Chapter Twenty Five
Everything happened very quickly after the phone call. The secret door forgotten, I ran toward my bed, throwing my laptop and phone into a bag. “We have to get out of here,” I told M. Arsnault as I rifled through a chest of drawers for a sweater. “Phillipa said the helicopter should be here in ten minutes to pick you and me up.”
“Yes, Mademoiselle,” my guard replied, all business now. He shouldered my bag and dutifully followed me as I twisted through the halls and down the stairs at top speed.
Instinctively, I went straight for the front doors, but just like every other day I had been here, they were locked and didn’t even budge as I threw my body weight into them. “I don’t know why I would even try,” I growled through gritted teeth, then turned on my heel and stormed down the right corridor toward Antoine’s office.
I became aware of a humming sound, growing increasingly louder. At first I thought it was the sound of my own pulsing blood, wildly coursing through me in my anger and desperation. As I passed one of the huge windows that looked out onto the front lawn of the castle though, I realized that the sound was coming from the DuMont family’s helicopter that was waiting there, sending waves rippling across the lawns and vineyard.
I pushed forward, charging into Antoine’s office without knocking. Antoine and Beaucage jumped up, clearly surprised. “I need to get outside,” I told Antoine urgently.
The false prince’s face fell into a practiced smile. “I thought I told you I would come for you when I was done here, Princess. It is very rude of you to-”
I cut him off, not wanting to waste any more time with his condescending nonsense. “No, I mean, I need to leave. Now. There is a helicopter here to pick me up. Please open the doors.”
“I am sorry, Princess,” Antoine said slowly. He eased himself back into his seat, folding his hands on his desk. “I cannot allow you to leave, I have very specific orders. It’s for your safety, as you know.”
I was about ready to scream, or chuck one of the crystal decanters at his greasy head. Instead, I took a deep breath, steadying myself into rationality and calmness. “Antoine, I was just speaking with the DuMont family. Leopold’s condition has changed; they require my immediate return to Solis.”
Antoine’s eyes grew slightly larger, a muscle in his lip jumping. Beaucage’s mouth dropped opened and he choked out his first words since I had reentered the office. “Something has happened with the Prince?”
“Yes,” I told him shortly.
Antoine had seemed to gather himself and spoke again, his words carefully measured. “All the same, Princess, I cannot permit you to leave. I am very sorry.”
“So call Governor Richard,” I ordered, my patience wearing thin again.
“He is very busy right now,” Antoine replied, his posture stiffening.
“Then I will call King Felip, and tell him that you are preventing me from leaving Arcadis as he ordered.” I held my hand out as M. Arsnault reached into my bag, withdrew my phone, and placed it in my palm. If this didn’t work, I was mentally preparing myself to crawl out one of the gold gilded windows to make my escape.
“No,” Antoine said, holding his hand up to stop me. “That won’t be necessary. I will try and contact my uncle.”
“Thank you,” I told him, trying not to smile.
Antoine picked up the phone on his desk, quickly dialing a number he had memorized. There was a thick silence as it rang. Beaucage was looking between the two of us, looking both impressed and unsure. “Yes, hello, Uncle,” Antoine said finally. There were muffled tones that could be heard from the other end of the line. “Yes, I know, I am very sorry to be interrupting you. I have the Princess here with me and she is -“, Antoine was cut off by the now angry sounding mumbles. Antoine’s face fell, his mouth drawing into a hard line. “Yes, very well. All right, Uncle. Thank you.” He hung up the phone, and slowly stood, reaching into his pocket.
“If you will excuse me for a moment, Governor, I will just see the Princess out and then we may resume,” Antoine said, drawing out a set of keys from his pocket.
“You are going to let her leave?” said Beaucage, startled.
“My Uncle commands it,” Antoine said flatly, stepping out from behind his desk. Antoine, M. Arsnault, and I returned to the atrium. Antoine reached up and put his key into the lock and pulled the door open. I was finally, finally free.
“Thanks,” I said briskly as I bolted past him, Antoine caught my arm though, holding me back.
“It would be very much appreciated if you would keep me informed of the Prince’s condition,” he said. “I know this is all a very delicate situation. Hopefully this will mean everything will soon be resolved.
“Oh, I promise you will know as soon as I do,” I vowed vehemently, then, tucking into M. Arsnault’s side, I hurried into the buffeting wind toward the helicopter.
