–Parental guidance suggested–
The Pauper Prince
Two days had passed since Mara had been shown Kelvin’s, and possibly her, private chambers. The two most notable events during this time, other than the epiphany about her father, were that she had finally managed to give her positive review of Heather to the Queen – who reacted anticlimactically to the report – and that the royal seamstresses had completed one of her dresses. Not from scratch, but by modifying an existing dress. Her other garments would take time and would be from scratch. The women brought the first gown directly to her guest room, but Mara resisted being undressed in front of them, women or not. Fortunately they had brought a folding screen.
Mara put on the outfit herself behind the screen, and got the gist of it, but the women did need to step in and make a lot of final adjustments for her. Aside from being a perfect fit, the colors, according to the women, complemented her body’s coloring and enhanced her already “regal” bearing. Mara just went along with their chattering and nodded at appropriate times. There was no full-length looking glass in the room, but she could get a sense of her appearance from the feel and cut of the dress. The main garment was satin, dyed emerald green and with gold trim at the ends of the hanging sleeves and woven around the neckline. Another wide belt of brown leather gave her a waist; she was not an especially curvy woman, and the seamstresses insisted that it would accentuate her figure. Mara continued nodding at appropriate times. After the women had declared their first delivery a success, she thanked them all sincerely for their work and skill, and returned the “loaner” dress from several days before. The women appreciated the gratitude, and before gathering their equipment and leaving, were once again aghast that she was still wearing her well-worn, leather boots. The truth of it was that it hadn’t occurred to Mara to seek out lady shoes, and nobody other than those women seemed to have noticed yet.
The seamstresses had managed to finish their business before breakfast, though Mara would have appreciated the extra time in bed. The morning meal was a private affair again. Her attendant this time was a nervous and awkward girl named Viola, who accidentally dropped one of the tea cups and was too flustered by it to speak coherently. Mara listened closely and tried to decipher her words, and gave up. At least she was able to make herself understood by the girl that no real harm had been done. Viola stumbled on her dress while curtseying, and then left in a hurry. Mara actually appreciated the lack of perfection, even if the girl had not.
Thirty minutes later a messenger, not Solomon this time, announced that her presence was requested by the King and Queen. Mara surmised that another interrogation was in order. In fact, she was brought to the same sparse, shadowy room where she had been before. The difference was that Kelvin was here, too. He stood beside his father, and given his solemn expression and odd reluctance to make eye contact with Mara, she realized that there was only one purpose for this meeting: they had made their decision about the marriage, and it was not in her favor. She braced herself for the terrible news.
“Lady Mara,” said the King, “This morning you will meet with the Royal Physician, for the purpose of determining your general health, as well as your purity.”
Or for that purpose, she thought, letting herself breathe again.
“…Yes, Your Majesty,” she said, looking to Kelvin for any silent explanations he could give. He had none. In fact, he still could not fully meet her gaze.
“You will be thoroughly examined,” said the King. “You will cooperate fully with the physician’s instructions. This is required for his results to be accurate.”
“What is…?” she said. “May I ask what you mean by ‘thoroughly’? Your Majesties?”
“You may ask…” said the King, and allowed the slightest of smiles to peek through his serious countenance. Kelvin’s face suddenly lit up.
“Why, Mara, is that a new dress?” he said. “Did the seamstresses finish them for you? You look absolutely… It’s stunning! Please: let us see all sides!”
She gave in to his gushing and grinned broadly. “Oh… Yes, they brought this this morning,” she said, and started to turn around. “You mean, you like it?”
“Son, do not change the subject,” said the King. “We don’t have all day for this.”
“I only wanted to acknowledge her new clothes, and… lighten the mood,” said Kelvin. “Father, at least let us explain the purpose of the visit.”
“I have already done this,” said the King. “Determining her good health and her purity.”
“I don’t understand what you mean by my ‘purity.'”
The Queen spoke. “You must understand that it is required of you to be… pure and untouched, child.”
Mara’s expression made it clear that she did not.
“A virgin,” said the King. “Untouched by man.”
