"You are too tall," she declared, easing her feet out of obligatorily fashionable shoes.
"I couldn't slouch any lower! You are too short." He found it impossible to sprawl in the flimsy chairs, and so remained disgruntled and precariously upright . "And those shoes are too pointy. You nearly took half my foot off."
"It isn't as if I get to choose what I wear at these occasions. Somebody's invalid mother worked a lifetime to sew the beads onto these things and I will be put out of both Mother's and Fiona's good graces if I don't wear them 'in appreciation' now and then."
"I had no idea," he mused, spooning an unholy amount of sugar into a cut-glass goblet of lemonade, "that princesses led such a difficult and demanding life for their adoring subjects."
She rested her elbows on the table and scanned the hedges for fireflies."I shall skip my birthday entirely next year to avoid receiving any more gifts of a similar sort."
"What about Christmas?"
"And Christmas. Any and all holidays resulting in footwear shall be wiped from the calendar."
The last orange streak of sunlight disappeared, and for a few minutes a chorus of crickets intervened and reminded everybody that they were in no danger of Christmas any time in the near future. Fireflies took the dance floor, and a few stars appeared to dress the sky. A breeze rippled the leaves of the trees and began to cool off what had been a warm summer day.
Ladies with less stunning jewelry were led by their partners to a pavilion at the edge of the field, talking quietly of things they would soon forget. Most of what would stay in their memories was the majestic and darkening sky stretching over a green lawn, buttressed by the elms and high old oaks that surrounded the grounds.
The sound of a horse's whinny heralded the arrival of the carriages which would return everyone to their apartments around the royal lodge.
"They're here," he commented needlessly, and contemplated another spoonful of sugar.
"Must they come so early? Have they no consideration for my aching feet?" She grumbled in her habitual but good-natured fashion and rose from her chair, wincing.
"Take your shoes off and carry them." He marveled at the impractical nature of female dress and downed the rest of the lemonade.
"I have stockings on."
"Take them off, too. Can't you hide your feet in all that fabric?"
"--Fiona would have your head? Your maid . . . ! I know, I know, somebody's aunt, someone's cousin, and in consequence--and quite inexplicably--your birthday gifts."
She laughed, winced, and looked at the offending articles doubtfully. The crickets were remonstrative.
"I've just thought of something," he said, rising to his feet; "Why don't I act like a gentleman and you can lean on my arm?"
"I can take my stockings off, it's really alright. I just don't like to make trouble for her." She made to sit down again. "Your carriage is leaving; you'd better go now or you'll miss it. I'll be right behind you."
"Don't be ridiculous. Here is my arm. Take it, or I will pretend to be very insulted and," he paused for dramatic effect, "I will tell Fiona."
"Not fair!" She stood up again. "Ouch. Alright, you win." She took his arm and they made their way slowly across the lawn to the waiting carriages. It took an effort for him to make his steps smaller to match her limping stride.
"You are still too tall."