Summary: Twelve-year-old Edmund Blackadder dreads attending Lady Elizabeth's birthday party, but it turns out to be an interesting day indeed.
Author's Notes: Written for rosedamask for yuletide '08.
"Master, Master!" cried Baldrick, crashing through the door to the kitchen where his superior sat with his feet up on the table, peeling an apple with a rather pointy knife. "A messenger just came for you! You've been invited to Lady Elizabeth's birthday party tomorrow!"
Master Edmund Blackadder, twelve years old and as cynical about life as Henry VIII's sixth wife, sighed. "Oh, no."
Baldrick, two years Edmund's senior but with the brain of a pickled herring, looked dumbfounded. It was not an unusual expression for him. "I thought that was a good thing."
Edmund sighed again. "No, Baldrick. Lady Elizabeth is a princess, even if they don't call her that, and she chops people's heads off when they give her presents she doesn't like. Besides, she's a girl. Why would I want to go to a girl's party?" Edmund's lip curled, and he watched the apple peel fall onto the table in a spiral, then sliced the fruit into quarters.
"Well, that's easy then, Sir," Baldrick grinned. "Don't go."
Edmund rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Baldrick, do I have to spell it out for you? If the Princess chops people's heads off when she doesn't like their presents, she's hardly going to take ‘no I don't want to come to your party' very well, is she?"
Baldrick took a long moment to think about it, staring at his feet, then lifted his head, smiling again. "You could tell her you had the plague, Sir."
Edmund blinked. "What?"
"The plague. That disease what's killed so many people. If you had that, she wouldn't want you at her party, would she?"
Edmund rolled his eyes. "And what happens when, in a few days, I don't die?"
"I hadn't really thought that far ahead, Sir."
"Baldrick," said Edmund, "you're about as far ahead as a snail trying to win a race with a watermelon strapped to its back."
Baldrick didn't respond. Edmund popped the last of the apple into his mouth then used the pointy tip of the knife to clean underneath his fingernails. Honestly, there wasn't much point making fun of Baldrick; he didn't even understand that he was being insulted. Maybe going to the Princess's birthday party wouldn't be so bad. At the very least, there should be people there who were a bit more stimulating than Baldrick.
Lizzie bounced up and down on the bed. "The big ‘X', Nursie! I'm grown up now! I want a pony! And a great big cake, and five new dresses in all the colours of the rainbow! And I want bread with fairies on it, and sausage rolls, and..." She stopped bouncing. "What else do you eat at parties?"
Nursie, who was folding underthings, didn't miss a beat. "Pilchards, my poppet."
Lizzie's eyes narrowed. "What?"
"Pilchards. When I was a girl we always had a great big pilchard pie on birthdays, with great big dollops of icing on top, and candles."
"Don't you mean cake, Nursie?" Lizzie asked.
"Oh, no, my sweet one. We couldn't afford cake and pie."
Lizzie stared for a moment, lip curling in disgust, trying to imagine a pilchard pie with icing and candles on top, and probably with little fishie fins poking out the side. She tried to think of a way to tell Nursie how utterly horrid that idea was, but Nursie had gone back to her folding like nothing strange had been said, and Lizzie knew that Nursie wouldn't listen to her anyway. So she shrugged, and kept bouncing on the bed.
"Golly, I'm glad you're not my cook, then!"
She hoped there were some people at her party who would treat her like a big girl, and not ignore what she said like Nursie did.
Edmund glanced pointedly back over his shoulder at Baldrick as he surveyed the party scene. "Go and play with the other servants, will you? I don't want people thinking we're together."
"Yes, Master," said Baldrick, and disappeared.
A moment later, Edmund had cause to regret sending Baldrick away, because a tall, gangly boy dressed from head to toe in crimson velvet came tumbling toward him. The colour pointedly marked him as the heir to some duchy or another, as did the gold embroidery on his cape. Prat, Edmund thought.
He pulled himself up straight as he came skidding to a stop in front of Edmund. "Blackadder," he said, with an emphasis on Edmund's bastard-son-of-a-long-dead-king lack of title. "I'm Lord Percy Percy. My father is the Duke of Northumberland." He extended his hand, and Edmund stared at it for a few moments, trying to figure out why on earth this boy wanted to shake hands with him. Then, slowly, he reached out. Lord Percy had hot, sweaty palms and a handshake like an overeager puppy.
