And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
An Anthology of Nursery Rhymes and How They Came About...Maybe!

Hey diddle diddle,

The cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon;

The little dog laughed

To see such sport,

And the dish ran away with the spoon.



There are some that say fairy tales and nursery rhymes are in part, fiction based on real events. Perhaps so…

There once was a kingdom known for its amazing horses of bronze and a king who repeatedly handed out empty threats to cease their existence if his only son wasn't cured of his terrifying nightmares. In search of a cure for over a decade now, it took the bravery of one servant girl to see past her own restraints to help a friend in need. Even if that favor is something of another world.

Submitted: March 27, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 27, 2016

A A A

A A A


 

 And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon

 

Hey diddle diddle,

The cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon;

The little dog laughed

To see such sport,

And the dish ran away with the spoon.

There are some that say fairy tales and nursery rhymes are in part, fiction based on real events. Perhaps so…
 

 

PART ONE

There once was a kingdom known for its amazing horses of bronze and a king who repeatedly handed out empty threats to cease their existence if his only son wasn't cured of his terrifying nightmares. In search of a cure for over a decade now, it took the bravery of one servant girl to see past her own restraints to help a friend in need. Even if that favor is something of another world.  

"In ye name of the coats and boots of the king himself, I swear I will hunt ye down and serve ye for dinner one night." This speech was a daily ritual for the head of the kitchen staff. The backbone I tell you,” Ms. Nola would shout.  The kitchen is the spine that holds the castle together.  Gives it the foundation it stands on.  Without food to sustain a person all the house would fall. Nola’s philosophies on running a kingdom were well known among the bottom floor right side of the castle though Alandra doubted the king and queen were ever aware. 

“Alandra.  Ye bread does not bake itself.”  Ms. Nola called to her ending her porch watch of the full moon currently holding the shape of a carp by one and a cow hoof by another. It was odd shaped with the little movement from the clouds and of the best interest on a Friday night where everyone was ready to do anything but work. Alandra had spent many nights sneaking peeks at the sky or watching the splendid moon shine it’s soft glow on the horses for small amusements break the monotony. 

Dexter patted Alandra's arm, told her to finish daydreaming and prepare to go upstairs to where her recent request would take her. Dexter was not particularly loquacious about the way he procured Alandra to be the one to serve the cursed prince, but after three days of entering his room, leaving a plate, and returning to get it was part of her nightly routine now. Only at night.

This week had been particularly busy in the kitchens all around. Nola cursed the king's choice of unannounced nobilities and their guests to the castle who as always—arrive at dawn and leave after lunch—two meals prepared in quick demand. Nola worked everyone to the bone on the occasion. Nola was Nola. The staff, well, everyone in the castle, called her that because of where she came from. Irish by her birth mother, raised by a French father, tortured by a creole stepmother who left her for death at eight years of age and was further raised by the servants of the only home she knew. Alandra supposed no one knows Nola’s real name. Alandra did not know her own name much less ask it of another. She was brought here as a babe, her parents ran away from the castle and left her or so she was told. So here she stays, in the kitchens of the Castle Diddleton.

The world is not as it used to be, her friend Dexter would say.  No, it was not.  When the castle wars started across the countryside, it was like everything started over. At least, that is what Alandra read in the books she’d found on the old civil wars of the neighboring Castle Merryman that was demolished. King Talon’s father had taken it all and passed the legacy down through the son, the current king, who was more apt to do it with magic, they say. It was rumored he used a sorcerer but at the circulation of his father using trickery and deceit to win the wars unfairlike, he banned all magic. He was a man of whom nearly everybody was a little afraid, even the noblemen. There was a feeling, perhaps, that he knew a little too much about everybody. And there was a feeling, too, that his sense of humor was a curious one, dangerous even. Until his son was born. The current king. A king who hides behind magic but rebukes the allegations, they say. All rumors, of course.

Dexter gave his ideas on running a kingdom often and Alandra spoke frank since it was only him. Just last night she gave him a piece of her own mind in a heated argument with the two of them alone in the library. She advised a person should make the place a kingdom of equal opportunity with a governing action to keep peace and order. "There is always a brave new world,” said told him, “but only, you know, for certain individuals. The lucky ones. The ones who carry the making of that world within themselves." Her speech was interrupted by duty but vowed to give it against on.

“Five minutes ti’ ye time to go meet Master Steele. Dexter will take you partway and head to ye trash heap. Have ye plate ready.” Mrs. Nola had her creole slang in full force this night. She always did on the weekend before the singing the servants did at midnight. What the nobility called cats wailing was a celebrative event to show their small independence.

Every night this week Alandra has taken the king’s son his after dinner meal, the equivalent of  two meals. Dexter brought him breakfast and lunch. Not long ago, months really, Dexter worried over his screams in the night and Alandra volunteered to check on him but only because Dexter seemed to no longer be afraid of him. The guy seemed fine in his morning rides. He was off the norm and she wanted no part in it, but admitted to herself only that she was intrigued enough at why he needed two meals so close to one another.  Lately, he’d requested more and more and she was the only one he allowed up to take it to him other than Dexter.

Tonight she walked with a copper plate of pork, two slices of wheat, and pickles. His appetite changed each day along with the amounts. Though Alandra had not seen him ever physically up close, she’d pictured a mountain of a boy with muscles the size of an island like what she’d seen of him from the courtyard every morning when he was on his horse leaving the stable. Each time, she’d lost Dexter at the fork in the path with a nod and forged on to the stone bench below the backside exit. Over a year now, it became a ritual she refused to stop and sadly was unable to explain when Dexter named her obsessed. It made her wonder if the new arrangement was not possibly suggested by her friend. This prince had always requested Dexter, until now.

Why she was chosen for the task of feeding him was beyond her understanding. All five foot nine of Alandra with no other name could not stand up to a prince who had his weird dreams and horrid nightmares. Oh yes, she’d heard about them. Anyone who was anyone in the castle knew the prince was plagued with terrors in the night.

The room was dark, with candles lining the hearth and a small mahogany table beside it. A Windsor chair was turned away so that she may not see the boy. For the fourth night in a row she would set his plate down and escape backwards out the door from whence she came. Her stomach flip-flopped like each of the other nights the second she neared his door and his unearthly hearing acknowledged it before she entered.

Except tonight...everything changed.

Everything!

“May I ask your name?” a deep voice sounded from behind the chair, the cadence of his voice lulling her in.  It was hardly a boy's voice. Alandra audibly made a noise that could be construed as a nervous one. She did not know what harm he could do, but she did not want to find out.

“Alandra, sir.”  Her own voice sounded small and insignificant though she knew he was near her age.

Then, he stood. He was overly tall—six foot sixish. Deep brown waves fell over his forehead. His face was intriguing with broad cheekbones, a determined mouth, and an all around roguish look about him. This was not what she’d expected to raise from the chair.  She’d only seen him from afar but her first thoughts after the initial reaction were, he cannot be evil. The rumors have to be wrong.

How such thoughts can be determined off of first impressions was unrealistic, but it is what she thought.

Her staring eyes betrayed her because he seemed to note it and did the same. She was not in her finest attire, but she’d stayed clean for the night and her fair hair was pinned up nice enough it wasn't all flyaways and string.. She absentmindedly smoothed the cotton dress out of haste for the moment to pass hoping he was thinking up what he wanted to say instead of watching her fidget. It was slow and painfully making her aware that he was not going to let her go so easy.  Somehow, she knew this.

Suddenly, her bravado kicked in from the beyond. “Why do you hide if you are so...good looking?”  She knew he smiled at the girls every day before his ride and saw them all swoon as he came near. Having never the opportunity to see him face to face, she imagined him ugly due to the fact his parents hid him away, but also doubted it due to the female reaction to him. 

Alandra wanted to die of embarrassment. She just told the guy he was perfect at first sight!  Mental, but perfect.

He smiled at her—in what she hoped was an encouraging way—and with it his lashes fluttering a shade lighter than his hair.  Oh, his smile was melting the butter right off the bread in front of her. He tipped his head sideways and intensified his gaze to study the girl before him, unnerving her.

“Miss Alandra.  I do hope I have not inconvenienced you by coming here each night. I do not get many visitors and I do wish to see others. I am not in hiding as they like to message out, but do get out occasionally.”

