Our story begins with the young King Eric. As a Prince, Eric led Britain's military with fearless courage, and was soon appointed as the Commanding General of the entire armed forces. His appointment was based on merit, and not because he was the son of a king. In fact, his father, King Thomas the Honest, was against Prince Eric becoming so involved with the military. "The battlefield in practice," as King Thomas used to say, "is good for teaching princes life lessons, but in reality, it is no safe place for the heir to a kingdom.” Luckily, Prince Eric's skill with the sword kept him alive on the field for many years, but now he would be forced to return to his home to take his father's place as King of Britain, for the good King Thomas was dead.
“ I am so worried about the arrival of the new King!” Exclaimed Maria, the cook and housekeeper for the official residence of the royal family, known to the country folk as the “Golden Palace.” “What if he is a cruel and heartless master? Does it not take a cruel and heartless being to succeed in battle? And he is known to be such a valiant warrior!”
“ Do calm down, Maria!” Replied Mistress Hannah, the head housekeeper and governess for the Golden Palace. “Don’t think you’re the only one who’s worried! Your crazed speculation is just putting me more on edge! I helped care for the great King Thomas in his final days, and though he had many great things to say about his son, can you really expect a dying man to speak poorly of his heir? I honestly don't know what to expect! I suppose in any case, we must do our duty..."
"Well, you're right about one thing, Hannah--in that we shall do our duty." Cautioned the head butler, Master Christopher. "But I assure you ladies, you needn't worry. King Eric and I played together as boys when my father was head butler to King Thomas before me, and I remember him as being very kind and intelligent. I have no doubt that he has carried those traits into his maturity. Above all else, please try and be sensitive to his feelings when he does arrive. He is at this moment visiting his father’s chapel, and I’m sure it will be an emotional experience for him."
At that moment, the new King Eric stood at the altar of the chapel of the Golden Palace where his father’s last funeral mass had been said. There was no grave to mark the resting place of the great King Thomas, because he had requested for his ashes to be scattered in the ocean, where he once reined as the head naval commander of the British fleet in his youth. The chapel allowed King Eric to feel as close to his father’s spirit as possible.
King Eric was overcome with emotion. “Oh father!” He cried. “I need your advice now, more than ever! Such a burden is kingship…I am so afraid I will not live up to all you have taught me to be! I miss you so!” He sobbed over the memory of his father, and over the uncertainty that lay ahead.
The staff stood outside of the palace patiently awaiting the King’s formal arrival, and oblivious to his private suffering. “Well, I’ve never seen the King, but I have heard he is quite handsome.” Maria ventured with a grin. Hannah agreed. “I have heard that as well--what do you think, Christopher?”
“ Oh yes, he was always popular with the ladies, but never had much time for them. He was always more interested in climbing trees, or reading the works of Napoleon. No doubt now that he’s returned from war, the noblewomen will get all in a tizzy over him, so its probably for the best that he already has a….”
Having composed himself, King Eric stepped back out into the sunlight and walked round to the front of the palace where he knew his staff was waiting to receive him. The sight of his childhood home comforted him, and he was able to put on a smile.
Hannah caught sight of the King first. “Oh!” She gasped. “He is come at last! And my, he is handsome!”
"Welcome your Majesty!" Hannah exclaimed enthusiastically. "Please allow me to introduce myself as Mistress Hannah, head housekeeper and governess! To my left is Master Christopher, head butler and your personal assistant. He and I served your great father before his untimely passing, may the gods rest his soul. And to my left is the palace cook, Maria. She is new to our staff."
"I thank you for such a warm welcome, Mistress Hannah, and I appreciate the care you gave my father more than you could know." Replied King Eric. "I apologize for my abrupt manner, but I am quite weary from traveling. I rode straight from the French theatre after I got word of the turn in my father's condition. I only wish I'd made it home in time for the funeral, but I’m sure it was a lovely service. The chapel looked beautiful."
"Oh your Majesty!" Christopher cried. "I know your pain, but surely you know that your father was more proud of you than of any other deed in his life! It was your leadership and conquest that has brought peace and prosperity to this kingdom, and for that we are all grateful. He knew that you were with him in spirit during his long and difficult illness."
