|posted on 10-Sep-2001 1:24:48 PM by Lisa1783|
|Title: Ever After|
Category: Max and Liz!!
Rating: PG to PG-13
Summary: Basically, Ever After: A Cinderella Story. If you have never seen the movie, it’s a Cinderella story. Imagine that! It’s in the 1500’s and Liz is the poor orphan forced to be the stepdaughter of Rodmilla de Ghent. The stepsisters are Tess (the bad one) and Maria (the good one). Max is the prince, *be still my beating heart*. Anyway, Max meets Liz, who is pretending to be a countess to save a man’s life. They fall in love but soon Max finds out that Liz is a servant and problems arise. Don’t worry, it’s a Cinderella story so of course there’s going to be a happy ending! Do I write anything that is less than a Dreamer ending? NO!!!
Disclaimer: I own nothing. UPN owns Roswell (yay!). Ever After: A Cinderella Story belongs to some movie company, 20th Century, I believe.
Feedback: Yes, definitely! It inspires me to write more and sooner!
Author’s Notes: Can I say that I am a hopeless romantic and Dreamer? I really hope that you guys like this.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved her father very much.
“I can’t believe it, Louise! I got a mother and two sisters all on the very same day!” 8-year-old Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Parker squealed excitedly. She was trying very hard to stand still as Louise, a servant, was trying to dress her. It was her best dress and Liz wanted very much to impress her new mother. Her father had been gone for two weeks already, marrying the Baroness.
Suddenly, self-doubt began to attack Liz. “I hope she likes me,” she said in a small voice.
“Nonsense!” Louise admonished. “Why wouldn’t she like you. You can be an angel when you want to be, my dear. But don’t you go whooping around forgetting your manners when she gets her. She’s a real lady and she is going to teach you to be one too!”
A lady. Liz sighed. To her, ladies were beautiful women who got to go to Court and see the king. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and was pleasantly surprised. Her hair, which was usually a mess from her running around, was neatly combed and braided. It was long and thick and hung to her waist. She liked keeping it long for her father because he often said it reminded him of Liz’s mother’s hair.
“Done!” Louise exclaimed and looked at Liz with pride. Ever since Nancy Parker had died, Jeff Parker had had to raise his daughter alone. He did as best he could, stumbling at times, but he loved her deeply and the two of them had a relationship that was extremely close. However, Jeff was worried that he wasn’t enough as a single parent and so he went looking for a wife.
“Now don’t you go anywhere and get dir…” Louise started to warn. But before she could finish her sentence, there was a noise by the window. Liz immediately ran to it and saw that her friend Alex Whitman was throwing small stones at her bedroom window to capture her attention. As usual, his face was streaked with dirt and his hair was clumped.
“I told you, Alex, not today!” Liz yelled down at him. She had told him numerous times that today was the day that her new family was coming and she simply did not have enough time to play with him that day.
Alex was the son of one of the workers of the neighboring estate, a good two miles away, but Alex came almost everyday when he had free time to play with Liz. They had been friends for years all ready and enjoyed each other’s company immensely.
Alex gaped back up at her. In a shocked and disgusted voice, he called, “You look like a girl!”
“That’s because I am a girl, half-wit!” an exasperated Liz shouted.
“Yeah, but today you look it!” Alex grinned. He knew how to get his old-best friend back, not this…impostor! He then started strutting around and stuck his tongue out at Liz.
Liz was definitely not amused by this show of cocky behavior by Alex. She would just have to cut him down to size. “Boy or girl, I can still whip you!”
“Hah!” and with that, the gauntlet was thrown. With a whoop, Liz bolted out of her room and ran after Alex, who all ready had a head start. She ignored the cries of Louise to stop and forgot all about how her new family was arriving shortly. All that mattered was that she would have to show Alex who was boss.
As the two friends were off having a merry fight, a rider on a horse came riding up the path with a carriage behind it. Immediately all the servants gathered in a line, waiting for their master. Jeff Parker slowly came to a halt as Maurice, the head caretaker, took the reins and Jeff got off the horse. “It’s good to be home, Maurice.”
The carriage came to a creaking halt and another servant came to bring down the steps. The door opened. All the servants nervously bent their heads, trying to catch a glimpse of their new mistress, the Baroness. As the hand extended out, all of them immediately straightened their posture and tried to look as best they could.
A person could not exactly describe Rodmilla as beautiful or pretty, but more handsome. Her dark features and high cheekbones, added with her air of dignity, made her a formidable person. She was taller than most women and used this all to her advantage. She looked around the estate, as if estimating and judging it all. Spying Jeff, she automatically sidled up to him and cooed, “Oh, Jeff, this is all so…quaint.”
Two little girls, meanwhile, came out of the carriage. The servants gasped to see the dresses that the girls wore. In the presence of the Baroness and her two daughters, everyone seemed a little more self-conscious of his appearances. Jeff Parker was a good master to them though. He paid very fair wages and treated them well. All their food and clothes were also provided by him.
Jeff turned to Maurice and grinned. “As you see, I’ve brought back a full family but I seem to be missing someone. Where is Liz?” he scanned the area and then he heard a shriek of delight. “Papa!”
Jeff then saw a blur rushing toward him and he bent down and opened his arms just in time to catch Liz as she practically catapulted into his arms. “Liz!” Jeff shouted with happiness.
He hugged her furiously before leaning back a bit. He chuckled as he said, “Look at you, exactly as I left – covered in mud.” Indeed, Liz’s previously combed hair was now in tangles and covered with chunks of mud and dirt with pieces of hay sticking out. Her face and dress were splattered with mud. “And if you’re like this, then your friend Alex must be around here somewhere.”
Liz grinned proudly as she replied, “No, sir! I slaughtered him!”
Jeff couldn’t help but grin back and then he caught sight of Alex trudging with his head down low. He heaved a great sigh and Jeff laughed. Alex was a complete mud pie, his head to toe encased in mud. “Hello, sir,” Alex mumbled.
“Hi, Alex,” Jeff greeted him. Through the time that Alex had spent with Liz, Jeff saw him almost as a son. Then turning back to Liz, he lowered her to the ground. He teased, “Well, I had hoped to show you new mother a lady but I guess you’ll have to do. Liz, say hello to your new mother.”
Liz smiled at Rodmilla and greeted her warmly and with a small curtsy, “Madame.” She so desperately wanted her to like her.
Rodmilla looked down coldly at the small girl. She then waved her own two daughters over. “Tess, Maria. Say hello to your new…stepsister.” The two young girls immediately dropped into exquisite curtsies in sync with each other. “Mademoiselle.” Liz knew that she had a long way to go before she could become a lady like they were.
~*~Later that same night~*~
Liz was about to go to bed and was waiting for Jeff to come tuck her in like he did every night. She also secretly hoped that he got a present as he sometimes did when he went on trips. She was not disappointed.
“Papa!” Liz greeted her father happily. Jeff chuckled and felt his heart smile at the fact that Liz was always this happy to see him.
“How’s my little girl?” he asked as he sat down on the bed next to her.
“Very good,” she immediately replied.
“Good. I have something for you,” Jeff said. He took out a small leather pouch out of his jacket and handed it to Liz who opened it eagerly.
A soft leather bound book emerged. The title Utopia shone brightly in gold letters. “Utopia,” Liz slowly read. She looked to her father for the meaning of this strange word.
“It means paradise,” Jeff explained. He touched the cover, “It might be a bit thick for an eight-year-old, but I thought we could add it to our library.” Already at that young age, Liz was an avid reader and she and Jeff would spend hours pouring over books.
“Could you read some of it to me?” Liz requested.
“It’s getting late,” Jeff said, regretfully.
“And you’re a husband now,” Liz sighed. It would take some getting used to – not having her father to herself.
Jeff knew what she was thinking. “Yes, but a father first. You and I have been two peas in a pod for a long time now, darling. It’s time we let some people into our lives. So, do you like your stepsisters?”
Liz thought about it. “Yes, very much. Did you see the way they ate their dinners? It was like a dance!” Liz couldn’t get over how elegantly they were – just eating! Their knives and forks never seemed to miss a step. Meanwhile, Liz just ate with her fingers and used her knife to stab at the food. Rodmilla had given her the eye, as if she were appalled to death about Liz’s table manners.
“Very good,” Jeff began. He hated what he was about to say. “Because I have to leave for Avignon in a fortnight.”
“But you just got back!” Liz exclaimed, sitting straight up in bed.
“I know, I know,” Jeff soothed her. “But I have to go for business. I’ll be back in three weeks.”
“One,” Liz said stubbornly and folded her arms over her chest.
“Two,” Jeff argued back good-naturedly.
As if on cue, they put out a fist and counted. “1…2…3!” Liz’s small fingers formed a pair of scissors while Jeff’s larger hand was in the shape of paper. “Scissors cut paper!” squealed Liz triumphantly.
Jeff started laughing with her and pretended to be angry about losing. “Fine! You win!” He then gave a kiss on her head and proceeded back to his room. “Good night, my love.”
“Good night, Papa.”
~*~Two days later~*~
Liz stood glumly staring at the dirt outside as her new stepsisters talked to each other. Tess and Maria had not really talked to her at all since they arrived. Maria had started to when they were outside, but Rodmilla had come along and dragged her away. Liz was very unhappy that Jeff was leaving again but she knew that once he came back, they could finish reading Utopia together.
