Part 1 is here
The shy young priestess curtseyed low before the King and Queen, the High Priestess and High Magician. She bade them follow her from the Reception Hall, through the Solarium and outside into the Rose Garden. There, she led them under a curved trellis covered with roses of various sizes and colours. The fragrance was captivating. She seated them in comfortable chairs around a small carved wooden table upon which stood a large silver bowl filled with ripe cherries, a silver pitcher of water and four jewelled goblets. She filled the goblets with water and informed the royal guests that the Princess would join them shortly, curtseyed again and hurried away.
The King and Queen gazed about in amazement at what they called Castle Ramshackle when Princess Rebelia was out of hearing range. Three years ago when Rebelia had insisted upon moving into the somewhat dilapidated castle, they had vociferously expressed serious doubts that anything could be accomplished. Although invited frequently, they had visited only twice before today to see the progress and had not been very impressed. Now, they marvelled at all the improvements. The Reception Hall and Solarium, though rather spartan compared to their own grand castle, were suitably furnished and inviting. The Rose Garden was literally a masterpiece. It overlooked the abundant Herb Garden in which they could see a young woman clad in a simple indigo-dyed garment and straw hat as she kneeled and pulled weeds.
“Dear, we must ask Rebelia’s gardener what he has done to produce such magnificent roses,” said the Queen.
“Mistress Gardener! Please inform the Head Gardener he is wanted in the Rose Garden,” the King called out to the woman in the Herb Garden. A significant raising of eyebrows and smiles passed between the High Priestess and the High Magician.
The woman stood up and whirled around to face her parents. “Oh, I am sorry! I was so busy with these weeds I did not realise you had arrived,” Rebelia said in an attempt to apologise. “By the by, the Head Gardener is a she,” Rebelia added; not being able to refrain from surprising her parents with her radical ideas.
The King frowned and the Queen gave one of her famous sighs in addition to a disapproving glare. “Rebelia!” she admonished. “It is quite unseemly for a princess to appear in gardener’s garb!”
“Surely you must have folk to attend to this work instead of grubbing about in the dirt yourself!” the King exclaimed in an irritated tone.
“Yes, Father. Of course I have gardeners.” Rebelia replied calmly. “But how would I know if work of any type is done properly until I have accomplished the task at least once or twice by myself?”
Another audible sigh from the Queen, a loud ‘harrumph’ from the King and more silent smiles passed between the High Priestess and High Magician.
“I shall go change into more suitable attire for entertaining. And please enjoy the cherries. It is the first crop this year. I picked them myself this morning.” Rebelia smiled. Confounding her parents was always such great sport.
“Quite unseemly!” the King and Queen loudly replied in unison as their contrary daughter rushed inside.
A short while later, Rebelia appeared before her guests in a clean gown bearing a silver tray of cold sliced duck, just-picked greens, freshly baked bread and a pitcher of ale. “I thought we might have our midday meal here in the garden.”
“And I suppose she baked the bread, picked the greens and hunted the duck herself,” the Queen muttered under her breath to the King.
“And brewed the ale herself as well, no doubt,” answered the King sotto voce.
With trepidation the King and Queen accepted very small portions from the young priestess who was serving the meal. A few bites and they were not only surprised but praised the quality, declaring it delicious. A sentiment echoed warmly by the High Priestess and High Magician. Rebelia beamed with pride as the entire party asked for seconds. Suddenly the Sergeant at Arms appeared, bowed low before the royal guests, and whispered to Rebelia.
“It appears there is a man at the gate who has met with an accident and is in need of assistance,” the Princess informed the group as she arose to see to the stranger.
A knowing look passed between the High Priestess and High Magician; they had foreseen this very event in the scrying mirror some days prior but wisely kept the knowledge to themselves.
The Princess returned shortly, followed by a man of average height garbed in the simple deerskin outfit of a huntsman, torn and dirty in several places. He was limping. His curly tangle of shoulder-length fiery red hair and light green eyes automatically marked him as a stranger in the known realms.
He winced in pain as he bowed low before the assembled party. “Despite his appearance, he possesses proper manners,” the Queen whispered to the King. “I wonder if he possesses a proper manor,” the King whispered back, hoping the man might be an eligible bachelor.
“Your Majesties,” the man, though obviously in pain, bowed low again as he addressed the King and Queen. “My horse lost a shoe, fell over, and down I went, tumbling across hill and dale, saved from certain death by landing upon your doorstep,” the man smiled brightly in an attempt at humour to explain his dishevelled appearance whilst removing the leaves and twigs from his hair. “My name is Hhroldgar; my friends call me Harry.”
“Forsooth, Hhroldgar” announced Rebelia. “It is upon my doorstep you have landed. I am Princess Rebelia, Lady of this castle. “My parents are rulers of this realm and live in their own castle.”
“My apologies, my Lady”, countered Harry, bowing again and smiling. “Rebelia, an apt name for such a forthright as well as enchanting princess.”
‘Oh, dear, another prospective suitor. Flattery will reap him nothing’, thought Rebelia.
To him she replied, “My sister’s husband is called Forthright; I am forward-thinking. My Stable Master and Blacksmith will see to your horse and my Healer will see to your bruises. And then, please join us for the midday meal.” She summoned the Wise Woman, who led the young man into the Herbarium.
He appeared a short while later, still limping, but clad in clean borrowed clothes, a bandage on his left wrist and looking quite handsome with the dirt washed from his face and hair combed. He gratefully accepted a plate of food and slowly sat down on the low stone wall that surrounded the Rose Garden.
“Young man, you hail not from these realms; though you speak our tongue well,” the King stated without preamble. “Why are you here?”
“Father please, do let the man eat and drink before an interrogation!” Rebelia gently chided as she poured ale into a mug that the server had brought.
“A stranger always brings questions,” Harry smiled at Rebelia. “The food and ale are excellent, my Lady. As it happens, I am here for a wedding. Today I thought to go exploring and met with my small accident.”
At that moment, the Stable Master appeared and addressed Rebelia. “My Lady, I am afraid your guest’s horse is temporarily lame. Not to worry. He will recover, but cannot travel for at least a fortnight.”
Expressions of alarm quickly appeared on four faces, all for different reasons. Harry was very concerned for his horse. The King and Queen were apprehensive about a stranger in their midst. Rebelia was uncharacteristically flustered at the prospect of providing lodging for an uninvited guest. Serene as ever, the High Priestess and High Magician merely nodded and smiled like the cats that got the cream. What happened next was rather interesting………