She suddenly felt that leaving was appropriate, but ignored the urge. “Where do you go? I missed seeing you this morning.”  Yes she has seen him. With his horses. His own riding crop lay on the table by the door.

“The stables. The woods.”

To chop up servant girls?  “What for?” 

He cocked his head sideways.

Oh no.  She asked too much. Big bad wolf! He’s going to eat me, she thought.

His look of question was towards the repetitiveness. Of course she knew how kind he was to the animals, his favor over the horses. She’d watched him till he disappeared off the landscape everyday, standing in the courtyard below his chamber window. She vowed once she now owned the stone bench for it was her daily routine to watch the prince in secret as his figure trotted off and into the forest green. “I ride my horses, tend to them.”

His face altered from an introductory face to that of a true acquaintance, someone he might confide in. A face she’d never truly seen, but only imagined.  “Will you stay for a while? I would much like a good conversation.”

Can she say no to someone like him?  “Yes.”

Carefully she walked around the chair, far from him. The gesture did not go unnoticed. She settled on the chair across the way that was centered like he might have company to sit with him from time to time.

“You have another chair?” her rather too inquisitive mouth shot off.

“I have.”  Nothing more.

Looking around the still dark room with the adjustment to seeing in it, she found him to be a book reader with the twenty or so shelves filled full with so many titles though she could not make but a few out.  Dickens.  Poe.  Frost. And even Bronte.  Wow!

“You read?” he asked her before she herself could.

Alandra nodded still looking at the books wondering why she had never noticed such a rich library within his chambers.

“You are welcome to borrow any you see?”

She could not believe her ears. Almost a stutter, she half asked, “You would let me take your books?”

“Yes.”  No emotion hid behind it. He liked short answers.

Avoiding the direction of his chosen conversation, she saw the food still not touched.  “Are you going to eat?” 

“Yes. If you are okay with it of course.”

What? Was he worried she poisoned it?  “Why would you need my permission?” He smiled and chuckled a little under his breath. He was laughing at her. “If your plan was to laugh at me, then I shall leave.”

Alarm hit his eyes but softened away as fast.  “No, please stay.  I only meant to be polite and not eat in front of you.”

Oh!  She waved a hand through the air to signal for him to eat.  He reached for the fork and cut a piece of meat off while she gathered her thoughts and continued to analyze the reasons behind this encounter. “Why do you eat twice if you are not in need of food?”

He raised his eyes once more her direction and said, “Are you saying I am fat?” His eyes smiled though. She knew he was teasing, not mad. For a moment, Alandra saw herself laughing with him and realized how perfectly human he seemed. Not the horrid evil king to be most were pinning him for across the castle gossip. Perhaps he was not so lucky in the magical ability department as his father is rumored to be.

“No, you are perfect. I mean, nice looking, or you are fine the way you are.  Oh, never mind.”  Her cheeks had to be red even in the low light.

“Thank you. I need the second meal because I am so spent from the dreams.”

He was telling his afflictions. Should she run out the door before he said more? Holding practically at statue still proportions, Alandra simply held her breath. He continued cutting a second piece of meat and purposefully not watching her reaction, “I cannot stop the dreams. They come to me and no one seems able to stop them.”

Big mouth had to ask, “What is in the dreams?”

“Terrible things. I die every time.” He did not look up as he told of secrets that should sometimes remain just so. He ate another bite as if in wait for her to run or ask more. Her stomach in knots, which was not any different than any of the other nights but intrigue and curiosity kept her still on her tiptoes. Something about walking in the room or being near him, she was not sure yet, made her want to know more.

“Why can you not stop them?”

A mischievous, wolfish grin surfaced. “I am trying to solve that.”

Odd, but okay. It made her want to know more instead of running like she should. With the rumors that went around, what, she wondered, was true and false? Intrigued, she inquired after the dreams more.  “How long have you had them?”

“Too long.” He stopped chewing and looked closely a second before returning to his food. Those eyes. They seemed as if they could see inside her soul.

“Nothing has changed?”  Was she trying to solve his little problem? she asked herself.

“Only you.” 

Ding! Dong!  The wicked lovely just announced he was the wolf and he was still hungry.  And to further convince her, he let the fork hit the plate and continued his predatory gaze on her and her alone. “I am asking a lot of you. I mean you no harm though I can tell you are deathly afraid. Would you please,” he swallowed slowly, “stay here...tonight?”

It was the swallow that got her. It was a catch between fear and anxiousness handing out an order, but allowing it to sound like a request. Briefly she considered that he meant no harm like said, but his own description still hung in the air of the not so pretty picture he’d just painted of when he slept. “Like watch you sleep?”

He nodded. At least she appeared intelligent, right? “Will nothing happen to me?”

“I am certain nothing will happen to you.”  He said that with an emphasis on the last word as if something could happen to him. Alandra instantly realized he thought she would not stay.  He sat there too long in concentration.

“Yes, if I can…” She was stupid with a capital S. “If I can borrow one of your books.” 

He moved with too much grace for a man to the other chair with a pouffe that was folded out in front of it. A blanket was folded across the back of it that looked mostly yellow even in the dark and made of velvet, a shade she did not consider for a man’s room. He leaned over her body to retrieve it. As he did, she could not help but take in the scent of him. It was so prominent a scent in the room. All over. Suddenly too enthralled with this mysterious man...who was the king’s son, Alandra started to rethink her sanity.

He set the cover in her arms and stepped back away so that she could see his face again then noticed he was barefoot and his shirt was unbuttoned three down from the top with regular pants on. His idea of pajamas were not normal, but he was not of the normal variety. It made her wonder if he knew of her own idiosyncrasies and asked her there for reasons unknown. Or at least, reasons no one but her friend Dexter knew. And Mrs. Nola.

“I will sleep on the chair if that is okay with you?”

He kept asking of her instead of her asking of him. It was making Alandra itchy with discomfort but said nothing. “Am I to sleep sitting up?” she asked with a bit of antagonist glare his direction. She might as well be comfortable.

He let a small laugh escape his lips like she was jesting him but did not see the humor in her question. “The chair folds back.”

Leaning the chair back, she was first mesmerized by the contraption and wondered who built it, then watched him as he settled into his own chair with no blanket. She pulled her own up to her chin and shivered out of habit from the cold associated with snuggling under. The unnerving part of the shiver came from the solid gaze that seemed to never leave her person.

Before, she called him a predator.  Now, Alandra could see in his movements he is more the prey.  He acts as if something, maybe her, will attack.  What happens when he sleeps?

She shifted her eyes to the books since moved a little closer to them just to escape his eyes.  Seeing a plethora of favorites she knew her body jumped at the thought of an entire shelf of Austen and Shakespeare. Austen books were freshly pressed and hard to find.  She’d seen several versions of Macbeth and Hamlet in the theatre but never in book form.

When she finally took her thoughts off of Romeo and Juliet and their attempts to overcome their own dilemma, he had his eyes closed.  It made her jump again simply coming to the realization or at the very least what meaning it held behind it. He’d fallen asleep with her in the room, an act she did not capable of herself in his presence. 

Was he asleep?

She watched on.

And watched.

After an hour ended and time was still and without noise, Alandra was afraid to fall asleep.  So she stood very quietly and moved to get the book she’d stared at for the entire time.  She’d recreated Jane Austen’s book in her head twice since sitting in the chair for the night but only after she failed to rewrite a new ending to Juliet's plight. Sad, abrupt endings were reality, but unwanted. So she stuck to Austen.

No creaks.  No sound came from her steps. 

When reseated and the sweet dusty spine of the book was open to the first page, there was a sweet surprise at the idea that it had been read.  A read book was divine. It meant another delved into the world of the unknown and entertained the idea of being in another time and place. And for it to be the man in front of her brought a whole new meaning.

She did not hesitate to open its contents hoping to be the next adventurer.

Thirty-four pages in someone cleared their throat.  At first she thought she imagined it into the book, but a quick assessment saw that someone was watching from afar.  She shot up out of the blanket and dropped the book.

At the same time, he shot up, grabbed the book, and stood right smack beside her.

