Chapter 9 - Counting Down the Days
Chapter 9 - Counting Down the Days
~~~Three Weeks Left
Alexandria’s head was spinning. There were people everywhere getting the castle ready for the upcoming ball. No, her upcoming ball.
Anything that could be done three weeks before the event was currently being done. The ballroom and the hallways were receiving fresh coats of paint, the guest rooms were getting fresh linens, servants were washing windows and cleaning out fireplaces, and everything was being swept and dusted. Alexandria hated how busy the palace seemed.
Most of her lessons, besides etiquette and dance, had been postponed until after the celebration. She usually hid herself in the Tower so that she could escape the hassle that had been created on her behalf.
Today, however, was different.
She had to be nearby so that so that the servants could easily reach her as guests arrived.
Alexandria had found herself wondering about the library looking for anything to keep her attention. As she aimlessly walked through the foreign historical shelves her eyes caught a book entitled “The Cities and Landscapes of Terrafeuw.”
Most books that she read during her history lessons had titles like “Royal Families and Famous Wars: The History of ________.” She usually read about the nearby Kingdoms, but her mother insisted she learned about the Kingdom that her possible fiancé had grown up in.
The Kingdom Terrafeuw had many trade ports along the sea, and Shanri Dessert made all land paths to Terrafeuw treacherous. This profitable defense advantage made the Trade Kingdom a target in the eyes of Heralf, the Rramnon King. The war had lasted over ten years, and was devastating. The Terrafein Queen was one of the many casualties of that war. The whole affair had been rather tragic, but a treaty between the two Kingdoms had eventually put an end to the fighting.
The book in Alexandria’s hands didn’t mention the war or it’s victims. It didn’t mention any of King Freddrick or Prince Phillip’s many attributes. Instead, it contained a vast amount of meticulously hand drawn images of different Terrafein cities.
Alexandria found herself immersed in the pictures. She wondered which town Lord Jenkins grew up in. Was he born closer to the Shanri Dessert, or the Caprise Coastline? He was a Lord so that meant that he most likely came from a main city, the fishing town of Calta perhaps, or the market town of Gredani.
Did Lord Noah Jenkins know that Princess Alexandria was engaged to Prince Philip or had the Terrafein Royals kept the engagement a secret?
Would he be upset when he found out that Lady Annabell Tompson from Londain didn’t exist? Would he ever find out?
He said that he had already been visiting his relatives for two months because of his Aunt’s marriage. It was unlikely that he would stay until the Ball but Miss Willaminia promised to make sure that he was there.
Alexandria had a strange desire to see him, he had been extremely respectful, and yet not as high collared as most men in the Society.
She stared at the images in the book and tried to imagine Lord Jenkins within them. Alexandria had been completely lost in thought when a small cough alarmed her.
“Tilly,” she gasped seeing her escort standing a few feet from her. “You startled me.”
“Forgive me, Malady.” She answered timidly, “I did not mean any harm.”
“Think nothing of it,” Alexandria assured, “One deserves to be startled when they decide that the floor of the library is a proper place for reading.” She stood up and tried to shake out her skirts in a dignified manner. “Have the guests started arriving?” She asked, changing the subject.
“Yes, your Highness.” Tilly informed, “Duke Buchanan of Londain has arrived with his family, and the Earl of Colton’s carriage had just pulled up to the gate. ”
“How much time do I have until they reach the greeting room?” She inquired.
“Duke Buchanan’s family wished to see their rooms before tea, but the Earl appears quiet eager to meet the Royal Family” Tilly said formally. Her usually subdued face became perplexed as she tried to calculate the amount of time the Princess had, “I would guess that you have ten minutes, to get there, Highness.” Tilly’s voice timidly answered.
“Why would anyone arrive this early?” Alexandria asked no one in particular.
Tilly didn’t answer her question; the young girl simply shrugged in response and continued to stand there obediently.
