“That’s Daniel’s horse!” exclaimed Mary Elise.
Princess Juliana turned to the priest, quickly. “Father, this horse—he belongs to our guide. Can someone be sent to find him? He could be hurt!”
“But be careful—there’s bandits out there!” put in Mary Elise. “He was trying to protect us—and trying to find out where they were headed!”
The black robed priest quickly drew the princess back in. The monk who had found them, pointed around at several others. “We’ll go.”
The girls explained what had been happening, then the six men headed out into the driving rain. The massive doors were closed again.
“We’ll get you dry clothes and food and drink, then we’ll talk.” The priest motioned to another monk, “take her to a room….”
He looked questioningly at Mary Elise. Even though both girls were dressed in common clothes, he seemed to know that she was not of the nobility.
“I want her with me,” said Princess Juliana, quickly. “She’s my—maid….”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
They were led to a room that was quite plain, with little furniture. The monk had some difficulty finding suitable clothes for them, and they ended up in small, brown, woolen robes.
“I’m afraid these are the shortest I could find,” he said, apologetically.
But they were warm and the girls felt hidden and safe, especially if they put the hoods up. They couldn’t help laughing at each other in the strange costumes.
The princess sobered, and looked at her friend. “I wish you didn’t have to be a servant….”
“I shouldn’t have interrupted you….” Mary Elise realized that she was being far to free with the princess. She should know her place as a servant, after all these years—and especially with a member of the royal family!
But the girl waved it off, frowning. “If only it could be different, but I suppose the only way we can really be friends—be with each other—is for you to serve me.” She brightened. “Maybe, in time…something can be done….but I don’t know what.”
Mary Elise took her hand excitedly, then let go quickly. “Just that you feel that way is enough. All I ever want to do is serve you.”
“Well…we’ll see. Such nonsense about station and class and all.” The princess laughed. “William thinks I’m so silly with such thoughts, but I think he’s that way a little himself. He has a good friend…a stable boy….” She shook her head. “But right now, we must think about Daniel and Father and Michael. We shouldn’t tell too much, of course, until we feel we can trust these people. We’ll just talk about the bandits and not the rebellion….for now.”
Mary Elise was surprised. Not trust a priest…and monks?
“Especially with my new insights about God.…”
Mary Elise realized that she was right.
But they found their new hosts very personable. A hot meal of stew, and bread, and cheese, and fruit heartened them considerably, and it came about that the priest, whose name was Father Gregory, already knew of the rebellion.
“We must get word to the city that you’re safe, Princess. I’ll send a messenger at once. Meanwhile–”
Suddenly–a commotion outside the dining area! A monk hurried in….
“They’ve found him! The bandits are still nearby. We must guard the monastery!”
The princess and Mary Elise jumped up even before Father Gregory could move. The monks at the three long tables looked on curiously.
But the girls were dashing out into the corridor, and saw two monks carrying in Daniel. They caught a glimpse of the weather before the big ornate doors closed once again. It was no longer raining—but snowing.
Then they recognized the monk who had found them.
“He’s all right, Your Highness,” he said, quickly. “At least we think so.”
The girls drew back to let the men through, as they continued their report. “He was shot with an arrow. We’ll find out how badly.”
But before they could move on, Daniel stirred. He held out his hand from the makeshift stretcher. “Princess…they’re everywhere. You must stay here, where it’s safe.”
“I was going to send a messenger to the king,” said the priest, quickly.
“No,…Michael will get through. She must stay hidden….” His voice weakened and the monks quickly bore him away, and soon turned a corner out of their sight.
“Come, princess. They’ll take care of him. They’ll tell us how he is as soon as they can.”
They rested in a comfortable room with fine chairs and a cozy fire, the princess sipping a warm drink. Still, it was with some impatience that they waited while he spoke to his monks about guarding the buildings.
When the priest returned, he said, “your friend will be all right. He was shot in the back, near the shoulder, but the wound is not bad. A little lower, and it could have been much worse. And now, perhaps you would like to go to the chapel to pray.”
