I wasn’t with Phillipa for long. This was her last evening with Hugo before a couple weeks of separation. To say the least, I could relate, and was more then happy to keep our meeting short.
“So how was your week with your family and friends? ” Phillipa asked excitedly, as she jumped onto one of the couches in her bedroom. She pulled me down beside her, waiting eagerly for my response. I caught Hugo’s eye from across the room where he was reading at her desk. He smiled and tipped his head at me before returning to his book.
“Fun,” I said, “It was really nice to see all of them.”
“I hear a but in there,” said Phillipa, her green eyes examining me.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely amazing to see them, but it also made things sort of difficult. Just seeing the two different lives juxtaposed like that...” I cut off, not completely sure what I was even trying to say.
Phillipa nodded though, “Completely understandable.”
“Did you have a good week?” I asked, genuinely curious. I knew very little about Phillipa’s life outside lessons and princess stuff.
“Wonderful,” she said, smiling brightly. “Absolutely, fantastic! My life with Hugo is so much more relaxed and free then my life as Princess. I suppose it’s sort of like the opposite of how it works with you. Both you and Leopold have you have gone from more relaxed lives, you especially, to high profile, public, strict ones.”
“Sounds like a nice change of pace for you,” I smiled, truly happy that she got a break.
“What on earth happened with Antoine today?” Phillipa asked suddenly growing upset. “Leopold was livid.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, I know he was. It was a bit of an over reaction. Antoine was being a bit too friendly and decided to help me sit down. I tried to stop him but he wouldn’t listen. Anyway, my skirt flew into the table and got covered in wine.”
“The poor dress,” Phillipa sighed. “It was so pretty. That was less dramatic then I was expecting, which is good. At least you didn’t fall in the ocean this time.”
“It was more of an inconvenience than anything. Antoine honestly didn’t do it on purpose,” I said, surprised to find that I was defending him.
Phillipa glanced at the clock on the wall. “So are you ready for lessons again this week? I want to get through as much as possible. We are running out of time, after all.”
“Sounds good, I’m ready,” I told her, hoping I sounded confident.
“Perfect. I will give you tomorrow off so that I am not interrupted by Leopold stealing you away, then we will start regular time Monday morning.” She wrapped her tiny arms around me in a hug.
“I’ll see you then, Phillipa,” I promised. I stood, and after saying goodbye to Hugo too, I slipped out of her room and down the hall.
Leopold was still with Hector, or at least that what I presumed when I didn’t find him in any of the rooms in our wing. I decided it was late enough to go to bed, so I crawled back to my room, and into my own bed for the first time in over a week. I figured it would be even more inappropriate to sleep in Leopold’s bed now that he was back.
Slowly, I drifted to sleep while waiting for him to come back to me.
I was woken up gently by someone calling my to me. I opened my eyes to find that it was pitch black in my room and that I was still lying alone in my bed.
“What time is it?” I asked groggily.
“Four in the morning, Mademoiselle,” said Angela softly. She made her way through the dark room to my closet, and emerged with a robe. “I need you to come with me, Mademoiselle.”
“Is everything alright?” I asked, my concern growing. Leopold wouldn’t have done something stupid would he? I knew he used to disappear all the time, but I thought at the very least he would have told me he was going. Maybe he was hurt, or his shoulder was worse. I jumped out of the bed, and let Angela help me put on the robe.
“There is someone here to see you, Mademoiselle,” she told me. “They are waiting for you in the Council Room.”
I pulled the thin robe tighter to me as I followed my maid through the hallways. My mind continued to reel with all the possibilities of what could be going on. What was so important that I was woken up at four in the morning? The second I walked into the Council Room, I knew that my instincts were right; something was very, very wrong.
Felip was at the head of the table, dressed in a robe very similar to mine, his golden hair disheveled and glasses perched on the end of his nose. He looked tired. Although his face seemed as impassive and calm as ever, I could tell he was upset. There was anger in the quirk of his lips, the same expression I had seen on Leopold before. Hector was on Felip’s left. He too was just in pajamas, yet politely stood as I entered the room. Offering me a small yet reassuring smile, his sad eyes followed me as I slowly made my way to the table.
