One Day My Prince Will Comebycarlieplum©
The Royal Valentine's Day Ball was tomorrow and though I was expected to attend, the doctor had visited the night before and advised my husband it might not be wise for me to go. I ran my hands over my full, swollen breasts and rounded tummy. My second baby was due any day, and a night of dancing might be too strenuous, the doctor felt. Frankly, I didn't even know how I would find a gown to fit my pregnant body, but I would do whatever my husband wished. I stretched out beneath the blankets and waited for him to come to me, as he did each morning, thinking back to my first Valentine's Day Ball, five years before. . .
It was two weeks before the Valentine's Ball and the palace was a hive of activity. During the six months of corvée work all 18 year olds--except for those of noble birth--were required to do for the royal family after they finished school, I had gotten used to being a downstairs maid. I knew my duties and I did them well, just counting off the days until I could return to my family. But then the preparations for the ball began and everything was upside down. Downstairs maids were upstairs maids, indoor help was outdoor help as everyone scurried to make the palace ready for Valentine's Ball.
There was a ball every year, I knew, although a family of my station did not typically receive an invitation, but this year's Ball was something else again. The king had decided he wanted to step down, but before he could, the prince must marry. At age 30, Prince Aaron was the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom. King Rudolph had decreed that should he not become engaged by the night of the ball, he must pick a girl from those attending.
I, along with several other corvée girls, was hard at work scrubbing and polishing the ornate wood ballroom floor under the watchful eye on Mrs. Swigg, head of all the downstairs maids when I heard voices approach. It was the prince and his valet. I crouched lower to the floor, scrubbing with all my might, willing the prince not to see me. I had successfully avoided his attentions thus far, and I wanted to keep it that way. Everyone knew what his attentions meant, and while some of the maids welcomed the possibility, I, for one, did not.
"I'll take that one, and that one, and that one," I heard the prince say in a commanding voice, as if he were ordering horses or pastries. Please, I hoped, don't let it be me he's pointing at.
"Very good, Sire," answered the butler. "I'll have them brought up," he said, as he walked over to Mrs. Swigg.
Her voice rang out firmly, "Cristina, Agatha, Ella, you are needed in the prince's chambers."
I sighed, pulling myself up from the floor. Even girls who served the prince directly didn't draw always his attention; perhaps I wouldn't either.
"Right then," the valet was saying. "My name is Mr. Thomas." You'll be working in the prince's personal chambers. I'll need you three to clean up and change. Meet me at the bottom of the east staircase in 40 minutes. Mrs. Swigg will have your cleaning supplies ready.
Together we hurried back to our chambers for a quick wash-up. I splashed water on my face, my blue eyes staring back at me in the mirror, my white skin paler than normal with fear. I finished by smoothing down my long blonde hair and pulling my low ponytail tight. We changed, although of course we simply changed one uniform for an identical, although slightly cleaner one. We each wore a coarse brown jumper that scooped down just below our busts and fell to just below our knees. Beneath it we wore a simple white cotton shirt, held closed with a drawstring. I pulled my drawstring tight, bringing the blouse high up around my neck, while Cristina and Agatha wore theirs looser, leaving the top of the fabric just below their collarbones, but they were city girls and used to less modest fashions. On top of the jumper we each wore a simple white apron tied tight around our waists and brown slippers that allowed us to walk quietly through the palace without scuffing any floors.
In just under 40 minutes, we were at our assigned place. Mr. Thomas led us up the staircase and down the long hall to the prince's private chambers. I hoped that he might not be there, that we could clean his rooms and go back to work in the ballroom, but when the door swung wide, there was Prince Aaron sitting at a high-backed desk, working, a pair of councilors hovering around him. Mr. Thomas gave us our assignments and we set to work, dusting, changing linens, scrubbing every surface. The prince and his advisors continued as if we weren't even there, although once or twice I had the feeling of being watched. When we finished our work, Mr. Thomas dismissed us, complementing our efforts and putting us back in the charge of Mrs. Swigg. It was over, and with any luck, I thought, we wouldn't be called back tomorrow. Just as the door swung closed, I heard the prince say, "I'll have the blonde one again tomorrow. Alone." I glanced quickly at my two brown-haired companions and shuddered.