Rodmilla came out of the house and surveyed the land once again. ‘Yes, this could be very promising,’ she thought to herself. Then she heard the loud footsteps of her husband.
Jeff came clumping out of the door in his traveling clothes. Strange, his right arm was feeling slightly numb. He started rubbing it, hoping to bring some blood flow back into it. Then he saw the line of women waiting for him. He knew that they were not happy that he was leaving so soon but he tried to bring them into good humor.
He laughed loudly and said heartily, “I have never seen such a group of unhappy faces! Come now, I will only be gone for a week! I shall be back soon.”
Rodmilla put on a pouty face and sidled up to him. “Yes, if you must. The sooner you go, the sooner you will return.” Jeff gave her a kiss on the cheek and a quick hug. Then he patted Tess and Maria on their heads and said, “I expect all three of you girls to be the best of friends when I return, hmmm.”
He then picked Liz into a big hug and said to her, “And I want you to show your new mother around. She is not used to a farm life, okay?” When Rodmilla heard this, she made a small face of disgust at having to actually walk around in the messy dirt and mud.
Liz nodded her head to her father, promising him this. She knew how much this farm estate meant to him. Jeff put Liz back down and Maurice led the horse to him. When Jeff was up on the horse, he tried to grab the reins. But then, his hands suddenly seemed to have no strength whatsoever, and the reins slipped out of his hands. Luckily, Maurice was there and handed it back to him. Both had a look of confusion on their faces. Jeff was a robust man and this had never happened before.
“Thank you, Maurice,” Jeff said. “Well, I will see you all in a week!” He then turned the horse and started to trot out of the path toward the exit.
As soon as the horse started moving, Rodmilla turned to the girls and clapped her hands to gain their attention. “Come, girls, back to your lessons.” These lessons included simple, simple school work which Liz found extremely boring and etiquette lessons which drove Liz crazy.
“Wait!” Liz exclaimed. “Papa’s going to wave to us at the gate. It’s tradition!” At this, Rodmilla simply wrinkled her nose at Liz and proceeded back inside. Liz sighed and turned her attention back to her father, waiting for the wave.
As Jeff neared the gate, something was wrong. There was a large pain in his chest and sweat started appearing on his forehead. He grasped his chest and he doubled over on the horse. The pain became too great and he couldn’t maintain his balance anymore. He slowly fell off the horse onto the ground – face down.
When Liz saw her father slump and fall to the ground, the world slowed almost to a halt. “Papa!!!!” Liz’s voice shrieked out, echoing loudly. She then ran to where her father lay as fast as she could, but to her, it seemed like her feet could barely move.
Rodmilla ran out when she heard Liz’s scream, and she gasped when she saw Jeff lying on the ground. “Jeff,” she breathed and started running toward him also.
Liz reached Jeff first and she started shaking him wildly. Tears were streaming down her face and her heart was beating so hard, she thought it might explode. “Papa, Papa,” she called, half-whimpering. “Wake up, wake up.” She tried to turn him over but she wasn’t strong enough. She had to see his face, if just for one more time.
Rodmilla reached them and she turned Jeff over in one swift motion. “Jeff, dear, speak to us!”
Jeff’s eyes were unfocused and he seemed daze. He looked at Rodmilla for a moment, but then turned his attention to Liz who was crying quietly. Rodmilla followed his gaze to Liz and a stunned look came over her face. Jeff gathered all the strength he had left and lifted his hand to Liz’s face. He spoke one last time, “I love you – so much.” And with that, his hand dropped and his eyes closed.
Rodmilla remained silent as the shock swept over her. “NO! You cannot leave me here, you cannot leave me alone!” she cried and shook Jeff. Sobs overtook her body and she had to lean on Maurice, who had come over, for support.
Meanwhile, Liz sobbed wildly as screams reverberated through her body and the air. “Papa!” was the cry that was heard. As Louise tried to take her in her arms, Liz shook her away and clutched onto her father. “Leave me! Papa!” Her anguished wail was forever burned into the memory of those who heard it.
~*~Ten years later~*~
In the dark of the night, a young man with the weight of the world on his shoulders took his first step toward his freedom. Prince Maxwell Evans looked out of his window and down toward the ground. ‘It’s a long way down,’ he thought. ‘But it’s worth it.’ He looked around his posh room, with all the luxuries that anyone could think of. He was willing to throw it all away for his freedom.
He took the rope he had fashioned out of the bed sheets and tied one end securely to the bed post. He then threw it out the window and started to climb out – making sure that he was holding on tightly. ‘Good-bye mother and father,’ he said silently before trekking down the side of the wall.
Just half an hour later, his parents were walking down the corridor up to his room. Following King Philip and Queen Diane were a multitude of servants who were busy trying to keep in front of them to light the dark walkways.
“Really, Philip, can’t this wait until morning?” Diane pleaded. It tired her out the way that her son and her husband fought so often.
“No!” Philip thundered. “If I can’t sleep, neither should he!”
Diane tried once again to reason with him. “Perhaps he just needs some time.”
“Time! I don’t have to give him!” Philip snapped. “I signed the marriage treaty with Spain all ready and that boy is going to marry Gabriella!”
“But he doesn’t love her!”
“Marriage is not about love.”
“Then maybe it should be,” Diane said quietly as they entered Max’s room. A quick sweep of the room showed that it was empty.
“What the…” Philip began before seeing the home-made rope.
“Not again,” Diane sighed as she sat on Max’s bed. She winced as she heard Philip’s bellow for the guards. ‘Run, Max,’ she silently thought. ‘Go reach for your happiness.’
~*~Dawn, several miles out~*~
Outside, as the sun rose, a rooster crowed to announce its arrival. Inside the house, beside a cold fireplace, Liz woke up. On her chest lay the worn, open book Utopia. Soot and ashes covered her coarse clothes and smudges of it lined her face and hands. Liz yawned and stretched her sore muscles. She had fallen asleep reading again. She inwardly groaned and thought, ‘Another day.’
Liz was always the first to wake up in the house. Ever since her father had died, she had been forced to work as more and more of the servants were sold off. The money that Rodmilla gained by selling them was not spent toward the estate – rather it was to buy new dresses and jewels for herself.
The estate was falling apart. Now, there was only Louise left and Maurice had just been sold two days ago. Maurice and Louise had been married and Louise was heartbroken at the loss. Liz was racking her brain for some way to bring back Maurice.
In the apple orchard, Liz took her time gathering the apples for breakfast. It was the one place that still flourished without too much work. She gathered the apples into her apron and was about to head back into the main house when she heard a horse whinnying. She looked over to the stables where there were only two horses still stabled. Like the servants, all the other horses had been sold or traded off.
Then Liz noticed a hooded figure jump over a small stone wall on a horse. Wait a minute, that horse looked really familiar. Hey, that was her horse! The audacity of that man to steal what little she had! She ran out to the field and waited for him to come toward her, still holding onto her apron of apples.
She let go of the apples, holding onto one and as soon as the man was close enough, she aimed and threw the apple. It hit its mark, the man’s forehead. With a heavy grunt, the stranger fell off the horse. “Owww!” The horse stood still and the man quickly tried to get up only to have Liz pelt him with more apples. “Please, stop,” the man pleaded.
However, Liz paid him no attention. If she had taken a little more time to think, she would have noticed that she still couldn’t see the horse thief’s face because of his cloak. His royal purple cloak. “This will teach you for stealing our horse!” she yelled.
The man desperately tried to hide from Liz’s apples as he hid behind the horse. However, Liz just simply circled around and pelted him with more apples. “Please, I had no choice. My own horse lost its shoe.”
“And what of our choice? To simply let you?”
With a cry, the man finally straightened up and let the cloak fall from his face. Liz gasped as she saw the chiseled features of the man. The dark hair and those eyes. Instantly, she fell to the ground. How could she have been such a fool?! “Forgive me, your highness, I did not see you,” Liz trembled, she knew she was in trouble for this!
Max gingerly felt his forehead and winced slightly. This girl certainly had an arm. Then he glanced down at his tunic and smiled slightly at the apple pieces stuck there. He said wryly, “Your aim would suggest otherwise.”
Liz knew it. He was mad and she was going to suffer. “And for this, I know I must die,” Liz stated sadly, trying to keep the tears out of her eyes.
Max paused and looked at the girl. All he could see was her long, dark hair. What she said gave him the perfect excuse to leave without any trouble. “Yes, well…” Max paused to think. He had never done this before. “If you keep silent, then perhaps I will be lenient.”
“Thank you,” Liz sighed gratefully. She began tentatively, “We do have another horse, sire. One more younger, if that is your wish.”
His wish. Max sighed and looked off into the distance. He still had so much more distance to go before he could gain his wish. “I wish for nothing more than to be freed from my gilded cage,” he said softly, almost to himself.
Liz, however, had heard what he had said. ‘That’s strange for a prince to say. I wonder what he means by that.’ But then she noticed that the Prince had begun speaking again.
“This is for your silence,” Max told her as he poured the contents of his purse out to her. Max wanted to begin anew, with no advantage at all. He was going to rough this.
Liz’s eyes widened as gold coins fell all around her. This was just the sign she needed! A plan formed in her head. She then dimly noticed that Prince Max was walking away and had mounted his horse. He turned to leave but paused to tell her, “Speak of this to no one.”
