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I walked past the bakery. The bread was still baking. Oh that delightful smell. The delicious way if wafted through the air, seeming to be drawn to me. I made up my mind. I’m too hungry to go without food much longer. I stuck my hand in the pocket of my always dirty dress. Nothing. Always nothing.
There’s no reason I should hope anymore. Nothing is ever in my pocket. It’s been that way since my parents kicked me out when I was fourteen. I had already landed in jail six times within three years and they said that they didn’t want to be known as the parents with a jail dweller as a daughter. I’ve done many things since then, each landing me in jail. By now I know all the guards by name and boy are there a lot of them. Over thirty the last time I was there. Guess the palace thinks the city needs more “security.”
I think the guards are placing bets on how long it’s going to take me to get thrown in again. Maybe that’s why they keep letting me out. If that’s true, it must be why I always get caught no matter how hard I try not to. I wonder if they are placing guards to track me to see what I’m doing at all times.
I shook my head to rid myself of that thought. I really hope that isn’t the case. The other reason could be that I’m the only person in the city with long, black hair. Everyone else has lighter colored hair. Mostly pale yellow to a light brown. My parents used to call me their curse because I was so different.
The smell of bread was getting more intoxicating by the second. I sauntered into the baker’s shop and walked over to Burns, the baker.
“Hey Burns. How’s the bread makin’ going?” I asked as I looked over his shoulder.
He blocked my view. “Oh no you don’t, Dray. You ain’t stealin’ any of my bread today. Besides, why would a pretty girl like you want to wind up in jail yet again? You’re eighteen now. Why don’t you find a nice man and settle down. Anything must be better that your life at the moment.”
I laughed. “Burns, Burns, Burns. What a joke you make. Who would want a thief as a wife? Especially one that has black hair in a world of vibrant colors.” I twirled around, making my way to the door. “Nice talking to you.”
Back on the street, I walked around to the door at the back of Burns’ shop. While we were talking, I had scanned the interior to see that he had set the loaves on the table next to that door. He had been making more dough at the other end. Sneaking in and grabbing a loaf would be a piece of cake.
When I arrived at the back door, I heard horse hooves on the cobblestone behind me. Turning around, there was a procession of horses coming my way led by two guards that I know. Guess I won’t be getting any bread now.
I called out their names as they stopped in front of me.
“Raven, Cam. What’s in the carriage? Another princess for the never accepting prince?"
Cam looked down at me and smiled. “Hi, Dray. Looks like you got a new out of jail record going.” He gestured at the carriage with his head. “By the way, good guess. This one’s a doozy. Won’t even come out of the thing to eat. This is the fourth time we’ve stopped today because Her Royal Highness is always starving. I guess that isn’t really a surprise considering her pig-like appearance.” Laughing, he got down from his horse. “Hey! That must be why she always wants a mud bath.” At this Raven started laughing too. The laughter finally caught me and we stood there holding our stomachs and bawling like babies.
When our laughter finally subsided and we had wiped our tears away, we all looked towards the palace.
“I wonder what it’s like to live up there.” Raven commented.
“I think I would hate it.” I said. “All the frilly dresses, people telling you what to do and where to go. That just sounds absolutely terrible.”
Cam stayed silent. We kept looking at it until a shrill voice pierced the air.
“Guards? Guards! I would like to get out and taste some of that delicious bread I smell. Come over here and help me get out...GUARDS!
They looked at each other. "She wants to get out? That's a first." Raven said. Together they walked to the carriage. I had totally forgotten about the bread until that moment. My stomach growled in protest at the thought of a fat princess eating it all. If I wanted some, it was now or never. Even though Cam and Raven were close by, they weren’t paying attention to me, so I quickly snuck in while Burns was turned away, grabbed some bread, and headed down the street.
“Young lady!” I stopped short and turned around slowly. Standing behind me with her hands on her hips, was the oldest lady I had ever seen. I wondered if she could see the bulges the bread made in my pockets.
“How old are you?”
Her question startled me. She was very straightforward, a trait few people have. “I said, how old are you?”
I stood up straighter. “Eighteen, ma’am.”
She squinted and looked me up and down, like she was mentally sizing me up. “How would you like to be the princess’ maid until her real one gets here? I’ll pay you one silver coin per week. You’ll have food and a place to sleep as long as you do your job well.”
I was shocked. If this lady only knew me, she would never have asked that question. Nobody wants to hire a thief for some pretty good reasons. I looked around. Nobody else was there so she must be talking to me. This was a once in a lifetime chance, but I couldn’t do it.
While shaking my head I said, “You don’t want me. I’m a labeled thief.” I don’t know why I’m telling her this. “The prin-”
She held up her hand, stopping my protest. “I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done. As long as you can work, you’re good enough for me.”
