A knock came at the door.
Small John hurried over and opened it. It was Serah, the Princess's maid. "John, the Princess will see you now."
"Uhm... yes, just a moment." John hurried back into his room to get ready.
Serah stomped in after him. "One does not keep the Princess waiting." She started, but then she saw Small John struggling with the fine clothes and his hair was a mess. "Oh my! In this case we better make an exception. Let me help you dearie!"
Small John had been trying to get ready for the past half hour, knowing that he would be summoned to the Princess's chambers today, but he was unaccustomed to wearing more than a shirt and trousers. Serah seemed to know just what to do. She ignored what Small John had tried to put on so far and got out new clothes from different drawers.
"Here, these are underclothes. Put those on first. And get rid of those leggings, you're not a courtier. A fine pair of trousers will do. And here is a nice linen shirt, don't bother with the laces at the top. You'll look a bit rugged, but fine nonetheless. Now go behind that screen and get dressed. Then we can get a comb through your hair and be on our way."
Small John changed into the clothing quickly, not wanting to keep the Princess waiting much longer. He was amazed by the simple colors, brown and white, that Serah had chosen for him. Before she came he had been fussing with red, purple and blue, even yellow clothes. He thought they all looked horrid, but that was what everyone else seemed to be wearing. Luckily Serah helped him pick out things that he felt more comfortable in.
Running a comb through his hair hurt and getting all the knots out took a few minutes, but then they were on their way. Small John thought they'd be in a rush, but Serah walked through the halls slowly. Apparently, that was how it was done. Running or even just walking fast, would probably be seen as improper.
Small John was busy thinking about what he should say. The Princess wasn't just any girl. He was told they were the same age, but he would have to show respect and much of it. The girls in Duranham were nothing compared to her. Small John had gotten along with them well enough, even kissed a few, but those experiences surely wouldn't be much use to him when meeting the princess.
Thinking of Duranham hurt inside. They were probably all dead now. That's why he was here. His father had sent him to warn the King and to save his life. He would probably be out on the streets now, but at least he'd be alive.
It was the Princess who asked the King if Small John couldn't stay in the castle with them. Serah had told him that. She said that since he had no place to live that he could become a kind of companion or friend of the Princess, since she didn't have any others.
Serah stopped in front of a door and Small John almost ran right into her. He was so nervous he was starting to sweat. "Calm down, John, and don't forget who you are speaking to. She is the Princess after all."
Serah opened the door and they entered together. She announced their arrival and the Princess turned away from the window to greet them. Small John was dumbfounded when he looked upon her. She was a vision of beauty. Young, tall, slim and blonde. That's what he saw from afar, but as she came closer he saw the effects of her illness.
They were about the same age, but her eyes were set in deep hollows and there were bags underneath from lack of sleep. She was tall, but what she had gained in height she lacked in weight. She was too slim for her stature, barely more than skin and bone. She looked frail, as if one could snap her like a twig. Only the beauty of her hair remained as a symbol of what she could look like if she were healthy.
Serah curtsied. "This is John."
The Princess smiled at him. Serah coughed. Small John smiled back, looking at the Princess, completely oblivious. Serah gave him a nudge with her elbow, which pulled him out of his stupor. He bowed. "Ahem... excuse me, my Princess."
"Hello John! Please, call me Wendy." Her eyes, though set deep within her face, sparkled with joy.
"I thought your name was Theowenna?" Small John looked at her in confusion.
Serah drew in a sharp breath. "John! She is your Princess. If she asks you to call her Wendy, then you shall not question her!"
"It's okay, Serah." The Princess smiled on, even though she was starting to dodder. "If you don't mind, let us sit and..."
"Please, sit down." Small John wasn't going to let the Princess stand any longer than was necessary. He didn't want her to faint after all.
"John! You shouldn't interrupt the Princess when she speaks!" But Serah shuffeled over to the Princess and lead her to a seat by the window. "Of course, when it comes to her health it is best to let her rest as soon as possible instead of letting her babble on, because she thinks it is the proper thing to do." She gave the Princess a kind nod and a smile. "Now come over here, boy. And sit down."
Small John went to sit across from the Princess. His brow was still sweating, which made him feel uncomfortable and he didn't know what to say, which made the sweating even worse. So far whenever he had opened his mouth or had failed to do so, Serah had scolded him. Luckily the Princess had recovered enough to speak again.
"I asked you to call me Wendy, because it sounds so much better than being named after my father. And that is why I have always wanted my friends to call me so. Sadly, since my sickness has gotten worse over the last few years, my friends of my childhood seem to have spread out through the land, going on with their lives. I was left here in my room and have once again become Theowenna, the Princess." Her face dropped in a grimace of despair and she placed her hand upon her forehead, but the corner of her mouth gave a hint of a smile.
"If it pleases you, my Princess." Small John thought that was the right way to speak with her. "Then I shall call you Wendy. I would gladly take the place left by all your childhood friends, as you can fill the space left within me. Since I have lost all my old friends as well." Small John tried to fight back the tears as he remembered his friends, his father and his mother most of all.
The Princess's act of dispair vanished in an instant and she smiled again. "I'm glad that you will be my friend, but please don't speak like some stuck-up fool. Just be yourself."
Small John smiled back at her. He had lost many that he loved, but the future was not as dark as he thought it might be. There was hope left inside of him. He raised an eyebrow questioningly at Serah, wondering if she would accept his plain speech in front of the Princess. She nodded, seeming to know what he was thinking. "Alright! I'll be myself. Then if you don't mind. Please, call me Small John."
The Princess snorted with laughter. "But... but your so tall."
"Well, you want to be called Wendy and you have your reasons and I have mine."
"Okay. Small John it is. I'm pleased to have you as my friend." Wendy smiled more brightly than ever.
"And I'm pleased to be yours, Wendy." Small John smiled right back at her.