Chapter 17 – A Queen’s Determination and a Servant’s Worth
Chapter 17 – A Queen’s Determination and a Servant’s Worth
“Are you quite certain, Madam Pumberly, that you can have my order ready before the week is out?” Queen Valerie asked as she walked through the store with the owner.
“Yes, your Majesty.” The seamstress answered.
“Excellent.” She responded flatly when she sighted yet another Society Member trying to overhear their conversation. “My Steward informed me that the new fabric and ribbon samples have recently arrived.”
Madam Pumberly eyed her carefully before shooing the on looker away. “That is correct Majesty.” She courtly nodded.
Queen Valerie kept her composure. She hated pretending that the woman next to her wasn’t a dear friend. It seemed ridiculous. Having known the woman for so long she wished that she could drop the absurd pretenses. Instead doing what she wished, Queen Valerie forced herself to remain cold as she said. “I shall see them before I return to the castle.”
“Of course, your Majesty,” Madam Pumberly properly responded, “please follow me.”
The announcement that she had made earlier that day in the town square was a general update on regulations, and policy, with the added notification about the Suitor Selection. She knew that most people had already heard about it from the gossip after the Ball, but conformation from a Royal was needed periodically to keep unwanted rumors from circulating.
She also used the announcement as a smokescreen for her daughter. She was initially a bit worried by Alexandria’s request for another non-guarded visit to Town Central City. The Ball was only the other day, and many members of Society were still in town.
She might be recognized.
Also, Alexandria was scheduled to meet her first suitor later that afternoon. As a compromise, Queen Valerie allowed her daughter to visit until half past eleven. Then the two of them would return to the palace together.
Her daughter had readily agreed to the conditions, and her actions had made Queen Valerie suspicious.
She remembered how distracted Alexandria had been during the ball. The girl was constantly looking over her shoulder as if she expected to see someone. A knowing smile found its way to the Queen’s face.
She wondered if she had been that transparent the first time she fell in love.
The sound of light laughter reached her ears.
She recognized that laugh.
Queen Valerie looked up from the ribbons and smiled at Willaminia. She hadn’t realized how much she missed the sound of her daughter’s laughter.
Madam Pumberly didn’t return her smile. Instead, Willaminia looked pass her with a grim expression on her face.
Valerie glanced behind her noticed that Alexandria was looking at the finished suits, and talking with someone. She unable to see the young man’s face but his appearance suggested that he was one of the workers.
The next moment the worker turned and the Queen was able to catch a glimpse of his features.
She glanced at Willaminia alarmed, but the woman had become immensely interested in her feet.
The Queen needed to get the woman’s attention, but there were still too many listeners around them.
“Madam Pumberly, I quiet adore this one.” She stated picking a piece of ribbon at random. “How much do you have in stock?”
Willaminia looked confused by the question, but she soon noticed the look Valerie was giving her. She knew what the Queen was actually interested in, and it wasn’t the ivory lace ribbon.
“It is fairly new to the store, your Majesty.” She responded. “I shall have to check the delivery log, in my office, to be certain of the amount that we have in stock.”
“Then by all means,” she responded, keeping the authority in her voice, “lead the way.”
A few moments later the two of them were in Willaminia’s office away from the prying eyes of society.
“Willie,” She began, keeping her voice low. “Who is he?”
“I did something stupid Val.” The woman responded, her words surprising Valerie.
Valerie couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. “What do you mean? Who is that young man speaking with my daughter, and how long has he worked here?”
“He is not under my employment.” Willaminia answered flatly.
“Then why is he speaking to my daughter in such a manner?” She asked a bit too harshly.
The seamstress sighed and pored herself a glass of water. “They met several weeks ago, when Alexandria first came to my shop.”
Valerie’s jaw literally dropped. “Why did you not tell me about it when you came to the Palace?”
“It must have slipped my mind.” Her answer sounded more like a question than a statement.
“I’m sure it did.” Valerie replied unconvinced.
Willaminia gave Valerie a knowing smile.
“Can you at least tell me his name, or why he looks so familiar?”
Willaminia stared intently at her glass of water, “Alright.” She said not looking up. “His name is Noah Jenkins, and you probably recognize him from Alexandria’s Ball the other night.”
“So then is he a-”
“Noah Jenkins is a servant.” Willaminia interrupted.
Valerie couldn’t help but be confused by the woman’s words. “How did this servant manage an invitation into my daughter’s ball?”
