“Miss Aurora, may I present to you Her Highness Princess Clara and Her Highness Princess Freja of House Eriksen,” she says.
“Pleased to meet you,” I tell them, trying not to let my voice shake, to show fear. I have no experience with legit princesses and even though these girls are young, it’s oddly terrifying. “I am Miss Aurora of House James.”
“You have an accent,” the taller one, Clara, says in perfect English.
“So do you,” I point out with a smile.
“We do?” she asks and looks up at Maja for confirmation.
Maja gives a slight nod. “Miss Aurora is from Australia.”
“Like with the kangaroos?” Freja asks quietly. She’s the spitting image of her sister except a bit paler and with blonder hair.
“Oh yes, I have many stories about them,” I reply, and I realize I’m talking in the same tone as Mary Poppins. Where did that come from?
“You’ve come such a long way,” Clara says. “That’s the other side of the world, in the other hemisphere.”
“You’re right,” I tell her. “But I was already here in France. I’ve been in Europe for seven years looking after many boys and girls just like yourself.”
“Oh,” Clara says with a raise of her brow. “And what royal house did they belong to?”
I exchange a glance with Maja and she suppresses a smile. This girl is a clever one.
“I’ll let you three get to know each other,” she says, going for the door. “I will be back shortly.” Then she says something to Clara and Freja in Danish and they both nod obediently.
The door shuts and now I’m alone with them.
I take in a deep breath and keep smiling.
Since Clara has been doing a lot of the talking I thought she would be chatting away and asking me questions, but the two of them just stare at me, rather expectantly. Like I’m supposed to do tricks or something.
Luckily I’m good at icebreakers.
“So your name is Clara,” I say to her, then look to her sister. “And your name is Freja.”
They nod in unison.
“Did you know you’re a goddess, Freja?”
Freja just blinks.
“A goddess?” Clara repeats. She looks her sister up and down discerningly.
“Freyja, of course. She’s the Norse god of love and beauty.”
“Ew,” Clara remarks, wrinkling her nose.
I’m glad I didn’t mention the part about sex and fertility.
“As well as gold,” I add. And war. And death. “And she drives a chariot pulled by cats.”
“Cool,” Freja says in a hush.
Clara seems to think that over. “If Freja is named after a goddess then I must be too. Mama would have named us both after goddesses.”
Hmmm. There are no goddesses named Clara, and if I don’t give her something she’s going to feel inferior or worse, be angry at her deceased mother.
I’m going to have to pull a lie out of my Mary Poppins bag.
“Clara means bright,” I tell her, which actually is true. “Among the Greek gods, Helios was the god of the sun, very powerful.” Also true. “The Goddess Clara was one of his daughters. You are a sun child.” Not true.
Clara beams and looks at Freja proudly. “I am a child of the sun, you are a child of gold.” She squints at me. “But you must be a goddess too. Aurora sounds like a goddess name.”
“She’s a princess,” Freja whispers. “Sleeping Beauty. Princess Aurora.”
“The only princesses here are you two beauties,” I say. I give them a saucy smile. “But if you want to call me a goddess, I won’t object. I can be an honorary one.”
“Want to come see our room?” Clara asks. Her green eyes are getting bigger with excitement.
“Yes, I want to show you my dollies,” Freja says. “I got a new one last week.”
“We both got new ones,” Clara points out, hand on her hip.
“Well, you know I would love to see your dollies and everything else in your room but I think I have to stay here.”
“Why?” Clara asks, looking around her. “This room is boring. No one ever comes in here.”
I raise my brow. How could anyone say a room full of books is boring?
Oh wait. Most people. And definitely not five and six-year-old girls. No, princesses.
I quell the urge to tell them that when I was their age all I ever wanted was books. I wanted to learn. Instead I was in the middle of the bloody outback of Queensland and I had to ride my own rickety bike for an hour every day to get to my school and back. It was even further to the library, and that’s the one place I spent all my free time, soaking up everything about the world that I could. Knowledge was everything. Still is.
“I’m sure you’d find it less boring if you got to read some of the titles,” I say.