Liz vigorously nodded her head in agreement. As the prince rode off, she finally dared to lift her head and watch him leave. ‘Pity I couldn’t have gotten a better look at him,’ she thought with a smile. ‘He looked very handsome.’ But then her eyes spied the coins again and her smile grew even larger. She hurriedly gathered them up and put it in her apron pocket.
As Liz headed back to the manor, she groaned when she realized that she had thrown all the apples away. She ran back toward the orchard to gather some more. Rodmilla was not going to be happy.
Tess gave the plate in front of her the evil eye. With barely contained rage, she pushed the plate away and said, “I asked for a four-minute egg, not four one-minute eggs!! Go back to the kitchen and get me my eggs!”
Louise had a dull look on her face as she took back the plate. “I’ll fix them right away, ma’am.” She then trudged back to the kitchen.
Rodmilla was buttering her bread as Tess went through her daily morning spat. She eye twitched slightly as she listened to Tess scream. She forced a patient smile for her daughter. Tess was her pride and joy. Rodmilla had great plans for Tess. Soon, they would go off to court where she was sure that Tess would sweep that Prince Max off his feet.
“Tess, darling, what do I keep saying about a lady’s voice?” Rodmilla asked patiently.
Maria took the chance to answer as she buttered her third piece of bread. “A lady’s voice ought not to be above the hum a gentle whisper,” she said, her voice becoming softer with each word. As Maria looked up, she suddenly wished she hadn’t.
Tess was giving her a nasty look for answering in the first place. The two sisters had never really gotten along too well. Ever since they were little, their mother had always favored Tess because of her blonde locks. All Maria ever got from Rodmilla were remarks about her weight.
Not that Maria was fat, or even over-weight at all, she just wasn’t as thin as Tess. Of course, Tess barely had time to eat since she was always yelling at someone.
Rodmilla slammed her knife down on the table. “And you, Maria, should not eat so much! Put that down right now!” Maria was such a disappointment for Rodmilla. She lacked the drive that Tess had in husband-hunting and it didn’t help that Maria was actually nice to Liz.
Maria reluctantly placed her piece of bread down. It wasn’t fair, she was always being scolded for one thing or another. At least Rodmilla treated her better than Liz. Liz was supposed to be her sister, but was made to be a maid instead. “Where is the salt?” Rodmilla asked. Immediately, she rang out, “Liz! The salt!” Maria smiled weakly but felt sick inside.
Liz was just dashing inside to the kitchen when she heard Rodmilla’s familiar beckoning. “Coming!” she called up. Ten years of serving Rodmilla had made her stronger but she was still as beautiful as any courtesan was. Liz still maintained her thick mane of hair which she usually pulled back on top to keep out of the way.
“She’s in one of her moods again, isn’t she?” Liz asked Louise. Louise was the only servant still left in the house. Maurice had just been sold last week and Louise was heartbroken over the loss of her husband. Louise, Maurice, and Liz had all begged Rodmilla not to do it and Maria had even joined in, much to the surprise of Liz. However, Rodmilla had ignored them all, muttering something about how she had to pay taxes and they should all be grateful she was taking matters into her capable hands.
“Does the sun rise in the east each morning, mistress?” Louise replied, trying to act cheerful.
Liz beamed back at her old friend and couldn’t keep the happiness out of her voice. “Yes, it does, Louise, and it is going to be a glorious day!” And with a small squeal, Liz dumped the gold coins out of her apron.
“Glory, child, look at all those feathers!” Louise gasped, staring at the coins. She had never seen so much money in front of at once. She barely even registered Liz’s joyful hug. But Liz’s next words caught her attention once more.
“And I know exactly what to do with this money,” Liz told her seriously.
Louise hardly dared to believe it. “Maurice?” she asked with tears in her voice. “But Rodmilla has sold him off to the Americas – that barbaric place.” Louise shuddered at the very thought.
Liz had found out that Rodmilla had sold Maurice off to the King – who had immediately sold him and the rest of the servants to Jacques Cartier, who was off to explore the new country America. It was a horrible fate and Liz knew she had to save her old friend.
“Liz!” Rodmilla’s impatient voice wafted down.
“One moment!” Liz cried back as she ran to the block of salt. She shaved some pieces into a bowl as she continued talking to Louise. “If Rodmilla sold him, then surely I can buy him back. Don’t worry, I will save him.”
“We’re waiting!!” Rodmilla bellowed. Back upstairs, Maria was thinking, ‘What happened to having a lady-like voice?’
In the kitchen, Liz was about to dash upstairs when Louise ran to her and dumped the coins back into her apron pocket. “You better hide these well, mistress, or they’re as good as hers.”
Liz had her arms loaded down with Tess’s eggs, the salt, and more loafs of bread as she entered the dining room. She put on a smile as she greeted her family. “Good morning, step-mother, Tess, Maria. I trust you’ve all slept well.”
Maria nodded and started to ask how Liz was when Rodmilla interrupted. “What kept you?”
Liz thought secretly to herself, ‘Well, I met a handsome prince who took our horse.’ Instead, she quickly racked her brain for an excuse. “Umm…I fell of the ladder in the orchard,” she blurted out, “But I am better now.”
As Liz placed the bowls down on the table, some pieces of ash that was on her dress fell on the crisp, white tablecloth. “Someone’s been reading by the fireplace again. Look at you, all cinders and soot. Why don’t you sleep with the pigs if you insist on smelling like one, Cinder-soot?” Tess asked snidely.
Liz was angered by Tess. ‘Why don’t you try working eighteen hours a day and see how you like it instead of sleeping in until noon?’ she thought silently. She knew better than to speak back - she had learned that the hard way. A few years back, she and Tess had gotten into a spat, which Tess had started, and Rodmilla had had Liz’s back whipped twice. Liz had learned to hold her tongue from that experience.
“That was harsh, Tess,” Rodmilla rebuked half-heartedly. She took Liz’s arm and pulled her away to take a look at her. She took in Liz’s dirty dress and torn apron. “However, your appearance does reflect some … crudeness. Tell me, how can I help?”
Liz was taken aback by this, dare she say, kindness. Hope started to rise in her. “I do try, Stepmother,” she started. “Sometimes I sit and think of ways to please you…”
Rodmilla grew impatient and released Liz’s arm. She made a small noise of disgust and turned back to her breakfast. “Honestly, child, you talk to much. You may go.”
Liz turned reluctantly but then gathered her courage. Hesitantly, she asked, “Maybe if we brought back Maurice, I would not displease you so much.”
Rodmilla slammed her hand onto the table, delicately of course so that she would not bruise it. “It is your manners that displeases me, Liz! I have housed you, fed you, and clothed you all these years. All that I have asked in return is that you do some simple chores for me. That is not so much to ask for, is it? Now there will be no more talk of bringing back servants.”
Liz knew that there was no way to convince Rodmilla to bring back Maurice. “No, ma’am.”
“Go.” Rodmilla impatiently waved her hand. She turned to her daughters and complained, “Honestly, all that I have done is never enough.” She took a bite of her eggs and made a face. “The eggs are cold.”
Max was riding along as quickly as the horse would go. In no time at all, he would be in Italy – away from France and his obligations. Of course, he didn’t have any money having given it all away earlier that morning, but Max was confident he would be all right.
Thinking back to that morning, Max gingerly felt his forehead. He winced slightly when he touched his bruise. Whoever that girl was, she certainly knew how to throw!
Suddenly, he came upon a caravan of carts. It appeared that it was being raided by gypsies. Women and children were huddled in a group while men were chasing the gypsies. An old man with white hair was valiantly trying to fight one particular gypsy. “Stop!! Give that back!” Instead, the gypsy held on tighter to the large canister and ran off past Max. As Max rode to a stop, all the gypsies looked at him, or rather past him, and ran off.
Max sat up a bit taller on the horse. Imagine that, all of the gypsies running off at the sight of him. ‘I had no idea I was that intimidating,’ he thought to himself. But then he heard a lot of hoofbeats behind him. ‘Oh, no. Don’t tell me,’ he groaned. He turned around, and sure enough, were the Royal Guards, after him, no doubt.
He started to life the reins for the horse to go when the old man grabbed the bridle. “Please, stop! You must chase after that man!” he pointed to the back of the gypsy who had taken the canister.
Max wanted to – but the Guards were going to catch up to him at any minute. “The Guards will assist you, I cannot. I’m sorry.”
However, the old man refused to release the horse. “Please, it is my life,” he pleaded.
Max couldn’t just turn down this old man, but the Guards were coming closer. His freedom or this old man? He sighed and realized that there really was no debate. “Go!” he urged his horse and chased after the gypsy.
Max kept his eye on the gypsy’s back as he rode up the hill after him. Branches and leaves sprung up all around him and Max had a hard time staying on track after the thief. Right before his eyes, the assailant disappeared over the top of a hill from Max’s view. “Damn,” Max muttered to himself. He forced the horse to go even faster.
At the crest of the hill, Max stopped the horse. He couldn’t see that gypsy anywhere. ‘Where could he have gone?’ Max thought to himself.
“Yahhh!” Max turned in time to see the gypsy come trotting up toward him on a horse. ‘Where did he get that?’ Max had time to think before he was knocked off. “Ooff,” Max groaned as he landed on the ground.
He quickly got back up and said, more to himself, “Oh, you are going to pay dearly for that.” As the gypsy rounded toward him again on the horse, Max prepared himself. In a game of chicken, Max stared the gypsy down as he came closer. ‘Timing has got to perfect, Max,’ he told himself. ‘You can do this.’
