After many discussions (the majority of them resulting in nothing but headaches and less than civil thoughts in regards to a certain king) it was decided that Leonowens school for the princes and princesses would not be open for business on either saturday or sunday.
The king was decidedly not sulking about it, muttering to himself in the library for hours on end.
This was a decision based on Leonowens own ideas of the importance of childhood, and that children needed those two days for either homework, playing or other things that they most desired to do with their spare time. It was also a time she could spend with her son alone, in their beautiful house outside the palace walls. It was not that Anna disliked the palace – she adored it, as did her young son – but like with everything else, Anna wanted to revel in her independance. She knew that it was highly unusual for a woman, regardless if she was a widow or not, to crave that. But she needed the time to curl up with a good book, and not finish reading it until she was at the last page. She needed the time to perhaps alter her plans for the coming week, to arrange the lessons ahead of schedule.
When they first moved in, Anna did not know what to expect from their accomodation. Her working relationship with the king had been strained to say the least, and she half-expected to be met with the sight of a barn or a simple shed. Instead, they had been presented with a suprisingly cosey little house on the banks of a long river, with a small vegetable garden adjecent to it. There was plenty of room for both her and Louis to live in comfortably, the insides of the house already fully furnished with things familiar to her fron england. It made her wonder about what she really knew of the king, if she did know him at all.
He was arrogant, selfish and smug. He would laugh at her logic and then ask her to repeat it, only to repeat her ideas and claim them as his own. Call on her at all hours of the day, sometimes for a glass of water (the servants laughed at her for that) or even political advice, which she would always give, uncertainly but always willing to help him. And despite her promises to always be civil in his company, it was also so very easy to fall into an argument with the man. Every other conversation began or ended with one of them huffing and puffing –both of them defiant and proud.
But wasn’t it also amusing, to argue with a man who let her speak her mind, who coaxed her to throw books at his head?
So it was a good thing, to be able to step back once in awhile to collect her bearings. If they wanted to, her pupils could come and see her at the house – always accompanied by imperial guards of course. Her house was in sight of the palace, so it was not far away – one could even walk to and fro, which she sometimes did, when taking the boat felt like too lazy of an option.
But today, a saturday, she would not go there. Instead she dedicated most of the day to tend to the roses in the garden she grew around the house – and if her thumb should be pricked by their thorns, she hardly noticed. Siam could be like this – so beautiful and lush that it made you completely detached from your own worries or pains. Even though it was the middle of september, the summer heat still lingered on, the air moist enough to paint her brow with a faint sheen of sweat. The sweet cry of her son suddenly came from the porch, and she turned around on her knees, her hands covered in soil. The strong sun had turned Louis cheeks and nose bright pink, and he was grinning like an imp. She knew that if this was england, people would be scandalized by a tan. Here though, it was simply a natural factor of spending a lot of time outside.
”Mother, is it alright if I go down to the lake for a swim?” he asked, filled with excitement. She knew that he enjoyed exploring there, to spot exotic fishes and slow moving turtles in the turqouise waters. But some sea plants were poisonous, and she had made sure to instruct him on this matter very seriously – and Louis was a smart boy, not quick and brash. Still, she sighed with the well-known aggravation of a mother who had bandaged many scraps and bruises over the years. She tilted her head back, letting it bask in the sun for a minute with her eyes closed. Then she opened them quickly and smiled at her son, who was already busy gathering a towel and putting on his shoes.
”Alright, as long as you be careful.”
”And don’t wander too far now!”
The odd chirping noises from above did not gather her attention until it turned suddenly sharp and pitiful. She had just planted the seed of an avocado tree, buried it in the rich soil when she heard it. She stood up from her position on the ground and tried to locate its source – and looking up to the slanted roof of her house, she finally saw it. It was a baby bird, precariously sitting on the edge, not really in control of its own small body. It was shivering and it was alone – and that was all that Anna needed to see.
A ladder was quickly precured, despite the many protests from their personal servant, May. She wrung her hands and looked anxious about the whole situation, and probably thought Anna was quite mad.
”Madam Leonowens, is this really necessary?” she asked, but knew that it was impossible to change Anna’s mind once it was set on something.
”Of course, we cannot just leave it to die!”
”But Madame, at least let me fetch someone – one of the palace servants perhaps - ” But Anna just shook her head, taking off her delicate shoes so that her feet could get a better grip on the ladder.
”Nonsense, just hold the ladder steady and I shall climb up to fetch it.”
”It is too high up, you might fall and hurt yourself!”
