Alexis skid to a stop in the great hall of the castle where all the other maids and servants had assembled.
“Someone's late.” one of the maids named Regina said in a sing-song voice “And she's in trouble!”
Alexis rolled her eyes and smiled “What else is new?”
Just then Beatrice, the head maid, walked into the room and instantly pointed at her “Alexis Matthews! What do you have to say for your tardiness?”
“I'm sorry.” the girl answered “I got a little... distracted and... I'm late.”
“Is there a morning you aren't?” Beatrice snapped “Look, too many more of these and you'll be fired! I don't care who your father is!”
With an exasperated sigh, Beatrice shoved a slip of paper into her hands “Here's your assignments for the day. Get. Them. Done!” then she turned on her heel and stormed away.
Alexis chuckled slightly “I always do.” then she read down through her list and tucked the paper in her pocket.
“You really need to work on that.” Regina whispered, twisting her jet black hair up into a bun “What makes you so late?”
“I go out to see my dad on the training grounds.” Alexis answered with a shrug “And... I always lose track of time. It's an accident!”
“Well, you might want to cut down on those 'accidents' because Miss Beatrice really wants to fire you.”
“We never did quite get along, did we?”
Regina snorted “That's because you're stubborn and outspoken.”
Alexis just laughed then hurried away to get a start on her chores.
Regina shook her head “I guess that's what happens when your mother dies and you're raised by your soldier father.”
~*~*~*Hearts of Fire*~*~*~
Prince Dustin stepped into his father's office and smiled slightly “You wished to see me, Father?”
“Yes.” King Edward nodded, looking up at the prince “I believe you remember our discussion from yesterday?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” Dustin responded, running a hand through his dark brown hair “The whole 'find a bride' thing.”
“Yes. Well, several dignitaries are coming to dinner.” the king continued “They're bringing their daughters. I want you to choose one.”
“Do I have to?”
“We've discussed this.”
“I know, but I still don't like it... or understand why I have to do it.”
“It's tradition for the next in line to pick a spouse at his or her twenty-second birthday, before they take the throne, and to give you a chance to meet them, all the girls that are suitable for you will be at dinner tonight.”
Dustin leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling “Why do I get the feeling that your idea of 'suitable' and mine are two completely different ideas?”
“Rich. Refined. Of Noble blood.”
“How about kind? Caring? And maybe... spirited?”
“Spirited?” King Edward threw his hands into the air “Why on earth should she be spirited!?”
Dustin shrugged and smiled “Make life interesting.”
“Interesting!?” the King bellowed “Why on earth would you...”
“Oh, Honey.” Queen Anabelle, who was sitting in a chair reading, spoke up “Leave him alone. Everyone has a right to dream.”
“I believe Uncle Edward is right.” Silas, Dustin's cousin, said “Dustin should be focusing on the upcoming coronation and finding a proper bride at his twenty-second birthday party, as is tradition. Not a silly fantasy of an unsuitable girl.”
“Why did you just repeat everything Dad just said?” Dustin asked with a frown “It wasn't necessary. ”
“Repeating seems necessary for you.” Silas snapped “All you ever do is complain about the way things are and always have been.”
“That's because...” Dustin started, but his father cut him off.
“Save it for later, Dustin. We have guests coming to dinner tonight.” He pointed a warning finger at his son “I don't want to hear one word of this mentioned to them. Understood?”
“Yes, Father.” Dustin nodded slowly then stood and left the room. He sighed as he pulled the door closed behind him.
“It's hard to make a change when everyone thinks things are fine the way they are, isn't it?”
He turned to face the voice that had just spoken to see a blond girl holding a broom. He let out a mirthless laugh “You don't have to convince me. I sometimes wonder if I'm the one that's wrong.”
She tilted her head to the side and smiled “Change is a good thing, as long as you're doing it for the right reasons. If you are, don't let anyone change your mind.” with that she continued down the hall.
Dustin stared after her til she disappeared around a corner, then he smiled and heading for the library.
~*~*~*Hearts of Fire*~*~*~
“Alexis! Alexis!” Regina called frantically as she skid around a corner “Alexis!”
The girl in question leaned back from the window she was washing and raised an eyebrow “Is everything okay?”
“What? Oh, yes! Come on!” with that, the raven haired girl grabbed her friend's arm and pulled her down the hall.
“Hey!” Alexis gasped as she tried to regain her footing “Gina! What's going on?” when the girl didn't answer she groaned “Don't make me call you Reggie!”
Regina stopped abruptly, which threw Alexis completely off balance “Don't you dare!” she growled as she looked down at the girl, who was now laying on the floor.
Alexis sent her a disbelieving look “Seriously? Come on, Regina, how about telling me where the fire is?”
“In the kitchen!” the other girl exclaimed “Beatrice wants us to help serve tonight!”
“What!? Since when did we serve the royals?”
“Don't ask so many questions!” Regina yanked the blond to her feet “Do you have any idea how many dukes and lords are going to be here with their sons? Not to mention the prince is going to be there!”
“You do realize you're the maid, right?”
“I don't care! That doesn't change the fact that there's young, handsome, and available guys in there! Now let's go!”
Alexis groaned as she was once again pulled down the hall “I should have known.”
Two minutes later the two girls ran into the kitchen where several other maids and servants were rushing around.
“Oh good, you're here.” Hannah, the elderly cook said from where she was rearranging some food “The appetizers are ready.” she handed a golden platter to each of the girls “There's close to seventy-five people out there. We're going to be busy for awhile. Now, remember your manners and remember that they are nobility. They will question the food.”