"What-" Edmund started to ask, but Lord Percy interrupted him.
"My friends and I were wondering if you'd like to play a game of tag in the garden with us. You know, chasing each other round the old oak tree, loser gets a good breeches-down spanking. What do you say?"
Edmund opened his mouth in an attempt to politely decline, but nothing would come out. So, he settled for the politest he could be under the circumstances. "I think I'd rather poke myself in the eye with a stick."
"Oh." Lord Percy looked down at the floor for a moment, apparently disappointed, then back up again, and what little understanding in his eyes a moment before had fled - perhaps in fear of its master's mind. "Oh, well, then. Jolly good! Melchett said you wouldn't, anyway."
And he turned to go. In an instant, Edmund's hand shot out and he grabbed Lord Percy by one velvet clad arm. "Wait a moment? Who said what?"
"Melchett. He said you wouldn't. He said you were a ninny who'd be too afraid to get your tights dirty, but I thought I'd ask anyway."
Melchett. Edmund felt his jaw tighten. He hated Melchett. The big kid who lived down the lane and came round to charm Edmund's mother into giving him pieces of pie. There was never any left for Edmund once Melchett had been by. And it wasn't only that. Melchett had wiped girl cooties on Edmund once. Those particular cooties had been from a particularly grubby peasant girl and had given Edmund chickenpox. Melchett had also vowed to become a lord before Edmund did, something that Edmund was equally as eager to prevent. Oh, there was nothing he'd like more than to chase Melchett around the old tree, beat him, and watch as the other boys spanked his bottom breeches-down in front of the Princess. That would certainly put a dampener on his plans to become a lord.
"I'll play," said Edmund.
"Jolly good!" Lord Percy exclaimed, and bounded off toward the garden.
Edmund followed at a slightly less embarrassing pace, hoping he hadn't just roped himself into something foolish. But that was silly. If anyone was likely to lose, it was that fat lump Melchett. All that pie Edmund hadn't eaten had to pay off sometime.
The garden was huge, as befitted a lady, or a princess. There was indeed an old oak tree, and a number of boys were standing around it, some of them looking considerably nobler than Edmund, though none as showy as Lord Percy. Melchett, standing a head and shoulders taller than everyone else, sneered at Blackadder as he approached, an expression that made him look rather like a fly had just flown into his mouth.
"Come to have your backside walloped, have you, Blackadder?" he called.
"No," Edmund replied, brushing some imaginary lint off his breeches, "Actually, I've come to watch the others smack you so hard you choke on the pies you undoubtedly shoved down your gullet as soon as you arrived." Everyone laughed, and Melchett looked like he might explode.
The boys welcomed him. There were some very serious discussions about out-of-bounds and the rules of tag and how to tell who lost and when the game was over. Then the boy who lost Lord Percy's Silver Florine coin toss (bloody show-off prat) covered his eyes against the tree, and they all turned and ran.
Edmund was not a brilliant runner, but he was a brilliant hider. He could squirm into (and out of) holes that no one else could even see. He suspected it had something to do with his name. At least, that's what his father said - We Blackadders, we're good of slipping out of tight spots. But it didn't take long for Edmund to realise that someone was following him. It was Lord Percy.
"What are you doing?" Edmund asked, stopping and turning to face him.
"I thought I might hide with you!" said Lord Percy.
Edmund blinked. "Hiding with you would be about as inconspicuous as attempting to shelter behind a flamingo. Go away, will you?"
Lord Percy looked hurt. Edmund felt guilty. For about three seconds. Then the boy who'd lost the coin toss shouted: "Ready or not, here I come!"
"Oh come on then, you ninny." And Edmund ran, Lord Percy thrashing along behind him.
They came to a stop behind a hedge, breathing hard, and Edmund had time to think that this way, at least, if someone were going to get caught, it would probably be Percy. He supposed there were benefits to hanging about with idiots.
When he'd regained his breath and Lord Percy was still very pink in the cheeks, Edmund said, "We can't stay here for long. He'll catch us. Do try not to catch too much sunlight with all that gold trimming, won't you? This way."
They crept along the path, trying to crunch as little as possible, turned the corner and came face to face with the Princess and a gaggle of girls.