"Christopher, my old friend!" King Eric swept him into a friendly embrace. "Your words are well appreciated, and I am glad to have you on my staff."
“ Your Majesty is too kind.” Christopher beamed. “ Would you like a tour of the palace before you retire, your Majesty?” Hannah asked hopefully.
"That won't be necessary, Mistress Hannah." King Eric replied. "Its been many years since I've lived here at the Golden Palace, but I think I remember enough. As for the things I don't recall, it shall be an adventure to discover them, will it not? If that is all, I should like to take my rest before dinner.”
“ Certainly, you Majesty.” Hannah acquiesced, slightly disappointed. The King and Master Christopher made their way into the palace.
“ Oh! He seems so nice!” Gushed Maria. “Not to mention more handsome than I could have imagined!” “ Yes, he certainly is!” Hannah agreed. “Too bad he didn’t want a private tour!” “ Oh you’re bad!” Maria kidded. “So, have you and Christopher decided to wait to tell him about Princess Abigail’s arrival?”
Mistress Hannah darted inside after the King. Maria was left in her dust, confused and alarmed by Hannah’s worried reaction.
Mistress Hannah caught them on the stairs. “Your Majesty!” She cried breathlessly. “There is one other thing that I forgot to mention…”
A look of nervous understanding came across Christopher’s face. “Of course, Mistress Hannah. What is it?” Asked the King. “ Well,” Hannah continued, “I know you are weary and have only just arrived, but this important matter concerns your betrothed.”
“ My WHAT?!” Cried King Eric in surprise. “A betrothed ? I don’t know what you’re talking about! I don’t have a betrothed!”
"Please don't be angry!" Hannah said, fearfully. "Don't you remember? You were promised to Princess Abigail of Avalon long ago, and your father's will stated that she be brought to the palace as soon as you assumed the role of King. It is one of your most important duties to marry and produce an heir, you know. I think he, your father I mean, was just trying to ensure that that happened as quickly as possible. Sorry--I'm rambling! Anyway, you should know that she is scheduled to arrive this afternoon. She wasn't supposed to be here for another three days, but our scouts saw her this morning at less than a day's ride out."
” Did you know about this as well, Christopher? Really, you must all be joking! I have a brand new kingdom to manage, and you try to thrust a marriage proposal on me the first day I'm here?" The King was furious.
“ Please try to understand, your Majesty! You have every right to be angry, but we are just trying to do your father’s will! Besides, we thought to give you more time to get used to the idea--we never dreamed she’d travel so quickly…”
“ Well, there is a new King here now. You all may be obliged to carry out my father’s wishes, but I am not. Do not expect me to see her, and I wish to hear no more of this.”
Hannah winced at the King’s harsh words. “As you wish, your Majesty.”
King Eric turned and stomped up the stairs with Christopher in tow.
“ Well that could have gone a bit better.” Maria observed. She had been hiding around the corner, and heard the entire exchange. “ That was awful!” Hannah moaned. “What are we going to do now? The Princess will be arriving within the hour…what am I to tell her?”
“ The King is behaving totally irrationally!” Hannah was getting a bit angry now. “What? Does he never plan to marry? Is he that offended by the idea of a female visitor? In all of his years on the battlefield, it seems no one remembered to school him in the social graces! I tell you, it seems we have a boor for a King!”
“ Oh Hannah!” Chided Maria. “You don’t mean that! The King was unfair to you, but it is your duty to serve him, boor or no. He’ll figure it all out soon enough--just give him time. What you should really be worried about is how you’re going to handle the unwanted Princess!” “ Hmm…true enough.” Hannah started thinking hard.
“ We still have one card up our sleeve!” Hannah was suddenly enthusiastic. “The King seems set in his decision, but he is still a man, and unfortunately for him, the Princess is a beautiful woman. All we need to do is get them in the same room together, and the rest will follow! Let’s see…they both have to eat! And where does he expect the Princess to dine? In the kitchen? We’ll present her to him at dinner, and he can’t turn her away!” “ Speaking of dinner, I should get started. The King’s mood is poor enough without having his supper served late!”
"You'd do well to serve some nice lobsters or a fat goose in celebration of the King’s arrival. A chocolate dessert wouldn't hurt either. I'll stay here and wait for the Princess...Oh! That must be her right there! I need to get her inside before the King sees her!” Hannah rushed outside.
