“Je veux manger la pomme,” said Mr. Arsnault as he paced back and forth in front of me. “Est-ce que tu veux une pomme?” (I want to eat the apple...Do you want an apple?)
“Non, je n’ai pas faim,” I replied almost automatically. (No, I am not hungry)
“C’est quoi la nom du cheval d’Leopold?” (What is the name of Leopold’s?)
“Jacqueline,” I said flatly.
M. Arsnault sighed. “Mademoiselle, I am supposed to be teaching you how to converse en francais. This is not possible if you only give one word answers. Qu’est que c’est la problem?” (in French...What is the matter?)
“Rien, rien,” I said trying to perk up. I sat up straight in my chair and looked down at the book of French verbs in front of me on the desk, “Je n’aime pas les chevaux.” (Nothing, Nothing...I don’t like horses)
M. Arsnault ignored me, “He will be back soon, Mademoiselle. There is a meeting at the end of the week he must return for, then you will have a break. This is important though.”
“I know. I just didn’t realize how much there actually was going to be to learn, nor how much I was going to miss Leopold. Sorry, I’m just tired,” I said trying to shake myself out of the strange state I was in.
“It is okay. We will finish for today. It is time for you to go and see Mme. DuBeche,” my guard reminded me.
I stood and slowly began to make my way to the yellow room that had essentially been turned into a giant personal store and closet for me since Leopold had left. Mme. DuBeche, the tailor, seamstress, and dressmaker extraordinaire had been commissioned to make all of the clothes I would be needing if I ascended into the future role of Princess and Queen. The entire room was filled with me sized mannequins wearing clothing for every occasion possible. Even remnants of hundred year old clothes, accessories, and jewelry my ancestors had worn had been located and brought to the yellow room for Mme. DuBeche to draw inspiration from. As a result of this, I spent an hour every morning with Mme. DuBeche and Phillipa, right after my daily French lesson, trying on the various styles and going over Etiquette.
“Ummm, Phillipa?” I asked after ten minutes of being wrestled into a very complicated device. “What is this exactly and when on earth am I ever going to need it?”
“Well it is not finished yet, but you will be wearing it to the Governor’s Ball next week. It is an annual event at which all of the members of Parliament will be present. Traditional dress is required, thus the hoop skirt and corset.”
I looked down at the tiny girl from on top of the pedestal I was standing on. “So you are telling me that I have to where this,” I said indicating the layers of boning and gossamer I was wrapped in, “for the whole night?”
Phillipa nodded. These traditions were really starting to get old.
“Am I going to have to dance? Because I can barely walk so I’m pretty sure the best you could get out of me would be a rhythmic head bob.”
“Your head bobbing will not be required for this event. This will just be cocktails, dinner, and the Prince’s speech. It is merely a dinner for the Governors and their families and a reflection of the first half of the year.”
“Well I’m not sure how much eating will get done seeing as I can’t sit at a table, let alone breath in this dress, but at least I won’t have to dance.”
I was glad that Mme. DuBeche did not speak English right now. I didn’t think she would have like the fact that I was insulting her creation. Really, it was pretty, I’d give her that. There were off the shoulder sleeves that gathered at my elbows where they ended in fine dripping lace. The bodice did quite impressive things to my chest and the embroidered flowers and beads continued onto the gigantic skirt which trained behind me and down the pedestal. The entire thing was made of fine white lace. From the outside, it was stunning, but the inside was another matter. I was layered in petticoats under the hard piping that made up the skirt and the sharp boning of the corset dug into my hips and made my ribs ache. I could already tell that it was going to be a death trap in disguise and it wasn’t even finished yet. Mme. DuBeche needed to add more fabric apparently because, despite the fact that the dress should have it’s own zip code, the skirt wasn’t of satisfactory size yet.
“Which is actually the perfect introduction to today’s etiquette lesson,” Phillipa clapped excitedly from the chair. Rose, who was seated next to Phillipa, rolled her eyes, probably upset she didn’t get a death dress too.
“Today you will be learning about the behind the scenes happenings that take place during a special event. This means: timing, quick changes, moving from place to place, and security.”
“As you have probably noticed, even with small events and outings, it is very important to stick to the strict schedule made for the event. All arrival times are set very specifically and the entire night’s proceedings can be delayed if one of us is late.”
I nodded, only half paying attention. I had already figured this out, plus I was more concerned about Mme. DuBeche who was currently using a blade to trim fabric a little to close to my skin for comfort.
“For larger events there will also be costume changes and transportation times to work around as well. In the occurrence of a costume change, that would take place at events such as weddings, and Coronations, there will be a team and a room assigned to you who will be on standby to make the change as quickly and flawlessly as possible. If you need to be transported to a different location, there will also be a team put in place to make the transition possible.”
“So we just have to know where to be and when to go at all times?” asked Rose sounding a little skeptical.
