Catching site of the gilded floor length mirror near the closet and feeling enormously disheveled from the filthy display of rape I had just witnessed. I strolled across the room to take stock. I had to admit that the jewel toned gown the ladies had chosen for me looked stunning. There were points of recognition but I couldn't shake the ominous feeling that I belonged elsewhere. I was short to average height about 5'4 with a slender body. I had a fairly large bust for my tiny bone structure or maybe it just looked large because I was petite and crammed into a tiny corset. An oval shaped face with seductive plump defined lips and an olive sun kissed complexion stared back at me. I recalled having once been aptly described much to my amusement as a sort of cross between Raquel Welch and Bridgett Moynahan but with a light dusting of freckles.
I was surprised to see that my hair was the color of toast, a mane full of curly golden blonde ringlets. I studied the reflection and pondered another piece to the puzzle. For some reason I had expected to see long dark hair. How bizarre?
My mind was still on the puzzle of my chameleon appearance when Betty and Anais arrived.
"Time to go to dinner Mam" Anais said dryly.
Being escorted through the castle, my gaze lingered on the tapestries, the vaulted ceilings and the sparkly chandeliers. Having grown up in a modest muskoka cottage, I was impressed at how large and handsome the castle was. Although upon reflection, I guess anyone would be impressed to be inside a 14th century castle, it was most definitely one of a kind.
As they led me toward the front of the room I could feel curious glances boring into my back. There were some twenty people set to eat, and perhaps another seven to serve. They were garrulous and gossipy, and all dressed in a similar fashion as me. I was welcomed by a handsome man named Nico with wavy dirty blonde hair and a muscular chiseled jaw. After a few words of inquiry as to my health and well-being, he led me over to a group of ladies and introduced me as Princess Sapphira of Monaco. Well accustomed to this, apparently, the ladies all curtsied murmuring greetings and compliments as I smiled.
I gathered throughout the next few minutes that Nico was my Uncle, or rather Princess Saphira's Uncle and he was charm itself as he received everyone into the main drawing room introducing me to several people along the way. There were many introductions over the next twenty minutes however the most exciting introduction, being the devastatingly handsome Count; who had apparently rescued me from drowning the night before.
Count Viktor Wilhelm Alexander Ferdinand of Württemberg stood about 6'2 with jet black wiry hair. His skin was olive colored and he had the most amazing serious greenish brown eyes. He was a tall dark and handsome man although not the type you'd like to meet in the woods alone, unless of course he was rescuing you from drowning. I stopped in the doorway as our eyes locked and we took stock of one another.
"You will have some wine, my darling niece, won't you?" Uncle Nico asked. It was a redundant question as the wine was already poured, in a goblet that stood on the table. It was glowing like a bauble in the candlelight and reminded me of something that I just couldn't quite pinpoint. I flashed on a hazy memory of a large shiny ruby but the image escaped me as quickly as it had come.
Nico was seated at the head of the table and I sat to his immediate right. I had reached the second course without incident, and was beginning to relax although my hand still had a slight tremble. After further conversation, I discovered that Viktor, the Count was from the principality of Lichtenstein. Visiting a neighboring cousin, he had been out chopping logs when I had turned up face down in a nearby stream. At first he had thought me dead but was quickly relieved to find a faint pulse. The topic had gotten, much to my dismay changed and I was itching to know the rest of the story. For the next hour the conversation near me was a tad dull and had dropped into a whir of background noise to my thoughts. I heard one of the ladies say "How perfectly fascinating" as she picked up a spoon and attacked a platter.
"Yes, do tell us more." I said picking at the fish while pretending to have been listening.
I dropped my roll and glanced at the carriage clock over the mantelpiece trying to remember how many courses were in a dinner like this. The sweets course, salad and cheese. Brandy and coffee, port for the men, liqueurs for the ladies. Every now and then I would hear something about politics, books and paintings but no one really ever asked my opinion on anything. I wasn't sure if I was happy to fly under the radar or annoyed at their blatant sexism.
After dinner they were busy discussing the rich color of one of the paintings when the Count asked me to accompany him on a walk. Another hour talking about the politics of war and I would have been tempted to shove a fork in my eye just to distract myself. Seeing this as the opportunity to learn more about the grounds and to get away I politely whispered thanks and was about to grab my shawl when Betty handed me a sable coat.
"Good thinking" I smiled at her warmly as Viktor took over and draped the coat gently around my shoulders.