“Well I suppose that it is just one of the mysteries of Society.” She accepted. Alexandria started to head out of the library when she remembered the book she had been reading was still in clutched firmly in her hand. “Will you see that this is placed in my room?” Alexandria asked, handing Tilly the book of Terrafein cities.
“It will be in your reading nook, Highness.” She responded dutifully.
Alexandria left Tilly in the library and headed towards the greeting room where her parents were waiting for her.
As she reached the grand staircase, she straightened out her skirts and silently thanked her mother for not forcing her into a dress just yet.
Alexandria motioned to the steward to announce her arrival.
Her father, King Edward, was staring out of the large window opposite of the door. The frown on his face was evidence of the weeks to come. Her father loved his privacy. It was a luxury that could only be assured by escaping into the Farfiret or the Wrinery Mountains. His position rarely offered him that luxury, but despite this King Edward was a respected King, and his people hardly ever questioned his judgment.
Her mother was sitting in her favorite chair by the fireplace. The summer heat kept the hearth unlit. Queen Valerie was always cautious when meeting new people, but she hid her apprehension wonderfully. The woman rarely talked about her life before she married the King, and Alexandria had yet to meet any relatives from that side of her family.
As for Alexandria, she had made friends with some of the girls in the Alminian Society, but she was like her parents when it came to large social gatherings. It took her a while to warm up to them.
Alexandria’s mother motioned for her to sit on a small couch near the fireplace, and she obliged.
“They’ve started arriving my dear.” Her mother said in a factorial tone.
Alexandria replied in kind. “My escort has made me aware of the fact.”
“Did you find anything in the library to occupy your time?” her father inquired. His voice had a hint of amusement and Alexandria had to suppress a smile.
“I did, Sir.” She replied keeping her words devoid of emotion. “Thank you for being the one to suggest it.”
Her father turned towards her, a slight grin on his lips. “Well, aren’t we the epitome of formal today?”
Alexandria allowed herself to relax slightly and smile back at her father, “One never knows when company may come.” There was an unspoken rule in her family, one that Alexandria loved her parents for. So long as the Society was not looking, formality did not exist.
“Speaking of company,” her father informed from the window, “here comes another carriage.”
“They are arriving so quickly now. To think I shall have to entertain guests for the next three weeks.” Her mother seemed slightly put off by this realization, but she quickly hid it by saying. “Isn’t it marvelous?”
“Why must they arrive so early?” Alexandria openly complained.
“Well.” Her mother paused as if to think of a valid answer. “I suppose that they’re just excited.”
“It is a rather important event.” Her father added. “There are only thirteen Kingdoms in all the Land and you, a crowned princess, are about to celebrate your eligibility for a suitor.”
Alexandria rolled her eyes at her father, but didn’t have enough time to find a cunning response because the steward entered to announce that Duke Buchanan and the Earl of Colton, along with their relations, expressed their desire to meet the Royal family.
Her father turned his attention away from the window and offered them a smile before turning to the steward, “Thank you Jim. Please inform them that they may enter.”
Alexandria found herself wondering, how her father knew that the steward’s name was Jim. Had he always addressed the servants by their first names? She couldn’t remember. Perhaps he called all the male servers Jim. The thought was quickly pushed to the back of her mind when the doors opened and the members of Society entered.
~~~Two Weeks Left
Alexandria’s hands were killing her.
Since the ball was going to be a masquerade all of the ladies, currently at the castle, were embroidering handkerchiefs, as favors for would be suitors.
Alexandria never minded embroidery, but having to embroider ten favors seemed a bit extreme to her.
The Princess had originally planned to embroider each favor with the Alminian flag, but after thinking it over she changed it to an otter. It was the Kingdom’s animal and though it may not sound like it, it was easier to stich than the Alminian flag.
She added a small knot to keep her last stitch in place and smiled at the small otter swimming on the edge of the little white handkerchief. Even though it was an easier pattern, Alexandria’s fingers weren’t thanking her for the image that they created.
