“Ah, my dear,” said Nona as Ellia stepped into Nona’s flowing pavilion. “I have news for you.”
Ellia tried not to frown, but the last time Nona told her she had news for her, they had three people to guest and Ellia had been given a half hour warning. She had had to choose her gown, her hair ornaments, everything and meet them on the lawn early while not appearing flushed.
Nona stood and placed a hand on Ellia’s shoulder. “My lovely girl. You are beautiful. You are truly beautiful.”
Ellia curtsied a little and thanked her, but was immediately on the defensive. She sniffed a plot….
“Ellia, child, you were to stay here, at Emberly, for three months. But I have been instructed to send you in three weeks….” And Nona trailed off. Nona was rarely speechless.
A breeze teased Ellia’s hair across her face and she brushed it aside. “Three weeks…?” She suddenly felt a cold dread spreading across her.
“You are wanted at the Palace, to join your family, my dear. In three weeks.”
Ellia’s mouth fell open, mindless of her manners. “Three weeks? But that’s… that’s… so soon….”
She could not imagine herself at any time at the Palace, but now? She still had not finished her instruction with Nona….
“I’m not ready…” Ellia implored.
Nona bestowed a gracious smile upon her. “Unless you were born into this position, you can’t expect to be ready for it. And,” she added gently, “no one is ever ready to meet the King and Queen for the first time, especially when they are one’s parents….
“And that is why you now have your first lady-in-waiting. Her name,” and Nona beckoned behind Ellia, “is Kimbur. She is extremely fluent in all the Courts of the Land, as she has learned at my own hand, and she will be at your side at all times. Never dismiss her, dear, for she is your greatest ally, and my greatest gift to you.
“Kimbur, my dear, this is Ellia, or, from today henceforward, we shall call her Mirelle, unless others are about, for she will need to adjust to the name as quickly as possible. Lady Mirelle, please meet Kimbur.”
And Ellia found a girl of an age with herself, standing behind her in a rose gown trimmed with silver embroidery. Her chestnut hair was arranged simply down her back and her brown eyes looked very kind and though her they hid an intelligent spark behind them.
“Your Highness,” Kimbur curtsied flawlessly.
“Mirelle, part of what Kimbur will do is assist you at Court. She is well-versed in all that a Royal Princess will require, be it a slight blunder, a walking social disaster, which invitations to accept, which gowns to choose, and… oh, so many other tiring things that Court life demands of a young girl, indeed, a Princess.”
Ellia swallowed. Perhaps there was still time to run away and disappear somewhere, somewhere pretty in the country, where she could live as a maid with a nice couple….
“Now, from today forward, we will focus our time on Court expectations and those whom you will meet there. For while the history of the Lands is certainly required knowledge for a Princess, being suddenly emerged in Court life will be far more important. In fact, I would expect many of them have forgotten their history and much more….”
Ellia lounged on her bed, leaning her arms on her knees as she stared through the window. Moonlight spilled across her bed, the only thing that calmed her just now. Her mind was numb. Not another thing could enter it, for it was entirely full, as a sponge full of water. In fact, Ellia expected it was probably dripping, dripping with information she would need to recall at some near instant and there she would be left, gaping like a fool.
Why couldn’t some other girl have been Princess….
“Your Highness,” said a soft voice across the room, “would you like me to draw the curtains against the moonlight?”
Kimbur. Her new lady-in-waiting. She – Ellia, oh, if you please, she was now Mirelle - now had a lady-in-waiting. A lady’s foremost lady-in-waiting always slept in her rooms with her, in a separate alcove of her own that she might always be available.
Kimbur stood suddenly. She crossed to Mirelle’s windows and pulled the curtains closed. “Begging Your Highness’s pardon, but it’s proper to draw the curtains at night,” she said softly.
Mirelle sighed. Of course it was. “I don’t know how I’m going to learn all this in just three more weeks.”
“You will. Of course you will. And Nona and I will make sure you do,” Kimbur told her in an encouraging tone from her bed across the chamber.
Hmph. Mirelle doubted that. She certainly didn’t doubt Nona’s abilities, nor even this Kimbur – nor their combined efforts. But her own abilities? Sponge dripping. Mirelle could only take in so much at a time, and she was beginning to suspect just lately that her sponge was rather small….
“Perhaps. But three weeks just seems so very… soon.”
“But you shall take to it immediately,” Kimbur responded with confidence. “You’ve learned so much so soon.”
Mirelle wrapped her arms about her knees even tighter. She was only a good actress. Flashing a pretty smile for strangers had taken up the better part of her life, so it seemed she would continue to do so, merely in a different setting.
“Aye, and so much more left…” Mirelle trailed off thoughtfully.
Kimbur cleared her throat delicately.
Mirelle directed her attention to Kimbur.
“With all due respect, Your Highness… your, your… accent is creeping in.”
Mirelle frowned. “My accent?”
Kimbur cleared her throat again, daintily. “From South Fairview.”
Mirelle took that in for a moment. Then she smiled. Then she giggled. That was the best news she’d heard in a long time. At least something of the old her remained.
But Nona had gone to enormous pains to teach her to speak correctly, to lose that exact accent to which Kimbur now referred.
She practiced aloud for Kimbur’s sake more than her own. “My… ACcent, my ACcent, my ACcent,” she spoke slowly, flourishing her hands.
Then Mirelle sniffed and rolled her eyes. “Oh, bloody hell with my accent. You know what my Pappy would say if he saw me all done up in gowns and jewels? He’d laugh and say something stinks in the fish kettle.” Mirelle smiled for a moment as she pictured Pappy’s face. Then her eyes filled up and her bottom lip quivered. But, of course, ladies weren’t ever to cry, so Mirelle rolled her eyes up to the ceiling and took in several deep breaths. What a stupid rule.
Mirelle shook her head slowly. “That’s why this is going to be so hard. You can put the castle in the barmaid, but you can’t put the barmaid back in the castle.”
Gently, Kimbur asked, “What was it like?”
Mirelle thought of everything that she could say to that. There was no easy answer. She took in a deep breath and a faint smile slipped over her face. “It was… freedom. Love. Playful. Laughter. Singing and dancing. Family. It was… just…” Mirelle couldn’t think of anything that properly could possibly describe her home. “Flat out.” And everything this life won’t be, she added to herself.
“You know, don’t you, that you can’t go back there. It wouldn’t be safe for you now,” came Kimbur’s quiet voice.
“I know,” Mirelle rolled her eyes. How many times that had been explained to her before she finally had understood! “More importantly, it wouldn’t be safe for them,” she returned.
Kimbur stayed silent to that.
“But one day, a long time from now, when it’s safe, and no one knows who I am or where I’m going, I will return,” Mirelle vowed quietly.