A/N: This must be the first posting in some six years that I've put up on this site. By the time I posted the final chapter of my last "Fantasy Island" story on FanFiction, I had more chapters written in this new book than I thought, so I figured I'd go ahead and put the first one up for perusal. It's gone so fast, I've got big holes in my story plan and I'm still trying to fill them. So if some time goes by between chapter postings, don't worry, sooner or later I'll get the next one up there, once it passes my personal muster! So here's the fourth story in my Royal Chronicles series. I hope you'll enjoy it!
§ § § - August 15, 2010
Their plane was circling the airport now, and Leslie had the window seat; she had been here on quite a few previous occasions, but this time it was different. She was about to become a resident of another country—and it would all be recorded for the citizens of that country and for posterity. Every move she made, every error she committed, would be a matter of public record. For she wasn't just Leslie, forty-five-year-old mother: she was Her Royal Highness, Princess Leslie of Lilla Jordsö.
Her husband, fifty-two-year-old Prince Christian, was still asleep in the seat beside her. It blew her mind how he could possibly sleep on a momentous occasion like this; after all, they and their four young children—six-year-old triplets Susanna, Karina and Tobias, and Anastasia, nearly sixteen months—were moving permanently back to the country of Christian's birth. He had confessed not too long ago that he was looking forward in some ways to returning, though he had a little trepidation as well about readjusting to living in the land he had left nearly ten years before to marry her. He thinks he'll have some trouble! she thought, biting her lip. This'll have to be the biggest culture shock I'll ever have gone through!
The speaker over her head came on with a pop of static that made her wince, and the pilot made an announcement that they were in a holding pattern over the airport and hoped to receive clearance to land within fifteen minutes. She sighed and let her head fall against the window, watching the city skyline and some suburb whose name she didn't know slowly wheeling below. As the airport came into view in the near distance, she searched the ground below, wondering how many of those cars down there were full of press people waiting to record the permanent return of Lilla Jordsö's favorite member of its royal family. Would there be bodyguards, or at least security men or even police officers? Would any of Christian's family be there? My family too, she reminded herself. Since her father's permanent departure from her home island to join some sort of odd tribunal whose properties Leslie understood only inasmuch as she knew they were extraterrestrial in some way, she'd had to come to grips with the idea that once again, she was an orphan. This time, however, it was much different from when she had been thirteen years old and desperately missing her mother and younger sisters. This time she had family to go to: Christian's older brother, Carl Johan, and his wife, sons and grandchildren; and his older sister, Anna-Laura, and her husband, son and grandchildren. There were also two nieces—the surviving daughters of Christian's late oldest brother, Arnulf—and the children of one of them. So there was plenty of family for her now; they had accepted her fully, and she had been happy to take on their surname and, most of the time at least, even to bear the title she had acquired upon her marriage to Christian.
The relentless tilt of the fuselage to their right seemed to alert something deep in Christian's slumbering brain, and he stirred beside her and opened his eyes, squinting in the light. "Va' var det då?" he mumbled sleepily.
"We're here...more or less," Leslie said, relieved to see him awake, if only barely. "But we're caught in a holding pattern over the airport. They made an announcement saying they're hoping we can land in about fifteen minutes."
Christian grunted acknowledgment and yawned, then stretched as much as he could, which wasn't a whole lot even in a first-class airplane seat. "Ach," he muttered, then sighed and peered out the window at the revolving view. "Frankly, I'm amazed. I've never heard of our airport being so busy as to require holding patterns. We just aren't big enough to be that busy." He sat up fully, then leaned into the aisle as if looking for someone.
He keeps saying "we", Leslie thought uneasily. He's quick enough to re-identify with his native country. I wonder how fast he'll influence the kids into saying it...and will I ever be able to say it? She began restlessly tensing muscles in her legs, feet and ankles, trying to relieve the annoying fatigue cramps that came from sitting too long. Her ruminations were thankfully interrupted when a flight attendant hove into view and paused beside their row, addressing Christian. "May I help you, Your Highness?" she inquired with a curtsy.
Christian smiled. "I'm told we're in a holding pattern. Would it be possible for you to get any further information, if there is any?"