Just when it seemed as if the horse was going to run right over Max, he jumped to the side and grabbed the gypsy’s leg, pulling him off the horse – along with the canister. They both stumbled to the ground but Max recovered first. He gave a quick blow to the man’s head and grabbed the canister and tried to bolt. However, he realized he wasn’t going to get to far when the gypsy grabbed his foot and caused Max to trip.
Max started kicking at the hands and said through gritted teeth, “Let go.” Managing to free himself from the entanglement, Max got up and started running again. With a roar, the gypsy started running after him. “Give that back!”
“It’s not yours!” Max retorted indignantly before the gypsy took a flying leap and tackled him. Both of them fell to the ground and blows started coming. The two men fought on stubbornly and they ended rolling and wresting down a steep hill. Max happened to look away from the gypsy for a second and froze when he saw that he was going to go over a cliff.
“Oh my God!” Max shouted out and desperately tried to climb back onto his feet – even with the gypsy still hanging onto his body. Before either of them knew it, they were falling through the air. Both men tried flailing their arms in a pathetic attempt to fly but soon felt the painful entry into the water below.
Max held on tightly to the canister as he struggled back toward the surface. His lungs screamed for air and he gasped as he finally surfaced. He took a few ragged breaths and started swimming for the shore.
“This should be what you’re looking for,” the vendor said in an oily voice. He grinned and Rodmilla winced at the sight of his crooked, yellow teeth. She took the gold brooch from him, careful not to touch his dirty hands. She held the brooch up to Tess’s neckline, right under Tess’s cleavage. Tess looked at her mother expectantly.
Rodmilla shook her head. This would not capture enough attention to her daughter’s chest. “No, too small,” she replied haughtily. “I want something bigger.”
The vendor chuckled nervously. “But, Baroness, I fear anything larger will cause her to fall over.”
‘That’s what I want the men to do, particularly Prince Max,’ Rodmilla thought. Her mind quickly whirled and she said, baiting the shopkeeper, “Very well then. We’ll just have to look elsewhere.” She then pretended to take Tess’s arm, as if to lead her away. The vendor fell for her trap.
“Wait a minute. I just may have something for you after all.”
Rodmilla smirked. She then glanced around furtively, making sure that no other nobles where around. It wouldn’t do if a countess saw her buying jewelry from the street. It was a good thing she had Maria nearby to warn her if she saw anyone of higher class coming.
“Are they still there?” Liz asked for the tenth time.
“Yes,” Alex answered patiently. He paused by a painting of an older woman and studied it for a moment. It was only half-finished but Alex was already pleased with it. This was the first work that his master had allowed him to paint by himself – for a countess no less!
That was where and Liz were – in the studio. Liz had asked Alex for help in getting Maurice back and he knew that there was no way that he could not help her. Liz was behind a screen changing into the dress that they were ‘borrowing’ for the moment.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Alex complained. “May I remind you that the penalty for pretending to be a courtier is three days in the stocks. Three!”
“I have to save Maurice, Alex,” Liz answered firmly. She tried to ignore the butterflies in her stomach as she realized the penalties if she were to be caught.
“And what are they doing?” she asked.
“They’re buying a brooch or something,” Alex replied as he ground various roots together for a new color. He peered at Rodmilla and Tess with disgust on his face as he turned back around.
“Amazing,” Liz stated bitterly. “Rodmilla always claims we have no money to fix up the estate but there is always money to buy new clothes and jewelry.” She paused and looked down at herself. She bit her lip for a second and said, “Don’t laugh. I’m coming out.”
Alex turned around and waited for Liz. When she stepped out, he gasped. He could hardly believe that this was Liz. She was wearing the same dress as the noblewoman in the portrait but it looked so much better on her. This was no longer the same Liz he had known all his life. She looked like a lady.
Liz was embarrassed. This wasn’t her. She looked down and self-consciously held her hand up to her chest. “All these yards of silk and I still feel…naked. And the shoes don’t fit.”
Alex was quick to help his friend. He said firmly and confidently, “Now that won’t do. You are a countess and you must hold your head high. You look down to no one.”
Liz nodded and tried to feel the part. She lifted her head higher and pretended she was Tess. Alex nodded in approval. “Come on, let’s do something with your hair and try to solve the shoe situation.”
Liz couldn’t help but giggle at Alex’s eagerness, allowed herself to put away her nerves, and just be swept away by the experience.
There was a band of people waiting for Max once he arrived back on shore. Mostly King’s soldiers. This was bad. That old person practically grabbed the canister out of Max’s hands as soon as he saw him. Out of the crowd, a man around Max’s age stepped out. It was the head of the King’s men, Michael.
He had a disapproving look on his face and said sternly, “You promised not to run away again, Max.”
Max sighed. “I lied,” he said bluntly. “I figured if I was to give myself to some stranger for life, I might as well make a break for it. At least see the world.”
The old man finally looked up at him and asked, “So why did you stop?”
Max stared at him in disbelief and then replied dryly, “A lack of will, I suppose. Besides, you said that … that canister thing was a matter of life and death.”
In reply to this, the old man took out what appeared to be a portrait and unrolled it. A woman’s face appeared. “A woman always is.”
“She looks like she is laughing at me,” Max said. “As if she knows some secret I do not.”
“This lady had many secrets. I only captured one of them,” the stranger replied.
“It’s a beautiful picture,” Michael spoke up. “But who is she?”
The man gave a secret smile reminiscent to that of the woman’s. “Let us just call her the Mona Lisa, shall we?” As he saw the young men mulling over this, he smiled and began rolling up the painting. “I was heading toward the King’s palace when the band of gypsies attacked me.”
Michael nodded as if he agreed with the man. “Yes, they’ll attack anyone or anything that appears to have some value.”
However, Max seemed to be piecing something together in his mind. “Did you say you were heading toward the palace?” he asked the stranger.
The man nodded, his long white beard floating slightly in the breeze as he did. “I am.”
Max’s eyes surveyed the wagon where odd sorts of objects where sticking out. “And you would be…?”
“Leonardo da Vinci,” the man supplied.
Max’s eyes widened and then he laughed. “I can’t believe it!” he exclaimed ruefully and laughed some more. Leonardo turned to Michael, as if he could somehow explain for Max’s strange behavior. Michael only sighed and shook his head. It was better not to even try to understand Max when he acted like this.
Max caught their looks and tried to explain. He really didn’t want to appear before one of the greatest thinkers as a total idiot. “Here I was, on my way to Italy to find you! Instead, you were on your way to me! I can’t believe it. Did my father ask for you?”
Leonardo began gathering his things that were still strewn on the ground. “Yes, well, I was only the second choice. Michaelangelo is trapped under a ceiling somewhere.”
“This is wonderful!” Max plowed on. “I am sure that you can convince my father to give up on his old-fashioned views and finally join the new century! After all, you are the forefront thinker of modern life and my father is the rock that refuses to move from the past.”
During Max’s ramblings, Michael only shook his head some more. ‘Honestly, why do I put up with this?’ he thought. He caught Leonardo’s confused look and explained. “Our highness here suffers from an arranged marriage.”
“Ah,” Leonardo replied, understanding now.
“Your highness, we really must start,” Michael said. He knew King Philip was waiting and he didn’t want to delay the return more than necessary.
Max also knew that his father was probably waiting for his return. He inwardly sighed. Here he was, a grown man and still being chastised by his father as if he were a schoolboy.
“All right. But first, we must return something,” Max responded. He was grasping on straws, but he would do anything to delay the return to the castle. He motioned one of the pages over and ordered, “Tell me, who’s estate is close to here.”
“Only the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent’s, your highness,” the page replied nervously. Wanting to impress the prince more with his knowledge, he continued, “She is a widow with two daughters, Tess and Maria.”
“Yes, yes,” Max said impatiently. “Ride ahead and tell them we will be coming soon.”
“Yes, your highness,” the page answered and scurried away.
Max turned to see Michael’s disapproving stare. “What?” he asked innocently. “I have to return this horse. It just wouldn’t be polite if I didn’t return it personally.”
“Right,” Michael answered dryly.
With a final word of encouragement from Alex, Liz took a deep breath and stepped onto the main road. She and Alex had stood behind a large clump of bushes for what seemed like an eternity, both trying to calm their nerves at what Liz was about to do. Now that Liz was walking toward the looming castle, she bit on her lip and fought the urge to run back.
Maurice. She was doing this for the man who had been like a father to her after her own had died. When Rodmilla had forced Liz to work out on the fields almost immediately after the funeral, it had been Maurice who told Liz to run and play while he did her share of the work along with his. It had been Maurice and Louise who had been parents to Liz, reinforcing the values that Jeff had already instilled in her.
Encouraged by these memories, Liz pressed on. ‘Just breathe.’
The manor was chaos when the page had arrived with the message that THE prince of France was to arrive in a few minutes. As soon as the door closed, Rodmilla, Tess, and Maria all shrieked before running upstairs to change into their gowns. Rodmilla had hastily chosen the best dress and practically flung it at Tess, who was tearing her old gown off. Maria kept asking what she should wear, but it fell upon deaf ears. Rodmilla was focused entirely on Tess.
“Is that the bugle? Oh my goodness, they’re arriving! Tess, hurry and put that brooch we bought on! Hurry!” With those words cried over her shoulder, Rodmilla rushed down the stairs to meet Max.
