Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Prince and the Pea

Finding a princess has never been a simple task.  Few people have taken the time to look at it from our point of view.  From an early age we are groomed to be, well, grooms.  There is this pressure to find a girl of noble blood who will be graceful and kind, smart and intuitive, not to mention beautiful.  Does everyone really think that's an easy feat?

Not in the least.  One of my mates, Nicholas of Neverwhere, ticked off a sorceress and wound up looking like a frog!  He had to convince his princess to fall for him despite his penchant for flies.  Tricky, indeed.  Then there's Charming.  His princess isn't even royal blood.  Something about fooling him into thinking she was, and there was a glass shoe and a godmother involved somehow...  Such a scandal. 

That is to say, princesses don't exactly fall out of the sky, no matter how much my mother wishes they would.  She is truly the most difficult to please.  None of the candidates could even dream of living up to her lofty expectations.  Too tall, too loud.  Too silly, not silly enough.  The court wouldn't like her, the servants would hate her.  Girl after girl, leaving in tears after being rejected with a flick of my mother's pointy finger.

She's a good woman.  Lord knows she played the role of queen for enough years to know what strengths to look for in my would-be bride, but I can't help but have a sneaking suspicion that no girl, no matter how perfect, would be good enough to be her only son's princess.


The storm was in full swing outside the castle's thick walls, booming with a fury that made me thankful to be indoors.  Mother was still out attending to some queenly business and I was only slightly concerned.  Not even a bolt of lightning would dare tempt fate by irking that woman.  Nonetheless, I hovered near the front hall.  She would be cold and exhausted from the nasty travelling weather and her age was beginning to take its toll on her. 

I had just ordered Tamara, Mother's handmaiden, to draw her a hot bath and lay out her bed cloak by the fire in preparation for her return when I heard a scratching sound on the heavy wooden door.  Perhaps the driver was struggling with the door latch in all this pounding rain?  I unfastened the lever and pulled open the door, only to be met by water whipping into my eyes.  I jerked back and shook my drenched head.  There was no Mother at all.  Just a pile of torn, filthy rags in a crumpled heap, a very wet girl at the centre of them.  Or, at least, I assumed it was a girl.  Her face was a mask of mud and her hair a matted nest with twigs and straw poking out.  She was little, so I figured she must be quite young and without a moment's hesitation I scooped her into my arms, embracing her drenched petticoat and all, and heaved her inside. 

"Tamara!  Josephine!  I need help!"  I bellowed at the maids, feeling mildly over-dramatic for hollering, but I did, in fact, need some assistance.  The girl weighed more than I expected as her clothing was soaked through and getting me extremely wet in the process.  And now that I had this thing in my arms, where did I expect to put her?  Regardless, I could feel her shaking violently through her shabby dress so I needed to figure things out quickly. 

"Sire?"  Tamara's saucer-like eyes said it all.  What on earth was I holding and what in tarnation was I going to do with it? 

"Towels, woman.  Do not stand there gaping at me.  Get me towels and blankets and, hell, get some soap."  I made a decision, perhaps not the wisest one, but I felt helpless and if there's one thing I hate...  I slopped my way as fast as I could to my mother's chambers and kicked at the partly closed door.  The steaming bath was all ready to go and I could smell the rose water filling the room with its inviting scent. 

I stood over the basin.  I was about to just drop the girl into it when Tamara entered the room.  "My Lord!  But... Your mother!"  She looked at the tub, then at the set lines of my face, and sighed.  "Well, my Lord.  Set her down.  Jo and I will take those pitiful rags off her first." 

Right.  That was probably a good plan.  I glanced down at the shivering little creature in my arms and felt a sudden pang of possessiveness.  It was like she was an abandoned kitten that I had just rescued.  I didn't want to put her down.  I had a responsibility to make sure she was looked after properly.  Maybe I should--

"Oy."  It was shaky and somewhat squeaky, but that word had come from the girl.  I stared down at her in shock.  "Put me down already.  I have legs, I'll have you know."  Stunned, I set the thing on the ground and sure enough she could stand, albeit wobbling a little.  Her dress looked as though it was once red, now a muddled brown with slashes of her pale skin glaring through the torn bodice and sleeves.  It was strange.  She looked pathetic and could barely stay on her feet for shivering so fiercely and yet she had an air about her... 

