There was something familiar about the prince – something that Ilona couldn’t quite put her finger on. She puzzled over it as she followed him into the next dance. Was it his name? Or something in his eyes? Who was he?
“How do you find your ball, princess? I hope you enjoy dancing -- there seems to be an unending supply of partners waiting for your hand.” His eyes twinkled as he nodded toward the crowd of eager suitors.
“Have you been to Hanadil before?” Ilona puckered her eyebrows. She was sure she had never seen him before…and yet…
Detlef's eyes sought hers. “Do you remember?”
Ilona pulled back ever so slightly to study his face. “No.”
He grasped her hand and spun her. “No, I didn’t expect you would.” He nodded toward the wall, where another handsome raven-haired man lounged. “I and my two older brothers visited when you were a very little girl. My oldest brother is here tonight. The middle brother is already married.” He spun her again. “I have but one small request of you, princess. If you are to dance two dances with the North Country, let them both be with me. Leave my brother out of this.”
Ilona laughed. “Are you protecting him or me?”
“Both.” An enigmatic smile flickered across his face. “You shall not have to dance with a self-seeking prince. And he shall not have to face his little brother’s wrath.”
Ilona pursed her lips, suddenly sober. “I’m afraid I shall be dancing with a great many self-seeking princes over the next few days.”
“Then may God grant you wisdom to discern.”
The song ended, and he led her slowly toward the throne. “Terribly short dances, don’t you think? I think it’s a conspiracy to give every man a chance to dance with you.”
Ilona laughed again. “It is very likely, I admit.” He released her hand and she climbed the steps toward her parents.
“Was that Rowan’s youngest boy?” Her papa squinted at the retreating dark-haired figure.
“It is. Do you know him?” Ilona took her seat beside the king, hoping her suitors would give her a moment to breathe.
“Rowan had some civil unrest in his country over ten years ago. He sent his three boys here until he had sorted it out. The youngest gave us a terrible fright – went completely missing for a day and a half. He was an adventurous lad.” Her papa shook his head over the memory, but his eyes twinkled.
“Your highness, may I present…” Another crier stood before her, and behind him stood a balding ambassador who looked eager to dance.
Her papa winked at her. “One more hour, sweet girl, and then we will retire for the night. Take the time to talk to as many as you can until then.”
She stood up and kissed her papa’s forehead. “And so my royal duties call me away to dance with bald-headed men.” Then she followed the ambassador to the floor.
(by Esther Brooksmith)