I hissed as I shifted in bed, rolling onto my back. I turned my head to a soft hum as Alexandra stretched out.
“I don’t wanna get up yet.” She brushed a few stray curls from her face. “I wish I could stay like this for a little bit longer.”
“There’s no law against that is there?” I sat up and leaned against my pillows. “You had a long night.”
She laughed, sitting up as she ran her fingers through her hair. “But they don’t need to know that. I have to meet with the advisors today, anyway.”
I groaned as I slipped out of bed. “That’s true. I should probably get to work too.” I winced as I bent down to get some clean clothes out of the second drawer in my dresser. “Can’t have anyone thinking I’m lazy.”
Alexandra met me at my side, straightening me up as she fished for my clothes. “Oh, no you don’t. You heard the nurse.”
“I can’t just sit around and do nothing all day.”
“Listen, how about after you get your bandages changed, you go to the library.” She put her hand up to stop my protest. “Pick out some books you think you might like, and I’ll meet you there as soon as I can. She handed my clothes over. “Consider this your first reading lesson.”
“And the garden?” I held my clothes to my chest as Alexandra led me to her room.
“I’ll be helping with the clearing today.” She took some black leggings and a gray shirt out, going to her wardrobe for a crimson gown. “That’s a fair trade, isn’t it?”
“If you consider labor a fair trade for reading.”
She carried her dress to the connecting bathroom, hanging it in the corner. “In this case, I do.” Alexandra peeked out of the bathroom as I looked out her window. “I know it’ll be tough for awhile, but you’ll make a full recovery soon. That’s what matters.” She embraced me before heading back to the bathroom. “I have to get ready, but I’ll see you soon.”
I nodded, clutching my clothes to my chest. “I’ll have books ready.”
She smiled. “Good, now off to the nurse.”
“Yes, your majesty.” I winked as I turned to leave.
Helena greeted me at the doorway. “I see you made it back in one piece.”
“We did.” I peeled my shirt away just enough that Helena could see the bandages. “Not without a fight, but we made it.”
Her eyes darted between my wound the princess’ room. I put my hand up.
“She’s getting cleaned up, no injuries.”
Helena heaved a sigh, placing her hand over her heart. “Thank God!” She closed the gap between us, leaning in. “Not a word of this to anyone, especially Damien. If he finds out, it’ll spell nothing but trouble.”
I nodded as she backed away. “My lips are sealed.”
Helena gestured down the hall. “Good, now go see to that.”
I rushed off before she could say another word. I knocked on the infirmary door, entering when I heard the nurse on the other side.
“Glad I didn’t have to hunt you down after all.” She sat me down and started unwinding the bandages on my shoulder. “How’s the pain?”
“It hurts to move. I’m sore all over.” I gritted my teeth as she readied a cloth to clean the wound.
“It’ll be painful for awhile yet, but it should lessen each day.” She made quick work of scrubbing my shoulder before she dressed it in fresh bandages. “You’re already healing faster than I thought. The slash on your shoulder looks much better than it was last night.”
“Does that mean I can work?”
She laughed, working on my arm. “We’ll see what kind of condition you’re in after you’re clean and dressed, deal?”
I smiled. “Deal. How’s my arm look?”
She gasped as she peeled the last layer of away. “It looks… perfect. Not a scratch on it.” The nurse twisted it to check all angles.
“It’s a miracle.”
She wiped the skin clean anyway. “Tell me you didn’t meet a miracle healer last night.”
I laughed as I shook my head. “Nope, straight to bed like you told us. Alexandra can vouch for me.”
She paused when I said the queen’s name aloud but continued working. I lifted my shirt as she prepared another cloth to clean my stomach. “Well, let’s just see how the worst one looks.” She snipped the bandages and peeled them back, revealing a much smaller gash. “You must have a God on your side.”
She sighed, finishing the new dressing after she disposed of the bloody cloth. “Nothing too strenuous, and I still want to see you before you go to sleep tonight.”
“You got it. Now I just have to get dressed.” I struggled to bend and get out of my dirty clothes, but I waved away help from the nurse, working my way out of the garments.