“Your stitches are so neat and precise your highness.” One of the women sitting next to her in the salon stated happily.
“That is kind of you to say, thank you.” Alexandria felt the woman smile and forced herself to return it.
“You must be expecting many suitors, your highness.” another woman in the salon commented.
“One never knows who might catch their eye.” Alexandria responded trying to match the enthusiasm of the group.
“Or who’s eye you might catch?” One of the older women added wisely.
As Alexandria picked up yet another square of linen fabric the briefest remembrance of a kiss flashed across her memory, and she released a small shiver of delight.
“Are you cold, Princess?” She heard Tilly ask, clearly concerned about the Princess shivering. “Would you like me to fetch a shawl?”
“Yes thank you, the blue one, please.” Alexandria stifled a sigh as Tilly rushed off to assist her. Truthfully she wasn’t cold, but pretending that she was, was easier than explaining to the group of gossiping women, why she was shivering.
“Is there anyone special that you’re hoping to see, Princess?” A young voice questioned boldly.
Alexandria hoped that she didn’t appear as shocked by the girl’s inquiry as she felt.
“Now Veronica.” The girl’s older sister Vivian chided before carefully stitching the second dove onto the corner of her ivory handkerchief. “That is not something you should be asking her Royal Highness.”
“Well why not?” A separate person asked.
“I know that I’m certainly hoping that a Noble or maybe a foreign Prince will fall head over heels for me.” Lady Cisally confessed before continuing to stich lilies across the bottom of her handkerchief. Lady Cisally’s father was a Duke from Decauntstirn, a kingdom to the west.
They might have been roughly the same age but the short, hip length blonde haired Cisally was much more optimistic about the coming events than Alexandria was.
“I’m hoping to dance all night.” Veronica confided to Cisally.
All the Ladies let out a welcome laugh as the young girl stood up and danced around the room with a half finished rose stitched on the corner of her handkerchief.
While the other women laughed at young Veronica’s impudence, Alexandria found herself lost in thought.
The discussion between Cisally, Veronica, and Vivian had spared Alexandria from answering young Veronica’s initial question. Someone special? Would she have given the child a fabricated response, or would she have answered honestly?
Alexandria could have lied to the women in the room, but she couldn’t have lied to herself.
She was hoping to see him, again.
Would Madam Willaminia Pumberly keep her word? Would she make sure that Lord Jenkins came to the Masked Ball?
There was a great chance that he had already left for his return journey home. The Ball wasn’t for another fifteen days; it was highly unlikely that he was still in Alminia.
But, if he was?
Alexandria remembered how it felt to say his name, to exchange playful banter with him. She remembered how it felt to feel his lips brush effortlessly across the back of her hand. For a brief moment she wondered what it would feel like to have that same sensation caress her own lips.
“What a beautiful fox, Princess.” Vivian’s comment lurched her from her thoughts.
Alexandria looked down at her work. She could feel her face redden and hoped that the others linked her blush to Vivian’s compliment and not to any impure thoughts that she might have been having. Instead of the familiar shape of an otter, she had reversed her stitches creating an outline that looked very much like a sleeping fox.
She had seen the same shape on in the inside of the inside cover of the book that occupied her reading nook. Just like The Swimming Otter was the animal associated with Alminia, the Sleeping Fox was associated with Terrafeuw.
“I am glad that you like it Lady Vivian,” she confided, “but I believe my fingers have betrayed my intentions. I should undo it and start over so that all of my favors are the same.”
“No, I like it.” Veronica called before Alexandria could back stitch. “You should have one that’s unique, your Highness,” she said almost secretively, “just in case an extra special someone catches your attention.”
“Well then I’ll keep it,” she assured young Veronica, before continuing to fill in the outline of the fox that slept peacefully in the corner of the handkerchief.
Tilly soon returned to the salon with Alexandria’s blue shawl and draped it around her shoulders. “Is there anything else I can get you, Highness?” Tilly inquired.
