“Nicklas,” Maja says to him and says a few words in Danish before she switches to English. “Do you know where he is?” She gestures to me with a firm nod. “She has papers to sign.”
The man, Nicklas, glances at me, and if I thought Aksel’s eyes were cold, whoo boy, one glance at this guy is like staring right at a White Walker. “Han er gået i seng,” he says firmly before he turns on his heel and stalks off.
I glance at Maja, my lips pursed in surprise. “Did he just tell you off?”
She manages a smile and sighs. “No. Well, perhaps. That’s Nicklas. I would have introduced you but he’s…”
“Disagreeable?” I tease.
She nods. “Yes. He’s … well, I’m sure you’ll hear about him in due time. He’s the King’s secretary, however, so you’ll be around him quite a bit. Try to stay on his good side.”
Now I’m totally intrigued. I’ll be juggling two assholes with this job?
“I know what you’re thinking,” she adds. “The thing is, he’s been through a lot and maybe because of that the King keeps him close to his side. You see,” she says, lowering her voice and leaning in, “Nicklas used to be Helena’s butler.”
I gasp softly. But of course! That’s why he looked familiar to me. “Oh my god, he was the one who was driving when she died? He drove them off the cliff.”
Maja nods furtively and motions for me to keep my voice down. I do have a habit of getting a little too animated. “It was ruled an accident.”
“I know, but still. How can he still employ him? I don’t even think I could handle being in the same city as someone like that, let alone the same palace, knowing that it was this guy’s fault my wife died. Bloody hell.”
“Aksel can be strangely forgiving,” Maja admits. “And honestly, I don’t always get it myself. Perhaps it’s one way of keeping Helena close to him still. Perhaps they share memories of her and it eases the pain.”
Huh. I never thought of Aksel being in pain. I feel a little bad for referring to him as King Asshole now considering all he’s been through. I remind myself that he only lost his wife two years ago.
“He must have loved her very much,” I offer.
“Of course. Everyone loved her.” She pauses thoughtfully. “She was very beautiful, very special. Did a lot of good in this world. The poor man’s heart is still broken by this tragedy. Most of all, it’s the girls that suffer.” She gives me a tight smile. “That’s one reason why I brought you back here for the job, hoping Aksel would see you the way that I do. You’re full of light and energy and this house has been ensconced in darkness ever since the queen died. You’ll do us all some good, I should think.”
Even though everything Maja just said is great for my ego, I can do without the added pressure. I can only hope I’ll be some sort of light for them.
“Since he’s retired to his room, I’m sure we can get the papers signed so he can deal with it in the morning,” she says as she opens the door to his office and flicks on the light. She motions for me to come in. “It’s quite all right, I do this often to help him out. It’s been an uphill battle for him the moment he took over the throne, and even though it’s been a few years, it rarely gets easier.”
I step inside. The office looks different during the night. Or maybe it’s that the King isn’t in here with us, so I actually have more time to take in the surroundings.
“Of course, you’re not to come in here otherwise,” she says. “In fact, I’d avoid most of the rooms on this floor, just to be safe.”
“No worries,” I tell her. “I wouldn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”
“Here, take a seat,” she says, motioning to his chair.
“You want me to sit in his chair?” Because I’m pretty sure that’s totally stepping on his toes.
“Of course. You have a lot to sign.”
So I sit down in the King’s leather chair, and while it’s not a throne, it sure feels like it.
It feels wrong.
And yet powerful.
I could get used to it.
“Off with his head,” I announce dramatically, pounding my fist onto the desk.
Maja’s forehead wrinkles. I’m forever making this woman wince.
“Just kidding,” I quickly say. Serious. One must be serious in this chair. “So what do you want me to sign?”
She takes a folder from the corner of the desk filled with a stack of papers and plops it in front of me, along with a thick book that says in English “Norland College Handbook.”
“What’s this?” I say, picking it up and turning it over. It’s heavy. Like, the Bible kind of heavy.
“Normally the best nannies, the ones who go on to serve the British Royal Family, and celebrities, go to Norland College in England. We don’t have time for that so I’ve procured you their textbook. From avoiding the paparazzi in a car, to anti-terrorism training, it’s all in there. I think it would be wise if you were to read the whole thing.”
