Beatrice fell silent.
In the lunchroom, not a sound could be heard. For what seemed an age, no one spoke.
Finally, one of the children, a fourteen year old girl named Winnie, asked, “Does that mean you’re a princess?”
Mae, whose face had lost all its colour, turned to her, “No!” Then she thought for a moment, and turned to Beatrice,and whispered, “Does it?”
Mae looked at the young woman that she had raised, “Yes, my love. But, only if you want to be.”
Hector, who seemed to be in a trace, suddenly became serious, “No, you’re wrong. She isn’t a princess. She should be a queen.”
The room fell back into silence.
Then Mae started laughing. Just a giggle at first. Then a cackle. Finally, she was laughing so hard, tears started falling down her face.
Hilda, quickly stood up. “Okay children. I think we’ve had enough excitement. It’s time you went off to bed.” There were a few groans from the older ones, who were more aware of what was happening, and wanted to see what developed next. But, many of the younger ones were already half dozing.
Hilda, started shepherding her charges toward the door.
Hector stood. “Do you, um, do you need me to show you the sleeping quarters?”
“No no. I’m sure we can find them. You stay right here.” She looked significantly at the two women.
He just nodded. “Thank you”
Once they’d all left the room, Beatrice looked at Mae, “What’s so funny?” She was puzzled and confused, and also a little hurt.
“Funny?” Mae tried to stop, but it only made her laugh more, “What’s funny? You ask.”
She took a deep breath, “It’s just completely ludicrous! Isn’t it! I mean, let me see if I have this right. Neither you nor Papa are my actual parents. I’m an orphan, my parents, who just happen to have been the King and Queen, were killed in some kind of peasants revolt, and you, the faithful servant spirited me away to a tiny fishing village where you basically lied to me my entire life! Did I get that right? I suppose next you’ll tell me that man back there is my uncle come to drag me off to sit on my throne, or to kill me in my sleep.”
Hector mumbled under his breath, “Probably not in your sleep.”
“Hector! You’re not helping! Mae…”
“No.” She wasn’t laughing anymore. “Don’t say anything.”
“I said. Don’t say anything.” She got up. “I think I need some air. To clear my head.” She moved toward the door. Beatrice got up to go with her. “No mama. I just… I just need to be alone for a bit.”
“I understand love. It’s just… it may not be safe.”
Mae slumped, deflated. “Oh.”
Hector came over and stood next to Beatrice. He gently touched her elbow. “Let her go. Mae, this place is huge, if you want to be alone, there is plenty of space for that without going outside. Go and explore, it might help clear your head. We’ll be here when you’re done. No doubt you’ll have questions.”
“Oh, I have questions. I just, I just need to think about this.” She left the room.
Again, Beatrice went to follow. Hector held her in place. “Leave her. Leave her.”
She turned to him. “I’ve made a mess of this. Haven’t I?” She burst into tears. Hector gently pulled her into him and wrapped his arms around her into a hug. The woman cried into his shoulder, while he silently rubbed her back.
Finally, she stopped. She looked up at him, her eyes still blurry with tears. Her nose and face all red and blotchy. “ Do you think she hates me?”
“If she does she’s an idiot. She just needs time to think and to process the information. To be honest, I thought there would been more yelling. She must have more of her mother in her than I realised. The worst excesses of the Harrington temper seem to have by-passed her. Although, if I remember correctly, Clari tended to be a slow burning anger. When she was annoyed she could make you feel like a naughty school boy with just a look. Much scarier than Fred.” He chuckled to himself.
Beatrice smiled at the memory. “She was definitely the boss that’s for sure. I miss her. I don’t think I realised how much, until I had to tell that story. I’ve spent so long, being watchful and wary, I haven’t had time to think much about that night. I think I’ve been avoiding thinking about it.”
“That’s understandable. Plus, you had a daughter to raise, and a husband. You had a life. It’s been eighteen years. She wouldn’t have expected you to mourn her this whole time.”
“So you think she’ll forgive me for lying to her?”
“Of course she will. Do you think you’re the first parent that lied to their child to protect them? Once she’s had a chance to absorb it all, she’ll be okay. You both will.”
They stood saying nothing for a moment. Then Beatrice looked around, and saw where she was. She pulled herself away. She then started wiping the remaining tears from her face, and smoothing out her skirt.
“I’m so sorry. What you must think of me, breaking down like that! I didn’t mean to blubber all over you.”
“That’s fine. I didn’t mind.”
“It’s so unlike me, and you’ve been so good taking us in and giving us a place to stay. I promise we’ll be out of your hair soon. Once Mae has had a chance to gather herself, we’ll head off.”
“To Belbarbiton. I told you when we ran into you that’s where we were going.”
“Hmm…yes. You did. I just assumed you had changed your mind.”
“Even if he hadn’t turned up, we probably would have gone there soon anyway. She’s eighteen now; I’ve been sensing for a while now that she is starting to come into her power. She’s going to need instruction. There aren’t many who are still able. I certainly can’t help.”
“Yes, you’re right. I know you have to go there. I just, don’t you think he knows it too?”
“Most likely. But, I don’t have a choice. But, it’s a large city. It’s easier to hide. We’ll be careful. In a way, it’s probably better that she knows now. It’ll make it easier.”
She looked around the room.
“I can’t stand this. I’m going to find her.” With that she left the room.
Hector sighed, and sat down. It had been a long day.