The Royal Guards bowed like falling dominos as I hurried through security checkpoints. The helicopter had landed on the hospital roof, and I was now twisting through stairwells and hallways on the way to Leopold’s floor. As I turned around the final corner I found M. Lefevre waiting at the door to Leopold’s hallway. “Happy to see you again, Mademoiselle,” he stated formally, but I could have sworn his lips twitched upwards.
M. Arsnault clasped his partner’s arm in greeting.
“Go on, Mademoiselle,” my guard instructed, as they pulled apart. “I will come and check on you in a little while.”
M. Lefevre held the door open and I slipped through into the dim hallway. I stood there for a second, trying to steady my breathing. I was scared and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the answers that were going to come with Leopold’s awakening. Phillipa hadn’t given me much information on the phone. I didn’t know what would happen if there were further complications with his health now that he was awake. I also wasn’t sure what would happen if he had the information on Richard and Antoine that we had been looking for. There could be so many complications with him, his family, our countries, us. I took a deep breath. Everything just needed to be still again, simple again, like sitting on a lawn chair beside the pool in Arizona, like eating French fries in the mall food court, like riding along the coast on a motorcycle. I bit my cheek to hold back my tears, before continuing down the hallway.
Beatrice was sitting on my futon, with paperwork in her lap and reading glasses perched on her nose. One hand was flipping through the pages balanced on her legs while the other was gently resting on Leopold forearm. “How is he doing?” I asked from the doorway, as I curtsied for the Queen.
Beatrice, looked up through tired eyes. “Winifred,” she said and smiled, “we have been waiting for you.”
I stepped into the room, dropping my bag beside the door, and sat in the chair on Leopold’s other side.
“He’s asleep again,” she continued, looking down at her son. “They said it would be like that for a while, that he will come in and out of consciousness.”
“Do we know anything else yet?” I asked.
She shook her head. “They said they would wait until morning to do tests. They want to give him a little more time to stabilize.”
“How was he? Was it bad?” I had always pictured Leopold crashing back into consciousness like some demigod ripping his way out of the underworld; that his passion and temper would get the better of him and he would be back to his defiant self.
“He was barely conscious,” Beatrice said, “very calm. Quiet.”
“So he hasn’t said anything about what happened?”
“No, he only made sounds that were between a mumble and a moan, nothing coherent. The doctor said he should be stronger every time he wakes up. We are going to have a meeting tomorrow after the tests to decide how to proceed. We would be very happy if you would come,” she said as she unfolded her legs, putting the papers down beside her. Then, quietly, she added, “How have you been, Fred?”
“I have been alright. Better now though, I’m so glad to be back,” I replied, but said nothing more. I had naively thought he would wake up normal, like flipping on a light switch, and couldn’t help but be a bit disheartened. Besides, both of us were too tired for stories about secret passages and stolen artifacts right now, and I wanted Felip and Hector to be here when I reported what I knew.
Beatrice nodded and ran a hand through her hair. “I should get home. Are you coming?”
“I think I will stay here if that if still all right,” I said, watching as she stretched delicately.
“I thought you might say that, so I took the liberty of having a few things brought for you,” she smiled and indicated a bag on the table under the television. Beatrice stood and I stood with her. “Felip and I will be back tomorrow morning,” she said as she packed her things. “Then we will know more and can decide what to do.” She seemed to be saying the last part more to herself then to me, as if it was the only thing getting her through the next few days. She stepped around the bed and came to stand in front of me. “Thank you, Winifred,” Beatrice said and kissed my cheek.
Without hesitation, I wrapped my arms around her, “Thank you too.”
She pulled away after a moment, wiped her eyes quickly, and smoothed her dress. “Until tomorrow then.”
“Have a goodnight,” I told her as she stepped into the hall.
“Oh,” Beatrice said, turning, “Winifred, if he wakes up again please do not mention that you were away. I think it would be best if we keep that from Leopold for now.” The Queen smiled once more, then she was gone.
I collapsed back into the chair, folding until my stomach was resting on my thighs and my hands were wrapped around my ankles. It was a little disappointing that Leopold was still asleep; that he had barely even been awake. I had been expecting to walk in and find him sitting up in his bed, ordering around the nurses, and complaining about how itchy his stitches were. Instead, he was asleep, as if nothing had changed at all since I left. I sighed. We would know more tomorrow.
