I stood, fighting back the burning desire to run as far away as I possibly could from the stampede that approached. The last thing I wanted was another quarrel with the Princess, because the next, will most likely be my last.
I flinch as David touches my arm; my nerves on end. "Our talk was nothing more than a friendly encounter."
"Oh yes," I retort, "Because we have been ever so friendly with each other these past weeks. Why on earth wouldn't she believe that we are the best of bloody friends now?"
"Sophie." His voice is urgent, so I force myself to look his way. His sad eyes caught mine and I regretted my words, I should not have spoken so harshly after he practically poured out his soul to me. "It doesn't matter what the Princess thinks for she already knows. I simply do not wish her ladies to know, for shortly thereafter, the entire court will know as well. You know better than I the ways of gossip, and how quickly things can spread. I do not enjoy being the center of things."
He ran his finger across my arm gently, making the nerves and anxiety leave my body. He was here and I was safe, all I had to do now was protect David as well.
"I know. I'm sorry. I promise my mouth is sealed."
David chuckled, "Sophie Stanford, willing to hold her tongue? I thought I'd never see such a day arise."
"Only for the Prince of Wales." I smirked. Our jest didn't last long for the Princess was but a few paces away. It wasn't long before her horse came to a halt a few feet in front of us, and she dismounted easily. Her fellow ladies followed suit in much the same fashion as the Princess, though of course without the impeccable grace she always manages to display with every movement.
I stand tall meeting her gaze with as much intensity as I can. I was not going to let myself be intimidated by her, and I was not going to back down to her commands.
"You filthy tramp!" Annabelle spat as soon as she knew I was with in earshot, giving me a glare that was meant to make me feel like the dirtiest person that ever walked the earth. When in actuality it just made me laugh, to have her think that I would give a damn what she thought of me.
"Nice to see you as well Annabelle."
She scowled, apparently she didn't find my greeting amusing. "Oh yes it is always a pleasure to find you fraternizing with a man you are not allowed to be with. How did it go? First you tried to steal David from me, and when that failed you went after the princess's betrothed. And now that that has obviously failed you are going after what is mine again? Do you enjoy this little whore cycle you are currently engaging us all in? Because the Princess and I do not find it amusing!"
It took every last thread of my will power not to run screaming at her, and rip the eyes out of her pertinacious little head.
"I'm sorry if you have been misinformed Annabelle." said David quickly before I could give her my retort. "But I am the property of one no, and certainly not of you."
"That's not what I heard last night." Her voice was low and she meant it to sound intimate, as if she was only speaking with David. Though of course Annabelle knew exactly what she was doing, and knew that everyone was listening intently to her every word.
"Oh yes that is correct, it was two in the morning and I hear this irritable pounding on my door, and I believe I said something more along the lines of, "I'm not really in a tranquil disposition to explain to you, yet again, how you have the wrong door.'"
Her face turns a really brilliant shade of scarlet, and her lips form a thin line of annoyance. I can see the rusty wheels turning in her small brain, trying so desperately to think of a proper retort. A moment passes and no one says anything, we just watch Annabelle steam with fury, waiting for her to boil over.
The Princess saves her, however, as her sharp voice cuts through the thick air surrounding us. "May I have a word with you, Sophie?"
My heart starts pounding so fast that I find it hard to breath. Her glare is so cold I get shivers. I feel as if I am standing in the climax of the Princess's power, and looking upon such a sight is like staring towards the blazing sun. You can only handle it for so long, before the intense heat and brightness burns your eyes out.
I nod my head, knowing that anything else could result in something unthinkable and severe. How much my relationship with the Princess has changed, just in this past week or so. I no longer look at her and see the vulnerable girl I saw in her chamber not so very long ago. She has transformed into a cold shell of a person do to power and scrutiny.
I pity her really, and I feel remorse that she has let this over take her. If only everyone could see the life the Princess really leads, the toil it puts on her, then no one would ever feel envy towards her. Her eyes are dull and lifeless, her skin is so pale it almost looks translucent, and she has become so thin and frail she looks breakable.
The princess turns her gaze towards the ladies behind her and speaks directly to Olivia. "I trust that you can take care of my mare, and lead the others towards the stables."
Olivia nods, "Of course your grace."
