I blinked away the tears in my eyes as I watched George flirt and kiss with the barmaid. Finally, I tore myself away from the painful sight and ran out into the village. George never even saw me.
I was out of breath and my face was wet from tears when I finally reached the cottage. I very nearly collapsed in a heap right there at the door. "How could he?" I yelled into my trembling hands. As much as I wanted an answer, there was no one there to give me the insight.
I nearly tripped over the overflowing basket of apples sitting by the door. Confused, I stooped down and picked up the basket. It had several gorgeous red apples in it and a small piece of parchment tucked inside. Carefully balancing the basket on my hip, I unfolded the parchment. There was an elegantly written "A" but nothing else. I looked back toward the road as if the gift bearer would still be there but there was no one.
I carried them inside and stared at the parchment awhile longer before I shrugged and turned my attention to the apples. I couldn't imagine eating all of them, there were just so many of them! Then the idea entered my head and I smiled. Having temporarily forgotten about George, I set about making an apple pie for the evening.
Uncle Isaac came in from the barn just as I was finishing the pie and he was followed shortly by none other than George. "Are you ready to celebrate dear?" Isaac asked with a smile.
"Celebrate?" I asked, my voice catching in my throat as I watched George.
"Why your birthday of course!" Isaac said with a laugh. It wasn't really my birthday - as far as we knew anyway - but every year since I'd arrived we had a small celebration anyway. 'Everyone has a birthday' Amelia had said one day, roughly a year after I'd arrived. 'And today shall be yours.' A tradition had been born then.
"Oh..." I muttered; I had completely forgotten about it actually. Isaac noticed the pie and commented on it and then went about stoking the fire and other odd jobs, leaving George and I as alone as two people could be in a one room cottage. "What are you doing here?" I asked, a mix of anger and hurt in my voice.
"You invited me..." he said cautiously.
"I did? Oh right! You said you wouldn't be able to come." I argued. Uncle Isaac was still in the cottage and I didn't want to say anything in front of him but I didn't want George here either.
"Old Charlie didn't need me for the evening..." he lied so smoothly I knew I would have believed him if I hadn't seen him just a while ago.
"Oh really?" there was ice in my voice as I said. "You need to go...now." I kept my voice low so as not to draw Isaac's attention.
"Susu? What it is?" George said moving closer to me, reaching out for me. He didn't seem to care that my uncle was in the room - perhaps he noticed, as I had, that Uncle Isaac was not nearly as concerned with my relationships as Aunt Amelia had been.
"Go! I said leave! And do not come back!" I shouted at him, all will to remain quiet and civilized snapped.
He recoiled away from me but his face was crossed with confusion and frustration. I imagine he had no idea why I was throwing him out at that moment but I didn't care. Without another argument or word, he left the cottage. I balled up my fist, digging my nails into my palms to resist the urge to cry.
Uncle Isaac watched everything but said nothing.
"Would you like some apple pie Uncle?" I asked, plastering a fake smile on my face.
"Of course Su," he said and he joined me at the table. I cut generous slices for both of us and for some time we ate in silence.
"He was with a barmaid." I said quietly. Although Uncle Isaac didn't intrude in my life much, I knew he watched carefully - ready to protect me if need be. Even if I didn't want the protection. "I thought...." I trailed off and pushed my pie around on the plate. "I'm not sure what I thought..."
Uncle Isaac stood up and motioned me over to him. When I was within his grasp, he opened his arms and I collapsed as a crying sobbing mess. He didn't shift or say a thing.
George tried to come by a few times after that but Uncle Isaac was almost always on hand to deal with him. He never told George why I was upset, merely sent him away and smiled at me reassuringly once George was gone.
Of course every time he came by I found myself sobbing all over again. At first I was crying because of what he'd done, then I was crying over the loss of a potential future with him. In the end I was crying because it all affected me so much.
"Su! Come along now!" Isaac called from the cottage. While he still spent a lot of time working over his inventions - whatever they were - he'd started spending more time helping me with the small farm or the animals since my un-birthday and the issue with George. "We are going to be late!"
"Won't you tell me where we're going?" I asked as I pulled my hair back. I looked up and caught sight of him and I know I gasped in surprise. "Well look at you Uncle!" I looked over his clothes and then at my own in dismay. "Now I feel underdressed..."
"No fear, I have a second surprise for you." he said. He placed a hand on my back and guided me to the small alcove that used to serve as his and Amelia's bedroom. Since her passing, he'd insisted that I have the space and he'd moved into the old room above the barn. He'd claimed it was closer to his work or some such.
He opened the trunk at the end of the bed and pulled out a beautiful light green dress with delicate accents. "Oh my! No that was Susanna's - I couldn't!" Amelia had shown me the dress once. She made it for Susanna's birthday but Susanna had fallen ill and never got to wear it.
