I can hear the constant chattering of other ladies from the other side of the lake. I do not understand how they can concentrate on their paintings if they continue to gossip.
I had my sleeves rolled up to my elbow to prevent me getting paint on them as I, inadvertently, always do. I was admiring the colours of the trees across the lake when a shadow fell onto my canvass.
I do not have to turn around to see who it was as his shadow already reveals his identity.
‘Do you hate people?’ He asked and since it is a silly question, I treated it as a rhetorical one and did not answer him, ‘all the other ladies-in-waiting are chatting away on the other side yet here you are on your lonesome.’
‘Prince Anthony,’ I said without looking at him, ‘I was beginning to wonder when I will have the pleasure of your company again.’ My sarcasm was not lost on him but he just laughs at it. I quickly glanced at him with narrowed eyes which caused him to smile more broadly. ‘As you have pointed out, the crowd is on the other side so pray tell, what you are doing on this side? And don’t you have an important treaty or agreement that requires your attention somewhere?’
‘We have finished for the day with work. I was just curious what would enthrall you to paint from this side of the lake, ‘ he explained as looked closely at my painting, ‘as the beautiful flowers are mainly on that side. Trees… You are painting trees. ‘
‘How observant of you,’ I told him dryly, ‘besides with the roomful of flowers that you have sent to Princess Beatrice, who needs to see or smell more flowers?’
‘Why do I feel disapproval from you, Ella?’ Prince Anthony sat down beside my stool, ‘I was merely showing my appreciation of her. ‘
‘It is tad bit extravagant when a single flower would have said the same thing’ I told him without looking at him but I could feel him staring at me.
‘Are you jealous?’ He asked with mirth as if his realisation just made sense, ‘you are jealous that nobody has given you a roomful of flowers!’
‘No,’ I looked at him impatiently, ‘the money you spent on those imported expensive flowers could have fed the village orphanage for a month. Instead the money was spent on something that will wilt and die in a couple of weeks. Besides, what use does she have of those flowers when she has a ‘gardenful’ of them?’
‘But they wouldn’t be from me’
‘A flower is a flower, Prince Anthony,’ I shook my head and looked away from him,’ a single one or a bunch of them would still say the same thing. Even a weed would say the same thing.’
‘Say what you will,’ he stood up from the grass, ‘ I still think that you are just jealous of the fact that Princess Beatrice got a roomful of flowers’
‘Speaking of whom,’ I looked up to him, ‘I think she would be wondering where you are.’
Without another word, he stomped away from me. I can hear the
Moment he reached the other side as the laughter seem to have reached another crescendo.
Jealous? He is indeed an over confident conceited prince who is so used to people kowtowing to him. Why would I be jealous? I looked up to the horizon and see the threatening gray clouds. I better work faster on this painting then.
An hour later, a familiar shadow fell on my painting again followed by a piece of blue flower that fell onto my lap.
‘There,’ he said softly,’now you can never say that I haven’t given you a weed,’
I looked at him and there was a twinkle in his eyes when he said his joke. Without another word, he walked away from me.
‘You are becoming fond of her,’ Thomas said as we stare out of the window that gives us the view of the lake where the ladies are painting.
‘Well,’ I glanced at Princess Beatrice, ‘ I think that a roomful of flowers made that pretty obvious’
‘I am not talking about the Princess,’ Thomas explained and I have to glance at him questioningly, ‘ i am talking about the ebony haired one whose company you seem to seek on all of your free time.’
‘Don’t be absurd,Thomas’
‘Every night, you find her in the library no matter what section she is in. You just zero on her. I know this as I had a guard on your tail all the time now since we lost you in that forest which by the way, you also spent time with the same lady. Then this afternoon, you gave her a blue flower.’
‘I gave her a blue weed as a joke,’ I explained patiently to Thomas but automatically my gaze went to the other side of the lake where a lone figure is painting, ‘which did not cost me anything.’
‘Which reminded you of her when you saw it and you personally picked and delivered to her’ Thomas persisted on his theory.