It was closer to any human that she’d ever touched.  Or male for that matter.  Her insides fluttered like speed demon dragon wings making her a wreck.

After handing her the book and backing away two steps, he fell back into his chair like he might have been embarrassed as well.  So he was smooth moves most of the time.

“I did not mean to startle you.”  He said in a choked voice that caught her attention.  She also saw in the light that bathed his face dark circles under his eyes that looked almost permanent or would be soon if he did not get some proper sleep.

“Well?” she said anxious to know if the magic spell of comfort was from her presence.

His face guarded a little.  Instead of answering the question he asked his own, “Where are you from?”

Okay.  Quiz time.  “Here.”

His eyebrows drew in and he rubbed his unshaven in more than a few days jaw in an attempt to wake up more.  Guys and their chin rubs. Dexter kept his face shaven smooth with the rare occasion he wanted it noticed by the female population. Alandra liked his face with whiskers. They made him look dashing, as she often announced. 

“How old are you?” 

“Nineteen.”

“Who is your mother?”

Alandra was growing nervous and used anger to hide it.  What did all this have to do with his dreams and her somehow?  “Do you have a point to all your questions?” She should not talk to him like this, but he is the one who made her stay.

As if backing off, he waved a hand in his face and hid some emotion still guarded from her. “I stayed alive.” And that means? She waited and did not ask. “In my dreams I die.  The other night when you first came, I was asleep.  I dreamed of you.”

Her breath hitched.  As frightened as she was, Alandra did not get up or run away screaming sorcery.  She was curious if anything. As far as she knew, he’d never seen her until tonight.

“So what does it mean?”

“I do not know.” In the stillness, his voice was soft and barely audible.

Alandra feared an unknown agenda with the suggestion she some kind of talisman. A witch. A good luck charm.  Is he aiming to lock me up like Rapunzel and keep me here, she asked herself. “What do you want then?” She felt she had to know. A right to know.

“I would not make you do anything you do not want to do, Alandra.  I am grateful you allowed me an hour of peace.” The way he said her name was different than even Ms. Nola and her French accent. It was drawn out more on the end, left lingering on his lips with the final letter left at the close of his mouth.

An hour. Had it been that long? He was not cruel or hateful like the court spread around. None of it could be true. And he would let his own pain continue to not hinder her.  For that, she let her heart talk for a minute.

“If you are evil, let your toes freeze off and your hair fall out. No harm in sitting. No harm in reading. It is what I would be doing downstairs alike,” she paused with the direction of the book pointed out then added timidly, “I should stay then if you’d like?  You can sleep and I shall read your book if I may?”

“You may read every book I own.”  He did not smile like before.

“Why are you upset if I chose to stay?”

“Because my chains should not bind another.  I cannot, or should not, ask you to do what you have now offered.  I will treat it as a gift for tonight.”

Alandra let it go.  She wanted to see the outcome before she poured her heart to him anymore. And...she wanted to finish her book before it was taken away.

He slept on. 

She watched.

She read.

With the first sign of sunshine she replaced the book unfinished, and crept out as light footed as could be but he awoke just in time. 

“Alandra?" She turned to him slow enough to give time to wipe the sleep from his eyes.  In the light, he was absolutely stunning. She let a breath escape at watching him as closely as she was. It was the first time to have a direct view of his solid face, the roguish features in the light. The lines across his forehead disappeared with the morning light and possibly sleep making his seem stronger. He looked…like a king.  “Yes.”

“My name is Steele and I am eternally grateful for what you have done. I cannot thank you enough.”

Why would he be so kind? She could not believe the rumors were ever what they were.  And now she knew his name, a name never used. He was simply called, the prince or the one with the nightmares upstairs. Few knew he rode horses, she’d learned of late. Alandra knew because it was the brown leather pants and jacket that Dexter said was cleaned weekly for the “princely one” as he called him. All the weeks she’d watched him ride off. Who did they think they were watching? A tyrant to be or a ghost perhaps?

At the last second she turned to him, with sleep in her own eyes and exhaustion in her shoulders and said, “Am I the only one who has ever helped you...in that way?”

He searched her eyes for something, but she could not read it.  Then he said very quietly, “You are the only one.”

Alandra left without a goodbye.

 
 

 

 

PART TWO

 

The next night came too quickly and not quickly enough depending on the event she focused on.  Alandra was immensely excited to go back to that room but completely nervous about it and admittedly debating sending another.  The intrigue was too great to do it though.  She wanted to know what would happen to him.  If he would be okay.

She hurried through dinner and dressed to the best, then headed up. The staircase winded narrowly with a cold iron banister that tapered at the top. It seemed five steps more this night.  His door was among three others along a short corridor though all were empty, and for the most part, always empty.  Alandra knew of his and the one across from it.  It was a spare bedroom for guests of the prince. It had never been used.

A light knock emitted an echoing sound while holding his plate of still warm pork and bread right-handedly so.  She added an extra slice of bread and a pastry since he was finished so fast the night before.

Steele opened the door himself.  Alandra almost fell backwards with the sight of him.  If he was handsome last night, he was twice as much the next.  His dark shirt was tucked in and matched his eyes that she did not know were the color of steel the night before. Perhaps his birthright no matter the plagued life he's led, the iron strength in his arms washed out any other symbolisms.  A belt and slacks were added.  And he wore shoes.

His hair was mused up like he meant it that way unlike the night before when it was just flat.  Obvious that he dressed more and that she was noticing by the way her eyes shifted down the length of him, Alandra blushed as he did the same.  She had on her best blue dress with the dare me lace covering the bosom. Her shoes were polished in the afternoon and her hair was pinned up with an ivory comb Dexter gave her last Christmas.  It was the most daring she’d ever been in her life at attracting a man.  He appreciated her efforts, but he was not crass or rude in the way he looked her over. Alandra told herself to walk back out the door and not look back. Servants and princes do not mingle.

Both stood in the door too long before he finally moved back enough to let her enter still a servant and a prince.  It is just, he did not treat her that way.

She sat the tray down and uncovered it for him to see the extra helpings and buttered bread.

He did.

He smiled.

Returning the smile after forcefully sitting in the chair from the night before, she eyed the blanket still folded across the neck as if it belonged there and waited for one to use it.  Possibly her.  She also noticed her unfinished shelved reminder that love is complicated and sometimes not of your own plan. She needed Elizabeth’s advice now.

“You are welcome to take any you like.” His hand fanned out towards the shelves as he sat but did not eat.

“Thank you, sir.”  A discomfort arose.  Arriving ten minutes earlier than any of the other nights, it felt now like five hours too early.

“Steele.  Please call me Steele.”

Really uncomfortable now she shifted in her seat and wiggled to put her feet right.  He really liked watching her every move by the way his line of sight seem to follow even when it was just her eyes looking elsewhere.  She needed conversation to pick up so to avoid his penetrating stare.

“So, you have dreams that are not so nice.  Do you not sleep to avoid them?” This was a perfectly normal conversation. Her lack of sense was not noted in his expression even with it away from her now.

His eyes downcast he corrected, “Nightmares. I have no choice.  I sleep when it overtakes me.  It is only been as bad in the last year.”

“And you think me staying here with you helped you avoid the nightmares?”

“I have no other explanation.  What is your birthday?”

Okay.  Blunt.  She avoided recalling the darkest rumors at present, blinking them away from her thoughts in part because she was rethinking it still and wondering if they were true. He seemed overly interested in her and for more than just an altruistic reason of noting a diversion to nightmares. He acted too interested in her. 

“When is yours?” she asked instead.Cheeky was what Mrs. Nola called her in her best moments and just now it seemed a good weapon. She just might be playing with fire since this was the king’s son.  He could have her executed for certain talk. 

He lifted his lip like a smile, “The last day of December.”

Uh!  Her face went stark white for he answered with her own thoughts. “You share my birthday, am I right?” She only nodded. “And your parents?”

Now cautious being her new middle name with the sudden turn in what is hardly harmless conversation, she flipped her head up high and asked, “Why are you asking me this if you seem to already know so much?”

“Humor me?” He noticed the sudden obtrusive flare for defiance. He wanted to see it as half fear and being somewhat of a flirt for he’d watched the way she interacted with Dexter and though it was very close of a relationship, her chest did not palpitate when talking to Dexter like it did with him. Choosing to take the conversation, and time together, to a fast pace was dangerous but well worth the risk. His own heart held the hope of a future—a future with happiness.