There was a slight knock on the door. Making myself sit up, I called them in. M. Arsnault stepped through the door, a brown paper bag in his hand. “Here, Mademoiselle,” he said, passing me the bag, “I took the liberty of ordering you some food. It should be better than what we have eaten the past week at least. I will be escorting Her Majesty back to the palace so that I can meet with M. Remi to tell him what we have discovered.”
“Oh, all right,” I said, accepting the food. “Thank you.”
“I will be back in a few hours,” he assured me. “Until then, let M. Lefevre know if you require anything.”
“Take you’re time, you need a break. I am sure I will be fine,” I told him, hoping he’d take me seriously.
“Yes, Mademoiselle,” he stated, and bowed. “Have a good evening.”
The door clicked shut. I got up and went around to the other side of the room. Leaving the bag of food on my futon, I grabbed the overnight case Beatrice had left and stepped into the bathroom. It was almost nine at night now, and I wasn’t expecting to be called away or have anyone else visit, so I changed into the pajamas that had been packed for me. I braided my hair back and splashed some water on my face then went back into the hospital room. To my great amusement and excitement, M. Arsnault had ordered me a bacon cheeseburger and fries. Like Beatrice had been, I sat cross-legged on the futon, slowly munching away on the fried food, watching Leopold. I studied him carefully, looking for slight movements, the twitch of a hand, the curve of his lip, a flutter in his lashes, trying to find any sign that he was or had been awake. There were changes since I had left him. His skin had lost its chalky pallor, his red-brown beard had started to grow in from lack of shaving, the once angry red wounds that had ripped across his skin were now faded to pink, and some of the stitches had even begun to fall out. These were all positive things, but it wasn’t what I was after.
I crumpled up the brown bag and tossed it in the general direction of the garbage. “I think we need a vacation after all of this,” I said, and lay down across the futon, pulling the blanket that was folded across the back down over me. “I would love to take you to Arizona, it’s so different from here. It would be a nice break for you too, to get away from the castle for a while. We could also go to Forks. You would love it up there with all of the trees and water. We could go cliff jumping. I’m sure Louis would love to meet you.” I turned onto my side, bringing my knees to my chest, and faced Leopold. “Or you could take me skiing, like you promised, or on that cruise.” I reached out, tucking my hand between Leopold’s shoulder and the mattress. “I’ll go anywhere really, as long as you wake up. If you don’t, I’ll go nowhere.” Reaching up with my other hand I clicked off the bedside lamp. “Goodnight, Leopold. I love you.”
Suddenly alert, I snapped awake in the middle of the night. Something had shifted in the room, waking me suddenly and uneasily. I frowned, my stomach tightening, and tried to stretch. My hand wouldn’t pull free though, it didn’t slide from where it was wedged as it normally did. I opened my eyes, the darkness lit only by the lights of the monitors and IV pumps. As I scanned the room, my eyes were suddenly captured by a pair of golden eyes; Leopold was awake and watching me intently. He was holding my hand, his fingers laced through mine. I froze, trying to process everything. The fact that he was awake, that his eyes matched, that he seemed to know who I was. I was afraid that if I moved the moment would somehow disappear, that I was only dreaming and that as soon as I woke up, Leopold would slip through my fingers again. So long as we stayed just like this, the moment was magic and untouchable.
“Hi,” Leopold said, voice thick and raspy.
I probably should have call for someone, for security or a nurse, but I didn’t, couldn’t. Instead, scared to move or to breathe, I whispered, “Hi.” The edges of Leopold’s lips quirked upwards and his hand tightened around mine. His eyes were hooded now; I was going to lose him soon. “I missed you,” I breathed, my throat tight.
Leopold’s brow furrowed, his grip tightening slightly. “I’m sorry,” then he was gone. The room was quiet, still, and dark, as if nothing had happened at all.
The nurses and doctors arrived early the next morning and took the still sleeping Leopold away for tests. I got up and showered while they were gone, wasting time drying my hair and getting dressed, while I waited for the Royal Family to arrive. At exactly eight o’clock, a guard who had been sent to take me to the conference room, knocked on the door. Felip, Beatrice, Hector, and Phillipa were all waiting in the conference room when I arrived. I slid into the chair next to Hector, accepting the Styrofoam cup of coffee he slid toward me.
