“Can’t we at least look around a little?” I asked irritably. “I mean I didn’t get to see any part of Spain or even Paris except for the airport.”
“Sorry Mademoiselle,” said M. Arsnault, “but we have to make our seaplane connection.”
“Seaplane?” I demanded, stopping dead in the middle of the train station we were currently in.
“Mademoiselle, I know you are tired but our voyage is almost complete. I realize that we are in Acadis and you are curious but we have no time. All that is left is an automobile ride to the airport and a short plane ride, then we will land in the river in the square.”
“Airport? I thought we might be going on a boat or a nice snowshoe. Ben said that there would be snowshoes.”
“We are living in the age of technology, Mademoiselle, and will be taking a seaplane. What is wrong with that? You were on a much longer plane ride just this morning.”
“Yes, but that was a normal plane, not a seaplane. I’ve seen seaplanes and they land in water. I don’t deal well with lots of water. Why do you think I moved from Forks and live in a desert?”
“I assure you that the seaplane is completely safe.”
M. Arsnault sounded a little frustrated. I had to admit, I did sound slightly hysterical but I had barely slept last night; I was too busy saying my final goodbyes to Arizona.
On Saturday I had gone out with Tess and Alec. We decided to hit it old school and went to the library to see if we could dig up any more information about Solis, Acadis, the DuMont or Sinclairs. Eventually we came across a National Geographic with some info and a few old magazines.
“Looks like there are five of them,” said Alec as he flipped through one of the magazines. “Here’s some family pictures.”
“Oh let me see,” cried Tess, ripping it out of his hands, “I want to see if Fred’s prince charming is hot.”
Alec rolled his eyes as we all crowded around the glossy pages. “That must be the king,” she deducted. He was an attractive, tall man with a full head of blond hair that was just beginning to grey. To his right was a petite woman, very kind looking with soft features and caramel waves. I presumed this was the Queen, Beatrice. Next to her was a small girl with pixie like slightness and spiky black hair, Princess Phillipa, according to the caption.
“Oh, he’s hot alright,” affirmed Tess pointing to the giant man on the king’s right side. He was well over six feet and built like an Olympic weightlifter. His dark curls were cropped short, his brown eyes warm and dimples pressed into his cheeks.
“Henri, the Crown Prince of DuMont.” she read off, “He’s the oldest, heir to the throne, and I guess your betrothed.”
“Better than that guy,” said Alec pointing to the boy next to Hector, “something about him puts me off and I can’t get past the eyes. He just seems unnatural or something.”
Tess nodded as if she agreed, “True, and according to the magazine I was reading, he’s quite the bad ass. Apparently he’s always disappearing and out with girls at bars or motorcycle racing, and gets into a lot of trouble with the press and stuff. He’s even at military school.” She looked at the picture, “Kind of sexy though.”
They were talking about Prince Leopold. He was the only one in the picture that wasn’t smiling. He looked almost out of place in the family with his shock of copper hair and the strange eyes. Alec was right, they were unnerving. The iris on the right was amber like a golden flame and the left was bright green like young grass. He was not as tall or solidly built like the other two men, but rather finer and leaner, more delicate somehow.
We didn’t find much else and nothing more recent than a year ago. There were some pictures of scenery on Google that we skimmed through. The national geographic turned out to be about the fishing industry of Solis so it wasn’t much help unless for some reason being a princess involved needing knowledge of aquatic life or boat riggings. It also stated that the national language was French, but we had already assumed that.
“So strange,” Alec had said, “it’s like everything just stopped. There can’t be no new information on an entire country. Something has to have happened in a year!”
“Look,” I told M. Arsnault, “I decided that I can’t be your missing princess anymore. Nobody notified me that there would be large amounts of water in Solis.”
“Mademoiselle, it is a country made up of islands.” He sounded exasperated.
I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at him, doing my best to appear defiant. M. Arsnault glanced at M. Lefevre. They had a rapid conversation in French and then M. Lefevre hurried off.
“We have decided on a plan B,” M. Arsnault announced, “M. Lefevre has gone to make arrangements. Would you like something to eat while we wait for his return?”
“Yes, thank you,” I decided, pleased with myself.
I followed M. Arsnault to a small café where he ordered coffee and some sort of tiny pastry. We went over to one of the tables and I kicked my knapsack under my chair. I contemplated the pastry for a moment and then stuffed the entire thing in my mouth.
“This is delicious!” I exclaimed around bites. I had been too nervous to eat this morning so my last meal had been at dinner last night.
I took hold of my tiny cup of coffee. I wasn’t one to drink it normally, but I was tired and cold and if the pastry had been any indication, it would be delicious. I tentatively took a sip of the dark liquid.