"I'll see what I can find out, Your Highness," the young woman promised, dipped another quick curtsy and made her way toward the cabin.
Christian let his gaze stray out the window again. "That's Kulleby you see below us, my Rose. Are you quite sure you don't want us to buy a house here?" There was a teasing glint in his hazel eyes. "Kulleby and particularly Endalia have some beautiful homes."
Leslie eyed him and pointed out, "Weren't you the one who was talking about choosing one of those three-room suites in the east corridor of the castle and completely redoing it to our specifications? In fact, you even said something about maybe combining two of them, so we could have this huge six-room apartment." She grinned at him. "It's not like we need it, but if you're going to do that, then who needs a house?"
He laughed and pulled her over to drop a kiss on her lips. "That's true. I just thought I'd see if you had changed your mind." She rolled her eyes, then joined in his laughter.
In the seats across the aisle, where the triplets and their toddler sister had doubled up two to a seat—a little trick Christian had pulled off by throwing around his royal weight, one of the very few times he took such advantage—Anastasia wriggled under the seat belt she was sharing with her sister Karina. "Mama, dada, out," she demanded.
"Not yet, Stasia," Christian said in jordiska to their youngest child. "We have to be on the ground first, and we're not there yet. Just a little longer."
Anastasia pouted and began to kick her feet, which roused Karina. Rubbing her eyes, the six-year-old princess squinted around her and finally focused on her parents. "Are we there yet?" she asked.
Before either Christian or Leslie could answer, the flight attendant returned at last. "We're next in line for landing," she told them, "so it won't be long now."
"Jag tackar ödarna," Christian said through a sigh, casting the flight attendant a grateful smile. "I'm exhausted, and I'm sure my wife is too. Thank you."
True to the young woman's word, in a little less than ten minutes their plane was on the ground and taxiing to its gate. Per previous instructions, the Enstads were to get off before anyone else; the same flight attendant informed them that a security force would be taking them and the children directly to a castle limo and their bags would be retrieved for them. Christian thanked her again, checked on the children, and squeezed Leslie's hand. "We'll be home soon, my Rose," he assured her.
Home, she thought, feeling bereft and adrift. Woman without a country, that's what I feel like. She saw him watching her expectantly and managed a smile, but her thoughts were still churning. She had discovered, to her consternation and emotional disquiet, that she had been right when she'd told her friends that everywhere she went on her father's island, she would be bombarded with reminders of him. There was literally nothing there that didn't make her miss him and remember growing up with him. Out of a sense of desperation, a need to find a fresh beginning, she had agreed when Christian and his family had offered the option of moving to Lilla Jordsö. Caught between my memories and the sadness of missing Father, or the need for a fresh start—and coming to a country where I'll feel like the biggest misfit ever. How in the world am I going to cope?
Christian turned to her and started to speak, but must have read the turmoil in her eyes, for he caught himself and peered more closely at her. "Leslie, are you all right?"
"Well, I..." she began, glanced around them and cleared her throat. "I think it'll have to wait till we get to...to the castle. Too many ears here."
Christian frowned in concern, but nodded. "All right, but I'll hold you to that," he warned gently. "We've already been through enough strife from lack of communication, and I have no wish to perpetuate that."
Leslie nodded, and he smiled and gave her another quick kiss, just as the flight attendant returned with a crewmate. The first one began to remove carry-ons from the overhead bins while the second attendant released the children's seat belts; the triplets claimed their bags, and Christian carried his and Leslie's while Leslie picked up Anastasia and shouldered the little girl's tote bag. The other first-class passengers watched—and a few snapped pictures on their cell phones, Leslie noticed—as the family gathered their belongings and then were escorted off the aircraft.
In the terminal, they were surrounded—not just by eight security guards, but by a horde of print and television reporters lugging cameras of all sorts. Questions were fired at them from all sides; the triplets stared around in confusion, and Anastasia peered warily over her mother's shoulder at the intruders. Christian gave a quick wave but otherwise ignored them all, murmuring to his wife, "Don't say anything. There'll be a scheduled press conference later, but there's no need to encourage them now." She nodded again, and he winked at her.
