A few days later, Lenny sat in a plush leather upholstered seat, on a private plane heading out to Italy. The sky was cloudy and overcast, mirroring her exact mood. She didn't know what to expect. She had to come to grips with her new heritage and her new family. The only thing that seemed to be stable in this chaotic world of hers was Benito, the man who had delivered this untimely news to her. He sat opposite her, with his feet crossed at the ankles and was reading an autobiography of some sort. Lenny exhaled, for what seemed like the hundredth time.
"Princess, I assure you everything will be fine, you do not need to worry," Benito said looking up from his book and smiling at her.
"Ben, how can I not worry? What if this is a mistake or what if they do not like me... or... that I'm not made of Royal material..." Lenny said panicked.
"Principessa, you are every bit a Royal, as I am my father's son... you may not see it but I definitely do... and so will the people. Please try to relax," Ben said.
Lenny leaned back and closed her eyes. The last couple of days, she had been trying to conjure up memories of when she was a child, but the only ones that came to light was her time in foster care and that was a side, she didn't want to revisit. She told herself to relax, to unwind... and suddenly, an idea sprung to mind, could she ask Ben to remain at her side? She opened her eyes and caught him staring at her, she thought he would look away, but his gaze held hers.
"What are you thinking Princess?" Ben said quietly.
She had to get used to being called by that title, "Ben, when we get to the palace, what will happen to you?"
"As King Rinaldo, will no longer require my services, I will go back home," Ben replied, putting his book down.
"And where is home?" Lenny asked.
"Home is in Tuscany, your Highness," Ben replied softly.
"And is Tuscany like Rome?" Lenny asked.
"No, they are very different Princess, you will see once you get there," Ben replied, "Tuscany has rolling green pastures and Cypress trees, the smell of lemons and stone houses. Rome has it's architecture stemmed in history, it's shopping, the tourist trappings and all sorts. Everything a tourist could possibly want and if you enjoy books... you will very much enjoy what there is on offer."
"How do you know, I like books?" Lenny asked.
Damn, he slipped up on that one. How on earth was he going to explain that to her, he was about to open his mouth when the captain's voice came through the speakers and pronounced, they would be landing soon with a welcome return. He watched as Lenny buckled herself in and so did he. It was as if she had forgotten her previous question and went back to staring outside the window. He could see the worry and fatigue all over her face, she had been frowning the last couple of hours, since they had boarded the plane. She was going back to a life she did not know, nor how to start and yet, he realised she was very bit a Princess dressed in a maroon dress, the bodice cupping her ample breasts and clinging to her every curve as it sashayed out from her knees like a mermaid fish tail. Her hair was neatly tied back in a ponytail and her make up was simple, not that she needed any, she was beautiful as she was but he had gathered, she was very unaware of how beautiful she was, because she was fretting so much. He had spent the last couple of days by her side, only opening his mouth when she had asked his opinion. She was thoughtful, witty but now she had slunk back into her shell and was afraid to come out again.
As the plane hit the tarmac, he saw her eyes widen with surprise and she leaned forward to take a closer look outside the window. He followed her gaze and noticed the crowds of people waving Italian flags and cheering for their new Principessa.
Ben walked out of the plane first, standing at the top of the stairs, looking around for any impending threat, but Italy was a peaceful country. He stood aside and watched as Lenny entered into view, the crowd erupted, engulfing her with loud screams as if she was the next best thing to the Beatles. Gone was the shy young woman and here was a confident young woman waving and smiling at the crowds. He held out his arm and she took it and they walked down the stairs together.
*** *** ***
Ben helped her out of the bullet proof black Rolls Royce and felt her tremble, "You will be fine Princess," he tried to sooth her but she smiled weakly. He led her away from the car, towards the walkway to the palace. He watched as she took in the vast extremity of the Royal Palace with it's white washed exteriors and high walls, angular square windows with their matching white shutters and a Moroccan coloured terracotta roof. It's grandeur was breathtaking, as were the gardens full of blooms. Ben led her up the stairs to the open gallery, where the walls were covered with floor to ceiling portraits of past Royals and a chandelier bigger then her room back in London, it was breathtaking and Ben heard her exhale. She was mesmerized by the frescoes on the ceilings standing in the centre.
"This is absolutely breathtaking," she managed to murmur.
"Yes, it is exquisite," Ben said, "But we must meet his Royal Imperial in the Library for refreshments," as he guided her towards the library. The door man opened the door and if the gallery was stunning, this was beyond imaginable. Lenny walked in, her mouth half open, stunned.
"This is so so beautiful," she gasped with utter surprise.
"I'm glad you think so," came the voice from behind her.
She spun around and there standing amidst the gold embellished furniture was an elderly gentleman and a woman by his side. They were casually but smartly dressed and the elderly woman walked towards Lenny and drew her in a hug, cupping her head in her hand.
"Il mio nipote, it' s così buona infine vederlo e tenere," the woman said, drawing away from her and touching her cheek, "You' re mai così bello e you' la ve viene a casa,"
"I'm sorry, I don't understand Italian," Lenny apologised.
"Your grandmother expressed how happy she is to finally meet you and how beautiful you are and that you're home," Benito interjected. He faced the elderly woman and spoke back in Italian, "La vostra altezza, Lenora non capisce l'italiano ma ho tradotto che cosa avete detto ed è felice di essere qui, se non una punta nervosa."