“You snuck him in?” It wasn’t actually a question. Valerie knew her friend well enough to already know the answer.
Willaminia finally looked up from her glass. “Guilty.” She admitted.
“Lord Coal.” Valerie realized. She remembered how protective that man had been of her daughter that night, and she remembered the way her daughter had danced with him in front the members of Society. “That was his persona wasn’t it?”
“I thought the name was clever.” Willaminia stated proudly.
Although it was against her station, Valerie again rolled her eyes at her friend. “How did this happen?”
Willaminia looked guiltily at the woman that she was lucky to call a friend. “When they first met,” she explained, “they were both pretending to be lower class nobles. To his credit, Noah never actually called himself a Lord, at least not in my presence.”
The woman quickly went on to explain how Alexandria had asked her to insist on Noah’s attendance at the Ball, and how she had gone about doing so.
Queen Valerie felt exhausted by Willaminia’s story. “It seems that I don’t know my own daughter very well after all.” She concurred as she started to leave the office. It was nearly time for her to return to the castle.
“Your Highness,” Willaminia called out, causing Valerie to stop midstride. “I believe that you know your daughter a lot better than you may think.”
~~~ Change Character Focus, Later
“Those are the suits that you deemed appropriate for my sons to wear during their visitation with the Crowned Princess?” Lady Cathliene shouted. She was disgusted. How dare that servant bring back such boorish looking attire?
“Of, course not Lady Cathliene.” He answered idiotically. At least he didn’t stutter.
She hated it when the imbecile stammered. It wasted time. “Then why did you buy them in the first place?” She asked unable to keep her voice from rising. “Surely if even you can tell that those atrocities are unsuitable, then they should not have been bought at all.”
“Forgive me my Lady, but-”
“But?” She fumed. “You dare question my authority?” Lady Cathliene had no idea what possessed the imbecile in front of her to speak in such a way. “I could toss you out on the streets for such behavior.” She threatened.
“Madam Pumberly picked them out for your sons personally.” He explained quickly before she had a chance to continue her threat.
That caused her to pause.
Was that true?
She was in no mood to hear any lies. Had that woman actually picked them out herself? It was improbable to believe. The fabric was so dull, nothing extravagant about it at all. She’d hoped that after using that woman’s services for the last seven years, she would know what was expected of her.
“Well,” she snapped, “if that woman believes that she can get away with selling me this kind of rubbish, I will have to cancel my account with Pumberly’s Fashion and Textiles.”
She felt quite satisfied with herself. Now that she was Lady Montego, any seamstress in Town would be lucky to have her.
“Madam Pumberly was just following the rules, my Lady.” His annoying voice defended.
Anger shot in her eyes so quickly that everything Lady Cathliene saw was tinted in red.
“What did you just say?” Her voice was as cold as the ice on the highest Alminian peaks.
“She received a... she was informed to do so.” He stammered making her anger build even more. “Madam Pumberly said that she was told to dress all of the suitors... in similar attire.”
Sky forbid, the wretched servant was listening to town gossip now. “And just who told her this?”
“Her Majesty, Queen Valerie told her in person, my Lady.” He replied thankfully able to keep his voice steady.
Lady Cathliene stilled.
“Are you telling me the truth?” She demanded.
“I am, Lady Cathliene.” He answered as he stared at his feet intently.
His response wasn’t good enough for her. She needed to be certain. She didn’t want to be made a fool of. “Look at me Servant!” She commanded, and he obliged her. “Are you lying to me?”
His reaction vexed her. He didn’t look back at his feet or return to his stammering. Her servant had lifted his chin and looked her directly in the eye. “No my Lady.”
Lady Cathliene wanted to chide him for his behavior, but she was unable to do so. It was as if he dared her to contradict him, and she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. He didn’t deserve it.
“Reveal the garments to me again?” She ordered.
His eyes darted to the two boxes that sat side by side on the parlor table. He courtly nodded in her direction and did as she wished.
She couldn’t help the scowl that appeared on her face as she looked at them again. They were a dark grey, the color of mountain soil, but they weren’t completely unfortunate looking. She supposed that there was perhaps a small amount of elegance to them.
As she investigated the suits, she couldn’t help but wonder something.
“Servant, when will my sons be visiting the Princess?” She was partially upset that she herself couldn’t remember when it was, but it wasn’t her position to keep track of that information. That was why she asked the servant.
“Seven days starting tomorrow for Lord Ronald,” he informed easily, “eight days for Lord Johnathon.”