Leslie was relieved when they were settled into the castle limo; all the way through the airport, people had shouted welcome-home greetings at them, waved, some even applauding or cheering. She was sure this had all been directed at Christian alone—the people welcoming back their favorite royal—and had been relieved when Anastasia started to whine and occupied her attention. Now she settled the toddler into the car seat provided for her and strapped her in while Christian helped the triplets get buckled in; the car rocked gently now and then as suitcases thudded into the trunk.
Finally the trunk lid slammed down, and a minute later they were on their way, with people all around them peering with interest at the limo and a parade of press cars trailing them. Christian was staring out the back window, twisted around in his seat. "This is truly absurd," he said, sounding more bewildered than annoyed. "It's as if someone tipped them all off that we were arriving today, at this particular hour. Do they think we'll pull over to the side of the road halfway home and answer all their crazy questions?"
Leslie snickered, and Susanna spoke up then: "Daddy, who are all those guys in the cars, anyway?"
"People from newspapers and magazines and TV," Christian told her. "They all want to ask us a lot of questions. It's because we've come back here to live, instead of only for a visit, and they're very excited."
"I wish we could've stayed home," Susanna said, sighing loudly. "I miss Magic...poor kitty cat...and April. And now we have to start in a new school with all new kids. And we have to go to lekskola. That's like being in kindergarten all over again."
"Yeah," Tobias grumbled. "Ethan and Kevin were laughing at me 'cause they're starting first grade and I have to be in kindergarten again."
Karina made a face and said, "They let Tia go to second grade. She's smarter than all the rest of us put together. I wish I could've just skipped first grade...and it feels like I'm going backward 'cause we're in lekskolan this year. Daddy, can't they change it so school's like the one we have at home?"
Christian's sigh bespoke strained patience. "I explained it to you before we left," he reminded them. "The first seven years of school here are like the Swedish school system, and the last four will be like the American school system. It's simply how we do things here."
"You'll make new friends, you know," Leslie said. "And you met Jonna Rosseby on the island after Grandfather had to leave us, remember? Her mother and father said they'd buy a house in a place where she can go to school with you three."
"How come you always meet people with girls?" Tobias complained suddenly. "I already got three sisters, and then when your friends visit, they always have girls. Doesn't anybody have any boys?"
"There'll be boys in your class in school," Christian said tautly. "We can talk more about this later."
"Well, I wanna talk about it now," Tobias said stubbornly. "When do we have to start school? Do we have to wear uniforms? Can't we just skip lekskolan and start first grade like we were supposed to do at home?"
"Home," Christian blasted out, looking fed up. "This is home now, so stop saying it like that. Enough!"
Tobias stared at him, startled, and Susanna and Karina looked at each other. Leslie cleared her throat, as surprised as they were, and squeezed Christian's hand, addressing the children. "I know this is big and scary for you, because it's big and scary for me too. But we just got off the plane and we haven't even seen your aunts and uncles and cousins yet. Let's try to hold the questions till we get to the castle, and then we can all get together and talk, and you can ask them anything your father or I don't know."
The children nodded, though it was pretty clear that they'd have trouble holding back their questions, and she turned to Christian. "I think maybe I'm not the only one who's stressing out about this move," she said softly to him.
Christian was still staring out the back window, and he pulled his gaze off their uninvited entourage long enough to smile at her. "I'm sorry, my Rose. I've just been thinking... maybe my sister was wrong about our having more privacy here. We've barely arrived, and we already have the press on our backs. It doesn't exactly bode well."
"Maybe the novelty will wear off after a while," Leslie said hopefully.
Christian's mouth quirked in a tired, wry smile. "May the fates overhear," he said, quoting yet another jordisk saying. Leslie had had something of a crash course in colloquial jordiska over the last several months; it had been Christian's attempt to help her bone up a bit on her knowledge of the language. English would be a luxury from now on, she realized, and her stomach started to roll at the thought. I'll have a lousy accent, and people will snicker at me every time I open my mouth. And I'll probably mangle some well-known saying or another. Christian calls Anna-Kristina "Kattersprinsessan"...I might end up being known as "Fiskaprinsessan", Princess of Fish...fish out of water! She squirmed restlessly in her seat, shaking her head at herself.
