Chapter 1: The Arrest
Four coins. That was all Angie had left in her purse – one coin for each member of her family. It wasn't going to be enough. She contemplated, briefly, stealing a loaf of bread from the baker’s cart while her back was turned, but even Angie’s most sincere prayers would not save her from the hell of gaol if she were caught. Besides, Angie could never in good conscience take food out of the mouths of hungry babies, and the baker had three at home. She and her sister and brothers would be fine.
Maybe, hissed the nasty voice in the back of her mind.
After their parents’ death in an accident the year before, Angie had done her best to provide for her younger siblings. It had been appropriate to accept help from their neighbors for a time; many kind people in the village had shared of their tables and allowed the four children to grieve. But Angie was too proud to ask for any further assistance, knowing how hard others worked for the little they had. She had used every ounce of charisma she possessed to charm old Widow Fry into hiring her to serve meals at her inn during the day, and to sing for tips at night. Even that, though, was coming to the end of its sustainability. Angie knew what she had to do, even if she hated the thought of it.
Some, more rowdy, patrons of Miriam’s at the Griffith liked to show their appreciation for Angie’s performance by laying their hands on her. At first, Angie was disgusted and annoyed by their unwanted advances. She had never cared for the affections of men, and had seen no reason to start – until her youngest brother, Steve, became very ill.
He had always been a frail child, more so than his sisters and brother anyway. He had problems breathing, and was quicker to catch cold or fever than the others. Still, sometimes Angie felt that Steve was the strongest one of them all. He had been a rock for the family over the last year – he made Theresa smile with his drawings, he helped Bucky calm down when he was mad, and he promised Angie that the three of them would be just fine while she was at work. They couldn’t lose him.
But they – Angie – had to pay the village healer somehow. Angie knew that even four pieces wasn’t enough to cover his expenses, but she had to feed her siblings as well. She turned one coin over to the baker for a smallish loaf of brown bread, and used the pence she got back to buy the largest block of cheese she could afford from a farmer’s wife. She would take that home to Bucky and Theresa and perhaps find something for herself at the Griffith.
With her meager bundle in hand, Angie set off down the rutted lane towards home. It was about a mile away, on the outskirts of their little village. The kingdom was a fairly small one, but large enough to have several sovereign townships. Ellandell, where Angie lived, was one of the smallest constituencies. However, they were known for throwing a good party, and oftentimes the Griffith Inn played hostess to traveling soldiers from the King’s Army. They slept in rooms on the ground floor, of course – Miriam had a strict rule about the top floor being a women-only space. Angie wasn’t quite sure why, but she thought it might have something to do with the fact that Miriam herself slept upstairs.
Angie looked at the darkening sky with some dismay. She never enjoyed walking back to town without the sunlight to guide her. The road really was battered from too many rains and wagons without tending, and even steeling herself for what she had to do to make ends meet didn’t make Angie less afraid of what men could do to her under the cover of shadow. But she put a smile on her face as she walked in the door of her family home.
Bucky had gotten the fire going, and the tiny cottage felt much cozier for it. Theresa was tending to a small bubbling pot on the hearth, and Angie smelled honey and pine.
“It’s for Steve,” Theresa said absently, noting her sister’s expression. “For his throat.”
“Good girl,” Angie praised, squeezing Theresa’s shoulder. She looked over to the other side of the house. The curtain that usually separated the boys’ room from the rest of the home was pulled back, and Angie could see Steve propped up in bed with Healer Abraham on one side and Bucky on the other. Bucky was tossing a leather ball in the air, and Steve was playfully trying to grab it. Angie went over to say hello.
“Hello, boys,” she said softly. “How are you this evening?”
“Good, Ang,” wheezed Steve. “Never better.”
“Don’t tease your brother so, Buck,” Angie changed the subject. She rapped her knuckles lightly against Bucky’s skull.
“Be quiet,” he moaned good-naturedly, but Angie could see the worry in his eyes. She only hoped the rest of them couldn’t see it in hers.
“Ahem, Miss Angela?” Healer Abraham coughed politely.
Angie nodded, leading the older gentleman out of the room.
“How bad is it, Doctor?” Angie asked quietly.
“Not good,” replied the healer. “I have done…I only have so much, and I cannot—” He looked upset, and Angie’s heart sank.
“I know you did what you could, Healer Abraham,” Angie mumbled. “I’m sorry I do not have any more to—”
“Your parents, they were very good people,” the man interrupted. “You and your siblings, Miss Angela…you make them proud. You are also very good people. Remember that.”
Angie blinked back the first wave of hot, stinging tears. Fumbling in her pocket, she managed to grab the three coins she had saved and grabbed one of Healer Abraham’s hands in both of hers. She pressed the coins into his palm.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Shaking his head sadly, Healer Abraham bent down and kissed Angie’s forehead. When he stood back up, he pushed his glasses up his nose and left the house.
“Angie?” Theresa’s little voice asked. “What’s for supper?”
Angie dashed her tears and turned around, holding out the bundle to her sister. “Bread and cheese,” she answered in a falsely cheerful voice. “I have to get back to the inn, so it’s just you three tonight.”
“What will you eat?” asked Theresa with concern.
“Oh, I’m sure I can put together something up in the kitchen. Miriam is sweeter than a cat with cream,” Angie lied.
Before anyone had time to question her further, Angie kissed her brothers and sister goodbye and set back off for work. She would sing, first, and then…she would knock on some doors.
Angie was nervous. It wasn’t as if she had never…lain with anyone in that way before. She had. Once, but she had. And not exactly a man. A woman, really, or perhaps a girl. It was a bit hard to tell…not that the details were foggy; Angie had each tidbit of that perfect experience tucked away in the safest part of her memory. But suffice it to say, Angie had been here before.
Her sense of loyalty was what bothered her, though. It had been nearly three years since that one, blissful night – she had never seen or heard from her companion again. And yet…and yet, something in Angie said she was being unfaithful if she were to use her body as a service. It felt dishonest. More dishonest than a life of petty theft? her snide inner voice wanted to know. That was a question Angie hadn’t the heart to answer.
She was so engrossed in these inner musings that she didn’t notice her walking partner until it was too late.
“Oh!” she cried out in surprise when something bumped into her. Said something – someone, really – toppled over and landed on the ground. “Oh, no!”
“I’m fine,” said a man’s voice. “Only, could you help me up?”
Angie squinted into the dark, and saw the faint sparkle of a ring on the man’s finger. She grasped his hand and pulled.
“Thanks,” he said a bit breathlessly.
“Sure,” said Angie.
“Where is a beautiful maiden like yourself headed at this hour?” the man asked. Angie would’ve snarled, but he didn’t sound as rude and condescending as the people who normally asked her that.
“I work nights at the Griffith Inn,” she answered coolly. “I’m a singer there.”
“Oh?” asked the man. He seemed genuinely intrigued.
Mustering up her courage, Angie blurted out, “I also am available to keep you company…for a price.”
There was complete silence for several painful seconds. Then, when Angie was about to sputter a pathetic retraction, the man said, “I’ll keep that in mind, but I’ll have to hear you sing first.”
In spite of herself, Angie blushed. For once she was thankful for the darkness.
They finally reached the lantern-lit windows of the Griffith, and Angie caught her first sight of the man she’d walked with to town. Even Angie had to admit that he was handsome – strong jaw, sweet dimples, and soulful eyes. He was also, Angie noted with some discomfort, a high-ranking officer in the King’s Army.
“After you, my lady,” he said as he held the door open for Angie.
“Thank you,” she murmured. She felt a bit flushed.
Somehow, Angie made it through her songs without missing a beat or a verse. She made decent tips, but not enough. Angie wasn’t sure what she’d been hoping the outcome of the evening to be. She didn’t want to betray her imaginary lover, but the soldier had really seemed to like her. She’d caught his eye a few times throughout the show and he was even sweeter when he smiled.
She curtseyed to the small crowd, fanning out her threadbare skirt like it was something beautiful. When she looked up, the soldier was gone. Feeling a bit disappointed – but not entirely surprised – Angie started to climb off the stage.
Inevitably, some lout who had fallen too far into his tankard tried to peek up her dress, but Angie had gotten used to swatting away hands and faking coquettishness. All she wanted to do was scrounge for scraps in the kitchen and maybe – maybe – see if that soldier would pay her to…relieve him.
“I must say, you are not what I was expecting.”
The voice in her ear startled Angie, and she jumped.
“I apologize for frightening you,” said the soldier. “I just wanted to inform you that you sing as if you were an angel.”
Angie turned around, shaking her head. “I am no angel,” she said.
“Beautiful, then,” the soldier tried.
At Angie’s grimace, he said, “Miss, I am desperately trying to pay you a compliment!”
Angie swallowed. “You could…pay me another way.” She lowered her gaze and stared up at him through thick eyelashes.
“Ah, yes,” the soldier stammered. “Well—”
Angie’s stomach let out an unseemly growl. “Sorry,” she muttered in embarrassment.
The soldier smiled. “Can I buy you a meal? The stew was very good tonight.”
Angie blanched suddenly. “No! I will be alright.”
