Josef offered the queen his arm and she took it, sighing in relieve when her office door fell shut behind them.
"I still can´t believe Rupert did this to me, he asked me to ease his job, not to do it" she stated, then added "I´m sorry, I suppose it´s my way to deal with it, sarcasm."
"You really do miss him, don´t you?"
"So much, Josef, he has been my best friend since we were children, I never imagined to be without him."
She briefly leaned her head against Josef´s shoulder, then squared her slim shoulders.
"It doesn´t do to dwell on things I cannot change."
They had reached the entrance door to the queen´s rooms and the footman opened them, bowing to Clarisse and nodding at Josef.
The couple entered the queen´s living room and Josef smiled at the sight of the perfectly set table.
"You really made an effort, didn´t you- any special occasion?"
Clarisse allowed him to help her into her seat, then waited before he had sat down opposite her before answering.
"It sort of is- I would like to eat first though if you don´t mind."
"Not at all, to be honest I´m starving."
"Well, I hope my choice of food meets your appreciation then."
The queen´s maid entered with their plates and Josef realized that she had ordered his favorite dish.
"I´m starting to get rather nervous now- you aren´t going to fire me, are you?"
"No- not exactly."
Josef echoed disbelievingly, leaning forward in his chair.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"It´s more a proposition concerning your current position."
"My current position? Did I do anything wrong?"
"No, of course you didn´t-" she sounded slightly desperate now and it did nothing to console Josef when she added "Can´t we eat first? It will get cold."
She hesitated, then said "You are right, this is silly, I´ll tell you- you have to promise not to walk out on me though."
"Is it likely that I will want to?"
"I don´t know, Josef, I hope not but you as well might."
She asked faintly, her blue eyes flickering nervously.
"Just tell me."
"Right- I have already told you about my list with a single name on it- actually the name is yours."
It took a few moments for the meaning of her words to sink in, then Josef weakly leaned back against the back of his chair.
"Are you asking me to marry you?"
"Is that so absurd?"
"Absurd? You must be joking, I´m not eligible, I´m your bodyguard, a servant, nothing more!"
"You aren´t a servant, Josef, I love you and I know you love me too- and for the question of eligibility, at least since Rupert has knighted you last year you are as eligible as anyone else titled."
He felt slightly dizzy, this couldn´t really be happening, this had to be a dream- he just couldn´t decide whether it rather was a good dream or a nightmare right now.
"Wait a moment- was that the reason I was knighted, that I should be a possible candidate to marry you?"
She bit her lip.
"It wasn´t the only reason- but one of the reasons."
It was a statement, not a question on his side and the queen nodded heavily.
"Yes, he did- and he knew that I wouldn´t be able to secure the throne without a husband and he knew I loved you and wouldn´t marry anyone else."
"You were next in line."
"Yes but you know how things are, parliament has brought up every male in line for the throne as a better option than me- I´m not exactly who they imagined to rule, Josef, I`m a woman and I´m only nineteen, in their eyes I`m simply a little girl who likes to play with her crown and wear pretty dresses- besides there´s a law stating that Genovia can´t have an unmarried queen, they gave me an ultimatum, Josef, I have two months time to find a consort or I´ll have to abdicate."
"Am I right in thinking that the fact that Rupert left you without heirs wasn´t a coincidence then?"
"We did try in the beginning but then we found out about Rupert´s illness- we didn´t think it a good idea to have children when we already knew they would have to grow up without a father- besides-" She hesitated and Josef nodded.
"I understand- besides you would prefer to have children with me."
He got up from his chair and walked over to the window, then looked out over the gardens without really seeing anything.
The queen asked, concerned and he turned towards her again.
"I´m sorry, I don´t know what to say right now- this is- unexpected."
She chuckled dryly.
"From your reaction it´s not only unexpected but also not very much appreciated."
"I didn´t say that- but I hope you understand that this isn´t something I can decide in a few minutes, it´s not about you, Clarisse, you know what you mean to me but you have been brought up to do this, I´m not sure if I´m strong enough for it."
"Could you at least think about it?"
She sounded insecure now and for a moment Josef could see her for who she truly was, a nineteen year old girl who had been forced into a responsibility far too heavy for her, a girl who had never had the chance to explore life or love and who so desperately hoped that she was given another chance.
"I will" he told her tenderly before stepping back over to the table.
He crouched down in front of her chair and took her hands into his, kissing them softly before looking back up into her gorgeous blue eyes.
"Never doubt my love for you, Clarisse- I just need to figure out if I can honestly promise you that I can do this, do you understand?"
She nodded but he could see that she was still fighting to keep up her composure.
He pulled her out of her chair and onto his lap, holding her cradled against him like he so often did when he comforted her or after they had made love.
It took a long time for her to calm down again and when she finally did she buried herself even deeper into Josef´s embrace, her face hidden against his neck.
"I´m sorry, I didn´t mean to hurt you" Josef whispered to the young woman as he caressed her gently, "I love you so much but I could never bear to disappoint you."
"Is that a no?"
She asked, her voice muffled against his neck.
"No, it´s not- ."
She looked up slowly, a hopeful smile on her tearstained face.
"You couldn´t disappoint me, Josef, never."
He loved softly before kissing her forehead.
"Can I quote you on that?"
"Is that a yes?"
He smiled lovingly back at her as he brushed a strand of hair out of her forehead.
"I still can´t imagine how you expect this to work out but if you still want me then yes, I will marry you Clarisse Renaldi."
"You- you can´t be serious, Your Majesty."