‘You are drinking too much wine, Thomas, that you are seeing things that are not there. ‘
‘Am I?’ Thomas asked though it came out more of a statement than a question,’well, I hope that I am because she is not what the kingdom will expect you to bring home. I am sure she is a great conversationalist that entertains you but she is not your equal. Society will frown on such relationship.’
‘There’s no relationship…’ I started to explain then lightning flashed overhead followed by a loud thunderclap. The rain just fell down from the skies. There were a lot of squealing as the ladies try to get their paintings back to the palace. The men were quick to assist.
Involuntarily, I glanced to the other side of the lake where the head strong lady-in-waiting raised her face to the skies as if welcoming the rain. She will be soaked if she keeps that up.
Without another word to Thomas, I ran downstairs towards the lake.
‘Oh yeah, I am right,’ Thomas said under his breath as he too turn around to help the ladies.
The skies just opened up and dumped water on all of us. I can hear the other ladies squealing. I raised my face to the rain and smiled. I love the rain. The squealing continues on the other side which I am sure is for the benefit of the rescuing men.
I stood up to put away my things. No point in rushing. I will get wet no matter what anyway. I placed the blue flower in my box of paints. At this exact moment, somebody grabbed my canvas, palette and arm.
‘Do you not have enough common sense to get out of a thunder storm?’
I did not have the chance to answer him as he was pulling me in a run towards the gazebo. He unceremoniously deposited me inside the gazebo then went back to get my box of paints.
‘Everybody else were running towards the palace yet you are taking your sweet time.’ He admonishes me as he tries to shake the rain from his hair.
‘You mean, everybody else had fun squealing and laughing as they fall over each other trying to get out of the rain?’ I raised an eyebrow as I said this. ‘I did not asked you to rescue me. Why do you always think I need rescuing? It is only rain. I can only get wet nothing more.’
He looked darkly at me as he proceeded to remove his coat then placed it over my shoulders.
‘Ella, why is it so hard for you to just thank me?’ He said as he looked out of the gazebo. He stood there with his hands on his hips, staring at the dark skies as if willing the rain to stop.
I decided to stop baiting him. It is so easy to get him flustered and annoyed. My hair was dripping wet so I took it out of the tight bun so I could wring the water out. I sat down and proceeded to wring my hair, trying to come up with a sentence that does not offend his sensibilities.
‘Your hair is very long and curly’ he said as he sat down opposite me and continued to stare at me wringing my hair.
‘Very observant of you,’ I offered him a smile to take away the sting of the sarcasm, ‘your hair is becoming curly too,’
He touched his light brown hair and shrugged.
‘Looks like this storm would take a while,’
‘Won’t they be looking for you?’
‘ I think Thomas will know where I am,’ sure enough when Prince Anthony glanced back to the palace, Thomas was standing by the window where they were stood at earlier. He gave Prince Anthony a slight nod as acknowledgement then moved away from the window. ‘Is your painting intact?’
‘So that is why you came running,’ I jokingly said, ‘you were interested in my trees’
‘Yes, that is why,’ he agreed with a smile
‘ it is a good thing we have food then,’ I informed him. He looked at me questioningly so I explained,’ well as you have pointed out earlier on that I am too far away from the others so I would be far from the food as well. I had Molly, one of the maids, pack me a picnic basket. She always pack a lot of food for me.’
I piled cheese, grapes and crackers and handed it over to him.
‘Have I grown another head?’ I glanced at him, ‘you are staring’
I told him
‘I like your hair down. It is up to your waist? It is also a novel experience of you being nice to me and serving me.’ He smiled broadly, ‘ I think that underneath that brusque exterior of yours is actually a sweet girl.’
‘Don’t get used to it,’ I warned him
We shared a slow smile the way couples do when they understand each other without so many words.
On that night, in that gazebo, we called a truce on our usual banter and actually had an enjoyable sensible conversation.