"I shall meet up with all of you at dinner, you have the rest of the day to make your own company."
The girls' faces showed an unusual mixture of happiness at having a day off from the Princess's service, and also disappointment at not getting to stay and listen to the gossip. So the ladies mount their horses slowly, half hoping the Princess will change her mind. The Princess, however, remains firm and does not change her mind set or her stern disposition.
"I hope she gives you hell, not that you deserve even that." Annabelle spat in a half spoken whisper, as she trots past me on her chocolate mare. I half expected her to spit in my face, but of course she was "raised better than that", which almost makes me erupt in laughter at the irony.
Once they are a good distance away and unable to hear us anymore, the princess turns around and walks towards the castle with out even giving me a second glance.
I give David a questioning gaze, wondering if I have to follow her, or if the option of running in the opposite direction is still a possibility.
He gently places my trembling finger around his strong forearm, and leads me forward. It is the longest walk I have ever had to endure, the Princess's somber presence seems to create a think blanket in her wake. Every step taken only seems to make the unease in my stomach increase, and the steady pounding of my heart become more rapid. I lean on David for support, thankful he is here, and yet still unsure of what my feeling towards him are, exactly.
What is one to do or think when the Prince of Wales admits to wanting your hand in marriage? I suppose I know what every women in England would instantly do, scream and cry yes at the very top of their lungs. Instead, I feel torn and confused, and a little bit unsure of my actions. My mind ponders over it as we walked, thinking about it just seems to make me even more nervous. So I try instead to concentrate on something else, and the only other thing my mind will focus on is what the Princess is going to do with me. Neither of which makes me feel secure in my standings.
She leads us inside, then down a side corridor, that I know leads to many small rooms that are usually reserved for small party meetings. I still find it strange whenever I walk down a corridor with the Princess, how people just spring out of her way. It is as if the Princess has a large invisible metal box surrounding her that only the passerby seems to be able to see and avoid.
I stop abruptly; causing David to pull my arm rather sharply and my fingers slip from his arm. I know that voice better then my own, considering the number of times I have heard her scream at me in my life time.
"My god, is that you?" I turn around very slowly to see Jane standing a few paces behind me, carrying a large stack of dirty laundry, her mouth hanging open in a very unflattering manor. Her eyes hold a blend of envy and utter disbelief, as she stares transfixed, not at me but at David.
"It's not polite to stare Jane." I spat, hoping it would distract her, but no such luck. Her eyes would not leave the Prince's face.
The Princess heard the commotion and turns back with anger at whoever had stopped us. She of course has no idea that Jane is not just a crazed citizen, but also my crazed relation. I decide not to be the one to inform her of this.
"Do you have some business with Lady Sophie?" The Princess's manner would appear to a less tuned ear to be polite, but the bitterness hidden underneath it would tell otherwise.
"Business? I'm her bloody cousin!" Jane practically yells at the Princess. How foolish can one be to yell at the future Queen of England, apparently as foolish as Jane Stanford.
"Oh yes," The Princess let her lips form into a small smirk, as she recollects me telling her of my dear cousin and aunt. "Well in that case I shall have to ask you to join us."
My heart drops to the very pit of my stomach at the Princess's words. Surely the Princess did wish to bring hell upon me, if she was offering Jane into our presence. David grabs my hand again and I stumble forward, as we walk in the direction of the Princess's now receding back. It took Jane a moment to understand what the Princess had just offered her, but once she did she came up next to the Prince smiling in utter satisfaction.
I would have been satisfied to walk the rest of the way in silence, trying to forget the fact that Jane must walk with us. Jane, however, had other plans and jumped on the opportunity to engage the Prince in a conversation.
"So David, do you mind that I wish to call you David?" she asks, batting her eyelashes, in what I'm sure she thinks is a flirtatious manner, but actually just makes her look as if she has something in her eye.
"Not at all," David gave her one of his dazzling smiles, and instantly I saw her fall completely in love with him. "I rather prefer people to address me by my name and not my formal title."
I roll by eyes in disgust, he was certainly very accomplished in the art of deception. If I didn't have the intellect to know better, I would have believed that he genuinely cared about what Jane had to say.
"I just have to tell you that you are absolutely breathtaking."