"The child is going to perish on the spot, Sire, if we don't get her in this tub.  Out with you!" 

I was jolted out of my thoughts by Tamara's practicality and left the maids to tend to the girl.  Just in time, too, because I suddenly heard my mother shriek, "Heaven's above, did a swamp creature crawl in here and die?  What of this filth!?"


Mother wasn't pleased to have a strange dirty child taking over her hot bath.  All right, she was livid.  It took some time to calm her down, and some time after that to reason that the girl should stay here until we could summon a doctor to check her over.  It was simply too cruel to turn out someone in such a condition in weather so terrible.  And a queen with as much compassion as she had...  Well, you get the point.  She finally was willing to extend some goodwill towards the feeble thing, and I could tell by the look on her face that she was already spinning the story that she would leak to her subjects.  Such a compassionate queen, indeed.

I sat on a chaise outside Mother's room while I waited for news of the girl.  It wasn't long before Jo stuck her head out the door and informed me I was needed to carry our guest to her room.  She was sitting on the floor with her knees bent and her arms wrapped around her legs in a white night gown that was swimming on her.  Her fair hair was clean, but it looked as though the curls were still quite knotted.

She stood up when she saw me and gave a deep curtsy.  "Your Highness."  Her eyes stayed on the ground.  She was even smaller now that the petticoat and red rags were not drowning her.  I figured she was at the most thirteen.

"There now, no need for that.  You certainly look better, don't you?"  I gave her a lop-sided smile to put her at ease when she finally met my eyes.  My mouth fell open when I saw her face full on.  Her cheeks had been scrubbed to a ruddy pink, her eyes were as light as crystals in a pool of water and above all, there was a maturity in her face that said she had seen much in this lifetime.  I was definitely wrong about her age. 

Her pink cheeks turned scarlet as I started at her.  "My Lord.  Have I offended you?"

I closed my mouth and swallowed.  "Nooo.  No.  Not at all."  I swallowed again, though it wasn't helping my dry throat.  "Erm.  I believe I am your ride.  That is, I'll be carrying you to your quarters." 

I saw a shadow of annoyance cross her expression, but she recovered quickly.  "My gratitude is yours, my Lord, but I'm am quite able.  It will not be necessary for you to waste your royal energy on carting me down the hall."  She raised the skirt of her gown and started briskly towards the door.  Apparently her legs were not in accordance because her knees buckled and she plunged forward.  I stretched out an arm and caught her around the waist.  Her entire weight was resting on my forearm for a moment before I heaved her into my arms and headed for the door. 

"It's no bother.  And it's several hallways and a set of stairs away."

Her chin rose.  "I suppose I ought to get comfortable then."  I caught a glimpse of a smile in her clear eyes. 

"I suppose."  We were silent for the better part of the journey.  Finally I asked the question that had been on my lips since I had opened the great door on her in the front hall.  "What were you doing out there?  In that dreadful rain?  It was truly awful out there..."

Again a crimson stained her cheeks.  "I am sorry to tell you this, but I was in your garden.  Your land has the best rumpleberries in all of Fraere.  And my uncle is so fond of biscuits and rumpleberries."  Her head hung in shame.  "It was wrong, Sire.  I take full blame for my malfeasance."

I just shrugged.  "What are rumpleberries?"

She looked up at me in surprise.  "You don't know?  Truthfully?"

"I swear it on my favorite mare."

"Oh, my Lord...  They are these tiny purple berries that are so very hard to grow and if you can grow them, they are even harder to pick.  Thorns sharper than pins guard the berries which are in the heart of the bushes.  It's quite easy to injure oneself while trying to collect them... but for the taste of them... it is more than worth it!"  Her face shone with delight while she spoke of the fruit and I was entranced.  I could not take my sight off of her.  To be honest, I'm not certain I was even breathing.  The way her little hands waved around as she spoke--

"Sir."  A voice, Josephine's voice, called from behind me.  I had walked right past the room. 

"Indeed."  I regrouped and reluctantly deposited my charge onto her bed.  It was one of the spare servant's rooms and the bed was small and no doubt a bit lumpy, but she looked quite comfortable in it.  "Will you be all right here?"  I was suddenly worried at leaving her by herself.

"Of course, Sire.  It will be wonderful having a bed to myself for the night.  I normally share with my two younger sisters."

