I couldn’t fall asleep that night, even after Phillipa had left. Jetlag seemed to be holding me in its grasp. Plus the fact that I was supposed to have called my parents when I landed was clawing at me.
With a sigh, I pushed back my marshmallow like blankets and decided to go in search of a phone. I stuffed my feet into my slippers and padded over to the door. I froze with my fingers on the handle as I heard noises coming from the hall.
I smiled, thinking that I was in luck and that Angela was outside my door and could direct me to a phone, despite the fact that it was three in the morning. Unfortunately, when I threw open the door; it was not my petite French maid, but a very tall man with a shock of copper hair staggering down the hall. He was well over six feet, dressed in a pair of giant boots, ripped jeans and a military jacket. There where a pair of aviators shoved up his nose, pieces of the strange copper hair falling between his face and the lenses and silver glinted at the man’s throat. Fumes of alcohol and smoke rolled off of him. We stood there, starring at each other for a moment, me in complete shock and fear, him swaying unevenly on his feet.
Something seemed to click in his drink-stooped mind because he grimaced at me and then continued on his way, disappearing behind the door at the end of the hall.
I slammed my door shut and ran for the bed, hiding under the covers. My parents would have to wait. There was no way I was going back out there while that man was wandering about. Where was my knight in shining armor when I needed him or, at the very least, M. Arsnault? Someone would be hearing about this.
“So do you speak any French?” asked Phillipa around a piece of bacon the next morning. Angela had appeared in my room early and had stuffed me into a skirt and blouse. I had followed her, semiconscious, down the hall only to arrive at a dinning room. The entire royal family was there already, minus one.
I swallowed my bite of muffin, “Un petit peu. Only what I learned in school. I understand a lot more as long as you don’t speak too fast.”
“M. Arsnault will have to make arrangements,” noted Beatrice cryptically.
“Please tell us about you, Fred,” said Felip warmly, glancing at me over his reading glasses.
“There isn’t much to tell. I’m originally from Forks, Washington but moved when I was young to live in Arizona with my mother. My favorite subjects are Biology and English. I have a pet fish,” I offered unsure of what they wanted to hear. Felip chuckled lightly.
“Do you play any sports?” wondered Hector throwing in his two cents.
“Not really. I used to dance when I was really young and I do a bit of track.”
“Do you play any instruments?” asked Beatrice.
I shook my head, “Sorry, but I’ve heard I can sing okay.”
“How about cars, any interest?” demanded Hector.
“My friend back home is really into auto stuff and I actually go riding with him sometimes.”
Phillipa choked on her orange juice. “You can ride motorbikes?” she glanced at Hector, grinning broadly. “Excellent!”
It was like I was being interviewed or playing on a game show. I was a little stressed though because I didn’t know what answers they were looking for. I half expected a knight to come crashing in and pull me to the dungeon if I answered incorrectly.
The dinning room door flew open suddenly and the man from the hall last night stumbled in. I repressed a yelp. He was wearing pajama pants and a t-shirt that showed off his lean, yet impressive muscle. His face was scrunched, squinting against the light. Everyone but Felip rose to their feet when he entered. The man ignored them, collapsing in the empty chair on Felip’s right, beside Hector, and seized the cup off coffee that was placed before him by a nervous maid.
“Bon matin, Leopold,” Felip said making me freeze. A flash of terror suddenly ripped through me. The drunken man from the hallway last night was the prince, Leopold, my betrothed? I swallowed thickly, not so hungry anymore. What had I gotten myself into?
“Are you excited?” asked Phillipa beside me.
“We have a lot to do today. I have to help you prepare for the TV appearance tomorrow, and we have to see Mme. DuBeche about your clothes, and…”
“I think that it would be appropriate for Leopold to become acquainted with Winifred,” interrupted Felip.
Beatrice nodded enthusiastically beside her husband, “There will be plenty of time for your lessons later Phillipa. Rose has not even arrived yet.”
“But - ” Phillipa protested. Felip shot her a glance silencing her, “Leopold?”
Leopold stared into his mug, his voice thick when he answered, “D’accord. Meet me at your chambre dans dix minutes.” He downed the rest of his coffee and slumped out of the room, the others standing in his wake.
