The birds were singing when Ilona awoke. She stretched, feeling the delicious coolness of blue silk sheets against her skin. Cordula’s plump form appeared in her vision, holding up a pink gown.
“Will this gown suit you for today?”
“Aye.” Ilona rubbed the sleep from her eyes and accepted Cordula’s help in dressing.
“Did you enjoy the dancing last night?” Cordula cinched Ilona’s laces firmly.
“I did. I had more partners than I knew what to do with.”
“Any of them catch your fancy?” She smoothed Ilona’s hem with a practiced hand.
Ilona leaned against her mahogany bedpost and played with the edge of the blue silk covers. “Two…I think.”
“Two!” Cordula scowled. “Well, you cannot marry but one.”
“Sit down while I do your hair, and tell me what you liked about them,” Cordula ordered.
Ilona sat by the window and crossed her arms on the windowsill. “They were both very handsome.”
Cordula snorted, yanking the comb through Ilona’s hair.
Ilona winced as Cordula found a tangle. “Emil said all manner of nice things and seemed to like me a great deal. And he had a good sense of humor. Plus he seems to be well-educated and well-traveled.” An involuntary shiver ran over Ilona’s head as Cordula parted her hair into strands. “And Detlef…he was so mysterious…and yet I felt as if I knew him…and liked him.”
“King Rowan’s son? Aye, he came here when you were but a wee girl. The two of you would play for hours. A sweet boy, he was.”
“I don’t remember him.”
Cordula thoughtfully pinned Ilona’s hair up. “Mmmm…no, I reckon not. You were…let me think…four years old?”
Ilona sighed and pressed her fingers to her forehead. “Cordula, how do I pick the right husband?”
Cordula rubbed her dimpled chin and propped her other hand on her hip. “You want a husband that will be kind to you. No beating or yelling. He should rub your feet when you’re tired from a long day. And he should know how to use money wisely – no wasting it on useless things. He should be a hard worker. He should like your cooking, and he should be good with childrens. And you should like being together.”
Ilona tried not to smile over her plebian requirements. “Are you married?”
“Lands, no! What do I want a husband for?” Cordula bustled away to fluff Ilona’s pillows and make her bed. “I have enough to do here with you.”
“Am I trouble?”
Cordula straightened up, her eyes alight with love for her young charge. “Never.” She rubbed her nose vigorously. “Now you run along outside and walk out any kinks leftover from a night of dancing.”
Ilona wrinkled her face reluctantly and glanced out the window. But as she caught sight of a tall dark-haired young man strolling into the shrubbery, her legs began to ache for a stretch, and she found herself saying, “Thank you, Cordula. I think I shall.”
(by Esther Brooksmith)