Prince Alexander looked up as his father, King Edward entered his room. “I’m afraid Daniel's died from epilepsy,” he said. Alexander, standing, said, “Well, that’s just great. Who’m I going to have for a servant now?” Edward replied, “Don’t worry, Alexander, I will handle it. Rest assured you will have a new servant by this evening. You just stick to your daily schedule, and there will be a new servant when you return from your riding exercises.” Alexander nodded, and picking up his sword, he left his room, followed by his father. He headed out into the yard, where a soldier stood waiting.
He came to attention, and Alexander said, “At ease, David. I’m sorry I’m late, I got held up waiting for my servant.” David stood at ease and replied, “I heard about Daniel, sir, and I’m sorry for it. He was a good friend and good at his work.” Alexander agreed, “Yes, he was all that, David. Indeed he was. But we’re here to practice swordplay, not play with words.” David nodded, and saying, “sire,” he stepped back into an en guarde position. The day passed with little incidence, although Alexander lost his temper frequently when he had to find a servant to help him with saddling his horse or when helping him carry his bow and quiver of arrows.
That evening, after riding his Friesian stallion Zanzibar, Alexander stalked through the corridors to his room, and stalked in, pushing both doors open. Edward and a young lady with dark brown hair, wearing a cotton dress with a high waist, turned to face him. Alexander demanded, “Who is this, father?” the young lady curtsied briefly, as Edward replied, “this is your new maidservant, Catharine.” Alexander raised an eyebrow, and said to Catharine, “it’s an extensive job. Cleaning the room, my clothes, and that’s just two aspects to the job. My hygiene...”
Catharine replied in a quiet, melodious voice, “I’m not shy, sire.” Alexander’s expression was one of deep thought for a moment, and Edward said, “Well, I’ll let you two get acquainted.” He left, and once he was gone, Alexander said, “Forgive my father. He’s like that a lot.” Catharine smiled briefly and replied, “of course, sire.” She then helped him with a bath, making a point of not looking at him much until he had a dressing gown on. He stepped into his room as she was sorting out a fresh pile of clothes. She jumped, turning as he said, “finish that and then return home, Catharine. Return here at five tomorrow morning – I hope you can clean armour.”
Catharine replied, “And repair it and make a new set if necessary, sire.” Alexander smirked, although it felt strange to be trading quips with a woman as pretty as Catharine. He suddenly noticed the colour of her eyes – a startling hazel brown. “Your father’s a blacksmith?” he asked, and Catharine replied, “A baker, sire. I used to spend every summer with my uncle a blacksmith. I held the horses as he shoed them, handed him the tools he needed for making new armour. I learned quickly.”
Alexander nodded slowly, and asked, “What about swords and weapons like that? You know how to make them?” Catharine replied, “Better than my uncle, according to my uncle. He often let me start a small project when he wasn’t very busy.” Arthur nodded slowly, and then looking at his clothes, he said, “Are you finished here, Catharine?” Catharine, looking at the clothes behind her, returned her gaze to the prince replied, “Yes, sire, I am.” Alexander said, “Then you go home, and get a good night’s sleep. See you at five tomorrow morning.”
Catharine curtsied, and left the room. Alexander changed quickly, and then sat in a chair positioned conveniently behind him, and resting his chin on his hand, he looked at the door thoughtfully. Edward reappeared and asked, “Where’s Catharine, Alexander?” Alexander replied, “I sent her home, to get a good night’s sleep.” Edward asked, “How is she?” Alexander replied thoughtfully, “very... interesting.” The next morning, Alexander woke early, at quarter to five, and just as he pulled his shirt on, there came a faint knock on the door, and Catharine slipped into the room.
“You got here early,” Alexander said; a hint of surprise was evident in his tone. Catharine replied, “I didn’t want to make a bad impression, sire, especially on my first day.” Alexander nodded approvingly, and said, “That’s always a good policy to maintain, especially as my father’s told me to keep an eye on you.” Catharine smiled, and as Alexander pointed to his armour, she nodded understandingly, and heading over to it, she replied, “Well, I can only hope I don’t disappoint, sire.”
She began cleaning his armour as he left the room to join his father for breakfast, and had finished it and remade his bed by the time he returned. “You’re good,” he complimented, inspecting his armour. “Thank you, sire,” Catharine replied, and Alexander said, “you can spend the day tagging around with Thomas, the cook – I told him to wait for you in the corridor on the corner to the right. I’ll be back here at four o’clock in the afternoon, so Thomas will keep you busy with odd jobs until then.”