I buttoned it up a tad clumsily feeling decidedly tipsy and headed for some much needed fresh air. Our hands brushed as we both reached for the door and I pulled back realizing that I was probably being rude. Viktor stared at me for an instant, struck with what seemed a school boy crush causing my heart to beat so heavily that I thought he could probably hear it. I blushed with embarrassment feeling that I wasn't at all the princess he was expecting. He just smiled and allowed me to walk ahead of him.
"So, Count what are you doing here in Monaco?" I asked throwing him my best flirtatious glance.
"I have been staying with meine vetter, umm, cousin Herr Franz for the last week. He smiled, a little wryly. I had an unfortunate disagreement vith my parents and I was seeking refuge and consultation vith him."
"Well, that is unfortunate for you but I suppose very fortunate for me that you were around last night. I owe you a big Thank you. So, what was the disagreement about? I smiled not feeling the least bit awkward at having pried into his personal life so quickly. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"Uh, nein ist alright." He smiled quizzically and went on. They wish me to marry the Principessa di Borbone and I wish not to."
I blinked and swallowed the small lump in my throat feeling a tiny bit buzzed from the wine. “The Principessa di Borbone?
“Ja, her name is Maria and she’s from the House Of Bourbon in Sicily. I’ve only met her once but I did not find her suitable.”
"Oh. I see. What will you do?" I asked biting back the twinge of excitement.
"Zhey have set the date for sechs Monate - six months from now.”
I smiled and nodded, not sure what to say to this. I noticed a hint of defeat in his very proud and stern voice.
When did this happy flirtation take a sharp right turn into serious town I pondered?
"Zhey assure me zhat I will come to love her in time."
"Do you believe that?"
"Neine." He shook his head no.
"Well then. Surely you can tell them no. I mean if you don't want to. You should stand your ground."
"Ist zhat how they do it in Monaco? Not all of us have the luxury of doing exactly vhat we vant Prinzessin." The acid in his voice took me a little by surprise and I stumbled over what to say next.
"I didn't mean to offend you. I just think you're a grown man and you should have the courage to stand up for yourself." I bit my lip at how curt my words sounded, even to me.
"I'm sorry. This isn't coming out right." I continued to stumble over my words. "I just mean. Your parents can't possibly dictate your every move." His eyes seemed shocked by my response.
"Können sie nicht, Frau? It seems to me yours need to dictate a little more. “Was hast du outside the castle alone last night?" He paused putting the emphasis on alone as he turned and looked me square in the eyes. He seemed to fall back to his native language whenever his anger reached a boiling point.
“What was I doing? Is that what you want to know? I swallowed hard, thinking of Chloe's questions earlier. Put off by his tone and the whole conversation and feeling that the situation was getting a little too intense I decided to change the subject but he cut me off.
"Do the royal women in your family always stroll around half nackt in the dark or were you attending a secret rendezvous perhaps?" I hadn't actually heard the details of my discovery so I was feeling a little modest at his stare.
"What exactly are you suggesting? Count Viktor was it?" I said as I pulled the sable coat a little tighter around me and forced my chin up. But he didn't have to say anything, the arrogance on his face said it all. He plainly thought I was having an affair and had most likely snuck out to meet a lover. It couldn’t have been more perfect timing as a large and gnarly branch growing out of the ground caught my inappropriate footwear and I stumbled to the ground.
"Sie sind okay? Are you hurt? Bitte, pardon my hands." The Count reached down quickly pulled me to her feet. "Roll your foot?" He commanded. "Does it hurt? The words were barely out of his mouth before he swooped me into his arms like I was no bigger than a child. "I'll carry you back to der castle."
"No, I can walk." I said as the embarrassment flooded my face. But it was too late as he was already trotting along with me in his arms as if I was no lighter than a feather.
I couldn't help but to internally scold myself at having tripped at such an inconvenient time. My wounded pride told me to be angry with him and his crazy dual personality however; the Lolita in me was impressed with his brawny arms.
"I apologize for being so rude." He smiled down at me sheepishly.
“It’s alright. I shouldn’t have pried into your private life and I really shouldn’t have presumed to give you advice.”
“Neine, Ich was out of line. I guess I'm just a little angepisst ..ugh upset on the whole subject of meine familie." I smiled back at him trying to ease the awkwardness of the situation. He carried me a few more feet as the silence dangled in the air.
"Your anschneiden is very nice." he said suddenly noticing my cleavage.
“Pardon? What did you say?”
“Der Panther-Brosche.” He said pointing.