Dr. Fleurion strode into the room, lab coat flowing behind her, a file tucked under her arm. “Good morning,” she said, nodding her head slightly. She went to the computer in the corner and pulled some up some files, various images of x-rays and MRI scans, then sat at the head of the table, opposite to Felip. The King was looking intently at the screen, eyes flipping between the images. I remembered suddenly Leopold mentioning that Felip had gone to medical school and wondered how much more he knew about Leopold’s condition because of his knowledge compared to the rest of us.
“So what can you tell us?” Beatrice asked, unable to wait any longer.
“The tests we had done this morning came back with excellent results. The swelling in the Prince’s brain has reduced significantly. There does not appear to be any further hemorrhaging since he was brought in. The wounds and burns continue to heal well. The only area that will take more time to heal is the burn down his left side. We had some more x-rays done. His collarbone and fingers are healing well. We took the pins out of the bones in his hands.”
“So he’s going to be alright?” Phillipa asked, needing confirmation that what the doctor was saying was in fact good news.
“It seems like the Prince is on his way to a full recovery,” Dr. Fleurion assured the princess.
“So what is next?” Calisle asked. “He should be gaining more consciousness. Do you have any idea whether or not his mind has been affected at all?”
“Unfortunately, he has not been awake long enough for us to know for sure. We will have to wait and see how he reacts to all of you. If he remembers you, that is usually a good indication that his memory is not lost,” the doctor explained.
“He remembers,” I said, without thinking.
Everyone in the room turned to face me.
“What did you say, Winifred?” asked Felip.
“Leopold woke up last night,” I explained, digging my nails into Styrofoam. “Not for very long, but he knew I was me though.”
“That is good,” said Fleurion, making a note in her folder, “very positive. Hopefully he will continue to do so with others.”
“What do we need to know going forward?” asked Beatrice.
“Well, so long as Leopold continues to wake up more and more over the weekend, I would send him home with you by Monday, if you so desire.”
“Really?” Emmet asked, sounding both excited and unsure.
“Yes, there is no reason not to. I think it would be safer and more comfortable for the prince at home, and probably much less stressful on all of you, too.”
“Will he need any sort of after care?” Emse shot back, making notes of her own.
“If Leopold can walk and eat when we release him there will only be minor things for you to worry about. He will need medication applied to his burns. He will require bed rest and a lot of sleep. He should not be physically active for quite a while longer yet. I will give you a list of instructions, symptoms to look out for, and dates he will need to come in for checkups. Other than that, he should be fine.”
“That is fantastic news,” Felip said, smiling earnestly. “We will have to make arrangements for him to return to the castle.”
Hector nodded, “We need to figure out how we are going to play this out.”
Felip looked to the doctor, “Please make sure that the fact that Leopold is awake does not leave this hospital.”
The doctor nodded, “I promise complete discretion.”
“What about his eyes?” I asked.
“Yes, thank you, Mademoiselle,” Dr. Fleurion said, and flipped to a certain page. “So far, the Prince’s sight seems to have been unaffected by his injuries. We did an eye exam and everything came back normal. Due to the location of the swelling, however, the Prince may experience some problems with his vision until the rest of the swelling goes down and releases the pressure on the ocular nerves. We won’t know how badly his sight will be affected, if at all until he is awake for a longer time.”
“No, I meant, why are his eyes a different color now,” I clarified. If they had done an eye exam I couldn’t figure out how they had missed it.
“I am afraid I don’t understand, Mademoiselle,” apologized the doctor, “the Prince’s eyes are the same color as when he arrived.”
“What are you talking about, Winifred?” Felip asked, frowning.
“Leopold normally has one green eye and one gold eye,” I explained. The members of the Royal Family nodded, agreeing with me, but Dr. Fleurion’s eyes grew wide. I continued, “When he woke up last night, both of his eyes were gold.”
“You are sure?” the doctor asked.
“Positive,” Beatrice said.
“The prince’s eye’s have been brown since his arrival, I didn’t even consider to check his files from the old hospital for anything that said otherwise,” explained the doctor.
“Don’t you watch the news or read magazines?” asked Phillipa, irritated. “It’s one of Leopold’s most distinguishing features.”
