Cybille sat in the kitchens, sipping a mug of tea, a small break from work. The door from the back walk was suddenly flung open, and one of the cook’s boys came in, soaked to the bone. Cybille raised her eyebrows. It was a sunny afternoon last time she checked, and the sprinklers weren’t on outside at this time of day, unless… She smiled into her tea as the cook came and began to dry her son off. The boy was complaining about “annoying brats” and “hooligans” and Cybille laughed under her breath. A sudden rain shower on a clear day sounded just like Teren, Hugo, and Jason. She silently reminded herself to avoid walking under balconies and windows as she returned to her work room. She smiled again as she set her tea down. That Teren. He was a wild one, alright.
Teren, Hugo and Jason were three friends of Lennon Hall who were nearly always trouble for pretty much everyone in the manor. Teren was the Duke’s son, and at 19, still acted like a 12-year-old, acting both rashly and immaturely, though he was really quite sweet and sensitive when it came right down to it. Hugo was Teren’s best friend, and personal servant, and at 20, he was not much more mature than Teren. Together they perpetrated many mischievous deeds, along with Jason, the gardener’s son. Jason was the youngest of the trio, at 17, though he was arguably the most mature. At the moment, however, he was sitting and laughing along with Teren and Hugo at their latest crime. Then Teren quieted down, and got a strange light in his eye. Hugo and Jason knew the look. Another idea was forming in the young noble’s head.
“Hey guys, you know what day it is?”
Jason looked confused.
Teren shook his head. Hugo made a guess.
“Jolie’s spa day?”
“Exactly. Jason, where did we put that green dye we pinched from Cybille’s sewing room?”
“Uh… Up in the armory, I think.”
“Great! Hugo, get me an empty perfume bottle from the apothecary.”
Hugo jumped up and dashed off, grinning like an imbecile.
“Jason, I want you to find some old towels in Cybille’s studio.”
Jason nodded and he was away. Teren smiled and rubbed his hands together. This was genius! Only one thing could make it better. He grinned and set off for the gardens.
Jason was in the sewing studio, hunting up the old towels, when Cybille walked in. He froze, acting innocent, but the expression on his face gave him away immediately. Cybille crossed her arms.
“What is it this time?”
Jason grinned nervously.
“What in the world do you mean?”
“The phrase ‘guilty as charged’ has basically become part of your face. Spill, my little canary.”
Jason crumbled under her stern gaze. The scheme was explained, and Cybille shook her head.
“If you mess with Joile’s spa day, she is going to be really ticked off. I’d advise you to stay out of it, but you won’t listen. Here.”
Cybille tossed him a pile of old towels. He looked surprised, then smiled.
“I’m not taking any falls. This exchange never happened, got it?”
“If anyone asks, I got the towels and got out, no problem. No one was here.”
“Got that right. Now get out of here.”
Jason grinned and ran out. Cybille sighed.
“Why did I do that?”
Jolie’s screams rang throughout Lennon Hall as she called for the death of the scheming trio. She ran into the duke’s study shouting.
“Uncle Soren! Teren… Teren… He just… Aack!”
Duke Soren looked up at his neice as she stood there, scratching at her red face and her green hair still dripping water. He buried his face in his hands with a sigh. Sometimes Teren was quite a handful.
Teren answered his father’s summons anixiously.
“Teren, do you know why I’ve called you here?”
“If this is about the ants, I don’t know a thing!”
“Ants…? Nevermind that. No, this is about your behavior of late. You really must grow up a bit!”
“Father, I know. I-”
“No, I’m not done. I am having some very important guests to the manor during this next week, and you must control your behavior while they’re here.”
“Okay, I understand-”
“No, you do not understand. Among these guests is a particular young lady I want you to especially be well behaved around. It is very important you make a good impression on these people. Now do you understand?”
Teren nodded, a slow realization dawning upon him. Duke Lennon leaned over his desk.
“Now, what is this about ants?”
Teren giggled nervously.
After being dismissed from his father’s study, Teren retreated to his own room, and hid in a cupboard. You may think it juvenile, but a habit of Teren’s was to conceal himself in his old toy cupboard, wrapped in an old blanket, when anything frightened him, or made him anxious. It was here Hugo found him, an hour later.
“Teren? Are you in there?”
He opened the cupboard doors, greeted by a yelp, and a moving lump under an old blanket. Hugo rolled his eyes and pulled the blanket away. Teren looked up, blinking in the sudden daylight.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, Count Dracula.”
Teren snatched the blanket back.
“I’ll have that, thank you.”
He wrapped the blanket around him once more.
“So now your dad’s hooking you up, eh?”
Teren hid under the blanket.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” his voice came muffled through the fabric. Hugo poked him.
“What, never seen a girl before?”
Teren mumbled something that may or may not have been entirely appropriate. Hugo sighed.