"Edmund!" she squeaked, jumping back. "You shouldn't sneak up on people like that! It's very naughty of you."
Edmund wanted to run away. The Princess was looking cross, face creased in a little scowl, an expression that belied the innocence of her gold dress and white stockings and the curls and ribbons in her very red hair. Edmund didn't run. Instead, he bowed low, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder before he did so.
"My apologies, my Lady. Lord Percy and I are involved in a game of stealth. The sneaking wasn't intended to frighten you."
The Princess ignored him, hands behind her back and swaying from side to side. She tilted her chin up and peered at him. "You haven't wished me a happy birthday yet, you know."
Edmund did know. As soon as he'd arrived, he'd deposited his gift on the set-aside table and disappeared as quickly as he could. He'd hoped the Princess might forget he was there. No luck, it seemed. He bowed again. "Indeed I haven't, my Lady. Please forgive me." And then, in a rare fit of daring, he dropped to one knee and scooped up her hand, pressing a kiss just above her knuckles. The girls crowded behind her gasped and giggled and whispered. Edmund resisted the urge to wipe his mouth. Surely, surely princesses didn't have girl cooties. Instead, he looked up at her and smiled. "Many happy returns."
The Princess giggled, and pulled away. "Oh Edmund, you're so naughty. Now, run away and leave us alone."
Edmund didn't need to be asked twice. He rose, gave another tip of the head to the Princess, then fled, Lord Percy tumbling along behind him.
Lizzie was grinning. All the girls were giggling and whispering about how dishy Blackadder was, and what a pity he didn't have a title, and of course he wanted to kiss Lady Elizabeth, because her father was the King, wasn't he?
Lizzie loved being the centre of attention, hearing everyone talk about her and ask her questions like what was it like? She never answered, of course, because when you refused to answer it just made people more interested. Eventually, though, she got tired of them asking did your heart flutter? Did you want to swoon? Do you think he'd have caught you if you had? and told the girls she was thirsty and she was going to get some punch.
The sun was warm on her shoulders as she skipped across the garden to the punch bowl, and she hummed as she poured herself a glass. To her right, in the distance, she could see the servant children poking something that looked like a bundle of rags with pointy sticks. She wrinkled her nose. She certainly wasn't going over there.
She wondered what the girls were whispering about now that she was away. Maybe they were talking about her getting married to Blackadder, or kissing him behind a tree. Maybe they were talking about which boys had kissed them - especially the older ones, because they would never talk about being kissed in front of Lizzie when they knew she hadn't been. Lizzie grinned. She'd find out. She knew these grounds better than anyone, and if they were all still under the tree where she'd left them, she could sneak up behind the hedge and listen to them without them seeing her. If she was careful, like Edmund had been, they wouldn't even hear her.
Lizzie drained her glass of punch and darted off through the garden, slipping carefully around a blackberry bush so as not to tear her dress, then following the line of hedge until she came to the place where the tree branch stuck through the hedge. They should be just on the other side. Lizzie grinned, quieting her breathing, and listened hard.
"The only reason anyone is nice to her is because they think she'll become queen one day," said a high, nasal voice - fourteen-year-old Lady Caroline, Lizzie thought. "But my mother says she never will be. My mother says she's a bastard and her mother was a slut and a heretic, and when her father dies they'll execute her so she never can be queen."
Lizzie drew in a sharp breath, feeling suddenly hollow, but surely the other girls wouldn't let Lady Caroline say horrible things like that. Any minute now, one of them would tell her to shut her lying face or she'd be executed.
But nobody did.
Another voice piped up. "My mother made me come to this party. She said that if King Henry heard that I didn't, he'd get very cross, and he'd make Father pay more taxes. This is a horrible party, though. There isn't even any lobster."
Another. "I hope she does get executed. She wouldn't laugh then, would she? She shrieks when she laughs, and it's horrid."
Lizzie's chest hurt, and her eyes stung, and she turned and ran away as fast as she could, not even caring when her skirt caught on the blackberry bush and tore.
"Gotcha!" A hand clamped down onto Edmund's shoulder as he poked his head out from behind a bush, and the voice yelled right in his ear. Lord Percy shrieked behind him, and tumbled into the shrubbery, but Edmund was too shocked to appreciate the hilarity of the pompous prat ruining his best clothes.
