Chapter Thirty-Four: The Prince's Bride

'Course, we didn't start right that minute. It was after noon when we got to Ole Martha's, an' it wasn't gettin' earlier.

"I have some errands to run," Prendergal said, changin' back inta David as he spoke. "Madthew, I leave Callie and Martha in your charge."

Matthew nodded. "I'll see no harm comes to them."

David chuckled. "The most harm that I expect is that Callie will talk Martha's ear off."

"I will not!" I protested.

David only winked at me an' disappeared out the door.

"Guess I better get ta work," Martha said. "Lollygaggin' 'round here won't get the servants fed."

"Oh, you rest, Martha. I'll do it."

"Nonsense, Callie. I kin see Ryndie's gonna be gittin' a live doll ta play with; ye sit still an' rest." She winced as she rose, an' I jumped up to grab her arm.

"Sit down, Martha! Matthew!"

"Both of you sit still and rest," Matthew said firmly. "I will make the supper."

"Can ye?" Martha asked doubtfully.

"Aye, ma'am. I can."

An' he could. When David came back several hours later, we were sittin' 'round the table eatin' what the servants had left. David took his plate from the stove and joined us. "Everything's set. I got a carriage for the trip back, and freed Martha from her position here."

"Guess those servants'll hafta learn ta cook their own meals," Martha said with satisfaction.

"Yes, and you'll be able to live like a lady of leisure. By the taste of this stew, you've started already."

"Oh, come now, David! Surely you don't know my cooking that well!"

David laughed. "No, perhaps not. But I know you, Madri— Madthi— Oh, bother it all, Madthew!"

Guess maybe he wasn't just teasin' with that D.

David invited Martha ta sleep at the inn with us, but she said she wanted ta stay at the shack. David told her ta be ready early the next mornin', an' then we left.

David was up 'fore I was next mornin', an' the teasin' rascal brought me breakfast in bed. Oh, how I love that man!

"Madthew has gone to get Martha," he told me.

"Why doncha jist call him Madrigal an' be done with it? Ye ain't hidin' from Zercon anymore."

"No, but form-changers and -shifters prefer not to reveal themselves. And there are those who would remember Madrigal here."

"Well, see ye don't go trippin' over yer tongue in front of them, then. I was surprised Martha didn't catch on last night."

David smiled an' shook his head. "She had eyes and ears only for you, Callie." He stood up. "Come on. Get dressed, and then we'll go out and meet Martha and Madthew."

The carriage was in front of the inn when we went out, with Matthew drivin'. David helped me up ta join Martha inside, an' then he climbed in himself. "We'll stop by our old house first, Callie," he said as Matthew started the horses. "You should get yours and Ryndie's things."

"What 'bout yers?"

David shrugged. "They're of no consequence," he said lightly. "I have plenty more back home."

Ole Martha narrowed her eyes. "That's princes' talk, boy. Ye may look like a peasant, but I shoulda been able ta see from the start that ye ain't. Only a spoiled prince would go wastin' good clothes like that."

She'd'a slapped me if I'd'a talked to Prendergal that way back in the old days. But David didn't seem ta mind, an' we left the house empty of personal belongin's. I even found Ryndie's favourite doll she'd left behind.

After that, we left the city fer good an' began the journey home to Prendergal's country.

I guess Martha fergot 'bout David bein' Prendergal, 'cause she talked just as freely ta him as she ever had. Or mebbe she figured since he'd been Prendergal all along, he wasn't likely ta start mindin' now.

But as we started travellin' through the Northern country, Martha grew quiet. We had been ridin' along fer several hours that day I guess, an' me an' David just figured she was tired.

But all of a sudden, she told David to stop the carriage. "Tell Matthew to stop. I-I want ye to take me back."

"Take you back, Martha!" David exclaimed. I couldn't say anythin'. "Haven't I been treating you well, then?"