"If you're certain..." I said, unsure.

"My Lord,"  Josephine spoke up.  "I am but down the hall two doors.  Should there be a problem..."  But neither Jo, nor the girl looked as though they were concerned. 

"Goodnight, your Highness," the girl's soft voice chimed. 

"Goodnight, um,"  I looked at her.


"Ah.  Posy of flowers.  Goodnight, Posey."


The doctor came the next morning and spent a fair while with Posey and Tamara.  The longer they were in there, the more my fears duplicated.  Scarlet fever, most likely.  Gangrene could be possible as well, with her being out in that cold for God knows how long.  I knew they should have summoned the doctor last night.

Finally the door opened and Doc and Tamara emerged, quietly closing the door behind them.  "What is it?" I implored.  "Will she live?"

The doctor chuckled.  "Yes, your Highness, it is only a cold.  A few days rest and some boiled ginger and she'll be out of your hair in no time!"  He laughed again and pushed up his round spectacles. 

"Thank you for coming, Doc.  Tamara, will you escort the good doctor out?"  I got a long, hard look from Tamara, as if she knew I was in a hurry to have them gone so I could check up on Posey myself.  I had no idea what would give her that impression.

As soon as they were down the corridor, I stole into the darkened room.  A mess of pale curls were scattered across the tiny pillow and I could see that her cheeks still had some colour to them.  She looked more angelic than ill. 

Her head lifted from the pillow.  "Who's there?  Josephine?"  Her voice was drowsy sounding.  She sniffled.

"No, not quite.  I'm sorry, it is Prince Fieren.  Should I leave you?"  I did not at all wish to leave her.

"Stay."  She let out a soft groan as she sat up.  "I'm tired of resting."

I was elated as I settled on the edge of her bed.  Her eyes had a glassy look to them and she must have had a fever, as some of the blond ringlets were clinging to her neck.  I instantly felt ashamed.  She wasn't well and here I was keeping her up.  I was a selfish wretch.  And I wanted to know everything about her.

"How often do you come to the castle's gardens to pick, um, rumbleberries?"  When she gave a guilty smile I brushed it aside.  "Do not fear.  I honestly don't mind that you've been taking them.  No consequence will befall you."

She looked relieved.  "Well.  They are called rumpleberries, to start.  And usually once a week."

Once a bloody week.  This heavenly little thing had been right outside my door and I had not even known.  Good God. 

"I do wonder that I shouldn't bring you a pie or perhaps some scones from the next batch?"

"Do you know, I'm suddenly quite furious that you've been pilfering our precious rumbleberries and am certain that the only way to appease me would be to do just that."  I grinned at her and was rewarded with a brilliant smile in return. 

"Let it be so.  Would you prefer a pie or scones?  Or a pudding?"

"Yes."  This time she giggled.  I was floating on air.  I was enraptured by every single part of her, even her tumbles of messy silver locks.  She was smart and witty and refreshingly bold in her honesty.  At eighteen years of age, she had already experienced much heartache.  She told me of her kind uncle and aunt, who had taken in Posey and her sisters, Fee and Julla, when her mother had passed away only a few years ago.  She talked of their life on the farm and how it had been an extreme adjustment, for her especially.  She mentioned being brave and optimistic for the sake of her siblings and how she was thankful for the humble life she led. 

All the while, I watched her perfect, heart-shaped lips.  Her wide, expressive eyes.  Her dainty hands that flew all around to illustrate her point.  And all the while I thought to myself that I was in a whole lot of donkey dung.  She was perfect for me in every way and there was no way Mother could object.  But for one thing.  One minor, unimportant, crucial, all-encompassing thing.  She wasn't royalty.  And there was no way to get around that one.


Over the next few days I spent as much time with Posey as I could.  The storm had subsided, but it was still too treacherous to send a messenger to Posey's uncle to inform him that his niece was all right.  In the meantime, I intended to do my best to nurse my charge back to health.  Tamara watched in dismay as I hovered over Posey while she sipped her hot broth.  I had actually tried to feed her myself but was refused when Posey rolled her eyes at me and told me she hadn't lost the use of her hands.

It was a strange thing, the way she humbled me like that.  Any of the girls Mother had paraded past me would have swooned had I offered to hold her mug for her and yet this tiny spitfire shot me down every time I tried to help her.  At the same time, my heart melted more and more, to the point that I was certain I was acting like a school girl with puppy love whenever I was near her.