“But you sounded—”
“I am fine,” Angie hissed. Then, apologetically, “Might I join you in your quarters? I shall bring something sweet to eat,” she tried to entice him.
“Very well,” he acquiesced. “Third door on the left.”
Angie watched him go. He had an odd sort of gait; he pulled with his left leg while the right just hung there. She shook her head. There was no time for woolgathering. Angie crept into the kitchen and found, to her delight, a small dish of cherry hand pies. The stew was completely gone, but Angie did not really have time to eat to begin with. She grabbed the pies and, upon a moment’s thought, a skin of sweet wine. Then she hurried down the hall to the soldier’s room.
He answered immediately after she knocked, as if he had been waiting for her.
“What is all of this?” he asked.
“Cherry pastries and wine,” said Angie proudly. “I do love cherries fresh off the tree, don’t you?”
“I cannot say I have ever had the pleasure,” said the soldier.
Angie’s eyes widened. “But – the Prince! He has an entire orchard!”
“Nothing so common as cherries in there, I’m afraid,” he answered with a rueful smile. “The Prince likes to experiment, so most of his fruit trees are hybrids.” At Angie’s curious look, the solider continued, “A hybrid is a cross between two or more things. Last I was aware, His Majesty was attempting to breed a lemon with a strawberry.”
Angie wrinkled her nose at that, and the soldier laughed. He took the plate of sweets from her hands and set it on the low table by the window.
“Tell me,” he said seriously, “what is your name?”
Angie chewed her lip. “Uh, Nellie,” she lied quickly.
“I am Daniel,” said the soldier.
Angie nodded. “I will not lay with you,” she half-shouted. “And you mayn’t touch me. I will only use my hands or my mouth. Which would you prefer?”
“Can we not sit a while?” Daniel asked with a gentle grin. “Let us talk and eat and drink this wine.”
“I—” Angie was confused, and a bit flustered. “We must be quick,” she said. “I have to get home, and the Widow Fry…”
“Say no more,” said Daniel. “Come sit by me, here on the bed.”
Angie did. The old straw dipped heavily between them. “Would you like me to touch you now?”
At Daniel’s assent, Angie delicately pressed her right hand to the center seam of his trousers. Her left hand braced on his thigh, Angie rolled her fingers against his groin.
“Hush!” Angie hissed at him. Her hand stilled, and Daniel quickly silenced himself.
One-handed, she worked open the top button of his pants, dipping the tips of her fingers into the new warm space. Daniel shivered, and groaned again.
Daniel clapped a hand over his mouth, and Angie held back an eye roll. She slid her hand further down his fly, cold fingers reaching instinctively for his heat. But when she made contact with his groin, skin to skin, Daniel yelped loudly.
Angie’s eyes widened, and she glared at the soldier.
“Daniel! You must be quiet, or we shall surely—”
It was too late. The door to Daniel’s room burst open, and there stood Miriam Fry, the town widow and gossip. Next to her was another man in a soldier’s uniform. He had a cross medal hanging from his right breast and a smug, self-satisfied smile on his pale face.
Angie pulled her hand back too quickly. Miriam noticed instantly.
“I never! Such debauchery and sin happening under my very own roof! I gave you work, Angela, when you had nothing! And this is how you repay me?”
“Widow Fry, please—” Angie tried to explain, blood rushing in her ears.
“Take this harlot away, Sir John!” Miriam cried. The simpering, pale-faced soldier sauntered over to Angie and grabbed her by the wrists.
“Ouch! What did I do? You cannot—”
Sir John held onto her wrists with one hand and smacked her across the face with the other. Angie’s eyes began to water, and she wanted to cup her cheek but Sir John was tying a rough piece of cord tightly around her wrists.
“That was unnecessary, Jack,” said Daniel in a low voice, buttoning his pants.
Angie looked up at Daniel, hurt shining in her seaglass eyes.
“You used me,” she said softly.
“Good work, Sir Daniel!” said Sir John cheerfully. “Let’s put this peasant in with the rest of them.
With her arms held stiffly in front of her, Angie was dragged along the hall by her wrists. Several patrons remained at the tavern, and Angie knew many of their faces. They were her neighbors, her coworkers; in some cases, even friends. They all watched in frozen silence as she was led away.
Sir John tossed her bodily into the bed of a wagon. Angie’s shoulder hit the boards first, and she tried vainly not to wince. Her swollen cheek scraped against the rough wood, but Angie refused to make a sound. She would not show him fear.
“Climb aboard, Daniel,” said Sir John. “Or did you require some assistance?”
Angie could not bring herself to feel sorry for Daniel as he flared his nostrils in frustration. “I am fine,” he said. He had said that to Angie earlier when he had fallen down. Angie was not sure now that he had meant it.
She watched him walk away, and then tried to sit up. Her shoulder ached painfully, but she did not cry. Angie did not understand what had happened. No money had exchanged hands – she had not even done anything untoward to Daniel, not really. A misunderstanding, perhaps? But Angie knew that she would never be allowed to explain. Sir John seemed to have no time to listen to the truths of the common man, let alone woman, and Daniel…well. Angie felt betrayed by him as well, since he just stood by and did nothing to stop the arrest.
They had not had time to partake in either the cherry tarts or the sweet wine, but Angie was too nauseated and frightened to feel hunger. She did not know what was to happen to her now, but she knew enough to determine that whatever it was would not be pleasant. She wasn’t sad at that, though; merely angry at the injustice of it all.
The one thing that did make Angie want to cry was the thought of her poor brothers and sister. They would be wondering after her; she would have been home already had it not been for the awful events of the evening. She could picture the looks on their faces, and it made her feel as though her heart was the part of her that had been slammed into wooden boards. Angie drew her knees up to her chest, looping her arms awkwardly around them, and buried her face in her bare legs. What has become of me?
Chapter 2: The Beginning
this is where the underage warning comes into play, so if that bothers you, now would be the time to skip this story. both characters involved are underage in a consensual scene towards the end of the chapter.
“Molto bella, Angela! Mia bambina – no,” Mama corrected, at Angie’s glare. “Scusi, mia ragazza.”
Angie grinned. “Grazie, Mama. Theresa is your little girl now.”
“Si,” said Mama, smiling a bit wistfully. “But…in my heart, you will be…ah,” Mama frowned.
“In Italiano, it’s alright,” Angie prompted.
“Grazie. Sarete…sempre piccola. Si?”
“Si, Mama. For you.”
Mama smiled and clapped her hands. “Ballo,” she commanded.
Angie spun around on her toes, showing off how the dress her mother had made for her lifted in the air and twirled with her. It was light blue, lighter than the sky, with full sleeves that looked like little puffs of cloud sitting on her shoulders. Mama had spent extra time embroidering little peach-pink flowers along the button placket and around the hem. She had also given Angie two matching satin ribbons for her hair. It was the best birthday present fifteen-year-old Angie could have asked for.
Today was a special occasion – the first since Angie’s birthday, so it was the first time that Angie had worn her birthday dress. A parade was coming to their village! Angie’s seven-year-old sister, Theresa, had been talking about it all week long. She was excited to see the Prince and Princess. Angie’s younger brothers did not care so much about the royal family, but both ten-year-old Steve and twelve-year-old Bucky wanted to see the Royal Guard.
Angie, well – she was excited for it all. After the parade, there was to be a festival to last all day. All the eligible maidens of Ellandell would dance, and the local tavern keepers would provide refreshment. At night’s end, there would be held a joust between the King’s men.
Mama had specially curled Angie’s hair for the occasion by heating tongs in the fire. She pulled two bunches from the top half of Angie’s curls, leaving the other half free, and tied them off with the ribbons. Papa would meet them in the village square, for he had gone to town already to trade chicken eggs and wheat.
“Mama, Mama! Are we going to see the Princess?”
“Si, bambina,” Mama said to Theresa. “Angela, would you—”
Angie nodded. “Bucky! Steve!” she yelled.
“I could shout,” Mama muttered.
Two pairs of footsteps, fast-loud and slow-steady, came tumbling down the rickety loft ladder. Angie’s brothers could not have looked more different – Bucky was tall and fit and dark; Steve was small and slight and light – but in their eyes and smiles they were the same. Steve’s hair was even lighter than Angie’s, and Papa often joked that they had fallen off an English wagon and he and Mama had taken them in. Theresa looked like Papa and Bucky, with brown-black hair and watchful hazel eyes. Steve and Angie had gotten their blue eyes from Mama, but her hair was dark as well.
Mama immediately went over to Bucky, fixing his collar and scolding him for wrinkling his tunic. Steve’s outfit was much neater, but then, so was Steve. At least until he got into a fight with a bully.
When they were all ready, Mama led them out the door of their small cottage and down the path to the village. Mama held tightly to Theresa’s hand, and Angie felt she was too old to race ahead as she could see Bucky wanted to do. But Bucky also wanted to wait for Steve, so he kept his pace steady to walk with his brother. When they crested the final hill, Angie saw throngs of townspeople already waiting for the procession to start.
“Papa!” Theresa yelled when she saw him. She let go of Mama’s hand and ran into his arms.
“Hello, little one,” Papa said. He swung her up so she could sit on his shoulders, and Theresa shrieked with laughter.
