Time in the hospital was made up of small eternities. The hours were fluid, running into each other so that they blurred and pooled together. Minutes dragged on infinitely, counted out in the beeping of heart monitors and breaths. I could only be sure of what time it was because of the visitors. Nurses came on set schedules to check vitals, give medications, and change bandages. Security guards, doctors and custodians came too, all passing in and out of the infinity Leopold and I were encased in.
I spent my time going over documents, all sorts or treaties, laws, and accords. It was homework that had been brought to me by M. Arsnault, things that I would be covering in law, economics, and civics lessons in the months to come. It was the only thing that kept my mind busy. Anything else, books, TV, wedding planning, all allowed my mind to drift into dangerous panicky territory. As long as I could focus on taxes and budget plans, I could stay calm and rational.
Leopold stayed asleep. His bruises melted together, his skin grew less puffy, cuts began to seal, but he did not wake up. The nurses and doctors assured me that everything was fine, his injuries were healing well, and that he would wake up when he was ready. They said it was good that he was asleep, that sleep would help him heal and his body was helping him by letting him forget all of this. It was what they didn’t say that scared me; that he may not wake up or that there may be something even worse to discover when he did.
The DuMont’ took turns visiting. It was Phillipa who came first, on the second day we had been in the hospital, bringing Hugo with her. She went straight over to her twin and delicately placed her fingertips on his cheek. “What have you done this time?” she asked softly. I looked away, feeling as though I was intruding on something far too private.
“How are you doing, Winifred?” Hugo asked in concern as he bowed his head slightly in my direction.
I shrugged, “Alright, reviewing extradition laws.”
Hugo raised his eyebrow slightly, suspiciously, in a way very similar to Leopold and Phillipa, but he didn’t say anything, just folded his long gold limbs into one of the hospital chairs. I wondered vaguely if I had picked up any traits from the royal family. Obviously they had taught me how to act like them and be like them, but I wasn’t sure if I had managed to actually do it. Had I, like Hugo, been around them enough to take on some of their mannerisms or habits? I hoped I had, it would be like having a tiny part of them in me, like a souvenir of my time with them.
“How is everything outside?” I asked Phillipa as she sat beside me on my futon.
“Crazy,” she said, wiping a hand under her red rimmed eyes. “The story has been all over the news. There are camera crews and people lined up around the entire castle. They had to shut some streets down.”
“Jesus,” I breathed. I had expected it to be bad, but closing roads sounded a bit ridiculous.
“It’s because it happened so close to the engagement announcement. One second you are a lost princess getting married to a prince, and the next second he is in intensive care in the hospital. The news didn’t even have time to get old before it changed,” said Hugo, smiling apologetically at Phillipa. “Sorry.”
“Have you heard anything back from the base yet?” I asked hopefully. There was an investigation underway to find out what had caused the crash. I was being hopeful, as it had only been two days.
Phillipa shook her head, “Nothing yet.”
“And how are things at the castle?” I tried next. I knew I probably had it fairly easy here. I was locked inside, shut away from all of the mess the accident had caused.
“Not good,” Hugo said honestly before Phillipa could sugar coat it. He placed a hand on Phillipa’s knee, steadying her.
“Felip and Hector have been in endless meetings. The Council is in a huge uproar. They are all upset about what happened, obviously, but they are being vicious,” Phillipa said, harshly.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Phillipa huffed. “They are doing the right thing, trying to sort out what happens in the worse case scenario, but they are just being a little insensitive about it all. They are demanding to know what will happen if...if Leopold dies. Some of them have asked Hector to leave Rose, and reconsider taking the crown again. Most though are leaning towards giving it to the next in line for succession.”
“Meaning Antoine gets to be King and your family loses the rights,” I said.
Phillipa nodded, squeezing Hugo’s hand. “I know they have to do this, but it is killing Felip. Hector is having a rough time too. He’s considering taking back his position. He hasn’t said anything, but I know he is. He doesn’t want centuries of tradition and bloodline to be thrown out the window. He shouldn’t have to do that though. And imagine poor Rose.“′
“And Beatrice?” I was worried about the gentle queen. I had not seen her since she left the hospital on Wednesday night, shaking and clinging to Hector’s arm.
