27.5. Extra: The Princess and the Soldier
With the lanterns illuminating the girls’ playroom, Lady Emma spread out the emerald blanket on the floor, humming a tune to herself. It had been a fine day for her, able to let her hair down and simply tend to the home. She glances to the doorframe as the faint sounds of screaming laughter echo towards the room. With a smile, she sets aside enough pillows on the fabric just as a set of feet tramples down the hall and into the playroom.
“Mamaaaaaa!” The red-headed toddler rushes towards her mother, pink dress ruffled and pig-tails in a mess.
A young girl’s voice echoes from farther away, “Kyrie! Stop running down the hall!”
Emma beams at the child and wrapped her arms around her. “Oh, there’s one of our little tomatoes!” She pulls away and taps at the giggling toddler’s nose. “Giving your big sister a cause for fuss, aren’t you?”
“Kyrie!!” At that moment, another girl with bobbed red hair, no older than ten and dressed in a green spring dress, follows into the room. “Oh…” Her gaze slides to the child and then to her mother, a tinge of red coloring her cheeks.
“A handful today were they, Edna? Now you know how it was dealing with you and your sister,” Emma muses with a soft smile. She pats at the blanket. “I suppose Jester has Kira, then? You can go ahead and sit, sweetheart.”
“Y…yes, Mother.” Edna keeps her head bowed as she tucks her dress under her and daintily sits beside her mother.
Lady Emma regards the girl before reaching over to tuck a stray bang behind her ear. Her brow furrows slightly as Edna remains silent and opens her mouth to speak before the footsteps at the door again tug at her attention.
Now at the doorframe, a red-headed teenager in a modest white blouse and blue skirt stands. In her arms, the other toddler twin, clad in purple, tugs at her ponytail.
“Good evening, Mother,” Jesamine greets with a shy smile. She steps forward as their mother rises from her spot on the floor.
“Hello, my darlings,” Emma replies, embracing them both.
“Yes, yes, mama is here,” she coos while gently pulling Kira away from the teenager. Emma cannot help but resume humming her tune as she returns to her pillow, legs tucked under her. Then, soon after, Kyrie climbs into her arms as well, nudging against her sister. Kira wrinkles her nose at her twin who grunts in response. “How were your lessons today, Jessamine? And the twins weren’t too much of a handful after, were they?”
“They were just fine, Mother. The lesson, and the twins, I mean…” Jesamine watches them before sitting opposite her mother on the blanket, occasionally glancing at the doorframe. “Has…has Father returned yet, mother? It’s getting quite late.”
“Your father did say he would be home for some time. A war council is convening, he mentioned.” Emma watches her eldest daughter’s expression fall for a moment before adjusting her hold on the twins. “Humph! So, I suppose we’ll just have to have some fun without him…”
Her smile widens as her two eldest daughters look at her with curiosity. “You know, I don’t think our little tomatoes have heard the story of the princess and the soldier.”
Edna raises her head, blinking, as a wide smile spreads on her face. She looks from Emma to her older sister, and Jesamine can’t help but return the gesture before both scoot closer to their mother.
Emma procures a small bell and rings it, summoning a tailcoated gentleman to the door. “Do fetch us some milk and light snacks, Jacques.”
“Of course, my lady,” the butler replies with a nasal undertone before striding out of sight. “Now…” Emma sets the toddlers sit in front of her who fuss at first, though pauses when she brings her face close to them. “Mama will tell you all a story she likes very much!” She nuzzles each of their heads with her nose for a moment before standing to go to the bookshelf. “…About a young princess, who was saved by a very, very brave knight.”
“Night!” Kira called out.
“Good night!” Kyrie chimed afterwards. She places her hands and covers her eyes.
“Not quite bedtime yet, sweethearts.” Emma chuckles as she pulls a thin, bounded book from a shelf. Returning to her spot, she gently nudges Kyrie’s cheek. “A knight is a very skilled soldier. Who wears awesome metal armor and wields a sword!”
“Before the knight can save the princess, our story starts at a beautiful castle where the princess lived…” Their mother turns the book to its first spread of pages.
“For she had lived in this castle for almost her entire life. There, she had everything she could ever ask for and was always safe. And the reason she was always was because of the people guarding the palace. And, some of them were called knights. These knights were special because they wore this armor trimmed with blue, and protected the princess and her family.”
“Like what Father wears,” Edna meekly interjects, twiddling her fingers.
Kira raises a hand towards the picture of the armored individuals. “Papa!”
Her mother beams. “Yes! Yes, just like what your father wears in his service.”
Emma turns to the next spread where a redheaded girl in a fine red dress walks past an auburn-haired man in armor. “But, there was one of these guards who was not a knight,” she says, pointing to the man. “And while he wore their blue armor, the knights did not see him as their equal. To them all, and even to the princess, he was just a soldier.”
“The princess often spotted this soldier carrying out his duties in the palace. The soldier would always bow his head to her, like one would to royalty. But, while they saw each other, they never really spoke beyond that. And a long time, she did not even know his name.”
“Bad princess!” Kyrie exclaims, pouting as she points at the dressed figure in the picture. Her scowl fades as the butler returns with their refreshments.
Emma gives another chuckle. “She was not very considerate, no. But, she would come to learn his name, this soldier. While, she would come to speak with him, in passing, he would always remain respectful, and ever silent, in his responses. So, days would pass where they had these small moments, between them, yet nothing else came of it. Then, one day in the summer, the princess had to travel far away. But while on the road, she and her guards were attacked! By evil people from a faraway land!”
The twins gasp, their mouths gawking at their mother. Kyrie clasps her hands over her cheeks. “Ohhh noooo!”
Jessamine glances at them all with a small smile and asks, “And where did they take her?”