”I’ll have you know that I have an excellent sense of balance, now hand me that small basket over there.”
And so she climbed, and it was indeed quite a height to climb. She might have felt fearful, if it wasn’t for the small urgent cries coming from above that spurred her to action. When she was about halfway up, she could see the bird clearer. It was covered in bright yellow, orange and green feathers, the top of its little head looked almost fuzzy. It was clearly in distress, flapping its tiny wings and tumbling about. The signs of an abandoned nest was next to it.
”Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.”
When she got close enough, she could see that it was a sun parakeet – or a sun conure, as it was oficially called. There was a lot of them in the area, but she had never seen a baby before. She had seen sketches in biology books, but none of them could prepare her for how cute it was in real life. It had big, coal black eyes that blinked rapidly, looking at her curiously. But as Anna leaned forward to fetch it, she forgot about one crucial thing – the night before, it had rained, making every surface around the house slippery. The same went for the ladder, shoes or no shoes, and she was wearing her usual wide hoop skirt, which was heavy and clumsy when you were standing on a thin ladder slick with water. Her hands were only centimeters away from her goal when suddenly, her hand that kept a firm grip of the wooden ladder faltered, and she slipped.
”Oh!” she had time to cry out in surprise, before she promptly fell to the ground below to the sound of May panicking and calling out for help.
It was only a fractured ankle, nothing to make a fuss over.
True, she did need to use crutches for the next couple of days to move about – but she could manage well enough. That was not the worst of it. And it was not when her students named her new parakeet Sumsam, which she thought was adorable until she found out it meant ”clumsy” in english. It was not when her son did a fairly good imitation of herself as a worried mother, telling her to ”be careful, won’t you?” every time she encountered a staircase. No, the worst of it was when the king found out about what happened.
Apprently the children had been a little dramatic in telling him of the ordeal, leaving him to believe that she had broken her leg clean off, and was now most certainly dying. She was just about to tackle another set of stairs to get to the palace library when he stormed through the giant doors leading to the throne room, thunder clouds following in his wake.
When he saw her, his eyes flashed and his nostrils flared – hand immidiatly pointing to the offending limb in its cast, most of it hidden by her dress.
”Ah, what is this that my children tell me – who has made the foolish decision to attack someone under my protection?”
”No one, your majesty. I did this to myself.”
”You cut off your own leg?”
”No, look - ” she said, having no choise but to pull up her skirts and show him, lest his face turn to stone with rage. She steadied one hand on the banister for balance, pulling her skirts up with the other. When he looked, he did not seem either embarrased or shocked to see her legs – he had been standing rigidly, hands behind his back. But now he crouched down to get a closer look at the cast around her ankle, gaze both curious and serious all at once. His hands were far too close for comfort, so she quickly lowered her skirts again, her eyes on the floor.
”It was only my ankle your majesty. I was trying to retrieve something from the roof of my house and fell from a ladder. I will be better in only a couple of days, or so the doctor tells me.”
The king got up quickly once more, his eyes wide and incredulous when she told him of her mad venture.
”The roof!” He exclaimed loudly so that it echoed down the halls of the entire palace. As if he could not believe that she would do something so unncessesary. But Anna only smiled, and nodded.
”Yes, you see there was this bird and it was abandoned-”
This statement seemed only to further aggravate him, as he turned around and started pacing in front of her, the frown between his eyes as deep as a ridge on a mountain side.
”A bird! So you get servant to go fetch it.” he muttered, waving a hand carelessly. She smoothed out her skirt and dared to meet his gaze, which was dark with unspoken concerns, other than what was proper.
”No, I wanted to do it myself.” she said simply, which led him to shake his head and lhrow up his hands, as if asking the gods why they had made this woman so single-minded, so entirely difficult.
”Ah!I should have known – always taking risks, never thinking.”
At this, she frowned, not liking to be thought of as dumb or helpless.
”I knew what I was doing! And I do think before I act.” she said decidedly, sounding almost a little like a petulant child. This was what he did to her – making her entirely forget her manners. And he seemed to know it too, by the way his eyes danced at her, his mouth turned up into a quick, impish smile.
He wagged a finger at her in a most condescending, infuriating manner – knowing that it would rile her up even more.
”This is why women sit so much – it is always dangerous to do otherwise.”
”I beg your pardon, but it just so happens that I have never been known to be clumsy. It was just slippery that day, that is all.”
”Excuses, excuses, etcetera, etcetera...” he simply said the familiar mantra, again folding his hands behind his back, looking smug and confidant that he was right in all things. Anna did not scoff, for that was unladylike, but she did roll her eyes when he wasn’t looking.