Going to the Market
‘It is time for me to claim my prize!’ Princess Beatrice declared as she entered the recently vacated meeting hall, ‘You are finished for the week, right? All work and no play makes a very dull prince.’
She actually made an effort to pout and she still looks pretty. At moments like these I remember that she is only a teenager – 18 years in fact; 3 years my junior so I remind myself to be patient. She was accompanied by Joan, Jean, Rachel and Ella, who is standing at the back.
Our eyes met across the distance and a smile tugs at my lips.
‘I won that wager fair and square,’ my attention was refocused on Princess Beatrice again.
‘We both won’ I reminded her
‘Exactly!’ She exclaims, ‘you wanted to spend a day with me and I wanted you to accompany me to the market. So if we go to the town market then we both get what we want.’
I have to give it to her. She is one tough negotiator.
‘Why don’t we get the sellers come here instead?’ I suggested,’ i have a feeling that your parents won’t allow their only daughter out of the palace without a retinue of guards’
‘Where is the fun in that?’ She plops herself petulantly on one of the chairs, ‘I want to go in disguise as one of the towns people. We can both be in disguise. You might need to leave Stallion for that adventure as your great black stallion is easily recognizable. I will just bring a handful of my ladies and Ella as my guard.’
I had to stop myself from laughing at the last sentence especially that Ella has raised an eye brow, daring me to laugh.
‘Well,’ I cleared my throat, ‘ we will have to ask your parents of course.’
‘Leave them to me’ Princess Beatrice declared confidently
She managed to convince her parents with her plan so the next day at the crack of dawn we were all getting ready to go to the market. Princess Beatrice, Joan, Jean, Rachel and Ella were all dressed in drab brown dresses with aprons and capes. They also have bonnets on their heads to hide their shiny hair.
Ella’s hair was only tied back at the back so her long curly hair was cascading down her back. She moved slightly to the right and that is when I noticed that she has a saber hidden under her cape.
‘You are not going with that saber,’ I told her as I approached her, ‘Why is your hair not in a bun? You will draw too much unwanted attention from the men.’
‘First off, I need the saber so I have a weapon to protect the princess with. I obviously cannot carry my bow and arrow. Secondly, when was my hair your concern? Thirdly, I think that the towns men will be more enthralled at the beautiful blond girl with us. You should fuss about that.’ She proceeded to place a dagger into the pocket of her apron.
I quickly glanced at Princess Beatrice who was beaming with excitement but I was still annoyed with Ella.
‘You are not bringing that saber with you’ I told her, ‘You might end up cutting yourself with it. I forbid it.’
‘Forbid it?’ She seethed through her teeth,’Did it ever occur to you that I might actually be competent with the weapons I am given? You are bringing a broad sword’
‘Because I am dressed as a guard off duty.’ I explained, ‘Leave the saber but you can bring the dagger in case we need to peel apples.’
I can feel Ella staring at me with her narrowed eyes but I was not going to give in on this one. I went to speak with Princess Beatrice and her posse. I glanced back and saw that Ella is removing the saber. When our eyes met, she was still sending daggers my way.
Our horses are already out and the wagon for the ladies was also prepared. Ella was sitting on the front with the wagon driver whilst the other ladies were seated in the wagon, still chatting away.
This is going to be a long day.
It has already been two hours since we arrived in the market and Princess Beatrice and the other ladies had fun haggling over the prices of silk, laces and other finery. Ella continues to walk behind them. A couple of my men and Thomas were up front with the ladies, carrying their purchases whilst Alfred and I stayed at the back.
The group has stopped at another cloth merchant store. Ella was admiring a roll of fine silk when a finely dressed gentleman approached her.
‘I am sure I can offer you a more suitable position in my household,’ the man was telling Ella, staring intently at her and standing too close for my liking.
‘I am sorry sir,’ I interjected as I stood between them, ‘ my wife is not looking for new employment.’ I held onto her arm and ushered her away from the man.
‘I was merely waiting to hear what he has to offer,’ Ella explained, smiling ‘ and I was handling it.’
