A Short Story...
"Clara, would you comb my hair, please?" Princess Emily asked her servant, Clara Willoby.
"Yes, Princess!" Clara picked up the brush and ran it through her mistress's shiny red hair. The auburn strands shimmered with each stroke all the way to the young lady's waist. Even more gorgeous than her hair, the Princess's fair face, with huge blue eyes and sweet pursed red lips would steal away the heart of any man. And exactly that had already happened.
Sir Jeffrey Thomas had asked for Princess Emily's hand in marriage. Clara would have liked to feel joy for the Princess, but she could not. Indeed, Clara herself was in love with Sir Jeffrey. She could never hope, however, to gain his love, what with her mousy common appearance, having no features of interest to anyone; and the fact she was a mere servant. Her straight brown hair and tiny listless face hardly made her a desirable companion.
Tall, gallant, and imposing, Sir Jeffrey haunted the halls of the palace daily, at first to merely gain the attention of Princess Emily. Later, to firm up the friendship and earn her undying affection.
While he loitered near the kitchen, he had spoken many times to Clara as she fetched the Princess's tea and cakes. His deep voice made Clara's blood surge through her veins with excitement. The Prince's wavy brown hair and broad smile sent her heart skipping in her chest.
"And are you taking that food to Princess Emily again today?" he would ask. The sparkle in his blue eyes disarmed Clara every time he spoke to her.
"Yes, Sir Jeffrey!" she would reply,
He would always step forward and remove the tray from her hands. "Let me carry that for you," he would say, shooting her a wink to assure her compliance in their daily ritual.
They would walk together to Princess Emily's quarters. The gallant Prince would talk to Clara as though she were a Princess herself and not a mere servant, discussing the weather and fine points of life in the palace. The maid, indeed, felt like royalty when Sir Jeffrey offered her a smile or his blue eyes met hers. She kept a tiny gray book tucked in her bodice, next to her beating heart, and each evening she wrote about the day's walk with Sir Jeffrey to Princess Emily's room, carefully recording each detail of their conversation as best as her limited writing skills would allow. The little book was Clara's most precious possession.
Deep inside, she wished he would love her like he loved Princess Emily. That dream was dashed each time they arrived at the Royal quarters and he opened the door and slipped in, closing out Clara with nary a word of good-bye. The next day they went through the same sequence. Clara lived for their daily walk to Emily's room with Sir Jeffrey. She knew it was foolish but couldn't help herself.
"Clara, you're hurting me!"
The handmaiden had forgotten what she was doing, and pushed the brush through Emily's tresses in frustrated strikes against her skull.
"I'm sorry, Princess!" she murmured. Well, maybe only a little sorry, she thought. It was hard to feel regret when the Princess was taking away the only man Clara had ever loved. Her mind wandered again to his broad shoulders and big hands. With all that strength, he was gentle around women, treating them like china figurines to be moved about with the softest of motions.
"Clara! Ouch! What is wrong with you today?"
"I'm sorry, Princess! ...May I be excused?"
"Yes, I think that's a good idea. I know my head will appreciate it!"
Clara curtsied and left the room, Running to the cold, dark hallway, she took the worn stone steps two at a time wanting nothing more than to get outside to be alone, perhaps to take a walk in the gardens. As she turned along a corner of the landing she ran full force into Sir Jeffrey. Her face smashed against his chest. It was hard and massive.
"Oh, Sir Jeffrey! I'm sorry!"
"Quite all right, Clara! I was rushing from this direction, too!"
Clara felt her face getting warm. Oh dear! She certainly could blush redder than red. How embarrassing! She spied Sir Jeffrey studying her with a small smile.
"My goodness, Clara! You are beautiful when you blush!" He leaned forward and cupped her face in his big strong hands. Leaning down, he touched his lips to hers.
Clara's heart thump-thumped in her chest; her head swooned, making her worry she would pass out. His lips searched hers in curiosity and hunger. Grabbing her in his arms, he held her close. His kiss lasted and lasted, filling Clara with waves of joy. She felt like she was melting right there in the hallway.
He pulled away in slow motion, wiping his lip with the back of his hand like he'd just had a satisfying sip of wine. "Thank you, Clara!" he murmured before dashing away and up the stairs from whence she had just come. Had it really happened? Had he kissed her? Clara, still in a trance and wanting more, much more, followed.
Trailing him to the next landing, she saw the Prince pause before opening the door to Princess Emily's room. Clara pulled back in dismay. Just as she had seen so many times before, he closed the door in her face. He was with his true love now, the Princess.
Her heart smashed to the floor and broke apart in jagged pieces, leaving the poor servant with her soul drowning in confusion and hunger for the man she could never have. Standing in silence, finally Clara sighed. "I guess the Princess will want her tea and cakes...after," she murmured. Turning to return to the kitchen, she paused, removing the little gray diary from her bodice. Taking the book, she tossed it out a nearby open window and walked away to fulfill her duty to Princess Emily.
Copyright 2005 JO Janoski
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