“She is making arrangements,” Phillipa said. “As many as possible. She is hunting down options and specialists and information for any and all of the possible scenarios for when and if Leopold wakes up. She is making some for you too.”
“For me?” I frowned. I didn’t understand. What would Beatrice be planning for me?
“You know, for after. For whatever you choose,” Phillipa said, then she looked down into her lap. “I know I shouldn’t ask this of you, but I have to. I’m scared of what will happen if I don’t.”
“What do you mean?” I put my hand on her back, feeling the sharp line of her shoulder blade underneath the blazer she had on.
“Phillipa,” Hugo warned lightly, she didn’t listen though.
“Please stay Fred,” she told me, looking up at me. Her green eyes were bright and fierce. “Stay with him. I don’t think he will be strong enough if you are not with him. Even if he doesn’t need you, I will, all of us will. I will understand if you say no, but I have to ask, to at least try.”
I held her gaze, straightening my posture. “I’m not going anywhere. No matter what,” I vowed.
Phillipa smiled softly, nodding once. “You are better then any of us could have asked for.”
I let the hot water run over me, working the tension out of my back and shoulders. It pooled around my feet in the basin of the sterile hospital bathtub. It was nearly eight. Phillipa and Hugo had left 15 minutes ago, leaving me with more homework to go through and some fresh clothing. The nurse had arrived as they were leaving, coming to change the bandages on Leopold’s burn. Her name was Claire; she came every night at this time. I had excused myself as Claire turned back the sheets that lay over Leopold, and arranged his gowns strategically to reveal the angry red line of fragile burnt flesh that ran down Leopold’s ribs and waist to the inside of his left hip, and a small flash of black that stood out smartly against the white of his flesh and the bright scarlet of the wound. When I had seen it before, I had to quickly return to my budget planning to force my mind blank. This time, I had carefully slipped into the en-suite to take a few personal moments while Claire applied silver laced ointment to Leopold’s flank.
I turned off the taps and grabbed the thin hospital towel that hung on a hook on the back of the bathroom door. Stepping out of the shower, I wrapped the towel around myself and moved to the mirror that hung over the sink. There were two toothbrushes on its edge. The green one was mine, while the untouched blue one was waiting for Leopold to wake up.
I wiped my hand across the cool glass, clearing the condensation from its surface, and stared at my reflection. I would have thought that I would look different after all of this, that the royalty and high society life would have changed me somehow. When I looked in the mirror though, I still just saw me, Fred Morgan, with the same long dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin, and slightly too large mouth looking back at me. There was no beautiful queen or wise leader, just an ordinary girl.
I shook my head, fingers digging into the slick porcelain sink. “Wake up,” I murmured softly, “Please, Leopold, wake up. I can’t do this without you.”
Hands shaking, I pulled on a pair of sweatpants and one of Leopold’s sweaters. There was no point in worrying; I had no control over what would happen, not yet at least.
I stepped out of the bathroom to find M. Arsnault standing awkwardly beside Leopold’s bed. M. Lefevre was with him, looking down somberly at his charge. Claire was nowhere in sight. Their backs were turned to me so they didn’t notice as I slipped into the room. The guards had been a silent presence in the hospital, much like back at the palace. I knew they were always there waiting just outside, but I didn’t see much of them, only a glimpse when they brought someone in, or a brief hello when they delivered food. I quickly braided my shower damp hair before deciding to make them aware of my presence.
“How are you two doing?” I smiled weakly. “Getting bored out in the hall?”
M. Arsnault startled, turning quickly on his heel. “Mademoiselle! I am sorry, we knocked but...” he gestured toward the bathroom.
“We brought you food,” M. Lefevre said, thrusting a brown paper bag toward me.
“Thanks,” I told him, accepting the package.
He looked to the ground, awkwardly shifting on his feet, as he seemed to contemplate something. I watched, amused, and took a seat on the futon, unwrapping the sandwich that he had brought for me. “How is he?” he asked finally.
“Not great,” I told him and took a bite.
Lefevre nodded sharply. “Will he be alright?”