“And what is today’s date?” She wondered hoping that there was enough time.
“Today is the twentieth of August. It is a Thursday, my Lady.” He answered unemotionally.
She couldn’t help but smile when he used her new title. It had taken him long enough to become acquainted with saying it, but finally she had broken that spirit of his that had refused to call her Lady for months after her marriage. She really did love her title though. It finally made her feel important.
Her first husband had been able to provide her whatever she desired, but he was just an iron merchant. As the daughter of a Duchess, Cathliene knew what having a title meant, and she had made sure that her sons knew it as well.
“Johnathon’s and Ronald’s letters, did they both request a morning meeting?” She asked. She remembered that Johnathon had complained about the early time, but she couldn’t remember when that time was.
“They were each requested to arrive at the Palace for ten in the morning, my Lady.”
She motioned that she was done inspecting the garments and took a turn about the room as he concentrated on putting them back in their perspective boxes.
Lady Cathliene needed to calculate the amount of time that it would take to get to the palace, but she was having difficulty doing so. She realized that it was fruitless for her to do so when there was a servant waiting for her next command. “When do you expect they will have to leave the manor in order arrive when designated?”
She worded the question like a statement, pretending that she already knew the answer.
He startled her slightly with how quickly he responded, “The Lords must each leave the manor before half past six in order to arrive at the Palace at a respectable time.”
That information didn’t sit well with her. It meant that her boys would have wake up before sunrise in order to get there in time. They would be in no condition to court the princess with so little sleep.
She had to do something about that.
“Send a message to the Rosen Inn, they should still have rooms available. Request one for each of my sons from Wednesday night, to Saturday Morning.”
“Yes, my Lady.” He answered.
“On second thought.” She added realizing that she should give her boys a day to enjoy themselves in town. Sky knows that they deserved it after everything they had done for her. “Request the rooms until Sunday morning.”
“Yes, Lady Cathliene.” He agreed.
“Afterwards,” she explained further, thinking of everything that needed to be done before then, “make sure that their bags are adequately packed for their stay and that Horse has the carriage looking presentable.”
“Yes, my Lady.” He nodded.
“Also, inform him, that he will be performing your other duties until your return.”
The servant didn’t immediately respond. She looked towards him annoyed by his confused state.
“Is there a problem Servant?” She demanded.
“It’s just that-” He began defiantly.It was pathetic.
“How dare you.” She accused. “This is the biggest moment to date, that my sons are about to face. Do you expect me to send them to the Palace unprepared or unattended? Do you?”
“No, Lady Cathliene,” He admitted. “I don’t.”
She stared at the pathetic person and wished that servants weren’t such useless simpletons.
“Never question my judgment again.” She threatened. “Are we clear?”
The wretched thing in front of her didn’t verbally reply. He just nodded his head, and stared at the ground. That wasn’t going to be good enough. She reared her hand back and slapped some sense into him.
“Are we clear?” Lady Cathliene repeated. She noticed that his lip was bleeding freely and welcomed the grin that found it’s way to her face. She felt proud at her strength.
“Perfectly clear, ma’ Lady.” He readily responded. “I’ll see that all your requests are met in a timely fashion.”
“You see that they are.” Lady Cathliene was quite giddy with herself at the servant’s submission. He was always a high-spirited one, and she constantly found herself having to use force to get him to comply.
~~~ Change Character Focus, A Short Time Later
Noah wiped his lip with the back of his sleeve and wondered if the thing would ever heal. He silently cursed himself for speaking up against Lady Cathliene. She didn’t hit as hard as her sons didn’t but her temper was just as short.
He was a quick healer and knew that if left alone, his lip could heal in about three days. If left alone. The rest of his body would was still sore, but only a few bruises remained.
He realized what Lady Cathliene’s orders meant the moment she had spoken them. By having to accompany Johnathon and Ronald to the palace he’d have to watch the twins court her.
He’d have to see her respond to them he way a princess would.
And she would see him, as he truly was, a servant.
His heart ached at that knowledge.
It wouldn’t be just them, hiding from the truth in an old bookstore. They wouldn’t be able to pretend anymore.
Perhaps this how the fantasy would come to an end.
Noah knew eventually that it would have to end. Annabell was simply too good for him. She was superior in every possible way. When they were alone things were different, but those feelings could only be temporary.
He knew it was going to be uncomfortable, perhaps even painful.
He wiped his lip again and noticed that a new scab was already starting to form. If only his emotions healed as quickly as the rest of him.