I was glad she asked. It was starting to sound a little complicated, especially since many of the events probably took place in old buildings or places I had never been before. I could definitely see myself getting lost and completely screwing the entire sacred schedule system up. I winced as I was stabbed by a pin. Mme. DuBeche apologized profusely.
Phillipa smiled knowingly. “This is what brings me to the most important part: your security team. You have already had some dealings with them but probably don’t realize how much goes on behind the scenes, even for something as small as going out for coffee. Someone, in your case Fred, M. Arsnault, knows you entire schedule and your whereabouts at all times everyday. They are in charge of not only your safety but also transitioning you through every step of an event. They are connected to the event planner, the head of security, and the rest of the Guard at all times. Every member of the Royal family has code names that are used over the communication system to make the others discreetly aware of your whereabouts. Leopold for example, is referred to as The Lion, Felip is The Eagle, Hector is The Bear and so on and so forth. For your information, Winifred, your codename is The Lamb, and Rose you are The Dove. Any questions?”
I looked over to where M. Arsnault stood quietly in the corner, evaluating him. He was much more James Bond like then I had given him credit for. I winked at him quickly before turning back to Phillipa.
“No? Alright, we are done for now then. Fred get changed.”
In the last two weeks that Leopold had been gone, my life had entered some form of stasis. I was in lessons, all day, everyday, and saw only the same few people again and again, with no change or alteration. Everything was stagnant with no hint of excitement. I hadn’t been off the property or done anything but practice endless verbs and titles and names. I could recite both the Solisian and Arcadis national anthems, name all the Kings and Queens in my ancestry and how they died, and tell you on which occasions it was appropriate for one to wear a crown versus a tiara, but didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on in the outside world. It was endless, mind numbing, and draining. What worried me more than the frustration and cabin fever though, was how much I was beginning to ache from being separated from Leopold for so long. I was sure that couldn’t be healthy.
“Wait, wait, wait, that guy did what?” I asked in disbelief as I stared up at a photo of an obese man in a pair of tight, white pantaloons.
“He is your great, great, great, great cousin, twice removed, Thomas Archambeaux the Earl of Gratin and he ate an entire flock of sheep,” replied Governor Richard with slight humor in his voice.
“Why?” I asked disgusted. Then I added, “Wait, a whole flock, all at once?”
“I presume he would have saved many of them or had a banquet but that was the law. Anyone who stole had their property taken away from them. This man just happened to only own a flock of sheep that were kept as livestock.”
We moved on to the next painting. This was how history lessons went. I would get a tour of some part of the castle or be shown maps or painting or photos and told about the people and things in them. Today was Arcadian history taught by Governor Richard.
“How about this one?” the old man asked me.
“Sylvain Turcotte, Duke of Jatel. He lost his right eye in the Battle of the Plains of Harmondel,” I recited dutifully.
“Correct,” said the governor ginning, “but can you tell me where he is standing?”
I stared at the painting trying to evaluate another one of the rooms that another one of my war obsessed, long haired, relatives was standing in. It didn’t look like any part of the DuMont Castle I had seen. A nervous feeling grew in the pit of my stomach as a thought, which I hadn’t thought about until now, occurred to me. “Do I have a castle?”
“As a matter of fact, the SinClaire family does have a castle,” confirmed Richard. “That painting shows the Duke in the Hall which was named after him.”
“It’s still there?” I demanded still more focused on the fact that I apparently owned an entire palace I wasn’t aware of. “I thought it would have gotten destroyed or ransacked or something between all the wars and stuff.”
“There were some damages over the years, yes, but the foundations are centuries old, nearly unchangeable. Many of the furnishings and artifacts were placed into protection before the war so they were well preserved. That is how we have all of your dresses. The castle was used as a house for the French Royal Family who maintained and restored the castle. Marie Antoinette, and Napoleon Bonaparte were both big fans of the estate and made the castle their own with grand additions and gardens. As you can imagine, it is truly stunning. Today, it is primarily used as a museum, but also a meeting place for politicians from around the globe. As soon as you ascend to the throne however, it will be known as your permanent residence.”
I stared him, not comprehending the fact that I owned a medieval castle that I was supposed to take weekend trips to when I got bored of this castle.
“Many of the other historical estates on your property have been modernized as well and are fully prepared for you whenever necessary,” he spoke quickly, as if I had been more concerned about the not so limited living arrangements that could soon be mine.
“If you look over here, Princesse,” Governor Richard said directing me to a glass case which had blue prints on display, “these are maps of the SinClaire castle and grounds.”
I looked down at all the interconnecting boxes, all representing different rooms, galleries, and courtyards. There were photos of grand ballrooms encased in gold, hallways lined with marble statues, Persian carpets, silk curtains, and acres of lush gardens. To say the least, the whole idea seemed absolutely ridiculous and overwhelming.
“I would like to take you to see your castle someday, Princesse, so you can see your country and your people,” the Governor continued and then frowned, looking at me. “Are you alright, Princesse? You look very pale.”