The other children greeted their father, and Mama kissed him (much to the children’s dismay). They were at the end of the route, but were the first people behind the ribbon that separated them from the processional.
It seemed like ages, but really was only a few minutes, until musicians began to play a lively march and the Royal Guard appeared at the other end of the lane. The crowd cheered, and Angie’s heart beat faster than a hummingbird’s wings. Her brothers were on either side of her, yelling and whooping, but Angie ignored them. She watched, nearly silently, as the Royal Guard marched past. Their uniforms of red and blue, with shiny gold buttons and tall caps, were mesmerizing. After the guard came the Prince and his advisers. He looked young, to Angie. His brown eyes were a bit mischievous, and the ends of his mustache twitched in amusement. He seemed to enjoy himself.
“Where’s the Princess?” Angie heard Theresa whine above the noise.
But Angie cared not what had happened to the Princess. Behind the Prince, holding up the rear, was a group of men in chainmail. Each had a different color feather in his helmet, and as they walked down the lane – Angie’s own village lane! – their silver outfits sparkled in the sunlight.
Angie lifted her hand – part reflex to shield her eyes from the glare, and part desire to be noticed. Something about the knights in their shining armor…well, she was a bit smitten. On the end, closest to her, was the knight with the red feather. His visor was tipped up, and when he turned to Angie, she could see his warm, smiling brown eyes.
The knight with the red feather waved to Angie, their eyes locked the entire time.
Angie – what else could she do? – waved back, her smile brighter than a hundred suns.
Theresa babbled on about the parade the whole way home, and all through their supper that evening. Steve and Bucky were enthusiastic also, talking about the crisp formation of the Guard and how seamlessly they marched. Papa and Mama seemed content enough just to listen.
Angie was not paying attention. She could not stop thinking about the knight with the red feather. There was something about his eyes – so familiar, somehow, yet mysterious. She wanted to see him again.
That night, Mama tucked all the children into bed, and she and Papa tucked themselves in as well. Theresa still slept in their bed, and Steve and Bucky had the loft. Angie had a small cot tucked away in the corner of the main room. When she heard the noises that suggested everyone in the household was asleep, Angie quietly rose from her bed and put her birthday dress back on over her shift. She grabbed a shawl from a hook by the door and slipped out into the night.
Angie followed the ruckus to the village square, the noise of revelry growing louder as she grew near. Maids and men alike danced with wild abandon, twirling brightly-colored ribbons and sloshing pints of ale. There were a few younger people there, but all were a few years older than Angie herself. She walked across the dewy field to a fenced area where two horses were nibbling on the grass.
“They are about to start the tournament,” said a voice behind her. Angie jumped a bit.
“Good,” she answered the man. “Will they all be here?”
“Aye,” he nodded. “Each round is two minutes or less, and whoever wins will be matched with the next winner.”
Angie nodded, and was about to thank the man when a trumpeter blasted his horn.
“Hear ye, hear ye,” he shouted. “The joust shall now commence!”
Angie clapped politely, but began to cheer when she saw that one of the first competitors was her own red knight.
“The blue feather is favored to win,” said the man beside her.
“I always preferred the underdog,” Angie replied.
She hollered and whooped for her red-feathered knight, cheering him on when his sword clashed against the blue knight’s shield.
“Go, Red!” she yelled.
The blue knight glanced his sword off of the red knight’s armor a few times, but it seemed to Angie that the red knight’s horsemanship and skill were superior to that of his foe. After about a minute and a half, the blue was finally unseated, and slid off his horse to the ground.
“Huzzah!” Angie shouted happily.
The man beside Angie grumbled and walked away. Angie wondered if he might have placed a wager on the outcome – serves him right if he bet against my knight, she thought smugly.
The next few bouts were not nearly as thrilling to Angie – her red knight had won, and so would not participate until all the other winners had been named. Orange beat green, purple bested yellow, and indigo eked out a victory over white. Orange went on to handily trounce indigo, who admitted his defeat admirably. And then it was time for purple and red to face off.
Angie was nervous. The purple knight had competed quite well in his initial battle, and though she had faith in the capabilities of her own red knight, she worried for him. He was smaller than the others, and seemed to be fairly green in comparison to some of his competitors. Still, her voice rang clearly into the night when she called out,
“Hurrah for the Red Knight!”
To Angie’s surprise, and slight mortification, the cheer was taken up among the crowd. Some booed, for they favored the purple knight, but the majority of the crowd were in kind spirits.
The trumpeter blew to begin the bout, and the knights circled each other on their mounts. The purple knight struck the first blow. He scored a hit on the red knight’s shoulder, and the sound of metal on metal was harsh against Angie’s ears. But her red knight appeared unfazed. He parried Purple’s next thrust, and Red hit Purple’s shield dead-center. This caused the purple knight to stumble back a bit, and Angie clapped at that.
The red knight’s next move was to feint, and he did so with impressive skill. He acted as if he was aiming for the opposite side, so when the purple knight moved his shield to block, Red used that distraction to his advantage and scored another hit on the same side. The tactic was so effective that it seemed to hurt the purple knight to make use of his left side.
Finally, the red knight boldly charged at Purple. It was a move so brash that the purple knight apparently did not anticipate it at all, and as such was caught completely off guard. His steed reared back, and the purple knight lost his grip on the reins and fell backwards off of his horse. The red knight had not even made third contact.
There was a beat of silence, and then: the crowd erupted in cheers. Angie screamed herself nearly hoarse, she was so proud of her red knight. Both knights bowed to the onlookers, and they shook hands.
There was to be a small respite before the final round of the tournament, so that the knights could slake their thirsts and have their wounds tended (and so that the commoners could place their final bets). Angie watched from her place along the fence as her red knight tipped his visor back and quickly downed a mug of grog.
He didn’t look nervous, but Angie knew that could be an act. She wanted so badly for him to win – though why, she didn’t know. She liked him, possibly…he was friendly enough, had waved at her earlier; she would feel the same about anyone who had shown her such kindness, she was sure.
For all that Angie had noticed each moment of the previous jousts, this final match between Orange and Red seemed to pass by in a blur. One moment, the knights were helped onto their mounts, and the trumpeter blared his note. The next, the orange knight was on the ground, and the red knight held his shield above his head in victory.
Angie cried out, elated. Her knight had won!
Many people, as Angie did, cheered and hollered. Some grumbled amongst themselves – that bout had been particularly short, it seemed. What a waste it was. The orange knight ripped off his helmet and threw it to the ground, disgusted with himself. Angie didn’t like the look in his eyes – he seemed madder than a wet hen, and meaner too.
The red knight reached out a hand to shake. Chivalrous to the end, thought Angie. The orange knight reached out as well – and grabbed Red’s helmet. He tore the red knight’s helmet off as he’d done his own, a triumphant gleam in his beady eyes. Red-faced, the unmasked red knight shook her long hair back. Her. The red knight – Angie’s red knight – was a girl.
“Brava!” Angie shouted without thinking. “Brava, bellissima!”
Both knights looked over at her, and Angie flushed a deep pink. The orange knight glared at her, but the red knight smiled softly. She said something to the orange knight that caused him to scowl, and made her way over to the fence where Angie stood.
“Hello,” she said in a soft voice that belied the strength she had shown that night.
“Hello,” Angie repeated dumbly. The eyes she had noticed earlier that morning – the warm, yet mysterious brown eyes of her knight – shone in the glow of the lanterns that dotted the field. She had a deep dimple in her right cheek, and her chin and jaw were very well-defined. Angie was awestruck.
“I saw you this morning, did I not?” the knight asked. “At the parade?”
“I – yes,” said Angie. “I was there. You waved to me.”
The knight grinned. “Yes, I remember. I thought you looked lovely in your party dress—” she glanced at Angie. “Oh, you’re still wearing it!”
“My mother made it for my birthday,” Angie told her, lowering her eyes. “I’m sure you have seen much grander dresses – on the Princess, for instance?”
The knight laughed loudly. At Angie’s dismayed look, she stopped. “Oh, er…yes, the Princess does have some grand dresses,” the knight said. “But I don’t think she looks half as sweet in them as you do in yours.”
Angie blushed. “Well, thank you,” she said, curtseying.
“Now tell me, young miss,” said the knight. “Who escorted you here this evening?”
Angie gave an impish smirk. “I came alone,” she told her knight.
“And how, pray, do you intend to return home?” asked the knight.
“It’s only a short walk,” Angie replied. “I can manage.”
“Please,” said the knight with a low bow. “Allow me to accompany you. I would worry if I did not see that you made your journey safely.”
“If you are to be my chaperone, I must have your name,” Angie replied pertly. “It would not do to remain strangers.”
With a twinkle in those enchanting brown eyes, the knight introduced herself. “I am Peggy,” she said.
“Lady Peggy, I presume?”
Peggy winked. “At your service, Miss…”
“Angie. Well, Angela.”
“Ah,” sighed Peggy. “A fitting moniker for a girl as enchanting as yourself.”
“Me, enchanting? Peer into a looking glass, Peg,” Angie quipped.
Peggy blushed, and Angie was instantly charmed.
