By the end of the fourth day Prince Christopher can barely conceal his mounting frustration until he and Lionel are in the safety of the carriage and start the long journey home.
"I don't like this," he says with an unhappy frown.
"Yes, Your Highness," Lionel replies tiredly. He mops his brow while carefully balancing the cushion with the glass shoe on his knee.
"I don't like this."
Christopher plows on. "I feel guilty wasting so much of the ladies' time, having them wait in line for hours to try on the glass slipper! Brown, black, white, short, tall, fat, thin; over half of them I know are not her, yet they must be allowed to try."
Sighing, he runs a hand through his dark hair.
"The proclamation was to request only certain women come try the slipper, not each one in the kingdom!" Christopher's shoulders droop as he leans back against his seat.
In a tone of self-suffering Lionel answers, "Remember, Your Highness, you did write twelve drafts for the decree. You just couldn't get the wording to your satisfaction. Then the Queen got wind of it and said, and I quote, 'Not romantic enough.'"
The valet glances over at the prince whom has his face buried in his hands, shaking his head helplessly. Lionel's lips twitch.
"After that she showed it to the King, and he worried that it needed to be more diplomatic. All eligible young women had been invited to the ball, was it truly fair not to let them all take part in the search for the girl that left so abruptly? Thus here we are," he ends, waving his hand in a small circle.
"So it would seem, my friend," Christopher agrees, resigned.
Lionel nudges him. "Look on the bright side. Perhaps your mother is right. In ten, fifteen years, many will recall your search for your bride as a fairy tale romance."
Christopher snorts. "Or they will laugh at how I apparently could not remember what my dance partner looked like at all and had to use the slipper to prove her identity."
The other man's face grows serious. "With or without the shoe, you would recognize her again once you saw her, yes?"
The prince's eyes narrow with a rare intensity and he stares out the window. He has thought of this, in the days and nights since his unknown maiden pulled away from his kiss and arms, left behind only a single shoe. When he thinks of her he attempts not to dwell on the dress, the crown, or even the braids…just her face. In the harshness of daylight, in the mundaneness of her world, would he know her face when she stood before him once more?
He turns back to his friend. "I think I will. I pray I will," Christopher answers, determination underlying the low words.
Lionel smiles. "Good man."