Our days under his majesty’s hospitality became similar to each other. The morning was always used for training, which Alana observed all the time. Before lunch, the Prince spent his time with his guests without my sister. Alana and Prince Veron spent the afternoon together, sometimes inside, sometimes outside the castle. Velina and I didn’t join them as everyone knew that he was courting my sister. Alana used the library to teach children and her class size was growing each week. Master Sifun was transferred to another library but using Alana’s potion he was sleeping well during the night. During my stay here, I had got to know some of the guards and found out that Baron’s father, Brenbar, is his Majesty, King Darion’s personal guard, who was now guarding her majesty, the Queen. He was the man who complimented me about my technique in the first practice.
The Prince and Alana were visibly happy together, but the Prince sometimes chose interesting places to spend the afternoon with her.
‘Where have you been today?’ I asked my sister one day after dinner.
‘In the picture gallery,’ she smiled, ‘Veron showed me the paintings of all his ancestors and we had a picnic in the gallery.’
‘A bit more romantic than spending the afternoon in the stable like yesterday,’ I laughed.
‘I enjoyed my time in the stable yesterday, we fed many horses,’ my sister smiled, ‘Veron is not an ordinary man.’
‘I must agree,’ I said.
‘Veron confessed his love to me,’ Alana said suddenly but with a smile.
‘I’m happy for you,’ I told her honestly, ‘did you give him an answer?’
‘I told him that I loved him as well,’ she smiled, ‘he said that he hoped that I would not reject his confession.’
‘Why would you do that?’ I laughed, ‘You cleaned up half of the stable yesterday. No one would refuse that romantic situation,’ I teased her.
‘Tomorrow we are cleaning up the library,’ my sister smiled, ‘in exchange for the stable he offered me his help in cleaning the dust off from the books.’
‘I’m glad that I don’t have to join you,’ I smiled.
The random trainings became more frequent, but apart from Doran and me, no other guests participated. The baker boys were busy with the girls, and the miner family were focusing on their new friends. Once a week, Alana went back to the inn to sell different kinds of potions to the citizens. The innkeeper’s son, Puron had fully recovered and on behalf of my sister he offered to help everyone. My sister set the prices depending on the illness and on the wealth of the family. Just like in the south, sometimes she helped for free. Velina and I became typical lovers and if one of us coughed at dinner, we spent the night together. No one knew about our relationship, and it worked for both of us.
Once a week, my sister had a sword contest with the Prince in the private room, Velina and I always watched them practising as officially instead of my sister I had a training exercise with Prince Veron.
‘I’m happy that our relationship is not similar to theirs,’ the Princess said while the two of them were practising.
‘Defend yourself in order not to be kissed by your opponent,’ I laughed, ‘I will tell your brother’s idea to the guards tomorrow.’
‘Be careful, Abidon has a fullbeard,’ the Princess smiled, mentioning one of the Prince’s friends who had returned from the western province a couple of days ago.
Both of them had always persisted in their contest for a long time, but close to the end to the practise one of them always surrendered to kissing the other leaning against the wall. In our company they felt safe, we never bothered them.
‘Do you think that they are surrendering intentionally?’ Velina asked me while the couple were kissing on the other side of the room.
‘I think so,’ I said, ‘both of them are better swordsmen than that.’
Autumn was almost here when one day I went to the library after my sister’s lesson. Alana sat by her table, and the Prince who sat next to her was kissing her. I coughed discreetly and waited.
‘Aleron,’ the Prince said without turning to me, he gently kissed my sister’s fingers.
‘It’s lunchtime, your majesty,’ I said.
‘I know,’ the Prince answered, ‘but I cannot convince your sister not to go to the inn alone. I want her to take one of my guards with her.’
‘Veron,’ my sister said nicely, ‘I always go alone.’
‘Not from today,’ the Prince said, ‘during lunch I’ll announce that you are staying in the castle. Do you feel like staying, my precious?’ the Prince asked my sister gently.
‘I do, Veron, I told you already,’ my sister said and caressed the Prince’s face with her finger, I sighed.
These discussions would have driven me crazy already and I was happy that I didn’t have to listen to similar things from Velina. Until today Alana and I were the Prince’s guests and Alana was free to do anything in her own time, but from tomorrow we would officially live inside the castle. I would be one of the Prince’s personal guard and Alana could stay as my relative. From tomorrow the Prince would have the right to send a guard with Alana while their courtship existed, and I was sure that he would not let her go alone outside the castle.
‘All right, Veron,’ my sister said, ‘after lunch I will take Baron with me. He is your best friend and you trust him. Is that acceptable to you?’ my sister asked.
‘Yes,’ the Prince said visibly jealous.
Alana hadn’t noticed his reaction and stood up from the table.
‘I’ll see you at lunch,’ Alana said and gave the Prince a gentle kiss.
‘Bye,’ the Prince answered.
We spent the lunch in silence, but when the Prince stood up between two courses everyone stopped eating. During the summer, everyone had learned the basic etiquette rules.
‘The end of summer has come,’ he said, ’I’d like to thank you for my guests for being my training partners throughout the summer. Doran, please stand up,’ he smiled at the man next to me.
I looked at Alana and she nodded with a smile. The Prince’s request meant that Doran could stay as a guard. As Doran had his own family, he would receive a small house close to the castle. Doran looked at me with curiosity and I nodded with a smile.
