© 2016 Iscah

Seven and 13

by Iscah

Chapter 3

They were rolled under the arch of a large front gate with carved wooden doors standing open that were more appropriate for decoration than defense. The princess studied their design through her window, nature motifs of acorns and branches laid out to reflect pattern rather than realism. When they came to a stop, her grandfather exited the carriage first and gave her his hand to help her step down. A very pretty and ornately dressed woman with long dark brown hair, who reminded the princess vaguely of her mother, stepped forward to greet them. The woman lowered herself gracefully to be on eye level to Seventh Night, while an ornately dressed man greeted her grandfather. "Little one, you don't know me, but I used to be your mother's playmate. Let me look at you."

As the woman examined Seventh Night, the princess examined her in return, finally taking in the crowns on the couple's heads, even simpler than her grandfather's "traveling crown", but sturdy and regular. The king's crown had one large ruby, circled with pearls, in the center, while the queen's was only brass.

"You must have your father's eyes and mouth." The queen touched Seventh Night's jaw. "But I see your mother round the nose, in the general shape of your face and color of your hair. How I envied her that jet black hair. Did you know we were second cousins, your mother and I?"

The little princess nodded. "Do you have seven crosses on your crown for your seven sons?" the princess asked.

The queen smiled. "Isn't she clever? Beloved did you hear her?" she asked her husband. "Counting so well, and she's only five."

King Bracer half smiled and lifted an eyebrow. "I thought she was seven."

"She's petite," her grandfather conceded.

"Oh dear," the queen laughed. "I hope I haven't insulted you. I'm very glad you're here." She took Seventh Night's hands in her own and seemed sincerely delighted. "Such striking blue eyes. Have you ever seen such blue eyes?" This question was again applied to her husband who only replied with a tight smile.

"I'm not insulted," the little princess said seriously and softly. "But I have been told it's impolite to discuss a lady's age."

"Only when the lady is of age, my dear," her grandfather supplied.

Oh that explains it, the princess thought, since the queen did not strike her as a rude person. "Dolph, come here," the queen called and a large young man, even taller than Seventh Night's grandfather stepped over. He was thickly built with round features, very short hair, and pale eyes like the king. "Little princess, this is my second oldest son Dolph. He's to be Captain of the Guard soon, and if any of my other sons give you trouble, just let him know. He'll put a stop to it."

"Are they troublesome?" the princess asked.

"They're little boys, dear," the queen answered as she stood.

Seventh Night was puzzled by this response, but the adults were already on other subjects and not watching her anymore. She fidgeted her finger on the fabric of her red dress and observed the dusty courtyard. Servants and what she guessed were noblemen and women were watching her and the monarchs. It was certainly the least formal greeting she had ever seen between monarchs. Bracer had hugged her grandfather, and there was no presentation ceremony. A few people were walking about with baskets of flowers and other decorations, but she suspected these were for the wedding and not their arrival.

When she began to be afraid of growing bored, the party moved inside, and they were taken to a set of rooms. The halls were darker and narrower than she was accustomed to, but their room had a reasonable amount of window light, though the view was that of a steep slope only a few yards away. She twisted her head to see if she could make out the top of the mountain through the narrow windows, but the view was blocked by a stone wall with pointed scallop capstones. The windows were only about a handspan wide, but there were four of them separated by thin stone bars, which gave the impression of a wider window with panes. "How old is this castle?" the princess asked her grandfather when their hosts had left them to unpack.

"I'd guess somewhere between sixty and a hundred years," her grandfather said. "Pinnacle castle is over three hundred...at least the main portion."

"Is that very old?"

"It's not new," her grandfather said. "But very old is very relative. We probably live in the newest castle on the continent."

Seventh Night felt strong hands take hold of her head. "Come," nanny said, unfastening the pearl net. "We should get properly washed before dinner."

"I'll leave you to it," her grandfather planted a kiss on her head and left, closing the door between the rooms, before Seventh Night could protest. Nanny removed her decorations, but allowed the little girl to undress and bath herself behind a screen. It was the only battle Seventh Night could ever remember winning with her. She had screamed and kicked when she was five until nanny had agreed she could wash herself. There was no tub available, just a basin and wash cloth.

