Continued from Silky Woman.
With a laugh, the princess spun, only to stop short at the sight of Ehla.
“Princess?” The chambermaid stared a moment. “What are you doing? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
The shorter woman let her arms drop. “He’s showing me bubbles.” The imperial heir’s shoulders slowly slumped, as though certain she would be scolded.
For a moment, Ehla was quiet. “Can I join in?” Her face broke into a grin. “It looks fun.”
The princess looked at the gardener, who grinned as he hurried forward to offer a loop-stick to the chambermaid.
Together, the three played until their shadows were small before the two women parted ways from the gardener, who waved with a smile as they left his small oasis of childhood wonder. The princess walked slowly. She didn’t dare glance back. She felt so hungry that her stomach ached, and her legs were sore, part from yesterday morning catching up to her, and part from running around as though she was only six years old again.
Beside her, Ehla was quiet as she stayed just a half-pace behind and beside the princess. When they reached the door, the chambermaid hurried to open it. “That was fun. We should see when he plans to do that again.” She smiled at her mistress, who smiled back.
“Mhm. It was really fun.” She said, but at the same time, she couldn’t shake the feeling that such joy as playing wouldn’t be hers for a long time after this. As she walked through the door and began up the stairs, she glanced back with the corner of her eye. “Are there any appointments today?”
“One with your brother and grandfather for dinner– private this time, at least– and one with a southern king an hour after lunch. Not nearly as bad as yesterday, I’m sure. I hear that king is very kind, and has only come to pay his respects late because his wife was ill.”
The princess nodded absently. Two draining things, not long after each other, if she guessed right. “Ah.” She didn’t ask anything more, and though Ehla occasionally commented on things such as fashion or delicacies, the princess felt too empty to care much about any of it, let alone to respond to the woman who’d taken care of her since her thirteenth birthday.
Finally, they reached the princess’s lower chamber, and the princess went up the next set of stairs, to her bedchamber, where she began to undress. She suddenly felt smelly and sticky, and the smell of grass and rainbow liquid made her cheeks and ears flush as she tossed aside the soiled clothes. “I’m taking a bath.”
“I’ll get your meal. What would you like?” Ehla blinked as she watched her nude charge roughly undo her braid as she sat on the showering stool. “Be more gentle with your hair. It took you five years to get it this long, remember?” She shook her head.
“Hard-cooked eggs with mayonnaise yolks, more bacon than I’m allowed, and… all of the chocolate and grapes.” The princess huffed, and her chambermaid rolled her eyes skyward as she turned to descend the long stairs.
The walk to the kitchen was uneventful, and Ehla spent it pondering her mistress’s behavior.
It could only be attributed to stress and loss, she quickly decided. She’d peeked in on official functions when the girl’s mother was regent, and then when the girl’s father was regent. They didn’t look too bad– fancy people in white with big shoulders posed and preened and quipped using the biggest words they didn’t know how to use, all while the two regents in turn looked boredly upon the group.
If she gave the princess time, Ehla was sure she would return to herself. People didn’t shout in front of the regent, nor did they do much else besides try to look good.
It couldn’t be that bad.
She nodded to herself as she crossed the threshold into the kitchen and wrote out an order similar to what the princess asked for. Rather than demanding the entire stock of chocolate and grapes, she wrote the princess wanted two bowls of each, with the grapes frosted and frozen, and the chocolates drizzled in caramel sauce, and then sprinkled with shaved coconut.