"Did you make a decision, my dear?" my father asked as he escorted me to my bedchambers.
"Yes," I said quietly, my slipper clad feet tapping on the marble floors. "There were three men that struck my fancy."
"Good," he said happily. "Give Juliet their names and we will make sure they are invited as soon as possible."
"I'll write the invitations," I said and he beamed.
"Even better! Good night, dear," he said and kissed my cheeks.
My lady-in-waiting was straightening my pillows when I came in. She smiled and curtsied to me.
"Good evening, Princess Angel," she said. "Did you have a good time?"
"Yes, I did," I said. I sat at my writing desk while she took my tiara off and started to brush my hair. "Tell me, how well do you know the people of the village?"
She shook her head. "Not very well, I'm sorry to say. Did you find a young man?"
I thought to the timid man in the dark suit. I remembered the look in his eyes when he saw me and felt my cheeks go pink.
"There were three," I said. "I'm going to write them letters of invitation and have them sent out. Will you deliver them to the messenger for me when I am done, Juliet?"
"Of course I will, Your Majesty." I arched a brow at her over my shoulder and she laughed. "Very well, Angel."
I laughed gently.
I had just finished making breakfast for father and his... friend, when there was a knock on the door. I straightened my shirt again and opened it. Another royal messenger stood there with a small envelope. He was beaming at me and I smiled back nervously.
"From Her Highness, Princess Angel Blackmayne," he said then walked off.
I looked at the envelope, my hand shaking. In curvy letters of green ink was my name. She had written this herself....
"Who was that?" my father asked in the fake happy voice he used when we had guests.
I glanced up. He was dressed but his friend was just in her slip and I looked away.
"Just someone with a letter for me."
He laughed but it didn't reach his eyes. "What kind of letter?"
"It's...." I sighed. "It's from the princess," I said and, as I suspected, his eyes darkened.
I stood to the side and opened the envelop to avoid looking at him practically taking the woman there on the table. I heard her giggle breathlessly as he murmured into her ear. My hands still shaking, I unfolded the sheet of thick parchment inside.
I would be most honored if you would join me at the palace for three weeks. I very much wish to know you better. Perhaps you can show me how you manage to drop a glass goblet without it breaking.
I couldn't stop the smile from appearing on my face. That is, until the door shut and the letter was snatched from my hand. I took a deep breath as he read it.
"You spoke to the princess," he said slowly. "And you dropped something in front of her. Does your stupidity know no bounds!?"
"She asked me to dance," I whispered. "I did not approach her."
He backhanded me and I crashed into the wall to my right, my head bouncing off of it. I wanted to grunt in pain but that would just make it worse.
"Don't lie to me," he snarled.
He punched me in the stomach and I bent over as the air left my body. He kicked my feet out from underneath me and I fell onto my already heavily bruised back. A grunt escaped my throat and he growled in anger. For several minutes, all I was aware of was his foot constantly kicking and stomping on me.
With one last kick at my face, he spat on me.
"Let's see her fall in love with you now," he sneered. "Pack up your things and get the hell out of my house. I don't want to see you ever again. Either marry the bitch or don't come back."
I staggered to my feet and looked away as I walked to my room. He shoved me and I ran into the closed door. He laughed cruelly before disappearing into his.
I didn't have many clothes so I was ready within minutes. I glanced at myself in the mirror first, though. My cheek was already starting to bruise and his boot had cut my lip. It was swollen and bleed profusely. I held the cuff of my sleeve to it, shouldered my bag, and left without a word to my father.
I stopped by James' shop first. It was still early enough that not many people were out but I knew he'd answer.
"I've come to return your suit," I said, getting ready to take the bag off my shoulder but he stopped me.
"Keep it," I heard him say. I wasn't looking at him. "David? What's wrong? Where are you going?"
"Um... the princess has requested I spend time at the palace. I suppose.... Thank you for your help. I hope to see you again."
