Once upon a time in a small kingdom, there was a proclamation stating that every maiden in the land was invited to a ball at the royal palace, where the Crown Prince would be choosing his bride. This was all very well if you were a maiden aiming for the prince, or one of the nobles who enjoyed being surrounded by people, but for Alexis, as the Second Prince, it was just another ball he would rather not go to. He had nothing against balls, and when he was younger he had always looked forward to them immensely, but now he was forced to make small talk with people he neither knew nor liked. As a member of the royal family, he was expected to show his face and smile and be kind and polite to people who also neither knew nor liked him. He couldn’t blame them for wanting to be on his good side, but they could achieve that just as well by leaving him alone.
There was also no real point to this ball. Alexis knew that his brother, Crown Prince Thomas, had already chosen his bride. He had been very attached to her since they were children, although they could not meet very often, since the girl was only a servant for a lord and lady. But holding a ball made it feel as if every maiden had a chance, so that there would be no undue dislike of the girl chosen. Besides, Thomas had never quite got around to telling their parents.
Thomas was a very enthusiastic person. He liked to put all his energy into what he was doing, and didn’t like to be sitting still for too long. Because of this, he often came to see what Alexis was up to. On the day of the proclamation, he was picking out his suit for the ball.
“Why ever are you doing this now? The ball’s three whole weeks away!” Thomas spoke with an air of incredulity, as if it was inconceivable that anyone would need to plan that far in advance.
“Mother told me to. Apparently it’s because I tend to make George pick and he never chooses something right for the occasion, or something like that.” Alexis replied good-naturedly, but did not look away from his wardrobe.
“That’s not very considerate, I think George is a lovely manservant! Although I’m sure my dear brother is old enough to pick his own clothes by now.”
“What about you? I’m sure she must be drowning you in advice.”
“Yes, well…” He sighed dramatically. “It’s useless for her to advise me on choosing a bride, and mother’s having a new suit made specially, because it would be a scandal if someone were to recognise clothes I last wore over a year ago. How about this blue one?”
“No, I wore that to the last ball.”
“The green one, then. It matches your eyes.”
“And if I wear it, that’s all I’ll hear the whole night. I just hope the common people will be too timid to speak to me.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t count on it. Some of those ladies are aggressive! You’d better watch yourself.”
“Very funny. Don’t you have something else to be doing right now? Getting measured for your suit, or admiring your reflection, or something?”
“All right, all right, I’ll leave you in peace.”
Thomas sauntered out of the room and Alexis grudgingly turned his attention back to the suits. There were two he thought most suitable, one a vibrant red, and the other a more subtle purple with gold embellishments. Neither seemed quite what he wanted. The red would make him stand out – although only among the men, as the women would surely have plenty of brightly-coloured clothes, albeit dresses rather than suits. The purple was better, but the gold touches seemed a little flamboyant. This would be perfectly fine – he was a prince after all – but he didn’t like attention as much as his brother did. It wasn’t that he disliked people, or preferred solitude, merely that very few people would converse with him as an equal, and he hated to be treated distantly.
It was definitely a good thing that he was the younger brother. Thomas got a great deal more attention, particularly from the common people, who often overlooked the second prince or even forget his existence. The king and queen had worried that he might resent his brother for this, but instead he found it to his liking. It might have been part of the reason the Crown Prince had such a vibrant personality. He drew people’s eyes away from Alexis, so that he would feel more at ease.
Well, these suits were not going to pick themselves. However, he was still filled with indecision – so at this point, Alexis wasn’t going to do so either.