"My tutor says arithmetic is my best subject," the princess told her nanny through the screen. "I can't believe she thought I was clever because I could count to seven. I've started on division."

"You've been counting since you were three," her nanny agreed. "She thought you were clever because you were correct about her crown."

"Why didn't she say that?"

"Probably poor at math herself, but I bet she can embroider." (Seventh Night made a face.) "That's what they start most noble ladies on: the domestic skills, the arts. Your father tried to educate you the way he was educated: math and science and languages and your grandfather drills you on politics. It's no wonder you can't manage nalbinding."

"I'm a princess," Seventh Night said. "Aren't there other people who can do the nalbinding and embroidery? Shouldn't they want the employment?"

Nanny snorted and laid a fresh white smock over the top of the screen so the princess could reach it. When she was dry and half-dressed and her hair had been brushed out, nanny said she may as well take a nap till dinner time. Seventh Night was not tired, but she relished the chance to lie on the bed in the cool smock and daydream. She imagined herself riding a pegasus into the clouds and finally getting the chance to touch one. She wondered if it felt like cotton.

"Perhaps father shall get me a sword," she said suddenly after an hour of silence. "If he's modeling my education after his own, I shall get a sword when I'm ten."

Her nanny barked a laugh. "He's not that big a fool."

"I could ask grandfather for one."

"Hmph," was nanny's reply, because she could not admit the king just might and imply he was fool.

Seventh Night smiled at the ceiling. She tried to picture herself in a sword and armor. "Not that I expect to be a great warrior," she admitted. "I know I'm small and don't think I'd care much for war. But I do think it would be fun to learn."

"At least you're not delusional," Nanny quipped.

Seventh Night lost herself in a daydream. Her nanny answered a knock at the door and accepted a light lunch for them: fruit and nuts and cheese and scones on a wooden plate on a silver tray. The princess nibbled a little at intervals, but continued to stare beyond the ceiling. In her minds eye, she traded the pegasus for a small boat that she piloted out into the deep ocean, shore lost to sight, the waves rising high around them; until her nanny decided it was time to dress for dinner.

The princess grimaced when the bell shaped petticoat was pulled from her trunk. A new fashion from the southern tip that her mother wanted to debut on the trip. Apparently dinner was her formal presentation to the court. The bell was a short multilayered garment, but two additional full length petticoats were tied over it. A dark blue dress with extra fabric in the skirt and embellished with pearls and lace on the bodice was fitted over it. Even the shoulders were puffed. The princess smoothed the fabric as her nanny laced up the back. She thought it a silly costume, but it had never occurred to her to argue with her mother about what she wore. Clothing was simply something that happened to her. Nanny brushed her hair again, made a small braid from the hair to either side of her temple, joined them in the back, then set a small silver and pearl crown on her head. The silver alloy was thin, almost wire to keep the weight minimal while pearls and a few small sapphires decorated the gaps.

Nanny used a cloth to set the crown on her head and reminded her not to touch it. The princess was shown her reflection in the silver tray. I am a doll, she thought. The extra layers made her look plumper than she was, and her short legs, even shorter. The dark blue made her seem even whiter by contrast and emphasized the blue in her eyes. The dark sleeves stopped short at her elbow and were continued to her wrist with a gauzy white material. The dress was not as hot as she had worried it might be. She practiced sitting and was relieved to find this only slightly more difficult that usual. Her socks and travel boots were replaced with white hose and blue slippers that matched the dress.

"Your mother said the southern ladies wear a corset with these dresses, but we agreed it was a gauche addition for your age. A princess but a child yet."

A knocked cut through the silence that followed, for the princess had no reply. The door opened and a young man with shoulder length hair and a roguish smile entered. "Are you planning to keep her locked up until nightfall?"

Nanny bristled, stood to her full height, and lifted her chin to reveal the second beneath it. "Who am I addressing?" she demanded in a way that was simultaneously imperious and servient.

"The bridegroom," the young man said with the same sardonic half-smile his father had used.

"Prince Liefhound," the princess supplied.

The prince gave her a short bow and flourished one arm towards the door. "The same. I thought I'd take you to the nursery to meet my brothers."

"I must ask King Eggert," Nanny snuffed.

"You must," agreed Liefhound. "And I'll escort the princess."