No!  “They ran from here and left me. The kitchen took turns raising me and Master Dexter took me under his wing.”

“You stayed with Dexter all of these years right here in this castle?”

Um, yes.  “Mostly in the library. It is warm and more inviting to what I love.”

Steele mulled over what she’d shared though, in her opinion, he was too knowledgeable about things he should not concerning servants.  “Why do you read so much?” he asked with his hand to his chin.

Privacy was not his middle name.  “I prefer to live in the fantasy. Real life sucks.”  That is the truth, he himself thought.

“I am of the same accord,” he half whispered then glanced to his shelves avoiding her reading into him too fast. He noticed the way she watched his face often.

“Why? You have everything. You could go anywhere. You could do so much for others. I could do so much in your position.” The outburst won her a smile but she felt the sting of guilt from speaking to him that way. 

“You see what is on the outside as others see the same of you. I have no choice in any matters of my life as you have no position to light any fires with your own status. I am pushed to the edge of what I am allowed to do and never faltering. I teeter on that edge with the pins and needles of being told I should not be shown as a disgrace.”

Vehement with her own people for thinking lowly of a man plagued with nightmares as a disgrace, she shot up in her seat for a second time in his presence. “You are not a disgrace. I saw what you did for the children at the orphanages last spring even if you disguised yourself and remained unknown. I see how you care for your horses and how others hero worship you to the point that it sickens me to hear your name.”

He first smiled then said with a firm assurance, “I shall not try to make you sick then.”  She flushed and he grimaced.  “I am only what my father says.”

“No you are not! You are amazing.  You ride out letting the others go before you each morning.  You take care of your horses before yourself.  You even let the ladies walk by in their morning rush for the cows while you hold the gate unknown to most of your people as their prince.”

Steele cocked sideways, “You see an awful lot of what I do.  However did I miss seeing you outside?”  He had a dangerous look about him.

She blushed so heavily she wanted to grab ice cubes and run them down her cheeks. 

“You take extra helpings to those who do not ask,” he eyed the plate and went on, “Dexter is most appreciative of that gesture.  You aid Nola in the kitchen even when it is hours after you are expected to be there and decidedly despise cooking. The extra bread, you give to the orphans. You dust the shelves of the library even though it is not your task to do so. The books are taken after with the upmost care and even more so from you. Your beliefs on what others should read and why they should are apart from most. They are rarely used in this day and time, it seems.”

How did he know all this? “I am not the only one who had an admirer I see.”  He has watched her.  Eerie, but oh my, she thought to herself.

“So since we are past all of the surface tension, shall we move on to the deeper waters?”

“Yes, please,” she was not afraid, SHE WAS TERRIFIED.

“I know who you are.  It took me the entire afternoon to confirm it, but I am positive about my findings.”

She sat up pristine and held her hands over her nearly shaking knees.  He’d watched her...like he watches her now.  More than curious that he already knew who she was and acted like there was more, it made her daring. Darting a look across the room to both facing walls and a windowed one viewing no ammo to attack her with or others to hear their speeches, she had decided she would ask certain questions. After all, a prince should be cautious with inviting servants into his room...alone. “First, let me set you at ease.  I will not hurt you.  I cannot hurt anyone.  My dreams can only hurt myself.”

Good to know.

“My dreams seem to have included you for a while now.  I have watched you yes.  But I have mostly followed what my dreams told me.”

“I thought you said you die?” And that they were nightmares.

Steele thought she was being hasty, but he did not say it.  Instead, he kept on.  “I dream every night that I leave here by the woods and never return.  Each time I die a different way before I can get back.I go every morning on horseback to the place where I black out in my dreams hoping that something will happen or trigger a connection or at least end it all.”

“I am sorry.”  She felt bad for hurrying him now.  It was awful to have that kind of fear and to have no answer.  “Why am I in them?”

He did not answer. 

“I sometimes do not go to the stables first in my dreams either,” he paused then changed his line of thinking, “Once, in real life I went to the kitchen after hours to get a snack.  You were there, with Dexter.”

Dexter was like a father, or big brother to her.  Only he was young, five years her elder.  He let Alandra live with him out of pity so many years ago.  And though she could not get enough of his humor and he almost always had a way of cheering her up when lonely, he was still just a brotherly type, not a father.

“If it were not for Dexter I would not be here.”

“You seem...overly fond of him.”  His jaw tightened. She questioned the gesture but could not read it. “He talks greatly of you.”

“I think a lot of him.  He is like a brother to me.”

His shoulders rose and fell. “I am good friends with him as well.  He has aided me when most would not,” he offered.

“I know,” she looked down. It was the only reason she stayed the first night. He was friends with a servant boy. Though Dexter’s family comes from royalty previously, that line died and the status with it. Only the offspring are affected.

He made to wait wanting her to continue.  She never expected to spill her guts to this guy.  The guy she’d watched from afar and never saw but only as a figurehead, however kind he was to those who accepted it and as well to those who did not. All the years he was said to be plagued with nightmares she never thought it to be unnatural like they claimed. Everything has a cause, a reason for happening.

“Dexter and I would sometimes lie awake and share our burdens.  He worried about you greatly last summer when your dreams were the worst.  That is why I began checking on you each morning.  I would tell him of your leavings and that all was well to help him worry less.”

“You are a very kind woman.”

Woman?  “Your dreams.  Tell me more,” she swallowed then curled her feet under her gown and pulled the blanket up to her shoulders. It was colder than the night before.  He seemed to relax more with her comfort in tow, and even began to eat.

“You visit me in my dreams.  I sometimes wake up before I get to the woods when you come to me.” Steele did not look up, but ate hurriedly.

“Should I worry about what these dreams entail?” She inwardly gasped at her boldness.  That was uncalled for.

He blushed.  Yes, his face was red.  He still did not look, but she knew red cheeks when she saw them.

“Um, you only talk.”

“About what?” she reached and took Romeo and Juliet to avoid reactions to his blush.

“Everything. You tell me about your parents, your passions, your hate for cooking.”  Steele laughed at the last one.

She ignored the middle part and stored it for later.  “I did not know my parents, so what could I have said?”

“You told me their abilities.”

His plate was finished in record time. He placed the napkin over it and stood up allowing his tall frame to loom over her long enough she had to look up to him.  He looked to his bed, his fire, and then the chair beside where she sat.  His step forward made her whole body freeze. He sat down instead next to her in the chair that was adjacent and not there the night before.  If her legs were still down their knees would rub.

“I found out today that your father and mother ran away and took a child with them.”

“Yes, but then they returned and left me here only to turn back again.” Dexter told her of the famous couple with magic being ousted from the castle. She knew his own father spoke of the memory and relayed it to him.

“The child was a boy.”

She blinked.  “Why do you think you know this?”

“My nanny used to talk of a couple who had the most extraordinary powers that the king and queen were jealous enough they had them sent away. She used to say that the woman could ease your pain and the man could give you pain. They complimented each other and vowed to withhold harm from others but my father called them out for using dark magic.  One day like most couples, they conceived a child.  That child would most likely carry on their abilities.  But before the child was born, the couple got wind of what the king and queen planned.  They would take the child from them and hide him or her away from the world so that it may not bring more magic upon the dwellings within the castle. They felt it would end the magic within the child if not fostered.”

The parents wisely decided to have the child in secret. Magic, Alandra concurred, is a fierce thing to behold. Too many fear it. As to whether his parents were jealous, she doubted, for their own son has magic. Somehow, the stories have been skewed and now, in this eye opening conversation, something seemed amiss. For too long Alandra has wondered about her heritage. 