“Don’t work yourself still today. You still need to be able to move.” She turned away as I stripped down to change.
“Don’t worry. I won’t be chopping down trees today.” I hastened to cover my body, minding the bandages as I slipped fresh clothes on.
“Good, you can go now. Remember, I still see you before bed tonight.”
I nodded, hanging my dirty clothes over my good shoulder. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be here.”
“Call me Andrea.” She shook my hand before I left. “I expect to see you no later than nine, no midnight trips.”
“You have yourself a deal, Andrea.”
I turned on my heels and left, going to my room to drop my clothes off and my workspace to get a shovel. I grabbed the closest empty pine box and made my way to the garden, continuing to dig up weeds and shrubs. Before I knew it, I’d worked my way around most of the outer border, flinching when I heard the queen.
“Zinnia! What are you doing?”
I stood, dropping the shovel into the overflowing box as she raced over. “I-”
“You were supposed to rest. You can’t work yourself too hard.” She picked the box up from the ground, ushering me back toward the castle doorway.
“The nurse said I could work as long as I didn’t strain. You can ask her yourself!”
She put the box to the side of the workplace doorway, shutting the door. “You’ve done more than enough. Now come on, we had a deal.”
“Right, the reading lesson.” I scrubbed my hands over my arms. “Are you sure you’re free to do that?”
“I talked with the advisors, and they said to come back tomorrow after they’ve thought of preliminary plans, so I’m all yours.” She linked her arm with mine. “You wouldn’t be trying to avoid your lesson, would you?”
I scratched the back of my head. “You caught me. I guess I’m a bit embarrassed.”
“There’s no need to be, Zinnia. I’m sure you’re a quick learner, and you’ll be reading to me before you know it.”
“You have a lot of faith in me.”
“Of course I do! Now, which book should we start with?” She gestured to the vast library. “You’ve got lots to choose from.”
I laughed, wandering around from section to section. My fingertips grazed books from section to section, making their way to from history to language to military strategy to music and art. My hand dropped, and I gazed up at the second level.
“Do you think we could start with… well, you know.”
She followed my eyes and smiled, heading for the staircase. “Of course we can.”
I smiled as I followed behind her, watching as she picked three books and set them in front of me. I chose the book with a golden butterfly etched in a cobalt cover.
“That’s a good one. Now, how do you want to start?” She sat down next to me, opening the book to the first page. “Do you want to try and read what you can?”
I traced the words as my eyes glossed over them. “I’ll do my best.” I cleared my throat as I started with the one phrase I knew. “Once upon a time…”
I felt the queen’s eyes on me as she helped me sound out words I struggled with, having me repeat them after her. She beamed when I made it through the first page, and I couldn’t help but smile. My eyes forgot the pictures and focused on the words as we switched back and forth reading to each other. Before we knew it, the butterfly had made its way to the last page, and I finished the story.
“And the butterfly flew up to the princess, greeting her as it landed on her finger to show off its rainbow wings.”
“You were wonderful!” I took my hand in hers. “I knew you could do it. Now, which book should we read next?”
“Shouldn’t we be moving onto your lesson? I still have to hold up my end of our deal.”
Alexandra set the other two books aside, shelving the one we’d finished. “Alright, a deal’s a deal. Just let me change, and I’ll meet you outside.”
In a few minutes, I’d gotten another empty box, the shovel, and the axe, making my way to the last section of the border for clearing.
Alexandra greeted me at my side. “Where do we start?”
“The last of these weeds need to be cleared up.” I picked up the axe. “Then we’ll see if you can chop down a tree.”
Her eyes widened, and I grinned, handing the shovel over.
“Make sure you get down to the roots.”
She nodded, breaking into the Earth. “If you could plant right now, what would be the first thing?”
“I’d probably plant the trees and the herbs first.”
“What kind of trees?” She dug up the first weed, tossing it into the box. “Ones that bear fruit or…?”
“I’d plant a path of Hawthorns. It’d be a wonderful sight when their flowers come in.”
She nodded, digging at another weed. “When is your birthday?”
I paused. “Harvest celebration day, why?”
She looked down at the Earth as she worked her way down the line. “Oh, no reason.”