When Z’Lé came down from the mountains, he knew that he could take no chances. If he did not make an impression on the royal family, if he somehow wound up unable to court the princess, all that he had done would be for naught. He brought with him his finest clothing, most of it newly made as part of the agreement that he had entered into. That, of course, he would discuss with nobody;there was no way that anyone could know about that.
He also brought with him a bouquet of mountain wildflowers. None of the other nobles would know how much she loved them. None of them had watched her for the past four springs and summers, he knew for certain. Besides that, he was the only Elvan nobleman from the Dragonridge Mountains. As far as Z’Lé was concerned, he had a severe advantage, although not one that he was going to take for granted.
When he arrived at the palace in Jzifélan, the Onsiran capital city, he was admitted inside and announced to the royal family. Seeing her again made his heart soar, and he had to force his feet from turning away to take him into some shadows or behind the marble columns; he was too used to hiding. It would be like that no more, he told himself. At long last, he could stand before the princess, tall and proud. It was the most incredible feeling that he could have hoped for.
When the queen nodded to him and presented Princess Arialla, Z’Lé gave a low bow, full of elegance as well as reverence. As he rose again, he presented the bouquet to her, along with a warm smile, his hazel eyes shining.
“Your highness, if I may give you this humble gift…”
“Mountain flowers!” she cried, rushing forward to claim them as though they were a prize more dear than all the gold in the treasury. Their fingers touched, and she blushed. “How did you know?”
“It only seemed suiting that I give a young woman a gift equal to her beauty… though I must admit, yours was difficult to equal.”
Arialla gave a soft laugh, looking him over carefully. He was thankfully that he could not see the way his heart fluttered, for he was ready to pull her into his arms and– but he had to make his moves carefully, lest she reject him as too eager. Some of the men there would only want her for her power or her body, and Z’Lé absolutely refused to be mistaken for one of them.
The gathering of suitors come for the princess was disappointing at best. There were sons of some of the Onsiran nobles, one man a count in his own right, and a handful of nobles from other kingdoms. Z’Lé almost felt sorry for the prince who had come all the way from the holy kingdom of Ayafir to try winning her heart; in the end, however, he was still competition, and he planned on giving him no quarter. Arialla was going to be his, no matter what he had to do in order to ensure it.
None of the other nobles had brought a gift that made the princess smile so brightly or that held so much meaning. She had not rushed over to any of them and given her heartfelt thanks. At the same time, none of them were as tall as him, as dark-haired or, to be quite frank, nearly as handsome. That is not to say that the others were comely or uneasy on the eye, but Z’Lé was enough to make a girl want to look longer, to sneak extra glances and to blush when she was caught looking.
He was elegant, and he moved as though her were made of nobility, through and through. He was graceful, and well-mannered enough that the royal family had no reason to accuse him of being arrogant in the least. At the end of the first week of meetings, Arialla personally made sure that Z’Lé was selected to stay in the palace as a suitor. A few of the other nobles were dismissed, but some others were allowed to stay. The nobleman from Dragonridge Mountains was not Princess Arialla’s only suitor, but he was the only one that she herself had asked for.