The carriage ride was uncomfortable to say the least. The bumpy road was causing the whole thing to rock wildly, making the journey greatly difficult for both the driver and the passengers. Rodmilla sighed irritably as Jacqueline – who was sitting on her left – bounced up and down on the seat excitedly. She was already feeling seasick, and didn't need her daughter making it any worse.
"Jacqueline, quieten down!" she said, somewhat shrilly. Jacqueline looked at her mother, and frowned slightly.
"But Mother... I'm getting a new sister!"
"You'd be happy with a pig for a sister," Marguerite – sitting on her mother's right – murmured, gazing out of the window. Rodmilla smiled down at her, affectionately stroking her hair.
"I have you!" Jacqueline retorted quickly, enviously noting her mother's clear favouritism. At the same time, Marguerite and Rodmilla glared at her.
"Jacqueline, sweetheart," her mother said icily, "it is not fitting for a lady of breeding, such as yourself, to raise her voice higher than a simple whisper. Now, be silent."
"You never tell Marguerite to be quiet!" Jacqueline whined, not yet ready to be silenced. The carriage suddenly rocked violently again. Marguerite sighed irritably and pouted.
"Are we to live with peasants?"
Rodmilla laughed suddenly, as if it was the funniest thing she'd ever heard.
"Oh, dear Marguerite. It is just a little further and we'll be in a nice new home," she said quietly, gently stroking her daughter's cheek. Marguerite did not smile or even reply. She didn't have a chance. For no sooner had Rodmilla spoken than there had been a large crashing sound and the carriage had toppled sideways.
Laurent rode beside his father, gleaming with pride. His father smiled down at him and ruffled his hair slightly.
"Well done my boy, you're learning fast."
Laurent beamed again. Ever since he could walk, he'd wanted to ride. Now, being able to ride meant that he'd soon be able to be Captain of the Guard, just like his father. (Well, not soon... maybe he had a few years growth to do, but he would be!) Every night, his father would regale him with tales of what he had done that day, and he could always make the most mundane action turn into the greatest expedition of bravery.
His happy thoughts were swiftly broken by the loud sound of hooves galloping up behind him. He turned to look and his heart quickly sank. The young Prince Henry – who was currently riding a brilliant white pony – had joined them. Great. He looked away. Hopefully the young prince wouldn't try and get him into any trouble that way. It was not to be. The young prince caught sight of Laurent and grinned.
"Laurent! How about a race?" he called. Laurent sighed.
"You know I cannot gallop yet, Your Highness!" he replied. Henry laughed.
"Means I'll win then!" he shouted gleefully and with his heels, he squeezed the sides of his pony. The pony neighed and galloped faster, right past Laurent and his father. Laurent looked up at his father, who sighed, seeing his son's predicament. King Francis had been much like Henry when he was younger, consistently trying to prove himself better than everyone.
"He is the Prince of France, Laurent. Indulge him."
Knowing his father to be right, he sighed and gently squeezed the sides of his pony. The pony suddenly jerked forwards, and Laurent was unable to keep up. With a loud cry of surprise, he flipped backwards off the pony and fell, face first, into a large muddy puddle of water. All he could hear now was his father calling his name and Henry's hysterical fits of laughter.
Rodmilla and Marguerite watched as Auguste gently lifted Jacqueline out of the ruined carriage and placed her onto the ground. Jacqueline smiled gratefully at him, but still went to join her mother. Auguste smiled at his new wife, who did not return the sentiment.
"Do not worry; I'm sure that I spotted a group of riders up ahead a few minutes ago. I shall go and fetch help."
"Do, but hurry back. It'll be dark, and I don't want Marguerite to go cold," Rodmilla said, and wrapped an arm around Marguerite, who instantly pouted slightly and began to shiver. Auguste frowned slightly.
"What about Jacqueline?"
"Oh, and her too," Rodmilla said quickly, putting her other arm around Jacqueline, who just snuggled closer to her mother, happy for the attention. A half-smile flicked across Auguste's face as he climbed back onto his horse and rode away, leaving them alone. For a few moments, it was quiet, and all that could be heard was the delicate tweeting of birds. A loud, angry sob broke the peace. Jacqueline looked towards her sister, who was now crying.