‘Your majesty,’ he said as he stood up.
‘I would be honoured Doran,’ the Prince said, ‘if you could stay here in the capital as a royal guard.’
The man was very surprised, his wife stood up in a hurry and she hugged her husband. The Prince waited for them patiently to finish hugging.
‘Thank you, your majesty,’ Doran said, ‘I’m honoured to accept this.’
‘Great,’ the Prince said, ‘after lunch, we will meet at your apartment.’
Doran and Tila sat down and they looked very happy.
‘Aleron, please stand up,’ the Prince smiled at me, I stood up.
‘Your majesty,’ I said.
‘I would be honoured Aleron,’ the Prince said, ‘if you could stay here in the capital as a royal guard.’
’Thank you for giving me the honour of staying, your majesty,’ I said, ‘I will never disappoint you, your majesty,’ I said according to the rules of etiquette.
‘I’m sure about that,’ the Prince said and sat back in his chair.
I would be one of his personal guards, but officially they were not known, everyone knew them as royal guards.
The miner couple and the baker boys mumbled quietly. After Doran’s offer, they were waiting for the offer to stay as well. The miner family were focusing on their new friends and the baker boys were busy with the girls, none of them attended any random exercises. The Prince was a good strategist, and he never cared about the morning training. He was interested in the perseverance and dedication on the random exercises where he was mostly not even present. The miner family and the baker boys never practised apart from in the morning, so they were not good enough to stay. Prince Veron had made a decision based on his friends’ observations, which could not have been predicted by anyone.
‘Baron,’ Alana said to the man sitting almost next to her, ‘could you please accompany me this afternoon outside the castle?’
The Queen and the other companions were surprised by the question, Baron looked at the Prince, who nodded.
‘I’m honoured, Alana,’ Baron answered not understanding the situation.
‘I place Alana’s safety into my best friend’s hands,’ the Prince explained, ‘don’t forget to take two short swords with you, Baron,’ the man nodded.
‘Thank you, Baron,’ Alana said, ‘If it suits you, we can meet in the stable after lunch.’
‘Yes,’ Baron said, ‘I’ll be there.’
After lunch, the Prince walked my sister to our apartment, and she collected her herbs. She put her old leather belt on with ready prepared potions in small ampoules and put her herbs in a backpack.
‘Take care of yourself, my precious,’ the Prince said and gave her a kiss on the hand.
‘Baron will take care of me,’ Alana smiled before she walked away along the corridor.
Prince Veron watched Alana jealously as she walked away, I did not envy him.
‘You can trust her, your majesty,’ I said.
‘I know,’ he answered, ‘but Baron could become engaged to her, I cannot do that yet.’
‘What do you mean by not yet?’ I asked.
‘I have been waiting for my father’s arrival to sign the proposal which would allow me to marry Alana, but I’m not waiting any longer. In his absence, the royal council’s majority decision is sufficient.’
‘Will they support you?’ I asked.
‘They should do,’ he laughed, ‘otherwise after my enthronement I’ll replace them with other nobles. They should be aware of that.’
‘Hopefully, you will be right, your majesty,’ I said.
Doran and his family had left their apartment after lunch, they were escorted by a guard into their new home. The Prince congratulated him one more time, the rest of the guests would leave the castle tomorrow morning. The Prince and I walked to the courtyard to spend the afternoon there.
‘Where will Doran’s post be, your majesty?’ I asked the Prince.
‘Here, inside the castle as a guard,’ the Prince said, ‘he will be present at my birthday dance night. I’d like to announce my engagement there,’ he smiled.
‘It is only a couple of weeks, your majesty,’ I was surprised.
‘I know,’ he smiled, ‘Alana must not know about it, it will be a surprise.’
’I won’t tell her,’ I said.
‘Is this corridor suitable for you?’ the Prince asked, ‘This corridor will be unused and there is an apartment closer to Velina and me. If you decided to stay, the guards would stay as well, of course.’
‘This apartment is fine, we had already unpacked our belongings.’
‘Aleron,’ he said, ‘I know about your affair.’
‘How do you know, your majesty?’ I asked, as it wouldn’t make any sense to deny it.
‘I saw you sneaking in after I had walked your sister home. I use the servants’ passage too because I cannot be followed there.’
‘I see, your majesty,’ I said, ‘our relationship is a joint decision.’
‘I know,’ he said, ‘Velina is a real rebel. Please don’t fall in love with her because she cannot do the same and both of you will suffer.’
‘I won’t,’ I said, the Prince nodded.
I spent the afternoon with the Prince in the huge courtyard, but his mind was somewhere else.
‘They will return soon,’ I said with a smile, he nodded.
Only the two of us had remained in the courtyard, when Baron appeared through the fence. The Prince had thrown away his sword and went to his friend.
‘Was everything alright?’ The Prince asked.
‘Everything,’ Baron said, ‘the people love Alana very much. The queue was so long that the last person almost stood outside the inn,’ he laughed.
The man was still impressed by my sister, but since the announcement of the courtship, he didn’t even pay a compliment to my sister. According to the rules of etiquette, he could have done that, but he respected the Prince more than that.
‘I’m glad,’ the Prince said, recognizing the respect he showed.