“Oh!” said Mara, perking up. “Your Majesties, I can save you the trouble. I swear to you that no man has ever touched me. Except Ke– the Prince, that is.”
There was a pause, and then as one, the King and Queen turned their gaze towards Kelvin and glared. A moment later he realized what had been said. He waved both hands frantically and shook his head.
“Nononono!” he said. “Father- Mother- she meant a different thing than you’re thinking!”
“Oh, really?” said the King.
“It’s what I’ve been trying to explain to you all this time,” said Kelvin. “For her, ‘touching’ means any sort of touching. We have embraced. We have kissed. Nothing more!”
“Kelvin…” she said, looking away, embarassed.
“We may take her word on this, sire,” said Kelvin. “Believe m-”
“The law is the law,” said the King. “This is not up for debate.”
“You believe that I have broken the law?” asked Mara.
“No, child,” said the Queen. “Silas, please. Let us get this over with.”
“Agreed,” said the King, and moved past Mara to open the door himself. “We will be accompanying you. Come.”
Kelvin passed her now, glancing her way with an unhappy expression. The Queen stood beside her.
“Walk with us, child,” she said.
The royal physician’s chambers consisted of a small waiting area in front, with a door leading to his study and examination room. He was in the front room to greet the royals and his new patient.
“This is the Lady Mara,” said the King. The doctor gave her a small head-bow. He was stout, bearded, dressed in an all-black robe and wearing a tall hat that may have had a practical purpose, but she could not determine it.
“And this is Sir William of Gull, our royal physician,” said the King. Mara decided to err on the side of protocol, and curtseyed to him. “Sir William, you understand which examinations are to be conducted?” asked the King.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” said the physician.
“I don’t,” said Mara.
Kelvin tried to speak, but was interrupted by the physician extending a hand to Mara. “Shall we begin, My Lady?” asked the physician.
Mara glanced at the others worriedly, then nodded quickly, but did not take his hand. She followed him through the door.
The physician’s study/examination room was brighter than she expected. His large windows faced the east and were filled with the morning sun. There was another man with the physician – an assistant, perhaps – who glanced her way before returning to his preparations. He was placing various tools on a small table situated next to a larger table covered with a sheet. The physician went to his desk in the corner to review papers of some kind. The assistant finished with the tools and dragged a tri-fold screen closer to Mara.
“You will need to remove your garments,” said the assistant.
Mara looked at him quizzically. “What’s that now?”
“Your garments,” he said. “Step behind the screen and remove them.”
“Which garments do you mean?”
“All of them.”
Mara looked wide-eyed at the assistant, then the physician. “No,” she said. “Whatever it is you do for these ‘thorough examinations,’ I will be clothed for them.” She heard the physician sigh.
“My Lady, will you step this way, please?” said the physician. She turned to see him beckoning her over. She set her jaw and went to him.
“Was the purpose of these examinations explained to you?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” she said. “No, actually. ‘General health and purity.’ That was all.”
“Have you been examined by a physician before?”
She scoffed. “Oh, all the time,” she said. “That would be ‘never.’ ”
“I see,” said the physician. “Well, you must understand that we must be able to view and examine one’s entire body, absent of clothing, to check for abnormalities, blemishes, and anything that would indicate a lack of health. Especially… of Plague. One cannot be expected to find such things underneath layers of clothing, can one? These examinations are required by our laws, especially since the plague. Now remove your garments.”
He gestured towards the screen, but she was rooted in place and did not move.
“My Lady, was it not explained to you that you must comply with my instructions?” said the physician.
“Then do so.”
With a last glance towards the door, as if pondering using it to escape, Mara slowly walked to the screen and stood behind it. She moved in slow motion, removing each piece of her clothing as if underwater, wincing as if in pain at their discarding. The last items were her boots, the right one still hiding her throwing dagger. She pulled it out and stared at it, then abruptly forced herself to put it away and drop the boot. Then she told herself to go to the examination room, but could not obey.
“My Lady?” said the physician. “Are you ready?”
