Part 1: Here
Part 2: Here
Part 3: Here
Part 4: Here
I carried the prince to the edge of the castle gates, then went inside to introduce myself as a representative of his entourage, sent ahead to prepare for his arrival. Once there, I would begin my observations of the court, and the princesses if I was lucky enough to see them before the evening meal. At that time, Prince James would arrive in his altered state to demand the payment of his debt from the youngest princess.
The legendary hospitality of the Sonnigeebene proved to be true. Upon my arrival and introduction I was immediately welcomed to wash and rest myself before being introduced to King Konig himself, an honor I had not expected to be granted to visiting manservant of a younger prince. The king was not what I had expected a powerful, wealthy ruler to be. He was rather short, with a ruddy sort of face with deep lines around his eyes, as if his eyes were often crinkled in laughter. He wasn’t intimidating or handsome, and yet his presence seemed to fill the room the way a bright candle fills a room with light. I was reminded of King Friedrich of Waldgebiet’s similarly fatherly demeanor. Prince James would do well to have this man as a father-in-law.
I was taken to a room to rest, and to begin preparing for Prince James’s arrival after my audience with the King. I shuffled away to wash, hoping that the kindly kind hadn’t noticed the reddening of my face when I told him to expect the prince to arrive on the morrow. My heart pounded too quickly and loudly for me to lay in bed. Instead, I paced about the room to expell my nervous energy. What if James gets lost on his way to the castle? What if the guards don’t let him in? What if the Princess doesn’t keep her promise? What will King Konig think of this deception? How could we think this was a good idea?
Before I knew it, a castle servant was leading me to the dinning hall.
King Konig sat at the high tabled, flanked by his three beautiful daughters. The eldest, with her flaming red hair, sat in heir’s seat. The middle girl, with hair of bronze, sat next between her sisters, with a book only half-hidden under the table. The youngest, the very girl we had seen at the pond, finished up the royal lineup. All together, they were an incredible sight.
Formalities were made, the food was brought out, and courtly gossip began. I kept one ear on the chatter, listening for useful tidbits, while the other awaited news of James. Just as the King began lifted his first bite to his mouth, a guard came in carrying James in his hand.
“Your Majesty,” the knight stammered and bowed, “This frog says he has an invitation from the Princess Adelheide.”
All eyes turned to the youngest princess and all mouths were agape in silence. Princess Adelheide, looked shocked to see the frog from the pond so soon.
“Is this true?” Konig asked of his daughter.
“Yes, father. It is true. This frog helped me fetch my ball out of the pond. In return I promised that he should come to the castle as my guest.”
“A promise, once made can never be broken. Come then, Mr Frog, and join my table!” The king boasted, holding out his hands in welcome. The oldest princess stood up and began making arrangements to have another place set for their unexpected guest, but James stopped her in her preparations.
“Kind Princess, please do not trouble yourself with another place setting, for I asked to share your sister’s meal.”
Again, the king and his oldest daughter looked to Princess Adelheide and asked if this was true.
“Yes, father. Henrietta, there is no need to send for another plate or goblet. He will eat from my plate and drink from my cup, as I promised.” The princess looked down, but spoke clearly.
“A promise, once made cannot be broken.” Princess Henrietta nodded at her sister in approval than turned to the knight and the disguised Prince James. “Mr. Frog, if it is your preference to eat from Princess Adelheide’s dish, you shall do so. Please take your seat at our table.”
Throughout the meal I watched James as he observed the royals from his seat at their table. Princess Henrietta played the perfect hostess. Through the members of the court I learned that Henrietta was acting Queen since their mother’s passing some years before. Beautiful, kind, and wise, she was her father’s protege and heir. The middle sister, Princess Ida, was a quiet girl. I saw that she only a few times through the full meal. “Always reading or hiding away”, the nobles said. She was shy, and sweet, and peaceful. Many suspected she would choose a convent over marriage. Finally, I watched James watch Princess Adelheide, and share her food. She looked embarrassed at first, but willing offered James the best of her plate. By the time desert was served she was talking animatedly. “Bright” is what the courtiers called her. From what I could see, it was true.
After the meal, it was time to retire for the night. I couldn’t hear the exchange between James, the King, and the Princess’s from where I stood. But, I watched as Princess Adelheide gently picked James up from the table as the royals stood to leave. From her hand, James and I locked eyes. I offered my silent encouragement, as he was carried out of the room. When I looked back to the high table I met the suspicious gaze of Princess Henrietta. She looked at me, the door James and her sister had walked through, her father, then back at me. I hastily bowed and returned to my chamber. My face and ears burning, and my heart sinking like iron in my chest.
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