“Unbeknownst to many, the queen was with child. She was to give birth on the very night that the magical couple would. And she did. When the baby was born, a trusted man who was not the king, came to see the queen and her newborn. He crept in, saw that it was only the one midwife and the queen who went through the birthing process and continued with his plan. The baby girl was fair skinned, fair-haired. He touched her skin and is said to have thought her scrubbed of magic by his harry doings but magic’s own spell would one day make itself known. This part is a little skewed by my own guesses. I have to fill in the pieces for some of it.”  He paused then went on when she did not budge. Her own long-awaited guesses were being affirmed from years of doubt.  “The man went back to the other couple to see the outcome.  It was a son born with pale skin and dark hair. A possible heir, he must have decided.  He was touched by magic within his very soul and the father vowed right then to keep the secret silent for all time.  And mostly, it was. Both babes grew to be strong and well nourished.  The boy went to live with the queen when he was taken the very same night. However, they did not know they had a daughter instead and it has not been revealed to me but through dreams. But, a guess would be some form of magic was placed on all the parents considering they were both alive and well but somewhat unaware.”

A whole lot of magic was being tossed around.

“The daughter...was taken.  Her supposed parents were killed outside the city gates not long after they escaped.  A young boy found the baby and took her into his chambers to care for her.  She has been there ever since.”

Steele acted like it was a story to be clapped about, but she was visibly shaking.  Alandra wanted to cry.  Was it real?

“How would you know all this?” she whimpered, her fist gripping the chair. 

His eyes were sad. He whispered and leaned a little closer, “You told me all this in a dream Alandra.”  He said her name like he knew her. She did not know him. How could he know her?“I am not the king’s son.”

“Yes you are. You just got sick or something and now you are disturbed.  You think you are—“

Steele fisted the chair. “No.  And you know it.  It all fits.  Dexter admitted it to me this afternoon.  He learned your parents were murdered and he took you. What you said in my dream is true.”

“But if that is true, then you are not...I am not...we were—“

“Switched at birth.  You are the true princess.  I am not the heir.”

“How long have you thought this fantasy story to be true?” She falsified a weary smile to act the part. It could not be true. 

“Reality is not a solid picture for me sometimes yes, but you are very clear to me.” 

It hit her like a brick wall the idea of the story leaking out. Gossip was a virus in the castle.  “You will not tell anyone, will you?”

Steele let his face fall.  “I will do whatever you ask of me, Alandra.”

“I...you did not bring me here just for this. You have a motive.  I will admit I am a little leery of the story and would want to talk to Dexter myself.  I do not want to be executed for being hasty with something the king’s son says to be true and I just believe it, although I see no reason why you would tell me such a tale for your own gain.  However, I want to know about your dreams, nightmares.  You brought me back here to hide from the dream tonight. Why, if they are so knowledgeable on the truth as you say? Now you tell me I divulge my secrets to you every night in your dreams.  Tell me more or at the very least everything you know before I bolt and pretend I never heard a word you said.” Too much of it made sense with her own previous assumptions but never had she thought to be an heir. 

“You are a bold girl,” he grinned with a shake of what looked to be disbelief. 

She frowned and folded her arms in defiance. She did not want to believe it because all the facts of her life led to the story being 100% true.  That scared her more.

“Last night when I slept, I dreamed only of you.  I went into the woods with you.  I left the woods with you.”

“So they were just altered, not vanished?”

 “Correct.”

“What do we do in that dream?” They were the key. The dreams. She did not want to admit it, but it was so nonetheless.

Steele blushed, “Mostly talked.”

He’d said that before but she was sure there was more.

In information overload, she did not know how to process though some of the details are a little fuzzy around the edges. A person’s life should, could not be changed. It was not her own anymore. It was a lie. So was his if he is correct. And somehow, she knew it was right. It is all true.  With shock she mumbled out, “It is all true? The old dreams. The new. Not just an agenda to control me into something.”

She did not see when he’d taken her hand, folded it into his. She plopped her feet down too fast and her knee knocked his. A shiver ran up and down her entire body.

“If this is real, I do not want to lose you.”  With a wearied hiss of further disbelief, Alandra decided she might just be living another person’s dream. She was losing sight of what was real and what she imagines. “Will you stay tonight?” She was not leaving him only because she wanted to know more.  “Are you scared?” he asked of her. 

“Yes.” 

“Are you scared of me?”

Yes.  “No.” Just scared of what it means.

Before he could get any closer to her face she blurted out, “I have dreams.”

He stopped. His face blanched and backed away. His nightmares started when he was young. His father was in conversation with a lord about the fact there was no resemblance between him and the king, but a strong one for the Lord Thomas. His father whispered something in the dark of that corridor that night Steele will never forget. "He is not mine, of that I am sure." From that next day on Steele was to stay in his room unless otherwise allowed out. 

Alandra's dream came alive as well. “It is the same dream every night.  Always a shadow with no face. A boy finds me, takes me home.  Only I do not know where home is.”

“How long have the dreams come?”

“Since I can remember dreaming.  I just always thought it was my own longing for the truth.”

The air changed.  He looked so intent. “I think there is more to the story here. Is it possible there are two out there born to find each other? Is it ever possible that an event happens for a reason and that very event could change everything we know to be laid out before we even know it ourselves?”

“I…” she paused realizing his hints but unsure how to process a life of destiny playing out without her first asked permission, “just met you. I think you are being a bit hasty.” This was too much in a night. From nightmares to dreams to destiny and hand holding? What is next, she thought.

“You were meant for me I think,” he put his other hand over hers leaving her spent and at a breaking point when he asked his next request.  “I would like to kiss you if you would let me?”

Steele was asking for permission again, yet all the time he’d known all these things about her and just as boldly, asked a girl he barely knew to kiss him. It was not smart nor pragmatic in solving their problem. What did she have to lose? Everything. What was she going to do? Kiss him. She closed her eyes and waited. His breath was sweet. His mouth hovered for seconds before his lips touched the edge of her jaw. The little sensations that tingled and extended to her cheeks then spread to her mind and left her swimmy headed. She felt the heat of his body though he was still far away even with so chaste as a cheeked kiss.

It was not as long as she’d have liked and not nearly as far as she’d have taken it, but chastity was a virtue in a woman and he seemed to be an honorable man.  The very thought that she thought such a line made her question her true virtue. She just kissed a man she barely knew, and the prince no doubt. Or was he?

The buzz in her head screamed for more. When her eyes opened, his own were there watching her grip on the arms of the chair, and naturally her un-virtuously sticking her chest out too much for a lady.

“Are you okay?” he asked concerned.

“Yeah, I think so,” she croaked out embarrassed.

“Are you upset?” he asked still not far enough away yet. He was wagering her reaction she figured, and realizing what he now considered a mistake.

“Only because I would like you to do that again.” Bold and stupid.Steele showed his teeth this time. Perfect and white. She was caught staring at his mouth capturing a smile that was dangerous, but sweet.

He leaned in this time sitting on the arm of the chair. For the first time, she reached for a man.  She laced her fingers around his bicep leaning over the back of the chair and sat on tiptoes.

His lips were soft, warmer the second time. His tongue touched her lip and all at once she melted like a sugar cube. If it was a façade, it was a good one, she thought. Still, a first kiss is a first kiss. And with a prince. “Will you stay until I am asleep?” 

She did not want to leave. That was for sure. After she could muster standing she followed his lead to be reseated and covered without ever saying yes or no.  In over her head, but it felt right and safe.  Does not the prey think that right before the predator takes the gulp? Besides, if he’d wanted to take advantage of her, he’d already have done so.  And strangely, she trusted him. In a world where so many were secretive, it did not pay to trust. But for Alandra, desperate times call for desperate measures. Finding the truth was unfortunately, a game of trust for the both of them.

Once facing one another, in separate chairs once again, she told him her newest secret under the cover of darkness. Largely affected by the moment between them and wagering if all she’d learned to be true, she weighed the outcomes from them both and decided he must be genuine if consulting her about his own fears than another. “Last night, I was afraid to sleep only because I could not predict what you might do.  Tonight, I fear I may doze off and well...what if the dreams changed because we...or something happens?”  She did not make much sense, but the idea did. Suddenly, she wondered if that was the only reason he kissed her. To see if something changed.

“Whatever happens, we will manage it together.”

 
 

 

 

PART THREE

 

The next day was different. Alandra thought she had awoken first, but Steele’s solid gaze at first light noted a look like he’d been awake awhile.

“What are you doing?” she asked with sleep still overtaking her mouth and limbs.

“Watching an angel sleep.”