When Mr. Thomas fetched me early the next morning, I found a pile of shirts laid on the bed, an ironing table set up and three irons warming in the fire. "I don't understand, Mr. Thomas. The palace has its own laundry. Wouldn't it be better for me to take the shirts there and return them when I'm done?"
The prince startled me, emerging from his bath chamber and answering my question. "Yes, that would be more efficient. But I like to watch a pretty woman at work. Now, get to it. Mr. Thomas, you may leave me. I'll need you in two hours."
The prince sat down at his desk and began writing as Mr. Thomas left me there alone. There was nothing to do but begin ironing. I fetched a hot iron from the fire and sprinkled water on the shirt as the iron cooled slightly. Testing it on a towel to see that it would not burn the fabric, I set to work. The prince did not speak, but now and again, I heard the scratch of his quill pen stop and sensed his eyes on me, his stare eliciting a warmth in my backside or slender hips as I ironed or knelt before the fire changing out an iron that had grown too cool for a hotter one. I watched the clock as I worked. Twenty minutes before Mr. Thomas was due back, I hung the last shirt in the wardrobe and turned around to find the prince standing just a foot away from me.
"Is that all, Your Highness? Shall I return downstairs, or do you have other duties for me?" I stammered as he towered over me, at least seven inches taller than me. His dark brown eyes looked me up and down, lingering on my breasts before returning to my eyes.
"What is your name, girl?"
"Ella," I answered. What did he want from me? He was staring at my lips now, and I felt as if I could not breathe, as if all the air had been forced from the room. And then he was leaning toward me, his hand coming up ask if to touch my face. I stepped backward.
"Don't touch me!" I cried.
"What?" he thundered at me, his brown eyes looking black with anger. "What is this impudence?"
Not knowing where the strength came from, I answered, "I'm here to work, Your Highness. And I have worked hard. My corvee is over the day after the ball and I want to go home to my family. I don't want to be one of your conquests."
The prince threw back his head and laughed. "My conquests! That's rich, girl. Most women are falling all over themselves for an opportunity to be alone with me."
For a moment, when I saw his eyes blacken with rage, I had been afraid, but now I felt more confident. "Begging your pardon, Your Highness, I know what happens to women who attract your attentions; they are married off to or made the mistress of some minor royal, councilor, or general."
"And that is such a terrible fate?" the prince asked.
"Those men, you give them everything: their titles, their power, even their women. They are nothing but for their toadying up to you and the king. My father is a farmer, but he owns his land, his cows, his sheep, and goats. He has worked hard for everything he has and he owns it all outright. I would rather be married to a man like that, a man I could respect, than some sycophant."
"I see, Ella. Very well, you may leave me now. Report back to your regular duties."
I thought that would be it, counted myself lucky, but the next day, while I was polishing one of the silver candelabras that would light up the ballroom in just a few days' time, I was summoned again by Mr. Thomas. "Change please, if you would, Ella, and meet me at the bottom of the east staircase."
"Mr. Thomas. . ." I began, but he waved me off.
"East staircase, 20 minutes," he said as he departed.
Cleaned and changed, I met Mr. Thomas again and ascended the staircase. As we walked down the hall, I saw a guard posted outside the door to the Prince's chamber. My heart beat faster with dread. Was I to be punished for my words yesterday?
Mr. Thomas pushed the door open. There stood a low table, covered in silver of all kind: candlesticks, heart-shaped platters and serving bowls; forks, knives and spoons. A mountain of silver, plus rags and polish.
"You told the Prince you had worked hard, Ella. And work hard you shall. This is the silver for the Valentine's Ball, or most of it. As you finish, more will be brought to you. Appear here for work each morning at 8 a.m.," Mr. Thomas explained.
"And the guard?" I asked.
Prince Aaron entered the room behind me. "The guard is here for your protection, Ella, from my unwanted advances. Should you call out 'Stop,' he has orders to enter at once and rescue you from my clutches." The prince's voice was hard, but his eyes twinkled. I wasn't sure if was serious or teasing me, but I set to work, determined to endure what could not be avoided.
"Don't forget the gloves, miss," Mr. Thomas instructed. "You wouldn't want to hurt your hands before your work is completed."
