“Your Highness, Your Highness, let down your hair!”
Leo looked up at the tower, searching for signs of life in the lone, lofty window just below the parapet. He half-hoped to find nobody at home, what with feeling a touch silly reciting such lines. Honestly, the ritualistic drivel one had to spout in the interests of heroism and adventure… Well, it beggared belief.
The window gazed down on him, unblinking. Behind him, Zephyr stamped fresh impatient hoofprints in the lawn.
Leo sighed. Here we go again. “Your Highness, Your Highness, let down your hair.”
Open sesame, he tossed in as an afterthought. No stir, no motion, no shadow above the sill.
Zephyr snorted. Leo fired the horse a sympathetic glance. “One more try, girl, and then we shall depart.”
He began to suspect the gravel-bearded fellow in the tavern had thrown him a false ball of yarn. The man had spun his tale with conviction and had gained nothing but the cost of an ale for his information. So if he were a confidence trickster, he was not in it for the money. The tower and gardens were just as he had described: clean, lichenless stone needling a tapestry of low cloud; shrubs and bushes pared back to allow the lawns breathing room and nothing overgrown. The man had confessed to having laboured here as gardener for a month or so. Now, Leo could’ve wished he had slackened off the job and left some helpful climbing plants clinging to the sides of the tower.
“Your Highness, Your Highness, let down your hair.”
There was another possibility, of course.
Leo De Lacey had encountered his share of princesses and more than several who liked to keep gentlemen waiting. Some barely deserved the title of Highness. At least this one, if she were real and in residence, earned herself that much from the altitude of her lodgings alone.
Leo counted to five, then walked over t take hold of Zephyr’s reins.
“Oh! Hello! Sorry, I was – !”
Leo halted. He patted his horse’s neck before about-facing and peering up at the window. Which was now occupied by a pretty head and shoulders. A head, he was quick to note, that sported a decidedly clipped coiffure. The lawn underfoot had not been mown more thoroughly.
Leo’s moustache twitched involuntarily. But with his Musketeer’s resolve, he demoted surprise to the rank and file and accorded the princess a bow, complete with a full doffing of his plumed hat.
“Your Highness.” He supposed in light of her shorn scalp he had best switch to an unscripted approach. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Leopold De Lacey, Captain of the Mayoral Musketeers of the city of Tortenschloss. And I am here to rescue you.”
“Me? Really?” The royal cheeks flushed a warm pink and she giggled. She massaged random patches of what little hair she possessed, as though suddenly self-conscious. “That’s very kind of you. But I’m afraid someone may have misled you slightly. Particularly on that bit about – what was it? – well, you know, all that funny stuff about letting down hair.”
Ah, so she had heard that well enough. Wonderful. “Forgive me, I was informed there was a princess here in this very tower, that she was blessed with the most glorious long hair and that she was in need of aid. I am, in addition to a soldier, an adventurer, you see, and it would not be in my nature to disregard such information.”
“Oh yes, yes, yes.” She shone a smile down on him. “I quite understand. But it’s Princess Viola you want. I’m only her maidservant.” The girl waved. “Tisha. Pleased to meet you< Leopold De Lacey.”
“And likewise, Miss Tisha.” Leo stroked his moustache. For reasons best known to itself, it still possessed an impulse to twitch. “And could Princess Viola be enticed to let down her hair then? Otherwise, I see little chance of my climbing to her aid.”
Tisha giggled. She clamped a hand over her mouth, settling her attack of the humours. “Oh no, I shouldn’t think so. No. She’s – she’s extremely precious about her – hair.”
“I – see.”
Leo scanned the grounds. He supposed he might amass sticks and shrubbery, pile them at the base of the tower. Perhaps hope to find hand holds higher up the tower wall. Given the smoothness of construction within eyeshot he would likely have to collect a lot of materials.
“Oh, don’t worry! I’ll think of something. Oh, yes, wait, I’ll let down some string. We have oodles of string.”
“Um?” said Leo, but the girl vanished from the window. Probably for the best, because he found he had a few too many questions.
The ensuing quiet stretched and stretched. To the extent that Leo wondered if it might solidify somehow and he might be able to climb that.
“Hello?” he called up.
“Sorry! Just making sure the knots are secure! There we are!”
Tisha’s face reappeared at the window and she tossed out a length of string. Followed swiftly by more and more. Most of it was colourful – gold, silvers, reds, pinks, yellows, greens. Fancy.
And firm. Leo tugged at the line as soon as it dangled within reach. Thick, fat rope would have filled him with greater confidence, but the line proved resistant to the heaviest of pulls. He shrugged and fired a potential farewell glance at Zephyr.
“If you must break,” he told the string of strings, “sooner would be best.”
Planting boot against wall, he started to climb.
Hand over hand, he could scarcely feel the slender string in his gloved grip, but the knots held fast. With effort of will, he demoted his unease back to the ranks alongside his earlier surprise and pressed on with his ascent. His sheathed sabre swung and batted the stone occasionally. He idly wondered to what the maid had anchored this line, but reasoned that, string willing, he would discover that soon enough.
Perhaps sooner than expected. When he eventually allowed himself to look up, he found he had only a few more feet to go. The window sill seemed to gesture like a broad beckoning hand, encouraging him to come on, come on.
A face leaned out over the edge. Watching his progress with wide, fascinated and slightly affronted eyes. Owlish ears, puffs of tawny and snowy fur, a tiny chocolate-orange button nose that helped complete an expression perfectly poised between inquisitive and indignant.
“Viola,” called Tisha, “come in from there.”
Turning, Princess Viola swished a bushy tail of black and tan and disappeared inside.
On this Highness, Leo had apparently failed to make a good first impression.
[To Be Continued…]