She dealt still in realities even if the night seemed a dream in itself. The actual dream was amazing, though still mysterious. Until now, the dreams seemed just that, dreams. But now, meeting Steele and hearing of his own, they could not be ignored. If sorcery was at work, she did not think she minded. But her dream revealed something new. “I should not have done this. They will surely have my head.”

His strong arm caught her by the shoulder as she lifted and started for the door.  “No, they will not. We will be fine. I asked Dexter yesterday to assign you to me. You and I are inseparable for the time being.”

It sounded like a sick joke but he meant well.  “I am not sure if that is a good idea.”

Too fast, Steele rolled off the side of the chair to standing and said, “I know it is not a good idea, but am not going to let you go that easily. I want more Alandra.”  His head was in his hands when she faced back. A gasp landed when she realized his appearance. When did he lose his shirt? The muscles in his back...the points that that ran down. 

She stood glued unable to speak until he reached for his shirt. A chuckle rang out. After an apology he did not acknowledge the error of, he said not asked, “We will ride out together to the woods today.”

How ironic was that statement? He knows she would meet him in an hour near the gate...where she always watched him previously. He could not have seen her own dream! “Very well. How would I do that?” She wanted away so she could talk to Dexter to find out more than what he was telling. “I have a proposal. Here me out before you speak.”

She waited impatiently. Seated again with the light only getting brighter and more likely to have awakened dwellers roaming about, she squirmed. 

His proposal was preposterous. It would never work.

But it did.  He was there.  Alandra was scared to death at what others would say.

A ladies maid was sent to her, a girl she knew to be beside the queen at all times. Until now.

“Milady,” she bowed and gasped all in one. A look up told Alandra her own feelings were revealed in another. In the guest room where he placed her to dress, a painting was hung floor to ceiling of the king and queen. The likeness of Alandra and Lady Katherine were astonishing. With her hair up and plaited, it was a very distinct similarity. And the sea green in both their eyes was undeniable.

“Lady Arrabella,” the girl whispered glancing from portrait to person.  She used her real name, her birth name. No one did but Dexter, and only when mad.

“I am already dressed. Just open the door and let me leave.”

“He is standing out there.” It seemed a warning. If this girl suspected anything, if she recognized both her and the likeness, would she tell? Steele commented once on the color of her hair being one with the sun. Alandra could say the same of her suspected mother. It was, for the most part, an exact match.

As if read in her face, the girl said, “With all the powers that be, I will help the Lady,” she paused and smirked, “Arrabella in any way she wishes.” That seemed an alliance.

At the door opening, Steele saw Marian first and said, “Thank you for the short notice. Dexter was very kind.”

Dexter? He had his hand in this. He did not mention any of it when she asked her questions of him. When his faced shifted, his eyes reached saucer size.

 

 

 

PART FOUR

 

“Relax,” he said patting and soothing the horse to prepare it for mount. The bronze coat was just as mesmerizing up close as from the watch in the courtyard. Truly magnificent creatures.  “If it comforts you, I told my parents you are a princess in wait here to allow me to woo you.  If it means as much, I also asked for your release in the kitchens.”

What?  “You did that...for me?”  She climbed the stirrup in one swoop with the help of his hand.  For which she enjoyed. The horse seemed to like her, making Alandra rather excited for she’d seen many men mount on one of the famous bronze beauties and be either thrown off or forced to retreat. “The queen will never believe me to be a princess.”

“Hogswallow. I also made it known that I was less afflicted with you near.  They pay so little attention to me as of late that I even asked for you to have my spare room and received a lengthy spoken speech of approval.”  With that he held his breath and waited for her reply.

Stuttering, she watched him mount the mare and give her his frantic eyes.  He was deadly serious about all. “I was being honest about everything, Alandra.Including how I feel about you.” His eyes said much, his blush more. His brown leather pants and riding jacket were both stunning, making him more of a king than he ever knew. It just goes to show it is not always in the genes, but in the mind as well. He looked the part yet few knew the truth. For the moment, forget titles. I am a guy and you are a girl.”

Aside from the fairy tale proportions being added to this tale, it still felt like the dream coming alive every moment she was awake and very soon the bubble would pop. Alandra had heard of a similar story once and wondered for years of its truth or tale. How a poor servant girl was dreamily picked out of a thousand girls to be the one, a queen of the land. It was all nonsense to think a man chose love off of sight.  “Then lead on,” her wearied voice allowed. She had not anything else to say.

Once in the woods, they stole anticipatory glances at each other without a word. A chaperone was near, a man she knew to be an upcoming lord to his father’s lead. The awkwardness began to set in aside from the fact that she felt a stranger in her own land. The patterned sounds of the horses trot kept talking to a minimum. 

At the first entrance into the tree line away from human eyes, Alandra took small breathes in a deep pattern to offset the nerves and to fight off fear. He seemed to recognize it, for he calmed her with the bravest words. “I am scared too.”

He was? 

She turned at a corner and there it opened up into a similar courtyard, a cove of sorts by the way the tall trees hovered.  It was similar to the one under his castle window where he could watch his horses so easily but with a small pond she knew too well. Astonished she admitted while pointing to the musical dwarf tree that’s lyrics always seem to be laughing with its hollowed stalks for pipes, “I see the same in my dream. That is how I found it the first time. I had to create a path to it, follow the music.”  He dismounted and took the reins of both horses then tied them to the tree where a branch had been whittled away for tying. Alandra knew he’d move to help her down next and he did. “I hear it too,” he offered.

By the water she watched as bluebirds sipped and stick bugs danced on the surface making little wrinkles of waves. The trees shivered with her as they blocked the chill of the Spring air. 

They first talked about likes and dislikes, favorite books, and even silliness like favorite colors. His was yellow. Horses became his passion at a young age for it was the only solace to escape the world he felt caged in, and it led to the path they were in now. Steele vowed they would know more of each other before the day was up and the night fell. He wanted every moment he could, he said. 

“Nothing unordinary has happened,” she shared. Except a prince asking her to join his table for a nightly dream watch. 

“And nothing has not happened.”

Okay Mr. Riddles.  “We are alone,” she looked around. “Tell me again how you vow this plan of yours will play out.”

He chuckled with the lightest of laughter she’d seen in him. He looked healthier. The circles under his eyes were beginning to disappear.

“The king wants much. I am giving it to him.”

“That is another riddle. Tell me straight out.”

He shifted his legs to the other side of where they sat and watched the water. He glanced often to the horses, his horses, checking their comfort and thereby making her see in him the kindness he owned that others see not. He does it without gain.  “For now, it means I have you all to myself.”

Factious man. Intrigued as she may, it was dangerous to play games. It could land her in a heap of inconvenience not to mention heartache. But for the life of her, she could not fathom any other motive but his own happiness. He was nevertheless, an honorable, pleasant, humorous and handsome man. “So, do we go back, take a nap and see what dreams arise, what?” She curved a little more to make her angled at the corner of his knees and boots. They watched the water and not each other as they talked avoiding the content's inescapable revelations. She got the feeling they were both blushing too much to watch the other’s reactions.

A little more comfortable now that she'd made aloud her own embarrassment, he answered, “We both slept well so maybe not the nap.”  Now...NOW he looked at her.  “We could just...relax here longer.”

She knew what her face said in answer to his relaxing options. Her thoughts were foreign and surfacing for deep emotions she'd always avoided with men. To be a servant girl in search of a man whom could love her seemed a chore and for him to woo her as well. What could a boy, a man, with little do to make a woman happy? Well, both poor, it could work. But Alandra didn't want to be in servants clothes all her life. No one should be forced to certain restrictions unless under watch for crimes. What crimes had she and her fellow kitchen friends committed? The world needed to change. People should choose their station in life. 

Stealing yet another glance at the trees above, she realized one point made well to the surroundings, the little hidden garden cove could be considered relaxing if not given the circumstances she was in.

Steele inched over and put his hand on the corner of her bare shoulder. The dress was a beautiful shade of green to match her eyes, no doubt chosen for that very reason. It was his irony of sorts to atone the switch. He reached for her cheek and held.“You changed my dream Alandra. I saw this moment.”