I cough loudly, in an attempt to cover up the laughing that would have erupted instead. I watch David give her a soft smirk, but otherwise retain his composer.
"No honestly you are even more beautiful in person, I mean everything about you just breathes perfection." Her eyes are glazed over as she stares at him, taking every bit of him in, storing it away so she can tell the other girls after this meeting is finished.
He laughs a soft laugh, without a hint of nervousness. "I appreciate your compliments, but I assure you perfection is far from obtainable by any human being including myself."
I snort involuntarily, unable to take anymore of the falsity in his words. Jane gives me a death glare. Then I watch in amusement as her face slowly transforms into one of stunned realization.
"Why…why are you wearing that?"
I smirk, and try to keep my eyes from rolling at her slow reaction time and dim wit. Her eyes scan over my olive dress, taking in all the intricate details and stitching work that shows its, worth with the greatest envy. Finally her eyes land on the pearls around my neck and they bulge so much I fear they might burst out of their sockets.
"Because I have the Princess's favor, at least for the time being."
The Princess stops a few doors away, waiting for us. I watch, as she pulls out a set of keys from a small pocket in her riding coat. Finding the correct one, she slides it in easily and gives it a firm turn to the left.
I continue towards the Princess and stop just behind her closely followed by David and Jane whose mouth is set in a firm scowl of misunderstanding.
"Please have a seat, anywhere is fine." The Princess said without interest, closing then locking the door behind us.
My mouth hangs open in utter disbelief; the room is circular. Though not only that but the windows are circular and the furniture was made circular to fit around the room as well. The room is small, quite intimate, there are only three chairs pressed against the curved wall and a love seat. One perfectly round table has been placed in the center with tea for five and appetizers upon it, the teakettle is still steaming. She planned this, which should not really be such a surprise to me and yet it was still a bit unnerving.
"Please, sit." It was no longer a request but an order now. I chose the chair closest to the door, thinking it would be make for a fast escape. Though I was instantly disheartened when I recollected that she had locked us all in here.
David sat in the chair opposite me, and Jane of course chose the chair next to him on the other side of the door way. The Princess was left to occupy the love seat, which I'm sure she planned on sitting on anyways. It was growing eerie the way she seemed to have everything planned out even to the point where she could guess where we all would sit.
She did not sit down yet however but poured us all a cup of tea, asked if we would enjoy either milk or sugar in it. Jane was the only one to accept the offer and took two spoonfuls of sugar and a significant amount of milk so that it was no longer a transparent brown, but a thick cream color that even an eleven year old would find too sweet to drink.
The Princess then took a very long sip from her cup, as the rest of us wished desperately that the apprehension would die from the room.
Clearing her throat gently she began, "Sophie, I do not wish there to be tension between us. I am sure you would agree that these past week has certainly been more than tense."
I nod waiting for her to continue, I couldn't bring my eyes to stare anywhere but at the Princess's face. Though I could certainly make a few guesses as to what Jane's must look like at this point, and it probably consisted of a blank stare of uncertain disbelief.
"Marcus and I are to be wed by the end of this month if not sooner, and I appreciate your cooperation in this matter."
I suppress the impulse to snort, which is very difficult, but somehow I manage to do so.
"I even think I am beginning to love him Sophie."
Her smile makes he feel sick and now I fight the impulse not to start gagging.
"He is very kind to me, and ever so brilliant. His qualification for King even exceed my own expectations. I had heard so much about his accomplishments but I never thought that he would actually amount to them. Everything about him just…"
"I know of his mannerisms." I interrupt, leery that if I listen to anymore I might actually become quite nauseous.
"Of course, I apologize."
I grit my teeth. I knew that is conversation would not be pleasant. I was unprepared for how unpleasant it would actually be though.
"I don't believe Lord Marcus can say that he is very upset by us becoming wed, on the contrary I would say he's rather intrigued."
Gripping the side of the chair I dig my fingers into the wood armrest, wishing to God that I didn't have to listen to anymore.
"I know this is difficult for you to hear…"
"Do you?" I practically yell, unable to sit back and take anymore. I hear Jane gasp beside me, but I don't even bother to look over. I'm sure she is finding this more than entertaining, and will probably proceed to tell every servant in the castle after this.