"Well, this is a fine welcome Mother! Made immobile by our carriage and stranded by our stepfather!"
"Marguerite, sweetheart, have patience. This is just a small delay in our arrival," Rodmilla said reassuringly, forgetting all about Jacqueline and hugging Marguerite tightly, rocking her back and forth as she cried out her anger. Jacqueline sighed. This was going to be a long day, it seemed.
Henry watched and giggled to himself as Laurent's father picked his son up and wiped his face with his cloak. Laurent spotted him laughing and glared.
"It's not funny."
"Yes it is!" the young prince retorted, his giggling readily shaping itself into laughter. Laurent scowled and stepped forward with his fists clenched, but a swift clip around the ear from his father stopped him from actually doing anything to harm the prince. Suddenly, a voice entered the scene.
"Excuse me, sirs! My name is Auguste de Barbarac. I was riding ahead of you, with my family, and our carriage has broken. Please, can you help?"
The man was dressed in black and gold, with a tired expression but bright eyes. Laurent and Henry stared up at him. Laurent's father smiled, nodding.
"Of course. My name is Alphonse. This is Laurent, my son and this is Henry, the Prince of France."
Instantly, Auguste – as the man was now known – bowed his head towards the young prince and ignored Laurent (as usual). Alphonse continued.
"In fact, we were just on our way to Amboise, but we have time to help you."
"Thank you sir. Thank you so much! My family are just up ahead."
"We will follow," Alphonse replied, smiling warmly. Auguste thanked them again and rode off down the road. When he was out of earshot, Alphonse turned to the two young boys.
"Hopefully, this will only take a little while. Now, follow me."
"But they're commoners!" Henry suddenly cried, wrinkling his nose at the thought. "Why should we help them?"
"Because they're in trouble?" Laurent suggested, shrugging slightly. Henry simply stared at him, as if the idea of helping other people was the strangest thing he could've said. Laurent sighed. Only he would get saddled with looking after an idiot like the Prince of France.
Jacqueline sighed. Her legs were aching from standing for so long. She wanted to sit down, but she knew that she would get in trouble for ruining her dress. Marguerite was still crying, soaking up every little bit of Rodmilla's doting attention. Suddenly, all three of them heard the rattle of hooves. Jacqueline looked up, as did Rodmilla. Auguste was riding towards them, followed by the Captain of the Guard, a chubby little brown-haired boy and His Royal Highness, the young Prince of France.
Marguerite immediately stopped crying and smiled her most charming smile. Jacqueline rolled her eyes slightly but smiled too. As the four males stopped in front of them, the three of them curtsied.
Both Auguste and Alphonse jumped off their horses and moved towards them.
"Monsieur Alphonse, this is my wife, the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent. These two girls are Marguerite and Jacqueline respectively."
"I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance," Alphonse said politely, bowing to Rodmilla and then to Jacqueline, and finally, Marguerite (who didn't notice, as she was too busy staring at Prince Henry).
"Good afternoon to you sir," Rodmilla said warmly, curtseying. Both Marguerite and Jacqueline followed her lead. Alphonse smiled.
"Let me introduce to you my companions."
As he said this, he stepped to the side. Henry nodded once to the three, whereas Laurent beamed warmly at them.
"This is His Royal Highness, Prince Henry of France," Alphonse said, gesturing towards his young charge. The three all curtseyed to him, and Henry dutifully bowed his head, not particularly caring.
"Good afternoon Your Highness," Marguerite said gently, smiling up at him.
Henry said nothing, but instead he just smiled politely. This was enough for Marguerite, who felt it gave her enough licence to lean back behind her mother and stick out her tongue at Jacqueline, who in trying to retaliate, ended up mistakenly wrinkling her nose at the Prince.
Thankfully, Henry failed to notice. Laurent did, and he giggled. Alphonse cleared his throat loudly, trying to save face.
"And this is my son, Laurent." He paused for a moment, thinking of something to say. "He's an excellent horse rider."
Laurent stepped forward, smiling proudly. Neither Rodmilla nor Marguerite made any gestures to formally welcome him, preferring to smile at the Prince. Jacqueline however, trying to compensate for their biased attitudes, stepped towards him and curtseyed. Alphonse smiled wider. At least one of them was kind enough to acknowledge his son, even if it was an eight-year old girl who did so.