‘From next week Alana would like to go to the inn twice a week,’ Baron said, ‘She asked me to accompany her.’
‘You should always accompany her,’ the Prince said, ‘I’ll talk to her about the frequency.’
‘Prince Veron,’ Baron said, ‘Why do I have to take the short swords with me? I’m better with my own.’
‘If you are with Alana, always take the short swords with you, apart from that I don’t care,’ the Prince was decisive, Baron nodded.
The Prince arrived at our apartment before dinner, and after a kiss in our lobby they walked together to the dining room.
‘How was your afternoon, Alana?’ the Queen asked, ‘Are you still selling herbs and potions?’
My sister put down her cutlery and swallowed what she was eating in seconds.
‘Yes, your majesty,’ my sister answered, ‘I have a lot of herbs. I used to sell them in the south as well.’
‘The queue was so long,’ Baron said with a smile, ‘that the last person almost stood outside the inn. She cured a sick little girl in one week,’ Baron said.
‘She only had an allergy,’ Alana said, ‘my tea helped her.’
‘Do you know that trading with herbs requires permission?’ the girl, who desperately wanted to become Baron’s wife asked.
‘I have permission,’ Alana said, ‘My family received it many years ago from his majesty, King Darion.’
Alana looked at the Queen, who nodded with a smile.
‘Alana helps a lot of people,’ Baron said.
The Princess coughed twice, signalling that she was waiting for me tonight. The Prince choked, Alana looked at him, but the Prince continued eating.
‘Aleron, Alana,’ the Princess said, ‘after dinner, please wait for me in the library.’
‘I think it can wait until tomorrow,’ the Queen said, the Prince choked again.
‘It cannot wait,’ the Princess said, the Queen sighed.
‘Yes, your majesty,’ I said.
After dinner we walked to the library, the Prince didn’t follow us.
‘Do you know what she wants?’ Alana asked me.
‘I have no idea,’ I said, ‘maybe she will ask you to be her companion.’
‘I doubt it. I haven’t done anything impressive to earn it.’
The royal siblings waited for us in the library. The Prince walked up and down the room, the Princess sat on a chair. The Princess invited me to sit down next to her. My sister had walked to the Prince to kiss him, but the Prince took a step backwards.
‘What is wrong, Veron?’ Alana asked nicely.
‘Are you having an affair with Baron?’ the Prince asked angrily.
‘Excuse me?’ my sister asked.
This situation was new for both of them, none of them had handled it well. The Prince had never been in love before, and Alana never made anyone jealous so far.
‘Velina,’ the Prince turned to his sister, ‘what did you see last year when you looked into Baron’s future?’
‘He will have a lower ranked, pretty blond wife, whom he hadn’t already met,’ Velina sighed, ‘I didn’t see more details at that time and now his future is hidden like everyone else’s.’
‘So,’ the Prince was sarcastic, ‘It is you, right?’
‘No,’ my sister said, ‘you asked me not to go out alone.’
‘And you chose him,’ the Prince spoke loudly.
‘It is good, that master Sifun is not here already,’ Velina whispered in my ear, ‘he would wake up for sure with this noise.’
‘Because he is your best friend and you trust him,’ Alana shouted as well, she felt offended by this assumption.
‘You should have taken Aleron with you,’ the Prince said.
‘Today he is not yet your guard, he will be your guard only from tomorrow,’ Alana said.
‘If they were finally sleeping with each other they would not be so uptight,’ Velina whispered with a smile, I nodded.
‘Baron can get engaged with you,’ the Prince said.
‘Princess Velina,’ my sister asked Velina, ‘do you see any husband in my future?’
‘No, Alana I don’t,’ the Princess said.
Velina gave a short answer as she could not say that she could not predict anything in Alana’s future.
‘So that’s all,’ my sister said, ‘Nothing happened between us and Baron will never propose to me.’
‘Are you sure?’ the Prince asked more calmly but still with some jealousy.
‘I’m sure,’ my sister stepped up to the Prince and gave him a gentle kiss.
We left them in the library and went back to our apartment. I quickly drank my sister’s potion and visited Velina.
‘Your brother is strange,’ I laughed.
‘This whole situation is new to my brother, and he doesn’t handle it well. He is in love, but he cannot marry Alana, and he is trapped. He had never been jealous before, none of the girls was as vital to him as your sister. He was jealous only about his horse. He forbade everyone to sit on him apart from him,’ she laughed.
‘Did your mother know?’ I asked.
‘As Veron had grumbled all evening that he would kill Baron if they were having an affair, I would say yes, she knew,’ Velina said, ‘the discussion over dinner didn’t help either. Veron is suffering because either Alana will become his lover, or he has to let her go.’
‘The royal council can vote in favour of your brother’s proposal,’ I said.
‘I didn’t know that you knew about it,’ she smiled, ‘they will meet tomorrow. I sincerely support Veron, so does our mother. She genuinely likes your sister.’
I spent the night in Velina’s apartment. I went back to our apartment only in the morning to get washed and dressed. Alana was getting dressed happily.
‘Was everything alright after I left?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ she smiled, ‘Veron is very cute when he is jealous,’ she chuckled, ‘I didn’t know what to do, I hadn’t been in a similar situation before.’