“Uh…” she said, wrapping her arms around herself and squeezing her legs together tightly. “I think so.”
Before she could muster the fortitude and courage to tiptoe over, the tri-fold screen was suddenly collapsed together with a clackety-clack. She kept her head up, but bent her body forward to hide as much as possible.
The assistant put away the screen while the physician gestured to the middle of the room, which had the most light. “You need to stand up straight and tall,” he said, “And come this way. Come…”
Mara stood up a little more, and walked over as best as one could with thighs pressed together. The physician reached out to move her into position, and she drew away.
“Just tell me where to stand,” she said, “And I will do that.”
“The more you cooperate, the sooner this will end,” said the physician. “Now stand up straight, and hold your arms out, like this.” He demonstrated a “T” position for her. She shook her head vigorously.
“This is the last time I will ask,” he said, “The King himself has ordered this. We are both beholden to the law. Stand up straight and hold out your arms!”
Mara winced at an imaginary pain, and slowly forced herself to stand at full height and hold her arms out all the way.
“Roger, take my notes,” said Sir William. Roger the assistant brought over a pen, ink and parchment. “Patient is the Lady Mara.” Roger wrote a bit on top and then waited for Sir William’s instructions. “Your full name?”
“Uh…” she said, trembling, “I have no other name.” The trembling concerned him.
“Are you cold, My Lady?” he said, beginning his examination at her fingers and working his way along her arm.
“No,” she said quickly.
“Left fingers, hand, forearm,” dictated the physician, “No obvious defects.”
That was not as comforting to Mara as Sir William might have thought. She took in a breath as he reached her upper arm and wrapped his hands around it, moving them forward, then back. He stopped and examined a few spots, “Hm”ing at each one. Mara looked over.
“Eyes forward,” said Sir William to her without looking up from whatever so fascinated him. She looked forward, but struggled against glancing over from time to time. Then Sir William left her side and went to Roger, where he took up the pen and ink and began writing his own notes. During this time she felt Roger’s gaze on her, and again wrapped her arms tightly around herself. She was resolved now to bear this out, caring no longer what her health was, as long as it meant finishing and leaving more quickly.
When Sir William resumed his rubbing and prodding, this time on her back, with more “hm’s” than before, she stood still, unflinching even when his cool hands slid down her spine, but always kept an eye on the assistant. He pretended to pay more attention to Sir William’s notes than to her.
Sir William’s examination moved on to her front, where he peered deeply into her eyes, felt along her ears, and checked her tongue and teeth. Flinching when he poked her armpits could not be helped, for this was an extremely ticklish spot, as were the sides of her ribs. But she grit her teeth and held her breath.
Sir William then returned to his papers and wrote more items in silence, then nodded and gestured to Roger, who gathered the paper and ink and moved them from the table.
Mara spoke quietly, tonelessly. “Am I finished?”
“What was that?” said Sir William.
“My clothes,” she said. “May I be clothed again?”
“I’m afraid not yet,” he said. Roger was either putting equipment away or making more preparations; she could not tell. “There is one more examination to perform,” said Sir William. “You will need to be lying down for this. Come.” He gestured to a table of wood and metal that she could tell was going to be cold. There appeared to be leather straps in different places, which did not fill her with confidence. With another look towards the door and a moment to take a deep breath, she wrapped her arms around herself and went to the table.
Sir William offered a hand to assist her, which she did not accept. She winced at the coldness of the table. Suddenly Roger was at the left side of the table, handling straps that were closest to her left arm. Sir William picked up the straps closest to her right arm.
“Lady Mara, this examination requires that you be as still as possible,” said Sir William. “We have found that restraints make this easier for us all.”
Mara sat up, folding her arms. “No more,” she said. “What is this examination?? Why will no one explain things to me?? Restraints? Why? Is this something painful?”
“Lady Mara, calm yourself-”
“I ask only for an explanation!”
“And you have had it!” said Sir William. “The first examination for your general health – especially any signs of plague – and this examination, to determine your purity.”