I worked for hours. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the prince watching me as he attended to his own duties, councilors coming and going, menus for the grand Valentine's banquet being revised and refined, all of this going on with no one questioning a servant girl polishing silver in the middle of the Prince's bed chamber. Once, when we were alone, he spoke without looking at me, "You should stop and stretch each hour, Ella. You'll find yourself stiff from working so long in one position."
It was true; I could feel the stiffness in my body as stood before the windows and stretched, looking out over the countryside, blanketed in snow. In just over a week, I would be home again. My eyes couldn't wait to see all the familiar places of my childhood. I knew the prince was watching me as I bent and touched my toes, then stood up and arched from side to side, working the kinks from my muscles, but he didn't approach me and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The days passed, mostly without me speaking or anyone speaking to me, other than a "Good morning," "Good work," and "Good night." Many hours I was alone in the room as the prince and his valet attended to duties elsewhere and I found I missed his presence, although it was more comfortable to stop and stretch without feeling as if my body was on display. My meals were brought to me there, and I used a small washroom located off a council chamber that was part of the prince's apartments. As the week drew to a close, I noticed that the loads of silver being brought to me were smaller, but more intricate. I polished dozens of silver Cupids Mr. Thomas told me would stand on the large banquet tables, scrubbing with a small brush, but the pile grew smaller day by day, until at the end of the week there was no more silver left for me to polish.
"Good work, Ella," Mr. Thomas said. "I will expect you tomorrow morning at 8 a.m." When I appeared the next morning as ordered, the guard was there as usual, but Mr. Thomas was not. The guard rapped on the door and I heard the prince order me to enter. I looked around, but there was no work for me to do. No ironing, no silver, and not even a cleaning implement that I could see.
"Good morning, Your Highness. What are my duties today?" I inquired.
"It is a strange thing, Ella. This is the last week of my bachelorhood, and yet I do not want to be alone. Your duties are to keep me company. Don't worry, the guard will remain in place. You'll find a basket of needlework next to the chair there and a few books on the side table, as I might ask you to read to me. You are not to clean or labor, but simply find some womanly task to keep you occupied." With that, he turned his back to me and sat down to work at his desk.
I sat down as ordered and began doing some fancywork my mother had taught me, making delicate lace out of fine white thread I found in the basket. The Prince ignored me altogether until lunchtime, when his meal was brought to his chambers. "Come Ella, join me while I dine."
I followed him into the salon, where lunch was set up. At first, I thought it was only for one, but the prince sliced off food for me and presented me with a plate and fork. We ate in silence as Prince Aaron studied me intently and I tried, just as intently, not to notice. When we finished and the dishes were taken away, he spoke again, "Ella, I find I am tired. Come and read to me. Pull a chair up next to the bed. Select any book you like."
I picked a book, and pulling up a chair as ordered, I began to read. The prince lay with his eyes clothes, and presently I could tell he had fallen asleep. I studied him then, his high forehead and sharp jaw, his aquiline nose and jet-black hair. He rode often to horses and his body was long and lean, his muscles clearly well-developed beneath his clothing. When he stirred, I began reading again as if I had never left off.
The next day went on much as the one before it, until it came time for lunch. Unlike the previous day's meal, there was no extra plate and no extra fork. Perhaps I was meant to go without food, I thought, or eat in the dining hall as I had done before. "Join me, Ella," I heard the prince order. I noticed my chair was pulled much closer to his than the day before and I sat, waiting. The prince cut into the food, asking, "Are you hungry, Ella?"
"Then you will let me feed you."
I did not know what to make of this order, but I had already confessed my hunger. He stretched out the fork to me, watching my face as he fed me each bite. I flushed, feeling again that sensation I had had right before he had tried to kiss me, that their simply wasn't any air in the room to breathe. And, inexplicably, I felt the place between my legs grow warm, as my body did when his eyes rested upon me.
When the meal was over, he dismissed me. "Thank you, Ella. You may return to Mrs. Swigg." No explanation of why he didn't want me. Had I done something to anger him? Was my company no longer desired? I hurried out of the room and down the stairs, finding Mrs. Swigg supervising in the kitchen.