Leopold was standing behind his father with his arms crossed over his chest, fists clenched at his sides. He looked pale and drawn. I could see his anger in his shoulders that seemed to radiate around him, through him, like an electric current. Unlike the others, he did not look at me when I entered, but stayed focused on the floor, as unmoving as stone.
The last person in the room was Governor Richard. He was in a formal suit and sat with documents splayed across the table in front of him. He seemed pleased with himself, very happy, in fact, considering the otherwise dark atmosphere of the room.
“Winifred!” Richard cried, smiling broadly at me. He jumped to his feet, bowing low, “It is so nice to see you again.”
He made a move in my direction, but shrunk backwards as Leopold shot him a deathly glare.
“Please take a seat, Winifred,” said Felip, his voice even. “We have something we must discuss with you.”
The tension in the room was almost palpable as I folded myself into the chair closest to me. This was not helping my nerves. I swallowed hard, “What’s up?”
“As I am sure you have deduced, Governor Richard has returned from his preliminaries with the French,” began Felip.
My stomach knotted as things suddenly began to fall into place. Richard had gone to visit the French Government regarding me becoming Queen of Arcadis so that I could marry Leopold. Based on the moods of the DuMont men, it seemed that Richard had been told no. If that was the case, I couldn’t be married to Leopold, he would lose the throne, and I was probably about to get banished, making this entire endeavor moot. Even though I hadn’t made the decision to stay or go yet, I felt a sudden pang of sadness at the thought that I may have to leave, or at least that I may not have the option to stay as part of the royal family anymore.
“However,” the King continued, an edge creeping into his voice. “It seems as though Richard has accomplished more then we had anticipated and desired.”
“What do you mean?” I asked confused. That didn’t exactly sound like I was getting banished anytime soon.
Felip regarded me carefully before continuing. “The French Government has signed a declaration which frees Arcadis from French control, therefore making it an Independent State. Over the months to come, Arcadis will become its own country as a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional Monarch as Head of State.”
My blood ran cold as I anticipated his next words, desperately hoping that he was not inferring what I thought he was. If he was, banishment may have been the better option.
“The consequence, Winifred, is that you are now the Queen of Arcadis.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was stuck in my chair, unable to move or speak. My mouth opened and closed in shock, as I floundered for my words.
“What? How?” I managed after a minute. “I thought you said it wasn’t possible.” My eyes automatically went to Leopold, searching for an answer. His facade remained as stony as ever, his lips pursed into a hard line, nostrils flared.
“An act of kindness,” replied Richard, slightly too upbeat. He rose from his chair, making his way around the table towards me. “Arcadis has been petitioning France for freedom for centuries. We wanted freedom from our colonizers, just as many others have received. We are fortunate for them to have finally agreed when a member of our country’s royal lineage has returned home to state their claim.” He knelt down before me and kissed the back of my hand, “Long live the Queen.”
“She was to be a figurehead,” Leopold growled suddenly, speaking for the first time, as he burst forward toward Richard. His tone was cold, deadly.
“Leopold,” Hector said, his voice laced with warning.
Leopold paused for a moment at his brother’s words, running a hand through his copper hair, he then began to pace back and forth agitatedly at the top of the room.
Felip sighed. “Leopold, why don’t you take Winifred back her room. There is a lot to think about, we can discuss this more at the Council meeting tomorrow afternoon. That is enough for tonight.”
Leopold nodded sharply and bee-lined it straight towards Richard and I. Governor Richard hurried to his feet and took a few steps back, quickly getting out of Leopold’s way. Leopold, however, didn’t even spare him a glance as he strode to the door and pulled it open.
Numbly, I rose from my chair and went to join him. I stopped just before the entryway, waiting for him to take the lead. Instead, Leopold waved, indicating me forward. I frowned for a second, confused at his breech of protocol, before I realized that it wasn’t. As the only Monarch of Arcadis, I was his equal, if not superior at the moment.
