Chapter Two: The Princess
Blinking, I awoke to my brother throwing open the windows, the bright morning sunshine streamed into our home.
Malcolm looked over at me with a grin. “Rise and shine Meg, you have to come with me this morning, so there will be no sleeping in today!”
I rubbed my eyes and yawned. Malcolm disappeared outside to milk the cow, and I took advantage of his absence, dressing in privacy.
Recalling that I was to visit not only a princess, but also a king, I dressed into a more elegant, although still simple, gown. My brother had purchased this particular gown from a traveling peddler. I was inside preparing a meal, so he surprised me later with the new dress. I smiled now at the memory as I smoothed the dress’s folds and fixed my hair. Putting on an apron, I made our breakfast.
A few minutes passed and I worked quietly, humming a few bars of a favorite folk song. My brother came in with a bucket of milk. I carefully strained it, and we sat down to eat.
Malcolm glanced over my outfit approvingly. “That’s the dress I bought from the peddler, William Price, last year,” he said, smiling. “It becomes you well.”
I blushed. So he remembered as well. “Thank you. Was that the peddler’s name? I keep forgetting. Does he still peddle in this village?”
My brother shook his head. “No, he became an excellent swordsman, and now gives lessons to nobles of the king’s court.”
I gasped. “A peddler?”
Malcolm nodded. “One would not think that a peddler could teach fencing skills to nobles, and yet I am being taught by William, and can attest to the fact that he is truly a great swordsman. I don’t think there is one in the kingdom who could best him with their blade.”
I smiled. “You are learning swordsmanship?” My brother nodded. I continued, “May I learn?”
Malcolm smiled doubtfully. “I’m not sure…you’re a lady.”
I shrugged. “A lady should be able to protect herself.”
My brother frowned thoughtfully. “I made you a bow, and arrows to shoot.”
“True, but Malcolm, a bow only works for long-distances. What if an enemy was to come too close? Then how would I protect myself if no one were near? If I knew how to fight well with a sword, imagine the surprise it would give my enemies! An enemy would not suspect a woman to have a sword, let alone know how to use it! I would feel much safer when I am alone here so often.”
My brother rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Alright Meg, I’ll see about having you take lessons.”
I smiled gratefully. “Thank you so much! I really do think it will come in handy some day.”
We went back to our breakfast, finishing it in silence. I cleaned up quickly while my brother saddled our horses. My horse was all black except for a single white stocking on his left hind-leg. His name was Duke, and we often went on long walks together through the woods and fields. My brother’s horse was a handsome bay, with a blaze. His name was Prince.
After the horses were saddled, we mounted them and rode toward the castle, sitting high above the village and surrounded by rolling hills and beautiful valleys.
The guards let us in after a friendly exchange of greeting with my brother whom they knew well. We left our horses in the care of one stable boy, and walked into the castle.
The castle was far more magnificent on the inside than it was on the outside. I tried to keep silently awed as we walked through huge hallways lined with tapestries illustrating gory battle scenes or portraits of kings and queens in past generations, but it was difficult. Malcolm didn’t seem impressed at all and simply kept walking confidently down the hall as if he belonged there. I followed him meekly, and we soon arrived at the throne room. Another guard let us in, and Malcolm continued toward the throne. I hung back, standing behind my brother’s sturdy figure.
King Fredrick greeted my brother with a warm handshake and smile. Malcolm turned to me, and I took the cue, stepping out from behind him and introducing myself.
“I’m Megan; Malcolm told me your daughter, Princess Crystal, needed me to be her lady-in-waiting.”
King Fredrick smiled warmly at me, melting my shyness. “Yes, she is in need of a new lady-in-waiting to replace Sophia. I’ll summon her now, and then you can be free to get right to work.” The king whispered something to a near-by guard, and the guard responded by exiting the room. My brother and the king walked over to the throne together, leaving me standing uncertainly. Malcolm noticed my hesitation and motioned for me to stand next to his chair, which sat beside the throne.