I was left very confused and frightened. I think that I had just been signed up to spend the morning with a hung over prince. Before I could protest, Angela appeared at my elbow and led me back to my room. She left me standing in the middle of the Persian carpet, disappearing into my closet. The maid emerged from its depths a few moments later handing me a pair of white, skinny pants, tall boots, and a blue, long sleeve shirt. I put them on unquestioningly. Angela had probably been informed about what was going on, unlike me. The Prince could be kidnapping me for all I know and I was pretty sure that no one could stop him even if he did. Was it even legal to arrest royalty?
There was a knock on my door. Angela answered it, curtsied and exchanged a few words rapidly in French with the person on the other side. Then, to me, “Mademoiselle, le Prince Leopold est ici pour vous.”
The nervousness grew inside me as I approached the door. I curtsied briefly, awkwardly. Leopold was wearing clothes very similar to mine but completely black. He had his sunglasses on again. Leopold pursed his lips and then turned on his heel down the hall, leaving me to catch up.
I followed him wordlessly, fidgeting nervously with the sleeves of my sweater. We passed though endless hallways, staircases and doors. Every time we passed someone in the hall they would scurry out of the way, bowing or curtsying and avoiding eye contact. It was strange and almost eerie. Finally, we broke through a door and we were outside. There was a man in front of us holding onto the reigns of two giant beasts.
My eyes flew open and I stopped mid-stride. Things began to click into place, the clothes and the giant beast horses in front of me, Prince Leopold wanted me to go riding; he was trying to kill me. I started to back up, looking around nervously. I wondered if I could back out now and go back to hide in my marshmallow bed. The guards at the door shot me dubious glances along with the horse guy. How could he be standing so close to those monsters? I had seen the shows on the Discovery Channel. The one’s with all of the crazy, wild horses that bit and kicked and attacked people.
I guess Leopold realized that I had stopped following him because he stopped too and turned to face me. “Est-ce qu’il y a un problème?” he asked sharply.
I was too afraid to respond. I guess he thought it was a language barrier thing because he tried again in heavily accented, broken English, “Is a problem?”
“Yes, is a big problème,” I said finding my voice, “There is no way I am going to get on one of those – those vicious beasts.”
Leopold tilted his head in confusion, “Les cheveaux?”
“I promise, they will not hurt you,” he assured.
I shook my head and took another step back, “No way José.”
Leopold sighed, pinching his lips together, rubbing the back of his neck in frustration, “Alors rest ici, it causes me no pain.” He turned on his heel, seized the reigns from the crazy horse guy and mounted the black beast fluidly.
Fury grew inside me. How could he be so mean and arrogant? Clearly, Phillipa had a warped perception of her brother. I huffed and marched forwards towards the giant brown horse. The one left unoccupied. I would show him.
I put my foot into the stirrup and pulled myself up into the saddle. The horse man handed me the reigns and I thanked him, smiling brightly on top of my horse. This wasn’t so bad.
Leopold sighed and nudged his horse with his heels. It started walking towards the woods on the far side of the expansive garden. I copied his actions, nudging my own horse that began trudging after Leopold’s. I smiled, “Good monster, nice monster.” This wasn’t so bad; the swaying motion was nice even.
Leopold looked over his shoulder at me and I grinned smugly. I could do this. I nudged my horse again, urging him faster. What I wasn’t expecting was my horse to take off like a speeding bullet. I screamed, the reigns slipping from my hands.
“Ahhh, isn’t there a middle speed?” I yelled, clinging to the beast’s neck. We shot past Leopold who did a double take, his mouth opening slightly. He was the one frozen in shock now.
My horse came to the tree line but didn’t stop. He darted between the giant trunks, the world blurring past. “Ahhhh, stop, stop. Arrête!” I ordered. I don’t think the bloody horse new French or English though because he just kept going.
We broke though the trees again and I found myself in an expansive field, full of long grass and bright flowers. “Somebody help me!” I yelled.
Something rushed past my right shoulder suddenly, a giant black blur. I turned my head and found Leopold on his own monster riding at break neck speed beside me. Was he crazy? We were going to be killed. Then Solis would be down one prince, a stolen ex-princess and two crazy horses.
