Continued from Stress and Chocolate.
It had been a week since the day of mourning, and the Princess was significantly less morose, however she still was not how Ehla recalled her. The young woman snapped at courtiers or petitioners who talked for too long. She made threats and went through with them. Her brow always seemed furrowed when she sat on the imperial throne, and she only rarely smiled.
Ehla approached the head priest. As usual, he wore all browns with some few whites. He wore modest shoulder pads, and bared his arms like anyone with power. The man blinked as she approached him in his study.
“Ehla? It’s been some time. Has someone been approaching you again?” His voice was soft despite his hard face. He waved a hand toward the chair and stood. “Please, have a seat.”
“No. I’m worried about the Princess-Regent.” She sat across from him on the provided stool, hands on her lap. “You’ve seen how she acts. She’s no different in private.” The tall chambermaid sighed. “This isn’t her.”
The man looked up. “This is just a stage of grieving. She’s been sorrowful, and now she is angry. Next, she will become very religious, asking for selfish impossible things, and finally, she will accept that they are gone. This is normal, Ehla.” His shoulders relaxed as he sat back down. The man took a deep breath. “First, she was lonely and confused. Now, she’s angry. She feels betrayed by her parents for dying. She feels betrayed by the expectations of a ruler. She feels betrayed by her own emotions. She likely feels she should still be sad, still cry herself to sleep at night when she thinks you aren’t looking. All of this is normal for a young heir thrust suddenly onto the throne.” He paused and ran a hand down his clean-shaven chin. “Next, she will begin to ask “Why me?”
“What do I do? How do I help her?” Ehla ran a hand through her hair and twisted it as her eyes dropped.
“Give her honey in her tea, and provide her with candies that don’t require a lot of work on her part. Reduce what you can of her stressers, and above all, don’t tell her to move on, or to get over her loss. Tell her that you are open to listen, and… let her pick her own outfits. She might find dressing how she wishes will improve her mood. Also, back away when she starts showing signs that you’re annoying her. It might hurt when you notice those signs, but give her space.”
Slowly, Ehla nodded. “Ah…”
The priest watched her for a time as the two sat quietly. Ehla watched her hands as she thought back.
“I’ve been pushy. I should apologize.” The young woman began to stand.
“No. Don’t draw attention to it. Just ease off and observe closely. You know how she works better than anyone. Watch how she moves, how her face and body speak, and if when you pull away, she looks like she needs you, then stay with her.” The man smiled. “You’ve not dealt with loss like this before in your life. It’s going to be hard taking care of her without a way to feel how she feels. Do your best, and she will come back to herself. Don’t rush her.
The maid nodded, then paused. “That monk from before– is he still serving?”
“The one who escorted her? Yes, he is.” He paused. “Why?”
“What is he?”
The man slowly relaxed. “A harmless one, actually. He says his people are called elves. Usually, they just trim their ears to blend in, but when he requested his seal, he was very distraught.” The man tilted his head. “So much so that his ears had grown back.”
“So, is he actually sealed?”
“No. It’s not needed. I implanted the gem only after he would not stop pleading after a full week.” He sighed. “He doesn’t speak of why, but seems pleased.”
For a moment, the maid thought as she looked at her hands. “Could I borrow him? He treated her well, and that left a good impression. She asks after him. It might be wise…” She trailed off, a light scowl on her face.
“You think she needs someone to talk to that she doesn’t always see, and who she might be able to speak more freely with?”
The priest leaned back until only two of his chair’s feet touched the ground, and the chair’s high back rested against the wall behind him. “Smart. Let’s arrange that. He can see her around with your accompaniment for a few days, and then you will start giving them time alone. He’s a priest, and he won’t touch her in any way against her will, but for appearance’s sake, it would look better if you checked on them. Eventually, I want him to assume an unofficial position among her personal staff. He won’t be allowed to enter her bedchamber, but I think if this works for her, he can go into her visiting chamber if they need to speak privately.” He rose. “And if she says she doesn’t want to see him, he will simply return to his former position.”
Again, Ehla nodded. “Let’s try that. She doesn’t talk to me at all about her emotions anymore.” She sighed. “There’s also a gardener whose quadrant is on her room’s south side. He invited her to play with bubble-making, and she enjoyed that a lot. Would it be wise if I went to her room late and let her seek him out sometimes?”
The man nodded without hesitation. “That gardener– a lot of people mention him. He helps them find childlike joy again through childlike play. I’ve told his superior to let him play during the day as long as he gets his work finished.” With a smile, he rose. “Now, if I’m not wrong, your mistress is going to be hungry about now. Get her something horribly unhealthy and incredibly tasty as an apology for being late. One unhealthy day when she’s feeling bad won’t hurt.”
Ehla rose and curtsied. “Thank you. I knew coming here would help. Could you ask that monk to wait at the bottom of her tower?”
The man nodded, and then watched as Ehla left, a small smile on his face. Once she was out of the room, he shook his head. “Pretty Ehla with no family, you’ll never understand quite what loss is, will you?” He ran a hand through his short, greying hair and chuckled.