“Blech!” I exclaimed pushing the cup away.
“Yes, the espresso is very strong. Perhaps you would like some Solisian wine to sweeten it?” suggested M. Arsnault pulling a silver flask out of his breast pocket.
“Are you kidding me? That’s illegal. Actually, I’m pretty sure this entire escapade has been illegal. Just, never mind, I’ll survive.”
This was true. I wasn’t entirely sure how we had gotten this far without being caught or stopped. I was beginning to seriously doubt the government and security services. For one, I was being blackmailed into coming and was essentially being kicked out of the country I was born in. I was currently in the process of being kidnapped and not one of the security guards or border control people had questioned the teenage girl walking around with two strange men in dark suits. For another thing, my passports and ID was all useless and had been voided, yet we were still getting waved through all of the check points. M. Arsnault and M. Lefevre just kept flashing some sort of ID badge or a shiny gold card and we were waved through like magic. The card seemed to instill awe and fear in people.
We sat in silence, my eyes nodding closed as M. Lefevre came running up again. There was another exchange between my two guards. “Finish up,” Arsnault told me, “our limo is here. A ferry has been arranged to meet us.”
I dumped about ten sugar packets in my expresso and downed the rest of the cup, even the dregs at the bottom.
M. Arsnault came around and took my arm, helping me up. I was grateful for this because suddenly I was feeling a little woozy.
“My knapsack,” I murmured, “don’t forget my knapsack.” M. Lefevre retrieved it from under the chair and shouldered it. We made our way to a black car that looked suspiciously like the one that had been in my driveway two days ago. We took off down the French countryside and I was slowly lulled to sleep.
“Mademoiselle, we have arrived,” M. Arsnault said far too soon.
I stretched and began feeling around for my bag, “Mmm kay, I’m ready for this ferry. How long will the ride be?”
“Ah, Mademoiselle, there is something I must admit to you,” M. Arsnault wouldn’t look me in the eye. “I have not been truthful.”
“Excuse me?” I asked fully awake now.
“I told a fib. There is no boat, we are at the seaplane.”
“What?” I shrieked, “But you said that there was a boat. You promised a boat!”
“I know, and I am very sorry Mademoiselle, but I swear on the crown of His Majesty King Bellamy IV that you will be safe.”
This made me pause. I figured it had to be a pretty big deal if he was swearing on the King. He was the big man after all. So I took a deep breath and nodded, letting them lead me to the plane.
M. Lefevre threw my bag up front and the proceeded to climb in next to the pilot’s seat. I stood on the dock beside M. Arsnault looking up at the plane. To get in I would have to step up onto the pontoon then climb up a small ladder and crawl through the door.
I glanced skeptically at M. Arsnault, “I hope you have a better way for me to get down, because if this is the only option, you are going to end up with a much bruised missing princess.”
“There will be steps,” he assured me before helping me up and locking the door behind us. I noted, with concern, that the cabin’s windows were open.
The pilot climbed in, pointed at me, mumbled something in French, and then laughed. I closed my eyes tightly and pulled into crash position, preparing for the worst.
The engine kicked up and I could feel the plane turn in a circle and then we were weightless.
“When we land I’m going to get my future husband to have you beheaded!” I cursed, “Maybe we can make a new record like King Henry VIII, but instead of wives we will kill bodyguards.”
“There is no death penalty in Solis, Mademoiselle,” sighed M. Arsnault. “I really wish you would look out the window. You are missing some good sights as we make our approach.”
“Approach? I thought you said it would be a short ride. Besides, I’ve seen it already on Google.”
“We are coming up to Dumasville now. I really urge you to open your eyes, this is the first look you will get of your new home.”
“Fine,” I snapped and slowly unwound from my ball, opening one eye cautiously.
We were flying between two sparkling, white marble walls topped with green grass. There were a few stupid horses on top that didn’t seem to see why they should run from the plane. There was aqua water below us, glistening in the sun.
“Wow,” I said as the cliffs opened up to reveal a mass of land in front of us. We were coming up to a small city with a strange layout. The top part was made up of a bunch of white buildings surrounded by a small wall. The further west you went, the higher and darker the buildings got until they slowly petered off into countryside. There was a river winding through the city, dividing it. I didn’t have much time to contemplate this though, because we were suddenly descending towards it.
“Eek!” I cried curling into a ball again. “At least close the windows!” I cried in desperation but my pleas were ignored.
“Ahh!” I screamed as we landed in the river and water burst up, surrounding the plane. Then all was quiet. The pilot mumbled in French, laughing again. I was seriously beginning to question his sanity.