"Stop, Leslie," Christian murmured into her ear. "I see those gears in your head just clicking away. Please stop, and try to relax. It'll take time, but we'll get used to it, I promise. No matter what happens, we'll see this through together."
She gave him a sheepish look and rested her head on his shoulder. "Wait till you hear all the crazy thoughts I've been having. You'll think I've finally lost the last of my marbles."
He grinned at that and slipped an arm around her, and they settled in for the drive. After a while, the triplets began asking questions about the passing scenery, keeping them occupied till they reached the castle some thirty minutes later and at last cut off the press people. The car glided to a halt under the mossy portico, and the family spilled out, stretching their muscles. Anastasia stared around them with huge eyes; she grabbed her mother's hand and pointed, as if to indicate the building in general, and Leslie smiled. "It's really big, isn't it, honey?" Anastasia nodded, her thumb sliding into her mouth.
Susanna had been watching her small sister. "Did we suck our thumbs that much when we were little like that?" she wanted to know.
Leslie laughed as the chauffeur and two servants from inside the castle began to unload the trunk. "Well, you sucked your thumbs every now and then, but probably not as much as Anastasia does. But then again, there's a lot going on, so that's a natural reaction. You and Tobias and Karina go ahead and grab your carry-ons, okay?"
The castle's great entry was empty for some reason, and Christian paused in puzzlement, leaning over and peering through the archway that led into the east corridor. "That's odd," he muttered and raised his voice, using his native tongue. "Isn't anyone home?"
A servant slipped in behind them, set down several bags, and murmured something to Christian, bowing quickly before going into the east corridor and knocking on the first door to the right—the sitting room where the royal family watched television and sometimes gathered for family talks. He poked his head inside and said something, and within seconds everyone had come pouring out, exclaiming in delighted greeting and hugging the new arrivals. Christian had started laughing and was chiding his brother about not knowing what time they were to get there; the triplets greeted their younger cousins, shy at first after more than a year of being apart; and Anastasia wrapped both arms around Leslie's leg and began to cry, overwhelmed with all the unfamiliarity around her.
"Look at how she's grown!" marveled Anna-Laura Enstad Lagnebring, Christian's fifty-seven-year-old sister, gazing at Anastasia as Leslie knelt and picked up the wailing child. "And she's beautiful, too!" She leaned forward, trying to look into Anastasia's face without scaring the toddler even further. "Herregud, what an interesting color her eyes are. I don't think I've ever seen that before." Anastasia's eyes were an extremely unusual—perhaps unique—blue-gold, the result of her eyes having started to change from Leslie's blue to Christian's hazel in her infancy but not completing the process for some reason.
"I haven't either," Leslie admitted. "Must be some sort of genetic quirk. Well...so we finally got here. We were talking in the car on the way here, and the triplets were asking about school. We thought maybe there could be a family chat, so that if Christian or I can't answer something they want to know, someone else could."
Anna-Laura nodded, considering it. "We could always talk at the dining table as well. It looks as if you came through all that travel without much trouble. Would you rather rest, or have something to eat?"
Christian overheard and queried, "Haven't you had breakfast yet? It's nearly ten."
"We thought we'd wait till you arrived and we could all eat together," said Carl Johan, now sixty years old and almost entirely gray, with only the tips of his hair retaining their original chestnut brown. His wife Amalia and Anna-Laura's husband Esbjörn, both also sixty, nodded.
"Good," said Tobias then, " 'cause I'm hungry!"
Everyone laughed, and Carl Johan directed servants to take all the bags to the suite Christian and Leslie had used during their last several visits here while the family moved like a school of fish toward the royal dining room. In addition to Carl Johan, Anna-Laura and their spouses, there were Carl Johan's two sons, Gerhard, almost 39, and Rudolf, 35, with their wives and children; Anna-Laura's son Roald, 30, his wife and three small children; and their late brother Arnulf's daughters Anna-Kristina, 38, with her husband and three daughters, and Margareta, almost 34, with her wife. Christian had had two other nieces: Cecilia, daughter of Anna-Laura, and her husband had been killed in a car crash just before Christmas of 2003, leaving behind a daughter who was now seven; and Gabriella, Arnulf's middle daughter and the next most recent monarch, had been murdered nearly two years before while participating in a trial for a cure for dependence on amakarna, leaving a husband and an adopted son who had since moved back to their native Sweden.