The boy who'd caught him jumped up and down. "Gotcha, gotcha! You lose! Spanking time!"
As if in a nightmare, all the other boys in the game seemed to melt out of the trees, grinning triumphantly. The world seemed to spin as the horror of being caught first slowly sank into Edmund's mind.
Last out of the trees was Melchett, smirking and looking smug, and he sauntered toward Edmund in a disgustingly superior way.
"Going to watch me choke up pies, were you? I think it's high time we saw that skinny arse your mother's been smacking all these years."
The other boys sniggered. Edmund groped desperately for a thought, for anything that might make Melchett eat his words, but the only comeback he could come up with was something to do with Melchett's own arse and its width, and it sounded pathetic even in his brain.
"Shall I do the honours, boys?" Melchett asked, leering. They all cheered.
Edmund was rooted to the spot. He wished for something, anything - to be struck by lightning, or better yet, for Melchett to be struck by lightning. Hell, even Baldrick would have been a welcome sight at this point.
Melchett moved closer, circling, grinning. Edmund knew he could run away, but then everyone here would know he was a coward. Was that worse than everyone seeing him spanked by Melchett, though? Edmund weighed the humiliation in his mind.
He looked around. A fat woman had come out into the garden, and just as he was about to make a run for it, she bellowed,
"Cake time, my little cherry-pips! Time to come inside!"
Edmund wanted to kiss her, to run up and throw his arms around her, girl cooties be damned.
He grinned at Melchett. "Well, you heard her. Can't keep Lady Elizabeth waiting, now, can we? Cake!" And he turned and bolted, and all of the boys except Melchett followed cheerfully.
Inside, the cake was laid out. It had ugly pink icing and stupid flowers on it, but it was still cake. The Princess, however, was nowhere to be seen.
"I'm sure she'll be here in a moment," said the fat woman, eyebrows wrinkling.
When she was out of earshot, Edmund turned, looked at Melchett, and said, "Is she your Mum?" The rest of the boys sniggered. Melchett scowled and looked, for a moment, like he really needed to use the privy.
The Princess was not there in a moment, nor in any of the moments after that. When lots of moments had passed, the fat woman sent two of the servants out to look for her, but even more moments after that, they came back, shaking their heads.
"Well now," said the fat woman, turning to face the children. "Lady Elizabeth seems to be hiding. I'll give an extra big slice of cake to whoever finds her first!" There were lots of grins, and then everyone ran out into the garden again.
This time, Edmund made sure he didn't get stuck with Lord Percy. Blackadders were solitary creatures, and it was obviously Percy's fault they'd been discovered before. Edmund had never been caught in his life.
Why was the Princess hiding, he wondered. Who on earth would hide when there was cake to be had? He knew she was a princess, and she probably had cake more than everyone else, but still, cake was cake, and when it was a cake made especially for you, Edmund couldn't see why anything would keep you away from it. So, if the Princess was hiding and couldn't be found, she must be in a really good spot - a spot that broke all the rules but was easy to get out of and pretend you hadn't been breaking the rules when the game was over - and if anyone could find a spot like that, it was Edmund.
At the centre of the hedge maze, there was a walled garden with a locked gate. The wall was far too high to climb over, especially in a dress like the Princess was wearing, so Edmund circled it, trying to find another way in. It wouldn't be obvious - if it was, it wouldn't be a very good hiding spot, would it? But there had to be a way for the rain to drain out of the garden, otherwise they'd end up with a rather large pond.
He almost fell into the ditch because it was hidden behind a low hedge. There was a gap, though, close to the wall, and... ah-hah! An ivy-covered grate that looked suspiciously like it wasn't attached to the walls at all, and had been hastily replaced. The gap was small enough for a girl - or indeed a boy of his size - to crawl through, but no adults would ever be able to get in. Edmund climbed down into the ditch, pulled the grate aside, and crawled through the hole.
He found the Princess sitting on a stone bench covered here and there with lichen. She was pulling the petals off a flower, and she looked like she'd been crying. Oh, no. Did an exceptionally large slice of cake make up for talking to a girl who was crying?
Well, he was in here now, he supposed, and she knew it, even if she hadn't looked up at him. A crying girl and a large slice of cake, he decided, were infinitely better than what would happen if he went back into the main garden and Melchett caught him.
"They're looking for you," he told her. "You're missing the cake."