Leopold stuck his hand out, grapping hold of the reigns I had dropped and pulled hard. My horse began to slow down. When we finally stopped, I jumped out of the saddle and onto the ground. I stood there shaking, my heart beating franticly. Leopold jumped down to, running over to me.
“Are you hurt?” he demanded taking hold of my shoulders. I shook, and then surprising us both, wrapped my arms around his neck, “Thank you so much!” Leopold cleared his throat, and I backed up awkwardly. “Ahh, sorry,” I mumbled looking at my shoes.
“It’s fine. Are you positive you are not harmed?” he asked sounding worried.
“Yes, I’m fine, just a little rattled. Where did you learn to ride like that?”
Leopold shrugged looking away, “We are far from the chateau. If I am to have you back to Phillipa, we must leave immediately. Do you trust me?”
For some reason I found myself nodding.
“I think, perhaps, that it would be bad to put you on your horse again. Will you ride with me?”
“Alright, I guess,” I said cautiously joining him beside his black horse.
“Her name is Jacqueline,” he told me, “She is very soft.”
I think he meant gentle.
Leopold took my hand in his, stroking Jacqueline’s neck. “There, see, she is nice.”
Leopold left me there, beside his horse and went over to my crazy brown one. It was munching on some grass innocently. Leopold took the reigns again, fastening them to the saddle and then hit the horse across the ass. The beast took off like a bat out of hell.
“He knows how to get home,” he offered as explanation. I could have cared less if it never found its way back.
Leopold jumped up into the saddle and then, offering me his hand, pulled me up behind him. “You should hold on, yes,” he said. I wrapped my arms around his center then we began to move. I cringed, waiting for the rush of wind again, but it never came. I sighed happily, resting my head on Leopold’s shoulder. He froze for a moment but then relaxed back into the saddle. I guess my knight in shinning armor had finally revealed himself, just in a very different form than I had expected.
I was sitting in some sort of living room, waiting for Phillipa. Angela had whisked me away the moment I returned, forced me into new clothes that didn’t smell of horse and then brought me here. Apparently it was time for my education to begin.
The door suddenly opened. I rose to my feet automatically. A beautiful blond woman walked in, making my self-esteem drop about ten notches. She was absolutely stunning, with her golden waves, pale skin, bright blue eyes, and perfect body. She frowned when she saw me.
“Umm, hi,” I replied utterly confused.
Her face softened, a smile tugging at her full, red lips. “You must be Winifred. I am Rose.” She held out her hand, which I shook.
“It’s nice to meet you. Are you here for princess lessons too?” I asked confused. Maybe she was the spare, someone to fill in if I failed.
“Yes. I was told that I had tome come and learn how to behave properly when I am out with Hector’s family. I have to learn how to behave like a prince’s fiancée.”
I balked, dropping her hand. Fiancée? I thought that I had been asked here because there was a lack of fiancées. Why would Hector have renounced the throne with her on his arm? Rose would have made a great queen. She definitely looked the part.
We sat on the plush couches across from one another. “Where did you learn to speak English so well,” I asked curiously, noting the clear and crisp English.
Rose blushed, looking down. “My parents own the bakery in the old town. I am used to having to speak with the tourists.”
I nodded, “That’s cool. My dad’s a police chief and my mom’s a kindergarten teacher.”
“Have you met Leopold yet?” she asked, voice darkening.
“Yes, I went riding with him this morning.”
“Please be careful around him. I haven’t known Leopold for long, but he is a dark boy. I urge you to be cautious.”
The door burst open and Phillipa rushed in, hands full of papers. Rose and I started to stand but she waved us off. Phillipa dropped her papers on the coffee table and then stood back, clapping her hands together. “Alright ladies I would like to welcome you to what, for lack of better term, we are calling Princess Lessons. I am going to be your main teacher but other members of the family and staff will join us when necessary. Unfortunately, Rose, our schedule will be focusing around what Winifred is required to know.”
I raised my hand. “Yes Winifred,” Phillipa said.
“I actually prefer to be called Fred. I didn’t want to say anything before.”