As Max rode up on his own horse, Rodmilla could already imagine him and Tess married. She could see the wedding and all the envious looks from the other courtiers as she was invited to live in the royal palace. Placing a smile on her face, she ‘glided’ over to Max’s horse as it came to a stop.
“Your highness, what an unexpected surprise,” she cooed. “How are you today?”
“I am well, thank you, Baroness. I’ve come to bring you back your horse,” Max replied patiently and politely. He motioned for the guards to lead the horse back toward the stable where he had taken it from.
Rodmilla allowed confusion to cross her face for a moment before she quickly masked it. “Oh, was it missing?”
Max smiled slightly. “Yes, I suppose you wouldn’t know. I, uh, borrowed it this morning from your servant girl.”
Rodmilla tensed at his reference. It had to be Liz. There was no one else. She tried to mask her anger. “Who?”
“Oh, a girl,” Max started before gingerly touching his forehead where there was now a small bruise and continuing on with a rueful smile, “with quite a good arm.”
It was that brat Liz. “She is mute,” Rodmilla quickly replied. She didn’t need any competition for Max’s attention. If they talked about Liz, it meant they wouldn’t be able to talk about Tess.
“Really?” Max continued on with an amused chuckle. “Because she spoke quite forcefully this morning.”
Rodmilla flushed as she was caught in her lie. “It comes and goes,” she said weakly. Just then, she could hear the squeals of Tess and Maria. ‘Finally,’ she thought. With a wince, she watched as her daughters practically wrestled with each other trying to get out of the door. ‘What happened to all those lessons about grace I was teaching?’
Rodmilla smiled back at Max. “My daughters, your highness,” Rodmilla said. She gestured toward Tess. “This is Teresa Angelique of the House of Ghent. But you may call her Tess, your highness” With that introduction, Tess took a step forward and curtsied. When she did, a great deal of her cleavage showed. The brooch that was purchased only hours before was pinned at the edge of her neckline, right where the cleavage was.
Rodmilla was pleased. The money had been well-spent on the large piece of jewelry which now screamed for everyone’s attention.
Maria gave a small cough. She was still waiting for her introduction to the prince. Rodmilla then carelessly said, in a bored voice, “And this is Maria.” Maria then curtsied also, smiling brightly at Max. Little did she notice a certain someone looking at her rather intently.
Max knew he had to say something. “Tess, Maria...forgive me, you have both seemed to ... blossom overnight.” *he’s a guy, forgive him* Max couldn’t seem to keep his eyes of Tess’s chest and tried come up with something. “I say, Tess, that is simply a stunning brooch.”
Tess’s smirk mirrored Rodmilla’s as she answered in a coy voice, “This old thing? Your too kind.” Her eyes boldly stared into Max’s and he pulled his eyes from her intense stare, feeling uncomfortable.
Rodmilla tried capturing his attention again. “We are so looking forward to your engagement to your own Spanish rose.”
Max felt the urge to flee again. “Yes, well, there are several new developments.” He silently prayed that somehow his father would come around and see his point of things.
Rodmilla tried to hide her glee. “Really? Well, I hope things turn out for the best.” ‘One that would involve my daughter, perhaps.’
“So do I,” Max replied. “It has been a lovely visit, Baroness. Ladies, I’m afraid I must leave you all. Good day.” With a smile and nod to the women, he turned his horse and left. Michael turned along with his, but not before taking one last glance at Maria, who just happened to be looking back at him. Their gazes caught for the briefest of moments before Maria ducked her head down shyly.
Once the whole royal entourage was past the gates, Rodmilla turned to her daughters. “That went fairly well, girls. At least he knows who you are. But we mustn’t celebrate yet, we have much to do before...”
“Before I become his wife!” Tess interjected excitedly.
For once, Rodmilla did not lecture about how a lady does not interrupt. She beamed and said, “Yes, before we all move into the palace! Let us go back inside and plan.” As they went in, Rodmilla remembered Liz and her eyes narrowed. How dare that girl not tell her that Prince Max had borrowed their horse. She would just have to punish her for that.
As people rushed about her, Liz stood still in the middle of the road. She was staring at the gate where two guards stood. ‘This is it,’ she thought to herself. There would be no turning back. ‘I just hope I’m in time.’ With the fear that she might be too late to safe Maurice, Liz started to run. As soon as she was in sight of the people, she remembered that courtiers did not run, they floated.
Smoothing her gown, she tried to remember what Alex had instructed before. ‘Head high, shoulders back, and confidence.’ A throng of peasants were blocking the entrance, desperately trying to get in to see the king about their matters. However, the guards did an effective job of keeping them out. “How am I going to get in?” Liz whispered as she kept walking toward the gates.
Luckily, one of the guards spotted her in her gown and yelled out, “Make way for the lady!” Almost immediately, the peasants were pushed out of the way to make a path for Liz. As she walked past them, she noticed that some of them looked at her with envy, some with hate. She felt an urge to cry out, “No, I’m one of you!” But she clamped this urge when she saw the guards.
As soon as she was in, Liz gave a sigh of relief. Now she had to find Maurice. A breeze cooled her flushed face and the hem of her gown floated a little. Liz hurried to bring it back down to cover her shoes. The lady’s shoes had been too large for her and even when she and Alex tried stuffing it, Liz couldn’t walk in them. The only solution they could think of was to have Liz wear her own tattered shoes and pray that no one would notice them under her gown.
Now that she was in, where was she to go? Liz felt very lost as people rushed on by her. Guards and pages and courtiers as well as servants and various other people all were around her. Liz realized that she had no idea where to look. Maybe inside the castle? Liz quaked on the inside at this thought but tried not let it show. After all, as a courtier, she practically lived in the castle, right?
As she was crossing the drawbridge and was about to answer, she heard Maurice’s voice. He was there below her near the rear gate! Liz’s heart broke to see him gaunt and dirty but, worse of all, he was chained. Liz’s anger started growing to see him fettered like an animal along with all the other people. Maurice was desperately trying to plead with the driver to let him go. “Please, I’m sure my family will come and pay for me soon.” However, the driver paid him no attention as he herded Maurice and the others onto a caged wagon.
Pulling the small sack of money out, Liz clutched the bag before murmuring to herself, “God give me strength. Then she ran down to where Maurice was, trying to get there before the wagon left.
Just as the horse started to move, Liz got there. She quickly grabbed the horse’s bridle as she looked at the driver. He was a large man with a red face and did not look too happy at being stopped. “Whaddya want?” he grumbled loudly.
Maurice grabbed the bars of the cart and gaped at the person before him. Could it be...? No, it was Liz. He looked at her in wonderment before she gave him a reassuring smile. She then turned to the driver.
Liz tried to get the words out of her mouth. To her surprise, she heard herself saying clearly, “I wish to address you on the matter of that man,” and she pointed at Maurice. “He is my servant and I wish to pay the debt against him.”
“He’s the property of Cartier now. Move outta the way!”
‘He doesn’t think I have the money,’ Liz thought. She held up her small bag filled with the coins. “I will pay you twenty gold francs,” she said confidently.
“You can have me for twenty gold francs but you can’t have him. Now move!” People all around them were beginning to stare now but Liz paid no attention to them. She couldn’t believe how rude this man was acting. ‘I am a courtier,’ she reminded herself.
“Release him now or I will go to the King with this matter.” ‘Maybe that will scare him.’
“The King’s the one that sold him to Cartier and he is going to America.” The driver made an attempt to get the horse moving but Liz kept a firm grip to prevent the horse from starting forward.
Liz was furious. She was tired of pretending that buying and selling people was to be condoned. “Do you honestly think it right to barter people like chattel and chain them like animals?” she snapped.
“Yes, I do!” the man yelled before spitting down on the ground right next to where Liz was standing.
Indignantly, Liz recoiled and said, “Why you ill-mannered tub of guts!”
The man was aware of the crowd around them and snapped. He leaned half-way out of his seat and roared down, “Move down before I run you over!” As if to prove his point, the man started to snap the reins before a voice rang out.
“You dare to raise your voice to a lady?” Liz froze. That voice. It couldn’t be. Could it?
Liz turned. It was him. There sitting astride in his horse was Prince Max. ‘Please don’t let him recognize me,’ Liz begged. She then noticed that everyone was curtsying. ‘Curtsy to royalty, do not throw prostrate yourself like a peasant,’ Liz instructed herself. Mustering her courage, she slowly gave a curtsy to Max.
As for Max, he was transfixed. This woman before him...he couldn’t find the words to describe her. She was not one of the normal courtiers around him, yet she looked so familiar. There was no denying her beauty, but there was something else about her that grabbed Max’s attention. Then he looked deeply in her eyes and saw the fire in there, the spirit.
He realized that everyone was waiting for him to speak again. He tore his eyes from the woman’s and spoke. “What seems to be the problem here?”
The driver was quick to defend himself. “This woman here wants to buy this man back but I’s told her already that he’s been sold to Cartier. And I‘m only doing my job by taking these thieves and criminals to the ship.”
For a moment, Liz was in awe of being in Max’s presence but with those words, she snapped back to attention. “A servant is not a criminal, your highness, and those that are cannot help themselves.”
Max was taken aback for a moment. Those words were not unfamiliar to him, for he had studied it before, but to hear it from a woman - well, that was just simply unheard of. Intrigued, he decided to hear more of what this woman thought of this matter.