"Oh, ye've been a Prince" — I heard the capital P — "but I want ye to tell Matthew to stop. Ye needn't bother 'bout takin' me back; I reckon I can make my own way."

David knocked on the front of the carriage. "Hy, Madthew! Stop the horses!"

"Is it the Vulcan?" I asked. She'd always been suspicious of Northern powers.

But she shook her head. "No, 'tain't that." She smiled an' patted my hand. "Don't worry yer head 'bout me, Callie. I'll git back all right."

"But, Martha —"

Matthew pulled open the carriage door an' stepped up on the ledge outside. "Is something wrong, David? We're still ten miles from any town."

"Martha's made up her mind that she wants to go back," David replied. "Martha, if you'd just tell us what the problem is —"

Martha shook her head stubbornly. She could be very stubborn, that one; if she didn't want to talk, I figured wasn't no one gonna get a word out of her. But I didn't figure on Matthew.

He came through the door an' dropped to one knee in front of Martha, meetin' her gaze with Madrigal's eyes. "What's wrong, Martha?" he asked gently.

"I-I cain't bear ta see her love her!" Martha burst out. Me an' David started at each other in confusion. I could see that David was 'bout to ask, but Matthew musta understood perfectly.

He took Martha's hands in his. "Oh, Martha, it won't be like that!"

"Ye cain't know that!"

I stared at her in disbelief. Never woulda thought I'd hear tears in Martha's voice.

"Martha," Matthew said gently, "I do know. But I promise you this. If it is as you say, I will personally escort you back to the city."

"Ye promise?"

"On my honour."

Martha sighed an' sat back. "Guess I'll come with ye, then."

"Good." Matthew got to his feet. "Will that be all, David?"

David was starin' at him 'sif he'd never seen him before. "Are you a mind-toucher, then, as well as a physician?"

Matthew laughed softly. "Nay, David. 'Tis nothing like that. More of a keen sense of human nature. You have remarked on it before."

"True," David admitted. "But I think you might send a little of it our way."

"Martha?"

"Tell 'em."

"It's Laralie," Matthew explained simply. "Martha is afraid that she will try to take Callie away from her. She has my word to the contrary, and there is nothing more that need be said on the subject."

The carriage rocked a little as Matthew jumped down. A moment later, an' he had started the horses.

I woulda liked to try to convince Martha that she was wrong, but I already knew a little of Vulcan honour. If I'd tried to convince Martha of somethin' Matthew had already promised was true, I'd be questionin' his word.

So neither of us said another word about it, an' the rest of the journey was pretty quiet. Good thing it didn't last much longer; I dunno how long I coulda stood Martha just sittin' there like a statue.

I'd always thought of a prince comin' back to his castle with people cheerin' along the streets, but when we got back the only one who greeted us was Rob the stableboy.

David an' Matthew both turned back into Vulcan before we went into the castle. I 'spected Martha to be surprised when Matthew changed to Madrigal, but I ain't sure she even noticed.

Prendergal led us to Laralie's room an' knocked on the door.

Laralie opened it with Ryndie in her arms. "Marmie!" Ryndie squealed.

Martha acted 'sif she hadn't heard.

Prendergal held out an arm. "Come, Ryndie. Do you want to see the horses?"

"Horsie!" Ryndie squealed.

Prendergal carried her away, an' still the two women stared at each other without speakin'. I'd'a said somethin', but Madrigal's hand on my arm warned me not to.

An' maybe it only seemed like ages 'fore Laralie stepped forward. "You — are Martha?"

"Aye." If her reply had been any shorter, it woulda been backwards. She didn't want to meet my mother, that's sure an' certain.

But there were tears in Laralie's eyes as she stepped forward an' put her arms around Martha. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you for taking care of my baby."

I saw Martha's arm go 'round Laralie 'sif she didn't know what else to do with it, but then Madrigal pulled me away. "They need their privacy, Callie," he said in a low voice.

I s'pose he was right, but right then I hated him for it. I never found out what happened, either. All I know is that from then on, Laralie an' Martha were the best of friends.