Regina smiled “Don't worry, Ma'am. They won't even know I'm there.”
Hannah patter the girl's shoulder “You're not the one I'm worried about.” then she sent Alexis a pointed look “Just watch your tongue.”
“Yes, Ma'am.” Alexis nodded.
“Good. Now everyone, go and hurry back for the main course!”
All ten servers lined up single file and left the kitchen, a minute later they walked into the massive dining room. Set in the middle of the floor was a huge table that stretched for almost the whole expanse of the room.
Dukes, Duchesses, Lords, Ladies, and Ambassadors, along with their children and an occasional guest surrounded the oak table that was covered in a silk cloth with a large piece of delicate Spanish lace thrown over top.
Candles adorned the table, standing upright in their shining golden candlesticks, their dancing flames reflecting off the sides of the crystal glasses.
The silverware was all aligned in perfect order all the way down to the small tea spoons.
Regina sighed from her place behind Alexis “Looks like a fairy tale.”
Alexis looked back at the girl with raised eyebrows “It's a dining room with people waiting to eat. How is it like a fairy tale?”
“The table, the scarlet curtains, the chandelier! It's all just perfect!”
Alexis shook her head. She would never understand her friend's perception of things.
“Alexis, section three-B.” Beatrice instructed “And watch yourself.”
“Yes, Ma'am.” She headed for her area and it only took her a fraction of a second to realize who was there: Prince Dustin.
Beside him sat a girl the same age as Alexis. Her hair was a deep auburn and pulled back into a tight, yet stylish bun. Her dark green eyes blinked repeatedly as she stared at the prince beside her.
Dustin, on the other hand, was just sitting there staring at the delicate pattern of the lace, seeming to wish he could disappear.
“Oh, Your Highness, you are so funny!” the girl said, her powdery voice carrying out over top of all the other conversations going on around the room.
Dustin sighed “I didn't say anything.” but that just sent her into another round of laughter.
“Your appetizers.” Alexis said as she stepped up to them.
Dustin looke back at her, a slow smile crossing his face “Twice in one day?”
She chuckled softly “Not by choice, I assure you.”
The girl seated next to the prince, known as Agnes, daughter of one of the dukes, huffed “I thought the hired help wasn't allowed to speak to the nobility.”
Dustin frowned “There's no law about it.”
“Well perhaps there should be. The servants need to know their places!”
Alexis bit back the urge to roll her eyes, so instead she simply sat down their appetizers.
“Who made this?” Agnes demanded as she stared at her plate.
“The cook.” Alexis responded plainly.
“And where is this cook?”
“I wish to have a word with her!”
“She's a bit busy right now.”
“What's more important than me?” Agnes's eyes were tiny slits as she glared at the maid.
Alexis put on her best smile and said in a sugary sweet voice “Everyone else at the table, Dear.”
Dustin choked on a laugh as Agnes huffed and Alexis walked away.
“What is so funny?” the girl beside him demanded.
“Nothing.” he picked up his drink and took a sip “Absolutely nothing.”
As the dinner continued, Agnes scrutinized every item on every plate to the point that Alexis was almost ready to just drop the food covered porcelain in front of her and tell her to eat or leave the table.
Dustin on the other hand was having a hard time hiding his amusement, much to the queen's own amusement who was observing the whole scene from her place beside the king who sat at the head of the table.
“Who is that maid?” Agnes asked aggravated as she poked at her food with her fork.
Dustin watched as Alexis finished her chore and left the room “Actually... I have no idea.”
Just then there was the sound of a spoon tapping the side of one of the crystal cups “I just wanted to thank everyone for coming.” King Edward said “I know you know why you were all invited here.”
As if on cue, all the younger girls around the table looked at Dustin and giggled.
The Prince's face turned red and he looked down at his plate. He didn't know if it was more embarrassing or humiliating.
“In one week Dustin will reach his twenty-second birthday, at which time he will chose a bride.” Edward continued “Then, with much luck, a wedding will follow shortly thereafter along with a coronation ceremony!” A cheer went around the table til he silenced them with a raise of his hand “Yes, it's time my son took the throne. Then my wife and I can take that vacation we never got.” There was a small round of laughs “But, until then... Enjoy dinner.” he clapped his hands “Next course!”
The rest of the dinner was a nonstop rush for the servers as the rest of the seven course meal, complete with dessert, was served.
One, rather large, lord in Regina's section seemed to pack an endless stomach. He inhaled the food as quickly as it was served then called for more. Regina delivered so much food that the thought of eating made her feel sick, but she kept her smile in place... mainly because of the 'charming' boys that was in her section.
After Agnes had fulled questioned her pie, from crust to filling, Alexis was more than happy to leave the dining area.
“You're looking a little steamed.” Regina commented “I take it it's a good thing that dinner is just about over?”
“You have no idea.” Alexis let out a deep breath “Little Miss Duchess over there is about to make me lose my mind!”
“Well, all we have left to do is deliver the cups of lemon water for them to wash their hands, then we're done.”
But, quite unfortunately, it wasn't quite over. When Alexis turned to leave, she was stopped by the Queen's voice.
“You, blond maid.”
She cringed slightly as she turned “Yes, Your Majesty?”
Queen Annabelle smiled, almost mischievously “We are going to move to the parlor, please accompany us in case one of our guests should need something.“
Alexis stared at the woman “Uh...”
Regina dug an elbow into her back “It's the queen!” she hissed.
Alexis swallowed a groan and curtsied “Of course, Your Highness.”