“To a castle! Far away!” Emma answers with a twinkle in her eye. “For these evil people didn’t harm the princess, not yet at least. You see, the princess was the king of the land’s sister! And, what nefarious deeds these evil people could do with her in their clutches! They kept her in chains, but how they spoke such…awful things to her, about her, and her family. And with these horrible, evil people, the princess stayed…for days.”
All the young girls look on at her, eyes wide.
“Wh-what happened to the princess? Did she get saved? What about the night?” Edna hurriedly asks, her voice a panicky whisper.
Emma turns the page. “I was getting to that, Edna…Back at the palace, the king and all of his men were trying to find a way to get the princess back. However, they were afraid that whatever they may do may end up harming the princess. And even when they knew where she was, they feared what the evil people would do to her if they tried get into the castle! They kept trying to think of a better plan. But, not everyone wanted to wait…” She points to the image of the soldier standing in front of another man in armor. “The soldier wanted to do something, not trusting the princess with the evil people. Everyone around him told him to just do as he was told. However, he was not content to wait…”
She reveals the next page, showing the soldier riding a horse during nighttime.
“Ignoring what everyone else said, he rode away from the palace. He kept going until he reached the faraway castle! And, once there…” She turns to a spread depicting the man rushing into the castle. “The soldier dove headfirst into the enemy! None of them could believe their eyes that a sole man would attack them! Yet, there he was, and he fought off all of the princess’s attackers. Until…”
Now, the book displays the soldier standing at an open door, sword in hand, with the princess watching from the darkened room. “The soldier finally found the princess.” Their mother’s fingertips linger on the picture of the armored man. Her brow barely creases as her gaze flits momentarily to the window. “He sheathed his dirtied sword and slowly walked up to the princess, and began removing her chains, quiet just as he had been during their short meetings past. Knowing his…ways, the princess did not pry him for what happened or what he’d done but instead gave him a very plain, but sincere, ‘Thank you.’”
Emma looks to her audience. The twins had dozed off amidst the action, but Edna, and now even Jesamine, continue to watch her, entranced. “Can you guess what happened next?”
The teenager gives a small smile. Edna stares at her for a moment, mouth agape, before answering,
“Just about, but one thing before then…” Softening her voice, Emma smirks and continues, “Well, for the first time, the soldier spoke to her, and he said, with just the slightest stutter, ‘I…I am happy that you are safe, princess. W-would you allow me to take you back to the palace now?’ Their eyes met, and at that moment, the princess thought that, even though everyone else just saw him as a soldier, that he was the bravest knight—the bravest man, she had ever known. And that was when she realized she had fallen in love with him…”
“D’awwww,” both Jesamine and Edna sigh, unable to contain themselves. Their mother turns the page to an illustration of the soldier once more atop his horse, but this time with the princess in his arms, riding away into a sunrise.
“So, then, he carried her back to the safety of the palace where afterwards, everyone began seeing the soldier as a knight, like she did. But, for his heroism, he would become so much more. The king, who again was the brother of the princess and very grateful for what he had done, would make him into a lord. Once a lord, he asked, again in that quiet voice, the princess, who he had saved so valiantly, for her hand in marriage. And the princess, without hesitation, accepted with all her heart. So, it was from then on that the princess and Lord Be…”
Their mother pauses, her gaze lingering near the door where Jacques’s silhouette flickered on the ground. She glances to the slumbering toddlers and then to her older daughters. “One moment, darlings…”
Emma sets the book on a pillow before standing up and striding towards the door.
Edna picks up the book shortly afterward and begins perusing the pages. “I wish I could be like the princess…”
“You mean get kidnapped?” her older sister retorts.
“No! Have a knight like in the story, that she falls in love with!” Jesamine stares at the younger girl, somewhat baffled, but the latter’s eyes remain glued to the pages as she hums to herself.
Jesamine then glances back to the doorway and keeps her eyes on the shadows outside. She picks up the whispers though unable to decipher what is being uttered. She hears a sharp inhale which causes her to straighten up, stand, and turn once more towards the doorway. However, before she could even take a step, their mother walks back into the room flanked by Jacques.
As her mother approaches, Jesamine stands, not quite as tall as her mother yet, but enough to meet the older woman’s gaze without craning her neck. “Mother…”
Emma regards the teenage girl, tilting her head slightly, before glancing to Edna still absorbed in the book. She sighs through her nose, tiredly smiles, and says, “Can you put your sisters properly in bed for me tonight, Jesamine sweetheart? And, Jacques will assist you in doing so.” She glances to the manservant, who diligently nods.
“Good night, Mother,” Edna yawns, stretching her arms above her.
Emma strolls over to the younger girl, hugging her and giving her a peck on the cheek. “Good night, Edna. Sweet dreams.” Once the butler has ushered the younger girl out of the playroom, she turns to her eldest daughter and does the same, though the teenager hangs limply in her arms with a frown.
“Good night, Jesamine. Blessed dreams,” Emma whispers with a gentle tone.
“Has something happened…?”
Pulling away, she holds her at arm’s length. She searches the girl’s face before cupping her cheek with a hand. “Do you remember how the story ends?”
Her daughter hesitates but nods.
“Well, then you know that they lived happily ever after, and still are. But...now, I must go to my soldier for the night. Please do try to get some rest, my Jesamine. For we shall see you soon.”
As Jacques returns to pick up one of the twins, Emma touches her forehead to her daughter's, keeping there for a second before striding out the room.
The teenage girl waits, then she follows some moments later. She stops only at the edge of the hall leading into the main lobby, keeping out of sight in the corner. There, Jesamine makes out the figures of two armored individuals bowing to their mother and subsequently escorts her out of the mansion.