He sat up a little straighter in the saddle and exchanged looks with Michael. Giving him a small wink, he turned back to the woman and asked, “Really? Well then, by all means, enlighten us.”
Flustered, Liz desperately tried to think back. ‘You can do this, Liz. You’ve read the book a million times and you know it by heart. Just show them that you know this.’
Taking a deep breath and preparing herself for the spiel, she began. “If you suffer your people to be ill-educated and their manners corrupted from infancy, and then punish them for the crimes that their education first disposed them off, then what, sire, is to be concluded except that you create criminals, and then punish them?”
When she was done, there was silence throughout the courtyard. It was obvious that no one had expected that to be spoken in front of the crowed prince of France, much less from a woman.
Max smiled. He couldn’t help it. It was just so...refreshing to hear someone speak to him in this manner. So full of fire, passion. It didn’t even matter that this woman had slighted his country, just to hear her speak.
He turned to the driver. “Release him,” he said simply. The crowd gasped. This was unheard of, a member of the royal family paying any attention to the peasants’ matter.
“What?” the driver croaked. “Sire, I have orders...”
“I said release him!” Max roared. It annoyed him to no end that his words were being questioned.
The man nodded mutely and hurriedly rushed to unlock the door and chains. Liz watched in silent joy that her ploy had worked and Maurice was actually being released. She went and held Maurice’s hands in happiness once he stepped on the ground.
Maurice had tears in his eyes as he whispered, “I thought I was looking at a vision of your mother.”
Liz’s heart swelled to hear these words. She knew so little about her mother and these words meant the world to her. Swallowing her emotions, she whispered, “Meet me at the bridge.” Then noticing that almost every person in the courtyard was staring at her she said loudly, “Prepare the carriage. We will leave at once.”
Maurice nodded in understanding as he hobbled off to leave in the back entrance which the poorer people and servants were forced to use. Liz tried to ignore the pressure of everyone’s looks as she retreated to the main gate. ‘Please just let me get out of here,’ she thought.
She curtsied to Max and said humbly, “I thank you, sire.” Liz knew that had he not been there, she might not have gotten Maurice back.
To her horror (and minor pleasure) she saw that Prince Max was following her. She hurried her steps, worried that he might recognize her as the servant girl with the apples.
Max noticed her quickened step and matched her pace. “I could have sworn that I knew every courtier in the province,” he began, but paused. There was still something nagging at him. She seemed so familiar. “Have we met?”
Liz’s breath caught in her throat. He knew. Desperately, she shook her head. “Umm...I don’t think so.” She could feel his gaze piercing at her. She refused to look him in his eyes, knowing how captivating they could be, having been lost in them only moments earlier. She knew she would have to explain why he had never met her before.
“I am visiting my cousin,” she informed him.
“Really? And who might that be?” It amazed Max that she seemed so ... nervous and shy around him. All the other courtiers that he had met had been anything but. They were coy, certainly, but not shy. They had all but jumped at him in their eagerness. For him to have to do any work to inquire about a woman was something new to him.
Liz on the other hand was panicking inwardly. ‘Why?’ she silently screamed at him. ‘Can’t you just go let all those other fawn over you and leave me alone?’ Part of her was flattered that he was paying so much attention to her but she just wanted to get back to the safety of her own house.
“The only one I have, sire,” she told Max weakly.
A smile passed over Max’s lips at this. “Yes,” he told Liz slowly. “We’ve been over this. If you do not wish to tell me your name, the very least you can do is tell me hers, so that I may inquire about who you are.” He paused before continuing. “For anyone who can quote Thomas More is well worth the effort.”
Liz stopped in her tracks. She turned to look at Max. Wonderment crept in her face and she asked, “The prince has read Utopia?”
Pleased that he had captured his full attention, Max gave a full blown smile, and Liz was drawn in for a second. “Yes. I found it sentimental and dull.” Liz’s smile faded as he continued, “I confess, the plight of the everyday rustic bores me.”
Unsure of what to say without disclosing her true status, Liz asked, “I take it you do not converse with many peasants.”
Max laughed as if she had just told a joke. “Good heavens, no. Naturally not?”
Liz couldn’t believe it. Her first impressions about him had been so wrong. Right now he was so arrogant and condescending. His words only added to her frayed nerves. She started walking again.
“Forgive me, your highness, there is nothing natural about that. “A country’s character is defined by these everyday rustics, as you call them. They may be at the bottom, but they are the legs of this country and that position demands respect.”
A little stunned by her retort, Max paused for a second before jogging quickly to catch up with her. He stood in front of her, forcing her to stop. “Am I to understand you find me arrogant?” he asked in astonishment.
Liz didn’t answer him, but she didn’t have to. He saw it in her eyes. “You gave one man back his life, but did you even glance at the others?” Liz asked him.
Max was silent. She had read him like an open book, and he knew it. He whispered, “Who are you?”
Liz knew that if she didn’t give him something, he would follow her, badgering her. “I fear the only name I can leave you with is Comtesse Nancy de Lancret.”
Max smiled once again. Finally, he had gotten her name, or so he thought. “There now, that wasn’t so hard was it?”
Liz found herself starting to smile when a voice interrupted. “Max, darling! There you are. You’re father has been looking for you!” Liz almost fainted with astonishment. There was the Queen of France, right in front of her. Then she noticed who was next to her. It was the Princess Isabel, younger sister of Max.
Max smiled patiently at his mother. “Hello, Mother, Isabel. I trust you both are well.”
Liz took advantage of this distraction to scurry away. However, even if her departure was unnoticed by Max, it wasn’t by Isabel. She had seen the two of them talking and the look on Max’s face when they were.
Diane spoke. “Come along, Max. Your father wants a word with you.”
Max sighed. “Yes, I suppose he does. In a minute, Mother.” When he turned back to where Liz was, she was gone. Surprised, he looked all around but couldn’t find her. Hmmm...he’d just have to find her again now, wouldn’t he?
As Max walked along the hallway with his mother and sister Isabel, he couldn’t stop thinking about that girl Nancy. She spoke to him without any inhibitions, not bothering to cover up what she was feeling. No one had ever spoken to him so honestly - they were usually too busy trying to get on his good side.
“So, Max, who was that girl?” Isabel asked curiously.
“Comtesse Nancy de Lancret. You know every single courtier, Isabel. Who is she?”
“Hmm...de Lancret?” Isabel racked her brain. “I don’t know of any de Lancrets around Paris.”
“Well, she did say she was her visiting her cousin,” Max mused.
“Who’s her cousin?”
“The only one she has,” Max couldn’t help but say. Noticing his sister’s confused look, he quickly answered, “I don’t know. She wouldn’t tell me.”
“Hmm. Interesting,” Isabel commented. Before Max wanted to, they were in front of his father’s war room.
“Come on, dear. He’s waiting,” Diane said to her son. She was upset that he had run away again, but she understood what he was feeling. When she first heard of her own arranged marriage, to the then Prince Philip, running away was a very constant thought in her mind.
“I suppose if I must,” Max sighed. He turned to Isabel. “Are you coming in also?”
Isabel only smiled at brother and shook her head. She knew her father too well.
As soon as Max walked in the room, Philip informed him, “You, young man, are confined to these grounds or else.” He was studying a map along with several of his counselors. For some reason, this infuriated Max. He was a grown man who was still being disciplined and punished by his father, in front of other people no less!
“Or else what?” he couldn’t help but ask. He knew he was pushing it but for some reason he wasn’t afraid to stand up against his father right now.
Philip’s hand clutched at the compass he was holding when he heard Max’s retort. He looked up quickly and stared at his son. “Do not cross me today, boy, for I am in a foul disposition,” he warned.
Max sighed as if he were bored. “Or else you’ll ship me off to the Americas like some criminal?” He had no idea why he said that, except for the fact that Nancy’s words were still reverberating inside his head.
The compass suddenly found itself being flung half-way across the room as Philip straightened and looked Max in the eye. “That’s it!” he roared. “I’ve tried to be patient, Max, but it is just time for you to grow up! You will marry Gabriella by the next full moon and my treaty with Spain will be signed and this will be the end of all our troubles with Spain!”
“So you are willing to use my life as you please all for your stupid contract?!”
“You are the Prince of France!” This was the standard reply that Max had heard many times as to why he had to do this or why he couldn’t do that. To be restricted just because of a title had convinced Max many years ago that he did not want to be King.
“And it is my life!” To have control over his life was something Max wanted so dearly. To be able to just choose for himself, to be allowed to make a mistake here and there.
Diane sighed. She interrupted before Max could say something that would anger Philip even more. “Darlings, please, calm down. Philip, now sit down,” she soothed. Turning to Max, she tenderly smoothed down a stray strand of hair. “Max, it is time you acted with more responsibly. You are the crowned Prince of France and with that comes...certain obligations.”
Max held his tongue. He didn’t want to snap at his mother. Still, he hated the thought of not having control over who he married. Marriage was something that was sacred to him and he treasured the thought that the woman he married would be someone he was in love with. Part of his need for love was his parents’ own marriage. As he grew older, he saw more and more of how his parents had drifted from each other. Especially when France started having with Spain, his father spent more time in his war room than with his wife.
“Forgive me, Mother, but an arranged marriage never made anyone in this room very happy,” he couldn’t help but point out, looking at his father meaningfully. Diane’s eyes dropped as she caught her son’s meaning and Philip suddenly looked very uncomfortable.