Not till they were seated and being served did Christian turn to his brother, who occupied the monarch's chair at the head of the table. "How's kinghood treating you?" he asked teasingly.
Carl Johan lifted a hank of his silver-gray hair and yanked on it. "Does this tell you anything, ungstebror?" he retorted, and Christian burst out laughing. Upon Gabriella's death, her cousin Gerhard's son Matteus, known within the family as Matti and now almost nine years old, had inherited Lilla Jordsö's throne. Due to the king's age, though, Carl Johan—the oldest of King Arnulf I's surviving children—was serving as regent for his grandson.
"That bad, is it?" Christian inquired, still laughing. "It's too bad ruling monarchs never get vacations. But just think, äldrebror, only nine more years to go." Carl Johan called him something decidedly rude in jordiska that made Christian laugh again.
"You two," Anna-Laura said from across the table. "Christian, really, sometimes it seems as if you never left. So how does it feel to be home again at last?"
"Surreal," said Christian, shaking his head. "I was a resident of another country for nearly ten years, and I feel quite odd—everything's familiar, yet strange at the same time, if that makes any sense. We'll have to develop a whole new routine here, and at some point Leslie and I and the children will need jordiska passports. And of course, we have to get the triplets enrolled in school."
"Can't we just go right into första klassen?" Tobias asked, switching easily from the English they had used in the car to jordiska. "We already had lekskolan back home."
"We talked about that already," Christian reminded his son with a warning look.
"But if Uncle Carl Johan's the king," Susanna piped up, "maybe he can change the way they make you do school here. All our friends at home are starting first grade, Uncle Carl Johan. Why do we have to do kindergarten again?"
Carl Johan noticed Christian's escalating loss of patience and grinned at him. "To tell you the truth, I'm not surprised they're asking that; I had a feeling they might. Tobias, lekskolan here won't be exactly the same as the kindergarten you completed in your former school. Here, you'll learn more things about Lilla Jordsö—you'll learn the words to our national anthem, other folk songs we have, customs, holidays, and even some fun things about celebrities. Which means you'll learn a little more about the royal family—not so much we who are here, but some of those who aren't with us any longer."
"You'll have Royal Comportment classes as well," Anna-Laura put in, "when you aren't in school...and your mother will start to tutor you and your cousins in English."
"We already know English," Karina protested.
"True," said Anna-Laura patiently, "so you might be excused from that just now; but in a few years you may be included once again because you won't be in a country that speaks English all the time. You three just wait and see. You'll find that school won't be quite the same at all, and I think you'll even have fun."
"Don't complain about two years of lekskolan," Matti put in then, eyeing his young cousins. "I wish I had two years of having fun in school. When you start första klassen, all the fun stops and all you get to do is learn stuff."
Everyone laughed, and Toria—about to turn seven—looked at Leslie. "Aunt Leslie, when you start teaching us English, can you make it more fun than school?"
Leslie, startled by the question, felt all eyes on her. At some point Toria and Matti's mother, Liselotta, had come up with the idea that Leslie could be the royal children's English tutor, since she was a native speaker; and Leslie had agreed to this, even though she wasn't trained for teaching. "I don't know, Toria, but I'll try my best, I promise."
"The current tutor can help," Amalia suggested. "She doesn't return to her home in Australia till the end of this month, and Matti has enjoyed the way she teaches, though he claimed he has trouble understanding her speech..."
"No I didn't, farmor," Matti protested then, and again the family laughed.
"Yes, you did," Amalia teased her grandson, grinning. "Anyway, Leslie, she had some ideas for making it fun, so you can sit with her during her last two weeks here and get a feel for the way she teaches the language. Since you're not a trained tutor but just a native speaker who can also speak jordiska, you might have a different approach to teaching."
Leslie thought about it. "Well, English always was my best subject in school," she mused, "so maybe it could work. I'm willing to give it a try."