By now they had stopped just outside the door and curtsying, Catharine turned right; Alexander turned left. Catharine found that Thomas was about her age, with blonde hair and sea green eyes. They soon found they had a lot in common, and Catharine was soon standing next to Thomas in the kitchens, making a large batch of cup cakes and other pastries. Thomas tasted one of Catharine's cakes, and said, “what are you doing working in the palace kitchens, when you should be setting up your own bakery?”
Catharine laughed, and the head chef, who also knew Catharine and frequently called her Cathy, walking past them, saw the half eaten cake in Thomas's hand and said, “How’s Cathy's cooking then, Thomas?” Thomas handed the head chef, called Matthias, another cake, saying, “try it yourself, chef.” Matthias took a bite, and said, “That is amazing. Seriously, that is the best cup cake I have tasted in a very, very long time. Cathy, get baking, these’re going to the soldiers for their afternoon break. Thomas’ll tell you what t’do.” Thomas, nodding, replied, “Will do, chef,” and Catharine said, as they both turned back to the work surface, “I’ll make the batter; you can put them in the oven.”
They worked together in this way to make and bake three large batches. When they had done this, Catharine and Thomas looked at three trays of cupcakes and pastries, and Catharine said, “Well, Thomas... we did well. Put it there”, and they high fived, grinning at each other; they were soon called upon to help serve lunch. Alexander looked up as Catharine set a tray with a plate of cupcakes on the table in front of him, along with another jug of beer and a plate of sliced bread, and their eyes met briefly as she unloaded the tray.
She then handed the tray to Thomas, and refilling Alexander’s goblet, she curtsied quickly, and left the large hall through a side door. “What would you recommend, Thomas?” Alexander asked as Thomas made to follow her. “I would recommend Catharine's cupcakes, sire. She could start her own bakery with those cupcakes, I swear ‘pon me life.” Alexander reached for a cupcake, and taking a bite, he said, “you’re right, Thomas. Tell the chef she has my compliments.” Thomas nodded, and exiting through the side door, he sought out Catharine, and said, “Your cupcakes have managed to win even Alexander's compliments and admiration. He told me to tell you that he thinks they’re amazing.”
Catharine did not say anything, but merely blushed slightly and continued with the job she had been given. When she returned to the high table with more ale, Alexander said, “good job with the cupcakes, Catharine.” Catharine replied, “Thank you, sire. It’s always been an easy talent to me.” That afternoon, Thomas caught up with Catharine, and said, “Cathy... hey, you’ve got the afternoon with the stable master, Eric. He’s waiting for you now.” Catharine nodded, and ran out to the stables. Eric looked her over, and said, “I don’t know why the prince recommended you to work for me for the afternoon, but I need to make the most of all the help I can get. Help Adam in the saddle room to clean the saddles. I want them spotless, alright, and I’ll be there in two hours to make sure the ones you’ve done are spotless.”
Catharine nodded, and went to the saddle room, where she managed to clean about half a dozen saddles in the two hours. She managed to impress Eric with the thoroughness of her work, and she was brushing the dirt and dust out of a young mare when Alexander entered the palace courtyard on his Friesian stallion. She curtsied briefly as he rode past, and he nodded back once. She tied the mare off on a wall ring as Alexander dismounted behind her, and he called, “Catharine,” as he tossed the reins at her back; she turned quickly to catch the reins, and led Zanzibar away to his stable.
She returned with him on a head collar and lead, and tied him up next to the mare she had been brushing. Alexander waited patiently until Thomas arrived with a goblet of ale, a jug of ale and a cupcake. As he drank, Alexander watched Catharine as she brushed Zanzibar down. She soon finished, and rubbing Zanzibar's nose affectionately, she led him to his stable, and returned to finish brushing the mare down. Alexander asked, “Do you like horses, Catharine?” Catharine, going round to the far side of the mare from Alexander, replied, “I love horses, sire, and I have done since an early age.”
Alexander asked, “Do you have one of your own?” and Catharine replied, “Yeah. A stallion, called Alexis. I always call him Alex, though.” Alexander grinned, and Catharine smiled briefly. “I wouldn’t mind seeing your horse sometime, Catharine,” he said, and she replied, “I’ll bring him tomorrow, sire.” Alexander nodded, and looked round as Thomas ran up and past him, saying “Catharine, Catharine, Catharine,” as he approached. Catharine grabbed his arms as he ran round the back of the mare, and replied jokingly, “what, what, what?” Thomas panted, “Matthias... wants you back... in the kitchen. Helping with... dinner.” Catharine nodded, and replied, “OK, go back to Matthias, tell him I’ll be there in five minutes, and no later.” Thomas nodded, and ran back the way he had come, as Catharine quickly untied the mare, and ran her back to her stable.