‘I think you should get used to,’ I said, ‘It can only be cute in the eyes of a woman in love, it would drive me crazy for sure.’
‘Aleron,’ she said timidly, ‘do you think that our mother would be ashamed if I were Veron’s lover?’
‘You are not even his lover yet,’ I teased her, ‘Look,’ I said seriously, ‘he is a King to be and sooner or later he must marry someone. As a lover, you would never have children, and I know how much you want a child. Everyone would gossip about you and I think your heart would break more than our mother’s honour. Are you sure that Veron loves you so much that you could accept all of this?’
‘You are right,’ she said, ‘I need to think about it.’
‘What are you doing today?’ I asked.
‘Before lunch I’m teaching in the library and at lunchtime, I’m visiting Dorana, don’t look for me in the castle.’
‘Are you going alone?’ I asked.
‘Doran will be with me all the time,’ she said, ‘in his free time, he always goes home until his family will not get used to the new place. They are delighted. In the east they lacked many things, but here they can have a proper life.’
‘You may go then,’ I said.
‘Veron knows about my plans,’ she smiled.
‘Are we having dinner together?’ I asked, as we had never spent dinner without each other.
‘Of course,’ she smiled, ‘I will be back for dinner, I will meet Veron afterwards.’
At breakfast, every guest was packed and ready to leave. Doran and his family didn’t eat with us, now the miner sat next to me. At the end of breakfast, the Prince stood up.
‘Thank you for being my guests,’ the Prince said, ‘everyone should enjoy the next meal just like before the summer.’
‘Apart from the Prince’s lover,’ the older baker boy said, I started to stand up.
Alana put her hand on my knee and continued her meal.
‘Tarla will walk everyone out,’ the Prince stood up together with his family, ‘the hospitality had just ended.’
‘If I had a big bust like that, could I stay?’ the baker boy said again, I stood up, the Prince stopped moving.
In the circumstances, the Prince or I had the right to sort it out, but I was closer so it would be me now. I stepped up behind the baker boy and squeezed his shoulder, he groaned.
‘Just go,’ I whispered, ‘immediately.’
The boys had stood up, the four guards walked them out, the royal family left the room.
‘I’m sorry Alana that you had to hear this,’ Baron said honestly.
‘Thank you,’ my sister said, ‘I think this won’t be the last time. I’m going to the library.’
My sister left the dining room alone, I walked together with Baron and the others. I didn’t return to my apartment, but I hoped that the baker boys had left quietly.
I received a yellow-green uniform and schedule.
‘The Prince wants you to guard his sister and your sister,’ Baron said, ‘you should accompany them.’
Velina was in the tower, I walked to the tower to wait for her. I had waited for a while and started to get bored.
‘We need to go to Veron,’ Velina came out of the door with a letter in her hand.
I took Peg Leg from her, she could walk faster without her cat. The Prince probably had finished his meeting with the royal council because he was in the garden playing with his friends.
‘Veron,’ Velina handed the letter over, ‘it came from the south.’
‘What is it?’ the Prince took the letter and opened it.
‘The southern tax collectors have gone missing,’ Velina said while the Prince was reading, ‘they simply disappeared.’
‘They had gone to collect taxes in the city of Kadin, and they never returned to the royal guard post,’ the Prince summarized the information, ‘in Kadin, no one knows anything.’
‘Aleron,’ the Prince turned to me, ‘do you know anything about this?’
‘No, your majesty, I don’t,’ I said, ‘I’ve been here for the last couple of weeks with you.’
‘Do you know anyone in Kadin who would be capable doing such a thing?’ Baron asked.
‘I genuinely believe in that everyone from the four cities would happily do this,’ I said, ‘Whatever happened to them, they deserved it.’
‘What do you mean?’ the Prince asked, ‘do you know what you are talking about?’
‘I do, your majesty,’ I said, ‘these tax collectors have collected more than the capital tax for many years and if someone didn’t have enough coins, they made them pay differently.’
‘The southern fee is much less than the local one. How could people pay?’ Baron asked.
‘With their female family member. The tax collectors took them to garrison,’ I said.
‘Why?’ Abidon asked, but I saw from his expression that he knew, but he needed to hear it.
‘To make the women pay off the missing tax,’ I said.
‘Did Alana pay as well?’ the Prince asked hesitantly, I shook my head.
‘For the last couple of years, they believed that Alana was dead,’ I said, ‘From our city, they could never have taken anyone and from the other towns they took the last girl when I was a small child. They have been trying hard, but we paid off each other’s taxes.’
‘Why did they think that Alana was dead?’ the Princess asked.
’She was the only blond girl with blue eyes and the swine spotted her quite early, so within two months, we had spread around the news that she was dead,’ I said, ‘in our city everyone kept their mouth shut as they owed this to our family.’
‘Why was I not aware of this?’ The Prince was furious, ‘Velina, did you know about this?’
‘Partially,’ she said, ‘many years ago, a pigeon arrived with a letter about this situation, but our father said that I didn’t need to worry, he would handle it.’
‘You should have told me,’ the Prince snarled, ‘send a letter back that temporarily the garrison guards should collect the taxes, but if they line their own pockets with the coins, they will pay for it with an immediate death sentence. I need to send someone trustworthy to the south.’
‘I’m volunteering, your majesty,’ Abidon said, ‘I don’t have any family and I’m curious about the southern province.’