“No, you don’t. You will be addressed by your full name. That will be our first rule. Only those close to you may call you ‘Fred’.” I shrunk back into my seat.
“Now there is a lot of information I must give you in a short time. I do not expect perfection because of this but please do your best. Today we are stating with the basics because you are appearing on the TV for an interview.”
I raised my hand again, “Will I have to speak French?”
“There will be a translator and the majority of the questions will be directed at Leopold,” she assured. “Now let’s start with introductions. As I said before, you will be introduced with your full title. People are named in the order of their importance, highest ranking being first. This is also the order you will enter a room in. You may never touch a member of the royal family unless they offer their hand first. Then you are free to shake. Never speak unless spoken to. You must address a person of higher ranking with their title first and thereafter my call them Sir or Ma’am. If you were introduced to King Bellamy for example, he may say ‘hello’ and extend his hand you are then free to shake and respond, ‘Hello, Your Majesty’ or ‘Your Royal Highness’. If you are being introduced to a man, he should kiss your knuckles. Clear?”
Rose and I starred back at her, a little stunned. I felt like I should be taking notes or something.
“Unfortunately, we do not have enough time today to talk about protocol around the Castle, or interaction with the Royal family because I must get Winifred to her appointment with Mme. DeBeche but I will tell you basic rules about being in public with your partner.
“In the eyes of the law the two of you are beneath my brothers and because you have no official union there are specific rules to abide by. Winifred, you are actually a little different because your betrothal through the ancients but we will not get that deep today. The important things to remember in public are that: you must always walk two paces behind the Princes, you may never touch unless they initiate it, you must not be the first to speak but can say whatever you want once introduced and that if you are meeting your partner, you must curtsy or bow your head.
“Both of you are currently protected from mass media exposure through a newly instated privacy act but if there are ever any security issues or problematic paparazzi, please follow the directions of your security team or Leopold or Hector.”
“These are the basics and things will get more hands on and technical as we continue,” Phillipa finished. I was frozen on my seat agape. Phillipa stepped forward and scooped up the papers again, “Rose, I think Hector is meeting you in the Salon Vert. Winifred please follow me.” The small princess danced out of the room leaving me running to catch up.
By the end of the day I was exhausted. Mme. DeBeche, as it turns out, was in charge of clothing me. She and Phillipa had spent three hours measuring, taking-in, letting out and designing the wardrobe that I was going to need. Between my lack of sleep the night before, my near death, Princess Lessons, and Barbie Fred time, I was pooped and fell asleep the second my head hit the pillow.
The black car was back and I, along with M. Arsnault, was in it. I was beginning to see a pattern here. This morning was my television debut. I had been woken up early by Angela (another pattern that was emerging) and taken to eat breakfast, alone this time. Then I was put into a beautiful light blue silk dress, had my makeup done and my hair curled to perfection. M. Arsnault appeared at my door and led me through the labyrinth to the car.
“Where is M. Lefevre?” I asked breaking the silence. It was not helping my nerves.
“He will be arriving with his charge le Prince,” said M. Arsnault from the driver’s seat, as he checked his watch. “They will arrive soon. The Royal Family is always last to arrive and first to leave.”
Sure enough, the pair appeared a few minutes later. M. Lefevre held the door open for Leopold, who slid in beside me, and then walked around front to the passenger’s seat. I went to stand and then realized I was seat belted to a moving vehicle. Phillipa hadn’t given me direction for this situation. Leopold didn’t talk so I didn’t either. The entire car ride was spent in silence. I watched the scenery as it whooshed past my window.
We arrived at the soundstage and followed M. Lefevre through the halls. We made somewhat of a sandwich with him walking beside Leopold at the front, me counting my paces, always two steps behind, and M. Arsnault in the back. I watched Leopold in front of me. He was in a dark suit, sunglasses still on and the silver chain still around his neck. He walked stiffly, head held high as the people jumped out of our way.
“Bonjour, bonjour!” cried a man running towards us. He was middle aged, stout and balding. A tall brunette in a pencil skirt followed at his heels. “What and honor it is to have you here, Your Highnesses! I am the director of “Good Morning Dumasville” and this,” he said, indicating the woman, “is the host, Claudette.” He smiled eagerly up at Leopold who did not look impressed before turning to me. “You must be Winifred,” he said and taking my hand, he placed a wet kiss across my knuckles. I resisted the urge to wipe it on my dress because I figured that would be rude. Phillipa would not be happy with this man. I smiled at him.
