“She has finally responded, your majesty! Your missing matrimonial match! Your beleaguered betrothed beauty —”
Thabiso grabbed the tablet before Likotsi could continue with her horrific attempts at alliteration.
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“Shh!” Thabiso made a shooing gesture in Likotsi’s direction. His head suddenly felt strangely light and his body heavy.
Since he was a boy, he’d heard tales of his bride to be and the wicked, selfish parents who had stolen her away. Each nanny had placed his or her own twist on the tale, and some had even conjectured about their inevitable reconciliation.
“The will of the Goddess cannot be denied, my prince! Do not fret!”
A photo of their betrothal ceremony had hung in the palace living quarters, two chubby cheeked toddlers dressed in brightly patterned garments, flowered garlands crowning their heads. Her eyes radiated with happiness as she played with the petals surrounding them, and he gazed at her with earnest adoration. Unfortunately, he hadn’t mustered that emotion for any of the other women who had come into his life since then. He’d had friends, and he’d had lovers, but no one who’d made him feel like that besotted younger version of himself, preserved for posterity.
Their story had become his own personal fairy tale, or like the Mills & Boons romances he’d snuck from the Queen’s library as a teen. And like those fairy tales, he’d put Naledi out of his head as the realities of adulthood had set in. And then a few weeks ago, he had come across that photo again, and in the midst of budget planning, wheeling and dealing ministers, and pressure from his parents, a longing had opened in him like a fissure. It had surprised him — the desperate, childish hope that was unbecoming of any man descended of the Moshoeshoe warriors. But it had been there all the same. And the only way to get rid of such a foolish hope was to snuff it out. He’d needed to find her before he could achieve that goal, and now Likotsi had.
Would she be like one of the silly girls his parents kept presenting him with, women programmed like automatons eager to prove how subservient they could be? Or like the women he wined and dined while traveling, so blinded by proximity to power that they never noticed there was a prince beneath the crown?
Your objective was to rid yourself of this weakness, not indulge it. If she’s a twit, all the better.
“Your Highness,” Likotsi said, hand moving toward the tablet as if she wanted to snatch it away. “I’m sorry, but in my excitement I failed to relay that her response was less than optimal. I believe that her parents have poisoned her against you. There can be no other explanation for this crass response to my perfectly polite messages.”
“Hm.” Thabiso scrubbed his thumb over the screen, and his betrothed’s words slid into sight.
The smile that tugged his cheeks upward wasn’t controllable, and the laugh that followed was ridiculous. Royalty shouldn’t laugh like hyena from a bush story; his deportment teacher would reprimand him. But he read the two words out loud and laughed until tears streamed from his eyes and caught in his beard.
As a child, he’d imagined Naledi in some tower far away, being held by an evil sorcerer. He’d imagined she’d needed saving and he would be the one to do it.
Oh no, Naledi didn’t need his help at all.
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“Prince?” Likotsi’s loafer was tapping again. “I don’t know what spurred this attempt to find your betrothed, but now that she has responded, how would you like to proceed in light of this…unsavoriness?”
Likotsi’s nose scrunched as if she smelled burnt mealie pap. That was okay because Thabiso had always liked the burnt part of the corn meal porridge; perhaps because it was one of the few imperfections that made it through the many quality filters surrounding a Prince who was the sole heir to a kingdom.
“It seems that this Naledi may have been worth the wait. I would like to meet her. Now.”
Likotsi glanced pointedly out the window of the jet, then back at Thabiso.
“Well, I don’t expect you to summon her 20,000 feet into the sky,” Thabiso said. “When we land in New York City, have her brought to me immediately.”
Likotsi raised her brows. “Well, that would be considered kidnapping in the U.S., Highness. You are protected by diplomatic immunity, but perhaps we could save that perk for a more important matter. We can ask her to come to you, but given her response I’m not sure that she will.”
An unfamiliar annoyance pulsed through Thabiso. He wanted something, and it wasn’t guaranteed he would have it. That was a rare thing, indeed, and it whet his desire to a sharp edge.
“Fine. Then I will go to her.”
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