‘Thank you, Abidon,’ the Prince said, ‘you will get all my support. Velina, notify the royal inns next to the middle trade route about Abidon’s journey, he should be treated with priority everywhere.’
‘Yes, Veron,’ Velina said.
‘Excuse me your majesty,’ Abidon said, ‘but I’ll not be present on your birthday dance night.’
‘I can count on you and it means much more to me,’ the Prince said, ‘thank you, Abidon.’
Everyone had wished Abidon luck and he left to prepare for the journey.
‘Where is Alana?’ the Prince asked me.
‘She is visiting Doran, your majesty,’ I said.
‘Right,’ he said, ‘I forgot,’ he smiled.
‘Prince Veron,’ Edria walked towards us slowly. She bowed slightly to the royal siblings, Velina didn’t return the greeting.
The tall, slim, brown haired woman knew how to be eye-catching, her pleasant scent surrounded her orange dress.
‘What are you doing here, Edria?’ Velina asked.
‘My parents left and travelled to the western province and her majesty, the Queen, kindly invited me to stay inside the castle for my safety,’ Edria said, ‘my apartment will be close to yours,’ she glanced at the Prince whose mind was somewhere else. Probably he was thinking of Alana and the letter.
‘Of course, she invited you,’ the Princess said sceptically, ‘I believe you, Edria.’
‘We don’t know each other yet,’ she turned to me proudly and nodded.
‘No, we don’t, Miss Edria, I’m Aleron, the newest member of his majesty’s royal guards,’ I bowed slightly, as a guard, I didn’t have to give an air kiss on her hand.
‘I’m glad to meet you,’ she smiled.
In the afternoon, Prince Veron went outside the castle with Baron, I exercised with the rest of the guards. Before dinner, Velina played the board game before I walked her back to the castle. She coughed twice without a word, I nodded.
I went back to my apartment; my sister was already there preparing the table for dinner. I had taken my cloak off and washed my hands.
‘You’ve received a lot of food,’ I looked at the trays fully packed with different kind of meals.
‘The parents gave it to me,’ she smiled, ‘many of them cannot pay me, so they’ve decided to feed me,’ she laughed, ‘some of them said that I was too thin.’
‘No, you are not,’ I said when someone knocked on the door, I opened it.
‘May I come in?’ Edria asked, I nodded.
I took a step aside to allow her to come in, but I stayed close to my sister.
‘I’d like to introduce myself, I’m Edria, and I’ll be his majesty, Prince Veron’s guest for the next couple of weeks,’ the woman said.
My sister bowed, the woman outranked her, but as a private guard, I was in the same rank as her. The personal guards of his majesty are always receive the same rank as nobles.
‘Miss Edria,’ my sister smiled, ‘I’m Alana.’
‘I know,’ the woman said primly, ‘Currently, you are the woman who is courting with Prince Veron,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ my sister said shortly.
‘Are you going to be present at the birthday dance night?’ She asked.
‘Yes, miss Edria,’ Alana answered.
‘We will meet there for sure,’ the woman said and walked out.
‘What was that all about?’ my sister asked.
‘She is an old friend of the Prince,’ I said.
At dinner I told her that the tax collectors had gone missing, she agreed with me that they had deserved it. She spoke about her students. She had to admit that she loved children.
‘How is Dorana?’ I asked.
‘From tomorrow she will go to school,’ she said, ‘As a guard’s daughter, she must go to school and they have one nearby. I will visit them regularly because at the beginning Dorana will require some catch-up lessons.’
‘Please just let me know in advance before you leave the castle,’ I asked.
‘I will do, Aleron,’ she smiled.
We had finished our dinner, when the Prince knocked on our door and gave a flower to my sister.
‘Can we go for a walk, my precious?’ he asked nicely.
‘Yes, Veron,’ my sister smiled, ‘we can go.’
I didn’t rush to go to Velina as we always met later. I walked along some corridors to check whether everything was fine. I returned to my apartment to drink my potion, but my sister was already there. She sat in the lobby on a sofa with a flower in her hand.
‘What is wrong?’ I asked and sat down next to her, ‘you look sad.’
‘I asked the Prince today not to court me anymore,’ she said.
‘So, you’ve made your decision,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ she said sadly, ‘did you know, that here, in the capital you could spend a night together with someone more freely than in the south?’
‘I did,’ I said.
‘Did you know, that Veron, I mean the Prince never asked me to spend a night in his apartment despite the fact that many girls used to sleep there?’
‘I did,’ I said.
‘I think he didn’t want to waste his time with me as I don’t have any experience in that area.’
‘I doubt that this would be the reason,’ I said.
‘I thought that he was interested in me,’ she said, ‘anyway, it was the best decision, I cannot ever be his betrothed.’
She hugged me and started to cry quietly, I hugged her back as always. Today I would not visit Velina, I never left my sister alone when she was sad and today her heart had just been broken.
We went to sleep quite late, when my sister was sad, I always told her stories to cheer her up. I had to wake up early for the morning exercise, but I felt tired. I woke my sister up; the children were going to be in the library soon.
‘Are we having dinner together?’ I asked before I left the room.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘of course. This afternoon I’m going to the inn,’ she said.
‘You have been there just recently.’