“Mademoiselle, it is safe to open your eyes, we have landed.”
“Really, that’s it?” I asked, looking around. It was true, the plane was now at a dock at the far end of a market square. It was filled with people cheering and hollering. There was a great white castle across from us with a long red carpet leading up to it. A crew was tethering the plane to the dock and rolling a set of steps up to the plane’s door.
“Do you know how to curtsy, Mademoiselle?” asked M. Arsnault.
“Nope, but I can fake it.” I was practically bouncing out of my seat now.
“Very well, I will be getting out first, you will follow. Wave and pause for photos on the first step and then follow the carpet to the castle. Climb the steps and then curtsy to the Royal Family.”
“Did all of these people come to see me?” I asked distracted.
“Yes,” he replied, “you are their saviour.”
Before I had time to ask what he meant, the door of the plane was pushed open and I stepped out into Solis.
The crowd went wild. “Vive la Princess, vive Winifred!” they chanted, pushing on the barriers. I waved in what I hoped to be a graceful manner and started my way down the steps. Flash bulbs popped, blinding me as I made my way towards the five dark figures at the other end. It felt like I was walking up to the steps of the Parthenon to stand before the Greek gods. The royal family DuMont were lined up beside each other on the glistening steps of the palace, each as beautiful as the next.
Something wasn’t right though. They looked different from the pictures in the magazines. They were standing as a united front, but something about them seemed broken. There smiles were forced, formal, not reaching their eyes. King Bellamy stood at the center, Beatrice on his left and Phillipa next to her. The thing that was different was that Leopold was directly on Bellamy’s right side with Hector on the end next to him. Hector looked nervous but I suppose I would be too if I was meeting my kidnapped, mail order bride for the first time. Maybe they had just gotten bored and decided to switch it up. Maybe Leopold had complained that his massive brother was always casting a shadow on him, resulting in bad lighting for the beauty shots he used to attract potential party girls. I reached the top of the steps and bowed low to my supposed in-laws.
I was taken to a conference room. Most of the chairs were already filled with old men who stood when we came in; I presumed they were counselors. Everyone was seated and Bellamy began to speak in accented English, presumably for my benefit. “Welcome Winifred Sinclair, we are very appreciative of your cooperation. We understand that this is an uncomfortable situation and wish to be upfront with you.” The king looked at the faces of his family. I wondered vaguely if he was speaking for them or if he was using the royal we. “There have been some current events in our family that have caused great trouble within itself as well as for our country. My eldest son, le Prince Henri, has renounced his claim on the throne.”
I frowned. Did this mean that they didn’t need me anymore? Had I been kidnapped for nothing? I mean the reason they needed me here was so that I could marry the Prince so that he could be king. If he had thrown in the towel why was I still here? This was going to be a cinch. Either I could go home or have a nice vacation in a castle for two months.
“Luckily,” Bellamy continued, “I have two sons and Leopold will now be taking up the role.”
“We asked you here, Winifred, because our hand was forced. The people of Solis were angry that their great Prince resigned and bribing them with you was the only way to placate them. You see, unlike his brother, Leopold does not have the best reputation with the public and has not had the proper training. They doubt his worth and in all honesty they have no reason to. They began to rebel. That is why we tracked you down and why we waved you at them. The Solisians were so enrapt with you, the missing Acadian Princess, that they forgot about their…mislead Prince.”
“So you lied to me,” I stated. I wasn’t here to marry a prince just to clean up a sticky situation and distract the commoners.
“No, everything we said about the decree made by our ancestors is true and we would like it if all of its terms were fulfilled as intended. We merely had to withhold information in order to get you here, Winifred, and I apologize for this. If you wish to leave, we will understand, but please sleep on it tonight. You can give us your decision in the morning.”
M. Arsnault suddenly appeared at my shoulder, drawing upright. The councelors stood with me.
I was lead through a labyrinth of halls and corridors decorated in a variety of different colors, wallpapers and art. Finally we came to a door, that looked the same as all the others and M. Arsnault waved me through.
I wondered how I was ever going to find my way back out. Maybe this was their plan; simply get me so lost in the castle that I will never find my way out so that I am forced to stay. I felt like the Minotaur of Crete minus the eating of sacrifices. It could be a possibility though, if I could never find the kitchen.
The room was enormous, probably the size of the entire main floor of my house back in Arizona. There was a wall of floor to towering ceiling windows across from me with a grand desk in front of them. On the left wall there was a giant canopy bed, dripping with luxurious fabrics and heaping with pillows and blankets. On the right was a huge fireplace with a couch in front of it. There was a door on either side of it, which upon further examination, one led to a walk-in closet, which already held my clothes, and the other to a bathroom.