“Will we, he, be going home soon?” M. Arsnault stumbled at the same time.
My heart warmed slightly. It was easy to forget sometimes how attached they must be to their wards, because they were always on the sidelines. It was clear that they were just as concerned about Leopold as the rest of us, though they were not necessarily kept in the loop on the details of his condition.
“We don’t know,” I said automatically. The answers were well rehearsed by now. “We won’t know until he wakes up, if he does wake up.” Another set of sharp nods. I took a sip of the coffee they brought me. “You can stay for a bit if you like. Sit with him for a while.”
“No, that would be highly inappropriate,” said M. Lefevre shaking his head.
I shrugged, “I don’t know, I may need some protecting. I think that there could be a possibility of someone climbing through that window. You wouldn’t even know it if you went back outside.”
M. Arsnault smiled. “That is true. Danger is likely in a sealed seventeenth story window.”
“You never know. I would feel much safer if you were here,” I tried. I didn’t tell them that I wouldn’t mind the company either.
M. Lefevre slowly lowered himself into the chair beside Leopold’s bed, “I guess we have no choice then.”
M. Arsnault sat beside me, taking a few of the fries I offered him, “Thank you, Mademoiselle.”
Felip arrived early the next morning. Dr. Fleurion led him into the room with Leopold’s chart tucked under her arm. He looked calm and collected, but I could tell from the faint tremor of his hands and the purple smudges under his eyes that he was anything but. I stood as he entered then moved to leave but he waved me off.
“It is all right, Fred, you can stay,” he said, his voice tired. He ran a hand through his hair and went to stand at the foot of Leopold’s bed, his hands clasped behind his back in a well-practiced facade of resoluteness. I could see his wavering strength though, in the set of his shoulders and the line of his jaw; Felip wore his worry in the same ways as his son.
“What can you tell me, Doctor?” he asked, gazing down at Leopold’s form. His intelligent green eyes ran across the bruised and bandaged skin before settling on Leopold’s closed eyes as if he could see the green and gold beneath the paper thin eyelids.
“The Prince is doing well,” Dr. Fleurion announced. She looked tired today as well, I suspect the extra tension of having such a high profile guest was putting some extra strain on her already loaded schedule. “His lacerations are healing nicely; we will be able to remove some of the stitches in a few more days. The fractures are healing well; it does not look like they will require any physiotherapy afterwards. The burn will take much more time to heal. It is doing fine though, no signs of infection.”
“What about his head?” Felip asked, clearly not wanting to beat around the bush.
“The swelling has gone down considerably, which is good,” began the Chief. “Recent scans show brain activity is constant. There are no signs of further hemorrhaging or clots. All of these things are positive.”
“Any further thoughts on the state of his coma?” Felip pushed.
“I would say that you should remain hopeful. Your son is doing very well,” she assured us.
“Thank you,” Felip said dismissively. Dr. Fleurion bowed slightly and let herself out. The second the door closed, Felip’s demeanor changed. His shoulders fell slightly, along with the careful expression on his face. He moved to Leopold’s side and reached out as if to touch him but then thought better of it and let his hand fall. He crumpled backwards into one of the tiny hospital chairs and leaned forward, elbows on his knees, heels of his hands pressed into his eyes.
“It’s not for sure yet,” I said trying to reassure him. “He will wake up. Everything will be alright.”
Felip interrupted me. “It is done, Fred. Something has changed. I can feel it,” he breathed.
I nodded. “Me too.”
He tilted his head, looking at me through sad eyes. Morning light that filtered through the window and into the room illuminated his tawny hair, turning it gold. He looked like a fallen angel. “I don’t know what to do,” he whispered, and in that small admission, I could see how broken he was, all the hurt that he carried. I had never really thought about what the last few years would have been like for him. What it would have been like for him to deal with his son renouncing the throne for Rose. Then to stand behind his other son and make everyone else believe in him, only to have all that taken away from him in an instant. I thought back to yesterday, about what Phillipa had said about the Council and the pressure they were putting on him. His family had ruled Solis for hundreds of years through wars, disease, and famine, but this small cluster of events could bring it all to an end.