Feeling uneasy, I brushed past him and headed down the hall, back to our wing of the castle. I moved on autopilot, my body mechanically going through the motions, as my brain was trying to sort through what had just occurred. I instinctively went to Leopold’s room, him following close at my heels.
It all seemed surreal. During our walk, everything began to make sense and it was absolutely terrifying me. I could feel the blood rushing in my veins, while my head felt light and floaty, as I started panicking. I stood in the middle of the room, coming up blank as to what to do.
Leopold brushed past me towards the balcony, thrusting his hands in his pockets. He pulled out his lighter and cigarettes, placing one between his lips, cupping his hands around the end. He couldn’t get the spark to catch; the wind was causing the flame to flicker uselessly. He swore angrily and tossed both onto his desk.
Finally, Leopold looked up, his eyes finding mine for the first time, “Are you alright?” His voice was measured, I could hear the anger he was trying to repress in his tone.
“I don’t know,” I replied honestly.
He crossed the room and wrapped his strong arms around me. “I am so sorry, Fred. I never intended for this to happen.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Didn’t you want me to be Queen?”
“Not like this,” he said, “Never like this. You were never supposed to rule a country by yourself. You were merely going to be given a title, should you have decided to accept our proposition. Now you are stuck.” His voice was a sneer by the end, his hands turning into fists on my back. He pulled away, back to one of the windows. I watched his knuckles go white as he griped the windowsill; he was furious.
My mouth went dry, “You said I could always get out.”
“Not in the same way, not anymore. You are no longer normal. Richard took that option from you. You are now tied to an entire country and have been named its sole leader. You will be followed, hunted, and watched for the rest of your life, regardless of whether you accept or decline officially at your coronation. It is too dangerous for you to go back home. You have been tainted, forevermore, written into history.”
I went to him. Some internal instinct was telling me to calm him. Carefully, I placed my hand on his back. His shoulders relaxed slightly.
“I knew it was a bad decision to have Richard so heavily involved,” he spat.
“I don’t understand,” I said softly.
Leopold sighed and turned to face me, leaning back against the window. He looked exhausted. There were dark purple smudges under his eyes. My guess was he hadn’t slept at all yet tonight.
“Richard only wants what is best for Arcadis. He has been championing its independence from France for years. We should have realized that he would have wanted to push things to that extreme rather then just having a monarchy reinstated as the leader of a province, essentially taking his position.” He paused then, his tone growing softer. “It was not fair of him to put this kind of pressure on you. Your decisions will now completely dictate the future of two countries. If you decline you title as Queen, you and I cannot be married. The Accord will be moot. Not only will my family be stripped of the throne, but - ”
“Someone else will be named as the new leader of Arcadis,” I added, seeing where this train of though was going. I swallowed hard. Suddenly the though of me having to rule a country seemed much less significant then who would if Leopold and I did not. At least the DuMont’ had a pretty good track record thus far, and I would have them to back me up.
Leopold nodded carefully. He was watching me now, trying to gauge my reaction.
“I am so sorry, Winifred. Had we expected Richard to go ahead and make you the Queen of Arcadis without being granted your permission, we would never have allowed him to work so independently with France. He went completely out of bounds. He has pulled you much too deeply into this than was our original intent.”
He reached out and hesitantly placed a hand on my cheek. I frowned for a second at his sudden restraint until I realized why he was holding back. He was seeking my forgiveness.
I turned my head towards his hand, placing a kiss on the palm. “It’s okay, Leopold. It’s not your fault.”
He smiled softly, tucking my hair behind my ear. “There’s more. I want to make sure you know that you can still leave, just as you have always been able to, but I hope to God that you choose to stay. This is not just for the cause of our countries. I can protect you, give you anything you want, I will look after you the rest of your life. If it is getting married to me that is the problem, arrangements can be made. We would not be the first to do it. You could live in Arcadis and me here. We would only see each other for public appearances. It would not be the best scenario, but I love you and I am willing to do whatever it takes to make you happy.”
“What?” I said, shaking my head. I was pretty sure I had just misheard something.
“I will do what ever it takes to make this work,” Leopold repeated vehemently.