She left at a run, and ran in Thomas's footsteps towards the kitchens. Once there, Catharine waited until Matthias noticed her, which did not take long; when he noticed her, Matthias said, “Oh, Cathy, thank goodness you’re here. We’re fresh out of those cupcakes, and the soldiers have been looking forward to them all afternoon.” Catharine replied, “Say no more, Matthias, I’m on it. Thomas, you’re helping me. As we did before lunch, I’ll make, you’ll stick ‘em in to bake.” Thomas nodded, and for the next hour, they worked without a break.
In this time, they managed to make three trays of cupcakes, and Matthias, seeing the three freshly baked trays, said, “thank you, Catharine. Now they go out to the soldiers before they get much colder.” Catharine replied, “Ten steps ahead of you, Matthias,” as she balanced a tray on her hip and grabbed a handle on another tray. Thomas balanced a second tray on his hip, and they carried the third tray between them. Going out into the courtyard, they found that the soldiers were only just arriving. Thomas said, “Catharine, I’m just going to get the drinks. You can start handing out the cakes while I’m gone.” Catharine, handing a cupcake to a soldier, nodded at Thomas and replied, “Don’t take too long, Thomas, but I can manage for now.”
For the next ten minutes, she handed out cupcake after cupcake, and smiled when they complimented her frequently. Alexander was not in the courtyard when Catharine had returned with Thomas and the trays of cupcakes, and when Thomas returned, the soldiers were trying to get Catharine, who was sitting on the stone banister to sing for them. She looked round at Thomas, and grinned, frowning slightly at the same time. “Can you believe this?” she said as Thomas set the tray down, “they’re all disillusioned under the same belief that I’m the kinda girl who’s got a good voice.” Alexander’s voice said from behind her, “then I’m not surprised that they think so.”
Catharine jumped, and standing on the steps, she turned to look up the stairs as the soldiers all snapped to attention. Thomas and Catharine bowed or curtsied as Alexander looked at them, and he nodded once. Catharine didn’t meet his gaze as she reached her full height, and he asked, “Why won’t you sing for them?” Catharine replied, “Because I had to teach myself, sire - when someone teaches themselves a talent, it tends not to be as good as when they’ve been taught by someone else.” Alexander said, “But that doesn’t necessarily have a major effect on the quality of someone’s voice, Catharine.”
Thomas said, “Yeah, exactly. My sister had someone teach her and she still sounds like an old pig.” They laughed; Catharine said, “I’ll be sure to tell her that, Thomas.” Alexander said, “Catharine. Please, sing for us.” Catharine bowed her head once, and then, looking up, she looked out over the crowd of soldiers and sang in a bright, melodic voice:
“There is no cause, for despair
As drummers beat on the snare
To war you must go, my man
And take up the stand.
Here shall I remain,
To sow the grain
Until you return to me.
There is no cause, for happiness
At the sound of soldier’s steps
To war you must go, my man,
Your sword in your hand
Here shall I remain,
To sow the grain
Until you return to me”
There was silence as Catharine's voice reverberated around the courtyard. Thomas pulled his hat off of his head and said, “Well, I’ll be damned.” Alexander, who was staring at Catharine, with a bemused frown on his face, agreed, “yes... you say that you taught yourself, and yet you sound like you had the best of tutors. And yet I have never heard that song before. Who wrote it?”
Catharine, who had blushed and looked at her feet when Alexander complimented her voice, replied, “The song... the song is mine, sire. I have a... a habit, if you will, of making up songs. That song, though... it was an odd one, it –” Her voice trailed off, and Alexander asked, “it what, Catharine?” Catharine, who had looked away at this point, looked up at Alexander and replied, “It was made up as I sang, sire.” Thomas stared at her, and said, “Are you serious, Cathy?”
Catharine’s eyebrow quirked up as she looked down at Thomas, who was standing at the bottom of the stairs, and she replied, “of course I’m being serious, Thomas.” Edward appeared at the top of the stairs, and said, “Alexander. Can I talk to you inside, please? In the hall, now – no questions, it’s a serious matter.” Alexander, looking up at his father, nodded; looking around at Catharine, he nodded at Thomas who had bowed to signal his departure and said, “Catharine, take some clothes down to the cleaners, and then clean the floor of my room. Please.”