Coming around to Angie’s side of the fence, Peggy offered her arm, and Angie looped hers through. They talked as they traveled down the beaten path, and Peggy marveled at the difference between Ellandell and the palace.
“It is so green here,” she remarked. “The castle…it is beautiful, but all wood and stone. The only place that’s green is How—er, the Prince’s garden, and that is anything but natural.”
They reached the walk leading up to Angie’s family home, and Angie turned to Peggy.
“Thank you for seeing me this far,” she said shyly. She had enjoyed spending time with her knight – with Peggy, and hated to see her go now.
“You are quite welcome, Miss Angela,” nodded Peggy.
Impulsively, Angie asked, “Have you any place to spend the night?”
Peggy chewed her lip.
“Because – we have a hayloft above the barn,” Angie continued. “We used to keep cattle, but we had to sell them…it’s still warm enough, though, and I could get you blankets, and—”
“Thank you, Angie,” said Peggy softly. “That will be lovely.” She took Angie by the hand. “I find myself wanting to stay here, with you, for as long as I might.”
Angie grinned. “I will be right back,” she promised.
She ducked into the cottage and, as quietly as she could, stripped her bed of its quilts and tucked them up in a bundle. She also grabbed two thick knitted afghans her mother had made from a chest by the door. She rushed back out to Peggy and thrust the blankets into her arms.
“Follow me,” Angie said, and led her knight to a ramshackle structure behind the cottage. Angie slid open the door and darted up the ladder. “Pass me the blankets!” she called to Peggy.
Up in the loft, there was still some hay and a few old saddle blankets that Angie’s father had used to keep the cows warm in the winter. Angie quickly fashioned a lumpy mattress with the straw and woolen sheets, and piled the quilts and afghans atop it.
“Peggy?” Angie called when the other girl had not appeared at the ladder.
“Darling, could you help me?” was the muffled response. “I’m a bit stuck.”
Angie leaned over the edge of the loft to see Peggy caught in her armor. She stifled a giggle.
“Be right down!”
Angie scrambled back down the ladder and quickly undid the buckle for Peggy’s breastplate. With that off, Peggy could easily slip out of the chainmail top and trousers she wore, revealing a simple linen tunic and breeches beneath.
In the pale moonlight that filtered into the barn through cracks in the wood, Peggy looked ethereal. Her pale skin glowed, and her eyes shone as they gazed into Angie’s.
Angie swallowed. “Would you like to come to bed?” she asked faintly.
Peggy’s answering smile was wicked. “Yes,” she said.
Angie led Peggy up the ladder, crouching a bit when the reached the top so she wouldn’t hit her head. She made a quarter-turn, perched on her haunches, and came nose to nose with Peggy.
Their eyes met again, and Angie was lost in Peggy. She noticed the way her nose was sprinkled with freckles like stardust; how her pale pink lips parted ever so slightly when she inhaled, and how her exhales brushed over Angie’s face like a gentle breeze. Angie adored the way the moonlight reflected in Peggy’s eyes, making them appear to be as the embers of a fire: bright and filled with amber warmth.
And then Peggy bent forward, and touched her lips to Angie’s. For a single, perfect moment, they kissed. But Angie lost her footing, and Peggy overbalanced, and they toppled together onto the makeshift bed that Angie had made.
“I’m so sorry,” Peggy muttered ashamedly.
Angie only laughed. “Just come back up here and kiss me, Red,” she ordered.
“Red?” asked Peggy, pressing her lips firmly along the side of Angie’s jaw.
Angie blushed. “Sorry, that’s just…it’s what I have been calling you in my head, because of the color of your feather.”
“Oh. Well, carry on,” Peggy said dismissively. “Or shall I?”
“Please,” Angie breathed.
Peggy kissed Angie’s mouth, then sucked lightly on her pulse point. Angie could not contain her wandering hands. She grabbed Peggy by the shoulders, and then wrestled her out of her tunic.
“Patience,” Peggy warned teasingly. But she was just as anxious, though more careful with Angie’s special dress. When Angie was left in her shift, and Peggy in a vest top and her breeches, Angie gazed up at Peggy adoringly.
“Love me, please,” she asked.
“Oh, I do,” replied Peggy. Angie surged up and kissed her soundly. While her hands worked over Peggy’s arms and bust, Peggy lifted the hem of Angie’s shift to cup her mound.
“May I?” Peggy asked, a bit breathless.
Angie let go of the breast she was mouthing, having stripped Peggy’s torso to the skin. “Yes.”
Peggy used her first two fingers to rub the sensitive cluster of nerves tucked behind Angie’s labia. Angie moaned, causing vibrations through Peggy’s nipple. Peggy gasped, the sensation causing her to rub harder and faster. Angie worked her free hand (the one not gripping Peggy’s bicep) under the waist of Peggy’s trousers, meeting heated skin and wetness there.
When Angie made contact with Peggy’s clitoris, that was the end for them both. Angie broke first, unlatching from Peggy’s full bosom as the full force of pleasure hit her. She threw her head back, and Peggy kissed the smooth column of exposed throat. Then Angie finished off Peggy, who had been extremely close just because of Angie’s work on her breasts. Peggy collapsed on top of the younger girl, burying her face in Angie’s neck. Angie wrapped her legs around Peggy’s and fell asleep.
When they woke, the first rays of dawn were shining through the small transom cut into the wall. Peggy woke first, rolling off Angie. Angie reached for her, and Peggy pulled her in against her bare chest.
“Wake up, Angela,” Peggy whispered into her hair. “I must go soon.”
“No,” Angie whined. Peggy smiled.
“I must. But we shall meet again someday.”
Angie cracked one bleary blue eye open. “Do you promise?”
“Let me up,” said Peggy gently.
Angie did, curling in on herself. Peggy located her tunic and ran her fingers through her hair. She tucked her shirt into her pants, and turned to Angie.
“Darling,” she began. “Last night…I—”
“Remember me,” Angie said firmly. Her face was pressed against her knees, her voice muffled. “Please,” she added, looking up with plaintive eyes.
“Darling,” said Peggy again, kneeling beside Angie. “I could never forget.”
Chapter 3: The Rescue
a little bit of peggy's pov with this chapter :)
“Today is a wonderful day, don’t you agree?”
Peggy rolled her eyes. “What do you want, Howard?”
Howard frowned. “You seem a bit out of sorts this morning, dear sister,” he simpered teasingly. “Is anything the matter?”
“You are irritating me,” Peggy replied. “As usual.”
“I’m hurt!” cried Howard. “And on my favorite day, as well.”
“What is so special about today?” Peggy asked in exasperation. She had found, throughout her life, that the easiest way to get her brother to leave her alone was to humor him until he grew bored. Thankfully, that often happened quickly.
“It is inspection day!” Howard said, a gleeful smirk on his face.
“You are absolutely disgusting, you know that?” said Peggy rhetorically. “To think that you get joy out of debasing our people—”
“Punishment is just!” Howard protested, his face falling. “This is how it’s always been done, Peg, you know that.”
“Just because it’s what’s been done does not mean that it’s what should be done,” said Peggy hotly. “I believe that there is a better way of doing things.”
“Well, when you figure out what that is, please let me know,” said Howard. “Until then, I will enjoy myself.”
“I’m sure you will,” Peggy mumbled crossly.
A servant curtseyed briefly to Peggy, then kneeled at Howard’s feet. Peggy rolled her eyes. She loved her brother dearly, but he was completely unaware of what a pompous arse he could be. Peggy worried that ruling a kingdom had gone to his head. It had been nearly two years since their father had died, their mother having died shortly after Peggy was born, and he had left the kingdom in their joint custody. The five Sovereignties of Hampstead, Italia, Ellandell, Leesburg, and Dunbar were a smaller kingdom, but it would have been quite a lot for either one of them to handle alone. Howard, as the elder child and a male, was seen by some staff as the one in charge. But he usually listened to Peggy, and Peggy also knew she had just as much power as he did in making tough decisions. Still, sometimes Peggy needed to remind Howard of that.
“Yes, Helen?” Howard said with a roguish smile. Peggy frowned.
Helen blushed. “You are needed in the Royal Gardens, Your Majesty,” she said.
“Now? But I am supposed to see to the prisoners that Jack has brought in.”
“Sir Edwin was rather insistent, Your Majesty,” Helen told him.
“I could—” Peggy began, intending to offer her assistance with the Royal Adviser. Peggy liked him very well – they had a similar sense of humor, and got along with each other.
“See to the prisoners?” Helen piped up. “Good thinking, Your Highness!”
“Oh, I meant—”
“You’ll tell me all about it, won’t you Peg?” Howard asked dolefully. “I hate to miss it.”
“Please, Your Majesty,” Helen entreated Howard. “Sir Edwin seemed to be rather panicked.”
“Oh, all right then,” Howard sighed. “We wouldn’t want Eddy to injure himself.” To Peggy, he said, “Daniel will be in soon to escort you to the dungeons.” Then Helen rose, curtseyed again to Peggy, and followed Howard out of the chamber.
Peggy fumed on her throne. She did not want to ‘see to’ any prisoners, and she had half a mind to set them all free just to spite her brother. But she was a firm believer in the rule of law, and she felt that if she was lenient without cause, the whole kingdom might be thrown into anarchy.