“I swear to you, Sir William,” she said, “No man has ever touched me. Why will no one accept my word?”
“It is the law that you be examined,” he said. “I am not allowed to accept your word only. I shall not lie to my King.”
“Then tell me what you’re going to do,” she said, her eyes moistening. She fought to keep her voice strong and clear. “Please,” she whispered.
Sir William sighed. “Very well,” he said. “We must confirm that your maidenhead is intact.” He held up his hand. “As you can see, my fingers are thick and may cause discomfort. But my assistant’s fingers-” Roger held up his hand – “are longer and more slender. Therefore, he will perform the examination.”
“I–” she said, glancing at Roger, whom she would swear was fighting against a smile, “I still don’t know what you’re going to do,” she finished quietly.
“He, uh–” said Sir William, “He needs to insert them into your womanly orifice, and confirm that your maidenhead is still there.”
“Where you bleed from periodically,” he said. “You do bleed, do you not?”
“…Yes,” she said quietly, holding herself more tightly. “Sir William, please: I beg you not to do this. I swear on… on my mother’s soul, I have not been with a man. Please tell them that.”
“That may be so,” he said, his features softening, but only for the briefest of moments, “But the law is the law. It is not mine to break, nor yours. His Royal Highness the Prince – I’m told that it is your intention to marry him, is it not?”
“Yes,” she said. “He asked me, though. He asked me.”
“Take some small comfort in this, then: there would be no examination if they did not take your intention seriously.”
“That His Majesty the King ordered this examination means that they are giving serious thought to your worthiness as the Prince’s intended. And you do wish to be worthy of marrying him, do you not?”
“Yes,” she said quietly, then straightened up. “Yes, I do,” she added with more strength.
“Then lie back down,” said Sir William, “And let us finish this examination.”
Mara took a few seconds to debate with herself, but it was a full, raging debate. Endure the humiliation here and now, or forfeit her (possible) marriage to Kelvin. Killing Sir William and Roger and escaping also flashed into her mind, but she had reached the point now in her life where she could (more) easily dismiss such a temptation. The final result was that she did not actually come to a decision, but simply let her mind shut down.
She laid back down slowly and stared up at the ceiling while Sir William and Roger went about their business of fastening the straps. Her arms were held down at the wrists. There was also a strap for her waist, and ultimately, her feet were placed in stirrups but then held in place with more straps around the ankles. Then suddenly Roger grabbed a rope and pulled, lifting her legs high and spreading them. Mara winced and closed her eyes, then let them slowly open again. Keeping her gaze on the ceiling helped her to tolerate what was to come.
Sir William stood beside her while directing Roger through his preparations. She heard water splashing and assumed that he was washing up. At least there was that preparation. If only he had clipped or filed down the fingernails she had noticed earlier. Perhaps that was part of his preparation.
An uncomfortably long silence preceded the sudden cold that touched her “womanly orifice.” Mara grunted and flinched, which caused its own pain on her feet because of the restraints. Sir William placed what he thought was a comforting, calming hand on her belly, but only glanced her way before continuing to watch Roger. Roger hesitated.
“Sir William?” he said.
“Cold…” said Mara through gritted teeth.
“From the washing, My Lady,” said Sir William. “You’ll get used to it. Continue, Roger.”
Roger continued. Roughly. Clumsily. Mara’s legs tried to slam together on reflex and were again chafed against the leather. None of the restraints were tight, exactly, but were firm enough to hurt if fought against. Sir William was speaking to her all the while, using possibly calming tones, but she heard none of his words and was not going to be calm, either way. As still as possible, yes, for the sole purpose of this “test” being completed as soon as possible. But never calm.
Roger’s fingers were not far into her womanly orifice and were being moved in a slow circular motion. She did not know what this “maidenhead” thing was supposed to be, but if he did not find it soon, she would find a way to escape the restraints and find it herself.
Sir William had by now moved his hand to rest on her shoulder, his gaze still on Roger, leaving Mara free to ponder the possibility of biting the doctor’s arm, when Roger suddenly withdrew his fingers and nodded. Sir William nodded back.
