“Tell me again, Rahbe,” the little girl pleaded, spinning circles across the stone floor. Her tiny feet were bare, soaking up the heat pooling in through the open windows. The ribbons twisted through her silver curls twirled at the end of her braid, trailing like fingers behind her shadow.
“Fine,” her maid cooed, “but sit, child. Sit. For the love of all things holy, stop spinning.”
Giggling, the child threw herself into her caretaker’s arms, falling across the threadbare rug on the floor. Younger maids passed by, smiling at the child’s laughter and excitement at hearing the same story for what had to be the millionth time. Some stopped in the doorway to listen and watch them, so full of light and joy.
“I swear, I’ve never seen a happier child,” one kitchen maid whispered to another as they passed, smiling widely.
“Yes, if only the rest of the household could be the same,” the other responded, shrugging her shoulders.
Back inside the bedroom, Rahbe held the child against her while she folded small dresses and retold the tale:
“Many years ago, in a small castle in the woods, there was a boy. The son of a strong and powerful king. A prince. Now…though this boy was handsome, though this boy was smart, and though everyone adored the boy – he was lonely. He would sneak away from the castle and adventure through the forest to listen to the songbirds and down by the sea to watch the dolphins jump. He loved riding his horse as it ran fast across the plains. He loved diving off the tall cliffs into the deep coves where he could search for starfish and shells. But he did all these alone and as he grew to be a young man, he felt sad he had no one to share his favorite things with. On the eve of his sixteenth birthday, he climbed out his window and snuck into the village. He had grown tired talking of military strategy and politics; he only wanted to see people his own age and have fun outside the walls. His mother and father never allowed him to have many friends, especially not girls. So, when he rounded the corner to the town square, and saw the villagers having a dance, he was curious about meeting a girl. Just one girl, he told himself, he only wanted to meet one girl. Just to see what they were like. He’d read about them in books and he’d been around his mother and the maids but he wanted to see one-..”
“His own age,” the little girl chirped. “Yes, yes. I know, but I’m eight Rahbe, and I’ve met plenty of boys. Why wouldn’t his parents let him?”
Smiling down at the girl, Rahbe rubbed her knuckles tenderly under her chin, lifting a smile from the child’s lips. Fanned eyelashes curled at the tips of her turquoise eyes shaded with seaweed green and tiny wrinkles dipped and curved at the corners.
“That’s a new question,” Rahbe laughed. “Tell me, Miera, why so curious all of the sudden?”
Red flamed across the girl’s cheeks before she could duck behind her maid’s back to hide her embarrassment. Grabbing the tiny girl around her ribs, Rahbe tickled gently to coax her out.
“Come now,” the older woman called. “No secrets.”
Her giggles fading, Meira peeked around and sighed deeply.
“Well,” she murmured, “there’s this boy in the village.”
Rahbe nodded solemnly, listening intently so Meira would go on.
“He isn’t like the boys here. They’re ninnies, Rah. They worry more about getting their pants dirty before court or raising their voices too loud than most of the girls do. No, this boy, he isn’t a ninny. He laughs at everything and he laughs loud. So loud people stop and look at him,” Meira pondered, rambling. “He rides a big yellow horse, as tall as the clouds. Bareback. Mother never lets me ride bareback anymore.”
Patting the small child’s hands, Rahbe leaned back against the cushions lining the wall murmuring her understanding.
“This boy,” Rahbe asked, “are you sure he is a villager?”
A look of confusion dotted the pretty face next to her before giving way to shock.
“No, I’m not sure. Rahbe, I’ve never asked.”
Both lapsed into silence, Rahbe’s eyes closed soaking in the sun and Meira staring absently as if deep in thought. The sounds of the courtyard outside the window varied from the clash of metal in the training arena to merchants pawning their wares at the gate. The trod of hooves echoed upward from the stables and the gossiping chitter-chatter of maids passing by on their daily routines floated in the haze of the summer heat.
“Tell me what you and this boy do when you sneak out with your brothers,” Rahbe said, opening one eye accusingly. It was common knowledge to the staff that all six of the royal children used the designated servant passage-ways to visit the village undetected. Meira was the only girl, led by five rebellious and older brothers. “Is he kind to you?”
“I think so. He teases me about my hair but he hit another boy for pulling it once.”
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