For the next few days, Aline and Beau had been inseparable. The first night had been strained, for Aline had not forgiven king Grande for striking at his son. But Beau was a kind young man and in his own way, knew exactly how to defuse the situation. Aline watched Beau curiously at the long grand table, as many servants took care of the king and his family. The salad and bread she was eating may as well have come from heaven, it was so good compared to what she had eaten in Brute’s prison.
“Father, how goes the construction of your wall?” Beau asked, politeness spicing his voice. Aline’s eyes widened in curiosity, as this was the first time she had heard of any wall, and in fact she remembered that she had not seen any such thing when she looked out from her room’s window. She then looked at King Grande who was slouched in his chair in red velvet robes. He had a toothpick between his teeth and was in deep concentration.
“It has been fully planned, the resources fully gathered and my villagers have each been paid their proper allotment,” the king spoke in reserved measure. He looked up to gaze at his son with a hint of doubt. “This shall be a big experiment for you, my son,” the king said.
Beau looked to Aline. “It is not just that we have promised their town a bit of money. It is not just that we have promised to give them our protection should an army attack us. Now, we will be promising them an education; from our walls, our scribes and scholars shall create houses of public education. We shall teach their children how to read and write.”
“My son has convinced me to at least try it, that these gifts will make the people who inhabit my land more capable. If I feel that they are becoming a threat, as I believe in my gut, then I will cease these opportunities.”
Aline straightened her neck and thought about this. Then, with a smile, she looked at the king. “Your son will not let you down, King.” Grande guffawed but otherwise held his tongue. Then she looked at Beau. “I believe this is a wonderful idea.”
Beau smiled back at her happily, a longing look in his eyes. Suddenly, he straightened his expression and busily returned to eating his soup, cheeks flushed. Aline wasn’t sure what had just happened, but from across the table, Henriette, who was attending the King, smiled knowingly.
Later, they retired to their sleeping chambers, and Aline rested wonderfully. But in the middle of the night, she suddenly awoke. In a fit, she looked at the iron chest that she had placed on the part of the bed she was not sleeping on.
She thought she had heard a beat. Or two. But then the room had gone quiet again, and eventually her eyes closed and she slept wonderfully until the morning.
The next day, after having put on a silk, forest green dress with comfortable wood soled slippers, she walked with Prince Beau as he took her on a tour through the village. He was wearing a fine yellow vest and well sewn pants and slippers, and Aline was worried that his clothes spoke too highly of his status. But every peasant they met greeted Beau with respect and hospitality.
“Beau, how does everyone know you here so,” Aline asked, noticing for the first time that she was a a bit taller than him, even though they were both fourteen.
“Oh, I just stroll through here often, I’m sure they are familiar with my appearance” Beau replied. “And, also, I’m sure they remember my mother, Queen Belle. She was very gentle with them.”
“Oh, how wonderful. Where is she, the good Queen?”
Beau’s expression became terse. Then, he looked up at the sky.
Aline gasped, covering her mouth. “Oh, my fair Beau, I’m so sorry.”
“Oh, it’s fine, dear Aline. It was during my birth, so I can’t say I remember much. But the people here tell me she would come through here and sing beautiful songs with her harp before the crowd, giving free concerts, wearing a loop of beautiful flowers upon her brow. And if children came to her during the show, she would pluck a flower and give it to them. These flowers would give those children joy and heal them of terrible sickness.
“They tell me that my father had her buried atop the mountains, the loop of flowers upon her coffin. They will never hold ill will to me.”
Aline listened to all this thoughtfully. From the corner of her gaze, she saw a few random villagers wave to Prince Beau, and he sweetly waved back.
“One day, I will reach the top of those mountains,” she said suddenly. Beau looked at her, rolling the thought in his mind, but he said nothing.
The two of them were eventually drawn to a commotion, that a large number of the villagers were heading towards. They went with them, and to a great showing of strength. Adroit to several large piles of bricks, the villagers were laying down cement and beginning the building of an immense wall. A few guards were posted but, otherwise, the villagers were working to their own accord, a nearby band playing jumpy music to keep the energy constant. When they noticed the prince and Aline, they waved happily to the both of them, their laughing faces covered in sweat and specks of dirt.
Aline waved back to them, then regarded the brick pile a little bit longer. Then, her face beamed. With a smile, she walked over to a stack of bricks, reaching forwards and picking them up.
“What are you doing?” Beau asked.
“What does it look like I’m doing, I’m helping build the wall,” she responded, carrying the bricks in her strong arms. She walked forwards and one of the older gentlemen working pointed to where a little bit of cement was lathered on a shorter part of the wall. She then walked towards this spot and laid the bricks down. Grabbing a nearby scraping knife, she then wiped away some of the extra cement.
Aline turned her head and saw that Beau had also grabbed and was laying a few bricks along the wall, building it up. Aline smiled at him and the people around them cheered them on.
For Aline in particular, it felt good to be working outside. Though she had enjoyed resting in the luxurious castle, work such as this helped keep her strong and in shape, and she enjoyed breaking a good sweat. Scanning, her eyes caught a particularly large brick, one that only one of the true village toughs or guards could pick up with any real ease. But she bit her lip and walked towards it.
“Oh, I don’t mean to be rude, but that one might be too big for you, dear friend,” Beau called to her. But Aline more or less ignored him and reached down, clutching her fingers at the base. When she felt that she had a good grip, she went to lift it up. But to her surprise, it was indeed heavier than she thought.
“Oof!,” she grunted, unable to have picked it up more than an inch before it dropped from her hands.
“Do you need help?” Beau asked with a tinge of worry.
“No, it’s fine!”
Aline took a deep breath and tried to flex her arms, getting blood to pump into them. She grit her teeth, found the same good hold, and really tried to put some power into it. Indeed, she had picked it up to where she was holding it just above her chest.
“Ergh!,” Aline growled through the strain. She attempted to walk and reach for the fire in her gut when-all of a sudden, a familiar cold rush washed all over her body. The rage she had went for came back completely empty. Immediately, her strength gave out, and she felt the heavy stone falling from her hands.
“Huh!” she gasped in fear, attempting to step back from the falling weight. But from the corner of her eye, a friendly shape came darting to her side. With great reflexes, Beau reached out and caught the stone.
“Woah!” he shouted, helping her grab it just before it the ground. Aline barely was able to keep her grip, but her reflexes were just quick enough to hold on. She looked down and saw that, had it not been for Beau’s help, the weight surly would have fallen on her foot. She stepped back as another guard came up and took her place.
Aline stepped back, out of breath, only to be caught and held with care. She looked to her left and right and saw that two peasant girls, about her age, had kindly caught her.
“Mademoiselle, are you alright?” one of the girls asked. Aline pulled her arms away from them, holding herself.
“Quoi? No, I don’t think-,” Aline began, before Beau stepped forward, having offered his side of the stone to another large man, the two of whom then carried it to the wall.
“She’s alright, just a little scared,” Beau said while stepping forward and gingerly taking one of Aline’s tightly squeezed hands. “Aline, are you alright?”
Aline regarded her good friend, but in her mind, all she could think of was a sea of red flowers, and the shadow of a large tiger. Then, her eyes flashed to Beau’s kind and concerned face.
“Oh, Beau,” she exclaimed before reaching out and wrapping her arms around him. And he supported her as much as he could.