“Do you happen to know the time?” She asked politely.
“It is just after 1:00, Princess.” She responded, “Your fitting with Madam Pumberly is in a half hour in the upstairs sewing room.”
Alexandria placed her embroidery on the small side table next to her and nodded towards the women sitting in the salon, “If you would excuse me ladies.” She informed. “I am needed elsewhere.”
The women all stood in recognition as Princess Alexandria exited the room with her escort.
“Your Highness...” Tilly started once they exited the room.
“Tilly we’ve been through this. How many times must I say that I prefer it when you to call me Alexandria?” She asked since they were out of hearing range of the other women.
“It is not my place to address you as such, Highness.” Tilly apologized before informing Alexandria of her schedule for the coming days.
Alexandria released a small sigh at her escort’s stubbornness.
They reached the fitting room and Alexandria paused when she heard her mother’s voice from the other side of the door.
“Your schedule must be very busy at the moment Willie.” Her mother’s voice praised. “Thank you for taking the time needed for this fitting.”
“Do not fret Val. I have had busier days.” Madam Pumberly’s voice responded.
Alexandria felt confused at the camaraderie between her mother and Madam Pumberly. She knew that Willaminia had insisted on being on a first name basis with Lady Annabell Tompson, but she hadn’t expected the woman to ask for the same treatment from the Queen of Alminia.
Alexandria kept her feet planted, wanting to hear more of their conversation.
“Thank you for making sure that she was safe during her visit into town.” Her mother thanked.
“Think nothing of it.” Madam Pumberly declared, “You were rather clever with her persona, though.” The woman commended. “It took me a while to realize who she was.”
Alexandria wasn’t exactly surprised to hear that her mother had used the woman as a means of looking after her while in town, but what had she meant about her persona? Did Madam Pumberly know that she was the Princess merely because of the name that her mother had given her?
If so, how?
“Does Kimmie know?” Her mother’s voice asked. Again Alexandria wondered at the familiarity between the two women, perhaps after years of employment they had become friendly in their conversations. It gave Alexandria hope that her and Tilly could become friends.
“Do I know what?” Kimmie’s voice asked on the other side of the door.
“Hello there, little one.” Her mother’s voice had returned almost instantly to that of a proper Queen.
“Your Majesty.” Kimmie paused. Alexandria pictured the young girl curtsying to her mother. “My Momma promised that I could meet Princess Alexandria.” The excitement in young Kimmie’s voice could be felt through the door.
“I couldn’t get her to stay at home.” Madam Pumberly’s voice apologized. “Ever since Lady Annabell Tompson came into our shop she has been begging to meet Princess Alexandria.”
Alexandria stopped listing to the conversation on the other side of the door. “Tilly would you announce me please?”
Tilly looked nervous for a second before she nodded and stepped into the room.
When Alexandria walked in she saw her mother and Madam Willaminia Pumberly standing in the center of the large sewing room.
“Forgive me for my tardiness Madam Pumberly.” She managed to say in a formal manner.
“Think nothing of it Princess,” she said with a smile, “but I hope that you can forgive me for what is about to happen.” A glint appeared in the woman’s eyes.
“I am not sure I understand what you-”
Before Alexandria could finish a small voice called out from an adjacent room. “Momma, I can not find the pearl ribbon. I think you left it at the... Lady Annabell!”
By the time the words left her lips the small, overexcited, red head had managed to wrap her arms around Alexandria’s waist.
“I did not think that I would see you here.” She babbled happily. “Oh and guess what! My friend Simon, his dad, Bert, is the one that will be making the cake for the Princess’s birthday. Isn’t that exciting!”
Alexandria gave her mother a questioning look. The Queen nodded to Alexandria’s unasked question allowing her to turn back to the little girl that freely hugged her. “Hey Kimmie, I have something to tell you.”
“You might want to wait until after your birthday to tell her dear.” Madam Willaminia informed cautiously.