“Yes, I would like that. But first, tell me about the rebellion.”
They could see that he wasn’t too sure about telling such a young girl what was happening, but she insisted.
“The bandits, whom I understand from Daniel were only about thirty to fifty men, have swelled in ranks. They apparently were the nucleus of the rebellion, but the king is on his way with troops.”
“On his way, as well. The bandits discovered this news from friends on the coast. They’re getting ready for a battle.”
“Daniel found all this out?”
“He snuck right into the camp, apparently. He got out safely, but a scout caught sight of him, and that’s when he was shot.”
“He was very brave. And the monk who helped us—I want to see him.”
“Fredrick. Right away, Your Highness.”
When Frederick arrived, he hardly acknowledged the praise of the princess.
“My duty and honor, Princess.” He turned to the priest. “The wounded man insists that it’s very dangerous if anyone outside these walls knows Her Highness is here. She must not be used as a pawn in this battle. The king’s troops are easily able to overcome this rebellion, but if she is taken, all would be lost. They would keep her as long as they needed to get anything they wanted. They’re furious that her brother and sister escaped.”
He turned to the girls, “pardon, Princess, that we have no clothes befitting you. But the ones you wore are washed and dried, and in your quarters.”
She nodded her thanks. They found Mary Elise’s there, too. After changing, they were shown to the chapel, where they spent some time in prayer and thanksgiving. Later that evening, they were able to see Daniel, and were assured that he would be all right.
As Mary Elise laid down on a pallet on the floor beside the princess’ bed, she congratulated herself that she was remembering to act more like a servant. She’d been getting some curious looks. She must remember that she was serving the princess. The fact that they had become good friends was going to have to be a secret between them from now on.
The next morning dawned clear and cold. The snow had stopped, but the monks felt that it had hindered a good deal of the bandits’ activities the night before.
The breakfast was very sparse for Mary Elise and the monks, though more elaborate trays of delicacies for the princess were brought. It seemed that she also would have to get used to Mary Elise’s station as a servant, for it was obvious she didn’t like having more than the others.
“Mother says I’ve never been a good princess,” she whispered to Mary Elise. “But she always laughs as she says it. I think she’s glad I want others to have good things, too.”
“It’s all right. I had enough.” Mary Elise whispered back, as she drew Catherine’s cape over the princess’ shoulders. The temperature had dropped, and it was chilly in the stone buildings.
She remembered to walk behind the princess, rather than beside her as they headed for the Cathedral, bypassing the small chapel where they’d had their devotions the night before.
The special Mass, in honor of the baby boys who were killed in Bethlehem, and the escape of the Baby Jesus and his parents to Egypt, would be held shortly. Later they would continue their remembrances as they ate the Feast of the Innocents.
It was a quiet day, but Mary Elizabeth reflected that she’d never spent such an different and interesting time on the Fourth Day of Christmas as with these men of God.
Frederick seemed to take a special interest in them, and perhaps had been assigned to care for the princess’ needs. They found him to be a kind, compassionate man. He gave them a tour of the monastery in between his duties. They also visited with Daniel, who was doing a bit better.
Three more quiet days they spent—talking with Fredrick, whom they found to be very wise as to his thoughts on God and salvation. Even Father Douglas seemed to have different views on some things, explaining that in other cities, there was much more controversy.
“I’ve come to see that He is a God of both mercy and justice. We must live as He would have us, not according to fleshly and worldly pursuits. Riches are to be used to help people, not hoarded. Of course it’s all right to enjoy the things God has made for us….”
This coming from a priest? thought Mary Elise, for some priests were very wealthy. Yet others took vows of poverty and begged for their food.
“But,” continued Father Gregory, “there are plenty of people around here that need help. I also believe that duty is not necessarily the same as love for God. The Scriptures say that we can do great things, but if they’re for the wrong reasons, they’re worth nothing.”
The princess wanted to hear more. And she’d never heard –or at least really understood– some Scriptures that the monks were discussing at the evening meal. Verses about loving the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind—and your neighbor as yourself.
