The princess quickly pulled the veil over her face. “Guards! Guards!” she cried, despite the protestations of the young man who had climbed over the garden wall.
“No! Wait! Listen!” he made calming gestures. “I can explain.”
“You are aware, are you not, of the statutes? No man may look upon my face and live!”
“It can’t be that bad,” the young man scoffed. “No, wait. Listen. I didn’t mean that; that was a joke. But honestly, Your Highness, I didn’t see anything. I am not here for you. I don’t give a hoot what you look like. I’m not interested.”
Behind the mesh, Royal eyebrows dipped.
“My beauty is famed far and wide. Many highborn men have forfeited their lives in the trial to win my hand.”
“Yes, yes,” said the young man. “We’ve all heard the stories, love.”
The princess was aghast. No one had ever spoken to her in this manner.
“You dare! You have the temerity, the audacity, to call me your love!”
“Don’t get your knickers in a knot. It’s just an expression. Where I come from, we all call each other love all the time.”
The Royal shoulders shuddered. The princess dreaded to imagine what kind of squalor had given rise to the scruffy youth before her. His clothes were patched and ragged and his face, though not unpleasant – rather handsome, in fact – was dirty and unshaven. His arms looked strong – why, if he were to force himself upon me, to carry me away, there would be little point in resisting…
The princess brought herself up sharp. And where the hell were those guards?
“You say you have not come for me. For what then have you scaled my walls and penetrated my private garden?”
“Steady on there, Mrs,” the young man laughed.
“Apples! You are after my apples – what’s the word? You are scrumping! Guards! Guards!”
“Relax. I don’t give a fig about your apples. If you must know, I’m here on an assignation. Within these walls my true love resides. Stony limits cannot keep love out.”
There was a fire in the young man’s eyes; the princess was certain none of the highborn men who had ventured their lives to win her hand had ever looked at her with such passion.
“For whom have you come? For whom do you risk your neck?”
The young man blushed, rather endearingly. “Why, for your brother, the Prince. You see, once he smiled at me, that special smile – you know the one? The smile that burns through your eyes and into your very soul and you just know. You know?”
“I can’t say that I do,” the princess scowled. “For my brother, you say?”
Curse the fool! Why should the Prince have everything? Was it not enough that he would inherit the kingdom?
“Your Highness.” Two burly men with gleaming breastplates and curvy scimitars bowed before her. “What is your will?”
“You took your time,” she snapped. “This youth. He is an intruder. Seize him and execute him.”
“No!” cried the youth. “Why?”
The princess removed her veil and grinned.