"That's all we can ask," said Anna-Laura, smiling at her. "You'll have to take the triplets into the city to get some school clothes for them at Ellströms, but that can wait a few days, since we have to take all the school-age children in for that anyway. What are your plans for the week? And keep in mind, ungstebror, we have a press conference set up for you two on Wednesday."
Christian gave Leslie a significant look. "There, you see?" Leslie grinned as the family tossed him good-natured barbs about his attitude toward the press, and he chuckled. "At least you're giving us a couple of days to get over our jet lag and settle in a bit. I do need to go in to my Sundborg office, but that can wait till later this week; there's no real rush on that. And since this afternoon is wide open as far as I know, I think we should look through those suites in the east corridor and see which one would suit us best." He gave his sister a look that made her sigh, knowing full well he was about to tease her. "I still want to know precisely how feasible it would be to connect two of those three-room suites."
"You are a horror, Christian Carl Tobias," Anna-Laura told him. "You've been spoiled so badly by having a multi-room house of your own that now you won't be satisfied with anything unless it's larger than the royal suite. I don't care if you're the people's favorite—you can't always have everything you want."
"Look, I moved my family back here," Christian returned in the same spirit. "I should get some sort of reward for that, since everyone was so eager for it to happen."
"The two of you!" Amalia scolded, laughing.
"Truly, Christian, I don't think we can afford you," put in Carl Johan, which made them all break up laughing. "Stick to looking at the suites first, and keep in mind there are some on the first floor as well as the second, though I should add that those are only two-room suites."
The conversation continued on in this manner, and Leslie contributed whenever she could, despite her persistent self-consciousness about speaking in jordiska; a few times she glanced down the table and was relieved to see that the triplets had warmed up to their cousins and were chatting happily with them. Anastasia was the only one still a little wary; Leslie had her in a high chair beside her, giving her a few pieces of fruit whenever she finished what was on her plate. She herself didn't have much appetite and declined seconds when the servers offered them.
After the meal, the family gathered in the suite Christian and Leslie would be using till they chose a larger one and had it remodeled; for the first time the triplets seemed to realize this wouldn't be enough for six of them. "Where do we sleep?" Tobias asked.
"You three get to choose your own suites," Christian said. "You're six; you're all old enough now to have your own."
"You mean I don't have to share with Susanna anymore?" Karina exclaimed, eyes lighting with excitement.
Christian grinned. "No, you can have your own. Your toys and books and the rest of your clothes should arrive soon, so you can arrange them any way you like."
"Oh boy!" cried Susanna, delighted. "Then that's a good thing about living here! Now my stuff won't get mixed up with Karina's."
"Where's Anastasia gonna sleep?" Karina wanted to know. "In here, like she did when she was a baby?"
"For a while, I suppose so," Christian said, fielding Leslie's questioning look. "But the living room is big enough that I think we can set off part of it just for Anastasia, so that she has her own space and we have ours, but we're still nearby. When she gets a little older and she's grown accustomed to her surroundings, we can give her a room of her own. That," he added for the triplets' benefit, "is why your mother and I are getting a three-room suite."
"I want three rooms," Susanna said immediately.
"Absolutely not," Christian retorted, hiking a brow. "Two is quite enough for you. You hardly have need of even that many, to be honest, but that's the way the living quarters are arranged in this hulk. I have a feeling one of the eighteenth- or nineteenth-century kings must have decided that even if the outside of this place looked forbidding, the inside didn't have to, and probably indulged a penchant for luxury."
Leslie grinned. "If any of the Eriks lived in the eighteenth century, it was probably one of them." Christian laughed agreement.
Because the triplets were impatient, Christian and Leslie took them to the second floor so they could make their choices. Tobias chose the suite next door to Roald's, giving as his reason the fact that Roald had video games and was very generous with allowing his cousin to play them. Karina chose a suite directly beside Rudolf and Louisa's, which Christian recalled had once belonged to his late niece Cecilia; Susanna picked the one on the other side of her sister's. "We can move in right now, can't we?" Tobias asked.
"Of course—if you don't, where would you sleep?" Christian teased his son, who laughed along with his sisters. "As I said, the things we shipped last month should be here before the end of this month."