“Come on, let’s do something to get your mind off of it.”
Teren reappeared from under the blanket.
Jolie sat in her room, in front of a gilded mirror, sobbing heavily. Cybille stood behind her with a pair of scissors.
“Look, do you want green hair, or do you want it off? Only two options here, see?”
“Just hurry up and do it before I change my mind!” Jolie said tearfully, “It’s ruined anyway!”
Jolie continued to cry stormily while Cybille carefully snipped off the offending green hair. She sat with Jolie while the girl mourned her treasured locks. She felt a bit guilty for letting the boys get away with it, but then, she didn’t know about the dye.
“Hey, would you like something to eat or drink? Maybe the cook will be willing to whip us up some hot cocoa! What do you say?”
Jolie sniffed and wiped her nose with an already very damp tissue.
“Hot cocoa would be nice,” She said pitifully. Cybille smiled encouragingly.
“There you go! Okay, let’s head down to the kitchen then! It’ll be nice and cozy down there, and we’ll have you feeling much better in no time!”
Jolie let herself be led down the hallways and stairs to the kitchen, and when she was safely in the care of the kind and jolly cook, a wrathful Cybille made her exit, and went to seek out the three terrorists of Lennon Hall. Teren, Hugo and Jason were on the eve of another spectacular practical joke, but it was put on permanent hold when Cybille angrily interrupted their plot.
“Now then… Who wants to tell me when exactly you snuck into my sewing room and stole a jar of my best fabric dye? Or would you like to start with the fact that you used said stolen dye to plague Lady Jolie and be the direct cause of her hair having to be cut off?”
The three boys tried to avoid Cybille’s angry gaze.
“And Jason! You failed to mention twice aforementioned stolen dye during our confrontation earlier. Would you care to elaborate on that fact?”
They all remained silent.
“Now let me tell you all something else. That girl has been crying for two hours straight. Two hours! Her face is red, her hair was green and is now gone, and I’m mad! And whose fault do you suppose all of this is? Yours. Now I want you all to march right on down to the kitchen and apologize to her directly! And if she yells, good! You deserve it in full!”
Cybille marched behind them as they shuffled slowly down to the kitchen. When Jolie saw them, she glared with a vengeance at them, but remained silent throughout their nervous and stuttering apologies. After they fell silent, she glared at them for a moment, then she slowly rose. The boys shuffled their feet in apprehension. Then she spoke.
“Jason, I have a cloak that needs mending. Cybille will oversee you as you fix it. Hugo, I have dirty clothes that need hand washing. You will take them to the garden and wash them. And Teren, you will come with me. I have a special task for you.”
Cybille laughed behind her hand as she led the downcast Jason away. Jolie had forgiven them, but she would work them hard before she would tell them this.
Jennifer stared sightlessly out the train window as the countryside flew by. Across from her, a young man was sitting on his bench, reading a newspaper. She glanced up at him.
“Why do you bother with that paper? No one reads the paper anymore. You have a cellphone, why don’t you use it?”
The young man looked up.
“You know full well that we can’t use our phones while traveling. Besides, I like reading the paper. Those phone screens hurt my eyes.”
Jennifer sighed and turned back to the window. The young man, Stuart, looked up again.
“If you’re bored, why don’t you do something?”
“I dunno, read one of those dozens of books you brought, or explore the train or something.”
“I’m saving those books for when we get there.”
“You don’t think you’ll have enough to do?”
Jennifer sighed again. Stuart folded his paper and set it aside, sighing also.
“Look, I’m not going to babysit you. You’re the older one here, seriously! Figure something out. I’ll be back in a minute, try to think of something before I get back, okay?”
Jennifer turned back to the window. Stuart sighed and walked out, closing the compartment door behind him. Jennifer breathed on the window and drew a circle on it. The circle turned into a wedding ring, and she scrubbed it out roughly with her fist. She sighed and turned her back to the window, looking about the train compartment in boredom. Two benchs, overhead luggage space, a window, and a door. She sighed again for the fourth time and spread out on the bench, staring at the ceiling of the car. She and Stuart, her younger brother, were en route to Dreven, a long ways from their home in Theros. Her brother, as heir to the throne of Theros, was meeting with the dignitaries in Dreven to sign some kind of treaty, or so she was told, but she knew why they were really traveling to Dreven. The duke there had a son her age, and her father, the king, wanted to secure an alliance with Dravania and its provinces, and so she was being sent to meet the boy, though nobody said so. She knew, though. She knew the whispers of the servants, and she heard them clearly. She sighed again and looked at the door. A tall figure stood just outside, his back to the door. This was Nicholas, Jennifer’s personal bodyguard. She felt a little better knowing he would be there, but she still was worried about the trip. She got up and went to the door, pulling it open a little.
“Hey Nicholas, can you help me get my bag down? I want a book from it.”
“Certainly, my lady.”
