The Princess and her Ladies Pt 4

They often had picnics in those days.

While the sun shone and the clouds drifted, they walked.  There was a meadow, obscured by trees and dotted with daisies, which was a favorite retreat.  Here they would lay a blanket and empty their baskets.  Fruit, bread and cheese with clear water drawn from the near stream would be set out, covered with cloths to discourage birds and squirrels.

The princess had a clear voice and a fine ear, and would often pluck at her harp as she sat singing soft, unintelligible words in her meadow.  Her lovely face and long black curls combined with the calm of the trees and the lull of her song to create an almost ethereal silhouette.

The love child, whose height had leveled out until she was only slightly above average, lay in the tall grass farther off, with often only a book visible, the heavy volume held above her head.  Occasionally she would disappear entirely, as she lay the book aside, her interest instead caught up in the examination of flowers, bugs or clouds.

The baskets also contained a small easel, or sketchbook with charcoal or paint depending on the changeling’s mood.  She loved the play of the wind in the trees or on her friends, and happily spent the daylight trying to capture it upon her page.

As they grew older it became more and more common for the princess to invite others to accompany them on their excursions.  In such cases the changeling sat closer and only drew pictures of the real, while the love child put her books away and drew out her sewing instead.  It was more proper for others to see the princess as closely guarded by her ladies.  The princess would still pluck at her harp and sing her otherworldly song.

The visitors would be charmed by the tableau presented, and as the three grew older the picture became more and more entrancing.  The king and queen knew this, and often had their own visitors spend at least a day with the princess and her ladies.  The guests would return dazed, as though they had stared too long at the sun, but strangely more compliant and agreeable with the king and queen’s wishes.

Such is the power of beauty, they say.

One day their visitor was not a guest of their majesties nor particularly distinguished in his own right.  A mere knight, he was given the privilege of the princess’ company as a reward for valor.  The young man had survived several battles with glowing commendation, and the princess requested that he relate his stories for the entertainment of her ladies and herself.

Chivalrous to the core, the knight carried the ladies’ baskets to the meadow, and as they walked recounted edited stories of war and battle.  His steady stream of chatter ended as they entered the meadow, and he gained in the women’s estimation with his quiet admiration of their meadow.

He sat on the large blanket next to the princess and the love child, the latter who had put away her books in favor of needlework.  At a lull in the princess’ pleasant conversation, the knight asked the love child about her work.  Francis replied that she was making a gift for her elder sister’s expected child.

“Is it her first child?”

“No, she has a two year old son already.”  Francis smiled slightly.  “My sister and her husband do not live at court, but I try to see them as often as possible.”

“Are you fond of children then?”

“As much as usual I suppose.”

The knight smiled at her.  “My elder sister has children as well.  I’m afraid I spoil them rather awfully.”  The talk devolved from the princess’ riddles to tales of children and their winsome tricks.  The knight, it became apparent, was of a domestic turn, and was delighted with Francis’ extensive knowledge of households and childcare.

The queen wore a satisfied expression, like that worn after a filling but not stuffing meal.  “Francis,” she began, “is a treasure when it comes to taking care of people.  I suppose one cannot be the second of twelve without learning domesticity herself.  Even Eitelkeit and I benefit from her family situation, she is better than any nurse when we are sick and prepares most of our food.  She is always remembering everything we have forgotten, and even forces the two of us into warmer coats when the occasion arrives.  Quite like a mother hen, is she not Eitelkeit?”

Eitelkeit, startled to be addressed, nodded.  She did not usually speak in front of strangers, but gave the group a shy smile.  “Lady Francis is very good to the princess and me.  She always knows exactly what we need or are thinking, I suppose because she knows us so well.”

The love child glanced at the princess.  She did indeed know exactly what her highness was thinking.  She bent over her needlework again as they returned to the normal ruts of polite conversation, and listened to the knight’s tenor voice.  She was grateful that such a gentle person had been chosen, and one who doubtless would share without complaint in the needs of her large family.

Francis looked up at the knight and smiled directly at him, allowing him to see her face full on for the first time.  He acknowledged the privilege and pleasure by taking her hand and kissing the palm.  Eitelkeit was shocked and delighted for her friend.

The princess felt a pang, quickly stifled.  A princess had to make a brilliant match, affection could not be a factor like it could for her inconsequential ladies.

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