"I don't care," she replied, sniffling.
Edmund shuffled his feet. "Why not?" he asked.
"Because," she said rather wetly, and Edmund saw she was crying again, "Because no one here actually cares that it's my birthday. No one here likes me. They're only nice to me because they think that one day I might be," she hiccoughed, "queen."
"Might be?" Edmund asked, pretending outrage, hoping it would make her stop crying. "My Lady, you will be queen."
But it only made her cry even harder. "But then how will I know if anyone really likes me? They'll all just be pretending."
Edmund felt...odd. Very odd. Perhaps it was just because she was crying, but for a moment he felt like he wanted to protect her, or like he understood her. Like here was someone, finally, that wasn't stupid like Baldrick or an arse like Melchett, and how odd that it should be this girl that he finally found something in common with. He'd thought she was silly, but she actually seemed to understand things. And understanding things, Edmund knew, was a bit crap, really.
Edmund took a step forward, and the Princess looked sharply up at him, so, like earlier, he dropped onto one knee again. He reached out, and she didn't object when he took her hands. "My Lady," he said, "you will be queen, and when you are it won't matter what people think of you, because even if they hate you, they won't be able to do a thing about it. And if they say mean things, you'll be able to have them killed. Without asking your father, even."
She smiled at that, just a little one. "I suppose I will. What will I say? 'Off with his head'?"
"Or hers." Edmund amended. "Off with his head, or hers."
"Yes," she grinned. "I might ask Daddy to execute Lady Caroline, just to get the hang of it."
"Good idea," Edmund agreed. Well, at least it wasn't him.
The next moment, though, a frown crossed the Princess's face and she looked close to tears again. "But what if I don't get to be queen? Lady Caroline said that my mother was a slut and a heretic and I'm a bastard and they'll execute me before they put me on the throne."
"Well that wouldn't work very well, would it?" Edmund asked.
"What?" said the Princess.
"Executing you before they put you on the throne. It wouldn't be a very good image for England if they had a queen without a head, would it?"
The Princess giggled. "Edmund, don't be naughty. You know what I mean."
Edmund smiled. "Of course, my Lady. I just like seeing you smile." He didn't know why he'd said that, but she batted her eyelashes when he did, which he thought must be a good thing. She was quite susceptible to flattery, wasn't she? That was interesting. Usually, the things Edmund said went right over people's heads, or merely succeeded in insulting them. This was different, though. Edmund could see quite a few possibilities arising out of this encounter, so he decided...
"What you need," he said, "are loyal followers and protectors to support you when it's time for you to become queen." He bowed his head low. "I promise you that from this moment on, I am your loyal servant. I will do everything in my power to help you become queen, and once you are, I will do anything you ask."
The Princess pulled one hand from his, and for a moment he thought he'd made a fatal error, but when he looked up, she was clutching it to her chest. "Oh, Edmund. Do you really promise?"
"I promise," he repeated.
She took up his hand again, smiling. "Then I promise you that when I become queen, you will be the very first person I make a lord."
Edmund felt his eyes light up, and inside, his mind did a little dance. "The first?" he asked, almost breathless.
"The very first," the Princess promised.
Oh! Oh, how Edmund would laugh when that day came, when Melchett watched Edmund Blackadder become Lord Blackadder. The sun would shine, the birds would sing, and then they'd poo all over Melchett as they flew away.
The Princess stood, drawing up to the most queenly height she could muster. She laid a hand on Edmund's head. "I now pronounce you," she said, then giggled. "I don't know what they say, actually, when they make people lords. I now pronounce you...Lord Blackadder. Rise, Lord Blackadder."
Edmund grinned, bowing his head again. "Yes, Your Majesty." And he took her hand and stood. They were very close to each other. She looked up at him and the sun caught in her hair.
"Kiss me, Lord Blackadder," she said.
"Yes, Your Majesty," he replied.
And he did. Her lips were soft, and they tasted salty from her tears but sweet at the same time, and she smelled of honey and sunshine.
When he pulled away, she was still holding his hand tightly, and smiling. "Come, Lord Blackadder. Let's go and have cake."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
They made their way back through the garden, and Edmund decided that he liked being a favourite, and he would have to learn how to use words to get in and out of tight spaces like he'd learned how to hide.
He also decided that girls weren't so bad, after all.