‘From now on I will have more time and people are counting on me,’ she said.
‘I see. Is Baron going to accompany you?’ I asked.
‘Not anymore,’ she said.
From yesterday Prince Veron was no longer responsible for my sister’s safety, but I was sure that the Prince would send someone with my sister.
‘Take your swords with you in a bag,’ I said, she nodded.
I went to the courtyard, the Prince and the guards were already there, the Princess sat on the balcony. Prince Veron was tired and inattentive, but he tried to pay attention.
‘Aleron,’ the Princess asked me, ‘will Alana join us in the garden?’
‘She won’t, your majesty,’ I said, ‘she is teaching in the morning, and in the afternoon, she is going to the inn.’
‘I’m going with her then,’ Baron said accommodatingly.
‘No, Baron,’ the Prince said, ‘You no longer need to, thank you.’
There was silence for a moment as everyone acknowledged the change.
‘I see, I’m sorry Prince Veron,’ Baron said honestly.
‘Let’s start,’ the Prince said.
The practice was utterly senseless, the Prince fought like a small child. He was inattentive and missed with his sword.
‘Prince Veron,’ Baron said, ‘I think that’s enough for me, I’m tired.’
‘Me too,’ I stated as well.
Everyone followed our example and put down their swords on the ground. I looked at Velina, she was worried about her brother. We had just finished when Edria arrived and sat down on the balcony.
‘They have just finished the exercise,’ the Princess said and came towards us.
‘Veron,’ Velina told her brother, ‘today the eastern delegation is coming for an audience, we need to eat breakfast before that.’
‘I’m not hungry,’ the Prince said.
‘So, I’ll eat with our mother then,’ the Princess said, ‘you should just sit with us.’
Velina coughed twice, and the royal siblings walked away. Edria left the balcony, not many people liked her.
‘How is your sister, Aleron?’ Baron asked.
‘The same as him,’ I nodded my head towards the Prince, ‘she made a painful decision.’
‘I can imagine,’ he said, ‘the Prince was very happy with your sister, and I genuinely envied him.’
‘My sister was happy as well, but unfortunately, we are not a member of any noble family,’ I said.
‘It is not always beneficial to be a Prince,’ Baron said.
‘I’ve heard that you should get to find out who your wife is soon,’ I said.
‘When you arrived, I thought that it would be Alana,’ he said, ‘but I’m sure now that I was wrong.’
The day passed horribly slowly, I didn’t see the Prince, but I didn’t believe the delegates would have a successful audience with the Prince. In the afternoon, my sister rode out to the inn, I was on duty, and without permission, I could not join her. I went to the garden where Baron and Foren were playing a board game with the royal siblings. The Prince didn’t pay any attention, Baron easily won.
‘Prince Veron,’ Edria appeared in the garden, ‘I’ve heard what happened and I’m genuinely sorry.’
‘Edria,’ this was Velina speaking, ‘could you please leave us?’
‘Yes, of course,’ the woman turned to the Prince with a smile, ‘Your majesty, I wanted to let you know that If you need someone to talk to, I’m here,’ she smiled, the Prince just nodded.
The woman walked back to the castle, we stayed.
‘That woman is the last thing we need right now,’ Velina said annoyed, ‘Veron, I hope that you are not running back to her.’
‘She was never such a good listener,’ the Prince smiled.
‘But now she made you smile,’ Velina teased her brother, ‘so it was worth it.’
Before dinner time we went back to our apartments, my sister had already arrived. She received a meal today as well, but she didn’t have any appetite.
‘Did you have a good day?’ I asked, I wanted to make her talk.
‘Yes,’ she said.
She told me stories about the children and the people in the inn.
‘The innkeeper always gives me dinner,’ she smiled, ‘she said that on the days I was selling herbs at the inn, people were eating a lot.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ I said, ‘people love you.’
‘The innkeeper’s son, Puron offered to escort me home,’ she said, ‘but I came alone.’
For a while we ate without talking, I saw that she was thinking about something.
‘I’ve heard that miss Edria spent the whole afternoon with Prince Veron,’ she tried to be neutral, but every word was painful for her.
‘Whatever you have heard,’ I said, ‘it is not true. The Prince spent the afternoon with us in the garden, Edria only said hello to him.’
‘It is not my business,’ Alana said, ‘the Prince has the right to settle down with someone.’
We ate again without talking, there was something else on her mind as well.
‘Aleron,’ she said, ‘I think, I’m going to move back home. Now that the tax collectors are gone, it would be safe for me there.’
‘No,’ I said, ‘you hate that city and you can teach here as well. We didn’t come here for you to be a Queen, we came to start a new life. If you want, you could teach in the inn or anywhere else outside the castle and you would only need to spend the evenings here. We are not going back, and there is no way that you are going home alone.’
I sat next to her.
‘We will get over this,’ I said, ‘and one day you will allow someone to escort you home. If it does not happen this year then it will happen next year.’
‘You are right,’ she smiled, ‘Tomorrow I’ll look around to find a site for the school outside the castle.’
‘Good,’ I said, ‘do you want me to stay tonight?’
‘No, I don’t,’ she smiled, ‘I’m going to sleep.’
‘In case anything happens, the guards are outside. They will take care of you,’ I said and drank the potion.
‘And they will take care of me too,’ she touched her swords gently.