“Thank you, Roger,” he said, taking hold of one of her arm restraints. “Please wash again and then help me undo the straps.” Roger bowed his head slightly and began turning around. Mara caught a glimpse of him smelling his fingers before turning away completely. Meanwhile, Sir William was releasing her left arm from its restraint.
“The examination is complete, My Lady,” he said calmly. As soon as her hand was free, she attempted to undo the other strap herself. “No need for that,” he said. “We’ll take care of that.”
“I’m in a hurry, if you don’t mind,” she said. “And why were you nodding? Is that good or bad?”
“Good,” he said, gently pulling her arm back so he could work on the middle strap. Roger returned and fiddled with the rope that had been used to pull up her legs. But whether from the slipperiness of the water, his own clumsiness, or something else, the rope slid from his hands, and her legs dropped to the table with a loud and painful thump.
“Roger!” said Sir William. Roger bent over in shame and contriteness, calling out apologies to his master while grabbing at Mara’s legs, but for what purpose, she neither knew nor cared. She kicked at one of his hands, earning the doctor’s stern attention on her this time.
“Lady Mara!” he said. “He did not mean to let go! He’s trying to help!”
She stopped kicking and glared at the doctor. “Thank you for your concern, Sir William,” she said. “My legs should be fine.” She crossed her arms tightly around herself and sat up. “Now may I be dressed again?”
Sir William glared back, then sighed and turned away. “Yes, My Lady,” he said. “Your examinations are over.”
Mara pushed past Roger and set up the tri-folding screens herself. As she threw her clothing on as quickly as possible, Sir William smoothed out his own garments and accoutrements before exiting the room.
The Royal Family was still waiting in the foyer, none with such anxiety as the Prince appeared to possess. Two handmaidens had joined the Family since the Lady Mara had been brought to him. Sir William made his bows to the Family.
“What news?” said the King.
“Your Majesties. Your Highness. My full report is forthcoming, but I know that your main concern is towards her general health and her purity,” said Sir William. The King nodded. “In both cases, she has passed her examinations. She shows no signs of Plague or other obvious illnesses, and does appear to be untouched by man.”
The Prince audibly sighed in relief and tried to share a smile with his parents, but it was not shared.
“However,” Sir William continued, “There is a matter that should be brought to your attentions. While I found no signs of illness on her person, she does have a great deal many… blemishes.”
“Sorry?” said the Prince.
“Scars, to be precise,” said Sir William. “Your Majesties, I know not what sort of life she led before, but she appears to have been the recipient of many wounds. Mostly on her torso and upper arms, and some on her legs. If she were a soldier, I would say that most of the scars were from swords and daggers in battle, but that cannot have been the case for her?”
“Um…” said the Prince, glancing about.
“And there were at least two scars that appeared to have been the result of burns,” Sir William continued, “On her back, specifically. Your Majesties – Your Highness – if she is indeed being considered as a bride, I bring these to your attention in case it will affect your… decision.”
“It might,” said the King. “Is she dressed yet? I’ll see-”
“No,” said the Prince. The King looked at him quizzically. “Thank you, Sir William, for bringing that to our attention. Our decision is not affected.”
“You’ve seen these scars?” said the King.
“No, Father. She always wore enough clothing to cover them. I’ll see them on our wedding night, though.”
Behind them the door opened again, and the Lady Mara emerged from the examination room, her clothing put on about as well as could be done unaided, her posture straight, but not regal. The Queen, nearest the door, stepped aside slightly to allow her to enter. Her stance and demeanor reminded the Prince of a wounded animal still trying to present itself as a threat.
“Mara?” he said softly, instinctively reaching out, but the Queen stopped his reach halfway. She shook her head slightly. The Prince opened his mouth as if to argue, then relaxed and pulled back. Mara glanced his way, then returned to looking at nothing. The Queen stepped forward and put a gentle arm around her, leading her through the men, who parted for them in silence, and over to the two handmaidens. Mara recognized one of them.