Kimmie frowned at her mother’s statement, but a word caught her attention. “You have a birthday coming up soon?” She asked.
“I sure do,” Alexandria answered.
“That’s amazing!” Kimmie squealed, “Happy Birthday. I wish you didn’t live all the way in Londain. If you lived here, I could give you a present.”
“Don’t worry Kimmie, you do not have to get me a present, but you could keep a secret for me. How does that sound?” Alexandria asked stressing that it was a secret.
“Is it a big secret?′ “Kimmie asked in wonderment. Her eyes grew large and a gleeful smile appeared on her face.
The Princess lowered her voice, “It might be.”
“Oh,” she blurted excitedly, “tell me, tell me, tell me.”
“I will give you a hint.” Alexandria informed, bending down so that she was on the same level as the seven-year-old. “You will have to guess my secret.”
Kimmie’s face hardened. “Like a riddle?”
Alexandria nodded, “Yes, like a riddle.”
“I could try.” Kimmie responded, but she didn’t seem too sure.
Alexandria thought for a second before she looked knowingly at Kimmie and said, “This is my dress fitting.”
Kimmie laughed at that statement, “No it’s not silly. This fitting is for Princess Alexandria Maxine Georgiana Bell.” Kimmie paused after her statement, and then looked up at the person who she standing next to. “Annabell.” She said slowly thinking hard. It only took Kimmie a second for everything to click. “Hey Lady Annabell?” She said carefully.
“Yes?” She asked.
Kimmie released an excited squeal, “You’re the Princess!”
Alexandria nodded at the enthusiastic girl next to her.
Willaminia bent down so that she was on the same level as her daughter and Alexandria, “Your Highness would you be kind enough to change into your dress for the fitting, it’s hanging up in the other room.”
Kimmie jumped out of Alexandria’s way so that the Princess could head into the other room.
~~~ Change Character Focus
Queen Valerie exited the room soon after Princess Alexandria left to change.
Excitement poured out of Willaminia’s daughter, “Momma!” She cried, “Why did you not tell me that Lady Annabell was actually Princess Alexandria?”
“You would have treated her differently.” Willaminia answered simply.
Kimmie’s eyebrows lowered in confusion, “What do you mean?”
“She isn’t just a Lady.” The woman reiterated, “She is a Princess.”
“I know that now.” Kimmie moaned. “But I didn’t know it then.”
Willaminia squatted next to her daughter. “The Princess asked you to keep this a secret, right?”
“She did.” Kimmie answered still slightly confused.
She smiled at Kimmie before asking. “Why do you think that is?”
A knowing look came to the small girl’s face,” I would have treated her differently.” She stated repeating her mother’s words from earlier. Her expression was soon replaced with a perplexed one. “But momma, what about Noah?” She asked.
“What about Noah?” Willaminia wondered.
“He was pretending to be a Lord, when he’s not.”
Willaminia nodded at her daughter’s realization. “That’s right.”
Kimmie fiddled with a small piece of ribbon that had found its way into her hands. “Princess Alexandria wanted me to keep her secret.” She stated as she coiled a ribbon back around the spool. “Will I have to keep Noah’s secret also?”
Willaminia wanted to tell her child the dangers of telling others’ secrets, but Princess Alexandria walked in from the changing room ready to be fitted. Willaminia felt proud of her work. She knew that the Princess would steal the hearts of many men on her birthday night and that perhaps, there was one heart that she had already stolen.
~~~One Day Left, Change Character Focus
“Hurry up you pathetic excuse for a servant!” Lady Cathliene’s voice could be heard across the entirety of Durseman Peak.
Just as the Noah was getting use to the Twins not being there, the day came for them to return. That meant that Lady Cathliene had him rushing about so that everything could be prepared for their arrival.
“I do not have all day Servant!” The woman shouted in a way no member of Society could deem appropriate.
“Well if the Twins didn’t always wait until at last minute-” Noah mumbled under his breath.
