It was still before dawn. I tossed abd turned in my bed. It was just too early, but I was wide awake. The only other people awake at this hour were the servants to prepared breakfast. If only I could fall asleep for a little longer!
Morning and been like this for me for the last few weeks. Why I had started waking up early, I had not idea. Usually, I did not want to even get out of bed until my nurse came to pesterme. But Mother said I was getting too old to have a nurse. I was, after all, turning twelve in only a month.
I sighed. It would do no good if I were to fall asleep again. If I did, I would probably sleep through breakfast again. Mother would be very upset with me if I were to do that twice in one week. So I got up out of bed and dressed on my own. There were a few laces in the back of my gown, which were a challenge, but I could manage them quite well wuth the aid of two mirrors. My hair was also somewhat difficult without my nurse to help, but I had founf a new way to put it up which everyone seemed to like.
When I finished, I sat down on the window seat and peered out the window. The sun was rising. Breakfast would be ready soon. What could I do until then? Riding was out of the question. Mother would never permit it so early in the day. Besides, the stable boy was only just waking up himself, and I needed his help to saddle my horse, Rafael. My twin brother, Connorm would also just be waking up, and I would not dare disturb him until he wa sproperly fed.
Then I was struck by a very strange notion. What if I were to go down to the kitchen and help the servants. It was an absurd idea. I was, after all, a princess, and princesses did not bother with the servants unless they needed something. But I was actually considering helping them, How utterly absurd! What would Mother think?
Oh, who cares what Mother thinks? I've helped with the spinning for years, as every girl must, regardless of her position, so what's the difference between that and helping with the food? We would starve without food, and we would all freeze without the clothes made from the yarn we all spun. And almost every other girl her age helped her mother with the meals, so why should I be any different?
So It was decided. I would visit the kitchen and help the servants. I crept out of my chamber ever so quietly, hoping not to disturb anyone. Connor's chamber was next to mine on one side, and my cousin David's was on the other. Neither were ever in a good mood so early in the day.
I stepped slowly and carefully as I made my way to the kitchen. Only a few servants spotted me, and each time one passed, he or she would bow and say, "Good morning, Your Highness," to which I would say, "Good morning Patrick, or "Good morning, Mary," wishing that they would call me by my name as well. She was little more than a child, after all, and no "higher" than anyone but her cousin, Westley, who was five years old.
When I found the kitchen, the door was held open with a large wooden box. People must have to go int and out rather quickly, I thought, seeing a girl who was no more than thirteen years old running into the kitchen.
As soon as the girl vanished, I began to walk toward the door. Then I stopped, hesitating. What would the servants think of me? How would they feel about the princess wanting to help prepare the food? I thought this over for a moment, then decided that I didn't care. If I was not going to consider my own mother's opinion in the matter, certainly I should not care about the opinions of people she hardly knew! So she stood up, tall and confident, gathering all the courage I could muster, and marched through the door.
Only to collide with the girl I had just seen running into the kitchen. The girl, I realized now that I'd had a good look at her, was only ten.
"P-princess Charlotte," the girl stammered. She had dropped the rags she had been carrying, and was now gathering them, with her eyes to the ground. "What do you . . . I mean . . . why are you . . . How may I serve you?"
What is wrong with this girl? I wondered. Why do I make her tremble so? "I do not want any service from you," I answered politely, picking up the last rag. It was thick and rough, and it had a strange odour to it. It was probably used to clean dishes. "Please rise. I do not want anyone to kneel before me."
The girl was reluctant to rise, but did so with a little coaxing. Still, she stood with a hunch, her face to the floor. She held the rags tightly, as if they were a shield to protect her from her ruler's wrath. But I am not a ruler. I am a girl like her.
Yet, if one were to only glance at us, he or she would only see their differences. For starters, I bathed regularlym and this girl seemed to only use wash water for dishes and rags. Her hair was all in knots, and her face was smudged with every kind of grime. I had dressed in one of my simpler gowns that morning--blue, with no flare in the skirt, and no decorations besides so lace around the collar--while this girl's dress was made of some material that looked like the bag in which Rafael's food was kept. It was dirty, tattered, and did not properly cover her arms and legs. Even so, underneath all that, there was something very pretty about her, while I was as plain as a miller's daughter.
I felt instant sympathy for the girl. "What is yoru name?" I asked. I was astonished that girls my own as were working as this girl.
"M-m-meaghan," the girl answered.
"Why are you so afraid, Meaghan? All our servants are well treated, and you have nothing to fear from me." I held out the rag for Meaghan, who quickly snatched it away.
She gasped. "Forgive me, Highness. I must take these to the laundry room."
"Yes, very well," I replied.
Meaghan gave a quick bow and ran off in the direction she had coem from before, leaving me alone, and utterly perplexed.
I very quickly returned to my chamber. But when I got there, Connor stood in the door with his arms crossed. "Where have you been?" he grunted. "The nurse is out looking for you. She will be very upset to learn that you have been off on your own at this our."
"Unlike you, I am capable of getting out of bed without being prodded by Marge, and I no longer require her to watch over my every move." In fact, after my encounter with Meaghan, I was not sure anyone truly needed the sort of care Marge provided.
Connor opened his mouth to say something, but he was interrupted when we heard footsteps down the corridor. We turned our heads to see a large woman dressed in black, a veil covering most of her hair. Oh no, I though. It was Marge. I did not want to have to explain to her where I had been this morning. I was not sure I could explain, particularly what I thought about Meaghan.
"Here she comes now," Connor said, sounding quite pleased with himself. "Let's see what she thinks of your running off so early now that she knows you're all right."
Connor did so liek to see me ears turn red with anger. He never took it too far, of course. He did not want to start a physical fight. This was only a game to him. I knew this, so I remained calm. I paticularly did not want Marge to see me angry. Even though Mother believed me to be old enough to not have a nurse with me at all times, Marge needed to care for someone, but there were no younger children living in the castle besides Westley, and he had his own nurse.
Marge's face was flush. She stopped running. "There you are, Charlotte," she said with a sigh of relief. "I have been searching the entire castle for you." She paused to catch her breath. "I was worried when I discovered you were not in your bed."
She could not have searched the entire castle, I thought, annoyed. "There was no need, Marge," I said. "I am sorry I worried you, but I do not need to wait for you to start my day. If you must know, I was down atthe stable, saying good morning to Rafael." Yes, that'll do for now. I did not like lying to Marge, but there was no way of telling her the turth without making all three of us late for breakfast.
Marge sighed. I knew she was feeling unwanted, but little could be done about that. "Let's be off, then. You know how the queen gets upset when we are late."
Connor and I nodded and followed her to the dining room.