"Are you three sure you'll be all right up here, all by yourselves?" Leslie asked, feeling a bit anxious. "You'll be all alone in those suites, and they're big places."
"Sure, Mom, it'll be great," Tobias said confidently. "Two whole rooms all for me. We can even watch our TVs till we get sleepy at night."
"Not so fast there, son of mine," Christian contradicted him. "We're going to disable those sets until you're old enough to handle TV-watching in a responsible way." He saw the triplets' disappointed expressions. "Don't start complaining. This is already more than you had at our house, and I should remind you that when we return in the summers, you two will still be sharing a room." He indicated Susanna and Karina. "Moving here to the castle doesn't mean you get whatever you want, anytime. We'll have to have a talk with you three about how things will be now that we live here with the rest of the family. For right now, come down with us, and we'll send servants up with your bags so you can show them the suites you've chosen."
With the triplets getting settled in with the servants' help, Christian and Leslie returned downstairs with Anastasia and retreated to their own suite. There, Leslie discovered Anastasia needed a diaper change and set about taking care of this, while Christian opened a suitcase and pawed through it for something more casual to wear. "It's going to be quite strange," he mused, as if to himself.
"What will?" Leslie asked, cleaning Anastasia atop a towel on the floor of the bedroom half of the suite.
"Living in the castle." Christian extracted shorts and a colorful Hawaiian shirt from the suitcase and closed it, unbuttoning the shirt he had worn on all their flights. "Right after Johanna died in that train wreck, I left to perform my military service, and when I got back, I was here only about three weeks before I found an apartment near my first job in Dalslund. That was in spring 1981, so I haven't lived in this place for nearly thirty years." He looked around and grinned at her. "I'm afraid Anna-Laura was right...I've been spoiled by having a separate dwelling of my own for so long. Once we go through those suites in the east corridor, I may yet push to combine two of them."
"Oh, you're hopeless, my love," Leslie teased, patting a little baby powder onto Anastasia's bottom. "You might think we need it now, with Anastasia so little yet, but when she gets her own suite, what in the world would we do with all the extra rooms?"
"Just what we would do if we still lived in our house on the island," Christian said with a sly grin, "and raised the children to adulthood. They'd move out sooner or later, and there we'd be, all alone in that big house..."
She snickered. "Lecher," she said lightly, securing a new diaper onto the child. "So how much of our current living-room space are you willing to sacrifice so this young lady here can have a spot of her own to sleep in?"
He chuckled. "Does it matter? We have plenty of time to arrange all this, you know. We don't need to be in any great rush. Have you finished with her? Let's find my brother and sister and their spouses, and see if we can get a look at those suites."
§ § § - August 18, 2010
"Your Highness, welcome home!" shouted quite a few reporters the first Wednesday after their arrival, and Christian—who had just come out of the preparation room into what was known as the media receiving room where the family held press conferences on their own turf—stopped short for a moment with surprise, before laughing and moving on to the chairs that had been set up for him, Leslie, Carl Johan, Amalia, Anna-Laura and Esbjörn.
"Thank you," he called, settling Leslie into a chair and then taking the one beside her. A few questions were hollered at him, but he ignored them for the moment, waiting for a television crew member to clip microphones onto collars. The castle secretary requested that everyone wait till the royal family was ready before asking any questions.
But once she gave the go-ahead, there was no holding back, and most of the reporters in the room bawled out questions, every one of them trying to outdo all the others. Again the secretary had to ask for quiet, then personally chose those reporters who got to pose their questions. "Now that you're home with your family, Your Highness, what plans have you made for your life here?" someone yelled.
The questions were routine until the reporters ran out of reasonable ones to ask; after a couple of stupid ones had gone by and Christian had reluctantly provided barebones replies, the castle secretary made to terminate the conference, till she was interrupted. "Excuse me, Your Highness," said a hesitant voice in the front, and Christian focused on a young female reporter holding up a small tape recorder. "Could you tell us when your first public engagement will be, if you happen to know?"
"I don't actually know yet," Christian said, shrugging one shoulder. "But when it's confirmed, it's likely to be made public, so you'll get your answer soon, I should think."
The reporter nodded, then turned to Leslie. "Your Highness, are you looking forward to living in Lilla Jordsö?"