‘You do know he was not interested in your services right?’ I asked angrily, ‘why are you separated from the other ladies anyway?’
‘So I can keep an eye on things,’ Ella explained,’ I am not here to shop. Besides why are you at the back?’
‘To keep an eye on things and keep you out of trouble’
‘How many times do I have to tell you.., I do not need rescuing. Go protect Beatrice or the other ladies. They need your protection. ‘
‘For a petite lady, you sure talk like a big person.’ She barely reaches my chin.
Ella smiled at my observation and I involuntarily smiled back, feeling my annoyance go away.
‘Err..’ I cleared my throat as I looked away,’Did you want that roll of silk?’
‘No,’ she responded softly, almost shyly, ‘ i was only pretending to look. We better get back to the group. ‘
She walked back towards the cloth store and I just stood there, watching her walk away.
Then there was an unmistakable cry for help – Jean, I think. Immediately Ella and I sprinted back towards the store.
Suddenly several horses were thundering down our way. I stared in horror as I realized that slung over one of the horses is a beautiful blond girl in servant’s clothes.
‘Anthony!!!’ Princess Beatrice called out when she saw me.
‘Beatrice!’ I called out.
One of the riders was passing by me so I grabbed hold of the bridle and managed to pull myself up onto the horse. I caught the rider by surprise so I managed to throw him Off the horse and proceeded to give chase. I do not know what happened to my men or the other ladies. Ella! At least she is safe. I do not know exactly what I am going to do when I catch up with them but all I can see are Princess Beatrice’s scared blue eyes.
Then suddenly the world became black.
I saw Prince Anthony got hold of a horse and gave chase. I hope that he is sensible enough to know that he only needed to track them and not engage them. He would be severely outnumbered.
I ran into the store and found a wounded but alive Thomas and very shaken ladies – Jean and Joan.
‘Where is Rachel?’ I asked
‘They must have taken her too’ Joan replied between sobs.
‘Thomas,’ I knelt besides him, ‘are you all right?’
‘Yes, just a flesh wound.’ He was holding to his right side which was still bleeding.
‘Prince Anthony has given chase,’ I informed him. Immediately he stood up in alarm then winced with pain,’you have to take the ladies back to the palace and informed the king and queen of what happened. It looks like they were heading towards the forest at the outskirts of town. I am the only person who is not wounded in our group. I will track them down and wait until reinforcements will arrive. ‘ Thomas looked that he was going to protest but he heard the logic in my plan. ‘I will leave markings on the trees for the army to follow. But first, I must change’
Ten minutes later, I started giving chase dressed as a young peasant lad. I sincerely hope that I am not too late. I pray that the men needed her alive so Princess Beatrice should be safe. I pray that Prince Anthony has kept his heroics to a minimum and is still alive. I am not religious but I said a sincere prayer… Please Lord, keep them both safe.
My head is pounding and my arms hurt. I tried to move my arms and realised that they are tied at the back. I slowly opened my eyes but did not look up. I did not want them to know that I am awake. I might just hear something useful.
‘There was no need for all that violence,’ a female voice that sounded like Rachel said,’how can we convinced her parents that we have honorable intentions if we kill half of her guards,’
‘How do you suggest we do that my dear sister?’ A male voice said mockingly, ‘”Excuse me sir, would you mind handing your precious princess to me so my older brother can marry her?” He laughs dryly, ‘you are not getting soft on me now are you sister? I hope that Your years in that court has not soften your resolved in our plans. It is only through forcing their hand that we can strengthen our kingdom. They will not deny their precious daughter.’
‘No,Christopher,my resolve has not been broken.’ Rachel replied.
‘What about the brave interloper? another male
‘Is your ego as bruised as your jaw Ben?’ Christopher laughs
‘We can leave him here,’ Rachel replied,’he will die of his wounds eventually.’
This is when I noticed that my right rib hurts severely and that my right thigh is red and wet. I felt cold suddenly and for the second time that day the world went black.