“He will be fine,” I told him, trying to will it to be true.
“But should I let him be fine?” Felip challenged. “Even of Leopold wakes up perfectly healthy, is it worth it? Should I risk losing my son for the sake of keeping the country? That is not right.” Felip was fighting with himself, between being the king and being a father.
“Leopold will want to do it,” I told him knowingly, “and he can. It may take some time but you will see.”
Felip gave a shaky sigh, “He can not do it and stay whole, especially if this accident deters him in anyway. He has already been through so much. He might be able to do the job, but I am afraid he will lose himself in the process,” he told me.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t let him.”
Felip looked up at me through hooded lids. He closed his eyes briefly, sighing heavily, and then straightened his posture, his face resuming its previously calm mask. “You are due to depart for Arcadis in a week, Fred. I want you to consider going, even if Leopold is still here. I think it is important.”
“Why?” I asked, mildly horrified at the thought of leaving Leopold like this. I wasn’t sure how Felip was even considering it. Especially since it had just been last week he had admitted that Richard may be up to something underhanded. Now he was contemplating having me go and live with the Governor alone.
“You need to continue on with life as normally as possible, as do we all. Leopold will be fine here. He will wake up when he is ready, and I promise, you will be of the first to know when he does. I can assure that.” He paused for a moment, playing with his cufflinks. “Hector will be coming tomorrow. I am sure he will have news for you as he has gone to the base today. It seems that they may have found something of interest.”
“You don’t want me to stay with Leopold?” I asked, still stuck on the fact that he thought I should leave.
Felip stood and placed his hand on my shoulder. “I have done everything I can to make you stay but you need to be somewhere else now.”
“Good afternoon, Fred,” Hector said as he strode in the next day. He had two cups of coffee in his hands and passed me one before wrapping me in a brief hug. I took a sip gratefully when he pulled away and closed the folder I had been reading. He must have spoken to the guards or one of the maids as my coffee was made the only way I would drink it; laced with so much sugar and milk that it practically wasn’t coffee any more.
“What’s up?” I asked, looking at his troubled face. There was something different about him. Felip and Phillipa had both looked exhausted with their worry. Hector seemed more like he was filled with an urgent energy, as though he was bent on solving something or breaking something.
“This is strictly a business call I am afraid,” he said briskly. “I have some questions I need to ask you. I think I have figured something out.”
“Alright, shoot,” I said, suddenly feeling slightly nervous. His energy was contagious, in me though, it had a stillness that went to the bone.
“I need you to run through a few events with me, for clarification,” Hector began. “At the beginning of the summer, Antoine tackled Leopold at a Canette match, shortly after your arrival, correct?”
“That’s right. Leopold had a temper tantrum in the middle of the field,” I said, smiling briefly.
“Exactly,” Hector replied cryptically. He moved on before I could question it though. “And at the Regatta held in for the governor’s arrival?”
“I fell into the river,” I told him.
“Antoine came to talk to me when Leopold left. I was trying to get away form him.”
Hector nodded. “And when did you get the necklace, Queen Winifred’s necklace?”
“Richard gave it to me the first time Leopold left to go to the base, after he told me the story of Leopold and Winifred and the French King,” I replied.
I was beginning to see a pattern in the questions and answers. “Where are you going with this, Hector?”
“All of the cases involve attempts to make Leopold look bad, or to try to separate him from you,” Hector said, confirming my thoughts. “Antoine made Leopold look juvenile at the game, he tried to steal you from Leopold at the Regatta, then there was the incident with your hoop skirt at the Garden Party, and Governor Richard tried to threaten you to stay away from Leopold with his story, while simultaneously bribing you with the necklace.”
“I know, but I don’t see what this has to do with anything. Felip said there was nothing we could do about it,” I said, and put down my coffee.
Hector shook his head. “Tell me about his shoulder.”
My face must have showed some surprise as Hector quickly added, “I read about it in a file at the base. It was very irresponsible for Leopold to keep that from us, much less make you do so as well.”