“Oh, you mean my panther brooch.” Thank you, I said glanced down at the mountains popping out my dress framing the panther. I blushed a fair shade of pink wishing he still wasn’t staring quite so hard at my breasts as I could feel the chemistry rising between us.
"I apologize for staring at you earlier. I know it must have looked most unusual.”
"Apologize for staring, don't be silly. I didn't even notice."
"Ja, you did. Don't lie. Vhen you first came in the room, I was transfixed. I was reminded of the Blitzschlag I had felt when I first saw you. He thoughtfully left out the part about me wearing nothing but a silky, clingy see through nightgown of dove white.
"Your golden hair looked dark as it was sopping vet and matted against your skin. Sie schien unantastbar und zerbrechlich.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means, you seemed untouchable and fragile, and I vas surprised to discover what a bold spirit you actually are. You are different Prinzessin, from any other woman I've ever met. Your separateness and silence in the clamor of that room tonight at dinner was most unusual, and your eyes, it's as if they hold a secret. You were so elegant and aloof and I am embarrassed to admit that I had to force myself not to stare while we ate. I smiled shyly at the thoughtfulness and yet boldness of his words.
"Thank you, you are very kind. If you don't mind me asking though, you didn’t finish your story from dinner earlier and I’ve been dying to know. What did you do once you pulled me from the stream?"
"Oh, ja, your mysterious arrival in Herr Franz’ backyard last night. Vhere vas I? I brought you inside meine vetter’s house. Ve covered with you wiz warm blankets und I vas shocked to find out zhat you were in fact zhe Prinzessin I had heard so much about. Franz sent one of his stable boys to the Castle to let zhem know your whereabouts and not even an hour later your Uncle Nico arrived with six men extremely distraught und swept you away himself. Your Uncle was a real mess and didn't say much. I zhought I would never see any of you again but zhis morning a message arrived inviting me to a dinner in my honor. I have to admit I zhought zhat was very noble of your Uncle considering some men would have been more suspicious and had me strung up for murder at having been the one to find you.
“Speak of the devil, isn't that my Uncle coming towards us now?”
"Good Evening Count. Is everything alright?"
"Ja, Lady Sapphira tripped und twisted her ankle-"
"Are you okay my dear?" Nico's brows lifted as he paused beside them. "It appears to be okay now." Nico paused.
"Why don't you set her down and we'll see if she can walk on it?"
I felt a surge of disappointment. I had enjoyed my time alone with the Count. Nico's tone was soft, but held the growl of a protective papa bear before it pounced.
Evidently the count didn't miss the threat. He set me down quickly yet gently and took a step back.
"You shouldn't be so far from the castle alone; it's getting dark. So many things to be afraid of out here." Nico scolded.
"I knew I had nothing to fear with my hero here to protect me." I smiled at Viktor.
A red hot flash momentarily passed through Nico's eyes and I instantly regretted my words. Then it was gone just as quick as it came, safely hidden once again, behind that mask of aloofness and formality.
"I'm glad you're here Uncle all the same and perhaps you're right and we should be getting back." I had been afraid for a moment but I hid it just as well as Nico if not better and smiled back at him.
The rest of the evening passed uneventfully and I arrived to my room to find the maids had thoughtfully ran me a bath. I stripped off all of the heavy damp clothing and stood staring in the mirror at the curve of my breasts. The chill in the air was enough to force my nipples to stand at attention not to mention the gooseflesh. Just then a knock came at the door. Must be Betty or Anais returning to check on me; I thought quickly pulling the practically shear robe over my shoulders.
"Come in" I said turning towards the door as it opened and Nico sauntered in stiffly holding what looked to be a hot cup of tea.
"I'm sorry to interrupt my dear. I just came to check on you and bring you a nightcap. You seemed awfully quiet through dinner. Are you feeling any better?" he said setting the cup down and patting my hand.
"Uh, yes, I'm still a little woozy probably from all the wine" I smiled pulling my robe tighter around me.
"Yes, well hopefully a good night's sleep will help." He looked into my eyes intently tilting my chin up.
"Sapphira, I know you miss your family but they will be back soon and I just want you to know that I'm here if you need me." Tears involuntarily flooded my eyes.
"You've had a rough couple of years with the loss of your father but things will get better. Just don't give up." he said caressing my jaw. I could feel the love he must have felt for his niece and I couldn't imagine what he was thinking. Perhaps he thought me suicidal. As he drew me in for a hug, he seemed so warm and I almost wished I could confess everything to him but the moment was lost as he squeezed me tighter and then let me go.