“I was a scribe for a long time,” said Frederick, “making copies of the Scriptures by hand before the printing press came to be. When you handle the Scriptures and ponder them, there’s a whole new way of thinking than some in the Church have. Now, do come to Evensong. The choir has been practicing some new pieces just for you, Princess!”
Mary Elise could have stayed here in this safe, quiet place with her new friends forever, but she didn’t know what havoc the disappearance of the princess was having—not only on their enemies—but with those who had hoped to get her to safety. No one knew that both Michael, and the ladies at Englewood, were desperately worried about where the girls might be.
On the Seventh Day of Christmas, they were just coming from the special mass for Pope Sylvester, one of the earliest popes, who according to tradition had been instrumental in the conversion of the great Constantine.
There was more commotion at the great doors that led into the courtyard!
Surprisingly, as a monk opened them, three who had been guarding the walls came in, holding tightly to a man in a long black woolen cloak. He was struggling so hard that they could barely see what he looked like.
“No wait! Let me speak!” He almost threw the three of them off! But they grabbed for him again, and his hands were yanked behind his back. The girls saw then that his face was bruised, as if he’d been in a fight.
“Father! He said he’s one of the bandits!” exclaimed one of the monks.
“I shouldn’t have told you that. I am—but I am leaving them! I can’t abide their wickedness and murderous deeds any longer. My mother—her prayers! My father and his godly ways—I won’t be part of the that sinful life anymore! And I’m afraid they didn’t like that too much. I came to warn you of the danger—if you have any –uh–visitors….Ah ha, Princess! I thought so! They’re coming! You must hide!”
Father Gregory thrust the princess behind him. “Go to your quarters, Your Highness! Quick, get out of sight before this man gets loose!”
“I swear I came to warn you!”
“Hold him and take him to my chambers. We’ll see what he has to say. But there’s no need to strangle him, Brother Francis.”
The captive relaxed as they loosened their hold somewhat. He didn’t struggle, but he faced the princess, who still looked out from behind the priest. .
“Princess, you must leave. You must hide elsewhere.”
“Please go, Your Highness,” urged Father Douglas.
The girls went with Brother Frederick to their chamber, and waited–yet again.
It wasn’t until much later that they heard a tap on the door. It was Brother Frederick.
“Get ready….quick! We’re going now.”
“Now? Going where?” asked the princess.
“To Sir Duncan’s.”
“How did you know about him!” Princess Julian looked furious. Mary Elise was just frightened.
“Daniel told us.”
“He shouldn’t have done that!”
The monk held up his hand to stop her. ”It was necessary. We must leave. Now. The bandit will go with us and protect us.”
The monk steadied the princess with a long gaze that said, calm down….and listen.
“We would not put you in danger. He—and I– would never let anything happen to either of you. The bandits will be surrounding our grounds soon. We must get out now.”
Princess Juliana glanced at Mary Elise, then back at the monk. “All right.”
They had little to take with them.The next few minutes seemed like a whirlwind. There was a hurried word with Father Douglas. He slipped the princess a precious gift. A small but ornate, printed copy of the Scriptures.
“Take this, to remember us by—and to study. God be with you.”
“But the monastery, the men…” she said, as she tucked it into her bag.
“We’ll fight. And we’ll win–perhaps. But you must get away from here. Trust Patrick.”
“The bandit—former bandit. He is God’s man now.”
“What about Daniel?”
“We’ll take care of him. He can’t ride yet. I’m sorry but there’s no time to say goodbye to him…go!”
Then Brother Frederick was there with the horses, and a shadowy figure nearby mounted his own horse. Then they were heading out a tiny side gate, Mary Elise in her place behind the princess, holding Perceval tightly. He was obediently silent now, after their first joyful reunion in the courtyard.
They urged their horses into a gallop, the bandit in the lead, then Romaine with the girls. Brother Frederick brought up the rear, his pistol close at hand.
As they escaped down a hidden, narrow road, Mary Elise had no idea what would come next. But as always, she knew that God was with them.
To be continued….
By Carol Bennett