Philip smiled at the girl in his arms, thinking that she was rather pretty. Her face turned red and she let her eyes drop to the floor as he helped her back onto her own two feet.
“I’m so sorry, Your Highness,” she said softly, dropping into a somewhat clumsy curtsey. She started leaning to one side and he reached out to stabilize her once more.
“It’s quite all right,” he chuckled. He held out his hand for hers and bowed over it “You obviously know who I am. What is your name?”
“P-P-Priscilla Hillshire, Your Highness.”
He frowned and looked more closely at her features. He was told that Priscilla was the name of the girl they found, the one whose foot fit the shoe. But this girl, this red-haired, green-eyed girl with the high-pitched voice, she couldn’t possibly be the one he danced with.
“You’re…ah…shorter than I remember you.”
“These shoes are lower than the ones I wore to the dance, Your Highness.”
He frowned and nodded. “I could have sworn your hair was more of a brown color, like chocolate.”
The girl shook her head. “My hair has always been red like the sunset, Your Highness. I did have it pulled back tightly, perhaps in the light it looked brown.”
He frowned and nodded again. Her voice was off, she didn’t look the same that she did when he danced with her, and the spark he’d felt that night was gone altogether. But she was the one the shoe fit. The only one in the kingdom. He bowed to her hastily. “It’s been a pleasure to meet you again, Priscilla. I have some business to attend to.” He gestured to a nearby page “If you need anything, tell this boy and he’ll find someone to get it for you. I’m sure you have much to do as well.” He headed out of the room but was stopped by another voice.
He turned to see the girl’s mother standing.
“Are there any details about the wedding that you would like to decide?”
He shook his head, far too distracted to even think about what details a wedding could need. “We have a woman for that, the boy will find her.” He motioned to the page, who then shot off into the hall at a run. “Is there anything else?”
“No, Your Majesty.”
“I’m telling you, Albert, I know this woman. I’ve known her for a very long time, and I know that her daughters could never be good queens!”
Mark was desperate that the King hear and understand what he was trying to say, but it just didn’t seem to be getting through.
“Mark, I understand your misgivings but you yourself admitted that you haven’t seen the good Lady in close to fifteen years. You didn’t even know that Hillshire’s girl was still living with her. People change. She’s probably not as bad as you’re claiming, and her daughter is probably a lovely fit for my Philip.”
Mark growled softly in frustration and dragged a hand through his hair. “Albert, I’ve served you for a long time. Our families have worked together for a long time. Have I ever even once been this adamant about something and been wrong?”
“Well no. But -“
“Then listen to me now. We are friends. I watched that woman wed six different men, and kill them all.”
“Now, just because she’s had some bad luck doesn’t mean she killed them.”
“She killed them. Ask the girl your son is going to marry. Her mother poisoned her father’s meal!”
“Nonsense, Mark! You spoke to her when she was a child. She probably heard a maid gossiping and took it on as truth. Children say things without understanding the meanings.”
Mark sat down, the fire suddenly gone from his argument. He knew he was right. He knew Amelia better than he could ever admit. But the king simply did not want to see the evil that she was. He did not want to see anything that could tamper with the chance that his son would get married before he died. Mark looked up as Albert doubled over in another coughing fit.
“Those are getting worse.”
“That’s why they call it consumption.” The king replied impatiently.
“Can you really go to your death uncertain if your son’s new wife will be a good fit for the kingdom?”
Albert frowned at him. “My son can keep a woman in line, Mark. And I don’t think she’s as bad as you’re making her out to be. You’re probably still sore over Amelia refusing your proposal all those years ago.”
Mark clenched his jaw against the memories. He had been a boy, young and foolish. She was his sister’s friend, already a beautiful young woman with her sights set on a local landowner. He was desperately in love with her, in love with her beauty and her confidence. He was sure, so sure, from the way that she smiled at him, that she loved him too. He had worked hard, saved as much of his wages as he could, to buy her a ring that was nice enough to rest on her finger. He’d proposed, confessed how much he loved her and practically begged her to marry him.
She had laughed.
She laughed at his proposal, at his ring, at him. She denied him, rejected him, and cruelly told him that he could never be good enough to marry her. She had her sights set higher. She deserved better. And she knew how to get it.
He tried to warn her against taking what the faerie offered. Male faeries were pure evil incarnate, like their female counterparts only in appearance. She hadn’t listened to him. Two days later, her engagement with the landowner was announced, and just a year after their wedding he died. After that Mark had been forced to watch in horror as she steadily grew more and more evil, the faerie’s magic working its way into her heart with every month that passed.
By the time she was engaged to his best friend, there was nothing left of the sweet and beautiful woman he’d fallen in love with. In her place was a cold-hearted witch of a woman who could and would do anything to get the power she wanted. He’d tried to warn Joseph, but the man was in love, enchanted by her physical beauty to the point of being blind to anything else.
He paid for that.
Mark sighed and forced the memories aside. “I certainly bear no pain over her rejection.” He said softly. The King scoffed his disagreement, and Mark gave up. “A different subject then, Hillshire’s daughter.”
“Yes, how is little Ellandria doing?”
“She goes by Ella now. Anyway, she’s not doing well. They treat her like a common maid, less than that even.”
Albert frowned. “I was assured that she would be given the best of life.”
“You were lied to, King. They mistreat her, they disrespect and disregard her. I worry for her if one of them comes into power as the queen. Is there nothing we can do to save her?”
Albert’s frown deepened before his thoughts were interrupted by another coughing spell. When he could breathe again, he stood wearily. “I need rest, Mark. For now, let me rest. Tomorrow, have her brought to my table for lunch. I should at least speak with her, and see if there is somewhere she’d rather be. I owe that much to her father. Did I ever tell you he saved my life?”
“I was there, my friend.”
Albert nodded. “So you were. Let me rest now, Mark. Go and see to the women.”
Mark watched his friend, his king, slowly make his way toward the door to his chambers. A servant rushed to his side when the next coughing fit started, and supported him the rest of the way. Deep sadness enveloped his heart. He’d already watched one friend die unfairly, before his time. Now, he had to watch another do it as well. At least this time it wasn't murder, he thought. But that didn't make it any less painful.