I shook my head. “Before that.”
“I love you.” He paused for a moment as if to taste the words as they left his lips. “I love you. Even if you were not a queen and I was not a prince, if we lived different lives, I cannot imagine any possible scenario where I could be happy without you by my side. I know that things are not perfect, and I am not trying to sway your decision by saying this, but I love you and I want you in my life, in anyway you will let me.”
I was pretty sure that this kind of decision required some time to think things over. Unfortunately, my mind, which had just received far more information then could be healthy, did not instantly jump to weighing the pros and cons of life as a commoner over life as a Queen. Instead, I blurted out the first thing my instincts threw at me.
“Okay,” I told him.
Leopold’s mouth fell open slightly. “Are you serious? Do you want to take a day to think about it?”
“Allow me to do one more thing then,” he said, as he walked over to his desk. He kept his back to me as he riffled through one of the drawers. After a minute he seemed to find what he was looking for.
“Please bear with me for a moment. I want to do everything properly,” he said and then knelt on one knee before me. I gasped as I realized what was coming.
“Winifred Marie Morgan Sinclair, you have made my summer, my life, even my self so much better then I could have imagined. I promise to love you until the last moment of forever, to stand by your side for the rest of our lives. Will you do me the honor of being my friend, my Queen, and my wife?”
“Yes,” I said, barely believing my own words, “Yes.”
He slid a ring onto my finger, then stood and pressed his lips to mine.
“I am sorry things are such a mess,” he told me sincerely, resting his forehead against mine.
“It is not your fault. What are we going to do about Richard though?” I asked. I didn’t think it was fair for him to be in as much trouble as Leopold made it seem. It may not have been his fault after all. It may have just been meant as ‘an act of kindness’ as Richard had said.
“Well there is no actual proof that he and his family are committing treason. It is just a suspicion that I have. We will have to wait and see. Getting married should solve everything. No matter what, I promise, I will protect you,” Leopold vowed, placing a kiss on my forehead. “I do not know about you, but I am exhausted. Will you come to bed with me?”
I nodded as I realized how tired I was too and went over to his bed, sitting crossed legged in the center. I watched Leopold as he moved around the room, in and out of soft beams of light which filtered in from the balcony. His skin was illuminated by the morning sun, almost glowing in its golden light. He went to the windows and pulled the heavy curtains in front of them, surrounding us in darkness, then padded towards the bed, stopping just in front of me. He was staring at my jeweled hand were it rested on my knee, his eyes bright. I cocked my head and furrowed my brow.
“You like that don’t you?” I questioned, fluttering my fingers.
He shrugged, feigning indifference. “It looks nice on you.”
“You know I think you have ulterior motives for getting this thing on me,” I said, lips quirking into a smile.
He came towards me pushing me back until I was lying on the bed with him hovering over me. “You have no idea how much I like it, you silly girl,” he growled. “It marks you as mine.”
“I was already yours.”
He kissed me full on the mouth. It was soft and gentle, loving.
“It means so much to me that you accepted it,” he murmured against my lips, then pulled the blankets up around us. I lay beside him, my head on his shoulder, left hand on his chest.
I examined the ring. The band was three pieces of simple white gold twisted together. There was a large blue diamond in the center surrounded by more diamonds that faded to grey and finally clear and lessened in size. A web of white gold weaves between the jagged, rough-cut stones. It was stunning but had an old almost rugged look.
“It was Queen Winifred’s,” he said, “I felt that was appropriate.”
“It’s perfect, beautiful,” I told him. “Je t’aime.”
I fell asleep quickly, the gold band cold against my skin.
I was awoken by a sudden searing light that turned the inside of my eyelids red and warmed my skin. I groaned, blinking rapidly as my eyes adjusted.
“Sorry, Mademoiselle,” said a deep voice which I immediately recognized as Mike. “I knocked, but no one answered.”
“What’s happening?” I said, slightly disorientated.
“It is twelve thirty, Mademoiselle. The council meeting begins in an hour,” he announced, sounding pleased with himself. “I was sent to get you and le Prince. Angela is waiting for you in your room.”