"Well, this must be the place." Princess Abigail thought to herself. "The British Royal Family is not to be outdone in grandeur. I've never seen such a luxurious palace!"
"I miss my home so much already. This new life will be so different from what I'm used to...I just need to remember that all of the sacrifices I make, I make for my people. Our future depends on my success..."
Princess Abigail entered through the imposing, black-iron gate, and was immediately greeted by Hannah. "Welcome to the Golden Palace, my dear! My name is Mistress Hannah, and I am the head housekeeper here, willing to assist you in any way! But first, let's get you inside! There's a dreadful autumn chill in the air, is there not?"
"Actually, I don't mind the cold." Abigail started, a little confused by the rush. "My people spend a lot of time outdoors...” "Ah, well isn't that wonderful!" Hannah congratulated, trying to speed up the pace. "Let me take you straight to your rooms to freshen up. Dinner will be served promptly at seven."
Meanwhile, the King was enjoying a nice hot bubble bath, completely oblivious to Princess Abigail's arrival. "I mean, I suppose I remember being betrothed, but those sorts of things are usually just for diplomacy's sake, and never actually get carried out, right? I was so young...and I never even met the girl! If my father was serious about it, why didn't he mention it recently?" King Eric called to Christopher, who waited outside the door.
"I don't know, your majesty. Perhaps he didn't think it would be such an issue. One of your most important tasks as king is to marry and produce an heir, right? I think your father was just trying to help." Christopher called back, a little impatient with the King's whining at this point.
"He's probably just nervous." Christopher thought to himself. "A lifetime of combat training could never properly prepare a man for handling women."
"Yes, yes--produce an heir." King Eric sighed impatiently. "You're probably right. Just...why do I have to deal with it NOW? What sort of kingdom is this Avalon anyway? Did my father not want me to make a more powerful marriage?"
"Well," Christopher laughed, "the first thing you'll learn is that marriage is not all about power. I think your father wanted you to be joined with someone outside of the usual social circle. The women of Avalon are very strong, and powerful in their own way...I think your father wanted you to have a co-ruler, not just a dowry."
"A co-ruler, huh?" King Eric smirked. "You're not making this girl sound any better. I'm not inclined to take orders from a women. Will you hand me my robe?"
"So my dear, that dress you came in was lovely, er, in a dusty, country sort of way." Hannah ventured delicately. "But I'm sure we can find you something even more magnificent from the royal wardrobe! We want to be sure you strike the King's fancy tonight at dinner, don't we?"
“ Ah let’s see here…Oh! This one is lovely, and the blue will bring out your eyes beautifully! Let’s go try it on!”
“ Well? How does it fit?” Hannah found she was having a lot of fun helping the Princess choose her outfit. There had been no women living in the palace, save for herself and Maria, since she’d started her work here. “ Well, I don’t know…it seems--” “ Just come on out and let me see you!” Hannah cut her off. She was sure this one was going to be a winner.
“ Lovely!” Hannah beamed at her handiwork. “ Hannah, I look ridiculous.” Abigail responded, and she did. The huge bows and flowers on the dress were far overdone, and she felt uncomfortable and out of place! To think, women actually wore such monstrosities as this and called themselves fashionable!
“ Surely I don’t need to work this hard--the King and I are already betrothed. Don’t you think it would be better to present myself to him as I am?” Abigail could see Hannah start to get uneasy. “The King is excited to see me, isn’t he Hannah? He…The King doesn’t have another lover, does he?” Now Abigail was getting worried.
“ I haven’t been completely honest with you, your Highness.” Hannah felt defeated. She hoped she wouldn’t have to explain all of this to the Princess. “The King is not too sold on the idea of marriage at this point in time.”
“ But not to worry, my dear!” Hannah reassured the Princess. “The King does not have another lover, and I’m sure once he sees you and gets to know you, he will be won over! I just want to make sure you look your best!”
“ That’s fine, Mistress Hannah, but I’m picking the dress!” Hannah cringed. “Well alright. Then we can get started on that hair!”