”Yes, well as stimulating as this conversation has been, you can now plainly see that I am not mortally wounded, now if you’ll excuse me...” she bowed her head politely and picked up her crutches again, intending to make her way up the stairs. But the King read her like a book – which he was alarmingly good at. The man had the eyes of a hawk.
”Ah, ah! What are you doing now?” he asked quickly, holding out a hand as if he could stop her with his mind.
”I am on my way to the library.” Anna explained calmly, gesturing to the room upstairs.
For a moment the king looked so perplexed and frustrated that he couldn’t speak, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. Finally, as if trying to control himself, he crossed his arms tightly and tapped his foot against the marble floor. He was quiet for a long moment, then looking away, he spoke once more.
”And if a gentleman were around, he would not leave a handicapped lady get there on her own.” he said, apparently to neither of them. It made her terribly confused. She blinked, and once again motioned to leave.
”Maybe so, but the lady is confident that she can do it, as she has already done it several times over.”
But she did not make it very far before she heard him bellow behind her, voice clipped and leaving no room for arguments.
”The king orders you to stay exactly where you are!”
Her shoulders slumped in defeat, as she could do nothing but comply.
”Forgive me for asking, but how will I to get to the library if I cannot walk there myself?” she asked pointedly.
He did not answer for the longest time, then she heard the sound of footsteps, and knew that he was standing very close – his hot breath hitting the back of her neck.
”You will have to permit me to carry you.” he said, his voice suddenly low and entirely too ambigious. One of his hands was on the bannister now, close to her own, steadily getting closer.
”What if I refuse?”she asked, trying to sound as if nothing of this affected her, which made her voice sound funny. She turned around to face him.
He leaned back from her then and looked far too amused for her liking.
”Then you shall have to get to the library without the stairs. Perhaps you can manage that as well?” he asked innocently, knowing that he had cornered her. If this was any other man, a british gentleman perhaps, she would have accepted his aid without question – but this was the king of siam, and she was a teacher – there were social boundries neither of them should break and yet, he seemed almost eager at times to do just so. Testing her and constantly invading her comfort zone, just because he could. She was trying to keep a distance, while he seemed more than happy to erase it.
Which was why it was understandable that her manners were currently a bit lacking, and why her temper was flaring up. Clutching her books tightly to her chest, she glared at him.
”You...you are so...” she managed, before he interrupted her.
”What am I?” he asked quickly, genuinely curious – coaxing her to answer. Knowing that she wasn’t allowed to call him by any other name than your majesty. She coughed discreetly, avoided looking into his eyes, fearful of what emotion would be lurking in them. As if it was truly dangerous to find out.
”Nevermind. You can carry me now then, if you don’t mind.”
She was almost surprised when he took her into his arms, hoising one arm around her waist and one under her legs, like it was nothing at all. His large hand on her waist was steady and warm against her back. It made her blush beet red, and she hoped it didn’t show. But when she glanced up at his face, he was looking straight ahead, his face as somber as she had ever seen it.
”From now on, you are forbidden from going up on the roof again. What if it had been true, cannot have a teacher without a leg roaming about my palace.”
”I promise to be more careful, your majesty.”
”You shall do more than promise, you shall simply obey.” he said darkly, as she answered by quirking an eyebrow, used to his orders by now.
”It is not that hard to find a new teacher, if something should indeed befall me. You’d just have to write a letter to the british consulate and - ”but she didn’t get to finish her rather morbid advice, as he suddenly growled and lightly shook her in his arms, making sure to meet her eyes. Their faces had never been this close before. But he didn’t seem to notice or care.
”Ah! Keep talking about befalling this and that and I shall have you locked up in one of the palace rooms for a month!”
It felt like a stupid thing to point out that most of her time before she started teaching had been spent in her palace bedroom, and that it hardly classified as punishment. She curled a tentative hand into his shoulder, clutching the purple fabric of his coat. If she didn’t know any better, she would say that the King was trying to tell her that he had been worried about her health. But as usual, it had to start with an argument and the want to tear out her own hair.
”I won’t go anywhere just yet, your highness. My staying here is indefinate.”
This she could tell, was the right thing to say. When he set her down at the entrance to the library, he made a great show of heaving for breath, as if carrying her had been a herculean feat. But the thunder clouds that had been gathering over his head were gone.
”It is very mean not to mention to the king how heavy his school teacher is.” he muttered finally, and she gasped, wanting to smack him for that remark, but she was smiling too.