I curtsied quickly. If she didn’t care who I was of what I’ve done, heck, I can’t turn down this offer.
“It would be my pleasure. When would you like me to start?”
“Now.” Again she looked me up and down. “Judging by your appearance and the fact that you just stole some bread, I’m guessing that you don’t have a horse.”
I was about to tell her that she was right, when I fully comprehended the words she had just said. She really had seen the bread. I nodded numbly.
She held out her hand. “If you hand it over, we’ll just forget this ever happened.”
I couldn’t believe my luck. First, she offers me a job not caring what I’ve done. Then, she tells me she won’t tell anyone I took anything if I just give it back. I gave her the bread. She told me I would get food at the palace anyway, so why ruin my appetite now.
She smiled and walked to the baker’s door at the same time that Raven was coming out. She stopped him and they talked for a couple of seconds before she walked in. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Raven did a lot of nodding.
When Raven walked over to me, he gave me a funny look.
“What’s that for?” I ask as I put my hands on my hips.
“You’re going to be a ladies maid? I thought you said you would hate living in the castle. How come you accept this offer if that’s how you feel?” He sounded hurt.
I steeled myself. “Why do you care? What I do with my life has no affect on you.”
“Well it does this time. I was just hired to be your bodyguard while you work up there.”
“My bodyguard! What does that crazy old lady think is going to happen to me? Besides, you didn’t have to take the job. If you’re so upset about this, why did you take it?”
He scowled and opened his mouth to say something back, when Cam stuck his head out the door.
“Her Royal Highness would like to go now. It’s all, ‘Do this, do that.’ Man, I hate my job.”
He went back in and Raven followed.
When the princess came out, I got a good look at her. Cam wasn’t kidding when he said she was fat. Her blonde hair went down to her waist. With her blue eyes to match, she definitely fit the part of pretty, pampered princess, or the three P’s as I call them. If she wore a dress that was the right size for her, she wouldn’t look so pathetic, though. I think it was around two sizes too small. The buttons looked about ready to pop off the back and the sash at her waist had a small rip in it. When she looked my way she stopped in her tracks, making Cam and Raven, who were following behind, run into her. She didn’t even flinch.
Pointing a finger at me, she said in a shrill and whiny voice, “Who is this?”
The old lady came out of the shop. “That will be your maid until your real one comes, but let’s not worry about that. It is time to go to the castle and meet the prince.” With that she walked over to the carriage and opened the door. The princess followed, but not before she threw me a scowl.
After the princess had been situated and the boys had mounted their horses, the lady and I were the only two left standing there. She turned to me.
“There isn’t any room in the carriage for you, so you will have to ride with one of the guards. Do not worry about Fari. She just doesn’t like anyone who is prettier than her. Before I forget, my name is Martha.” She walked to the carriage door. “You will get your instructions when we get to the palace, for now, let’s just hope we get there without any more stops.” She got in and closed the door behind her.
This was a small dilemma. Which of the guys would let me ride with them?
Walking over to where they sat atop their horses, I cleared my throat. Both of them looked at me and Cam gave me a little grin. “Whatcha need, Dray?”
I came straight out and said it. “A ride to the palace.”
“Now why would you need to go there?”
“I got a job. Now, if that is all, I’m going to need to ride double with one of you. Any offers?”
They looked at each other.
“You’re kidding, right? Don’t tell me that lady actually gave you a job. I guess she is crazy,” Cam said, shifting away from me.
Raven guided his horse over to me and held out his hand to help me up behind him. Grabbing it, I vaulted up. I put my hands on my thighs and he turned to look at me with light green eyes.
“Put your hands around me and hang on, unless you want to fall off,” he said. His face was expressionless.
I scooted a little closer as he turned away and wrapped my arms around him while keeping my back straight. It was a little windy, so his longer sandy blonde hair kept flying into my face.
I turned my head to look at Cam. He was shaking his head while guiding his horse beside us and mumbling something that sounded like, “Raven...dumb love...hate this job.” I was compelled to laugh at the last part, but figured I wasn’t supposed to be hearing this in the first place, so I kept my mouth shut.
At that moment, Martha stuck her head out the door, “Let’s go! The princess is getting impatient. We’re going to have to go faster now if we want to make it to the castle by nightfall.”
"Sure. It's the princess who's impatient. It couldn't be you. I mean, you're not the one that is yelling at us to get going." Cam muttered.
"What's that, boy?" Martha called out. Raven and I stifled laughs while Cam scowled.
Cam and Raven quickly kicked their horses into a fast trot, jolting me. I decided to lean against Raven instead of sitting up straight, so as not to fall off. He tightened when I did, but quickly relaxed. I looked behind me to see if the carriage was following us. It was. I wondered when I would see the city again. Turns out, it would be a long time indeed.