It turned out that repairing the carriage was a greater job than first thought. Therefore, Auguste and Alphonse rode on ahead to seek help, leaving behind Jacqueline and Marguerite with Laurent and Prince Henry. The four children sat on the side of the road, waiting patiently. A little way off, Rodmilla stood by the carriage, unwilling to let her dress be ruined by even a speck of earth.
Jacqueline had no such troubles. She instead was sat on the grass beside Laurent. She didn't really care about getting her dress ruined – not anymore. What she was more concerned with was what on Earth to say to this slightly chubby, brown-haired boy she'd found herself with. Laurent was having the same trouble. He was never good at talking to any female, as his mother had died at childbirth and his father had chosen not to remarry, instead focusing his time on raising Laurent and protecting the King. If he was honest with himself, he was better with horses. They couldn't talk, so whatever he had to say could go unchallenged. Of course, he had Henry but with him, it was impossible to get a word in edgeways. Jacqueline sighed. She had to say something soon.
"My name's Jacqueline," she said, sticking out a hand. Laurent frowned slightly, first staring at her hand and then to her.
"It's a hand. You shake it." Quickly, she grabbed Laurent's hand and shook it.
"I know what a handshake is!" Laurent cried, pulling his hand away. He looked away, a blush rising in his cheeks. God, he really was hopeless. Also blushing, Jacqueline looked at the ground, and began to pick at the grass. Silence fell on them again.
Henry sighed. He'd much rather have been in Laurent's shoes right now. At least he was getting a bit of peace.
"Of course, my father then died, so Mother had to remarry, but my stepfather seems awfully lovely. We used to live in a castle, but now we're going to live in a mansion. Mother says it'll be awfully nice, but I don't believe her. Does the Royal Family live in many castles? I hope they do, and Mother says they do anyway."
Marguerite stopped in her babbling to smile widely at Henry, who stayed silent for a few moments. She assumed it was because he found her pretty, but really, it was because he was trying to think of something to say that would make it appear that he'd been listening. Eventually, he spoke.
Marguerite grinned and instantly, she was off again.
"I thought so! As I said, I would love to live in a castle again..."
She was going to say more, but – mercifully – she was cut off by a loud yell. It sounded like a boy. All four of them looked in the direction of the sound, watching for the source.
"Gerroff! Go away!" it yelled, and suddenly, the source appeared.
It was a young, thin boy and he was running down the path, consistently looking behind him. The boy appeared to be blonde, but it was hard to yell underneath all of the mud that covered him.
"Cheat!" another voice suddenly shouted. This one sounded like a girl.
Henry glanced at Laurent, who shrugged. Marguerite scowled and crossed her arms. She decided that whoever had caused this disturbance was her least favourite person in the world, ever. She and the Prince had been getting on fine until now!
Suddenly, a little girl of around their age ran down the path. She was tall for her age, with long brown hair and she was wearing a green and gold velvet dress. However, half of her was – like the boy – covered in mud. Unlike the boy though, she was carrying a small pile of mud in her hand.
"Gustav!" she shouted at the boy. He simply continued running. The girl stopped in her tracks, frowning. Henry tilted his head slightly to the right, watching her. How hadn't she noticed them yet? It seemed she was far too caught up in chasing this Gustav boy to do so. Suddenly, the girl gave out a frustrated yell and she threw the pile of mud in the direction of the Gustav boy. All four of them watched in horror as the mid pile sped through the air and connected with the boy's posterior, causing him to stumble and fall to the ground. The girl grinned happily and ran towards him.
"Now, when I say 'don't run off', I mean it!" she yelled. As she came close towards the boy, he gave out a cry of horror and scrambled up, running away.
"I'm telling my parents on you!" the boy yelled back at the girl.
"No you won't!" the girl retorted, running after him.
And with that, they were gone from sight. Silence engulfed the four as they stared at one another. Henry narrowed his eyes slightly.
"Who was that?" he asked quietly. Marguerite shrugged.
"I don't know. Probably a peasant."
So when they arrived at their new house just an hour later, it was with shock that Marguerite and Rodmilla greeted their new relative, and it was with delight that Jacqueline recognised her as the messy-looking girl who threw a pile of mud at a boy's posterior.