They were both soon lost in a political discussion which went completely over my head, so I simply observed my surroundings undisturbed.
In a few moments, the guard reappeared. A beautiful young woman followed him. She looked about my age, and every inch a princess. For this, without a doubt, was Princess Crystal. She advanced toward the throne gracefully, and I suddenly felt plain in comparison to the rich beauty of the king’s daughter. She had long black hair that fell in waves over her shoulders. Her gown was long and full, and around her neck were sparkling jewels. However, after I finished surveying her gown and jewelry, I caught a look at her face. An impish smile arrested my attention, and I caught a twinkle of fun in her eyes.
Malcolm and the king stood ceremoniously when she entered, but as I was already standing, the effort was saved. The princess walked up to the throne and greeted her father with a kiss on his cheek.
“You wanted me Father?” She asked with a wonderfully sweet voice.
The king nodded. “Your new lady-in-waiting came this morning with Malcolm.” My brother turned on his charming smile he had always ready for use and nodded, introducing me to the princess as if I was an important duchess. Crystal glided over to me with a warm smile, much like her father’s. Her eyes continued to twinkle merrily, and I found myself beginning to like her.
“So you’re Malcolm’s sister Megan. I’ve heard a lot about you from your brother.”
I raised my eyebrows suspiciously, glancing at my brother. “You have, have you? I see…”
The king looked from me to his daughter and back again. “My dear, perhaps you should have this first day with your new lady-in-waiting be a day to get to know one another, and begin work tomorrow.”
The princess clapped her hands together gleefully, her eyes sparkling. “That’s a wonderful idea Father!” and so the decision was made.
I followed the princess from the room, and walked to the princess’s quarters. The princess chattered on as we went, but she didn’t expect any reply, so I merely nodded every once in awhile and smiled occasionally.
We arrived shortly to her rooms, and the doors opened to reveal a room far more magnificent than even the throne room. The princess led me over to one of the chairs situated in front of a crackling fireplace, sitting me down gently. She sat in another facing me, and smiled excitedly.
“Today I am free to treat you as guest, but I hope that I shall always be able to treat you as a friend and advisor.”
I returned her smile, knowing I was going to enjoy my new job. “You can treat me as a friend at all times, and I shall enjoy it!” I said.
The princess looked at me thoughtfully. “I am a princess…” she began. I glanced at her as she continued. “But please treat me as you would treat any of your village friends. I may be royalty, but I hate to be looked up to.” I laughed, but she gave me such a look of reproach that I stopped. She continued, “No, really! I don’t like to be treated differently. Your brother was the first person other than Father and Mother who treated me as an equal.” The princess gazed into the fire. “I enjoyed it. I never felt as if he would flatter me into a wrong decision or ask me for something. I want you to do the same. Pretend I’m not a princess at all.”
I shrugged. “Very well. It will be easier for me, I think, to treat you as an equal. I was worried you would make me bow to you or something.”
The princess’s merry laugh pealed across her quarters. “I won’t make you bow to me,” she said, and then looked over at me again. “May I call you Meg?” I nodded. She smiled. “Call me Crystal. I can’t stand it when people call me ‘Your Highness’ or ‘Your Majesty’. I just know they’re trying to get me to do something, and it bothers me every time.”
There was a short silence, but my curiosity showed itself at last.
“What exactly did Malcolm tell you about me?” I asked finally.
Crystal smiled impishly. “He did mention that you were a dreamer and sometimes forgot to cook his meals.”
My mouth dropped open. “He didn’t!”
Crystal nodded and continued. “But he also mentioned you were an excellent archer and that you were very pretty like your mother.” She paused, regarding me thoughtfully. “I can see that you’re pretty, but how can you shoot one of those heavy long-bows?”
I smiled. “I don’t. My brother made me my own special bow. It’s designed to be lighter than a regular long-bow, but it shoots just as far and as powerfully as well as accurately.”
Crystal looked genuinely interested. “Could you teach me how to shoot with your bow?”