And Tamara knew.  She scowled and glared and sighed.  I understood her intentions.  I was playing with fire.  I was letting myself become attached to something that could never be mine.  However, I couldn't back away, now that I had found this mythical feeling countless others had written about.  So, I threw caution to the wind and I abandoned my princely duties in order to watch a stubborn girl drink soup.

Mother had been fairly busy and I was certain that was why it took a few days before she called me to her sitting room for a chat.  It went exactly as I expected.  She started with casual questions about the girl's health.  Her eyes narrowed whenever I used her name.  Then she inquired about Posey's family and her eyes were barely slits after I explained her situation.

"Fieren.  I'm going to be frank."  She set her delicate tea cup upon its saucer.

"Of course you are, Mother."

"Yes, well.  Listen to me, my son.  She is the poorest of peasants.  She has nothing, nor will she ever have anything that you could possibly want or need.  You could, I suppose, call her pretty, in a crude sense of the word, but that is not royalty and it is not enough for you."  She motioned for Tamara to take her half-full cup away and placed her serviette on the table.  "There, now.  That is settled.  There was to be a supper tonight in honour of the poet, Jahan Rucks, but the weather has not permitted him to get here.  Join me anyway, no need for all that superb food to go to waste."

I bit my tongue and let her know that she would see me at dinner.  It wasn't going to be up to me to change her mind.


I held my hand over the door for a moment before I knocked.  I was hoping Posey was feeling up to tonight and that she wouldn't be too nervous.  I truly didn't care that her hair was still a rat's nest of blond curls, or that the dress Jo said she'd find for Posey would likely be too big.  My only concern was that she didn't feel too self-conscious. 

While I was in the middle of my musings, the door opened and my fist was left hanging mid-air as I looked down to see Posey jump.

"Oy!  Lord Fieren!  You startled me!"  Her hand flew to her chest as she calmed herself. 

I stood, paralysed, staring at the woman in front of me.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  She was wondrous.  Her hair shone in perfect silvery coils, a thin gold thread woven through them to keep it out of her eyes.  The dress was a simple lavender frock with gold embellishments, but the fit was impeccable.  And she wore shoes with a bit of a heel on them, making her taller than her usual tiny self.  It amazed me to think I had mistaken her for a child when I had met her.  She was the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on. 

Her hands smoothed the bodice of the dress.  "I thought it fit all right...  Do you not agree?"  It took a moment for me to realize that she was worried about me just standing there, staring. 

"Oh.  Well, no.  Or yes, that is.  Indeed."  I cleared my throat and started over.  "My dearest, you mistake my silence.  I am in awe.  You look..."  I swallowed.  "Enchanting." 

A smile broke across her face.  "I feel rather fine, if I may say so."

Fine.  An understatement if I had ever heard one.  I held out my arm and grinned.  Mother had no idea what she was up against. 


The great hall wasn't as full as it would normally be during a dinner party.  I expected that many were kept indoors with the rain still coming down in droves.  Regardless, there were at least a dozen besides Mother, myself and Posey.  Mother looked up from where she stood when we entered the room, a broad smile on her face.  "Fieren, my love, who have you brought with you?"  Before I could answer, recognition took over and the smile drooped, though, to her credit, it stayed put, however forced it may have been.  By that point her hand was already out and it would have looked improper for her to suddenly pull it back, so she suffered the pain of allowing Posey to grasp her hand.

"Your royal Highness, "  Posey said as she gave an earnest curtsy.  "I must extend the deepest of gratitude for your compassion and generosity.  Your hospitality has been so kind."  I was impressed at how calm and steady her voice was, as though she hadn't the slightest bit of nerves at meeting the queen.

Mother grimaced and tried to seem natural as she slid her hand out of Posey's hold, then wiped it on her dress.  "Hmm, yes.  I'm simply shocked at your recovery.  I had no idea--" she gave me a pointed stare as she said this, "that you would be well enough to join us."

Posey opened her mouth to reply, but Mother was already moving on to the next set of guests.

"My apologies, "I whispered.  "She gets worked up during these parties."  I watched her face for signs of hurt at my mother's cold reception.

She shrugged and smiled.  "Not at all.  She has many to please and much to attend to."  I felt a playful jab to my ribs.  "And I'm not so fond of surprises either."