“The show ill start soon, we will call for you when it is time. There is a room for you to wait in,” he told us.
Our person sandwich progressed through more hallways until we arrived at a door. Leopold and I were sent inside while M. Arsnault and M. Lefevre stayed outside the door. The room was standard and industrial. There was a grey couch against one wall and a table of food had been left for us against another. I plopped myself down on the ugly couch, in attempt to gain relief from my heels. Leopold stayed standing in an angry silence.
I shifted uncomfortably in my tight dress. I was not accustomed to dressing like this, why couldn’t I wear a nice loose suit like Leopold?
There was a knock at the door and a man with a headset popped his head in and said something in French. Presuming it was time to leave, I began to rise to my feet. There was a loud rip behind me as I wobbled on my heels. I froze, horrified that my dress was suddenly a lot roomier than before.
“Leopold,” I hissed. He turned to face me, not amused, “Please shut the door.” Leopold frowned but obliged, “Quoi?”
I felt my cheeks heating up, “I think I just ripped my dress. Please just tell me how bad it is.”
Slowly, I turned until my back was to him. I heard Leopold trying to stifle his laughter behind me, “It is not good.”
Cringing, I looked over my shoulder. The dress, which ended at my knees, had split up the seam at the back of my dress all the way to the top of my thighs. Defiantly not good.
“Perhaps we could see if you could borrow something from Claudette,” Leopold offered.
“She is about a foot taller than me,” I said starring at him. Then an idea came to me. “Give me your jacket,” I said. Edwards brow furrowed.
“Your jacket please.”
Leopold shrugged out of his jacket and handed it to me. I quickly pulled it on. The hem came down to my mid thigh, the sleeves eating my hands. I rolled them quickly to my elbows.
“How do I look,” I asked Leopold spinning.
“Even better than before,” he told me, indicating the door.
The stage assistant along with the rest of our crew led us to the stage. Just before we were called out, Leopold swiftly slipped his glasses into the pocket of the jacket I was wearing. Then we were called out.
The entire audience rose to their feet, screaming and cheering. I could feel my cheeks heating up as I carefully stumbled along behind Leopold. All of this attention was foreign to me; this entire situation was for that matter.
Claudette came forward with a smile and curtsied. Leopold offered his hand, which she shook happily. The same was repeated with me. We were directed towards a couch that was beside a chair. Leopold sat, and then I followed, awkwardly tucking my dress underneath me and pulling the jacket close so I didn’t flash the country. The audience followed our lead and took their seats, then the interview began.
I couldn’t understand much of what was going. Claudette and Leopold where taking way too fast. I sat on the couch beside him, smiling and waving occasionally hoping that I would look semi-decent. The bigger problem was that I didn’t know how to act around Leopold. Weren’t we supposed to be engaged or something? Shouldn’t we be at least pretending to be close? I mean, we didn’t even know each other, and he clearly had some issues or something, but shouldn’t we at least fake it? I wasn’t necessarily complaining that Leopold wasn’t trying to put the moves on me; that would be awkward for one and secondly, I would never really expect him to go after someone like me. He was a prince after all, despite how crotchety and arrogant he may be, and I was nothing, probably just a temporary distraction for the public like Felip had said.
I looked away from Claudette, out to the audience and was confused. No one was looking at Leopold, or Claudette, all eyes were on me. I swallowed thickly. This was creepy. I edged closer to Leopold, feeling uncomfortable. He had rescued me from the horse, surely he could protect me from angry villagers. To my complete and utter surprise, Leopold reached out and grabbed my hand that was resting on the sofa. I froze, not sure how to respond. Maybe it had been an accident. Then his grip tightened in a reassuring squeeze. I glanced at him and my breath caught.
His eyes were amazing; I could do nothing but stare. They were so strange. I realized that I had never really seen them before. He always hid behind the sunglasses. Leopold looked down to his lap, his face falling, our connection ending. He pulled his hand from mine.