She tapped her long fingers against the wooden arm of her seat. She had an odd feeling about this day, but she could not figure out why.
“Excuse me, Your Highness?” a soft voice called from the doorway.
“Yes, Daniel, you may enter,” Peggy replied. The second-in-command of the Royal Guard bowed before her, and started to go to his one good knee. “Please don’t,” she asked softly. “I cannot abide that deference, truly.”
Daniel dimpled fondly at her. “Very well, Princess,” he said. “Where is His Majesty? I was to accompany him—”
“To the dungeons, yes,” Peggy finished. “He was called away on an urgent matter by Sir Edwin – I am to take his place.”
“Are you sure, Your Highness?” asked Daniel. “The dungeons are a rather…unsavory location.”
Peggy glared at him. “I am perfectly capable of walking through a few dank halls, thank you,” she said sharply.
“Apologies,” Daniel hung his head.
“Accepted. Now, shall we get this over with? I must say I am not looking forward to it, nor to tomorrow’s affair.”
“Neither am I,” Daniel agreed, looking pained. Peggy waited for him to say more, but he didn’t. “After you, Princess.”
Peggy descended the throne, gathering the gauzy blue fabric of her skirt in her left hand. She led Daniel to the dungeon entrance, and waited for him to ignite two torches. He passed the first to her, and they set off down the wide stone steps. Peggy’s heeled shoes clicked and clacked, while Daniel’s boots made less noise but his walking stick made infinitely more.
At the bottom of the staircase, Sir John awaited them. “Princess Margaret,” he bowed stiffly. He shot a look at Daniel that clearly said, ‘what the hell is she doing here?’
“Sir John,” Peggy nodded. She did not like him very much at all, but he had been loyal to their father, so she and Howard had decided to let him stay on.
Sir John continued to stare at Peggy, as if waiting for an explanation. Peggy bristled at this, and Daniel, sensing danger, spoke up.
“The Prince was called away on, er…urgent business,” he told Sir John. “So the Princess kindly volunteered to go over the prisoners with you.”
“Wonderful,” Sir John smiled. Or, he tried to smile. He looked rather as though he had swallowed one of Howard’s strawberry-lemons. “Follow me, Your Highness.”
Peggy and Daniel followed Sir John past a row of empty cells. They turned a corner, and the cells in this hall were mostly full. Peggy bit back a grimace.
“Prisoner number one: Anton of Dunbar. Crime: Public inebriation.” Sir John smirked, rattling the cell door a little. The prisoner – Anton – groaned weakly. “Second offense, twenty lashes.”
“That’s rather harsh,” hissed Peggy.
Sir John continued, ignoring her. “Prisoner two: Ralph of Hampstead. Crime: Petty theft. First offense, ten lashes.”
This sick parade continued, and Peggy was more and more taken with the urge to punch Sir John right in his smug mouth. They passed Winston and George, who had both been locked up for brawling in the street; Paul, Jerry, and Frank who, like Anton, had been brought in for public intoxication, but they were all first offenders; and Ned, who had been dragged to the dungeons because he had set his neighbor’s house on fire.
“This little thing is a new addition,” said Sir John as they reached the last cell. “Prisoner number nine: Angela of Ellandell. Crime: Indecent exposure and solicitation of sexual services. First offense, fifteen lashes.”
Peggy winced involuntarily. That was quite harsh, even for the crimes Sir John had listed. Peering into the cell, Peggy saw a small figure huddled on one of the benches. She was tucked in shadow, but Peggy felt a jolt of recognition.
“Come into the light,” she commanded.
“You heard your Princess, peon! Get up!” Sir John slammed a fist against the cage door.
“Jack,” Daniel warned softly, but Sir John ignored him.
The girl slowly got up from her seat. Peggy could see, with no small measure of disgust, that her hands were tied tightly before her. Even in the dim light of the dungeon, her wrists looked raw and sore. She had golden curls of hair that tumbled down over her face, hiding her features from view. She kept her head bowed as she made a stiff, clumsy curtsey.
“Look at me?” Peggy asked, reaching out a hand to lift the lowered chin.
Angela looked up, and Peggy gasped. She could not forget those blue eyes. They were the same as they had been those years ago, though there was a profound sadness in them now that Peggy longed to chase away. Angela – no, Angie – had a painful-looking scrape down the right side of her face, and the way she held herself made Peggy think that she had other injuries.
Peggy was steaming mad about this.
“Tell me more about her,” she directed the men. “Who brought her in?”
“I did,” said Sir John, preening. “From the Griffin Inn—”
“The Griffith,” Daniel corrected. “We had intended to stay the night there on our way home from the mission—”
“And this girl tried to seduce our Daniel,” added Sir John.
“Daniel?” asked Peggy, turning to him. “Is this true?”
“I, uh…” Daniel sputtered. “I met her on the walk into town, and then I heard her sing. She came to my room, and, er…told me that she would use her hands or her mouth on my—”
Peggy saw red. She drew back her fist and landed it right in the middle of Daniel’s face. He clutched his cane, using it as leverage so he didn’t topple over backwards. Sir John started laughing. Peggy, disgusted with the men as well as herself, stalked out of the dungeon and away to her rooms.
Peggy sank down on the edge of her plush, canopied bed, and put her head in her battered hands.
“You are in far too deep, Peggy,” she muttered.
There was a knock on her door. “Come in,” she called wearily. She hoped it wasn’t Daniel, or worse, Sir John. She was pleasantly surprised, as it was neither. It was her lady-in-waiting and closest female confidante, Rose.
“I saw Sir Daniel in the healing bay with Violet,” Rose said with a quick curtsey. Peggy always appreciated her efficiency in such matters. “I thought, perhaps, you might need some medical assistance as well.”
“You thought correctly, Rose, as usual,” Peggy said with a wry grin. “It’s only my hand.”
Peggy allowed Rose to doctor her bruised knuckles with a smelly, but effective, paste. While Rose wrapped her hand in a bandage, Peggy asked a favor.
“Rose, you know I would never ask you to do something that might jeopardize your safety.”
“Yes, Your Highness?”
Peggy bit her lip. “It’s just…there is a prisoner in the dungeons, the left cell on the end. She’s the only female down there. Angela.”
Rose remained silent.
“I need you to get her out, and bring her to me.”
Rose looked up at Peggy, one of her red eyebrows raised.
“She’s injured, possibly badly, and I do not believe she should be punished for the crimes she supposedly committed. There must be a reason she did the things they said, and I—”
“You care for her.”
“I hardly know her!” Peggy protested.
“All the same,” said Rose quietly. “Of course I will, Princess. She will be taken care of.”
Peggy sighed, and squeezed Rose’s wrist with her good hand. “Thank you, Rose.”
Rose smiled. “Anything for Your Highness.”
Chapter 4: The Reunion
She punched Daniel in the face. Peggy punched someone in the face! Peggy is a princess. Oh my god, I have licked the Royal Bosom.
These were the thoughts running through Angie’s head as she slowly paced her cell. Her shoulder hurt badly, and her wrists were bleeding again, but she needed to walk. She couldn’t stop thinking about the events of the past thirty minutes – and also, she thought with a bit of irritation, how could Peggy have possibly gotten more beautiful since Angie had seen her last?
She turned to begin pacing in the other direction when she noticed that someone was standing at the door to her cell. It was a woman, neither old nor young, in a beautiful floor-length dress. Her red hair curled softly down to her shoulders, and her smile was gentle.
“Excuse me?” the woman asked. “Are you Angela?”
Angie licked her lips dryly. “Who wants to know?”
“My name is Rose. I’ve come to take you out of here.” She unlocked the gate with a large skeleton key.
“Yes, I’m Angie,” Angie replied. Her throat was rough and full. “Where are you taking me?”
Rose didn’t answer. “Oh, my,” she murmured instead, stepping up to Angie. “Your wrists! Let’s get this rope off.” She pulled a blade from her sash and quickly severed the bloodied hemp.
“Please,” said Angie, holding up a newly-freed hand. “What do you want with me? Am I to be punished now?”
“You poor thing,” Rose muttered. “No. I am going to take you somewhere where you might get cleaned up, and get these wounds cared for. Is that all right?”
Angie nodded dumbly.
Rose smiled, took Angie by the hand, and led her out of the cell and down the dungeon hall. Angie had been brought in the back way the previous night, but Rose led her up the stairs and into a sunlit corridor lined with carved wooden doors. Angie could have stayed and stared for a while more, but Rose bustled her along another passage and up another flight of marble steps.
Finally, they reached an open archway, and passed through it into a steamy, gleaming room. Colorful tiles covered the walls, floor, and ceiling, and in the center of the room stood a large copper tub filled with hot, fragrant water. There was another woman already in the room; a pretty, willowy blonde with kind eyes and a bright smile. She, like Rose, was dressed in a fine silk gown and delicate sandals. Angie felt quite rude in comparison.
“Hello,” said the blonde girl. “My name is Violet – I see you have already met Rose. You must be Angela.”
“Yes,” Angie nodded. “You can call me Angie, though.”
Violet grinned. “I work with our Royal Physician, and I understand you have some cuts that need tending?”