Lady Cathliene turned towards him sharply. “Did you say something?” She asked in a toxic dipped voice.
“The seamstresses wish to see you.” He covered quickly.
“Ah,” She responded clearly not believing him.
He knew that Lady’s Cathliene was about to scold him, but the sound of the carriage pulling up the drive caught her attention. “While I am dealing with the idiotic seamstresses, prepare water for my son’s baths.” She said in a huff. “They wouldn’t want to arrive at the palace smelling of the hunt.”
Noah bowed his head in her direction and remained unmoving until she sauntered away. He stood and sent a glare in her direction, while silently wishing the seamstresses good luck. He turned towards the kitchen where he would heat water for the Twin’s baths.
~~~A Short Time Later
“How’s the wife Travis?” Noah asked as the man exhaustedly walked into the kitchen.
“Well she’s’ not happy about me leaving in the middle of the day to retrieve those two,” he answered while rummaging around for something to eat, “but she’s well enough otherwise.” He said with a grin, before asking seriously, “How are you holding out?”
Noah kept his voice light. “I’ll survive.” He said with a shrugged.
Travis eyed him cautiously, “Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“To be honest, No.” Noah divulged, carefully removing the two pots of hot water from the rod above the fireplace. “I’m anxious about leaving others to take care of the Twin’s. I asked Peter and Kendal from housekeeping to help, but I’m not exactly sure how well they will fare, or what the Twins will do to them. And then there’s the matter of the Masked Ball.”
“Sky forbid what might happen if she recognizes you.” Travis added.
Although it was improbable, Noah shuddered at the thought. “Lady Cathliene’s’ stupid impersonation scheme, might get me thrown into a dungeon.”
“Ah the joys of servitude.” Travis said with a laugh, trying to lighten the mood.
Noah offered him a smile as he set new pots of water over the fire and stroked up a small blaze.
“Speaking of servitude,” Noah mentioned as he wrapped a towel in around each hand before taking a hold of the two pots of water. “I’m not quite done for the night. Pleases make sure those pots don’t boil over.”
“Working hard my friend?” Travis joked as Noah stepped out of the room.
“For the hardly working.” He answered back habitually, a grin coming to his face.
Noah tried to keep the grin, or at least a pleasant look on his face, as he headed up the servant’s staircase. He could hear the Twin’s discussing their hunt, as he got closer to the washroom. It was going to be a long night with an even earlier rise than normal. After all the Montego’s servants had a Masked Ball to prepare the family for.
That was a task that Noah did not welcome.
~~~ The Day of the Ball
“You are not Horse.” Lord Louis Montego stated in a confused manner early that afternoon. “Where is my driver? I demand that he be here.” The man shouted towards Noah.
“My Lord,” Noah interrupted softly, trying to keep the man calm. “I shall be your chauffer for the first half of the night.”
Lord Montego eyed him suspiciously, “Has my wife hired you?”
“I work for you, my Lord.” He answered trying not to patronize his master.
“Have you been appointed for tonight?” Lord Montego asked directly, bypassing pleasantries.
“I volunteered.” Noah said, matching his directness.
“What is your motive for volunteering?” The man continued flatly.
Noah thought about how to answer the seemingly direct question. “No other servant can operate the carriage My Lord.” He said, only telling the man what he needed to know.
“If you give me even one reason to doubt your loyalty to this family, I will dismiss you, and destroy your creditability.” Lord Montego informed, his voice becoming deadly serious. “Am I understood?”
“Yes, Lord.” He responded, his voice devoid of emotion.
Lord Montego nodded, and climbed into the small carriage without saying another word.
Noah kept the horses at a brisk pace, but was watchful so as to not jostle Lord Louis Montego in the back.
He worried about leaving the two housekeepers to get Johnathon and Ronald ready for the Masked Ball. He had prepared everything before hand so that his replacements would have as little trouble as possible, but when it came to the Twins, there were always difficulties.