“How many times have I told you, don’t call me that? It’s Jennifer or Jenny. Nothing else.”
Nicholas didn’t answer, but he retrieved the bag with ease, returning it to its place once Jenny had found her book.
“Now, if you will excuse me, my lady, I must return to my post.”
Jenny almost rolled her eyes. Nicholas was so formal! It was a little comical now, but when they had first met, it had put her off a bit. He was the only one in the royal staff who really treated her like a princess. The others were more comfortable and family-like, but Jenny liked Nicholas anyway, stiff manner and all. And so when Stuart returned, she was curled up in the corner, reading.
Hugo carried his basket full of washed clothes up to Jolie’s room, and set it down next to her door, then flopped onto the floor next to it, exhausted. Jason walked over carrying Jolie’s cloak, and set it on top of the basket, then sat next to Hugo.
“Dude, my fingers are so sore! I probably pricked them with the needle, like, five hundred times each!”
“I’m so exhausted! I can’t believe people used to wash clothes like that all the time! Man, people back then were hardcore!”
They both groaned simultaneously, then Teren walked out of Jolie’s room, a look of deep and utter horror on his face, as one who had been through a great trauma. Hugo and Jason looked up.
“What happened to you?”
Teren blinked and looked down at them.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Jolie was inside her room, giggling. Cybille entered, carrying the clothes basket.
“I just saw the boys. They looked exhausted. What did you do to Teren?”
“Made him wear one of my dresses and dance for me, then he served me tea and cakes, and then I made him let me put makeup on him.”
“I have photographic evidence.”
Cybille’s eyes lit up.
“Oh ho ho! Let me see!”
And so Cybille came over and Jolie showed her the picture. She laughed loudly, then became contemplative.
“You know, it’s funny. He actually looks kinda good in makeup.”
“It runs in the family. Lots of pretty men. You should have seen our grandpa. He dressed as a woman once. Fooled the servants into thinking he’d got a twin sister. It was weird.”
Jolie shivered at the memory. Cybille gave a strange look.
“Anyway, are you going to let them off the hook now?”
“I guess so. You can go tell them if you want to. I think I’ve let them stew out there long enough.”
Cybille nodded and poked her head out the door to give the boys the good news. When they heard they were free, they sped off like a trio of bullets, and Cybille shook her head. They’d never learn.
Jennifer and Stuart stepped onto the platform at Dreven Central Train Station, followed by Nicholas and a few other servants, who were carrying their luggage. They silently walked out to the wide paved road, where a car was waiting for them. Now it would be a long overnight car ride to the Duke’s manor. Jennifer pulled out her book and started to read again. She knew this car ride would be nearly unbearable if it wasn’t for Stuart and Nicholas. Nicholas was quiet and stiff, but he’d been with the family for two years now, and Jennifer had grown fond of him. Once she hugged him, but he gently pushed her off saying that any affection between them would be “indecent,” as royal standards would dictate. She had probably imagined it, but it seemed that he was sad as he said it. Hours passed, and she finished her book in that time. Boredom striking once again, she curled up on the car seat and was soon fast asleep. Night was falling as the car sped through the countryside. Stuart glanced over at his big sister and gave a half-smile. He knew, and he knew she knew, that this was not simply a diplomatic mission. He half-hoped she wouldn’t like this duke’s son. He liked his sister a lot, and losing her would be saddening to him. He wondered what Jennifer thought of the whole situation, but he was too afraid to ask her, and besides, she was asleep right now anyway. He sighed, and Nicholas looked up at him.
“Are you worried, Highness?”
“A little. I don’t know that she’s ready for such a big responsibility.”
“I’m sure His Majesty knew what he was doing.”
“As am I, Nicholas, but sometimes I wonder how everything is ever going to work out.”
“I’m not sure what I can say to help.”
“That’s alright. I didn’t expect you to have the answers. It’s good to have a listening ear, anyway.”
“I suppose I’m pretty good at listening.”
“But Jennifer’s not the only one who might not be ready. Father’s getting on in years, and I’m next in line for the throne. I’m not sure if I’m ready to take over. A kingdom like Theros is a lot to rule over.”
“That’s what advisors are for. Mostly. Though, if you worry about how well you’ll rule, I’d say you’re on the right track.”
Stuart nodded and shrugged.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. At least somebody thinks I’ll do okay.”
“I’m sure His Majesty and your sister would both agree with me on that point, if you’d care to ask them sometime.”
“This isn’t exactly the sort of thing I let on to everyone.”
“Then I am honored you confided in me.”
“Yeah, well, it’s getting late. We might as well get some sleep before we get to Lennon Hall tomorrow.”
Nicholas smiled thinly as Stuart closed his eyes. That was as close to a friendly gesture as Stuart ever got. Nicholas also closed his eyes, and the car was silent as the three slept on through the night.