"I'd think Amelia would want you to have it. You were as near a daughter to her - to both of us - as anyone ever could be." he said. I tried to protest again but finally accepted the dress and he left me to get changed.
We walked in silence for some ways, even past the village, before I spoke up. "Where are we going uncle?" I asked with a smile. I could tell that this adventure, whatever it was, amused him. Or perhaps he was amused by my confusion.
"We're almost there now." he said.
"We are?" I looked around helplessly. "But there's nothing out here except..." my eyes grew wide with surprise. "The castle..."
"Aye, and a grand castle she is I dare say." he said. "Would you like to see inside? I understand the family is away..."
He led me around to a side entrance and I confess, I was a little disappointed when we entered the kitchen area. Much of the walls were covered in soot and there was something brewing in a kettle - if it weren't inside the castle, it wouldn't be remotely interesting.
"Don't fret Su," Uncle Isaac said with a smile. He started to say something more and then sputtered to a stop. "Oh! Y-y-your H-h-highness!"
I looked up and into the face of Prince Adam once more. Then Uncle Isaac and I quickly dropped to our knees in a low bow.
"No, no please don't!" the Prince said quickly. As we slowly, cautiously, righted ourselves, his eyes were sparkling with amusement and joy. "Ah Mr. Delaford." he said addressing my Uncle, though he glanced over at me a few times. "And this is your niece..."
"Yes Sir, this is my niece Su..." Isaac said but trailed off as the prince's attention was now entirely on me.
"It is a pleasure to see you again miss." the prince said with a smile.
"Again?" Uncle Isaac asked before I could respond.
"Yes, did she not mention that we'd almost met once before? I say almost because, I fear, she left without giving me her name." he said, a bemused smile on his face. "I am happy to say that fact has now been remedied."
"Oh well...I suppose we ought to be going..." Uncle Isaac said awkwardly.
"Nonsense! You only just arrived! I assume you came to see the palace and see it you shall!" he said.
"Oh no, we couldn't. If we'd known..." I objected quickly, gaining a look of reproach from Uncle for speaking somewhat out of turn.
"It's no matter. Come along - I'll show you around myself." Prince Adam objected. And who were we to argue with a prince? Everything in the place (aside from the kitchen) was astounding and so glamorous! The walls were adorned with fine art and thick draperies throughout.
There was a grand piano in one of the rooms that I couldn't stop looking at. I couldn't remember ever seeing one in person and yet I was drawn to it. I ran my fingers along the exquisite wood and smile.
"Do you play Miss Su?" Prince Adam asked, startling me with his proximity.
"Oh no!" I said quickly. "At least not that I know of..." I added quietly.
"Not that you know of?" he questioned.
"Oh...um, no, no I don't play." I said, not clearing his confusion in the least.
He merely nodded. "Still, perhaps you should sit and try a few keys." Once again I wanted to argue but he was the prince so I took a seat at the instrument and ran my fingers over the keys.
I pressed first one, than another key. To my astonishment, my fingers flitted across the keys as if they already knew the way and soft chords of an unknown song filled the chamber.
"I thought you didn't play Miss." the prince playfully chided.
"I thought I didn't too." I said, even as my fingers continued to fill the room with melody.
"Well then you are a quick study." he said with a smile.
After I finished the song and tore myself from the instrument, we continued to follow the prince through the stone walls of the castle. While he didn't show us everything, he did give us a comprehensive tour. "This was my mother's room." he said as we gazed into one of the bedrooms. His previously joyful expression was soured with pain and sadness for a moment. I'm sure my own confusion betrayed me because he continued, "she passed when I was a young child." he said quietly.
"My niece isn't from around here sire, I'm afraid she was never able to know the greatness of the Queen." Uncle Isaac said softly in my defense.
Finally we finished the tour back in the same kitchen we'd begun in. "I must thank you again sire for your time and courtesy." Uncle Isaac said with a low bow of his head.
"The pleasure was mine." he said, his eyes on mine. I ducked my head to hide the blush on my face as he gazed at me. "I do hope you enjoyed yourself today Miss Su."
"I did sire. How could I not?" I said, still blushing furiously.
He saw us out of the castle and I bit the inside of my lip to stop from giggling until he was out of sight. "That was..."
"I did not quite plan for that!" Uncle Isaac said with a backward glance toward the castle. "I was told the family was all away actually..."
"Nevertheless it was quite an extraordinary day!" I burst with a giggle.
"Indeed it was! Indeed!" Uncle Isaac agreed. "Now, my dear, where did you learn to play the piano?"
"I only wish I knew Uncle." I said, feeling somber again. Once again I felt like I had a small strand of memory or a fragment of the past but I had no idea what it all meant. My memory was still as dark as ever.
The Queen, on the other hand, had an excellent memory.
She's so dramatic lol