“What? Are you serving pancakes, my dear? Is this the best you could do for our honored guests?” The man’s voice was full and musical, almost as though it could cast a spell on any ears it touched.
“Roland!” the enchantress cried angrily, her hands on her hips. “What in willow’s name are you doing here? How dare you come pouncing into my home, frightening my guest.”
At this, the man turned and looked at the prince, who rather wished that the enchantress had not brought him to the strange man’s attention.
“My apologies, fair lady,” the man said, with a deep bow, “but, I am here on assignment as well.” With that he turned his head toward the doorway, encouraging the two to follow his gaze. Cowering behind the doorframe was a slight young woman with a tear-stained face. She had rosy cheeks, and her eyes were still bright and shining with unspent tears.
“Princess Beatrice,” the young prince stuttered, as he clumsily pulled himself from off the floor. “Are you a captive as well?”
“Y-y-yes,” she said in a quavering voice, still hiding behind the doorframe. “This man abducted me against my will, and I didn’t even want to go with him! He just popped into the hall, grabbed hold of my arm, made some grand speech to Papa, and whisked me away! And we were about to dine on apricots and pheasant!”
As she approached the last of her speech, the princess appeared to grow more indignant with the inconvenience of her situation, for she stomped her little foot in a petulant manner.
The enchantress raised a delicate eyebrow. “Since we are all here,” she said, looking pointedly at Roland, “let us all enjoy a luncheon of pancakes. Please make yourselves at home.” She stoically gestured them all toward the table.
“Pancakes for lunch?” Princess Beatrice questioned incredulously, but before the irritated lady of the house could respond the young prince escorted the young woman to the seat next to his.
As the four delved into the steaming stack of pancakes, conversation around the table was temporarily halted. The vibrantly red strawberries, plucked fresh and wet from the enchantress’s own garden that morning, were impossibly sweet, and their juices drizzled down more than one chin at that table.
Finally as bellies were full and chairs were pushed away slightly from the table to allow for more comfortable breathing space, the enchantress again turned toward the dark man who had so suddenly disturbed her luncheon.
“Come now, Roland,” she said in a satisfied, languid tone, “you must tell me the meaning of this young lady’s presence in my home.”
“Gladly, my dear,” Roland said, eyeing the two young captives. Steepling his long fingers together, he began his tale. “About one week ago I was approached by a man of great wealth and consequence in regards to a dispute he was embroiled in with his neighbor. This man was under the persuasion that he was being wronged in the ability to access property adjoining his own. When I enquired as to why this piece of property was so desirable to him, he refused to be specific, saying only that it was worth far more than any kingdom on this earth. I asked why he was unable to access this land. He exclaimed with great feeling that the value of the property, or rather what was hidden on the property, was not only known to him. Every time he sent his men in to search out the depths of the woods, they would come across the men of his neighbor doing the same. They would come to blows, neither side progressing far and apparently neither side discovering the whereabouts of this hidden treasure. Both men argued that the piece of land belonged to them, and was their right to explore unhindered. Neither man would budge, neither side would give up the chance of discovering this great treasure.”
At this, Roland paused for a moment, letting the words of his story swirl around the room like a vapor of unease.
“There are woods adjacent to our kingdom’s land,” Prince Otto spoke softly, stirring the swirling unease with additional expected agitation. “My father has been sending regular regiments of men past our borders for the past month. I have seen him conferring with his head captain on multiple occasions in hushed tones.”
“I as well,” Princess Beatrice piped in. “Papa has gone quite distracted of late. Why just yesterday I am sure I talked to him for at least a quarter hour without him hearing a single word I uttered! And I had such news to share, too. I just learned from my cousin Penelope that my gowns’ sleeves are no longer de haute couture and the neckline is all wrong! Only imagine my horror that I should be seen without the proper embellishments to my wardrobe! Why, the kingdom quite looks to me for the standard of dress. How could I possibly be seen in designs so de passe’! However, Mama said I could order an entire new wardrobe, so I was happy again.”
The enchantress looked at the princess with an expression impossible to describe. She opened her mouth to respond, then thinking better of it, closed it again and looked back toward Roland. “Please continue, Roland,” she said silkily. “I am all anticipation as to where this story shall end.”
“Of course, my Fair One, I shall no longer keep you in suspense,” he said genially. “I was commissioned to help inspire this neighbor to give up the rights to the property in question. In short, I was to capture the delicate and petit innocente Princess Beatrice in hopes to persuade the relinquishment of the hidden treasure.”
“And who, might I ask, sir, was the benefactor of your vile mission?” Prince Otto spluttered.
“Why, your father, King Valant of course!” Roland laughed out loud.