I put my bag at the end of the magnificent four post bed. The blankets were green and the sheets pure white. A fireplace was on the right wall and was currently barren. It was summer, though, so I didn't see the need in having a warm room. Two doors sat to the left. One led to a large closet and the other to a washroom.
I sat on the bed and rubbed my back, wincing as I ran a hand over one of the fresher bruises. There was still a blood stain on my sleeve and I rolled both sleeves up to cover it.
I wasn't exactly handsome but I was lean with a small bit of muscle. My father never did any work after we had to move to the small home we had at the edge of the village. Any coin that he did manage to earn he used to buy alcohol and the company of women. So, every time I earned coin from working in the fields, I had to hide it. Thankfully, I was able to keep any produce I managed to grow during the year.
I fell back onto the bed. It was incredibly comfortable and I was glad I got to spend three weeks in such a bed. Then I thought back to James' offer. It would be nice to live in a real home for once. Assuming he was being serious. He had seemed like it....
I closed my eyes and must have dozed off because moments later, or so it seemed, Octavius was at my door.
After making sure I looked presentable and the blood stain on my sleeve was still hidden, I opened the door and followed him down the hall.
"Do you know how to use the silverware?" he asked me suddenly.
"It-It's just a knife, fork, and spoon, isn't it?"
"No," he said. "You have three forks: the salad fork, the main dish fork, and the dessert fork. You have two spoons: Your soup spoon and your dessert spoon. You have two knives: One is flat and dull and is used for buttering bread. The other one is for cutting meat and other things you can't cut with the side of your fork."
"Okay," I said, trying to remember everything.
"Here we are," he said and led me into the room I walked through last night.
The table could sit up to ten and everyone was already seated. When we saw me come in, the king got up and beamed.
"David," he said and held his hand out. "Roland Blackmayne at your service!"
I smiled. "It's a pleasure."
"This is my wife, Miranda," he said and I bowed. "And you've met my daughter, Angel."
She smiled at me and my mouth went dry. I struggled with speech, aware I was making a fool out of myself.
"Hello again," I managed and bowed at her.
"Have you met your fellows?" King Roland asked.
"We met," Hugo said with a smile.
I looked over at the speaker. He was shorter than I was and looked like a rather unpleasant fellow. He was pale and had long black hair. His black eyes were unkind. What in the world made Angel choose him?
"William," the man said, shoving his hand in my face.
"David," I returned.
"So I've heard," he said and I frowned, sitting beside Hugo and not understanding his dislike.
I looked at my place setting and desperately tried to remember everything Octavius told me. First we were given some kind of soup and I looked at the two spoons. They looked identical to me and I tried not to panic.
"Left," Hugo whispered as he ate.
"Thanks," I breathed and picked up the spoon on the left.
He just smiled at me and we mostly ate in silence. King Roland was asking William about himself; something William seemed to really enjoy talking about.
"I'm from a rich family," he said pompously and I heard Hugo snort quietly. "I can offer a lot," he added and Hugo choked into his cup of water.
I looked at the salad placed in front of me and I sighed. There was a medium sized fork and I reached for it.
"Other one," Hugo said, covering it with a cough.
"You're a life saver," I whispered.
"Ah, you can just give me a batch of your carrots. You grow the best."
I smiled modestly. "They're okay."
We both jumped, unaware that Princess Angel was listening. William looked insulted.
"David's carrots," Hugo said. "He grows the best." He gestured at the carrots in her salad. "You're probably eating them now."
She looked impressed.
"It's not a big deal," I breathed. "I just-"
"Why grow carrots when you can buy them?" William interrupted and I fell into silence.
Queen Miranda cleared her throat, sensing the tense atmosphere.
"So, the three of you will be here for three weeks," King Roland said at his wife's prompting. "You'll each have one week with Princess Angel. William, you shall have the first week, Hugo will have the second and, David, you will have the third."
Last as always.
"Don't think like that," the queen said suddenly and we all looked at her. She turned pink. "Oh, did I say that out loud? Just thinking about a silly memory."
"What will we do while not spending time with Princess Angel?" Hugo asked.
"Why, exploring our fine castle," he said. "We have so much to see."
"Sounds wonderful," I said.
"For today, William, you shall join Princess Angel for tea," he continued. "You are excused."
I bowed and walked quickly back to my bedroom. Before I could get some sleep, someone knocked.
"I'm going on a brief tour," Hugo said, gesturing to his assistant. "Would you like to join me?"
"Sure," I said after hesitating. "Thank you."
"Of course," Hugo said happily. "So, when did you dance with the princess?"
"Closer to the end of the evening," I said, remembering how she had me twirl her and then stand so very close. "I... well, I had been eating and she approached me."
He frowned. "Why did you not approach her?"
"I didn't know how to dance," I admitted. "That and...." I cleared my throat. "What about you?"
"I was the first one," he said and his smile faltered, to my surprise. "She was very sweet but I could tell she didn't really want to be there."
I looked at him. "Why do you say that? I mean, she's the one who asked for the ball."
"You know, I don't think she did," he mused. "But she didn't talk much to me. We danced for a while until someone asked to cut in. At first I thought it was just me but she didn't really speak to any of the other men."
She spoke to me....
She pitied you. You looked like a lost puppy.
Did I? Do I still?
"Where did you get that bruise?" Hugo asked.
"What?" I asked, distracted as I tried to stop the argument in my head.
"The bruise on your cheek." He was frowning now. "In fact, it looks fresh...."
"I just fell," I said and looked ahead of me. They were leading us down a corridor. "What is this?"
"Paintings of the royal family," Octavius said. I didn't realize he had joined us. "Each king and queen our kingdom has had. Plus the dukes and duchesses, of course."
"There are so many," I said, looking around at them all.
"Our kingdom is very old," he acknowledged.
Hugo was still watching me and I tried to think of something to change the subject. Before I could, though, the door right in front of me opened and I ran into it. I fell down on my rear and groaned.
"I'm so sorry!" the queen gasped.
I looked up. She was holding a paintbrush and looked mortified as Hugo, who was laughing a little, helped me to my feet.
"It's okay," I said, touching my nose gingerly. "Nothing's broken."
"Are you sure?" she asked nervously.
"Yes, of course. Is that- Do you have paint?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "Do you enjoy painting?" I nodded and she beamed. "Perhaps you can join tomorrow, then!"
"That would be lovely," I smiled.