“It happened during that bad storm, right before the garden party. Leopold went on a rescue mission to help some fishermen who had been caught out in it and was thrown against the side of a cliff while he was belaying down,” I told him, thinking of the bruise that had covered Leopold shoulder. It had seemed so bad at the time. Compared to the injuries he had now though, it was nothing.
“Convenient, considering Antoine was the one piloting the helicopter,” Hector said sharply. He sat down, some of the energy burning out of him. His hand rubbed the back of his neck, just bellow the cropped dark curls. “What did Richard say to you the other day before the engagement?”
“He told me that I didn’t have to marry Leopold. Threatened that something bad may happen if I did.” I felt the blood drain from my face as the pieces clicked together. “Hector, what did you find out at the base yesterday?”
Hector didn’t answer right away, he was looking down at Leopold, his large hands balled into fists. “God, even bald and bloodied he still manages to look smug,” he almost whispered. There was affection in his eyes, and finally, the smallest hint of worry. “He is going to wake up,” he said, louder now. “He’s too damn stubborn not to. He will wake up and keep on ** us off and scaring the hell out of us as usual.”
“What did you find at the base, Hector?” I pushed. I held my breath, not sure if I wanted the answer I was asking for. Not even sure what I wanted the answer to be.
Hector sighed, “Nothing. The inspection came up with nothing. Everything was perfectly fine. Leopold did nothing wrong. The helicopter was in perfect condition.”
“That’s good news then,” I said, slightly relieved. I knew it would kill Leopold if he knew that he had been responsible for the accident.
“That’s what I thought, but it doesn’t make any sense. How does a helicopter that is perfectly sound crash on a perfect flight?” he asked, finally getting to the point that was clearly troubling him. I shook my head and pulled my legs up onto my futon, tucking them underneath me. “The only thing I could see on the report that seemed strange was that Antoine was the one who checked the helicopter before take off,” Hector stated.
“You don’t think that he did something?” I asked. Somehow the idea was both terrifying but logical at the same time.
“It is the only thing that makes sense,” grumbled Hector frustratedly. “I just don’t have any proof. None of these situations have any solid proof behind them, no substantial evidence that will actually amount to anything.”
“You think Antoine and Richard tried to kill Leopold?” I said, still stuck on the fact that he had just accused two people of attempting murder on the prince of a country.
“It makes sense. With Leopold out of the picture, Antoine would become the leader of Solis. Their family has always been power hungry. I made it worse though, they have been out for revenge since I ended my engagement with Odette.”
“What are we going to do?” I wondered, hoping that this time there would be an answer.
“I do not know, not yet. We must wait, I guess. Wait until we find the piece of evidence that will catch them. Wait until Leopold wakes up. Wait until the two of you are married and you can claim ownership of Solis as well.”
“I don’t really like any of those options,” I told him.
Hector shrugged. “Me neither. But that is all we have for now.”
“What does Felip think?”
“I told him about it. He hasn’t had much time to discuss it with me yet though. I don’t want to bug him or Mom with it too much yet. They have a lot going on,” he admitted. “For now though, I would say that this is the safest place for both of you. It’s got more security then the castle does. It would be awfully hard to get Leopold out of here without causing much suspicion, even if they did get past the guards,” Hector joked, trying to lighten the mood. I had caught something in his words though that stopped me from laughing.
“Safest place for both of us?”
Hector looked at me somberly. “If they are after Leopold, I am sure they will come for you next. Their family has ties to the Sinclaire throne in Arcadis as well. Why stop at one country when you could rule two?”
I didn’t respond; I wasn’t sure how. My head was spinning from all of the information that he had just thrown at me, from all of the random events that now had meaning. I took a sip of the now cold coffee, just for something to do. My hand ached to grab my tax folders again so that I could get lost in the numbers and unyielding rules.
Hector stood, rubbing his jaw line. “Rose says hi. She couldn’t come but she will call you later.” He moved toward the door, “Phillipa wanted me to remind you that the funeral for Guillaume Belmonte is on Wednesday. You are expected to show up.”
Hector hesitated, his eyes on Leopold. “I will let you know if I find anything else out, Fred. Stay safe. He will kill me when he wakes up if I have let anything happen to you.” With that, Hector left, leaving me even more anxious and confused then before.