Two small feet hurried down Stratford Road, trying to propel their owner as far as possible in a short period of time. The sound of hoofs beating on the ground could be heard in the distance, and the small feet ran faster. The person running panted as they raced down the path towards someplace unknown to the pursuer.
"Stop!" a male voice demanded, yelling at the person fleeing on foot, "I, the great King William's most noble knight, demand that you stop at once!" But the person just kept running, completely ignoring every one of the man on horseback's demands. "Sir Phillip Sturgis demands that you stop at this very moment!" The rider persisted, chasing after the person, who he could now see wore the clothing of a merchant's son. The rider, Sir Phillip Sturgis, sighed…the children of merchants were always getting into trouble—they weren't high enough to be exempt from the rules, but they always thought that they should be. Only the royal family was exempt from the rules, and even they weren't excused from them entirely.
"You can't get me!" the merchant's son taunted the horseback rider, "I'm much too clever for someone such as yourself."
"Rubbish," Sir Phillip snorted, still pushing his horse to move faster, "I am one of the King's knights and you are no more than a merchant's son." The boy chanced a look back towards the horse and laughed.
"That's what you think," the boy smiled, stopping in his tracks and watching the horse fly past him. The boy darted off the road and into the forested area surrounding them. Phillip cursed himself for falling into the boy's trap, but turned to continue after the boy. "Why are you following me, anyway?" the boy asked. Phillip could not see where the boy was hiding.
"That matter does not concern you," Phillip said with a hint of coldness in his voice.
"It concerns me more than it does you," the boy said, his voice now coming from a new location, "After all, it's me who's being chased." Sir Phillip sighed.
"Very well. If you must know, you were seen stealing from Prince David's packhorse as it walked through your village. A woman saw you slip something from one of his bags," Phillip explained. The boy laughed.
"That woman can't see very well, now can she?" the boy asked, "I suppose you're talking about Miss Anne Delaney. She's blind in one eye, you know." Phillip didn't know whether to believe the little scoundrel or not.
"Madame Delaney is very highly respected to my knowledge," Sir Phillip said stiffly, trying his hardest to sound like the important, in control one of the two of them.
"That doesn't change the fact that she's half-blind," the boy pointed out, "You can still be respected and be blind, can't you?"
"Are you accusing an honorable woman of deceit?" Phillip asked accusingly.
"Of course not," the boy said indignantly, "Miss Delaney is my neighbor. I got over to her house quite often, and I wouldn't want her to be angry with me."
"Now, listen, boy," Sir Phillip began impatiently. His irritation was only increased by a laugh from the boy. "What is funny? You are in a great deal of trouble here! Stealing from royalty can bring about serious consequences."
"Yes—this I know. That is why I wouldn't steal from anyone royal," the boy explained. Sir Phillip sighed heavily.
"If you just bring out whatever you took, lay it on the ground, and run away, you'll be able to leave without harm," he promised, "But if you insist that we continue this little game of hide and seek, you may not be so fortunate."
"Very well, then," the boy sighed, stepping out from behind a tree. Sir Phillip lunged towards the boy's hiding place and seized him by the neck, knocking the boy's cap from his head. The knight was very surprised indeed when a large mass of straight, golden hair fell from the cap. This rascal wasn't a boy at all…it was a young girl!
"Madame!" the knight said, a slight hint of fear in his voice, "I meant you no harm. I would never accuse a girl so lovely as yourself of stealing from a prince. You are…?"
"Cate Grigsby," she smiled, looking into the knight's frightened eyes, "I'm sure you've heard of my father, Sir Marcus Grigsby?" The knight stared at her for a long moment, realizing what this girl was saying. Sir Marcus Grigsby was the King's head knight—in charge of most the kingdom's military and merchants. Sir Grigsby answered only to the king, and no one else. The Grigsbys were known throughout the kingdom for their fierce loyalty to King William, and anyone who accused a Grigsby of any crime against the crown might as well have been considered insane.
"Young miss Grigsby," the knight nodded, "I know your father."
"Of course you do," the girl nodded, stepping out of the knight's firm grasp, "Which is why I'm sure I'll be returning to my home now. Do you believe me now when I say that I stole absolutely nothing from the Prince's packhorse?" Sir Phillip nodded very quickly, bringing about a smile from the girl. "Now," Cate began, "I would very much appreciate it if you would kindly not mention any of this," the girl indicated her masculine clothing, "to my father. In turn, I will not mention a single word about our encounter."