The whole thing? It’s huge. Luckily I have an appetite for learning. I glance at her. “Will there be a quiz?”
“If you wish,” she says, then hands me a pen. “Shall we get started on the documents?”
And so we get started on the documents. Maja is patient with me, making sure I understand each one. I have a feeling if it were Aksel here running me through it, he wouldn’t be so indulgent.
By the time I’m done, it’s getting late. Maja sends me off to my room with the heavy handbook in my arms and I’m feeling both exhausted and wired.
My room is on the third floor, and from the brief tour I was given the other day, I remember that it’s two doors down from the girls (who share a giant room and yet sleep in bunkbeds, which is really cute), and at the opposite end of the hall from the King’s room.
My room is quite large but still homey thanks to the thick Scandinavian rugs that cover most of the hardwood flooring. Of course, there’s still something so grandiose about it all, with a dark wood four-poster bed with a teal velvet awning, old antiquey-looking armoires, vanities, and wardrobes, as well as a sprawling bathroom complete with blue and white tile and a claw-foot tub.
I definitely lucked out in terms of my living quarters and what I should probably do before I go to bed is unpack my suitcase and duffel bag and put everything away, so I don’t have to rip through my luggage in the morning before I take Clara to school.
But the bed is more persuasive than anything else, and after I wash up and slip on the first item of clothing I find, a long-sleeved shirt that says “Dogs <3 Me,” I climb under the thick covers. The nights are chillier here than in Paris and the palace itself seems a little drafty. Then again, what palace isn’t drafty when you have rooms the size of apartments and ceilings that are fifteen feet high.
I lie there, thinking of how drastically my life has changed. Never in a million years did I think that a girl growing up in a shack outside the “town” of Windorah, Australia, surrounded by red dust and futility, going to bed hungry every night, wearing clothes donated from neighbors, wondering if she’d ever see her father again, could end up sleeping in a royal palace. Even as a child, I never even let myself dream about a better world for myself.
The sad thing is … I still don’t let myself dream, even when I’m supposed to be living it.
Despite being tired, I don’t sleep very well.
I never do in general and I especially don’t the first night in a strange place, whether it be in a hotel or my new room at my new job. I’m always too aware of how unfamiliar my surroundings are. I’m always planning my escape route in case something goes wrong—I’m always distrustful of the shadows.
In this case, my room is huge and the shadows are deep and long and everywhere. Plus, in the back of my mind I think I hear someone walking up and down the hall. It might be Sleepwalking Johan and I start to wonder if I locked my door or not.
When the sky begins to lighten from black to purple-grey, I’m already awake and getting out of bed. Maja had told me that Clara’s school starts at eight-thirty and is about a twenty-minute drive, so we should be out of the house—erm, out of the palace—no later than eight.
I’m nervous as I usually am on my first day on the job. I don’t know the area (and in this case, the country), I don’t know the children or the adults. I have no idea what to expect and that’s not even factoring in the whole royal thing. Having a shitty sleep on top of it all doesn’t help my nerves either. The best I can do is just ignore the whole royal thing for now, and the fact that my new home is a castle, and I’m caring for two bloody princesses, and just pretend that this is nothing new.
Though a vat load of coffee wouldn’t hurt. I flick on the lights and look around the room. I wonder if they’d mind if I got a kettle for the room along with some tea and instant coffee. I can’t see myself trudging down to the cavernous kitchen at all hours of the day and night for my fix.
You’ll get some caffeine in you later, I tell myself. Just focus on the day. You know everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.
The first step is to figure out what to wear. I’m a bit of a tomboy-ish dresser and you can usually find me more on the side of casual than not, favoring shorts and singlets in the summer and skinny pants and fitted tees and jumpers in the winter. But this being a royal palace and all and the fact that my two charges seem awfully fond of pretty little dresses, I wonder if I need to step it up a notch. Even the nannies from the Norwood handbook stuck to a Mary Poppins-esque uniform at school (Complete with hat!) and a working uniform of navy blue skirts and blouses.
I dig through my luggage some more, putting half my stuff away, until I come across the only skirt I have, which is a black wool A-line skirt. In fact, I don’t think I’ve worn it since I came to Europe—it was part of my waitressing uniform back in Brisbane before I scrounged up enough money to escape.