I nodded absently.
“Well, we will continue tomorrow, enjoy your next lesson. I believe it is dance, yes?” Richard looked worriedly to M. Arsnault when I didn’t answer. My guard came over to my side and paced his hand on my back, gently leading me out of the gallery.
My hands shook as my bodyguard led me towards the ballroom. I felt sick to my stomach. I had never considered that I may actually own copious amounts of land and buildings and things because of all of this process. The very thought was unsettling.
I felt like the walls of the castle were closing in on me. I was going to die here, squished between a gold statue and a diamond chandelier. I needed a change of pace, some sense of normalcy or escape. I could understand why Leopold tried to escape from this world whenever he could, why he was constantly on edge; the never ending formalities were stifling.
There was a tug deep inside me as I thought of Leopold. For some reason this whole process was much more difficult without him. I hadn’t realized how much he had been there to protect and help me.
“Fred,” Phillipa’s voice rang, “you are late.”
I opened my eyes, and found her on the other side of the room, across the expanse of the marble floor, frescoed ceiling covered in cherubs, and guilded gold fixtures. It was more grand then the Nicolas Hall of the Winter Castle.
“Sorry,” I murmured as I made my way to Rose. I joined her on the floor in the center of the room and pulled on the pair of high heels that were waiting there for me. My dancing partner, M. Arsnault, pulled me to my feet.
“You ladies have done very well learning the Waltz so today we move on to the Foxtrot. This dance is preformed in long and flowing movements across the floor, very similar to the waltz but done in a 4/4 time rather than 3/4. We will begin in the basic ballroom position.”
She took a hold of Rose. To be honest it always looked slightly comical because Phillipa was supposed to be the man and yet she was about a foot shorter then Rose. Somehow though, they managed to still look more graceful than me every time.
M. Arsnault placed his right hand on my shoulder blade. My right arm sat on top of this, my hand resting on his shoulder. We clasped our other hands together at the level of my eye. The muscles in my arms ached in protest from being forced into this position for an hour and a half everyday for the past two weeks.
“The basic steps for women consist of two steps back, one to the side, two forward and then one to the side. Very Simple,” she said leading Rose flawlessly around the room. “Slow. Slow. Quick, Quick. Slow. Slow. Quick, Quick. Excellent.”
I nodded at M. Arsnault, signaling him to start. I took a breath and then stepped forward with my right foot, my knee crashing into M. Arsnault’s calf. He winced.
“Sorry,” I said, stepping back into the starting position. “Back first...”
We started again, better this time, and he managed to awkwardly spin me around the floor a few times. It was nowhere near the gracefulness that Rose and Phillipa had perfected however.
“Fred, your posture is horrible. Straighten up,” called Phillipa her eyes evaluating me.
I tried to roll back my shoulders but it just threw off my count, making me step on M. Arsnault’s foot.
Phillipa clicked her tongue, and crossed the marble tiles over to us. M. Arsnault stepped back, moving aside so she could take his place. Her tiny, delicate hands took hold of mine, touch as light as a feather. She held me in a way that forced me into the proper position. To be honest, it was slightly painful. “Like this,” she said, arching a perfectly plucked brow.
I nodded. Despite my supposed genetics, I had to say, most of these so called Royal Practices did not come very naturally to me. I was horrible at both riding and dancing. I could only hope some kind of ancient built in muscle memory was going to kick in at some point, otherwise I could foresee a very embarrassing future.
I tripped and stumbled for another hour before I was released from my cell and made my way towards another. At least this next cell was large and happy, I tried to reason. After all, it was held in the courtroom and taught by Hector. I hadn’t really understood why I was being taught by Hector about Politics and how to run a country until I remembered that he was the one who had been trained how. Leopold was in lessons just like me.
“Bonjour, ma belle rebel,” Emmet smiled from where he was seated in one of the three thrones at the front of the courthouse. His face fell though as he took me in. “Are you feeling alright, Winifred? You do not look well.”
“I will be okay, just tired,” I told him softly.
He patted the throne beside him. I climbed up the few steps and sat down in one of the remaining gilded gold chairs, the one Beatrice usually sat in. He was looking straight out at the courtroom past all the empty seats where the other lords and duke’s sat.
“Scary isn’t it?” he said after a moment. “Lonely. Exhausting. Being trained like this I mean. Do not get me wrong, it is amazing all of the knowledge and specialty we gain from it, but it can be so stiff, and formal, and isolating. You learn tricks though to get release.” He turned and looked at me, expression bright as ever, “Just get through today alright. You have been doing amazing cooped up in here with the lot of us. I will pull some strings and get you fixed up soon. We can not have you looking like death in front of all the ‘family friends’. Now pay attention, I will try to keep this short today so you can get some rest, but today we have to tackle taxes, and if either of us screws this up, we could end up like good old Uncle Louis and Aunt Marie-Ann.”