Armed with a large wicker basket and wooden step stool, Isabelle entered the royal garden. The garden had an enchanting timeless beauty and it seemed like yesterday when she and King Daniel spent hours there playing hide and seek as kids and having grand adventures together. Their families were friends and often visited with each other. She laughed out loud involuntarily as she recalled their antics, the innocence of childhood.
As her thoughts went to the king, she sighed and mused at how her life had changed course over the past two months. If she had been less arrogant and accepted his proposal, she would be the one marrying him today instead of plucking roses for his bride's hair and bouquet.
On the other hand, while fate had dealt her a heavy hand, being forced to marry her fiddler husband had opened her eyes to the kind of person she was. She had been living in an ivory tower for far so long that she had forgotten what it meant to be kind and humble. And that the best things in life like friendship, music and love are free and cannot be measured by monetary terms.
While her husband was poor in the worldly sense, he was rich in love and kindness. He had always treated her with patience and compassion even though her attitude was less than exemplary in the beginning and she was more a hindrance than help. Working in the castle as a helper, she learnt the value of teamwork and joy of camaraderie with colleagues who are also friends that support each other. These she never experienced as a princess.
The few lady 'friends' she had in court merely pandered to her fancy, which only served to stroke her ego. Her only true friend, Prince Daniel had gone away to school. Initially they wrote to each other. As the years went by, they had grown apart. In between, her dear mother passed on. Her father, filled with grief focused his energies on the affairs of his kingdom and hardly paid his anguished daughter any attention. Isabelle often felt isolated and learned that the only way to get her father's attention was to be a spoilt brat. As the years grew she developed into beautiful, but selfish, vain princess.
As she thought of her husband John, her heart welled up and she wondered where he was performing today and whether he remembered to eat. He was always ravenous when he came home in the evenings. After tonight's wedding feast, there would be plenty of leftover meat, and pastries which all helpers are free to take home. She smacked her lips as she thought of the dishes she could conjure with the leftovers. She imagined John's warm smile as he tucked in the meal she planned to make.
Since working as a kitchen help, she had picked up a thing or two about cooking. From not knowing how to boil water, she progressed to making stews from whatever leftover meats and vegetables leftovers she could glean from the castle kitchen. John even complimented her a few days ago on a well prepared meal.
"This is so good, I feel like a king" he had teased stroking his bushy beard.
"Hmm I guess then that makes me your queen" she had quipped back in humour. From then he called her his little Queen
A thrushbeard's song broke her reverie and she suddenly remembered she had a job to do. She walked to the end of the garden where she remembered there were beautiful rose shrubs and bushes. One of the shrubs was even planted jointly by her and the king. The king's late mother had loved roses. When she passed away, they were just kids. The king, then a young Prince was devastated. The young Isabelle, wanting to cheer him up, had suggested planting a rose shrub in her remembrance .
The two kids had spent a splendid afternoon digging up a hole and planting the seeds with the help of gardener Joe. They spent lots of time taking care of the rose shrub and were overjoyed when the first rose bloomed. To the young Prince , it felt as if his mother was present whenever he went to the garden and seeing the roses filled him with peace.
"I wonder if that rose shrub is still here." she pondered aloud. She gasped in awe as she saw the rose shrub. It had grown beautifully with vibrant red roses .She wouldn't have recognised it if not for the wooden plaque that she and the king had erected years ago. It had grown so tall that she had to step on the stool to reach the flowers.
"I’m sure they'll go perfectly with the bridal gown!" She clasped her hands with joy. The king would be pleased to see these roses on his queen. It would be most fitting since the roses remind him of his beloved mother...and this can be my way of making up for being so rude to him two months ago she thought ruefully
She grimaced as she remembered taunting him about his beard and also how she had insulted her other suitors at her father's castle. Her callous attitude had grieved her father so that he vowed to marry her off to the next man who came by the castle, which happened to be John, an unsuspecting travelling fiddler.
He had performed at the castle hoping only for a small fare, but ended up with a hapless princess for a wife. Beng married to a commoner, she was sent away to live with her husband. As John's income could not sustain the both of them, she had to learn to earn her keep. Being used to a life of pampering, it was a steep learning curve. She had bungled at all her jobs in the beginning, from weaving baskets, spinning to selling pottery in the market place. It dealt a great blow to her pride that she could not even handle menial tasks that most commoner women could manage with ease. Finally, John found her a place in the castle kitchen as a lowly helper.
Gradually she adjusted to life as a commoner. She grew stronger physically and developed calluses on her hands, enabling her to hold her own as a kitchen helper. Meanwhile at home she also got better at keeping house. Gradually her self-esteem grew and she found joy in an honest day of work.
A curious friendship also developed between her and John. While she had treated him with disdain initially, she grew to respect his kindness and wisdom . She even came to enjoy his company every evening. He would sometimes play on the fiddle for her. Though they were legally married, John had never forced himself on her, for which she was grateful. On hindsight, she was very fortunate it was John who had turned at at her father's castle first. Perhaps one day they would live as a real couple.
She blushed at that thought. It must have been all the wedding feast preparation that gave her that notion in her head . Laughing at her own silliness and shaking her head , she set to work, humming the Pacabel' s Canon as she plucked the best roses. She saw a particularly large and beautiful one just slightly beyond her reach. Without much thought, she lunged for it and lost her balance.
Her arms flailed as she struggled to catch hold of something. Just then, she felt a pair of arms catch her, breaking her fall. It must be good old gardener Joe, she thought in relief, but she was puzzled as she remembered this was his day off which was why she had been sent to the garden in the first place.
She caught her breath and turned to thank Joe. Instead of Joe's kindly wizened face, she was mortified to meet the laughing clear blue eyes of the king.