I felt cold fingers touching my face so my eyes flew open in alarm. Two serious hazel eyes looked at me, urging me to keep quiet. She quickly went behind me and cut my ropes. I had to stop myself from groaning loudly when blood and sensation came back to my arms. I felt like passing out in pain again but she held my face in her hand and shook her head at me. She managed to help me stand up and helped me hobble out of the house onto a horse that she has tied to a tree some distance from the barn. We passed one of the guards lying on the ground and he was bloodied. We looked at each other at that moment but said nothing.
Somehow I manged to get on the horse and get inside a cave that is out of the way. The moment I got off the horse, I passed out again.
Someone was coaxing me to drink a bitter concoction and I almost choked on it.
‘It is medicine,’ Ella told me as she tries to get me to drink more of it
‘It sure tastes like one. ‘ I muttered but tried to drink more of the concoction.
I looked around the cave and see that she has a small fire going. Her bow and arrows were propped against the wall. My right thigh and right rib have both been dressed. I felt my right rib through my open shirt.
‘Thankfully, no broken rib, just a flesh wound and some bruising.’ She explained as she knelt beside me on the right,’we need to dress your right thigh’
She was untying the dressing on my thigh when I realized exactly what is bothering me.
‘Your hair,’ I touched her now very short hair. She looked up and smiled and shrugged at the same time.
‘It will grow back,’ she continued with her task, ‘It was easier for me to track you down as a young lad than as a woman.’
‘A beautiful young lad,’ I commented,’if Thomas is not yet dead, I will kill him for allowing you to go on your own.’
‘He is wounded,’ she said softly, ‘ besides we both know that he couldn’t have stopped me even if he tried and that my
plan is the logical one. We needed to act quickly to reach you and Princess Beatrice’
‘She is fine. ‘ Ella explained. ‘They have transferred houses since I broke you out but they are waiting for a ship to arrive in five days.’
‘You should have rescued her first,’
‘She was more heavily guarded than you.’ Ella proceeded to clean my wound which is thankfully not that deep and already crusting ‘i needed to make a quick logical choice. I cannot rescue her whilst you are not also able to fend for yourself.’
Thankfully Prince Anthony has fallen asleep. For a moment there I thought that he would start charging to rescue Princess Beatrice. I rode out to check that my markings on the trees are still visible then proceeded to watch their new safe house.
I dare not go too near as I do not want to scare them again. I almost lost them the last time they moved as it is hard to be a full time scout and a nurse at the same time. At least, Prince Anthony seems to be on the mend. His fever broke last night and for once he did not have such a fitful night.
When I was content that they are still in the house and saw Princess Beatrice allowed her afternoon walk, I decided to head back to the cave. Perhaps, I should hunt for food first then have a bath in the stream quickly.
Prince Anthony was already awake when I got back.
‘Where were you?’
‘I was out scouting and hunting’ I showed him the dead rabbit
‘It is too dangerous for you alone’ he muttered impatiently as he tried to stand up
‘What are you doing?’ I demanded as I watched him struggle, ‘you are going to open that wound’
‘I need to start walking’
‘Well, do it after dinner so you will have your strength and I can help you then. If you open that wound because of your stubbornness, you will have to dress it yourself.’
‘All right, you win’ he said dejectedly and just settle to a sitting position
I had to force him to eat more later on. He has lost weight in a span of a week that I doubt it very much if he will ever be back to his previous weight. After dinner we did two rounds in the cave. Thankfully there was no fracture on his thigh. It is just a deep cut that caused him to lose a lot of blood. That was what clinched my decision to rescue him first.
Within minutes of lying down, he was fast asleep. I tended to the cave’s entrance to make sure that it is not easily visible from the path. By the time I came back, Prince Anthony was having one of his nightmares again.
I laid down beside him, put my arms around him and whispered softly, ‘It is all right, Anthony, I am here. ‘ I repeated this until it soothes him. I have been doing this every night for the past week. Whilst this may soothe him in his sleep, I know that I am just breaking my heart to pieces.