I nodded. “Certainly! I’ll bring it tomorrow when I begin my work.”
“That’s really splendid!” Crystal replied. “Do you practice any other weaponry?”
“Well, not exactly,” I said with a laugh. “However, Malcolm promised to let me take lessons from a professional swordsman soon.”
Crystal smiled. “Will he allow you to take lessons from William Price? Father told me he was a very good teacher.” I nodded. “Well, you may be able to meet him. Father invited him to the feast tonight.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “There is to be a feast tonight?” I asked.
Crystal nodded. “I thought Malcolm told you!” I shook my head, so she continued, “Father decided to put on a feast in honor of my eighteenth birthday. You and your brother were both invited. I’m surprised he hasn’t told you yet. Will you be able to come?”
I smiled. “I’ve never been to a royal feast before. I’d love to come.”
Crystal clapped her hands. “Wonderful! I shall let Father know. He likes to keep track of who we have at any given feast.” Silence fell again. Crystal looked dreamily into the crackling fire, her face flushed from the heat, and her head resting thoughtfully in her cupped hands. A smile played about the corners of her mouth. She glanced up at me. “Your brother must like giving nick-names.”
I gave her a puzzled look. “Why say that?”
Crystal laughed softly. “He gave you a nick-name: Meg. And he also gave me a nick-name.”
“What’s your nick-name?”
Crystal groaned. “He started calling me Chris the first day we met.”
I laughed. “Chris? Did you tell him that was a boy’s name?”
“I tried to, but he just laughed and said he didn’t care. When I told him that I cared, he promised to only use it in private, never in public.”
I grinned. “Well that was nice of him, I must say!” Crystal returned my grin. I continued, changing the subject. “When is the feast beginning tonight?”
“It will probably begin about an hour before the usual supper-time, for Father usually has several nobles give speeches, and we all know how long that can take!” Crystal replied. “He asked your brother to make a speech, and he said he would.”
My eyebrows rose again in surprise. “Malcolm?” I asked dubiously. “He doesn’t like to be the center of attention. I’m surprised he would want to give a speech.” Just then, we were interrupted by a knock on Crystal’s door. I opened it, and found my brother standing sheepishly in front of me.
“I was told to come down here and see if you both were all right,” he said. I bade him enter and he walked in, a lop-sided grin on his face. I sat him down on a chair.
“We haven’t been kidnapped yet, if that’s what Father wanted to know,” Crystal said, her impish grin returning.
Malcolm chuckled. “I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear that. He puts great store behind you, Chris.”
Crystal’s eyes met mine, and she sighed. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times… stop calling me that! It’s very un-ladylike.”
Malcolm laughed. “When were you ever ladylike, Chris?”
She smiled, a twinkle of mischief appearing in her eyes. “I was ladylike when you acted like a gentleman,” she replied tartly. My brother gave me an I-told-you-she-was-like-you look.
Suddenly, my brother slapped his forehead with a gasp. “I forgot to tell you Meg, we’re both invited…”
I finished for him. “…To the feast?” I asked.
He nodded, glancing at Crystal. “She told you already then?” I nodded. He gave a sigh of relief.
“Good!” he said, standing up. I took the hint, standing as well. Malcolm gave me a grin. “Come Meg, we must leave early today or the king will put us to work on his feast preparations!” He turned his laughing eyes to Crystal. “Besides, Chris must make her own elaborate preparations, and so we mustn’t intervene with that!”
I cleared my throat and turned to Crystal. “Well, I suppose we must go. I’ve had a lovely time here, and I can’t wait until the feast begins!”
Crystal nodded excitedly. “I’m excited too. For though I have been to many feasts because I’m a princess, I’ve never had a feast for me! It’s going to be wonderful!” She came over to me and gave me a hug. “I believe we are going to be the best of friends,” she whispered.
I smiled. “Aren’t we already?”
She squeezed my hand. “Of course we are!” Malcolm broke our goodbye with a polite cough, and we took our leave.