“You can see the one on her face, and her wrists are raw and bleeding,” Rose piped up.
“Yes,” Violet frowned. She took Angie’s hands in her own. “I’ll need to wrap these wrists, I think, so let us wash her first and then take a look at these.”
Angie tried to swallow again. “I – wash?”
“This is for you,” Violet said, gesturing to the full tub.
Angie’s eyes bulged. She hadn’t had a hot bath in – well, she was not sure that she had ever had a bath with such warm water before. It certainly was not scented water, and it certainly was not in a tub so deep.
“Let us help you out of these clothes,” said Rose.
Angie flushed. It had also been a long time since she was naked before a stranger, and she felt woefully unprepared. Rose stepped behind her and undid the buttons on the back of her dress. Violet kneeled before her and unlaced her boots. Angie tugged her own arms out of her dress sleeves and shrugged the garment off her hips. She was left in her ragged shift, and when she tried to pull that off, she winced at the pain in her shoulder.
“That bruise looks like it hurts a lot,” said Violet sympathetically. “I’ll help you.”
Violet took the straps down Angie’s shoulders and worked the linen slip down Angie’s torso and legs. Angie was bare naked, but neither Rose nor Violet acted strangely. Angie sighed in silent relief.
Rose allowed Angie to grip her forearm as she and Violet both helped her step into the tub. Angie sank down into the perfumed bath and breathed in the steam. It stung her wrists a bit, but she wouldn’t complain. She did not really understand why these two women were being so nice to her.
“Rose, what exactly do you do here? At the palace, I mean?” asked Angie curiously. Rose had sat on a low stool behind Angie and was washing her hair with lavender soap. Violet was delicately cleaning Angie’s cuts.
“I am the first ladies’ maid to the Princess,” Rose replied.
Angie gulped. “I – you – did she ask you to—”
“Yes,” said Rose. “I am here at her request.”
Angie pulled away. Violet frowned at her. “What does she want with me?”
Seeing Peggy punch Daniel in the nose ran through Angie’s mind again. Was that coming for her? Would Peggy punch her, or worse?
“I’m not exactly certain,” Rose admitted. “All she asked of me was to remove you from the dungeon and bring you to her. She mentioned that she thought you might be injured, so I asked Violet to come and see to your wounds. That is all I know.”
Violet then coaxed Angie to lean back so Rose could rinse her hair and so that Violet could rub an ointment into the scrape on Angie’s cheek.
Angie, not used to being taken care of, was uncomfortable with all the hands touching her, but Violet and Rose were both soon done. They helped her out of the bath, and Violet rubbed the same ointment into Angie’s wrists and wrapped them while Rose dried Angie’s body with a soft sheet.
“Your clothes have blood on them, so I will take them to the laundry,” said Rose briskly. “Until then, I think this nightdress and dressing gown should fit you fine.” She held out a linen shift and silk robe to Violet, who helped Angie get the shift over her head and wrapped her up in the robe. It was slightly too long, but otherwise the fit was good and it was much finer than anything Angie had ever owned. The blue color of the robe reminded Angie of the ribbons she’d worn in her hair the day she’d met Peggy – and the dress Peggy had been wearing earlier.
Violet led Angie out of the bathing room and down the hall to the grandest double doors Angie had seen yet. Carvings of birds and flowers framed the inset panels, and the golden handles were inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
“This is where I leave you,” Violet said softly. “All you have to do is knock.”
“Thank you,” Angie whispered.
Violet pressed a kiss to Angie’s uninjured cheek. Then she walked away.
Angie steeled herself, took a deep breath, and rapped her knuckles against the door.
“Come in,” called a familiar voice.
Angie pressed down on the handle and opened the door. She walked inside the room, and could not keep herself from gaping. The ceiling was so tall, it practically went to the sky! The bed was massive, and crowned in red velvet that hung from a hoop attached to the wall. The floor was creamy marble, and covered in plush jewel-colored carpets. There was a backless sofa in the window piled high with fluffy pillows, and the window itself showed a magnificent view of the palace grounds.
Angie did not see Peggy anywhere.
Angie whirled around, wincing as the sudden movement aggravated her shoulder. She dropped to her knees when she saw Peggy standing there, looking unbearably regal.
“Your Highness,” she muttered to the floor.
“Get up, Angie,” said Peggy in a quiet voice. Angie stood, but kept her head bowed.
“Why will you not look at me?”
Angie felt Peggy’s fingers on her chin. She allowed her face to be lifted, and she stared into Peggy’s eyes as defiantly as she could.
“What do you want with me?” she asked.
Peggy frowned. “I wanted to see you, for one thing,” she said, letting go of Angie’s jaw. “And I suppose I wanted to ask you why you did it.”
“Offered to lie with my soldier,” Peggy spat as if the words tasted badly.
“I didn’t offer to lie with him,” Angie corrected. She flushed with shame. “I…asked him if he would pay me to relieve him.”
Peggy turned away. “The difference being?”
“He never would have…entered me.” Angie was mortified.
“Just your mouth,” Peggy countered.
“What does it matter to you?” asked Angie, a bit sullen. “You don’t know me from Adam.”
Peggy turned back, glaring sharply. “What my subjects do matters to me, Angela.”
“Subjects? I should have known better, Your Highness,” said Angie scathingly. “I shall endeavor to make you prouder the next time.”
“There will be no next time!” shouted Peggy. “How dare you—”
“How dare I? How dare you? You never told me who you were, and I neither require your assistance nor your pity! I have gotten by just fine on my own!”
“Clearly not! Not if you were seeking payment for sexual favors!”
Angie sneered. “Offering them for free certainly never got me anywhere.”
At that, Peggy looked hurt. “Did we…did I never mean anything to you at all, then?”
Angie closed her eyes. Her stomach roiled with regret. “I didn’t mean that,” she sighed. “That night…you couldn’t know this, but those memories are some of the fondest that I possess. I thought you might have forgotten, but I surely haven’t.”
“How could you think so little of me?” asked Peggy faintly. “How could I ever forget – I promised you.”
“Yes, and you are a princess,” Angie replied. “Whereas I am merely—”
“You, Angela, are not and have never been merely anything,” Peggy insisted firmly. “You are a daughter—”
“They died,” Angie told her. “Last year.”
“Oh, Angie,” murmured Peggy. “I am so sorry.”
“I thought you mightn’t know,” Angie nodded. “The neighbors were a great help at first, but after a while it became wrong to rely so heavily on them. And then Steve—” Angie stopped short, eyes widening in her wan face. “Oh my god,” she whispered. “Steve! And Bucky and Theresa – Peggy, I have to go to them, I have to—”
“Shh, darling,” Peggy calmed her. “I’ve had them brought here. I asked Sir Daniel to find your family, and to let them know you were all right. He sent word that your brother was ill, and I had him and the rest brought back so that Jason, my Royal Physician, could look after them. I believe Sir Edwin and his wife are tending to your other siblings.”
Angie’s countenance darkened. “I know you are the Princess, but you may not simply go around kidnapping people!”
Peggy had the grace to look somewhat embarrassed. “You are right, of course,” she mumbled. “My apologies.”
Angie sighed. “If they are here already, may I see them? It’s just—” Though Angie was frustrated by Peggy’s high-handedness, she did appreciate that the Princess meant well. She felt Peggy deserved somewhat of an explanation. “After our parents passed, they became my responsibility. We are all each other have in this world now, you see?”
“What an awfully heavy burden to have on your shoulders,” said Peggy sympathetically.
“You’d know something about that,” Angie replied with a wry grin.
“I suppose,” Peggy agreed. “Go to them. Then I would like you to join me for the evening meal, all of you. You shall meet my brother as well. I’ll have Rose find you all things to wear.”
Angie started to protest, but thought better of it. She was sure that Theresa, especially, would enjoy borrowing a dress from the Princess herself! “Thank you, Your Highness,” she said with a small curtsey.
Peggy’s smile did not reach her eyes.
Angie left Peggy’s chambers the same way she had entered, and realized that she did not know where she was meant to go. She had started to pick her way back along the hall in the direction of the bathing room when she bumped into a tall, thin man who seemed quite important.
“Excuse me,” she muttered in embarrassment.
“Are you Angela?” the man asked. He was dressed very neatly in a blouse, waistcoat, breeches, and shiny buckled shoes.
Angie nodded silently.
“Oh, good! I am Sir Edwin, Adviser to Their Royal Highnesses. My wife, Lady Ana, and I have been keeping your brother and sister company whilst your other brother is tended to by Healer Jason. Would you like to see them?”
Angie lit up. “Oh, yes! Thank you so much, Sir Edwin.”
Sir Edwin smiled with pleasure. “Follow me, miss,” he instructed. Angie followed him down the corridor and to a different flight of stairs than she had taken previously. They led to a large stone hall that smelled of delicious things, and Angie wondered if they were by the kitchens. She trailed Sir Edwin to a wooden door that, while not as grand as the ones upstairs, was still far superior to anything in Ellandell, and waited as he undid the latch and stepped through.
“Angie!” cried Bucky as she followed Sir Edwin inside. She was a bit surprised to find him so effusive, as he was fifteen now and often acted aloof with her. She allowed – and welcomed – the hug, and mentally scolded herself for crying a bit.