“Phillipa,” Felip chided lightly, “it was an easy mistake. Dr. Fleurion comes from France. It is likely she hadn’t seen pictures of Leopold until recently due to the media ban. There is nothing wrong with Leopold’s eyes as she said, so why would them being a normal color be notable.”
“I am most embarrassed,” said the doctor blushing. “I am so sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Beatrice said. “Why do you think it has happened though?”
“It is likely heterochromia induced by the accident. Sometimes, if you hit your head hard enough, your eyes can be affected in a way which causes them it change color.”
Hector smiled. “He will be so happy.”
“The Prince should be back in his room any moment now if you would like to go see him,” Fleurion said. “The nurses were told to return him after his bandages were changed. Do you have any more questions?”
“No,” said Felip. “Thank you very much doctor. We will be in touch shortly with instructions regarding what information we wish to release to the public and press. I am sure you have other work to attend to.” She stood, and bowed before leaving the room.
Felip relaxed back into his chair, rubbing the back of his neck. “He can come home,” he said, smiling. Beatrice took his hand.
“What are you thinking?” asked Hector.
“Now is not the time,” replied Felip, standing. “We will have a meeting at the castle tonight to plan everything. For now, I am going to go and talk to Leopold.”
Leopold was awake when the nurse wheeled his bed back into his hospital room. He has lying down, his eyes closed, but his body was lined with tension. The muscles of his jaw were tight, and the hand that wasn’t completely wrapped in gauze was balled into a fist.
“Leopold?” Beatrice said softly once the nurse excused himself from the room. Leopold frowned slightly, his eyes fluttering open. Everyone instantly surrounded the bed, smiling broadly. I held back a bit, giving them their space as a family.
“How are you feeling?” asked Felip, at his son’s side.
“Starved,” Leopold croaked, making Hector laugh.
“What’s happened?” he asked in thick French.
“You were in an accident,” Beatrice told him, taking his hand gently, “but everything is alright now. You do not need to worry about all that right now.” Leopold bit his lip, contemplating her words, but didn’t push any further.
“Is there anything we can do for you?” Phillipa asked from the end of the bed.
“No, I am fine, just tired,” he told her. He was still frowning slightly, body still tight. It was a lot for him to take in all at once. He needed some time to process things, to wake up fully.
“We will let you sleep then,” Felip said.
“See you soon,” Hector said, while Beatrice kissed his forehead.
Leopold shut his eyes and the room exhaled.
“If all goes well, we will be back Sunday morning, Winifred,” Felip told me. “I will hold off on our meeting regarding Arcadis until then. Take care of him.”
Moments later they were gone and I was still waiting.
I spent most of the day reading. My mind needed a break from all of the worrying and frustrations, from medical terms, and mazes of secret passages. It was quiet in the hospital and a sense of calm that I hadn’t felt in weeks was starting to return.
“Is it any good?” said Leopold, awake again for the first time since his family had left. It was the middle of the afternoon now.
I jumped, dropping the book. “You’re awake!” I said, going to his side. Leopold smiled up at me lazily. “Do you need anything? Here I’ll call the nurse,” I moved to go to the doorway but Leopold caught my hand.
“I’m fine, Fred. Come here.” He moved over, making room for me on his hospital cot.
“I shouldn’t,” I said, resisting his pull.
Leopold raised an eyebrow, “Please.”
I relented, carefully folding myself into his good side. Leopold sighed, the tension leaving his body.
“How bad?” he asked after a moment.
“I don’t know if I should-”
I bit my lip, burrowing further into his side. “You have cuts and burns all over. They have mostly healed though, with the exception of the burn down your left side. You also have two cracked ribs, a broken collarbone, and a few broken fingers. You were in a come for about two weeks.”
Leopold nodded slowly. He took a strand of my hair and began twirling it through his fingers. “How is everyone taking it?”
I choked back a laugh. “Your family has been worried sick. There have been news crews from all over the world outside the hospital, waiting to get a glimpse of anything they can. The council has gone into crisis mode trying to make plans for all sorts of possibilities.”
Leopold searched my face looking for answers I wasn’t giving him. “And what about you, Fred?”
“I was so scared,” I finally admitted, letting the tears spill over. “I’m just so glad you are awake. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
Leopold brought his hand up, his thumb brushing the tears from my cheek, “I’m sorry.”
I laughed, “You have no reason to be. It’s hardly your fault.”
He placed a kiss on top of my head. “It is all over now.”