I exaggerated a grunt.  "I'll do well to remember that."

The bell chimed to call us to our seats.  Much to Mother's chagrin, my seat was always to the right of her, placing Posey on her other side, directly across from me.  The meal began and part of me wondered if Posey would understand all of the uses for the utensils in front of her or if she would balk at the rich, extravagant foods.  But one thing I was beginning to realize was that Posey was a class of her own.  She knew all of the pretenses to eating with the Queen and though she clearly enjoyed the fine meal served to us, she acted as though it were nothing new to her.
I, on the other hand, was useless for any sort of conversation.  I was having a ball just watching the delight on Posey's face as she tried the roasted cornish hen or the honey glazed sweet potatoes.  And watching her serene face as my mother politely pummelled her with questions, clearly as puzzled as I was that Posey was so comfortable dining with royalty.

"I beg your pardon, my dear?"  Mother's shrill voice caught my attention.  I had not been listening to what the two were discussing, but now I glanced between them in concern.  Mother looked nearly outraged, and it seemed that the other guests had noticed her tone.

"You can not be serious, child."  Mother's face was a mixture of shock and disgust.

"As serious as one can be while speaking of one's own father, my Lady."

"What is it, Lady Elenya?" called one of the guests from the end of the table.  Obviously the whole party was as curious as he was.

 "Ha!  This girl is trying to tell me that Lord Contande of Monde Imaginaire was her father!  How obscenely ridiculous!"  She started to laugh.  I don't think any of the other diners knew what was so hilarious about such a statement, but they all were sure to chime in and acknowledge the absurdity.

I looked at Posey, startled.  Why would she say such a thing?  How could the daughter of the king of a far away country be living on a modest farm, sleeping on a mattress stuffed with hay?

"Your highness, I do not jest.  My mother was the handmaiden to his sister, Princess Brio, and after King Contande's wife Isobel passed away he found comfort in my mother's arms.  Myself and my two sisters are his very own children."

"Please," scoffed Mother.  "What are you doing in Fraere if your mother was the whore to the king of Monde Imaginaire?"

Posey carefully set down her fork and gave my mother a level and calm gaze.  "When mama passed on, the king ordered that we be taken care of within the castle by the other servants.  He didn't want us to be removed from the only home we'd ever known.  However, when his majesty was assassinated, we had to flee for our lives.  We were fortunate enough to have my mother's brother and his wife to take us in.  We had nowhere else to turn."  She smiled softly at me and despite my shock I felt a warmth.  "And that is why I am here."

The hall was quiet.  My mother's mouth was set in a firm line.  I didn't really care.  I had just learned that the girl of my dreams was not only a graceful, patient soul, but she was of royal blood.  I could and I would marry her if it was the last thing I did.  I reached across the table and took her little hand.

Someone down the line raised a glass and cried, "To King Contande!"  The rest of the room erupted in agreement.  And with that the conversations went back to what hats were being worn to which events this season and so on.


Posey had exceeded my wildest expectations tonight, but I had to remind myself that she hadn't fully recovered from her cold.  Within a few hours her cheeks started to blaze and I could see her shoulders drooping in exhaustion.  I took that as my cue to escort her back to her room.  To surprise me even further, many of the guests were sad to have her leave the party early and expressed the desire to meet her again soon.  Posey graciously thanked my mother, who was clearly still displeased with the course of events and gave a curt nod.  With that I swept my princess off her feet and left the great hall.

I could feel her burning face pressed against my chest through my tunic and heard her mumbling. 

"Yes, yes, I know you still have feet, my dearest," I murmured to her, suppressing a chuckle.  Stubborn to a fault, she was. 

It took too short a time to get to her room and I wasn't ready to let go of her by the time I laid her upon her small bed.  I stayed bent over her, my face so close to her sweet little mouth, and just watched her.  Her blue eyes opened and she smiled drowsily at me. 

Her hand touched my cheek.  "You are a good man, my Lord."

I pressed my face into the crook of her warm neck.  "Fieren.  Please, my love, call me by my name."

I heard a laugh.  "Prince Fieren.  How I want you to be mine."  She pulled me down on top of her. 