“You are well beyond your boundaries,” Philip said threatening. “You will marry Gabriella or I’ll strike at you by any means I can.”
Max almost laughed at those words. “And what it is going to be, Father? The hot oil or the rack?”
Stuck, Philip tried to think of an extreme punishment. “I will...simply deny you the crown...and live forever,” he finished lamely.
“Good,” Max said. “Agreed. I don’t want it.”
Diane could see that another battle was going to erupt and intervened again. She then said to her husband, “Philip, I do believe that Signore da Vinci has arrived.
Philip’s eyes brightened a little. “He is?” Philip had asked for Signore da Vinci to come after seeing a few of his paintings. He had also heard some of his theories about various contraptions and he was interested in seeing them.
Diane smiled a little. It amused her to see her husband so excited. “Yes. Why don’t you go and greet him.”
Philip nodded and got up from his chair. He turned to Max. “We’ll discuss this later.” With those words, he left the room along with his various counselors.
Diane focused her attention back on Max. He looked so sad and lost, like the little boy that he once was. “Max, forgive your father. He only wants what’s best for you.”
Max gave a hollow laugh at his mother’s words. “What’s best for me?” he echoed. “How does he know?”
Diane could give him no answer.
As Louise tiredly struck at the ground with her hoe, she couldn’t help but sigh. She was so tired. It was late summer and soon it would be time to harvest what little crops they had managed to grow. Right now she was turning over the dirt so that the soil could fallow over the winter for the upcoming spring. It was difficult work, especially in her old age. If Maurice was here, he would make things so much easier. He had a way of making her smile and laugh and any work would seem to fly by with ease whenever he was nearby.
Maurice. That brought her mind back to Liz and what she was about to do. She had tried to talk Liz out of it, even though she did want the plan to work. She had been torn; to have Maurice back or to risk Liz being caught. Luckily for her, Liz had already made up her mind and was going ahead of the plan whether Louise had wanted her to or not.
She glanced nervously at the manor. The prince had been by earlier and though she hadn’t been able to see him, she had heard from the girls about how handsome he had been. It had been a good distraction so that nobody wondered too much about where Liz was.
Louise managed to get a few more feet of dirt overturned before she looked to the edge of the woods again. There was no one there. She shouldn’t have Liz go, it was too dangerous. She looked up again and gasped. Could it be? Her hands let go of the hoe and she took a hesitant step forward.
There was Maurice and Liz coming toward her. Liz was holding a large bouquet of wildflowers and she smiled to see how Louise and Maurice’s eyes seemed locked on each other.
After meeting Maurice at the edge of the drawbridge, she had hurried him to where Alex was still hiding at the edge of the forest. Alex had nearly hugged the life out of Liz when he saw that she was all right. He had nearly gone sick with worry when he saw how long she had been gone. Numerous scenarios had run through his mind as to what could have happened and he was ready to go and see what had happened when she had appeared with Maurice.
They had hurried back to the studio where Liz changed out of the silk gown back to her coarse workdress. A part of her was disappointed to having to go back to plain Liz, but she was also relieved to have been able to end the charade and return to the safety of her own skin.
Alex had to hurry back to his work and Liz and Maurice walked back home, just talking about various things, such as how Louise was doing. It amazed Liz to no end how much he loved her and vice versa. When he caught his first sight of her, he started running toward her, despite the fact that he was still weak.
Their embrace was filled with laughter and tears and joy. Liz stood of to the side, just watching with tears in her own eyes. Smiling, Maurice and Louise opened their arms and welcomed her in, which she did very happily.
As Liz walked in the door, Rodmilla took her roughly by the arm and brought her to the front room where she promptly threw her into a chair. Shocked, Liz reached out and steadied herself. “How dare you!” Rodmilla seethed. “How dare you betray us like this!”
Liz didn’t know what to say. Did she find out about what she had done? But how? “What did I do?” she asked hesitantly.
Tess and Maria had been playing a board game and Maria had been ready to throw the dice when the whole scene started taking place. Tess smirked and said snidely, “Think, Liz. Think really hard.”
As Rodmilla waited for her answer, Liz looked around desperately for an answer. She caught Maria’s eye and Maria started motioning her hands in an imitation of horses’ hooves moving while mouthing, “Prince Max, horse.” Tess looked suspiciously at Maria, who pretended to be moving her hands at throwing the dice.
Uncertainly, Liz said, “Prince Max ... stole our horse this morning?”
“Yes!” Rodmilla snapped condescendingly, as if with a child. “And that would explain why he came back to return it this afternoon, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes?” Liz said in a soft voice. Prince Max had been here earlier?
“Fortunately for you, Tess made a wonderful impression today. I wouldn’t be surprised if our Prince Max came back for another visit.”
Liz swallowed. For some odd reason, the thought of Max with Tess... she didn’t dare say it.
“Come now,” Rodmilla said impatiently. “I must know everything that was said. He said you were forceful. What did you say?”
Forceful? What? Oh, the apples. Yes, that would explain that choice of word. Hmm... better not mention that to Rodmilla, it would only infuriate her. “I ... uh.. called him a thief,” Liz said in a rush. “I didn’t know who he was!”
For a minute, Rodmilla was stunned. Then she burst into laughter along with Tess. “Oh, you poor, ignorant country girl,” Rodmilla said. She smirked, one that was on Tess’s face. “Well, now we must never let that happen again, now will we?” Liz shook her head. “And we will have to make sure that the manor is spotless when Prince Max comes back, won’t we?” Liz nodded. “Good.”
Philip stared at the clutter that was all ready forming. The man had been here for less than an hour and was all ready making himself quite at home. “Hello?” Philip called out. Was he even here?
A head popped up from behind a box. “Oh hello,” Leonardo said, not noticing the way that Philip clutched his chest from the surprise. “You must be King Philip. I’m Leonardo. How do you do?”
Taken aback by his informality, Philip didn’t respond right away. “Umm...hello, Signore. Welcome to France.”
As Philip was talking, Leonardo continued to walk around the studio, unpacking various chests, pulling out diagrams and knick knacks. “Actually, I’ve been in France for several days now traveling from Italy,” he stated.
“Yes...well, welcome to the Palace,” Philip improvised.
“Oh, thank you. So, I have met your son all ready. He’s a fine boy,” Leonardo commented.
Philip’s face hardened a little at the mention of his son. What was he going to do with him? “Boy would be correct.”
Leonardo paused and looked at the King before him. Instead, he saw a father. “I am under the impression that there is a certain ... tension between father and son. Am I correct?”
“You would be correct.” Philip, under normal circumstances, would never admit this to anyone, but there was something about Signore da Vinci that told him he could trust him.
“And what seems to be the problem?”
“He doesn’t want to be King.”
“And why do you think that is?”
“How should I know?” Philip exploded. “When I was his age, I wanted to be King.”
“But he isn’t you, is he?” Leonardo posed the question.
“Obviously not!” Philip laughed. Then he sobered a little, “It’s just that... I see so much potential in him to be a great ruler. I just wish he saw that in himself.”
“Maybe all he needs is a little space and time to see that by himself instead of someone seeing it for him.” As Philip mulled on this, Leonardo continued. “I know of your treaty with Spain that involves your son. Perhaps matters as grand as that should be worked out between men, not their children.”
Philip was thinking. Something that that man had said made sense to him. He needed to see Max. Distractedly, he said to Leonardo, “Thank you. I will see you later perhaps.” As he walked out, he missed Leonardo’s secretly pleased face.
Philip found Max walking out in the gardens with his mother and sister. As Philip walked up to his family, he couldn’t help but feel a little bit pleased. No doubt Max would appreciate this. Without any greeting, he decided to be blunt and just say what he had to say.
“In five days time I will be holding a ball for Signore da Vinci. At that time, I will allow you to announce your choice for your bride. If you do not have one picked by then, I will announce her for you. Do you understand?”
Max was stunned. He was actually being allowed to pick his wife? Granted, five days was not a lot of time, but still. “What about your treaty with Spain?”
“Let me worry about Spain. You have bigger issues to deal with,” Philip answered. He was pleasantly surprised when he felt Diane’s hand slip into his and gave it a squeeze. Maybe he was doing something right after all.
“Thank you, Father,” Max didn’t know what else to say. But that was all that was needed to be said.
As bees loudly droned around her, Liz carefully bellowed the smoke into the beehives. “Almost now,” Louise murmured. Since Maurice had returned, she was in much better spirits. After Rodmilla had grilled Liz about Prince Max, Tess caught sight of Maurice in the doorway. Disgusted, she asked, “What is he doing back?”
Rodmilla had swung her head in his direction and waited for an answer. Fumbling, Maurice answered, “I have paid of your...” At the mention of ‘her’ debt, Rodmilla’s eyebrows rose and Maurice quickly amended his words. “...my debts and they let me come back.”
Rodmilla was too distracted with the thoughts of primping Tess up for Max to pay much attention to such lowly matters. “Oh. Well, go catch a chicken or something.” Then she turned back to Tess and started discussing dresses and various other things.
Clearing her throat, Louise pulled Liz’s attention back to the present. “They’re asleep. Now.”
Carefully, Liz reached in and started pulling out large chunks of honeycombs. The rich scent of the honey wafted up to Liz even through the thick smoke and through her netted hat that protected her face.