Clara flounces across the room, her pale plaid green dress flowing around her. With her tongue stuck outside the side of her mouth in total concentration, she takes a book off the shelf.
“Careful,” I call after her. “Should you be manhandling your father’s books?”
“Manhandling?” she repeats as she flips the heavy, leather-bound book around in her hands. “I don’t know what that means.”
“Now that I think about it, it’s a dumb word, don’t worry about it.”
She shows me the book. “See, this is about law in…” She peers closer at the title. “The early 1800s in Germany. That sounds boring to me.”
Okay, so she’s right. These books have probably been a part of the royal palace since it was first built. Still, I’m impressed that she can read with such confidence.
“Let’s go see my dollies,” Freja says, coming over to Clara. “Come on Miss Aurora.”
I walk over and take the book from Clara’s hands and put it back on the shelf, just in case. Maybe this is a test and the kids have been instructed to pull priceless books from shelves. Maybe there are cameras set up around us and the King is watching from some master control room.
“We do have to stay here,” I tell them again.
“Why?” asks Clara.
“Because this is part of the interview. You know, so your father can decide who will be your nanny.”
“Interview? I thought you were our nanny now.”
“No,” I say carefully. “I’m sure you’ve had a few nannies or potential nannies at this point? Did you not meet them and talk to them just like we are now?”
“Yes, but we didn’t like them,” Clara says, plopping herself down on the couch. Freja goes and joins her. “They were too old and boring, just like these books. One even looked like a witch.”
“She was a witch,” Freja says in a small voice.
“And she smelled,” Clara points out. “Father didn’t like any of them either. But we like you so now you’re our nanny.”
I give her a lopsided smile. If only it were that easy. “Let’s see what your father says.”
“Okay,” Clara says brightly and then runs to the door. She puts both her tiny hands around the knob and pulls it open and yells, “Maja! Father! Come meet the new nanny!”
Maja appears in the doorway, obviously having waited just outside. “No need to yell, Clara,” she chastises and then adds a few words in Danish. She looks to me expectantly, her hands clasped in front of her. “I take it everything went well? Normally the nannies are sent out in a matter of minutes.”
I glance down at the girls. “I hope so.”
“Okay girls,” Maja says to them. “Run along to your rooms.”
“Can we bring Miss Aurora?” Freja asks.
“No, she has to stay here so she can meet your father. Now go.”
The girls scamper off down the hallway.
I had gotten so wrapped up in getting along with the girls that I forgot there was one more, very important piece to the puzzle.
My body seems to erupt into pins and needles. I take a deep breath through my nose as Maja tells me that she’s fetching the King. She disappears and now I only have a few moments to compose myself before they return.
Now what do I do?
Do I sit back down on the chair so that I can rise again when he comes in?
Do I curtsey?
Do I bow?
Do I fall to one knee?
I know I just spent the last twenty-four hours researching it but all that information has currently vacated my brain.
Shit. Well, I guess I’ll sit down and then I can kind of do a curtsey as I get up and also maybe it looks like I’m going down on one knee. Wait, isn’t a curtsey a combination of that and a bow? I…
The sharp step of insoles in the hallway outside the door makes me freeze.
I quickly sit down on the chair, remembering that I’m supposed to tilt my legs to the side and cross them at the ankles, a la Kate Middleton, just as Maja appears.
“Miss Aurora may I present to you His Majesty, King Aksel of House Eriksen.”
She steps to the side.
The King walks in.
It feels like it happens frame by frame.
I’d looked at his picture dozens of times before I came here so I shouldn’t be taken aback, but I am.
I’m nearly speechless.
It’s not just that he’s severely handsome with his cut-glass features, his tall and imposing presence. It’s the haughty tilt of his chin, the cold downward cast of his eyes. It’s the way he changes the energy in the room, both demanding that you look at him and chastising you for it.
And that’s exactly what I’m doing. Gaping at him like I’m a bloody fool.
“How do you do?” I manage to say to him as I get to my feet and offer a weak half-bow, half curtsey. I’m not sure what the hand shaking protocol is here either but I’m definitely not going to offer mine until he does.