Catharine curtsied quickly; “sire,” she said as Alexander turned to go, and turning, she hurried quickly down the stairs, smiling as soldiers complimented her on her singing, and followed Thomas through a side door that led into the kitchens. “You’d better hurry – Alexander probably won’t be long,” Thomas said. Catharine nodded, and ran up to Alexander's room. She left his room an hour later, having washed the floor of his room and left it to dry. She took his clothes to the cleaners on the same floor as the kitchen; she bumped into another woman, and several of Alexander’s shirts dropped to the floor.
The woman looked to be of high status, so Catharine crouched and said, “Forgive me – I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.” The other woman helped Catharine up and replied, “It’s fine. You’re.... you’re Catharine, right?” Catharine nodded, and the woman added, “I’m Lady Anna, his sister.” Catharine curtsied quickly and said, “forgive me, Lady – I should... probably get these down... to the... cleaners.” Anna nodded understandingly, and Catharine walked around her, trying not to let her nerves show. She hurried down to the cleaners, and that was where Thomas found her, leaning against a wall. “What’s the matter?” he asked. Catharine replied, “I bumped into Lady Anna as I came down here.”
Thomas said, “ah, Alexander’s twin sister. There’s no need to be nervous about her, Cathy, she’s easy with anybody. Everyone gets on with her.” Catharine nodded once, and Thomas said, “Matthias has gotten something ready for you to take to Alexander’s room, if you’re ready to get on with things.” Catharine nodded, and entering the kitchen, she took the small tray with a jug of ale, a goblet and a small plate of cupcakes, she returned to Alexander’s room; she entered the corridor to find Alexander walking up from the other end. Catharine opened the door for him, and went in behind him.
She set down the tray, and quickly pouring out a goblet of ale, she handed it to Alexander, who nodded his thanks and took a quick, large gulp. “My father wanted to see you, by the way. He’s waiting in the hall,” Alexander said as he sat down. Catharine curtsied and left the room. Alexander looked at the door, a thoughtful expression on his face. Catharine was shown into the hall. Edward was sat in his throne at the far end of the hall, and Catharine made her way to him. Standing about a foot away from him, she curtsied and kept her eyes downcast as he asked, “How has your first day of work been, Catharine?” Catharine replied, “it’s been... interesting, your majesty.”
Edward nodded, and standing up, he began circling Catharine slowly as he asked, “And how do you find my son as your master?” Catharine, aware that Edward was watching her, replied, “He’s... polite, your majesty. And honest, I believe.” Edward, coming full circle, sat down in his throne, and leaning his elbow on one of the arms, he rested his chin on his hand and regarded Catharine with a look of amused bemusement for a few moments. “You know... of all the servants Alexander has had and of all that have had the same question put to them, none of them have said polite. Or that he’s honest,” Edward said.
Catharine did not say anything, and Edward, leaning forwards, asked, “What do you think they said in response, Catharine?” Catharine, shifting nervously, replied, “Well... I imagine they said he was imposing.” Edward, noting Catharine’s downcast gaze, ducked his head until their gazes met. Then he smiled and asked, “Are you nervous, Catharine?” Catharine looked down briefly, and then looking up at Edward, she nodded and replied, “Yes, your majesty. I am nervous.” Edward smiled, and then standing up once more, he walked over to the window, and looking out, saw his son with David practising his sword skills.
“I know Alexander may have seemed rather cold or distant today,” he said, motioning Catharine towards him, “but he means well. His old servant, Daniel, who was also a very good friend, died of a fit of epilepsy yesterday. This is just his way of committing his friend to memory.” Catharine, moving forwards to stand slightly behind Edward, followed the direction of his gaze with her own, and replied, “I’m not one to complain, your majesty. I know how he feels.” Edward looked round at her and asked, “You’ve lost a friend recently?” Catharine replied, “My younger brother, your majesty, was lost through a serious fever. And my mother, in turn, was lost through a broken heart after he died.”
Edward said, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Catharine replied, “So is my father, your majesty, not that he will ever admit it.” Edward said, “Alexander has been keeping an eye on your progress, as you have no doubt noticed. As has Thomas, Matthias and Eric. All of them have commented that you are a hard worker, and efficient.” Catharine looked at her feet and replied, “Thank you, your majesty.”