I worried that I would crush her and shifted beside her, pulling her mostly on top of me.  One arm tightened around her while the other lifted her chin and I kissed her with all of the ache and desire I had felt since I had first seen her angelic face.  "I am yours.  And you must be mine."

Posey's head settled on my chest and I held her.  We stayed like that for the remainder of the night and I found myself thinking that I could spend my whole life loving this girl. 


The breaking of dawn through the windows woke me and despite the horrible pain in my neck and back from the ramshackle bed, I was thrilled to look down at the sleeping beauty laying next to me.  How my life had suddenly turned around.  I could barely recall who I had been a week ago.  How had I even managed to rise from bed and go through my day without the touch of this angel?  It was true what they said about the sun looking brighter, food tasting better, colours that much more vibrant.  I knew what I had to do.

I untangled my arms and legs from the girl I loved and quietly left the room.  I found Josephine in the kitchen and I asked her to tend to Posey when she awoke.  Jo gave me a knowing grin and told me it would be an honour.  I laughed.  It was going to be a wonderful day.

Mother was meeting with the head guard so I poured myself some tea in her breakfast nook while I waited.

"Fieren, darling, I was going to summon you.  This is timely,"  Mother said as she swept into the room and perched on one of the chairs. 

"Well, yes.  Mother, I have something to tell you."

"I'm quite certain you do.  However, I'm not here to listen to it.  You are not a fool.  You will not be played for an idiot and I would like you to wash your hands of this insane little peasant."

I had expected this.  "Now, Mother.  I understand you are skeptical, but I believe her.  She has never given me a moment's doubt as to whether or not she is trustworthy."  I set down my tea and took her cup from her, just in case.  "I love her."  She gasped in disbelief.  "I do.  I love her and I am going to marry her and you are angry that there is nothing left to object to.  She is good and intelligent and charming.  The kingdom will adore her and I could not ask for anything more."

"Child!  You are being hoodwinked!  You will be the laughing stock of this land and the next when you discover that she tricked you with her doe eyes and that mess she calls hair!  I won't allow this!"  She picked up the teacup and threw it back down to the table, smashing it. 

I stood, my chair falling down behind me.  "I am not sorry, Mother, that there is nothing you can do to stop this.  I'm only sad that you refuse to accept what you cannot change."

Mother looked so furious that I thought she would strike me.  But a sudden calm came over her.  Her mouth curved into a smile.  I wondered for a second if she had come around so soon.  "Can I not?  Of that, I am not so sure."

"What are you going on about?  There is nothing you can do to stop me from marrying Posey." 

She cringed when I said Posey's name, but quickly shook her head.  "There is a test.  A test to prove if she is truly who she claims to be.  And when she fails it, she will be cast out and you shall never lay eyes on that sorry being again!"

"A test?  Mother.  If there really is a test that is accurate, then I do not doubt Posey will pass it."

Mother's grin grew.  "Oh, do you think so?"  She laughed cruelly.  "Yes, this is more perfect than I could ever ask!  Why had I not thought of this before?"

"Speak, woman!"  I barked angrily, sick of her vague insinuations.

She regarded me with alarm.  "My son.  I am doing this to protect you.  You will be grateful to me when I expose her for her lies.  You see,"  she approached me, her ringed fingers on my shoulder, "there is an age-old test to see if someone is of royal descent.  The lore indicates that royalty are more sensitive than that of common blood.  Indeed, we sleep on the finest of beds in our quarters, do we not?"  She didn't wait for me to answer.  "And so, my son.  I will let your Posey," the name said with an air of disgust, "sleep in my bed for one night.  You know that I have the most expensive bed in the land, but beneath the mattresses I will place a single pea.  If, come morning, she felt the pea through the thick, luscious padding, then she must be the daughter of a king."

I opened my mouth.  Then closed it.  This was ridiculous.

"No need to worry, my darling.  I will be sure to have my sheets burned after the test.  I would die before being subjected to bed bugs."

"Mother!" I cried.  "You are mad!  This is the silliest thing I've ever heard!  You can't believe this... test!"

She looked surprised.  "I do believe it.  My mother's mother told me of this.  It is part of the price of being a privileged soul."  Her eyebrows raised.  "You know that whether or not the test is true, the people of this country will not accept her as their princess if she does not pass."

