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King's Lady

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Lady's maid Cordelia Abernathy sighed as she scrubbed at the stone walls of the palace corridor. Or...one of the many palace corridors. The woman she worked for -- not Princess Aurora; she wasn't classy enough for the lovely young woman -- had her doing more than she was supposed to. A lady's maid was only meant to run errands, dress her lady, bathe her lady -- things of that sort. But Cordelia had been stuck with Lady Annabella Scorsese, one of the most stuck-up ladies in the entire kingdom. How she'd gotten King Stefan to let her live in the palace was beyond Cordelia's understanding.

One of the things Annabella did differently from the other ladies of the court was having Cordelia perform menial labor tasks meant for the servants that littered the palace. When Cordelia had questioned her about this, Annabella had claimed she didn't want to take up the time of any of the king's own men and women. Day and night Cordelia swept the floors of Annabella's private rooms and bath chambers; cooked her food to near perfection every morning and evening and still she complained that it was either burnt or undercooked; washed her clothes and hung them up to dry; wrote her correspondences...

And Annabella treated her lower than the scum beneath her feet. Cordelia had been putting up with all this for nearly three years now, but if she walked away, she'd have to leave the palace. And -- though she would never come across him let alone experience his kiss -- Cordelia did not want to leave the home of the handsome King Stefan, whom she'd fallen in love with long before she'd ever become Annabella's lady's maid.

She'd only met Stefan once, about four years ago. His beloved wife Amelia had just recently passed away from heart failure and he'd been devastated. But he hadn't let his own personal pain hold him back from visiting his people. He was an excellent king who genuinely loved his kingdom and the people in it; one who would take the time out of his busy schedule to attend to sick villagers and introduce himself to the awe-struck women who swooned at his feet. Cordelia had been one of the poorest, lowliest peasants in town, yet Stefan had seen her struggling with her basket full of apples, bananas, and oranges on her back and had come to her aid, carrying the basket all the way back to her shack near the swamp. She'd invited him for lunch and he had gracefully accepted, making idle conversation until he departed once lunch was finished.

He'd been a daily constant in her dreams from hence forward. It had taken half a day for her to fall in love with him and she had done her best to train herself to be a lady's maid and find a lady who needed one. It was just her rotten luck that the only one available was Annabella.

* * * * * * * * *

King Stefan sighed as he ran his hand caressingly along the empty place in the bed -- the place where Amelia used to sleep. No matter how long it had been since her death, he still awoke every morning reaching out for her. He could still smell the scent of her hair though the sheets had been washed hundreds of times since the last night she'd lain in them. Lain with him.

There were whispers throughout the kingdom -- and the very castle itself -- that it was high time Stefan moved on and got himself a new wife. He was well aware he needed a new queen -- Aurora was too young to take over the kingdom and she could use some female support in her life from someone who wasn't being paid for it -- but he'd yet to meet a woman who enraptured him. He needed someone to enrapture him the way Amelia had. What was the point of spending the rest of his life with a woman if he wasn't truly, deeply in love with her?

Sighing, Stefan reluctantly -- and quite slowly -- dressed himself in beige dress pants and a blue silk shirt -- he was royalty, after all; he couldn't look anything other than his best. He placed his crown upon his head, stared up towards the sky to say a loving speech to Amelia -- as he did every morning -- and then left the royal chambers. He greeted everyone he passed with a kind word and smile, pausing any time anyone wanted more than a simple 'hello.' His people loved him and he in turn loved them as well. There was nothing he wouldn't do for them and the only thing he would ever put above them was his family.

Reaching the private dining chambers at last, Stefan fell into the seat at the head of the table and sighed. The room felt desolate without Amelia's presence, brightening only scantly when his precious Aurora entered the room five minutes later.

Stefan shot to his feet to greet her, amazed every time he saw her at how much she looked like her mother. Her beauty grew every day, alarming him as every father is alarmed when having such a beautiful daughter. He hated the way she disappeared during the daylight hours; he couldn't keep an eye on her when she was gone. Who knew what sort of young boys would be trying to court her or what dangers lay even in the walls of his own kingdom.

Fortunately, today that would change. He'd gone to one of her fairy godmothers and had them enchant a beautiful white dove to fly around with Aurora. If she got into any trouble or any men tried to seduce her, the dove would come to Stefan and alert him to her whereabouts.

"What are your plans this day, Smallbird?" he asked, using a nickname he'd given her the day she'd brought in a small sick bird. She'd nursed it back to health and had then released it back out into the world to reclaim its home. She'd always had a beautiful and kind loving heart, one that -- at certain times -- Stefan envied.

Aurora beamed at Stefan. If ever there was a daughter who absolutely adored her father, it was Aurora.

Stefan listened with an attentive ear as Aurora regaled him with plans of exploring the trails in the woods she'd created years ago -- but hadn't used recently -- and then told him of the sparkling pools hidden in the gardens just outside the palace walls.

Stefan stopped her at that point. "Pools?"

"Oh yes, Father. Beautiful pools with sparkling clear water. Perfect for wading in."

"You haven't done this, have you?"

Aurora flushed guiltily. "A couple of my friends and I took a dip a few nights last year."

Stefan scowled in disapproval, causing Aurora to slink down in her seat. She so hated upsetting her father. "I don't want you being so reckless again, daughter. We don't know what could be lurking out in the darkness or under the water and I don't want to lose you." He reached out and grasped her left hand tightly. "You're all I have left, Aurora."

Aurora squeezed Stefan's hand in return. "I'm sorry, Father. I know you're thinking of that evil Maleficent you told me about. It was thoughtless of me to take such risks. I promise not to do it again."

Stefan smiled gratefully and resumed eating his meal, dread thundering through his heart as he thought back to the day Aurora had been presented to the people at the grandest gathering the kingdom had seen in decades. Everything had been so perfect, so lovely, until a cold wind blew in, forcing all the lit candles to die out. A lithe figure swathed in black cloth had entered the room, the crowds parting for her in fear.

He could still feel himself rising out of his throne, Amelia just behind him, as Maleficent approached the cradle where the tiny helpless baby lay. Maleficient had looked from the baby to Stefan and back again before cursing Aurora.

He may be overprotective now of his little girl, but he had damn good reason. And if Maleficent wanted to kill his baby, she was going to have to go through him first.