She could read some, but not as much as she would like. Given her age though that was not unusual, and a just-turned-seven year old Elizabeth Anne flipped through the pages of a journal looking for pictures to help explain the words. There were sketches of people, many of them cut open, organs labeled and then redrawn in more detail on the adjacent pages. A doctor’s journal, then. Or maybe one of the students that got to learn from the Lord Physician? She really did not know whose room she had wandered into, but it had been the first open door she found when running away from her caretaker.
Lizzy was supposed to be taught at home, at least that is what her mother said, but so far aside from her alphabet and a few sentences she did not know much. Her brother bragged that when he had been seven he already knew far more than she did: reading, maths, and geography. Now her brother got to work on his studies at the castle! For a month!
At least she had managed to get her own visit. She had said that it was her birthday wish to see her brother, and her father, wont to indulge her whenever possible, had made arrangements immediately. While it was true she did miss Piers, she also wanted to see the castle herself. Her mother almost certainly knew her real wish but had gone along with her plan and was her chaperon most days.
Today she was with a nanny. Her brother though seemed more occupied trying to impress the young maid than keep company with his sister, so she had escaped from the two as soon as she could.
Giving up on the current text she closed the book, not hearing the door opening behind her as she struggled with the heavy tome.
“Hey! Lizzy, what are you doing here?” She whirled towards the door. One of her hands knocked over an inkpot and she stained the desk, herself, and her clothes. Her brother stood in the entrance, no doubt ready to tell her off for being where she shouldn’t be, and now for this accident.
She ran past him.
Having no idea which halls led where, only being on her third day here, she did not take any specific route beside ‘which way to be furthest from Piers.’ Which meant any way, as long as she was faster than he was. It seemed to be working as her brother’s protests towards her were getting quieter.
A waft of fresh air pointed her towards the outside. She ran with the breeze as her guide and found herself in the gardens soon. Lizzy slowed, finally tired and feeling safe. She could no longer hear Piers at all. Walking along the paths to look at all the flowers, she was fairly sure she was no longer being followed even at a distance.
Once past the fountains she made her way into the wild meadows beyond, bordering woods that still belonged to the roi but probably not within the boundaries she was supposed to be staying in. She had promised her mother she would not wander from the castle (the comtesse knowing her daughter well and likely planning for an escape alresdy). Feeling a little guilty, she had not intended to go so far out on purpose, she was about to turn back but heard a cat meowing. A boy then spoke. “I don’t need it. I have food, even if I don’t catch it myself.”
The cat meowed again like it was talking to him.
Well, she thought, if that boy is so far out maybe it still counted as being part of the castle grounds. And she could make a new friend! “Bonjour!” she called, rushing over with renewed energy.
The boy, a little older than her brother, sat beside a black cat under a tree. He had something in his hand and when she called out the greeting he stuck his finger into his mouth.
“Are you alright?” she asked, walking to them. She knew the look of guilt in the boy’s eyes.
“Wait, stop!” The boy put both of his hands out in front of himself and she froze mid-step. A squeak made them both look down to where Lizzy would have placed her next foot. A dying field mouse with still-twitching legs laid in the grass. She stumbled back away from it and the cat snatched it from the ground, running off with her prize. Blood stained in the grass.
“She caught a mouse,” the boy answered, seeing where she looking. “She thought I could–”
“Oh, you’re bleeding!”
In one hand he held a small knife and the other had a spot of red on the pad of his thumb. So that is why he had sucked at it.
“I-I missed when sharpening my quill,” he said, trying to hide his hand behind his back. Lizzy though, with the practice of a younger sibling, grabbed his wrist and pulled his hand so she could see. Before he could say anything else against it, she dabbed the mark with a bit of lace at her wrist and then kissed it.
“There! All better.”
“Thank you,” he began, but stopped whatever he had been intending to say in favor of looking at his now healed hand. He flipped it over, looking at his hand from both sides, as if wondering where the cut had moved. His eyes widened when he saw the dark ink all over her skirt.
“Elizabeth Anne!” she winced as she heard her full name and darted behind the boy, trying to hide from her brother.
“Shh,” she whispered to him. “I’m Lizzy, a pleasure. Help me hide?”
The boy nodded and sat down beside her, turning so she was shielded from the way they had come. He was still staring quite hard at his hand.
“Healing magic,” Lizzy said. “Mother says I have a knack for it. And this is just ink, I spilled some in someone’s room.”
Piers’s voice was near now, and the footsteps were getting closer, no longer hitting the stone of the walkway but thumping in the grass.
“Your Graceful Highness,” she heard her brother say. “If I may beg of you, have you seen a young girl in blue? She is my sister and I was to be taking care of her.”
“Oui, honorable Piers,” the boy said. Lizzy scrunched her face- she had asked nicely that he lie for her. But he continued, “she was out here and then ran back into the castle. Take the eastern door.”
She waited an entire minute before moving her from place and sitting in front of the boy. “Oh, thank you so much! I don’t wish to cause trouble, but I just wanted an adventure.”
He had truly dark hair, black as ink, and his eyes were a soft grey. His clothes were very well made, far too nice to be outside in the woods in.
“You’re the prince!” she said suddenly, remembering what her brother had said. Highness was for prince’s.
“I am not! Well… somewhat. The roi and reine have taken me in to live as their son after my uncle became Lord Physician. I’m only the heir to a duchy,” he finished, as if that in and of itself did not mean much.
Lizzy curtsied to him and bowed her head. “A pleasure to meet you, Your Grace. My father is the comte of Eichel, so even so you are more important than I am.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” he replied automatically, lessons in manners and polite society making this greeting far less spontaneous than before. “But I do not think I am more important than you. We have just met.
“Why are you running away from him?” he continued, gesturing to where her brother had run off. “He’s nice. We have taken two lessons together, I like him.”
“Oh, yes, he is a good brother,” Lizzy replied. “But I wanted to explore and have fun, while the nanny wanted me to stay with her. He is trying to show off for her and is no doubt here on her orders.”
“If you want to explore, then, Midsummer begins tonight. There will be a festival in the town, but if you come with me we can go to the forests. I haven’t lived in this duchy long, but I think the fée have a presence here.”
“Fairies?” Lizzy asked, suddenly interested. “We leave food for them on Midsummer night! Mother said not to while we’re here though, that the people of Cœurs try and stay away from the fairy traditions.”
“That’s not good. They might get angry then, and you don’t want to be the source of a fairy’s anger. Let’s sneak some food out to the forests just in case.”
“I am the prince,” Pierre interrupted with a smile, taking the title he had not a few minutes ago brushed off. “I say we should.”
“Do you know where the kitchens are?”
And the two made their way to the kitchens where they were given snacks by the cooks, and so much food that it was surely too much for just the children to eat (but not questioning the new prince and his friend). The nanny found them soon after, but only made Lizzy change into a new dress as the one she was was almost beyond repair. That evening they went to the woods and left honey-bread and milk, even Piers coming along after he was done being angry at being tricked.