"That is a very honorable deal, young miss Grigsby." The knight nodded politely, "Now, if you will excuse me, I must return to my duties." Cate nodded and waved a hand dismissively. She watched him stumble backwards out of the forest and waited for the moment when he had disappeared.
As soon as Sir Phillip's head was out of view, Cate turned sneakily back towards her hiding spot. She reached towards the ground and picked up a rather dirty pouch and walked off towards the road. At one end of the road, she would find the place where she lived with her father and seven siblings. At the other end of the road was the village of Stratford, the location of the King's vacation palace.
She took the way that led towards her home, Broadshire Manor. Once she reached the large, ornate, black, wrought iron gates of the immense manor, she would probably find her two siblings closest in age to her—twins Henry and Jack—playing with one of their many sheepdogs. Her oldest brothers, Raymond and Marcus, were most likely off in town, searching for the girls they would be marrying in the next few years or visiting the pub with their friends. The two middle brothers, Matthew and Charles, were probably inside the manor, as they were both relatively sickly children. Matthew would be reading in the library, and Charles would probably be someplace staring out longingly at the forest outside the windows. Charles had never enjoyed being forced to stay inside—he longed to spend some time outside in nature.
Cate's one remaining sibling was her sister, Genevieve Juliet. Cate highly doubted that there had ever been any two sisters in the history of England that were so different. While Cate was teased for her tomboyish antics, not a soul would ever dream of having to even frown at Genevieve for anything. Genevieve never acted in any way that she was not supposed to—she spent her days inside the manor, learning how to dress and act in a manner befitting a noblewoman. Not only was she obedient and poised, but she looked every ounce a royal. She had brilliantly glossy, luxurious, dark brown hair that fell past her waist in perfect, shining curls. Her skin was white, smooth, and without a single flaw. Every person in the village knew that Genevieve Juliet Grigsby was leading the race of potential ladies for Crown Prince David. As the daughter of the King's most favored and honored knight, there was little doubt in anyone's mind that Genevieve could very likely be their Queen someday.
"Caty!" Jack's voice called. Cate looked up and realized that she was standing just a few feet in front of the black gates of the manor.
"Caty," Henry greeted her, sounding slightly breathless from running to greet her, "How did you get through the gates again? And why didn't you let us know how to do it?" Cate smiled.
"You two were my diversion. Helen was scolding you for trying to lock the cook in the oven, and I just climbed over," she explained. Henry shook his head.
"And after all the times we've tried that! We always get caught!"
"That's because Helen has always got her eyes on you two," Cate pointed out, "I'm the little one everyone always forgets about, remember?"
"Ah, yes," Henry nodded.
"We forgot," Jack winked. Cate just smiled and stepped up on a small brick near the foot of the gate.
"Give me a hand, won't you?" Cate requested. Her twin brothers obliged and hoisted her up and over the gate. She landed softly on her feet on the other side.
"You had best get inside before Helen sees you in our old clothes," Jack warned.
"I know," she nodded, "Why did Father have to hire the world's most fussy governess?"
"Because he knew that that's the only kind that can keep track of us," Henry smiled. Jack nodded.
"I'm going inside," Cate said, glancing around the green grounds of the manor wistfully. Her father felt that women of their position should be inside all of the time unless they were traveling to the house of another nobleperson. Genevieve, being the agreeable girl that she was, sided with her father and happily stayed inside the large, stone manor all day long. The majority of Genevieve's day was spent with her tailors, who took measurements for the various gowns that she required for the balls she attended almost nightly. The rest of the day was spent performing various beauty regimens to ensure that she was a very desirable young woman.
Cate, on the other hand, crept out of the manor as soon as Helen, the woman who took care of the children, turned her back. She was the bad child—the one who snuck her brothers' clothing out of the laundry and wandered through the village disguised as a boy. She was the one who relished in bending the rules and doing things that weren't supposed to be done, in the opinion of her father, by women.
She started for the doorway of the manor, bringing the small, dirty pouch to her hands. She untied the top and peered inside, smiling the entire time. Inside was a small ruby—not large enough to be of any huge value, but definitely enough to have several ball gowns made for Genevieve. In addition to being the child who snuck out of the house, she was also the one who wasn't afraid to tell a lie—she had stolen the small bag from one of the saddlebags on the Prince's packhorse.
Smiling to herself, she set the ruby back inside its pouch and opened the large, heavy door of the manor. It was time for her to return to her tedious life as the youngest girl in the house of Grigsby.