For a second in recollection she replayed the scene.  “I think I might have dreamed the same but honestly I am not sure what I have made into dream and reality. They are all crashing together at the moment.”  Her head spun wearily with his unannounced kiss. When they both finally looked up at the darkening sky, somehow both sighed together then laughed heartily. 

“We should head back,” she suggested first. The entire day seemed to have passed in what felt like a minute glimpse.

“I know I said I gave you the spare room and have already moved all of your things there.” He waited for the wrath that did not come from her knowing mind. She was angry that he arranged anything for her for it meant him controlling, but held it back. He meant well.  “But I would like for you to stay...with me. I am not trying anything. I just want you near.”

She smiled a little sad. It seemed a little more than a wooing and more a soothsayer aid to rescue him from nightmares. Alandra felt she needed to rethink her decisions.

They returned to find Dexter instead sitting in a chair in her new room refusing to leave until she devulged her decisions. She had not purged any useful information out of him yet so she herself refused him back. He was half avoiding her questions and half saying how sorry he was at never telling the truth. She let him apologize...a lot. He was vague in his efforts but rest assured he felt the upmost trust in Prince Steele and his decisions. And that she should trust him as well. For Dexter to say it, she felt calmed and chose to meet Steele for the trip to the woods that morning. Dexter was a tyrant where men were concerned. He would never make a good ruler for the simple fact that he saw things come to light too late after his temper settled. After a good long drill she took some snacks from the tray he pretended to bring up, told him to come see her every morning, and thanked him for letting her out of her station. She would never miss the kitchen. If she spent the rest of her days cleaning Steele’s rooms and reading all of the fabulous books, she’d be happy. She felt sure that was better than the alternative, a life of slavery in the kitchen. Cooking was her worst nightmare.

Alone again, she checked out the spare room closer. It was plushly added to since she saw it in the morning time. Rich yellow curtains and matching bedspread that were not there before adorned it. The curtains where brushed, the tables wiped. New pillows the color of the sun were there as well. 

She freshened up in the washing area and used the perfume he’d sat out. He was most definitely wooing her. After changing into night clothes and deciding it was too little an amount of fabric, silk, she placed a slimming gown atop it for chastity.  He’d think it was everyday wear, but it was what she wore in the library in the midnight hours. His claim to have seen her before should warrant recognition of it. She found herself testing him for what she had not determined other than honesty as of yet.

She closed the heavy door and knocked on his. He was there before she could knock a third time.

Entering shyly noting he looked her over not once, but twice, she blushed. “You wore your reading gown.” 

He knew. The excitement in her grew. She spread out the goodies still left from Dexter’s trek up the stairs and they ate them side by side at the fireplace. 

“Is this something you do a lot. Bring girls to eat in your chambers?”

“You would know this if it were true. But no. My father saw fit to marry me off on several occasions with girls sent to the castle and welcome feasts for introductions. He wanted me away from here. My guess now is the obviousness that I am not his.”

Alandra looked alarmed. She was not the only girl in his life. How selfish she thought then asked how many. He grinned with knowing. “It is not like you think. Imagine the great hall with it’s long table and all her family and all of mine seated. She is on the opposite side of the room and in all of the four or so hours she is here, she says not one word to me. For the most part, all the girls they have brought were afraid of the boy with nightmares. They will not come near.” A look at her legs tucked under her and perhaps how close the chairs were situated was noted, she could not say from reading his mind. For that skill, she did not possess. Otherwise, she’d know all his secrets. How could she measure up to any of them? 

He drew his eyebrows in. “Are you okay?” he worried. He assessed the reasons behind her disquieted response and then stood only to glide over and pull both her hands and legs up to standing. He wrapped her arms around him and did the same with his own, a gesture he'd never attempted with another but felt natural with her. So much taller, she looked up. “Does this look like a man who only wants to kiss you and leave it at that?” he smoldered something rich and dark with his voice. "While I admit to being a little attached to you from the start, I find myself intrigued by your beliefs, your sound decisions on what others find silly and tiresome, your crooked smile and the way it moves one way or the other depending on what is spoken."

“I might have misread you,” she swallowed. "But you move fast and I am a little leery of your motives still. I am just a girl from the kitchens, not some princess like you speak of. I cannot offer my thoughts on diplomacy for I feel the king is wrong in so many decisions he has made. I consider you one of those. He doesn't give credit to his own son."

"I think that is perhaps, because he knows...I am not his son. The queen saw you once," he switched his thought as he did twice before. "She asked about your parents to Dexter and then somehow, left it alone. Dexter and I were friends, so he shared the encounter. That was a year ago."

"But that does not explain him hiding you for so many years instead of training you."

"Train me. I have read every book on this shelf, written letters to every ambassador to all the neighboring kingdoms, and ran an entire horse barn for him for three years now. He has made me aware of more wrongs in this world than what you say he has done to me."

"And you intend to change it," she questioned carefully. Her eyes were shielded, but she watched his for honesty. 

"If you will help me." She disagreed with the condition. A kingdom's future should not be based off her. 

"No. I will not be a guiding light when I know so little of what you talk about. It is absurd for you to ask."

"Is it. Tell me. What do you think of how the entirety of the castle grounds is run on the basis of servant and nobility? Is it balanced workloads or do the nobles have an obsessive belief that servants do all? What about the stables? Have you ever seen my father near the horses he so proudly tells all other kingdoms he runs? From his throne seat! What about marrying for wealth? He'd have some girl deathly afraid of me betrothed, or even married off and living separately in that spare room as a farce to make the kingdom believe all is well and their future is too. There is talk of war even. What can he possibly accomplish with these strongholds crumbling around him in the next ten years? He will not live forever." His chest was rising fast, his breath racing to catch up to his thoughts.

"I am...you see more than--"

"What, you thought a dark prince who supposedly lives in darkness sees nothing? I am not blind or ignorant. And nor are you. You would 'make the place a kingdom of equal opportunity with a governing action to keep peace and order'. You are more a leader than you think." His voice didn't waver like hers when he was upset. No, he was stronger. A leader. 

"So are you," she retorted lifting her higher with his compliments and in the same, with hiding her nervousness. He just quoted her own thoughts shared in secrecy to Dexter alone. Well, not so alone. 

Steele let go of the riding crop he grabbed hold of for what she guessed a safety net. It was the sign of a leader, she believed. He held on to the one thing that he owned, and that, was his horses. "I am willing to listen, give you my time, if it is understood that this is an equal methodology. I cannot become some princess type and I do not expect a perfect prince. I am who I am--"

"And I the same," he interrupted her once more absolutely in love already with her bullheaded ways. She was authoritative in every way a queen should be. In the right ways.

All at once he moved in close wanting simply to behold such a brave and tantalizing sweet female. She had no idea how pleasing she was to a man. “I would take anything you are willing to give Alandra, but I think highly of you and that would not be a good idea until we get to know each other much better than two secret keepers who watched each other for longer than either wanted to first admit. I would have all of you...when the time is right.”

She managed a very lame, “Okay.”

Steele smiled and suddenly they were talking of dreams and hoping to see the same before the night was lost. All of their previous scattered thoughts left behind to see the future.

The next night they dreamed again. And then again. In her own, his face was clear. Possibilities were open. The idea of a new world exists.

After two weeks, he had not one nightmare. They felt compelled to try out the alternative for the sake of knowing. It was a disaster. Alandra slept in her room and he in his. It was a prison and not just because the room was unfamiliar. Eventually, she ran across the hall halfway into the night and woke him. He was thrashing in the bed and sweating like a man doing hard labor. She held him and he calmed saying she woke him before he died in the dream. It scared her more than anything. It was then that she felt she had to protect him, keep him safe. He needed her, for every night that she was with him they both slept so peaceful. That night was awful, alarming.

No more experiments.

 

PART FIVE

 

One day, after weeks of a routine that eventually warranted gossip of what might happen, Steele asked her to dinner with his parents. At the risk of what might happen, she forced him to give his outlook on what could actually come to be if they continue. The nights were so easy to grab hold of and never let go, but the future is still at stake. The truth will come out. 

“I have another proposal.”

After he shared it, she wanted to vomit. It would never work.