“Where’s Theresa?” she asked her brother when he pulled away.
“Lady Ana is braiding her hair,” Bucky answered with a roll of his eyes.
“She is quite marvelous at that, actually,” said Sir Edwin. “She is very good with her hands.”
“Lady Ana is the Royal Portraitist,” Bucky explained. “And sometimes Sir Edwin makes desserts, right?”
“Correct, Master Bucky,” nodded Sir Edwin. “The Lady and the Prince adore my apple torte, and the Princess prefers my soufflé.”
“Angie makes really good pie,” Bucky told Sir Edwin.
Angie blushed, but Sir Edwin did not look offended. “I should like to learn that recipe from you, Miss Angela,” he said graciously.
“Sure,” Angie agreed. “But it’s really Theresa you want to look out for. She can make anything taste good.”
“That is true,” Bucky said. “She took the bread and cheese you brought us last night, Ang? Cut up the bread and put the cheese between the pieces and baked them right on the hearth. The cheese melted and crisped between the bread – it was delicious!”
Angie smiled. “It sounds like it. Why don’t I go check on—” Before she could finish her sentence, Theresa came into the main room followed by a pretty woman with bright red hair like Rose’s. She had plaited it so that it wrapped all the way around her head, almost like a crown. Theresa’s dark hair was done the same way.
“Angie!” Theresa shrieked with joy, leaping into her sister’s arms. “You’re here! They said you were, but we hadn’t seen you, so we didn’t know—”
Angie hugged the little girl. “I’m glad to see you’re making friends,” she said, cutting Theresa’s explanations short. “Your hair looks very nice.”
“Lady Ana did it for me,” said Theresa unnecessarily.
Angie looked over her sister’s shoulder and smiled faintly at the woman.
“Your brother and sister are very dear children,” said Lady Ana. Angie did not need to see Bucky’s face to know that his expression was annoyed. “Edwin and I have been pleased to keep them in our company.”
“And Steve?” asked Angie. “Is there any word on him?”
“Let us all go to Healer Jason’s chambers,” suggested Sir Edwin, “that we may see how well he is doing for ourselves.”
So Angie, her siblings, and Lady Ana all followed Sir Edwin back out the door and down yet another passageway. It was a short walk, though, to reach a pristinely-white room that was appointed with a bare minimum of furnishings – a table, two chairs, and a bed. On the bed was a familiar, smiling boy.
“Steve,” Angie breathed, feeling a weight lift that she hadn’t realized she was carrying.
Her towheaded brother had color in his cheeks, something she hadn’t seen in some time. He was sitting up a little, and he looked as if his breathing had evened.
“Hello, all,” he greeted his family.
“How are you feeling?” Bucky asked, walking over to Steve’s bedside. “Are they treating you right?”
“Bucky,” Angie scolded, aware that they were not alone.
“Lady Ana and I are going to find the healer,” said Sir Edwin quickly. “We shall be at least a quarter-hour.”
Angie was unendingly grateful for Sir Edwin’s tact. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. He merely nodded and led his wife away.
“I’ve had a bath, and a meal, and this comfortable bed,” said Steve. “I could not imagine needing anything more, especially now that you three are here as well. Angie, where have you been? Bucky and Theresa and I came here together, this morning, after palace guards—”
Angie interrupted. “I was taken to the palace last night,” she said quickly. “A misunderstanding. The Princess—”
“Oh, Angie, have you met her?” asked Theresa.
“Yes,” Angie nodded, “and—”
“We met the head of the Royal Guard,” added Bucky. “He’s the one that brought us here.”
“What is the Princess like?” Theresa wondered.
“She is lovely,” Angie answered honestly. “She has invited us all to dine with her, actually. Her and the Prince.”
At this, there was naturally an uproar amongst her siblings. Theresa was thrilled to pieces; Bucky was unusually serious; and Steve was smiling serenely. Angie gave up any explanation of why they were all guests of the palace as a lost cause. When Sir Edwin and Lady Ana returned with Healer Jason, Angie had time only for a brief overview of the treatments he’d been giving Steve before she and Theresa were whisked away by Lady Ana to get dressed for dinner.
Her dress was heavy and uncomfortable, she determined. That was the cause for the weight in her chest – not anxiety over dining with the rulers of her kingdom, surely. She had never seen such finery in her life, much less worn it; a dress like this, velvet and silk and covered in jewels, was worth more than her family home and half the village beside. Not to mention, it would be rather impractical to wear such a thing while serving meals to drunken peasants.
Her dress was a light green, said by Lady Ana to bring out the latent shades in her eyes. Theresa was wearing a similar garment, though in lilac-purple instead of meadowgrass-green. Bucky and Steve, the latter leaning heavily on the former, were both in fetching outfits similar to the one Sir Edwin wore. And the Lady Ana looked quite dazzling in her yellow gown.
They sat down to supper after the Prince and Princess arrived and were seated. Lady Ana had made two small braids in the front of Angie’s curls and tied them behind her head. It had reminded her of the flower chains she had made as a little girl and worn wreathed in her hair. Peggy’s hair was worn all up and away from her perfect face, and Angie could not seem to help herself from staring. The red and green gems studded in her crown caught the candlelight and glistened.
If you had asked Angie later what foods they had eaten, she would not have been able to answer. She was sure there were many more courses than necessary – fish and meat and fruit and cheese and greens – but asked to place anything except for what the Princess wore (a red dress with a neckline that was far too low) and how she sounded when she laughed (like a throaty bell), well…Angie was not paying the least bit of attention. She was not even sure when it had happened that the other diners had left the hall so that only Angie and her princess remained.
“Would you accompany me to my chambers?” asked Peggy.
Angie nodded, not trusting herself with speech.
When they returned to the room Angie had visited earlier, there were two nightdresses and two robes laid out on the bed.
“My staff know that I prefer to undress myself in the evenings,” Peggy explained.
One of the sets of nightclothes was the set Angie had been given after her bath.
“You don’t mind, do you?”
Angie drew a blank. “Excuse me?” she asked. “Mind…?”
“My undressing,” Peggy prompted. “I do so loathe these constricting outfits.” She was already beginning to unlace the stays of her corset, the bodice of her dress having been removed sometime between their arrival in the room and Angie’s return to the moment.
Peggy’s full breasts heaved with each breath she took. Angie could not look away.
“See something you like, darling?” Peggy teased lightly. “You are allowed to do more than merely stare.”
“Am I?” asked Angie, feeling dazed.
Peggy laughed that laugh of hers. Her corset fell away, and she quickly stepped out of her skirts. She wore no pantalettes beneath them, and so was as bare as if she had been born that day. “Come and touch, Angie,” she said invitingly. “If you’d like.”
Angie required no further prompting. She practically rushed to Peggy’s side, palming the curve of Peggy’s back with one hand and cupping a breast with the other. Her mouth descended eagerly on the other breast, muscle memory popping up as though she’d never stopped kissing and licking. While her mouth took care of the right nipple, her thumb made sure that the left did not feel neglected.
“I never…” Peggy panted, grabbing Angie’s bottom and digging her nails in, “want to hear of you offering the use of this mouth to anyone but me. It is mine, do you understand me?”
“Mmm,” mumbled Angie, preoccupied.
“Answer me properly, Angela,” Peggy commanded, dragging them both over to the bed.
Regretfully, Angie let the nipple drop from her lips. “Yes, Your High—”
“No!” Peggy cried. Angie looked up, confused. “Do not call me that, please. I – I would like to be your equal here, in this bed.”
“Yes, Peggy,” Angie blinked.
“Very good, my love,” Peggy praised. “Carry on.”
Angie switched her focus, letting her left thumb skate across Peggy’s wet, puckered breast and attaching her mouth to the other. Peggy moaned and fell back, causing Angie to tumble on top of her. Peggy helped Angie land so that the skirt of her dress was rucked up around her waist and her bare legs straddled Peggy’s hips.
“You are – oh – wearing altogether too much…mmm…clothing,” Peggy hissed as Angie nibbled around her areola, flicking her tongue against the pert nipple. Peggy’s hands began fussing with the buttons along the back of Angie’s dress. “Oh, fuck it,” she swore finally. Peggy’s long red nails scraped against the green velvet and shredded the back of the gown.
“Peggy!” Angie cried, letting go of the breast she was lavishing.
“This was my dress, I think I’m allowed this one vice,” Peggy insisted. She threaded Angie’s arms through the sleeves, and Angie was thankful that Lady Ana had not seen it necessary for her to be laced into a corset. Peggy bent her head to kiss the angry blue bruise at Angie’s shoulder.
“That’s nice,” moaned Angie.
“Is it?” Peggy asked wryly. She licked a little, then began kissing her way up Angie’s collarbone to the crook of her neck. There, she bit down gently, and Angie almost purred with pleasure.
“Oh, god,” she whimpered.
“I’ve told you, Angie. Peggy will do.”
“Impertinent,” Angie scoffed as Peggy kissed the pulse at her throat.
“Stand up, Angela,” Peggy ordered, “that I may get you out of this obscene garment.”