"What did you just say to her?" Lenny asked Ben.
"I told her, that I am happy to translate for her, as you don't speak Italian yet and that you are happy but nervous to be here," Benito smiled.
Lenny smiled, "Thank you." She looked up and saw that the elderly gentleman was standing behind his wife.
"Welcome to your new home, my sweet. You will excuse my poor English, it is not my first language but I am Rinaldo De Luca, your grandfather and I will like you to come and sit with us for some refreshments," he showed them to the table and chairs.
Lenny sat beside Benito and her grand parents sat opposite her. Benito had agreed to translate for them as they could be there for a while if Rinaldo were to speak English. He spoke.
And so Benito said, "Your grandfather wishes for you to stay at the Palace here, he hopes you will find a place here that you can call home. He does sincerely apologise that he could not come to get you himself, due to his commitments to the country and his ailing health, but does not want you to worry yourself. He will explain in due course, the way history has been laid out, why you were in Foster care but of course, there is a time and place for everything and they will show you around the Royal Palace."
Lenny was shown to every room in the Palace grounds, introduced to all the staff and shown the exquisite gardens. She decided to take everything in her stride, but the grandeur of it all but suffocating to say the least and she excused herself and headed out into the gardens. She ran from the ballroom, down the stairs and towards the fountain in the centre of the gardens. It was all too much to take in, she sat down beside the fountain and touched the clear water, watching the exotic fish circling the statue. The water was cool beneath her fingertips and she looked up, the enormity of the palace was striking in the foreground. This was hers... and one day, she would inherit it all. It suddenly put everything into perspective.
She looked up to see Benito walking towards her, she watched as he handsomely strolled towards her. He had worn black suit trousers and a black shirt, that he had miraculously rolled up by his elbows to show steely bronzed forearms with a light dusting of fine hair. His hair was still immaculate despite the blazing heat and sun and his eyes, piercing. He stopped in front of her and sat beside her.
"Are you alright Lenny?" he asked.
"You didn't call me Princess..." Lenny said surprised.
"Princess is your title but not who you are, you are Lenny... softly spoken, nervous Lenny," Benito smiled, "So, how are you coping with the new found information?"
"Not as well, as I'd like. What if I'm not made to be this Princess after all? What if I fail miserably? What then? I'm a failure and a disgrace to my family..."
"You already speak like a Princess... if you see Lenny, you worry too much, when you should really be enjoying this... you are of blue blood, as they say right? You are not a failure and you would certainly be no disgrace and you have just mentioned your family... who you have met merely a few hours ago and only a few days ago, you had none, not that you knew... so what does that tell you?"
Rinaldo and his wife Emeline watched from the second storey window out onto the gardens, to where Benito had just arrived and sat next to Lenora who seemed quite taken a back by the whole experience. Rinaldo spoke to his life in Italian, "I'm sure this experience must be very daunting for her,"
"Daunting is too a tame word Rinaldo, she must be scared, unprepared for what's to come... or how to handle the position. It was a few decades ago, when you asked me to marry you and I was a mere commoner brought to this position but she... she is of noble blood... this is what her fate is, but I find that she is finding it extremely hard to take it all in... how will she cope for the Ball?" replied Emeline in her natural tongue.
There was a pregnant pause, Rinaldo studied the two lone figures happily talking outside and his eyes never leaving their faces, "She seems comfortable with him, with Benito, don't you think?"
"Yes, are you asking him to stay?" Emeline asked, reading his thoughts.
"I think I will be, yes," Rinaldo replied.
Benito never left Lenny's side as they walked the Palace grounds. There were prolonged silences that lingered in the air, they weren't uncomfortable but the complete opposite. He watched her from the corner of his eye, she was looking at the grass and she had been for quite some time.
"Why do you look at the grass so much? You may miss out on the bigger picture," he asked softly.
"Oh, sorry, I didn't know I was staring at it so intently," she giggled, "I've just never seen grass so lush and so green before, silly me. I was just amazed by it... were you saying something?" she said looking at him.
"No, nothing at all," he smiled. At that moment a gentleman appeared in a smartly dressed suit and announced that his Imperial Rinaldo De Luca would like to see Benito at once. He excused himself and left Lenny by herself.
He was brought back to the Library, where Benito was staring outside the window and from what Benito could see, he was staring at his grand child, "She is beautiful, isn't she? Like a treasure waiting to be unravelled."
Benito remained silent, waiting for orders to leave the palace as his mission was done. Instead his Imperial Highness, turned around and looked at him, "Benito, I understand that you have for filled your mission and brought back my grand daughter to me... but I wonder, if it's possible you could stay a while longer."
Benito tried to silence the beat of his heart, as he could suddenly feel it ringing in his ears, "What are you proposing?"
"I'm proposing that you stay here... it seems my grand daughter has taken a liking to you... she seems comfortable with you and in order for her to settle here and find her way as a Princess, you would be the next best thing. Of course, you will be here living in the Palace grounds and all your needs taken care of, would that be suitable?"
Benito thought long and hard, "And what if I choose to decline?"
"You don't have a choice," Rinaldo spoke softly but the authority was masked somewhat.
"Then that's settled then," Benito said.
"Yes, indeed it is." Rinaldo replied, pleased with himself.