Ella stood in front of Kit's room, unsure of how she should act. How would he act? Did yesterday change things? She had decided the night before not to mention her father. She had no desire to speak of him to the prince or anyone else. Taking in a deep breath, she pushed the door open.
She had expected him to be asleep, as usual. But he was sitting at his desk, fully clothed, with a fire already burning. Turning around to see Ella, he stood up and ushered her to a chair.
"What are you doing?" Ella sat at his desk, which was covered with blank parchment. Kit didn't answer. He picked up a quill and dipped it in the ink.
"There are a total of twenty-six letters in the alphabet." He paused and drew a character in three strokes. "This is the first and is called 'A'." Ella looked down at the sheet.
That was all it said.
Ella sat there, her mouth agape and speechless. He was giving her the thing she desired more than anything. Just like that, he was offering it to her. How could she thank him? Were there enough words?
Not trusting her mouth, she silently took the quill from him, fumbling with it. Kit placed her hands in the proper form and then she drew a shaky copy of his letter.
Kit watched Ella, her brow wrinkled in concentration and her knuckles white from her grip. When she finished, she looked up and was beaming. He could have counted all her teeth, her grin was so large. The prince felt as if his heart would burst, he felt so much pride for her.
Neither one worried about thanks. There was a mutual understanding of Ella's gratitude that simply couldn't be expressed.
He wasn't sure when exactly it had dawned on him that the girl couldn't read. But there had been plenty of clues. There was his book, the merchant's sign, the store's name. He eventually came to the conclusion that she could not read.
"Let me show you something." Kit said, taking a piece of parchment and quickly wrote a word, which he used his arm to block her view. Then, with flourish, he held it in front of her face.
"What does it say?" she asked, taking it from his hands.
She looked up in surprise. "Really?" Kit nodded, and she gently fingered the calligraphy, getting ink on her fingers. "My name looks so..." Ella paused, looking at the letters with the same expression she wore at "Fairies." Her glee was hidden by her shock, her mouth parted slightly, and big eyes. "Unlike me." She finished.
"What do you mean?"
"It looks so fancy. I mean, I've always loved pretty things. I remember when I was younger, when those Armez girls came for that visit, I took one of their dresses." Ella chuckled at the memories. "It got so dirty, I was too afraid to return it. So I kept it. I still have it in fact. All muddy and wrinkly, folded downstairs in my chest."
"You know what," Kit said. "She probably didn't even realize it was missing."
"You're probably right."
"Well you'd better this I'm correct. I am the crowned prince after all. Who knows what the punishment for disagreeing with royalty could be."
"Don't kid." Ella said, giving him a playful punch on the arm, and Kit began to wail in pain.
"Owww. Owowow." He yelled and Ella laughed. "You hurt me Ella. You hurt me real bad. Why, I feel it in my heart. I don't think we can be in the same room together." Kit lifted his hand to his forehead, mocking a woman about to faint.
Through their laughter, Ella managed to say, "So that's an A." She pointed to the last letter in her name. "Why don't you teach me the others. Like, what's this squiggly thing in the front?"
"Hmm?" She asked, inspecting her name.
"How high can you count?"
"I don't know, thirty maybe." She shrugged her shoulders. "Whatever is needed in Market."
Kit leaned forward, taking the parchment from her, and holding her hands in his. "How would you like to be able to read every book in the castle, and count them all too?"
"You mean..." Kit nodded. She threw her arms around him, unable to control her glee. Still hugging him, she whispered in his ear, "Thank you."
"Hey, no problem. Now," He let go of her. "Why don't we get on to the other twenty-five letters of the alphabet."
For the better part of an hour, the two of them reviewed the letters, then went over numbers, Kit instructing, and Ella managing to absorb the myriad of information.
Realizing how late it was, Ella excused herself and ran to the kitchen, adding spontaneous leaps and twirls.
"Just where have you been all mornin' long?" Her friend asked while scurrying around, ordering serving maids and other chefs. "If you'd come sooner, you'd have known of the Armez's visit."
"Oh, I heard about them coming from Mabel." Ella stepped out of the way of a cook, but was then blocking another.
"Did Her Highness happen to mention when they were comin'?" Nate asked, while stirring a pot, and checking on a turkey basting.
"No, not exactly."
"Well they're comin' today and their Majesties be wantin' a feast. Course the proper time to inform people that there will be a feast is at least a week in advance, so's they can have time to prepare."
"Wait." Ella cut off his complaints. "They're coming today? With no warning?"
"They decided to come sooner than planned. The dern messenger got lost. We didn't get the notice 'til this mornin'. Now if you'll excuse me, I have quite a few people to yell at."
Nate left her pale faced and frozen where she stood. Ella had thought the visit would be weeks in the future, months perhaps. Never in a few hours. Every insult, every order, every degrating thing Mirabel had spoken to Ella poured over her, and she felt six years old again.
You're not a little girl anymore! She told herself. Ella was now an independant woman who could handle anything that snobby and overly wealthy Mirabel threw at her. With that new sense of confidence, she looked out the window, only to see the Armez carriage pulling up. Her stomach lurched.
She had no idea why she was making such a big deal out of the situation. Ella hadn't seen the girl in years. The sound of neighing brought her back and she looked outside again. Prince Kit and the royal family was at the door, prepared to greet their visitors. The first one to exit was Jenna, the mother of the two daughters. There was no question as to where Mirabel received her contempt for the working class. She had also inherited her mother's smart mouth and meanness. And her beauty.
Second was Rosalyn. She had transformed from a lanky tomboy, to quite a lady. Her red hair was darker, and had become softer. Her eyes, just as icy, gave her a cool and distant persona, which only added to the new lady look. But Ella let out a giggle when Rosalyn stood next to her mother; she stood a whole head taller, and was a handwidth above Kit.
A gasp escaped from Ella's lips, as she leaned against the windowsill, her chin in her palm. The last to leave the carriage was Mirabel, and she looked...stunning. Possibly more beautiful than her last visit. All the men stood straighter as she walked off the coach. Floated seemed a better word. With armfuls of fabric, Mirabel's gown was so unlike Rosalyn's, whose dress was simple. Mirabel's was intricately designed, done by the most skilled workers, and a shocking color of red. The pattern started as a deep, dark shade, then changing gradually into bursting red. It was a bold choice, but she managed to pull it off.
Her black hair was half up, the rest of it cascaded down her back. Wisps of it hung around her face. Mirabel looked as regal as a queen.
Observing the response from the men, her lips curled ever so slightly into a smile, almost evil.
Daughter had surpassed her mother, by far, in beauty.
Ella let out an inaudible sigh, and looked over her drab clothing. It was a dark blue, long sleeved dress, and ended at her ankles. Over top was a dirtied apron. Nothing special there.
What made Mirabel so wonderful that she got to wear such elegant things? Or her beauty? The questions stumped Ella. Even if she worked every waking hour every day of her life, she would never be able to afford one dress comparable to Mirabel's. Not even one similar to Rosalyn's.
Sometimes Ella hated being poor. And often times hated the rich. But there was nothing Ella could do about it. The only way she could become rich was to marry above her class. Or steal the money. She lived in the right place: the royal castle. Smiling devilishly, contemplating the many ways she could pull off the scheme, she walked away from the window.
Nate heard and began scurrying around the kitchen.
"They're here, you blundering idiots. Didn't you here her? They're here! Hurry up!"