M. Arsnault cleared his throat after a minute, putting an end to my exploration. I turned around to find him standing beside a very tall, dark haired girl in a maid’s outfit. “Mademoiselle, this is Angela. I must leave you now but she will help you with anything you need.” He left me with Angela.
We stood in awkward silence for a moment. I wasn’t up to date with my maid protocol and wasn’t sure what to do with her. Perhaps I should make conversation.
“Hi, Angela, I’m Fred. It’s nice to meet you.” I stuck out my hand. Angela looked at it shyly but made no move to take it.
“How long have you worked her?” I tried again and again I was met with silence. Perhaps this was a rude question.
“Have you seen that new Brad Pitt movie? I mean wow!” Angela smiled weakly and something suddenly occurred to me. “You don’t speak English, do you,” I asked. She glanced at me confused, like she was trying to piece my words together. I wracked my brain, trying to remember any of the French I had learned in school. “Ahh, parlez-vous anglaise?”
“Non, désoler,” she replied meekly.
This must be part of the plan as well. There was no way I could get anymore withheld information from her if I couldn’t even ask for pretzels.
“Well that’s okay,” I assured earning a confused stare, “we will manage just fine. We can practice with each other. Me, my French and you, English.”
And manage we did. Angela helped me have a nice bath in the claw foot tub. When I came out she had dinner laid out on my desk which I promptly devoured. I felt really bad taking advantage of her like this but it was comforting to have someone else around when you were potentially imprisoned in a castle labyrinth. She was just helping me fight my way into the gargantuan marshmallow bed when someone knocked on my door.
“Come in,” I called, “umm, I mean, entrez.”
To my utter shock, Princess Phillipa walked in. I scrambled out of bed, trying to stand to I could curtsy but she waved me off and came over to sit on the edge of my bed. I stood at its side not sure what to do. Phillipa spoke quickly to Angela and the young maid excused herself. “Don’t worry, Winifred. Please sit down; I only want to talk with you.” I did as she said. The petite girl watched me with her pretty green eyes, examining me. “I wanted to come and talk to you, explain a few things and answer any questions I can. I think that you deserve that much.” Her voice was lithe, the accent adding somehow to her strange delicateness. “I am not sure how much you know, but as Felip told you earlier we have been going though hard times lately.”
“Who is Felip?” I interrupted.”
“My father, the King.”
“I thought he was Bellamy?”
“That is his title. All kings and crown princes take on a different name then the one they are given at birth. Felip is Bellamy just like Hector was supposed to be Henri. Anyway, I know that you thought that you were coming here to marry Hector and were surprised when they gave you Leopold instead. Please don’t be hard on him. Leopold has a bad reputation and does some bad things, but he has a good heart. He is my twin brother and I know him better then anyone else. He is really quite kind and gentle once you get to know him. Most people are just scared of his cold exterior. You have to understand that Leopold has had a hard time.” I had to hold back a laugh at that. What about being a prince could be difficult? “Being the second son of a king can be challenging. Hector was trained from birth to be a king. He has always been praised and fawned over. The people love him and he is amazing at what he does. Being the second boy is like being a spare tire. He is there if something goes wrong with the first but will never be capable of everything the original tire was. He was not constructed to be as strong or have as much integrity. For this reason Leopold has somewhat sabotaged himself. He has rebelled against laws and pushed boundaries trying to see how much it takes for people to take notice, knowing he won’t actually be punished because of his status. He cannot be normal because even though he was not born to be king he is still a royal and must live a royal life. Now put yourself in his place, feeling bored and useless and then all of a sudden the tire pops and you have to take its place and carry the weight of the car. Suddenly Leopold was thrust into Hector’s position, a position that he was never made for, and the people reject him. Imagine how that feels.”
“So what am I in this analogy?”
Phillipa smiled, “I’m not sure. I didn’t really get that far. Just understand that you are here to distract the people while Leopold tries to catch up to Hector’s level of excellence or at least until they accept him for whom he is. So please, don’t leave, give my brother a chance. You don’t have to marry him or even see him for that matter, our house is huge after all. Just stay so that Leopold has a chance to get comfortable in his new role and so that my family can heal from all of the damage that has been done.”
“Don’t worry,” I told her, “I was going to stay. I came all this way to help out and even if it is Leopold instead of Hector, I intend to do what I came here for.”
Phillipa suddenly pitched forward and wrapped her thin arms around me. “I’m so glad you are finally here. Thank you so much. We are going to be great friends, I know it.”