Max walked in the door ten minutes early. He was still very tender, but the refreshing breakfast and walk over did wonders for him. He did some research on historical customs and cultural roles until it was time. When he went to the main gallery, there was evidence of Dr. Floyd having been in already. He had at least powered things up and left his brown coffee mug on the desk. Max stayed standing and looked at some of the preliminary reports on the screen.
Dr. Floyd walked in on the dot. “More with the same settings for a bit, then we’ll try something new.”
Max made his way to the chair and its web of thick cords. The moment he sat, Dr. Floyd hit the switch. The familiar soapy vertigo took him. He landed in an alley at dusk, took his bearings and snuck into an alcove. Within ten minutes, he was wrapped in a stolen dress from an upper apartment’s clothes line, and was tying the bonnet in place. He recognized the streets. He made his way back towards the castle. When a colorful horse-drawn cart was lumbering towards it on two wheels, he thought he’d try secreting himself aboard.
Inside the wagon, he found a few dozen marionettes jostling back and forth and a blanket to hide under. The guards only peeked in from the door before clearing the cart for entrance to the castle. Max waited until things were stopped and quiet for a few minutes before moving out.
Max was determined to see the lady of freckles. He snuck out into some shadows and found the servant’s entrances. He found himself near the kitchens. He found a basket with some bread under a white cloth and made off with it. When he was in a long upper corridor, he practiced his curtsies. When he felt them coming natural and smooth, he pressed on.
The tower was easy to see, but finding the right halls to reach it proved a bit of a challenge. He took his time and made sure to act purposeful to avoid being questioned. A few passed by him, but he kept his bonnet down and his eyes lowered to show respect. More and more connecting halls and servant’s stairs came and went, but the Tower grew steadily closer. A few times a rather important looking person came blustering by, and Max felt they warranted a full pause, hands clasped on his basket. When they passed, he felt his heart beat relax.
When he got to the Tower itself, a guard stood in his way, but his question sounded more like a formality, “State your business.”
Max held up his basket, and pulled the cloth back to let the bread peek out.
“Alright, be on your way.”
Max moved up to the familiar stairs he’d seen before. Outside her door a very bored and half asleep guard sat in a chair. Max pulled a bread loaf out and offered it to him. The guard smiled and accepted it. Max knocked twice and opened the door as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
He was in luck. She sat at her desk lighting a candle to ward off the lengthening shadows, her back towards him. At the sound of the door, she turned. Max had no clue what to do next. He slowly walked up to her and offered her the last loaf in the basket.
“No, but thanks.”
Max put the loaf back in the basket and straightened the cloth.
She lit her candle and sorted some of her writings. She looked back over her shoulder. “Are you waiting for something?”
Max was enjoying how little her attire matched what his research had said princesses should dress like. Her dark mass of hair was pulled back into a long clasp of some kind, the end of it easily past her shoulder blades. Her dress itself seemed more like a well-to-do merchant’s wife than anything for a formal occasion. The mildly decorated collar stood up off her shoulders and touched her chin. From there, the triangle of her face was in shadows and only the gleam of the whites of her mildly annoyed eyes could be seen.
Her curiosity seemed to get the better of her. She shifted and turned her body to face him. The modest bodice had some vertical ribbing and ended at the very shallow v-neck line and the simple broach that seemed to hold things together there. “You seem familiar, but not somehow.”
The smell of the fresh bread in the basket got the better of him. Max pulled the loaf out and tore a piece off. He didn’t realize his mistake until it had vanished into his mouth. The lines from his research came back to him about servants and their placement around the edges of the dinner guests, not invited to join in the eating regardless of how hungry they may be.
She chuckled. “So you made it through a fire of some kind, I see. Were you the one in the sailor’s suit last night?”
Max nodded. His legs itched to bolt before she could call the guards, like she had that first time.
“That blast should have finished you off, yet here you are.”
Max shrugged and smiled. He pulled the bonnet off and did his best curtsy, head bowed and arms out.
Then the soapy sensation took him.