Saturday was market day and Corinne needed to get out of the manor. She walked calmly to the town square where temporary stalls had been put up, selling fruit, vegetables and clothes hand-made by the stall-holders.
She walked to a stall from the roof of which hung pretty-coloured skirts of cotton. The woman who had sewn together the materials with such skill and care was elderly, with hair like a river under the moonlight and sparkling green eyes which animated her face in the same way that magic awakened inanimate objects. She smiled widely at Corinne, greeting her with a pleasant, “Good morning, my lady.”
“Good morning,” Corinne replied warmly. She looked at all the shades of the skirts, comparing them to a rainbow in her mind. Extending the metaphor, she compared the lady to the pot of gold at the end because her eyes were so brilliant and the kindness she radiated must be a great treasure in the lives of her family and friends. She chose a skirt dyed autumnal colours which reminded her of magnificent sunsets she had watched in the days when she daydreamed of magical creatures and adventures in faraway places.
“This one is beautiful,” she told the woman, carefully unclipping the peg and taking the skirt into her arms. She held the top of the skirt against her waist and admired it as it flowed around her ankles in a gentle breeze.
“I shall find one your size,” the woman replied beaming at the compliment. She drew a measuring strip from a pocket on her belt and put it around Corinne’s waist. She looked at the size and turned, putting away the strip, to find the correct skirt from her piles on the table within the stall. Corinne hung the skirt back up and waited patiently.
When the lady presented her with the piece of clothing, she deliberately paid too much.
The lady said, “I cannot accept this amount”, her eyes a little tearful at Corinne’s generosity, but Corinne insisted and finally she took it. Corinne was gratified to see the woman’s face even more alive before she left the stall, carrying the skirt in the paper bag all stall-holders gave their customers to hold their merchandise in.
Corinne wandered around the marketplace in quiet contentment, her eyes absorbing the sights of the different items on display, her smile growing as the sun warmed every inch of her exposed skin, and gradually forgot everything that had upset or confused her between yesterday morning and the present moment.
As she was finishing her circuit of the perimeter of the stalls, she heard a young, feminine voice call out her name.
She turned and saw a shy-looking child, about four years of age with dark brown hair in pigtails and beautiful, gleaming brown eyes like a horse’s, standing at the edge of a stall, looking at her in awe.
“You’re Princess Corinne, aren’t you?” she called out boldly.
Corinne walked towards her, smiling, though internally she felt a pang of longing for herself to truly belong to Richard.
“Yes, that’s me,” she said, stopping to crouch before the child. “What’s your name?”
“Delight,” the child replied, grinning at the fact that Corinne was actually talking to her.
“That’s a pretty name,” Corinne said, her comment sincere. “Do you live in Periville?”
Delight nodded. “My daddy owns the stall.”
Just then, her daddy appeared. Delight must have inherited her looks from her mother because her father had hair like buttercups and eyes the colour of dragonfly bodies.
“Oh my,” he gasped, on seeing Corinne. “It’s Corinne Kingfisher.”
Corinne straightened up and held out a hand.
“Pleasure to meet you.”
The man gaped.
Delight nudged him, looking as if he was embarrassing her.
“Shake her hand,” she whispered.
The man blinked, took Corinne’s hand in his and shook it. He let go, smiling dazedly at her.
“Can I come and visit you at your house?” Delight asked, her expression becoming an endearing smile.
The man looked a little red in the cheeks but Corinne nodded.
“Of course you can. I’d love to see you again.”
Delight clapped her hands together in excitement. Her father looked amazed.
“Perhaps I’ll have a tea party for my birthday and invite all the little girls in Periville,” Corinne said, warming to the idea as she spoke it. Delight seemed to have made her feel light-hearted and as if she were young again. And Richard wouldn’t say no to it - he allowed her to do many of the things she wanted. In fact, he had even given her permission to learn to ride horses and buy new hangings and curtains for the room she slept in. Thinking about his kindness caused a lump to rise in her throat and she murmured, “I must be off for now” to Delight so that there was no risk that the girl would see her cry.
Delight threw her arms about Corinne and hugged her tightly. Corinne smiled, patted her back and turned to walk away.
As she walked along, fighting tears, she heard Delight tell her father, “I’m going to be rescued by a prince too one day, Daddy.”
Oh, the cruel irony in the way in which Richard had caused Corinne misery after rescuing her!
Corinne sat upon a bench in the shadows of an archway between two shops and thought about how her dreams had been exactly the same as those of Periville’s young daughters when she had entered Dachshund Manor in the knowledge she was going to live there.
‘I’m going to be Lady Dachshund one day,’ she had thought, quite immaturely for a girl of only nineteen years of age. But she had believed it with all her heart. Lord Dachshund was going to propose - he must now that she was going to live with him. Their destiny was written in the stars - in the great book of the universe that angels wrote when they weren’t protecting or comforting people.
Love would be their just, noble, kind king.
The memory was bitter sweet, like a concoction that contained both lemon and sugar. Corinne swallowed salty liquid and knew that she hadn’t succeeded in braving the emotional storm.
When she returned to the manor, she was no less down-hearted than she’d been when she’d left.