She was right.  A good majority of the peasants were consumed with folklore and legends.  If this was said to be a right of passage, they would believe it, true or not.  But how could Posey pass this?  The girl had lived as a pauper for the last several years.  She was used to sleeping on haystacks posing as beds.  Even the wretched thing she was sleeping on here at the palace was a sorry excuse for a bed.  I needed to warn her.

"Oh, no you don't."  Mother rushed in front of the door before I could make my escape, her hand in my face.  "I bind you to silence."  The black stone on her finger shone as she waved it in front of my mouth.  Mother had never used any sort of magic on me before, least of all a speech bind.   It took me a moment to realize the gravity of this.  There would be no way to tell Posey or anyone else about the test.  We were doomed.

I implored Mother with my eyes.  "We'll leave.  We'll run away and never come back." 

"No, my son, you won't."  She almost seemed sad for me.  "You were not raised as such.  You know your duty to the kingdom is ingrained in who you are.  I will not live forever and the country will need you to guide and lead.  You would never leave Fraere."

I said nothing.  My heart was crumbling because she was, again, correct.  I would not forsake my kingdom, no matter the cost.  I knew my responsibilities.  I was devastated.  I swallowed hard and told my mother to move or I would make her move.  She decided not to call my bluff and let me leave.


I didn't go straight back to Posey.  I couldn't face her right then.  I felt suffocated and needed some air.  I left the palace and found the gardens that I spent my childhood playing in.  It was a strange thing to think how little time I had spent here as I had gotten older.  The trees and the flowers all looked the same from what I could remember and if memory served there would be a space between two of the flowery shrubs where I used to escape through.  It was much narrower than I recalled, but it was still there.  I bent as I wedged myself through the hole and brushed my coat off when I made it through to the other side.  I was standing on a small patch of grass, surrounded by bushes of all sorts.  While I was smelling a burgundy flower I had plucked, something caught my eye.  Tiny purple berries deep in the heart of a spiky bush, armoured quite thoroughly with large, razor-like thorns.  Rumpleberries.  I slid my hand in and felt the thorns grab at my flesh, but kept going.  Several fell off the branch into my bloodied hand and I popped them all into my mouth.  Posey had been quite right.  They were incredibly sweet and very juicy.  They would make wonderful pies. 

The urge to grab Posey in my arms and hold her was nearly overwhelming.  What was I doing out here?  I should be relishing my last moments with her, memorizing her soft curls, the curve of her jaw, the light in her gaze.  I dug into the bush once more, my hand nicely butchered, grabbed as many berries as I could and tore through the little space.  I ran as fast as I could to the castle and down the servants quarters, nearly bowling over Tamara at the entrance to Posey's room.

"My Lord!  One would do well to be careful!"

"I'm sorry Tamara, I need to see Posey at once."  I danced around her and saw Posey sitting on the window ledge in a simple, pale green dress.  Her hair was tied away from her face and she looked extraordinary.  "I brought you these."  I thrust out my filthy hand, blood and berry juice making them a terrible sight, like a child with a freshly dug up treasure.

Posey's eyes brightened.  "Rumpleberries!"  She cupped her hands beneath mine.  "Oh!  You're hurt!  Fieren...  Between you and the bush, I'd say the bush won."  She tenderly brushed her lips against my wounded hands.  Then she grinned at me and pulled my face closer to hers.  My arms itched to wrap themselves around her, but they were full.  Not for long.  I dropped the berries and grabbed the bodice of her dress, bringing her body as close to mine as I could get it, and kissed her.  I was high from the feeling of her so close to me yet I felt crushed at the thought of losing her.  I kissed her harder and deeper.

Her hands were in my hair and I returned the favour.  I found the combs that were holding her hair back and pulled them out, letting loose the massive waves of silvery ringlets.  "I like your hair down and everywhere."  It came out like a growl in between kisses.  She brought her hands to my face and pushed me inches from her lips.  I didn't like that.  I wanted to kiss her over and over, until our lips were bruised and swollen. 

"Fieren," she breathed.  I tried again to kiss her.  "Fieren, listen to me."  I met her eyes.  "I love you, my Prince.  I can't believe I found you."

Her words broke me.  I sagged into her embrace though I was so much larger than her, resting my head on top of hers.  I just held her, gripping her as tightly as I could without crushing her.  If I could've cried, I would have then.  Instead I savoured the feeling of having her with me and I clenched my teeth to stave off the pain.


to be continued...