“Oh, right, thanks,” I said and pushed myself upwards so I was sitting. I ran a hand through my hair.
“My pleasure, Mada -” Mike began before cutting off. I glanced in his direction, confused as to why he had stopped only to find him staring, mouth gaping open, at the hand in my hair.
“Mon Dieu,” he breathed.
I blushed furiously, quickly hiding the hand from his sight. “I’ll be right there.”
He gave a jerky bow and then scurried into the bathroom, the door slamming shut behind him. I fell back into the pillows and covered my eyes with the palms of my hands, groaning.
Apparently Leopold didn’t like that, because his arm, which was draped across my hips, tightened around me. I turned to look at him, examining the angle of his cheekbones, the line of his jaw. My eyes fell to his biceps, where inky smudges peeked out from the sleeve of his t-shirt. I reached out, delicately tracing my fingers over the bruised flesh.
Leopold hummed, his eyes fluttering open. “Your hand is cold,” he said softly.
“Sorry,” I said, retracting my hand quickly.
“It felt nice,” he said, lips falling into a pout. Then his tone changed. “How are you doing this morning?”
“Sublime,” I told him, smiling. And it was true, I was perfectly happy with my decision, just nervous about how everyone would respond. Mike hadn’t seemed too pleased.
“I’m glad,” Leopold said, and turned so that he was over top of me. His hips pressed into my thighs, mouth hovering over mine. My thoughts swirled, breath catching in my throat as I anticipated the kiss. Then, as if on cue, a loud crash came from the bathroom.
Leopold swore under his breath, his lips brushing mine.
“Sorry, Sorry,” called Mike.
My hand cupped the back of Leopold’s neck as I tried to keep him close to me. My efforts were ineffective. Leopold pushed himself up so that he was kneeling over me, straddling my waist.
“I think I freaked him out a bit. He saw the ring when he woke me up,” I explained.
I felt my cheeks warm as I saw that Leopold was staring down at me, admiring me. He sighed, and ran his hands down my ribs to my hips. “Good.”
“Your bath is ready, Monsieur,” called Mike.
Leopold rolled his eyes then climbed out of bed. He stripped off his shirt as he crossed the room, discarding it on the floor. “See you soon,” he said with a smile, before disappearing into the bathroom.
I lay there a moment longer, catching my breath, collecting my thoughts, then headed down to my own room.
“Mademoiselle, I have your clothes set out please sit down at -” Angela said, emerging from my closet. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw my hand, and dropped the pair of heels she was holding. I froze in place, bracing myself for whatever was about to happen.
To my complete surprise my maid ran straight to me and wrapped her arms around me in a hug.
“Oh, ca c’est fantastique, Mademoiselle!” she gushed. She grabbed hold of my hand and examined the ring. She continued to ramble on in rapid French for a moment until she seemed to catch herself.
“Deepest apologies,” she told me, bowing low. “I was overcome with excitement at the news of your Queenship, and now there will be a wedding as well!”
“No worries,” I said, pulling her up. “It was kind of nice to see the real Angela.”
She smiled brightly at me, then cleared her throat and became all business again. “Please sit, Mademoiselle.”
I patiently did as I was requested, allowing Angela to style my hair into loose waves and apply my makeup. When she was done, she helped me into an emerald green, long sleeved, pencil dress with nude heels.
“Green?” I said, cocking an eyebrow.
“Today, you are only Arcadian,” she told me nodding.
I looked at myself in the mirror, examining the reflection. I was so accustomed to wearing blue, to being Fred, that being green, and standing on my own as queen, seemed frightening. This was it.
I heard the door open, light footsteps made their way across the room until Leopold’s reflection appeared next to mine. He was dressed in a black suit, and crisp white shirt. His copper hair was still slightly damp from his bath, the smell of his body wash strong. He stood behind me hands on my hips.
“Nervous?” he asked softy.
“Terrified,” I told him honestly.
Leopold came around to face me, interposing himself between me and my reflection. “You will be great.”
I looked at his chest, not sure how to respond, until I noticed something. “Your tie has green strips,” I said amused.