I left the apartment, the guards in the corridor waved to me.
‘Please take care of my sister,’ I asked.
‘We will do, Aleron,’ one of them smiled.
I walked to Velina along the servants’ passage, who was waiting for me in a robe.
‘You didn’t come yesterday,’ she said, ‘but after I met my brother, I didn’t expect you to come.’
‘I didn’t know that people can come to you for an audience,’ I said to her as I sat down to drink some tea.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘everyone can come, but from the south we have never received any letter to request it. The King and the Queen are always meet the delegation together, but today our mother and I both supported Veron. I didn’t need to be there but after seeing how upset Veron was, my mother asked me to join in. Veron had barely said a word, my mother took the final decision with me.’
‘How is your brother?’ I asked.
‘Not well,’ she said, ‘our mother is worried. In her opinion, Veron should talk with Alana.’
‘In my opinion it wouldn’t make sense,’ I said, ‘they should close the matter.’
‘What?’ Velina asked, ‘your sister just told my brother not to court her any more. Do you not think that she owes him an explanation?’
‘Explanation?’ I started to be angry, I didn’t want my sister to be blamed, ‘my sister is worth more than simply your brother’s lover. What other explanation do you need?’
‘She was not even his lover yet,’ Velina had become angry as well, she wanted to defend her brother.
‘Because your brother didn’t want to waste his time with an inexperienced girl,’ I said, ‘here everyone walks in and out of each other’s bed, but their feelings are not respected at all.’
‘You don’t have the right to complain,’ the Princess shouted, ‘you gained all your experience from a tavern and me. Where are your feelings?’
‘Nowhere,’ I said, ‘but I’ve never offered a courtship to anyone. Here, in the capital you are spending the night with people in whom you are not even interested,’ I shouted, I would not allow anyone to blame my sister, ‘your brother should have never courted Alana. Everyone knows that he will marry Edria,’ I told her the gossip which could be heard everywhere since Edria’s arrival.
‘Veron will never marry Edria and your sister should be grateful that Veron courted her,’ Velina said loudly.
‘Grateful?’ I asked, ‘your brother is a Prince who is playing with everyone.’
‘Veron was a gentleman with every single girl, just like with your sister,’ she said, ‘Alana didn’t even become his lover, although it is not such a big thing here.’
‘Maybe it is not such a big thing for you,’ I said, ‘but Alana deserves to be the only person who is loved and she especially deserves a family and children. Alana doesn’t deserve being visited and vexed by a Queen to be in her apartment. You can be independent, but my sister is worth much more than that.’
‘So, is your sister worth more than me?’ The Princess asked angrily.
‘She is worth more than anyone in this castle,’ I shouted, ‘whether she has a rank or not.’
The Princess was going to answer but the emergency bells sounded. I raised my head; the Princess closed her eyes for a moment.
‘The guest corridor,’ she said.
‘Alana,’ I said to myself and I almost broke the door as I ran out.
I wore my complete uniform, I ran back to my apartment along the servants’ passage. The four guards lay on the ground, everything was covered with blood. I ran to our apartment, blood had leaked under the entrance door. Behind me, guards appeared but I ran inside our residence. Three royal guards lay on the floor in my sister’s bedroom, the room was soaked with blood and a familiar smell spread throughout the apartment which I couldn’t recognize. Alana lay on the ground next to the desk with her herbs with her swords by her hands, and Prince Veron crouched next to her. The herbs were overturned, the desk was moved, there must have been an extraordinary fight. My sister wore a top and shorts, just like at home. The Prince did not dare to touch her apart from her neck.
‘Alana,’ I whispered and crouched next to her.
‘She is barely breathing,’ the Prince said, ‘but she doesn’t have any wound.’
I picked her up and put her down on her bed. The Prince looked away while I put a blanket on her as her top didn’t cover much.
‘She has a wound,’ I said.
My sister had a scratch on her left shoulder, her skin was green and blue coloured around it and looked very unnatural.
‘Your majesty,’ one guard opened the door.
‘Bring Baron, Lord Adon and my sister here,’ the Prince ordered, ‘no one else can come in.’
‘Yes, your majesty,’ the guard said and closed the door behind him.
‘What happened?’ I asked the Prince.
‘I wanted to talk with your sister, and when I arrived, the corridor already looked like now and I heard the noise of a sword fight from your apartment. I rang the bell and afterwards I ran here immediately. Alana had already lay on the ground just like the guards.’
‘These three guards attacked her?’ I asked, he nodded.
‘Veron,’ the old man from the dance night appeared at the door and was followed by two guards. Two thin blue lines crossed these guards’ yellow-green cloaks, but I was not aware of its meaning.
‘Lord Adon,’ the Prince stood up and bowed slightly, ‘she is barely breathing.’
The man must be a highly respected person if the Prince bowed to him. The man sat down on the edge of Alana’s bed and checked my sister’s pupils, tongue and the gash.
‘You are smart little blossom,’ the man whispered nicely, ‘very smart. You’ve learned everything that your parents taught you, but you were caught.’
‘She was poisoned,’ the man said to me, ‘but luckily, she drank the antidote before she was hurt, so she is still alive.’
‘Will she recover?’ I asked.
‘We need to wait,’ he said, ‘the poison was strong.’
