A small knock is heard from the door before it is answered and hidden words are exchanged. A young child with braids of coffee-colored hair sits at a table pulling the leaves off of stems, humming to herself as she does so.
“Florence?” The voice beckons her from the other room.
The girl removes herself from the kitchen and journeys towards the entrance of her home. She continues towards the standing figure with their back towards Florence. Her head peaks around her mother’s skirt, a young dirtied boy stands in the doorway.
A soft hand lays upon Florence’s head, “My sweetie, the neighbor wishes to play.” Florence shakes her head. Her mother pats Florence’s head before ushering her from behind her mother towards the door, “When Claude returns with your Father he will go out and play as well. Do not be shy.” Florence grips her skirt tightly and follows the child out into the world. Her eyes briefly looking back towards her home which shrinks as they move further.
“Let’s play Noble!” The young boy’s voice snaps Florence’s attention back to him. She remained silent. “I’ll be the Noble first.”
“Florence.” A stern voice greets her as she enters the dining hall. Prince Lothaire sits at the table alone, an empty chalice in hand. She makes her way to his side, lifting the bottle in hand to meet the lip of his cup. The berry colored liquid fills his glass and the scent of tart fruit circles around the two. She remains standing near him awaiting for him to dismiss her.
The doorway opens once more, a round wealthy looking man marches towards them speaking loudly, “My prince!” he takes seat near the Lothaire, “I’ve had some thought-” The man pauses as he eyes the bottle in Florence’s hands, “Are you going to stand there? Pour me wine.” She nods her head and retrieves a glass for the man as he continues to speak. After fulfilling his order he waves her away but she remains. His red face distorts, he opens his mouth ready to lecture Florence.
“She stays.” Prince Lothaire interjects. “She is a loyal servant.” His face remains still as he speaks inflecting little emotion as he speaks. The hefty man lets out a boisterous laugh and begins to jest with Lothaire of the servant before moving forward with business.
“I said throw it!”
The young girl holds the rock in her trembling hand. She looks at the cluster of baby rabbits nesting in the grass. The dirty boy pushes Florence hard, and screams at her, “I am the Noble and you must do what I say. Or do you want me to tell on you?” he points to the hole again, “Throw it!”
Florence sniffles and hesitates before throwing the rock.
“Let’s play Noble.” The dirty child was older now, his voice rarely crackling anymore.
Florence’s hair was a short curled mess now, free of braids from her younger years. “No.” She grew into her voice, though still small compared to most. She hated the game, it was cruel and never fun for her.
“What if you are the Noble first?” When she was the noble he would always overthrow her after a few minutes. But she had no choice.
She led him to a quiet part of the woods behind her home and made him collect green berries. He held the berries out to her in a mocking bow.
“Now eat them.”
“We leave tomorrow.” The Prince continues to pack clothing into the large chest. Florence stands near the door watching as he packs, “My Prince-” she waits a moment for his attention, “I want to stay.” She folds her hands together as Prince Armand raises from his position. He looks at her with a warm smile.
“My sweet Flower.” He nears her and she holds her breath knowing she has no hand in this decision. “Of course you may stay.” He lays a hand on her shoulder, “I want you to be happy.”
“Thank you.” she whispers, the pit in her throat dissipates. He was always different from the rest of them. He allowed her a choice.