"There you are, Ella. Finished with the silver then? Good, I need some more busy hands to help prepare the mulled wine for the Ball. The guests will be arriving chilled from their travels."
It was good to be back at work with the other girls, slicing fruits and grinding spices, stirring great vats of wine as it cooked down. And yet I felt something missing. Here, I was just another girl wearing an identical uniform, not someone anyone looked upon as anything anyone, the way the prince looked at me. I told myself not to think such things. I wanted to return home in freedom, not to become entangled in palace life.
I worked again the next morning in the kitchen before I was summoned again to the prince just before lunch. I rushed as I brushed my hair, making my long blonde tresses shine before tying them back again in a ponytail. Nodding to the guard, I knocked on the door and was given permission to enter.
"Ah, Ella, I'm just starting lunch, please join me," the prince called to me. I hurried in and sat down, noticing that my chair was again pulled close to his and there was no plate or fork for me. He held a grape. "Care for one, Ella?" he asked. I nodded, expecting him to invite me to take one. "Open your mouth, then." What could this mean? I opened my mouth and he fed me by hand, as one would a baby, or a pet. When his thumb brushed my lip, the touch burned me like fire. Bite by bite he fed me by hand, my body reacting to each inadvertent touch. I felt my nipples harden and knew they were visible through my blouse, no matter how high I had tied the neck. My loins grew wet and I pressed my thighs tight together, willing the prince not to notice my arousal. He pushed back from the table. "I have some things to take care of. Wait for me here. Today you are my guest, and not my servant. Simply make yourself comfortable until I return." He strode from the room.
I tried to keep myself busy, reading and doing fancywork, but the hours dragged by and the prince had not returned. His chambers were a state. Why was Mr. Thomas not arranging for them to be cleaned? Perhaps everyone was too busy with the ball, I thought. There was nothing to clean with, but I could at least straighten, I thought. I returned the books strewn about to their bookcases and placed the lunch dishes in the hallway to be taken away. In the bed chamber, I placed dirty clothes in the laundry hamper and hung up a jacket that dangled off the back of the chair. I had just finished making the bed when I heard the door open. "Good evening, Prince. . ." I began, but he cut me off, his voice hard and angry.
"I gave you a simple order. You are my guest, and not my servant," he said, repeating his earlier instructions. "Was that somehow too difficult for you to understand, Ella?"
"No Sire, I just thought. . ."
He cut me off again. "I didn't ask you to think, I asked you to follow instructions." He grabbed me hard around the wrist. "Don't bother calling for the guard. Believe me, I have no intention of kissing you." He pushed me to the desk. "Put your hands on the table and bend over." He had come in from riding horses and he held a crop in his hand. My eyes watered as I thought of what was to come. He flipped up the skirt of my uniform, exposing my underpants. Whack, whack, whack, the riding crop stung across my buttocks and legs.
"I'm so sorry, Sire, I'm so sorry!" I cried. "I only meant to make you more comfortable." The crop burned with each stripe across by tender backside and soft creamy legs. And then he stopped. I collapsed crying on the floor as he strode from the room, slamming the door behind me.
I felt the heat and the sting as I lay there crying. I truly had only meant to make him happy, and now he hated me. When I felt strong enough, I went into the washroom and splashed cold water on my tear-swollen face and straightened my clothing, but when I tried to leave, the guard blocked me. "The prince says you are ordered to stay here until his return." Gingerly, I closed the door and went back into Prince Aaron's rooms.
He did not return all that night. I curled up on a sofa in the salon, trying to find a comfortable position between the hard cushions and the lingering pain from the whipping. Finally, I fell asleep. When I awoke, Prince Aaron was sitting in the chair watching me. A blanket I had not had the night before was draped over me. When I opened my eyes, he spoke. "Shall we begin again, then? The Valentine's Day Ball is in four days. In five days, I will be engaged and you will be done with your corvée. Until then can you follow my instructions? You may find some of them uncomfortable, but I promise you will remain in your virginal state throughout."
"Yes, Sire. I am sorry for displeasing you. I will not do so again."
"Very good. Go downstairs and get cleaned up and changed, then return immediately."
I scurried out the door, unblocked by the guard, and was back before the half-hour was out.