Dressed in the finest gown, Alandra asked Marian of where they were coming from. For now the ladies maid was not blind to the truth for she and Dexter, as it turned out, were to be married in May. A secret he kept well, but accused her of being blind to due to her own busy life away from him. He and Marian were acquainted one night in the library that she was always afraid to enter before because she thought him betrothed to Alandra. Alandra found it all some form of destiny in the making. Marion was now her greatest confidant and definite vouch for anything unordinary happening in the castle. The maids know everything.

Meeting the queen was a worrisome event for more than one reason. It seemed her questions were all knowing and a definite lead in to the understanding, and apology, towards the ways of how servants are treated. Queen Katherine was not more nervous than she. 

“There is more to the story.”

Dexter sat down with her, handed her a warm tea and looked at her with kind eyes. Steele sat beside her on the chair's arm. In the sanctuary of Steele’s room, they shared the secrets of a kingdom and it’s fallen graces to never be uttered outside of the walls that absorb them.

It went something like this. “When the king first heard of Lord Thomas’decision to marry a kitchen help, he went ballistic."

"Lord Thomas," she interrupted, "how does he figure into this ordeal? He died of fever."

Steele was patient, but would not have his story stolen. He gave a look of warning to Dexter and took Alandra's hand in his. "The man was betrothed to a courtier already planned by both parents and awaiting her eighteenth birthday. When Lord Thomas announced he would marry his choice bride, Sydney, a cook’s assistant, a servant, the king renounced Thomas' title and ousted them both from the castle grounds before nightfall calling it sorcery as a front. In haste, Lord Thomas took his very pregnant future bride away at once. Running away was their only alternative for the king was not known for being kind to traitors, as he called them. 

"Ah, but Lord Thomas made a mistake. He took into his confidence, a long time lordly friend of the court, the king’s first lieutenant, Lord Scott. When he learned of their treachery, Scott played the part needed to make himself avenged for the daughter promised to Thomas was his very own. Thomas thought him to be an honorable man and ask for help to leave. 

"No longer a lord, but an outcast, Thomas took the money offered and headed to the inn at the edge of the castle grounds for the night before planning to leave at first light. His future wife was with child and the birth was very soon. In fact, it was to come that night and to be out on the road was impossible. The king did not half listen when Lord Scott told him of Thomas’ fail to exit the city and shoved him away to watch his own wife give birth for the first time. 

That night, Lord Scott ordered the couple killed and their baby taken.

When Alandra heard Steele tell the story, she was startled at the idea of the king, a man she’d revered for years in name only, ordering such a thing or even allowing it. But it was not so. Steele reassured her and went on.

“That night, two babes were born. Lord Scott did have the parents killed. The baby was taken and found—“

“By a five year old boy who saved—“

“A girl. Let me finish.” Steele’s eyes twinkled with excitement. He wanted to tell this story so much, it made him half standing in his seat. “You see. There was no magic within the telling of what really happened. Lord Scott took the newborn girl from the chambers where Lady Katherine was giving birth and replaced it with a son. He switched the baby most easily when the midwife turned to wash her hands and just as easily slipped back out the door. Except for one hitch.”

“My father was the guard on duty that night. He said Lord Scott paid him off, and for years, he mumbled such a story, a ferocious account, in his drunken state. A five year old boy would not think anything of a story like that but fiction much less finding a baby in the street and bringing it home. A rhyme a man made to enjoy the sport of his evil.” Dexter looked proud to release his secret. Dexter repeated the rhyme he'd heard his father sing-song across the house they lived in for so many years. It was not until a year back he realized the connections it made in truth. Hey diddle diddle... “I did not put two and two together for years. It was not until Steele started asking questions of a girl who hid out in libraries and why her sea green eyes were so daring and mysterious.”

Alandra rose one eye to him. Steele laughed,“Guilty as charged.”

“Go on. Tell the rest,” she ordered. She had a million questions but wanted the whole of it before firing.

“And that is it. The babies were switched out of vengeance on the king letting Thomas marry another and Thomas for going through with it. Dexter gave me the missing pieces over the last months and now we have a plot that will reinstate the true princess to the crown of Diddleton.”

“By me marrying you,” she verified.

For a second he looked doubtful of her previous decision. “Well, yes. My father is not stupid.” Steele looked to the frame above his table, a small one compared to the one in her room. The king was no taller than the queen and fair in all of his features. His eyes were kindly and good at hiding things in her opinion. Steele knew his mother searched for a child who looked of her or the king—and last year she found her before Steele did. 

Alandra stared long at Steele. The man before her now was a good deal taller than most, dark-haired like the night, blue eyes like the sky, and dark-skinned by the sun. They, the royal king and queen, were nothing like him. “So he has spoken to you about your differences?”

“Of course. It is why he shut me in here. He guessed many long years ago something was amiss. I have brought it to his attention what happened and he—“

“YOU WHAT?” she jumped a foot. It was one thing to find out her parents were executed for what could be called a hate crime, but to know the king was aware of her status, with surety. Not to mention the implications of both having the ability they do for it meant it was handed down. The king very likely, holds sorcery himself and would most likely be the reason he never ordered any deaths. Perhaps he was even scared this couple would reveal his own secret. Who knows?

His hand clamped hers down to the chair. “It is okay. He knows of Lord Scott’s treachery and will make amends. A lieutenant, as servant of law, must be of a high order of integrity. For his word is expressly believed by the virtue of the profession he has lived upon. For it to come out now would be a –“

“Scandal. Yes. NO one can know.” She looked from man to man. Dexter was always faithful. Suddenly the reality of the situation caught up to her. “What are we doing? Treason. They could banish me for this.”

“No, you are their daughter.” Dexter’s own hand reached hers. Both men, a brother and a lover, were her stronghold among new satin dresses and jewels that itched. Foreign but not unwelcome.

“So the princess is returned. Is that the idea?” she said flabbergasted by all the implications, not just the idea of how her parents were not taken and yet were. Steele, in turn, did lose his parents. 

“In a matter of speaking,” Steele stated. 

“And your parents,” she asked.

“Will be at peace now. The truth is all I wanted. The king and queen know and Lord Scott’s been dismissed from the service. It was all kept quiet and now you, my future queen, will be where you belong.”

“What about the dreams?” Both looked to Dexter who was happily playing dumb like he was absent from the room, but in the years of knowing them both, he was not blind to either or what it could possibly mean. Dexter was a good secret keeper. Figuring the need for privacy, he announced his need to go check on the horses feeding trough, for which he only did because it allowed him near Marian.

“A factor both our parents never attempted to explain for various reasons. It is our own gift to analyze.” And control. “It is possible they have had their own and wish not to share. It is not like I have ever painted it out for them.” No, Alandra thought, such a vivid dream was not a tale for others to understand or know. Only the fated ones does it control. And no one knew of the other secret only Steele and Alandra do. For when their dreams are alive, intertwined as they are now, it is impossible for the other to not know. When one awakes, the other does as well. When one dreams first, the other joins instantly. It is a magic all it’s own. If it was handed down, it has never been voiced or shared and most likely never would. 

Alandra could not help thinking of where she would be if she’d not been found by Dexter those many years ago. Queen, princess, cook, servant, they all were the same. No one should be left without knowledge or the possibilities of something more. Whatever the station in life, one should know their heritage and above all, choose their heading. 

 

***

 

And so it was said in the upstairs room among the silent walls of Castle Diddleton, that so many years ago when the dish maid ran away with the silver spoon, fate was already in motion and even a dream can reunite what was always meant to be.

 

And the secrets they keep...are still hidden in a small courtyard visited every week on Sunday with their daughter...who shares the gift. In her dreams are no shadowed figures, death, or foreseen futures with the exception of the painted mask she says is located in the depths below the castle grounds. Perhaps one day it will come to pass and the fates will revisit once more.

Hey diddle diddle,

The cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon;

The little dog laughed

To see such sport,

And the dish ran away with the spoon.

 

The lost verses by Dexter, the librarian of Castle Diddleton, 1744—.

Ho to diddleton,

The cats and their fiddles,

So weary under the false moon;

The lost prince dreamed

Of a place unknown,

Because the dish ran away with the spoon.

 
Ho to Diddleton,

The prince met her in the middle,

The true princess under the moon;

The evil been done was  

No longer hidden to none,

That day the dish ran away with the spoon.

 


 

 


 

 


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