“Lady Mara,” said the Queen, “I’ve taken the liberty of summoning these two handmaidens to bring you back to your room, and to attend to any of your needs.”
Mara’s voice was barely above a whisper, as if it was all the strength she could muster to speak. “Thank you, your Majesty.”
The Queen gestured towards one of the girls, a redhead. “You’re acquainted with this one, yes?” she said. “You did speak highly of her.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” whispered Mara, not noticing Heather trying to stifle a big grin of pride. The Queen let go of Mara and nodded to the girls, who parted to let her pass, then followed her in silence, patiently matching her slow pace.
Back in the foyer, the Prince was mildly indignant. “Mother,” he said, “You know that I meant to comfort her.”
“I know, son,” she said. “But this is something I know much about, and understand. She’s going to need time alone. You must trust me.”
Kelvin folded his arms and sulked. “Very well.”
Heather and the other handmaiden, Fiona, followed the Lady Mara to her room. Mara went straight to her effects and rummaged a bit, producing her sword and scabbard. Fiona gasped and took a step back, but Heather stood her ground and stifled a smile. With a sigh Mara slumped into the dressing table’s chair, facing the girls and the rest of the room . She kept the sword sheathed and let the tip rest on the ground, spinning the sword idly by the grip. Heather stifled a cough and stepped forward.
“M’Lady?” she said. “Is there anything you would have us do? We are at your service.”
Fiona seemed to take direction from Heather, and straightened herself up, but kept a wary eye on the Lady’s sword. Mara stopped spinning the sword and looked up, but not at the girls.
“I…” she said/sighed. “I can’t think of anything right now. I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need for apologies, m’Lady,” said Heather gently. “We know this has been a trying day. If you wish us to take our leave, we shall.”
“Oh, it’s… I don’t ‘wish’ for you to leave,” said Mara. “I just… need time alone. But thank you for walking with me.”
“Of course, m’Lady,” said Heather, bowing her head quickly. Fiona followed suit. The girls turned to leave and got most of the way to the door. Fiona was reaching for the door when Mara spoke again.
“Wait,” she said quietly. The girls stopped and listened. “Sorry. Just Heather? Is that all right?”
“Of course, m’Lady,” she said quietly. She and Fiona exchanged nods, and Fiona left the room and shut the door quietly behind herself. “What do you need, m’Lady?”
“For you to call me Mara,” she said. “Also…” Her voice trailed off. She resumed spinning the sword idly and looking at nothing. Heather stepped forward, craning to hear in case Mara was whispering. “Ahhh,” she said quietly, but not whispering, “I don’t really want to ask, because… I don’t want you to think I’m… ordering or… that sort of thing… Ahhh…”
Heather opened her mouth to respond, then thought better of it and waited for Mara to work through her words on her own. Mara kept her head down and tightened her lips several times, then forced herself to look up and finally meet Heather’s gaze.
“I think, um…” she said, “I think it would be nice… after all… to… have some company. If it’s no trouble to you.”
“None at all,” said Heather. “Mara.” She found another chair and set it down beside Mara, but not too close. She sat down and lightly let her hands rest on her lap. Mara stopped spinning the sword, but kept her hand on the grip, and looked Heather’s way.
“Thank you,” she whispered. Heather only smiled in response.
The two sat like this for several minutes, in silence, the only sounds in the room coming from their breathing and the spinning of the sword.
“Mara?” said Heather.
“Would you like if I… braided your hair? Or brushed it? Or…? I find it quite relaxing – even soothing – myself.”
“I don’t want to be any trouble.”
“Nonsense! Er- that is – I would be happy to. It’s something that I enjoy doing.”
“If it will relax and soothe you, then fine. As you wish.”
“I meant it to be relaxing for you, my L— Mara.”
“I know what you meant,” said Mara. She straightened up a little, then gathered her hair behind her. Heather made a quick giggle and then searched for a brush. Fortunately the dressing table was properly equipped, and soon enough she was brushing and weaving the honey-blond strands into an elaborate tapestry. For her part Mara was apathetic, but it did give her something else to think about than the events of the day.