‘I should have been here,’ I said to myself.
‘That would have been better,’ the Princess appeared in the room angrily.
‘We don’t have time for a domestic quarrel,’ the man said calmly, ‘you need to move her somewhere which will be known only to a few people. I need to see her very often.’
The man stood up, I did the same.
‘You called her little blossom,’ I said, ‘my mother used to call her this.’
‘I know,’ he answered, ‘I taught your mother all about herbs.’
All of us bowed slightly, Lord Adon left the room.
‘Your majesty,’ Baron had just arrived, he was barely dressed, ‘what happened?’
’Alana has been attacked, ’the Prince said, ‘You are the best person to tell me what happened here, and I trust you. You are my best tracker, Baron.’
Baron looked around, walked in and out between the rooms. He checked the different traces of blood and the scratch on the floor which was left by the moved table.
‘I think, she was already sleeping when she was attacked,’ he said, ‘she used the short swords to defend herself. She killed the two guards first, I assume they didn’t expect any resistance. She desperately needed something from the table, because she gave up her good position and she got stuck behind the table. Behind the table, next to the wall there was clearly not enough space for two swords, and her shoulder was cut. Alana and the man probably cut each other at the same time, but Alana did a perfect hit and the man died immediately.’
‘She needed the antidote,’ I said, ‘She recognized the smell of the potion, our father showed us many times. In the evening she always prepares the antidote together with some other necessary potions which might be needed urgently and during the night there is no time to prepare them. My mother and Alana saved some lives in the south with this habit.’
‘Today she saved her own life,’ the Prince said gently.
‘Apart from us no one can know about this,’ the Prince said, Baron nodded, ‘Officially the guards sacrificed their lives to kill the invaders who attacked the castle. News of Alana’s condition couldn’t be made known to anyone.’
‘She did well against three opponents,’ Baron said, ‘now carrying two short swords makes sense to me. Did she use them?’
‘She is better than you,’ the Prince smiled while he took a gentle look at Alana.
‘Why did your guards attack her?’ Velina asked, ‘because she refused you?’
‘They don’t belong to us,’ Baron answered, ‘they don’t have the royal coat of arms on their cloak,’ he showed the missing figure on the dead people’s shoulders, ‘Someone made the cloaks, but he didn’t have any royal coat of arms.’
We went to the lobby, Velina lit some candles, the three of us sat down on the sofa.
‘Aleron,’ the Prince asked, ‘did anything strange happen recently?’
‘Edria knocked on our door a few days ago,’ I said, ‘but nothing else.’
‘Was it before her decision?’ the Prince asked, I nodded.
‘With this information at least I understand some part of our last conversation,’ he said, ‘I wanted to talk to her today.’
‘It would have been superfluous, your majesty, she is not fit to be a simple lover.’
‘She is worth more than anyone here,’ the Princess said in disdain.
The Prince looked at his sister and raised his eyebrows.
‘I doubt that this is the right time to talk about who is worth more,’ I said decisively, ‘my sister is between life and death, your majesty,’ I spoke with more emphasis than usual.
Velina sat down silently, the Prince observed her for a while.
‘Baron,’ the Prince said, ‘as soon as possible, we need to take her to the western corridor. Apart from Lord Adon and us no one else is allowed to visit her.’
‘All right, your majesty,’ Baron said, ‘I will go and prepare a room.’
‘People will ask questions,’ Velina said, ‘what can we say?’
‘Nothing,’ the Prince said, ‘no one must know about the assassination. Are the guards on the corridor dead?’
‘Yes, your majesty,’ Baron said, ‘the first two guards were killed by a clean stab, the other two pulled their swords afterwards, but it was already too late. The invaders already had a considerable advantage.’
‘We will take Alana away from here,’ the Prince said, ‘you should check the bodies afterwards, I want to know who these people were. Velina, can you predict anything?’
‘Nothing, Veron, I’m sorry,’ the Princess answered.
‘Officially the guards killed the invaders,’ the Prince told his sister, ‘you can share this information.’
Baron left us to prepare the new room for Alana, I covered my sister with a blanket and took her in my arms, to carry her to the western corridor. Velina walked in front of us along the servants’ passage, the Prince and I followed her with Alana in my arms.
‘I’m not asking what this argument between you and Velina was about,’ the Prince said next to me, ‘but I told you not to fall in love with her.’
‘I haven’t done that, your majesty,’ I answered shortly, I didn’t want to have a senseless conversation.
‘I will get your room emptied,’ the Prince said, ‘you will move to our corridor, next to Edria.’
Following Velina, we entered a simple, white walled room with a bed, a sofa and a small cupboard in it. The bathroom was similar to ours, but it was much smaller. Baron was already waiting for us.
‘This is the guards’ corridor,’ the Prince explained, ‘all of you should use the servants’ passage, no one must know that Alana is here. Keep the entrance door always closed. Velina, do you have a trustworthy servant?’ the Prince asked his sister.
‘Maina, your majesty,’ I answered instead of the Princess, ‘Alana trusted her.’
‘She should be here all day long to help Lord Adon,’ the Prince ordered, all of us nodded.
The royal siblings and Baron left the room, I laid Alana down to the bed and covered her gently. I lay down on the sofa to sleep a bit.
To be continued here: https://books2read.com/u/mKzLA5
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