"Yes, I am," Leslie said, hoping her lingering trepidation over the whole issue didn't show up in her tone of voice. "It's going to be a big adjustment for me, but Christian and his family are here to help me, as they've said many times...they're very generous and I appreciate it so much more than they can know."
"We pass on condolences on your father, Your Highness," the reporter said, and Leslie smiled a little at that, nodding her thanks. "Is it true that you are now the sole owner of his island? It must be quite the scary responsibility."
"It's true," Leslie admitted through a sigh. "Fortunately, I have friends back there who have been more than willing to help with the day-to-day...operation of the...the..." She hesitated, her jordiska failing, then whispered to Christian in English, "I'm not sure of the words I need for 'government' or 'administration'."
"It's all right, my Rose," he murmured back and took over, explaining more fully to the reporter what Leslie had meant before giving her back the floor.
"Anyway," she said, smiling sheepishly, "that was a big adjustment too. It's all been so big for me...I get tired just thinking about it sometimes. Obviously I'm tired now, because my jordiska isn't quite what it should be." She got some laughter with that, and Christian squeezed her hand.
"Are you planning to take formal classes in jordiska?" someone asked.
Leslie hesitated. "I don't know...I guess I probably should," she said.
"If she feels she needs them, we'll see to it that she attends them," Anna-Laura put in at that point, "though Christian's done a surprisingly good job teaching her up till now."
"Oh, there's a backhanded compliment for sure," Christian twitted her with good nature, and there was more low laughter. "As you can see, we both have a great many tasks ahead of us, so we'll simply take on each item as it comes up and do the best we can."
There were a few more questions after that, but they weren't of much import and the castle secretary called a halt to the conference a few minutes later. In the preparation room next door, Leslie shook her head as soon as she was out of view of the press members. "Oh, boy. I think I'd better take those classes. It seems only fair, if I still have to ask someone for a word I know only in English."
"Don't worry so much, Leslie," Amalia said with a reassuring smile. "You're doing fine, considering you had no formal instruction at all in the language and still can make yourself understood in it. It's an indicator of Christian's tutoring that you're as good as you are, and no one really expected you to speak jordiska before, since you didn't live here."
"Well, I do now, so I'd better get a good grip on the language," Leslie said. "It's only fair that anyone who moves to another country should learn that country's language."
She noticed her husband and his siblings and in-laws look at one another; then Christian said patiently, "Leslie, that's exactly what you're doing, or didn't you notice?"
"Well..." Leslie sighed, trailed off and shook her head at herself. "I think my problem is, I'm too much of a self-perfectionist. I feel as if I really should know the language better than I do, and I get upset with myself when I stumble or I just don't know a word."
"Total immersion will help take care of that for you," Esbjörn said. "If you want to take the classes, then by all means, we'll see to it that you do. It's not a law that immigrants take them, but it's highly recommended, so we certainly won't stop you."
Back in their suite, Leslie fell onto a sofa and closed her eyes; she felt Christian settle beside her a few seconds later. "Are you sure you're all right?" he asked.
She gazed up at him and murmured, "It's like I said to the press people...there's so much to do, so many adjustments to make, and I'm already feeling exhausted just thinking about it. I sort of feel like...I'm on display, maybe, a little bit. I know I stand out just because I'm not a native of this country, and that bothers me."
"Oh?" he prompted, as if he didn't fully understand.
"Too much negative attention," she said.
Christian gathered her into his embrace. "I don't think it'll be as negative as you believe it will. The fact that you speak jordiska with any degree of fluency is enough of a surprise to our people, so your efforts to improve can't be met with anything but more approval. Everything takes time, you know—you need to remember that. You can't be perfect in the blink of an eye. And you know you'll always have an accent, but don't think of that as a liability. I for one happen to find it an incredible turn-on." He traced her lower lip with his thumb as a wicked gleam appeared in his eyes.
Leslie couldn't keep from laughing, finally. "Okay, okay...I guess you convinced me," she teased, and he laughed too and hugged her. He seemed so relieved that she decided then and there to try to keep her trepidation hidden away as much as possible, for she knew she'd have to deal with her fears on her own.