Prince Blaise was everything a prince should be, handsome, charming, well educated and rich. He was also miserable and depressed. He couldn’t take a step without someone brushing the ground in front of him. That might be a slight exaggeration but there were three gentlemen in waiting, two footmen and a parlour maid standing by in case he wanted anything. He didn’t and the net result was he had six people watching him read. He resisted the temptation to ask if someone would like to turn the page for him because they would fail to recognise the sarcasm and pounce on him for the honour.
Telling them he didn’t require their services was pointless. All that happened when he did that was they shuffled back a few feet. The Queen had rigid views on the proper protocols surrounding royal personages and no-one would dare to act other than in accordance with those views. It might not have been so bad if his gentlemen in waiting had been roughly his own age but the youngest of them was well over forty. They were selected by the Queen for their suitability which was absolute loyalty to her. They were dull and rigidly proper. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed midday. Blaise closed the book and made his way to his dining room. The attendants trailed along in his wake.
He ate in solitary splendour and complete silence. Six people watching him had now become ten. He refused any dessert and made his way to his room to change shutting the door in the faces of his entourage. Only having his valet in the room with him counted as solitude. Monday afternoon was a welcome break from the stultifying routine and the isolation of his days. He rode out in the company of just one groom. He was supposed to have more of an escort but his gentlemen in waiting were not keen on exercise. He’d further discouraged them by taking long rides through the woods and making sure they got wet and muddy. The result was he now had a free afternoon a week. Jed had been his groom since he had his first pony.
If Blaise had a confidante it was Jed and the old groom knew how chafed and confined the Prince felt. He had a good deal of sympathy having watched a bright, inquisitive and friendly child grow into a sad and lonely young man. Jed hated to see how miserable he was. The prince had got rid of the gentlemen in waiting and Jed had used various stratagems to get rid of the rest of the escort of two troopers and an under groom. Now only he accompanied the prince on his Monday afternoon ride. Their first stop was always the folly at the edge of the park where Blaise changed his velvet coat with its richly embroidered lapels and cuffs for a plain one of the sort worn by the grooms. They would then leave confines of the royal estate and go exploring the countryside for a few hours finishing with an ale at some out of the way tavern.
At the Drum and Monkey Monday was the quietest day of the week and Beattie, once she was sure Arric was competent and trustworthy, took to going off on a Monday afternoon to visit her sister who was married to a farmer the other side of Pudleston. The tap room was empty as usual and Arric was using the time to read through his notes. He heard the hoof beats of two horses on the road and when they stopped in front of the tavern he closed the book and slipped it under the counter. A young man came in and ordered two tankards of ale and Arric drew them off. As usual he pushed them across the counter to the customer quoting a line from a humorous poem celebrating the glories of strong drink. It had amused him when he’d come across it in his reading and he thought if ever he had his own Inn he’d put the line up behind the bar. Normally customers merely laughed and made no comment today, however, he got a response. The young man beamed at him and quoted the next line.
“I don’t normally add that since it tends to suggest the suffering that follows a heavy wet.” Arric said with an answering grin.
The young man chuckled “Don’t want to discourage the customers from spending their coin?”
“Exactly. Where would an Inn be if the customers were abstemious?”
“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but my friend and I will just be having the one.” Blaise said with a smile as he handed over the coppers.
“No disappointment at all. An abstemious customer is better than no customer as you can see by the throngs that are not here clamouring for my beer.”
Blaise was still laughing as he carried the tankards out and handed one to Jed who lifted an eyebrow in question.
“An innkeeper quoting poetry. You don’t get that every day.” Blaise said by way of explanation.
“Ar, that you don’t.” They finished their ale. Blaise took the glasses back inside with a thank you. Once the hoof beats faded Arric went back to studying his notes.
In a fit of idle curiosity about a barman quoting poetry Blaise decided to repeat his visit to the Drum and Monkey the following Monday. Arric didn’t disappoint. He quoted from a different poem, one Blaise did not know. This led to a longer conversation which also left Blaise laughing. At first for both of them it was merely finding someone their own age who was fun to talk to but it wasn’t long before Arric found himself listening for the sound of hoof beats and Blaise had abandoned all pretence of exploring the countryside in favour of riding straight to the Drum and Monkey.
Jed wondered about the wisdom of it but seeing the Prince laughing and joking with someone of his own age he didn’t have the heart to caution him against it. He hadn’t heard Prince Blaise laugh heartily since he was a small boy. For Blaise and Arric Monday afternoons became the happiest time of their week. When their hands touched both of them would feel a little tingle of excitement. When Arric confessed his ambition to one day own his own Inn Blaise mentioned the idea of a suitable wife to help. The vehemence with which Arric rejected this suggestion made Blaise feel unaccountably happy. Luckily Jed remained blissfully unaware of the direction in which Blaise and Arric’s friendship was developing.
It was late November when Blaise finally confessed his identity. Arric was dumbfounded. He became self conscious and formal. Blaise darted a glance over his shoulder but Jed was dozing by the fire. He took hold of Arric’s hand and gazed pleadingly into his eyes
“Please don’t become formal and distant because I told you the truth. We’re friends aren’t we?” Arric nodded “I only told you because with winter coming the Queen may not let me ride out. I love coming here to see you.” He blushed and then realising he still had hold of Arric’s hand let go of it.
“I look forward to you coming” Arric admitted with a shy smile. “I’m shocked. I never guessed you were so important. I thought...” He broke off “you can’t be friends with me I’m just a barman.”
“I can. I can’t think of a person I’d rather spend my time with than you. I was entirely and utterly miserable until I met you.” The blush became an even deeper red “I don’t want a wife either.” A look of complete understanding passed between them and an answering blush crept up from Arric’s collar to cover his whole face
“How can we? Our stations are too different.”
Blaise smiled “I’m going to find a way. It may take time but for now I just wanted to let you know that if I don’t come it isn’t because I don’t want to but because I can’t. Now you know who I am I’ll bring you some books. I wanted to before but they’d have given my identity away.”
“I should send you packing Blaise. You’re a boggert of the worst kind for deceiving me.”
“I know but forgive me?” Blaise pouted.
Arric’s lips twitched “I’ll think about it.”
Blaise grinned “I’d better go. I’d stay here longer but I won’t risk Jed getting into trouble. He would if the Queen found out he helps me.”