Angie did as she was told, and Peggy quickly divested her of what scraps of dress were left. Angie had felt shy earlier, naked in front of Rose and Violet, but with Peggy she felt confident – almost proud. The way Peggy looked at her, as if she was dessert, might have had something to do with that feeling.
“I should like to taste you, Angie, if I may,” Peggy requested.
“I am yours, Peggy. In any way you will have me.”
Peggy helped her back onto the bed, pushing aside nightclothes and blankets, and making sure that her shoulder was steady. Then, with a fiendish grin, she pushed Angie’s legs apart as wide as they would go and stared.
“Peggy,” Angie whined, feeling hot breath on her mons.
“Hush, darling. I am enjoying the view.”
Angie keened with delight when Peggy finally reached out and licked her. Her red-tipped fingers gripped at Angie’s thighs, using her thumbs to spread the puffy lips of Angie’s sex. Angie felt at once exposed and hidden – exposed to Peggy’s hungry gaze, but only to Peggy’s; hidden away in this safe cavern where nothing evil could touch them.
When Peggy slid two fingers home, tongue still working Angie’s pearl, Angie came with a soft cry. Peggy held her there until she stopped trembling and then pressed red kisses across her stomach and chest until she reached her face. With a final kiss to Angie’s forehead, Peggy allowed Angie to nestle into her arms and fall asleep.
Chapter 5: The Understanding
Angie awoke to an empty bed. She was disoriented until she looked up at the ceiling and recognized the velvet drapes she so admired as belonging to Peggy’s bedchamber. She sat up, and shivered slightly in the cool air. She was still naked. The nightdress and gown she had been loaned were bunched up at the foot of the bed, and she crawled down the soft mattress to retrieve the items and put them on. She knotted the sash of the robe and sat back on the edge of the bed.
What am I doing here? she asked herself. She did not belong in these rooms, dressed in such finery – she belonged in patched skirts and country barns. Last night had been an aberration, she decided. She could not trouble Peggy to keep her and her siblings, much as she wanted to. Oh, she wanted to. All she had ever wanted was to see her red knight again…but Red was a princess, and Angie was not. Would never be.
Angie hated herself for the tears that sprang to her eyes at the thought of leaving the palace. But the words Sir John had spoken rang harshly in her memory.
It was a long and bumpy ride back to the palace, jostling Angie’s hurt shoulder so that she nearly bit through her lip from the pain. The wagon jolted to a stop, and the barred gate swung open to reveal a still-smug Sir John.
“Out you get, wench,” he called cheerfully. Angie made to stand, but Sir John did not wait for her to try and climb out of the wagon under her own power. He grabbed her by the ropes around her wrists and dragged her out of the wagon. When he let go of her, she was propelled forward with such energy that she landed on her front in the dirt. Sir John laughed.
“Get up,” he chuckled darkly, toeing her aching ribs with his boot. “Up!” He kicked her, and Angie spat into the muck by her face. She forced herself to put pressure on her battered knees and rose to her feet as quickly as she could without the use of her hands.
“What do you want from me?” she asked him, meeting his cold green gaze.
“I want to see the law done,” he answered.
“This is the law?” Angie posed rhetorically. This was not law, nor was it order. Cruelty for cruelty’s sake served no one but itself.
Sir John’s eyes narrowed, and Angie’s heart jumped with fear. He wrapped a strong hand around her throat. “You are nothing,” he hissed. “You are street refuse that nobody will miss if it disappears. You do not question my authority, animal.” It was almost ironic that he growled the last word, but Angie could not find it in herself to laugh.
Angie had not intended to internalize Sir John’s violent speech, but somehow the thought of asking Peggy for help brought back his ugly words. A small, but persistent voice in Angie’s head insisted that if those who served Peggy felt that way about her, then Peggy must as well. She had practically made up her mind to sneak out to find her siblings when Peggy walked back into the room.
“Good morning, darling,” she greeted Angie with a bemused smile. “Where are you off to?”
Angie had hardly realized she was standing by the door. “Uh, morning,” she answered sheepishly. “I was not leaving.”
Peggy raised an eyebrow. “So you decided to loiter by the door because…”
Angie shrugged, scowling a little. “Never mind. Where were you this morning?”
Peggy grinned. “Actually, I was having a bit of a chat with Sir Edwin and Lady Ana. They’ve agreed to apprentice your brother and sister!”
Angie’s jaw dropped. “What?”
Peggy beamed, getting into her story. “Well, you looked so peaceful this morning that it seemed hardly fair to wake you. I went down for an early breakfast with Sir Edwin – Howard usually awakes and dines closer to midday – and he mentioned that your little sister was an accomplished chef.”
“Yes, she is,” said Angie, almost defensively. “She can make almost anything taste good.”
“Well, we have a Royal Cook,” Peggy continued, “but usually Sir Edwin makes anything sweet. His soufflé is a thing of beauty, really. I’ve said for years now that, as he’s getting a bit on in age, he should train someone to take up the role of a full-time sweet chef. And he has finally decided that Theresa is to be that person!”
“She’s a little girl!” Angie argued.
Peggy frowned, cocking her head. “Well, yes – Sir Edwin certainly has a handful of good years left in him. She would still receive schooling in the meanwhile, and work with him as a helper until he felt she was ready to tackle things on her own. At some point, she may even train under the Royal Chef himself!”
Angie’s expression was thunderous, but Peggy carried on.
“And Lady Ana – she’s our Portraitist, you know?”
“Yes,” said Angie sullenly.
“Right. Well, she told Sir Edwin, who told me, that once your sick brother recovers she would like to take him on as her apprentice! Apparently she saw some of his drawings and feels that he has enormous potential!”
“And I assume we are just supposed to travel back and forth from Ellandell whenever you deem it necessary?” asked Angie churlishly.
“What?” asked Peggy. “No, of course not – how silly would that be? No, they would remain here permanently.”
“I see. And just what are Bucky and I meant to do?”
“Oh, I nearly forgot!” Peggy shook her head. “I ran into Sir Daniel on my way out of the dining room – he said that he saw your other brother outside this morning running and climbing our obstacle course. He’d like him – Bucky – to join the Guard. So you would all have something to keep you here!”
Angie frowned, tears pooling in her eyes. “All except me, you mean,” she sniffed. “I will not be separated from my family, Peggy! Do you have any idea how hard I’ve worked to keep us together this year? I have barely slept, barely eaten, just to keep food in their bellies and clothes on their backs!”
“I can tell,” said Peggy softly. “You’re so thin I can practically wrap one hand around your waist.”
“That’s love!” Angie shouted, beginning to cry in spite of herself. “And you think it’ll all get better if I lose the only people that matter to me?”
“Angie, I’m sorry, but I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean,” Peggy said. “You’ll be here as well, of course.”
“Doing what?” asked Angie with a surly tone, wiping the traitorous moisture from her cheeks. “There’s nothing I’m good at except for waiting on people, and you’ve already got servants.”
Peggy looked disgusted. “I would never ask that of you,” she whispered. “I was hoping – well, I rather thought…you would stay because of me.”
Angie colored. “You are aware of the crimes I was arrested for just two nights’ past?” she asked dryly.
Peggy set her jaw. “I am,” she replied.
“Then you’ll forgive me for being wary about becoming your…kept woman.”
“Angie! Don’t be so lewd!” Peggy looked scandalized.
“If I’m not to be your servant or your slave, then what is my purpose?” Angie wondered.
“Is not your purpose to be happy, and to make others so?” Peggy cupped Angie’s cheek with tender affection. “I would hope you felt the same, that being with me would make you as happy as being with you makes me.”
“It isn’t enough,” Angie sighed. “Not for you, not for anyone of importance in this court – it is too good for me, Peggy. I do not belong in your world.”
“Who ever gave you that ludicrous notion?” Peggy cried with a wild anger in her eyes. “I will have them killed!”
Angie felt a rush of affection for this wonderful woman, and forced it back down. “I should leave you, Peggy,” she muttered, “for the sake of everyone.”
“If you do, I shall be forced to apprehend and contain you in the public stocks,” Peggy threatened. “Unfortunately for you, were that to happen, today is flogging day.”
Angie crossed her arms. “You would not. You don’t believe in such things.”
Peggy’s red lips twitched. “Perhaps not. Only if I was the only one who could see you like that.”
Angie blushed, and stared at her toes.
“I love you, you know.”
Angie blinked back another round of tears. “I love you too, but—”
“And I will pull any strings I must to get you a job here, if it is that important to you to have a worthwhile way to pass your time.”
“I don’t need special treatment,” Angie argued weakly. She was smiling.
Peggy stalked up to Angie. Angie was barefoot, and Peggy’s shoes gave her an extra couple of inches, so she had a very good vantage to look down at the younger woman. Peggy grabbed hold of the belt holding Angie’s robe in place and pulled her closer.
“I think you do,” she breathed in Angie’s ear. “I think you absolutely require my particular brand of…special treatment.”
Angie’s knees buckled. “Maybe you’re right.”
“I will make you sing,” purred Peggy, kissing the mark she’d left on Angie’s throat the night before.
“Now, there’s an idea—”
Any other cogent words Angie had to say were swallowed by Peggy’s lips on hers.