"Oh, I hope Hannah was right about the lobster, and I hope the King likes the cake I baked as well. I am so nervous for poor Princess Abigail!" Maria served the food noticing that her hands were shaking slightly. "I have a mind to dig into that champagne myself to help calm these nerves! Oh, I think I hear them coming!"
"Ahhh Maria, this lobster smells delicious!" King Eric exclaimed as he sat down to his dinner. "And don't think I missed that cake sitting on the sideboard! I'd like to apologize for getting a bit irritated this morning--I was just weary from travel. Now, I feel much more relaxed! By the way, why are there more places set at the table? Will you and Mistress Hannah be joining us this evening?"
Maria’s smile froze on her face. Oh god, what should I say? She thought.
Luckily, Mistress Hannah entered at that moment, saving Maria from having to make any hard decisions. King Eric stood to welcome her. “Ah Mistress Hannah! How good of you to join us! Please sit down!” He exclaimed. “ I would be happy to, your Majesty.” She replied.
“ But first, I must attend to a more important matter.” Hannah looked deep within herself for more courage. She didn’t know what the King’s reaction would be to her disobedience. “Allow me to introduce your houseguest, Princess Abigail of Avalon.”
Abigail waited, hidden on the stairwell in the green velvet dress she had chosen, while she listened to Hannah introduce her. She wouldn’t let herself be intimidated by the King. She was a Princess in her own right, after all. She held her chin high, and made her way down the stairs as she heard Hannah say her name.
"Good evening my Lord." Abigail greeted the King with a confident smile, although on the inside she was terrified. "I am sorry to have arrived so suddenly this afternoon. It seems your staff didn't realize that I prefer to travel by horseback, instead of the much slower carriage. I am sure you are as famished as I from your long journey. Would you mind it very much if we dined together?"
The King stared at Princess Abigail for a moment, unable to find his voice. The audacity of that Mistress Hannah! He had explicitly told her to keep this woman away! On the other hand, Princess Abigail was unlike any woman he'd seen before. She was beautiful, yes, but there was also something else. The bold way she stared at him now, as if she could hear his thoughts, and know the rude things he'd said about her earlier. He suddenly felt unsettled and awkward, and realized that everyone was waiting for him to speak. His polite upbringing allowed him to answer automatically: "Pardon me, Princess Abigail. It is true that I was not expecting you. Please come and sit. I would be happy to have you dine with me this evening."
Once he had broken her gaze, King Eric was able to shoot a look of desperation at Master Christopher, who avoided his glance. Mistress Hannah maneuvered Princess Abigail into the seat across from the King, and they all sat down to dinner. “ So, you prefer to travel by horseback rather than in the comfort of a carriage?" King Eric asked, trying to silence the feelings of fury that had suddenly risen within him. He knew he shouldn't take his anger out on her, but he couldn't help it. Avoiding her eyes, he continued. "I've never heard of a noblewoman doing such a thing. Is it that your people cannot afford proper carriages?"
"On the contrary my Lord." Abigail was shocked that the King would ask such a rude question, but she kept her feelings to herself. She had apparently underestimated how much he despised the idea of being betrothed to her. "My people merely see the value in physical fitness. Not only is it good for the body, but the mind as well, and what better way to keep busy while you travel than by exercising? Surely as a military man, you must enjoy a good gallop yourself."
"I certainly do." Replied King Eric. He could see Christopher staring sternly at him from the corner of his eye, but he chose to ignore him. He stared directly into his lobster's eyes instead, and continued, feeling astonished at his own audacity, yet somehow unable to stop. "However, men's bodies are different from women's. Surely it is common knowledge that the jostling motion of a horse can do damage to a woman's delicate reproductive structuring."
"Oh my Lord!" Abigail couldn't help but to laugh. If he meant to make her blush, he had chosen the wrong woman indeed! She figured she should give him a dose of his own medicine. "Surely the only delicate reproductive structures that I've heard of being damaged by the 'jostling motion of a horse,' as you say, belong to men. The idea that women can't bear healthy children if they ride horses is a myth, intended to keep women in the home, where some think they belong. Do you think women ought to stay in the home, your Grace?"