She piled several pieces on the plate that Louise was holding. As soon as she had enough, she carefully placed the top of the beehive back on and put out the small fire nearby. They began walking back toward the house and Louise started talking again. “I would have given anything to see you yesterday, all dressed up like a lady, talking with the prince himself.”
The prince. Did Louise have to mention him? It was hard enough for Liz to stop thinking about him on her own without having to be reminded of him. “Really,” Liz began. “I am just glad that is over with. He is one of the most spoiled people I have met and I found him to be insufferable.”
Louise gave her a knowing look. She saw past what Liz was saying. “Funny, you’ve been saying that...all day.”
Catching the suggestive tone in Louise’s voice, Liz tried to think of a reply. “Well,” she stumbled, “it’s as true now...as it was this morning.”
Desperate to throw the conversation somewhere else, yet not completely away from Max, Liz tried again. She put on a wicked smile and said, “Quite honestly, I think he and Tess complement each other perfectly.”
Louise gasped. “Bite your tongue, child! The only throne I want her sitting on is the one I have to clean everyday!” With that, both women burst into gales of happy laughter.
When Rodmilla saw one of the royal messengers at the door, her heart leaped, thinking that perhaps Prince Max was indeed coming back for another visit. However, her disappointment didn’t last long when she saw the envelope. Quickly opening, she saw an invitation for all the ladies of the house to attend a grand masque in honor of Leonardo da Vinci.
Sensing there was something more to this, she turned her attention to the messenger. He was a short, pudgy man who seemed enthralled at just simply looking at Rodmilla. ‘Well, I certainly think I can use this to my advantage,’ she thought to herself.
Giving him a flirtatious smile, Rodmilla began. “A masque. My, my, my. How terribly exciting! For me, of course. I imagine that for a man in your position at the castle, occurrences like this are run-of-the-mill type activities.”
Immediately, the man’s ego began to puff. “Well, yes, I am used to things such as this. However, there is something about this particular ball that makes it a bit more special.”
Catching his tone, Rodmilla’s eyebrow arched. “Oh really?” she cooed softly. “And why is that?”
Leaning forward slightly as if to convey some secrecy, he whispered, “That is the night the prince will announce who will be his bride.”
Letting out a gasp, Rodmilla was shocked. “And what of the engagement to the Spanish princess?”
Quickly taking her purse, she fished out a dozen silver coins. Placing them one by one in the messenger’s palm, she said, “I want to know everything that goes on that involves the prince. Where he goes, who he goes with, what he does.”
Nodding, the messenger pocketed the coins and gave Rodmilla a sly look. “He is playing tennis tomorrow with the Marquis de Lamoige.” Delighted, Rodmilla decided to go back inside and plot her actions.
Ignoring the disgust in her stomach, Rodmilla gently traced the royal seal on the uniform he was wearing. “Such strength, power hidden behind this,” she purred. Seeing the shocked look on his face at her touch and then the smitten look, she smiled and went back inside. Immediately, she gave a small shriek and ran to find Tess.
“How about this one?” Rodmilla asked, holding up a blue gown. Tess gave it a small glance and immediately shook her head.
“Why not?” This was one of Rodmilla’s favorite gowns.
“Mother, it’s blue!”
“Max likes blue, darling.”
“Exactly. And fifty other girls will be wearing the exact same color.”
Rodmilla paused and looked at Tess with pride. “Very good, Tess. That is the type of thinking we need.” They were in Tess’s room and dresses and gowns littered the floor and bed. Rodmilla had even raided her closet for the perfect dress to capture the Prince’s attention tomorrow at the tennis game.
However, they were still at a loss for a gown for the masque. Rodmilla wanted it to be spectacular because she was sure that that night, the prince would ask Tess to be his wife.
Maria came back into the room. She had been changing into her gown for the masque. It was the same one that she always wore because her mother insisted ‘It fits you so perfectly, Maria, why bother changing it?’
It angered Maria to no end whenever she heard her mother say this, then turn around and buy a new gown for herself or Tess. So, as soon as she had heard about the ball, she had decided to take matters into her own hands. Going to Liz, she had asked her to take in a few inches from the bodice. Maria had explained that she had lost some weight and needed it taken in. Liz had given her a strange look, as if she knew something else was going on, but did it anyway.
“Well, this is obviously too small,” Maria said as she walked into the room. “I’ll just have to get another gown.”
“Nonsense,” her mother snapped. “It fit perfectly fine the last time you wore it. Did you gain weight?”
This wasn’t exactly what Maria was going for. “No. Uh...it must have...shrunk.”
“Shrunk? How is that possible?”
“I don’t know. But it’s too small now.”
“You’ll just have to make do.”
“But I can’t breathe in this!”
“If one cannot breathe, one cannot eat.”
“Mother, please!” Tess interjected. “Focus!” The conversation bored her incredibly, who cared what Maria wore?
“Perhaps if I knew what you were looking for, dear,” Rodmilla said patiently.
“Something fit for a queen!” Tess exclaimed in exasperation as she flopped back in her bed.
Pursing her lips, Rodmilla thought for a second. Then an idea suddenly came to her. “Come with me, ladies. I might have just the thing.”
“What is it?” Tess asked eagerly.
“Ooh, I do love a good intrigue!” Tess and Maria trailed Rodmilla as she led them into her room. At the foot of her bed was a large wooden chest. Opening the cover, Rodmilla took out the first layer of cloth and revealed two bundles carefully wrapped in linen. Opening both bundles, she smiled as she saw her daughters’ reactions.
“Mother, it’s perfect!” Tess cooed as she lifted the gown out. It was a white dress that was embroidered with tiny crystals in beautiful designs of flowers. She held it against her chest and looked in her reflection.
“And look at these shoes,” Maria noticed as she took out the pair. The heels were made of glass and the rest were beautifully embroidered with a silk, silver thread to match the designs of the dress.
“Wherever did you get these?” Tess asked.
Rodmilla laughed cruelly. “This is Liz’s dowry for her wedding day.”
“Cinderella married?” Tess chortled. “To who? The chimney sweep?”
“If these are Liz’s,” Maria said. “Maybe she’d like to wear them to the ball.”
“Liz go to the ball?” Tess echoed. “Don’t be stupid, Maria. She can’t go to the ball.”
“But the invitation said...” Maria started.
“Since when are commoners allowed to go to royal functions?” Tess asked.
“Well...never,” Maria admitted. “But she’s still our step-sister...”
“She’s not of noble blood!” Tess interrupted.
“And who would notice if she wasn’t there?” Rodmilla interjected. “No one!”
Rebuffed, Maria stayed silent but she was fuming inside. She had never liked the idea of Liz working when she shouldn’t have. When they were little, Tess had often ignored Maria. So one day she found Liz playing with Alex and had stood off to the die watching them, wishing she could join them.
Liz saw her standing there alone and almost immediately ran over to her and invited to join her and Alex. That had been one of the happiest days of Maria’s life, just playing with friends without having to worry about manners. She had only managed to play with them a few more times before her mother had found out. Rodmilla gave her a long lecture about not mingling with the lower class and how she was supposed to be a lady.
That was also about the same time that Liz was forced to work in the fields and in the house. Maria tried to talk to her, but Tess had tattled on her and Maria received another lecture. Realizing the trouble Maria was getting in, Liz stopped responding to Maria.
There were so little things that Liz had. And now, her mother and sister were taking away Liz’s dowry from her mother for their own personal gain. Sometimes Maria wondered how she could be related to them.
Just then Liz walked in, her arms loaded with wood for Rodmilla’s fireplace. “What are you doing?” she asked, seeing them with her mother’s dress and shoes.
Looking at her guiltily, Tess and Rodmilla were silent for a second before Rodmilla blurted out, “We’re just airing the dress out for you.”
“For me?” Liz asked, not believing her ears. “Why?”
“Well, for the ball, of course.”
Liz was in shock at this. Rodmilla was actually saying that she could go. “You wish for me to go to the masque with you?”
Inwardly, Rodmilla cursed herself. With a nervous chuckle, she replied, “I thought we could all go as... as one happy family. Honestly, it hurts me that you don’t consider me family, Liz.”
“No, I...” Liz started to protest.
“Of course, that is provided you do all your chores and mind your manners until then,” Rodmilla quickly added. Liz nodded at these conditions.
Maria was confused. “But I thought Tess said the dress...” she started.
Tess immediately interrupted her sister and said, “I said the dress would be all right for a commoner. I mean,” she forced a laugh and gave the gown she coveted a disdainful look, “it’s practically an antique.”
Liz just smiled. Was it finally happening? Was she becoming a part of the family?
Maria gave her sister and mother a disgusted look. She knew what they were up to. They were never going to let Liz go to the ball, no matter how good Liz was. They would find some fault somewhere. Not being able to take their presences anymore, she tossed the shoes onto the bed and left the room.
Liz looked confused and concerned. “What’s wrong with her?” she asked.
Tess put on a sorrowful face. “Oh... she doesn’t want you to go,” she tried to say with sympathy. However the glint in her eye made Liz pause a little. She sensed that there was more going on that she did not know about.
I want to now dedicate this to everyone affected by the horrific events that happened in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pittsburgh. In college right now just outside of Boston where the planes were hijacked, everyone is in shock right now. I wish to offer my sympathies and hope for the future. Thank you.
Edited by - Lisa1783 on 09/21/2001 08:28:05