Edward turned back to her, and walking past her, he raised a hand for her to follow him, and as Catharine returned to her original position in front of the throne, Edward said, “I hear my son has expressed a wish to see your horse tomorrow.” Catharine smiled a small smile, looking down once more, and Edward, sitting down, looked up at Catharine and added, “Your horse is lucky to have such a mistress, Catharine.” Picking up a small leather pouch, he weighed it momentarily, and then tossed it to Catharine. She caught it easily, and Edward said, “Your wages for the week. Congratulations, Catharine – you’ve got the job for good.” Catharine smiled and replied, “thank you, your majesty.”
Edward nodded, and said, “you are dismissed, Catharine – return to your chores.” Catharine curtsied, and left. Thomas was waiting outside, and as he fell into pace next to Catharine, he asked, “What did Edward say to you?” Catharine replied, “Oh... I imagine the usual. Asked me how the job went, how I found Alexander as my master. Said he was polite and honest, instead of im –” Thomas, anticipating what she was going to say, finished the sentence for her, “– instead of imposing.”
Catharine nodded, and went on, “he then told me that Alexander was just committing Daniel to memory, and that his coldness and distance will pass with time. I said I wasn’t one to complain.” Thomas said, “Did he pass any comments on how you worked today?” Catharine nodded, and slapping Thomas gently on his arm she said, “you cheeky devil, you never said that you were watching how I worked!”
Thomas, grinning, replied, “Only because you scared me with how efficient you were in the kitchen.” suddenly, a voice called, “Catharine! Thomas!” They both looked around to find a girl about Catharine’s age running towards them, a letter in her hand. “Hey, Katie,” Thomas said as the woman caught up with them, and hurriedly added, “Cathy, this’s my friend, Katie; Katie, this’s Cathy.” Katie panted, “Hey. Lady Anna... wanted me to... give you... this.” She held the letter up to Catharine, who took the letter, and opened it quickly. Reading through it quickly, she smirked slightly, and looking at Thomas, she asked, “What time is it?” Thomas’s eyes rolled upwards as he figured out quickly, but Katie beat him to it, replying, “five o’clock, why?”
Catharine looked back down the corridor they had just come along, and replied, “Because Lady Anna wants to see me right now. You guys go on ahead; I’ll find my way there. No buts, Thomas, you and your friend go on ahead.” Catharine sped down the corridor, rounded the corner to her right, and slowed as Alexander approached; curtsying quickly to him, she walked past, and began running once more. She reached Lady Anna’s room, and knocked gently. Anna’s voice said, “enter, Catharine”, and doing as she had been told, Catharine entered the room, and curtsied quickly.
Anna, who was standing by the window, smiled at the servant girl, and said, “How was your day since we last met, Catharine? Please, sit down.” Catharine sat down hesitantly, and replied, “It was... busy, my Lady.” Anna, sitting down opposite Catharine, said, “I heard from Katie that you sang in front of my brother and the soldiers.” Catharine replied, smiling, “you heard right, my Lady.” Anna said, “I also heard you from my window. You sing very well for someone who has taught themselves, Catharine.” Catharine bowed her head, blushing, and replied, “Thank you, my Lady.” They talked some more about how Catharine had found her first day at her job in the castle, and other similar topics, and then Catharine returned to finish her chores for Alexander.
She returned home at six thirty, and her father entered at seven, just as the bean stew Catharine had made finished cooking. “Thank you, Cathy,” he said. After they had eaten, Catharine’s father, Harold, stood up and swayed slightly. Catharine was by his side in a moment, and said, “Father, are you – I told you not to work yourself too hard last night, didn’t I?” Harold replied, “I’m fine, Catharine, honestly – I’m probably just tired and need a rest, but I’ll be fine tomorrow, you’ll see.” Catharine nodded, saying quietly, “OK. You can take the proper bed tonight – no buts, father. You need your rest, and I need to be up early, anyway, to saddle up Alexis to get to my job tomorrow.”
Harold nodded, finding no argument to respond with, and Catharine helped him into the next room. This was a small room, only one bed could fit in it, and the moment Harold lay back, he fell into a deep sleep. Catharine smiled; returning to the other room, she headed quietly to the corner, where a pile of flour sacks lay stacked. She pulled a blanket from a shelf; returning to her father, she put it over him, and returning to the flour sacks, she took another blanket from the same shelf. Lying on the flour sacks, she stretched out, and was soon dozing. Alexander leaned on his windowsill, looking over the city. He then dropped his head; looking up again, he looked at his windowpane, and pulled the window shut.