Christopher stifled a laugh, and nearly choked on his food in the process. “ Well, I'm sure there are many opinions on the subject." King Eric said brusquely as he stood to leave. "Unfortunately, I am quite tired, and I think I shall retire now. Come Master Christopher. Maria, thank you for a lovely dinner, and I'm sorry I won't be trying any of the dessert this evening." Christopher and Hannah exchanged distressed glances as King Eric turned to leave, and Christopher rose to follow him.
After the King walked out, everyone seemed to lose their appetite. Hannah escorted Princess Abigail back to her room, where she let the brunt of the King’s rudeness sink in. “I can’t believe he treated me that way!” Abigail fumed. “I have done nothing to him, and yet he shows me complete disrespect! He humiliated me right there in the middle of dinner!” "This is just his way." Hannah tried to console her. ”I think he really is a good man--he's just under a lot of stress right now--his dear father's grave is still fresh, and he just inherited an entire kingdom! He didn't want to see you tonight--he didn't want to deal with choosing a bride or marriage, but I think he needs a strong woman like you to keep him grounded, and his father agreed with me, but it will just take time for him to come around."
"I just can't believe how stupid I acted this evening, on top of it all, Hannah. Sure, he was insufferable, but he's still the King! He can do whatever he wants, and it doesn't matter how much I try to blame him for his behavior! I've blown all of my chances, and all because I was too proud...Maybe I'm just not cut out for this sort of thing. The type of woman who becomes queen in this world must be manipulative and political...most importantly, she knows how to keep her mouth shut! I was raised to believe that women and men are equal...things are so different here."
The NERVE of that woman!" Shouted King Eric. "Did you see the way she spoke to me?" He was getting incredulous now. "She embarrassed me in front of my entire staff! I will have a little chat with Hannah tomorrow, mark my words! I know that that stunt was her idea, and I do NOT like being surprised like that! I want the 'lovely' Princess Abigail GONE! Do you hear me? I want her out of here!"
"Your Majesty is very angry, and I can understand why." Christopher spoke carefully to try and calm King Eric down. "But you can't let anger cloud your judgment. She is just one woman after all..." King Eric rolled his eyes when Christopher said that. "...and surely you have faced many a more formidable foe than she!"
“ My dear! All hope is not lost! Tomorrow is another day to start fresh! It might seem like you made a bad first impression, but I think the way you were able to ruffle the King’s feathers is a good sign! I think deep down, he was impressed by you! Now, let’s get you out of this dress and into bed!”
“ Even this nightgown is a frilly, glitzy thing!” Abigail joked. “Oh well, I suppose I won’t have to endure this for much longer. I am certain he means to send me home as soon as possible!”
“ There, there!” Hannah comforted her. “What have I just said? You must keep a positive attitude, and all will work out for the best. Do not feel alone--I am here to help you.”
King Eric sighed. "Well, I suppose that's the problem--she's not like other women. I can confide in you, can't I Christopher? I know I was rude to her during dinner, and perhaps she was right to defend herself, even if it meant talking back to me, the King! ...But there's just something about her that I can't place....She gave me such a disturbed feeling from the moment she walked into the room. I've never met anyone who could make me feel so unsettled before. I just couldn't deal with it...and after such a long day!” "That makes perfect sense, your Majesty. But think to yourself, do you really want a regular woman to be your queen and the mother of your princes? That's something you need to think about. I would advise you to keep her around, at least for a little bit--just get to know her. Don't send her away just yet."
"Well Christopher, I do appreciate your perspective, but I'll have you know that I'm fully capable of making such decisions by myself." Eric said gruffly. He stood up and got into bed. “ Of course, your Majesty.” "As for tonight, I've had enough. I shall take my much-needed rest now, and we'll get this settled in the morning. Good night, Master Christopher.” “ Good night, Majesty."
On the other side of the palace, Princess Abigail was also bedding down for the night. She felt a reassured by Hannah’s support. At any rate, she was done dealing with all of this stress for the night!
All were finally sleeping peacefully in the Palace, except for one. Poor Maria was still finishing up her chores for the day. "Blasted lobsters and wasted cake!" She grumbled. "Food and drama do not mix!” End of Chapter 1.1!
Special thanks to Tatiana Dokuchic. I used her lot, Le Petit Trianon, as my Golden Palace, and I’ve also used many of her beautiful items and wallpapers.