Mother's Christmas parties came every year to the manor, and every year there were themes. The Prince had never bothered noticing them before - his servants would dress him in whatever was appropriate, so he didn't really have to think about it. But it was hard not to notice this year's theme - birds . Mother had quite literally gone bird-mad - colourful peacock patterned rugs had been ordered, feathered chair accessories had been arranged, and the Prince was finding decorative quills more often than he could find ordinary pens. As the party approached, more bird-themed items started turning up - ice sculptures of owls and other birds of prey, live peacocks in the grounds, and songbirds that twittered in their silver cages. The Christmas tree in the middle-back of the ballroom was set up the night before, and was stuffed with bright feathers and glittering ornaments. The delicate white swan ornaments that the Prince had adored were buried behind drapes of gold beads and bright bird of paradise feathers. On the day of the party, his mother entered with a dress made of the flashiest ostrich feathers, and the other befeathered guests oohed and ahhed appreciatively at the spectacle. The Prince only felt slight queasiness, wondering how many birds had suffered to present this spectacle.
The mounted swan in the entrance hall was the last straw, however, and the Prince did not care for optics when he rushed out the back door, hand over mouth.
The garden, the Prince was pleased to note, was untouched by Mother's bird frenzy. The servants had draped fairy lights in the trees and the bushes, but otherwise it was left unsullied. The garden was closed to guests as a result of the weather - the ground was covered in a thick layer of snow, and snow fell gently from the sky in thick flakes. A sharp wind whistled through the trees, making the Prince regret not picking up his coat before he fled. But the garden was peaceful, and the Prince liked the snow. The quietness and the softness soothed him, and as he stepped further into the white expanse, even the icy wind felt like a caress.
He held out his hand expectantly, and the snowflakes brushed his fingers as they tangled and twirled towards the floor. One landed in the crook of his palm, and the Prince was delighted to find a swan in its patterning, wings outstretched up and around in a perfect halo. He crushed it between his fingers, feeling the ice melt and creep down his palms, imagining it was the spirit of his Swan, seeping into his fingers, infusing his bones with a gentle kind of affection. Laughing, he spun around and stuck his tongue out, easily catching a snowflake on his tongue, a cheeky kiss, a laugh on the wind. In the quiet, he could imagine that the strict codes of his royal life were far away, and it was just him in the snow, surrounded by the falling feathers of his Swan, his ghost entangled with the snow. Him, and the Swan, and all the affection he could ever want, cocooned in a cape of tiny swans that danced around him-
“Sir! Prince Montbatten!”
As if suddenly doused in a bucket of hot water, the Prince blinked, and came back to reality. He turned towards the door of the house - his valet, Gene, stood in the doorway, trying to wave him over. But he was so far away, and the Prince was still infused with the warmth and affection of his Swan, and he didn’t really want to be talking to or doing anything else right now.
“Isn’t it beautiful, Gene?” he asked instead, turning around, watching the snowflakes fall. “Isn’t it absolutely wonderous?”
“It’s lovely.” Gene’s tone was soft, perhaps not affectionate but certainly warm. “It’s time to come inside. Your mother has requested you meet with Miss Charlotte.”
“Lady Agatha’s daughter. She’s quite insistent that you’ll… ‘make a match’, as she put it.”
The Prince drew a face. “Tell her I’ll be in in a minute.”
Gene looked as if he were about to argue for him to come in sooner, but he shifted on the spot, and decided it wasn’t worth it. Instead, he gave a small bow, and murmured “Very good, sir.”
The door was shut with a sharp click, and the Prince was left alone in the garden once more. Immediately, he turned away from the building, and looked up at the sky. The Swan’s presence swooped back in to enfold him in snowy arms and feather-soft weather, and he smiled. He shut his eyes, and imagined a ball, not too dissimilar to the one going on inside, but not filled with Mother’s fancy friends and the King’s associates, but with his own friends and people who were kind to him. Gene would be there, as would his old nursemaid that Mother fired when he was six, and the food would be served by the servants who had not treated him like a patient in an asylum.They would’ve prepared the ballroom to be soft, glittering chandeliers softened by opaque white drapes and pale, velvet chairs.
The guests, however, would be his friends. He didn’t really have many friends - his little cousin George would be running around, the Prince did like him, and then the friends he dreamed of would be there too. And his Swan would be there too, entering from the top of the grand staircase, human, in a grand white feathered coat. They would dance, of course they would, the big group dances, and ostentatiously they would dance traditional dances, but his Swan would give him secret smiles, private touch hidden from the others. And maybe the Prince would take his Swan out to the garden, wrapped in coats and blankets, and maybe this time it wouldn’t be snowing, but the sky would be clear and they could lie in the snow, bundled in their blankets, kept warm by each other. He would lie there, surrounded by the snow, wrapped up in the warmth of his coat and his affections, and his Swan would be right there with him, and he would be loved -
The voice wasn’t Gene, but was sharper, harsher - Mother, he internally groaned, and turned to face her. She was sillhouetted in the doorway, all sharp lines and snap voice, and the Prince shivered.
“William, I asked Gene to call you in an hour ago.” Mother stepped down the stairs, but did not step into the snow - the Prince supposed in stiletto heels, that wouldn’t bea smart move. “What are you doing out here.”
“Thinking,” the Prince responded. “Admiring the weather. Don’t you think the snowflakes look like feathers?”
Mother looked deeply unimpressed. “William, Charlotte’s been waiting to see you. Come inside. Now. ”
The Prince considered disobeying, staying out in the snow a little longer, but the wind had started to pick up, and he didn’t suppose Mother would take no for
But as Mother ushered him in, he looked over his shoulder at the white expanse, at the still falling feathers of snow, and promised his Swan that he’d be back soon.