavy material... it'll be June, not January. No bridesmaids passing out at the altar, please."
"No ballerinas, either."
"She looks like a bell. A pretty bell, but a bell. No."
"Perhaps if we—what?"
"That one," she said, stabbing a finger at a midnight-blue, square-necked sheath gown. "It's gorgeous—they can wear it again, and it'll look good on everybody because all three of my bridesmaids could stand a few milkshakes, get what I mean? Anyway, that one."
"What do you think of the hat, my lady?"
"No hats. She looks like she's going to start tap dancing any minute."
"Very well," Horrance said, making notes with a now-shaking hand, "no hats for the maids."
"No hats, Horrance."
"Let me just show you a few things," he coaxed.
"You're a brave man, Horrance," Prince David commented.
"Thank you, Highness. How about this?"
"Why would you want me to look like a Rockette? Look at all those feathers! No, thanks."
"Nor do I want to pretend to be Humphrey Bogart."
"Or the Cat in the Hat."
"No hats," Horrance surrendered, slapping the book shut. "I think we can postpone our jewelry discussion for another day?"
"I'll take care of that," Prince David said.
"Oh, yeah?" Christina said, raising her eyebrows.
"I do have some talents besides acute knowledge of flightless waterfowl."
"It's nice to find out unexpected things about future husbands," she said cheerfully. "Which reminds me, what are you going to wear?"
"All the men in the royal family will be in standard tuxedos," Edmund announced.
"Oh, yes!" Horrance said, clapping enthusiastically. "You'll all look so dashing!"
"Ugh," the bride commented. "Penguins."
"Nothing wrong with looking like a penguin," David said, sneaking a peek at his watch.
"Says the obsessed! Look, do you really want to be mixed up with the waiters at our reception?"
Horrance giggled. David glared. Christina just raised her eyebrows and waited for an answer.
"Ah—my lady, Your Highness—tell me what you think of this." Horrance extended yet another sketchbook, and Christina and David looked down at it. It was a double-breasted tuxedo, but while the jacket and pants were deepest black, the waistcoat was a cheerful herringbone, and the tie was deep gray. "We could match the ties to the bridesmaids' gowns," he suggested.
"Actually, it's great the way it is. That whole matching thing—I never got it. What are we, in a parade? I think this looks great."
"I do, too. Nice work, Horrance."
A plump, matronly woman with brutally short, salt-and-pepper hair and an intriguing eggplant-colored pantsuit stepped forward, cheeks bulging with chewable antacid.