Author: Witch Fu
"Sir William. Your father wishes to have words with you immediately." breathed a tall man, dressed in semi-fine linens of cream and gentle maroon. Upon hearing no reply, the man looked up where he felt sure his quarry would be perched. Sure enough, the form of a small body took shape nestled among greenery and the limbs of an old apple tree.
"Sir William, I see you up there, now come down and accompany me to your father's throne room." the tired and bored sounding man drawled out.
The just barely visible spot of fiery red hair answered back, with a slightly less practiced brogue, "I don't know why you're calling me that, Peter, or why you need company to visit the throne room. But if you'll stand by the way, I'll be down shortly."
The man nodded curtly, with a, "Very good, Sir." muttered under his breath. Before he could but look up, his charge appeared as if fallen from the sky, no worse for the wear and with the occasional bramble sticking out of a disheveled mop of hair.
"Shall we?" the red head asked in mock politeness. Peter shook his balding head, and stepped aside for his young master to lead the way.
"Tell me, Peter, all day I have been addressed as nothing but 'Sir William' or just 'Sir,' and needless to say I find it rather disconcerting. What is the meaning of it?" the shorter of the two asked with two innocent eyes peering upward.
Peter took a moment to think before answering, "What else would you have us call you, sir? William is your given name, and you are the heir to his majesty's throne. Sir William the Fourth of surrounding Northern England."
The red head seemed utterly perplexed and looked as though a question burned to be asked. In a moment, however, it was quelled or internally answered. A look of total frightened understanding passed the freckled features before turning into a more sedate dread. The two continued on in solemn silence for the better part of the journey.
On entering the palace, the smaller faced Peter and inquired as to how it was that he knew where to look for the young prince. Peter answered without the slightest hitch or hesitance, "It is one of your old play spots, sir."
"Old?" the child asked curiously as they came to the door to the King's throne room.
"Your father waits, sir." Peter stated flatly before signaling for a guard to open one of the great doors.
"Very well, Peter. My thanks." The child said with no emotion, while entering the finely decorated room. The walls of the chamber were decorated with myriads of beautiful works: Persian rugs, the finest Parisian paintings, generations of family portraits, and glistening coats of armor, all so splendid, it was impossible to look away. The room was more of a hall than a chamber as it was elongated, presumably to enshrine the King for a look of godly presence.
The child's eyes roamed, growing larger with every pass of the surroundings. Savoring each flavor of a room infrequently visited, arms swung carelessly around the midsection, as the small red head drew closer to the little known father.
"It isn't everyday that I have the opportunity to see father. What fortune I am having! I saw him but yesterday and yet again this day! Although, the circumstances under which I saw him were less than savory..." the child thought breathlessly, remembering the sorrow-filled yesterday, and swallowing what threatened to be tears. The Queen had died. Both mother and father had been elusive at best for the child, but upon the Queen's death, the red head wept furiously. Frustrated with the futility of living one's life for her people, as the Queen did, only to die because of them. The Queen visited many places, furthering the King's land and allegiances, and it was on one of her journeys to visit the townsfolk that she became ill, and took to fever shortly before her death.
"Ah, here we are, very good. Leave us!" The King demanded with no excitement. He too was suffering from the loss of the Queen, but unlike his off-spring, his eyes were clear and concise. Once the servants, attendants and scribes were gone, the King began, "William," he cleared his throat uncomfortably, while re-situating himself on his seat, "Plans have been made for your education. No more of these days spent amongst the trees. You are to be spurned in the fashion to which every king before you has been accustomed. Your tutors will attend to your questions as they have been instructed. As to your schedule and what is expected of you, Peter is whom you will direct your questions, although, I assure you, what is expected of you will be made clear soon enough. As for myself, I am certain only the best will come from you, William. There will be no problems with this. I've no time for your questions or uncertainties, so limit them, William. Better yet, do not have them. I have told you what it is that you need to know, do you comprehend, William?"
The child blinked once before straightening bravely and answering, "Yes, your Highness."
At this the King's attention was snapped into action, and staring down at the child standing straight in the middle of that great hall, the King added with an under-current of urgency and importance, "You must not call me, 'your Highness' any longer, William. I am your father, address me as such."
"Thank you, f-father." the little one answered, faltering slightly on the word never used outside of internal monologues, nor ever hoped to use.
"William, a prince does not stutter. You may go." with a wave of his pampered hand, the King dismissed the young and confused prince from his presence as easily as he would a common gutter bitch.
Bowing to her father and King, Prince William the Fourth, formerly Willow, Princess of surrounding Northern England tried desperately to keep from shaking as she straightened to leave. Holding back the tears of confusion and pain, Willow made it to the great door which was opened by the standing guard, not with some difficulty. Mechanically, Willow made it through the door, where she saw Peter waiting for her.
After the doors to the chamber had been closed, Willow looked over toward Peter, who now, had his head bowed in subservience.
"Do I yet have time to rest in my chambers, Peter?" Willow asked feeling the numbness threaten to engulf her.
"No, sir William. Your lessons begin in the upper study as soon as you are able to attend them."
Willow nodded. "Of course," eyes blank, thinking calmly to herself. "I can't absorb this now, it must wait. Until I am alone. Until I have the freedom to sort through it all." she thought desperately. Willow followed Peter up the stairs and into a well-lit room of good size, where books lined the dozens of shelves on every wall. There stood a desk to the right and one large table on the left. A man was seated on a stool beside the table and on seeing Willow, rose to his feet swiftly to take an urgent bow. This was all very confusing. Willow knew of etiquette, and therefore knew that this behavior only solidified what she dreaded was happening to her. Only a prince was regarded so carefully. Only a prince was tutored in subjects other than knitting and etiquette. And yet here she was being formally bowed to by her soon to be tutor. Everyone had called her 'sir' this morning, and she had finally registered the gravity of her situation. She had never been formally introduced to court, which was unheard of for the daughter of a powerful King who wished for allies. A girl of her nine years would already be betrothed to a suitable ally, and well trained in formalities.
Only her mother had ever referred to her as 'Willow', and anyone else who had reason to address her by name called her 'Will'. She remembered the many subdued arguments with her mother over the cutting of her hair. Her mother had insisted on its boyish shoulder-length cropping, while Willow enjoyed it long and free. Not once had she been scolded for wearing the breeches that a boy of her age and status would wear. In fact, she had been told to wear more than a few of the items that she frequently wore by choice. It occurred to her that while all of that preparation for this day had been done all along, the final steps, the tutoring, the address of the King himself, the referring to her as 'sir William', all of that was done after her mother's death, and most likely, because of it. So maybe that meant that her mother disliked the idea of Willow playing such an unfair cog in the wheel of her father's schemes, but could do little to stop it. Thinking this gave Willow a boost of pride in her mother, and the strength that she needed to push aside the numbness that had begun the settle in on her, and with clarity, addressed what was necessary. She would be the best Prince of surrounding Northern England that she could be. She would impress her father, out-wit her tutors and prove herself, even if she needed no one's approval. With a look of determination, she sat in the desk, looking straight forward, asked, "Where do we start?"