"Yes I do."
"To hell you do!" A weeks worth of anger and frustration comes forth and now that it is unleashed I can't pull back.
"Sophie," I hear David say, trying to get me to understand the amount of trouble I was putting myself in.
"Watching you two together has been torture beyond explanation, and hearing you talking about him now is even worse. Do you have any idea what it's like to want someone so badly that it hurts and yet not be able to even look at them without being questioned?"
I feel my eyes tear over, as I scream. So much anger and frustration is coursing through me that I can't keep my emotions in check any longer. "So please don't talk to me like you know my feelings."
"Then don't pretend like you know mine."
"Pardon?" I stop for a moment unsure of her meaning.
"You as so selfish Sophie!" Her clam facade is no longer in place and every ounce of princess etiquette has escaped her. Instead she yells like an aggravated chambermaid.
"I took you in as one of my ladies in waiting, despite your lack of experience or qualification."
"Which I am grateful for."
"I helped you to compete in the tournament, I gave you a room, clothes, a title, I offered you an opportunity beyond comprehension of a servant, and never once did I say you owned me anything in return."
The tears came then, and they weren't for her sympathy. The emotional level was beyond the point of control and I couldn't help how my body reacted anymore.
"And now that I have to face the hardest time in my entire life with the weight of the future of England's survival resting on my shoulders. I find that you are not there to support me. I thought you would be different Sophie, you disappoint me in ways that I can not even express."
Her last line is like a steady blow to my heart, and I bow my head in utter shame and humility. My mind wanders back to the first time the Princess and I ever spoke and how she had been so overjoyed at the prospect that I would not be like all her other ladies, that I would always care about her well-being. I never imaged at the time that I would grow to eat those words and that my loyalty would falter so easily.
"I did not want it to go this way." She sighs, her voice a normal volume now. I nod, I knew the next words that would surely come from her mouth, words that would dismiss me from her service. I suddenly understood why Jane had been into the room. She would probably have to help me carry my belongings back to my old room in the servant's corridors.
The Princess took a sip of her tea before placing it back on the plate with trembling fingers. "I wish to give you another chance."
My ears perk up, and the shock on my face is definitely obvious to everyone in the room.
"Though, do not think your trust and confidence will be gained back easily, or that another chance will come after this one."
I nod in understanding, uncertain of my ability to speak properly.
"I shall take my leave now, but I would like you to join us on the morning ride tomorrow, and I would very much appreciate another opportunity to talk to you. So if you could meet me in this same room at around three tomorrow that would be very much appreciated."
I sigh, the formality of her voice is back in place and she is once again the Princess in full form.
"Oh yes and Miss Jane is it?"
I look over at Jane who was sitting very stiff in her chair, acting as if she had just seen an exorcism take place. She didn't nod, but the Princess continued as if she had.
"Could you kindly tell your Aunt that I shall be stopping by later this evening for a little visit?" Jane still didn't make any motion that she had heard the Princess. "Well maybe it would be best if I were to just go right now, would you mind showing me the way?"
The room was very still for a few long moments, waiting for Jane to say something. "Soph…..Sophie's a lady in waiting? She's your lady in waiting?"
The Princess laughs a light gentle laugh, and I remark that her change in mood is rather phenomenal, if not disturbing. "She is and that is what I wish to talk to her about."
It was another few minutes before the Princess could get her out of the chair and through the doorway. After doing so however, she bid us good day, and instructed David to lock the door after we left.
So many thoughts were running through my head that I was finding it difficult it hard to keep them all straight. I feel so drained as if my emotional being has been stretched to its limit. I am sure if I were to try and stand up I would have the weight of the world and my conscience knocking me back down.
"Come on," said David gently, standing up. "I'll walk you back to your room."
"I think I'm going to stay here a bit."
He nodded in understanding and sat back down but this time in the love seat. We were both silent for a long time, both lost in our own thoughts. Until finally he broke the silence with a loud sigh.
"I feel like I should give you words of encouragement, but sadly I don't have any."
I try to laugh, but it sounds weird and forced, so I stop. "I'm not the one you should worry about David."
He smiles, "I know."
Leaning over he brushes a stray hair from my face, not exactly in an affectionate way but brotherly. "I know."