He grabbed my arm and I winced. It was bruised from when my father had gripped me there last night.
"Look at me, David," he said quietly.
"I have to go," I said.
"Don't make me make you," he said and I sighed. I turned around and looked at him. He studied my face then led me upstairs. "Did he do it this morning?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," I mumbled.
"Sure you don't," he said somewhat angrily.
When we got up to his house, Belle saw me and her eyes widened. James had me sit down and turned to sign something but she was already coming over with a box. He smiled and kissed her gently.
"I love her. She always knows what I need before I ask," he said quietly. "Now, did he do it this morning?"
"Yes," I said, figuring there wasn't any point in lying anymore. "I have to go, though."
"How long will you be there?" he asked, ignoring me as he pressed a swab to my lip to soak up the blood.
"Three weeks," I said.
"Will you be going back home?"
His voice was even but I could see anger in his eyes. Belle and James were unable to have children and sometimes I felt like that was why he had spent so much time with me when my father's beatings drove me out of the house. It was James that taught me how to shave and how to properly knot a tie. I lied to my father and said I had been watching him which earned more beatings but, if I told him the truth, I wouldn't be the only one getting hit.
"No," I said. "He's kicked me out."
James looked at the bag at my feet. "So that's all your belongings?" I nodded. "You can come back here." He smiled as he applied ointment to the split on my lip. "Though I don't think you will need to."
"You're very kind but I don't want you to have to-"
"Hush," he ordered, "or I won't be able to clean this completely."
I did as he said but I knew that he was just getting me to stop talking. I was touched that he would open his house to me when I returned. I looked around while we waited for the ointment to dry. It was a pleasant home. As soon as you opened the door, you were in a large room that had a big fireplace for cooking, a couch, a small table with three chairs, and a place where Belle knitted. I could see myself reading by the fire light...
"We'll see," I whispered when he put a small bandage on the cut. I winced. "What was in that medicine?"
"I don't know," he laughed. "Belle made it and told me once but I was too distracted."
I frowned. "By what?"
He smiled at his wife. She was knitting again. "By her, David. The ointment will also help with the swelling. Sadly, I don't have anything for your bruise." He chuckled. "You can play it off that you got in a fight with someone who was insulting the princess," he said as we walked back downstairs after I waved goodbye to Belle.
I chuckled. "Yeah, I suppose I could." I sighed when we got to the door. "James," I began but he did something I didn't expect.
He hugged me gently.
"Take care, David," he said. He stepped back. "Now get out of here before you bring all the ladies running in."
I laughed. "I'll be in touch."
He smiled knowingly at me and I waved.
The streets were busier now that the sun was higher. I was almost to the castle gates when I heard my name. I turned to see a young man I recognized from the fields. He had a broad grin on his face.
"You got one, too?" he asked and I nodded, smiling back at him. He stuck his hand out. "Hugo."
"David," I returned. "Well... obviously you knew that already."
He laughed. "Can I walk with you?" he asked and I nodded. "She's beautiful, isn't she?"
"She is the physical representation of her name," I agreed and he grinned.
"Ah, I have a poet walking beside me!"
I just smiled at him. We were stopped in the entryway. Three other men stood but they were dressed in a servant's outfit.
"David?" one of them asked and I nodded. "My name is Octavius. I will be your personal assistant while you are here. Follow me to your room."
"See you around," Hugo said cheerfully and I smiled again before following Octavius up the stairs.
"The welcome lunch will be held in the dining room in three hours," Octavius said as we walked. "I will come to retrieve you if you'd like."
"This palace is huge," I breathed as we passed another staircase going up.
"Yes, it is," he acknowledged. "Now, you will be joined by two of your fellow village men. I guess you already met one of them. The third has not yet arrived," he added bitterly then cleared his throat.
"You know him, don't you?" I asked.
"Here's your room, David," he said evasively. "I'll come get you in three hours."
I frowned but nodded. "Thank you."