He frowned slightly and looked down, “Sorry it was the best I could do on short notice. I will have to get Mike to get more.”
“More?” I repeated.
“Well, it is only fair that I wear your colors too, Love,” he smiled, taking hold of my left hand. “Let us go.”
We walked like that, hand in hand, to the council room. It was clearly very official business in there today as there were two royal guards standing outside the doors. They bowed to us upon our arrival, and opened both doors widely.
The table was full today, unlike last night. All of the governors were present. They stood when Leopold and I entered, all bowing their heads in unison. I saw confusion on some of their faces when they saw me. Clearly they had no idea about what had happened.
Leopold led me to the seat directly to his right, and helped me sit before going to his spot at the end of the table. He kept hold of my hand, all the while, hiding it from sight.
“Good morning, Gentlemen,” said Felip as he swept into the room. “Please take your seats so that we can get started. We have a lot to cover today.” He opened the folder that had been waiting for him at the table, quickly skimming the contents.
“As you can see, we have Winifred and Governor Richard joining us today. Governor Richard returned last night. It seems his meetings with France were much more...proactive then we had anticipated. Arcadis has been given its independence and Winifred has been declared Queen.”
The room was dead silent for a moment until one by one, all of the governors stood and turned to face me, bowing their heads. I blushed, and tried to resist the urge to sink into my chair.
“Leopold and Winifred have been discussing how they feel about the matter. Once we hear their decisions, we must discuss an plan of action regarding how to proceed. Leopold, Winifred?” The King looked down the table towards us and gave a small smile.
I turned to Leopold, looking for an indication of what to do. He squeezed my hand encouragingly. I gave a nod, understanding what he was asking. I could do this. Taking a deep breath, I turned to face the room of men.
“I have decided to accept my position as Queen,” I announced, hoping I sounded at least somewhat regal.
“Mademoiselle!” cried Governor Richard excitedly. “This is -”
“There is more,” Leopold said, glaring at the governor. “Last night, Winifred consented to marry me.” He looked exceedingly pleased as the governors jumped to their feet and began to clap and cheer. I smiled, as Leopold lifted our linked hands above the table, showing them the ring on my hand.
Suddenly, they all began talking at once.
“Fabulous!” exclaimed the Governor of Pont Xavier. “A Royal Engagement, and a Royal Wedding, not to mention the Coronations. We are going to have to plan a public announcement.”
“The Global Media Ban will have to be released,” noted the Prime Minister. “We will want the news coverage. This is going to cause a great interest from the Americans.”
“We will have to call up the magazines and decide who gets first choice at publishing the photos,” said another.
“They will have to pose for their stamp.”
“The wedding planner will be alerted. She is going to have to arrange the guest list, cake, dress, flowers, rings...”
“Princess Phillipa and Mme. DuBech are going to have to help prepare her...”
“We need to set the date for the Wedding and Coronations. The churches must be notified...”
“They need to make a trip to Arcadis before all of this....”
This was sounding very complicated. They continued to discuss the details of what was obviously going to be a very large wedding. It seemed normal enough, all the usual necessities were being discussed, just on a much, much larger scale.
I tuned them out after a minute, focusing my attention on Governor Richard. I thought he would have been excited, or would have spoken on my behalf. This was what he wanted after all. He simply sat there though, looking pale and tense.
“Alright,” Felip said, “I think that is enough for today. The necessary phone calls and appointments will be made and penciled into Leopold and Winifred’s schedules. My family will discuss living situations and future plans with Winifred. Winifred, you will also now be attending all Council meetings and all of Leopold’s lessons, as well as your own.”
The King stood, the rest of the room with him. He disappeared through his private door. Leopold helped me up from my chair, and we were quickly surrounded by the members of the Council. They pushed forward, shaking our hands and congratulating us.
“What exciting news,” Governor Richard told me, stepping forward to take his turn. Delicately, he kissed my hand.
He turned to Leopold, reaching out to squeeze his left shoulder. I felt Leopold tense beside me, his lips drawing into a fine line, as he tried not to show the pain it caused him. “How fortunate you two are.”