They were both as excited as hornets to be plannin' my weddin', but Ole Martha still didn't understand what it was about.

She was watchin' as Laralie pinned up the hem on my weddin' dress. I thought the crease in her forehead was 'cause she didn't want it even a thread too short, but turns out she wasn't thinkin' 'bout hems at all.

"Callie, why ye gotta marry that prince? Ain't ye already married ta him?"

"I'm married ta David, not Prendergal," I said absently. "Mother, are ye sure ye left enough room in the front here? It fits now, but this baby's gonna be bigger in a few weeks."

"It'll be fine," Laralie assured me through a mouthful of pins. "It has a high waistline, so the gathers will just spread a little more."

"But ye said David an' Prendergal are the same," Martha persisted.

"They are. His full name is David Prendergal. I'd'a used that name in the ceremony, an' I'd be wed ta him in both forms."

"So what yer sayin' is that since ye used only one name in yer weddin', ye gotta marry him all over again. That mean he could marry someone else an' still keep you?"

I dropped my gaze. "Yes."

Ole Martha snorted. "I knew Northern ways were no good. Blame fool prince oughta get himself a queen of his own people."

I forced a laugh. "But, Martha, he wants me!"

"Oh, he wants ye, all right!"

I felt my face grow hot. "Martha, ye know better!"

Laralie sat back on her heels. "Martha, you're forgetting that Callie has Vulcan blood in her, too. My people have intermarried with Southerners for years, but the old Vulcan strength is still there."

Laralie's words cheered me, but Martha's bothered me more'n I let on. When the fittin' was over, I went out to find Prendergal.

David was in the stable, talkin' horses with Rob. "David, I hafta talk with Prendergal!"

He turned, his eyes laughin'. "Won't I do?"

I shook my head. "Not this time. Please, David…"

"All right," he said softly. "Come to my chamber. I will change there."

As Prendergal, he was all Prince an' offered me somethin' to drink. But I shook my head.

"All right. What is it, Callie?"

"Prendergal, if-if ye want a Vulcan queen, I understand." My words burst out all in a rush, an' I couldn't look at his face.

"A Vulcan bride? Who has been putting ideas into your head, Callie?"

"M-Martha."

Prendergal sighed. "I should have known. Listen to me, Callie. I want you for my bride. You, and none other."

"But I'm just a peasant woman, Prendergal. I know nuthin' 'bout bein' a queen. Ye'd be better off with a Vulcan queen."

Prendergal was silent for a moment. "Let me tell you a story," he said at last. "But you must promise me that you will tell it to no other."

"I promise," I said softly. [Prendergal gave me his permission to write it here. Says that by the time anyone reads this record, it won't matter. Callie Ann]

"My father was also a form-shifter," Prendergal began. "But he was not as open about it as I. He fell in love with a peasant girl, and wed her in his peasant form.

"He had no love for any other, but for tradition's sake he married a Vulcan queen — my mother.

"Though I think his peasant wife must have suspected who he really was, his queen had no knowledge of his form-shifting.

"Then one day she happened to see them together — and she knew. And he knew that she knew.

"I suppose it might have turned out all right if he had loved his queen. Form-shifters have been wed to two brides before. But she knew that all his love was for the other woman.

"In a fit of jealous rage, the queen made my father promise on his honour to have naught to do with the peasant woman or her children ever again — or even to use his power as a form-shifter. Though it broke my father's heart, he kept his word — even when the woman lay dying and he could not go to her.

"So you see, Callie, why I choose not to make my father's mistake. I have vowed at a young age that I would have but one bride." He smiled at me. "And I find that it is not difficult. I can imagine loving no other. And if my people cannot accept you as their queen, then they must choose another king."

So I was wed to my Prince. An' as the old stories say, we lived happily ever after.

THE END

Next week I will start posting the second book in the Vulcan Trilogy, Prendergal's Story.

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