Dropping her skirts and the apples, she kept a few firmly in her arms and ran to the field where the man was headed. She called out to him as she threw, hitting her mark with every apple thrown.
"Thief! This shall teach you to steal my father's horse!"
The man fell off the horse and hid under his velvet robe as he hobbled past Danielle. "Please! My own has slipped his shoe, and I have no choice!"
"And our choice is what? To let you?" She continued throwing apples at this strangely dressed criminal, picking up those that had rolled down the hill with her.
"I was simply borrowing it." He still covered his face carefully.
"Get out now, or I'll wake the household!" Her last apple hit him squarely in the head, knocking him back onto the ground. He reached his arms out to break his fall, consequently letting go of his robe. The minute the hood fell and he pushed himself back to his feet, Danielle recognized His Royal Highness, Prince Henry of England.
She fell instantly to her hands and knees, the worst dread she'd known in ten years filling her heart. "Forgive me, You Highness. I-I did not see you."
He glanced around for a moment, not seeming to realize that his cover had failed him. Breathlessly he replied, "Your aim - would suggest - otherwise."
She was going to die. She had called the prince a thief - had thrown an apple at his head! Surely she would be dead before this time tomorrow. "For that, I know I must die." Her fear did not reach her voice.
He retrieved the horse's reins and appeared startled by her statement. "Ah, well... uh, then- then speak of this to no one, and I shall be lenient."
She glanced up. He did not seem to be acting the way princes generally did. Wasn't royalty presumptuous, indignant, and self-absorped? They certainly had the power and money to be so. "We have other horses, Your Majesty. Younger, if that is your wish."
"My only wish is to be free of my guilded cage."
This statement was too much for Danielle. Reading philosophy and socializing with servants all day had not taught her how to hold her tongue when in the presence of royalty. "Do you not wish to be prince, Your Highness?"
Rather than angry at her question, he reacted somewhat eagerly. "Not at all! I find the life dull and constricting. I must always talk, dress, eat, sleep, marry, walk, and live in the way I am told. I'm never allowed to choose for myself. I shall marry the Princess of Spain and rule England and not think of things such as love or freedom, as other men do. Would you not also tire of such a life?" It was only with this last sentence that he seemed to remember he was speaking to somebody. She chose to risk answering.
"Think of all the wonderful things you could do - for your country, for the world."
If he had seemed startled that he had poured out his frustration to a servant, he was shocked to hear her answer. She was sure he was debating whether to ride away, or to arrest her for addressing royalty, or to simply continue the absurd conversation. Apparently he chose the last option, because he sat on the grass in front of her and let the horse's reins slide out of his hand.
"You might as well rise." She straightened her back and turned her legs more comfortably. They exchanged a sort of awkward smile, before he sighed forcefully and turned his focus to the grass.
"You have no idea how insufferable it is! To be defined by your position - to never be seen as who you are, but what you are - you have no idea!"
She smiled sadly and turned to look at the horse, who was grazing happily. "You might be surprised," she murmured. She hadn't really meant to say it out loud, but she had and he responded.
"Really?" It was an honest question. He truly wanted to know the opinion of a servant.
She sought an answer in her mind. How could she explain her frustration with being a servant - she who was born to a merchant? Regardless of these circumstances, she couldn't just pour out her life story to a stranger. Finally she settled on a safer reply. "A gypsy - for example. They're defined by their status as your title defines you, yet it is not who they are." She struggled to explain further. His full attention was on her now, and she did not want to disappoint him. "You have been born to privilege, and with that comes specific obligations."
His face was hard to read. She smiled, embarrassed, and turned to the grass. "I'm sorry. My mouth tends to run away with my mind, and it can be difficult to rein it back in."
He smiled in a strange way and shook his head before standing. "No..." He paused, crossing his arms and surveying her. "You are the first servant I have met outside the palace, and I must admit, you are not what I expected."
She smiled and looked up, feeling shy. Since he was standing, it only seemed right for her to rise, as well. He offered his assistance, and she took it as gracefully as possible. "Well, you are not what I expected either."
She longed to stay and speak with this prince who was so unusual, but the sun was already dangerously high. The Baroness and the girls would be at breakfast now, and they would wonder why she was not there to serve it. "I must go. Your Highness." She curtsied clumsily, attempting the move she had seen Marguerite and Jacqueline practice when they were younger. It was worse than even she expected; the prince was definitely hiding a laugh. "I am pleased to... make your acquaitance."
"The pleasure is all mine." Still smirking, he nodded and mounted her father's horse. This action seemed to remind him of what started the conversation, and he pulled a purse from his belt. He held it out to Danielle, who took it slowly. "For your silence," he explained, before galloping off into the nearby woods.
Danielle explained her tardiness with a comment about falling off the ladder in the orchard. The Baroness was skeptical, but Marguerite redirected the conversation with a comment on Danielle's soot-covered appearance. Marguerite was always harsh, but today Danielle was grateful for the distraction. Jacqueline smiled at Danielle and she accepted the common offering of sympathy. Being the younger and more pudgy of the Baroness's girls, Jacqueline was often overlooked by her family. As a result, she and Danielle had grown very close. Danielle considered her to be her closest friend - after Gustave, of course. The three of them often spent time together when they could find excuses convincing enough to throw off the Baroness.
A few days later, the Baroness and Marguerite left to buy a brooch. They often rode to the market while their debts grew steadily. On such outings Jacqueline generally stayed home to read or pick wildflowers, and she and Danielle were able to spend the time together. Often Danielle would work while they spoke. When it was a task she was capable of, Jacqueline would help. Today, however, the girls met with Gustave in the attic to discuss the prince.
Danielle had managed to mention the event to Jacqueline the day it happened, and she and Gustave had already spoken of it. The attic alcove was officially Danielle's room, although its only furniture was a small bed and she slept in the abandoned shack more often than the attic. Danielle and Gustave were sitting on the attic floor when Jacqueline climbed up the stairs and through the hatch.
"They just pulled away." Jacqueline's soft voice matched her personality and appearance so well. She perched on the edge of Danielle's bed before speaking again. "Now, Danielle, do tell. What was he like?"
Gustave smirked. "He was rich, and handsome, and a prince!" He raised his voice far too many notches and squeaked a terrible imitation of a female, "It was so dreamy!"
Danielle punched him in the shoulder. "He was rich, Pighead, but that's not the point. He cannot help being rich, you know." She turned to Jacqueline. "He was just... he's just another man. I expected something... haughty and pretentious. He was open and honest."
"That is because you are a servant and he paid you not to tell."
"Shut up, Gustave. I was talking to Jacqueline."
Jacqueline ignored them, as she often did. "So what happened? How did you even meet him?"
Danielle recounted the whole event, with Gustave interjecting often.
"He sounds quite nice, really." One could hardly expect any other assessment from Jacqueline.
Danielle turned to Gustave. "See? Jacqueline is not in love with the man, but she still finds him pleasant."
"All you womenfolk can find something to swoon about in a man who has wealth and youth. Admit it, Elly, you'd run off with him if he asked. I doubt you would even blink."
Jacqueline smiled and shook her head while Danielle chased Gustave down the stairs and out to the pig-pen.
To Be Continued...