A Boy and his Princess

The boy sought for his princess under a tree – suspecting this the place he would find her. For, when their morning lesson time was over, she often took her books out to the old oak tree growing close to the palace walls. In the space between wall and tree, sheltered too by a canopy of branches, his princess had found a place to be away from prying eyes. A secret place shared only with the boy.

At nine, even though very bright, the boy was not an especially studious child; he preferred horses or weapon practice to the reading of books. But the boy’s father expected much of all his children, especially his five sons; one expectation brought about classic languages taught to them at the earliest possible ages.

One day, six weeks ago, the tutor lost all patience with the boy because of his slowness in learning ancient Greek, striking down his rod upon the boy’s knuckles three times – hard. The boy felt tears smart his eyes and shame drenched him – his apparent lacks witnessed by the other young scholars – two of them children of the King.

One was the boy’s princess, for a time, back at her father’s court and sharing the same tutor and lessons with her brother. Standing there, unable to do more than take rasping breaths, the boy saw the girl busy herself with a writing task. But, by the next day, the boy’s princess then took as her duty to ensure the tutor had no cause to ever beat him again.

That day was the first time of many he came to be in his princess’s secret hideaway, found in a garden of Whitehall, one of the many palaces of her father, the King. His princess found amongst her old books a copy of an ancient Greek book, written, many centuries ago, by a man who knew a great deal about the boy’s favourite subject: horses. Together, they scoured the book’s contents, deciphering the Greek text into their English common tongue, laughing together at the mistakes they made, enjoying the beginning of a rich friendship. Both of them great lovers of horses, this was the first thing they found in common.

The boy’s father, a Lord and servant to the princess’s father, didn’t call her princess. Rather, it was ‘the Lady Elizabeth’ in public, or ‘Anne Boleyn’s bastard brat’ when speaking privately at home to the boy’s mother, in the family’s solar. Hearing his lord father call her such made the boy cringe. But the boy, possessing proper respect towards his sire, didn’t dare tell his father he claimed this girl for his very own princess. For, with all her cleverness, long red-gold hair, pale complexion and the beautiful, tapering fingers she so enjoyed showing off and bedecking with rings, she perfectly fitted his mind’s image of what a princess should be. She was also a year younger than him, that combined with her ‘femaleness’ made him feel as if elected her knight – a knight with a princess to protect. Especially now – so urgent was his need to reach her.

The loud boom of the cannon reverberated in the garden, stopping the boy in his tracks. Frightened by the sound of thunder on this blue-skied day, birds flew out of trees, their hasty flight loosening leaves; they fluttered to the ground. But while the birds possessed no insight as to the reason why violence had disturbed their morning, the boy knew what it meant. He had walked quickly in search of his princess, now the fading echo of the cannon blast moved him out from stillness into a fast run.

Breathless, he burst into his princess’s hiding place to discover her, body twisted on the leaf littered ground, sobbing as if her heart broke.

He squatted near her, wondering what to do, listening to her weep. As tears of sympathy came to his own eyes, the boy reached out to touch her shoulder. “Princess -” he said.

He heard her gulp down a deep breath, watching her head turn towards him.

“Robin.” She sat up, quickly wiping her face. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“How could I not be here when I knew you’d need me?”

She bent her head, twisting a handkerchief in her lap. Songs of birds, above their heads, told him they had recovered from their fright, now feeling safe enough to return to trees. Somewhere close, a single bee buzzed out its search for pollen. Robert watched Elizabeth as she spread out on her lap the cambric handkerchief, seeing embroidered upon it an elaborate K alongside an equally elaborate E.

“She made this for me, Robin. She said we must always remember we are cousins – there to help one another. But when she needed me- what could I do? Nothing. I could do nothing. ”

“Bess – my father said it was her own fault.”

The girl’s head snapped up. “She was kind to me, Robin. She was kind to my father. He called her his Rose with no thorn, yet he killed her…” Her eyes shone with unshed tears. “He killed her just as he did my…,” she lowered her gaze from his, and two tears trailed down her cheeks. The words she spoke were barely above a whisper, “…as he did my mother.” Elizabeth’s gaze rested on him again. “Robin, I vow I shall never marry.” To this he had no ready answer, only reaching out to rest his hand on hers.

Near them, the droning bee continued its search.