Chapter Twenty Six
“You must be joking,” Leopold said, bemused, as he glared at the tray the nurse had just placed in front of him. There was a paper cup on it and a small plate with three cookies. “What is this?”
“Peppermint tea and arrowroot biscuits,” the nurse reported.
“I said I was hungry,” Leopold said, looking at the nurse expectantly.
“And here is your food, Sir,” the nurse replied smiling, too cheerfully.
“That, is not food,” Leopold told him, pointing to the tray.
“If you can keep this in, Sir, I will bring you something else,” the nurse assured him. “Doctor’s orders.”
Leopold’s lips drew into a thin line but he said nothing else, as the nurse bowed slightly and excused himself. Leopold turned to look at me. I was sitting cross-legged on the futon, smiling back at him. It was rather amusing watching him and the nurses interact; neither was quite sure which one was in charge of the other. “I need your help,” Leopold told me, holding out a cookie.
I shook my head, “Oh no, that’s all on you.”
“Luke warm flavored water and stale biscuits do not count as food, Fred,” he muttered, tossing the cookie back onto the plate.
“If you eat that,” I told him, “and you get the official okay, I will send M. Arsnault out to get you real food.”
Leopold pouted, but picked up one of the cookies again and took a small bite. He grimaced and reached for the tea, presumably to help wash the cookie down, but the taste of the tea only made his expression worse. “Oh God,” he said, finally swallowing, “tell me something to distract me.” He took another tentative bite.
“Well, Phillipa left me a book full of flowers to look at for the wedding and I’m supposed to pick something I like. You could help me,” I suggested, grabbing the binder that had been left for me out of the bag. Leopold slid over, making room for me on the bed. I cautiously laid down, careful not to bump him, and opened the binder on my lap.
“Are you sure?” Leopold asked, his face darkening slightly.
“Yes,” I assured him, “I need help. I know nothing about flowers. The whole floriography thing was kind of forgotten after the accident.”
“No, Fred,” Leopold said quietly, “are you sure you still want to go through with the wedding? I would not blame you if you said no, especially after all that has happened. I am sure that the governors would understand. Something could be arranged.”
I shut the binder, turning to face him, “Oh no, don’t you dare, Leopold! You have no idea what has been happening. We are getting married now, whether you like it or not, you are stuck with me! Besides, it is the only way everything will work out.”
I’m sure my sudden outburst must have looked a little ridiculous, because Leopold laughed slightly before leaning over and placing a kiss on my temple. “Yes, Princess,” be murmured.
I huffed, leaning back into the pillows and opened the binder again. “Now, I know you Solisians really have a thing for roses, but I can’t say that I like them very much. They are too formal looking.” Leopold picked up the last cookie as I opened the book to one of the pages Phillipa had marked. “Your sister also suggested Lilies, which is what your mother had, but they just look too stiff.” What I wasn’t saying was that they reminded me of the gardens at the Sinclair Palace, the prison which I had just escaped. Arrangements with roses and lilies looked far to orchestrated, much like the symmetrically laid out gardens in front of the vineyard.
“So you are looking for something less traditional?” Leopold asked, and waved his hand slightly. Gathering what he wanted, I started to turn the pages of the book slowly. A line formed between his brows as he focused. “There, stop,” he said after a moment. It was a page with little blue flowers, bearing the title ‘Veronica’ at the top of the page. “I have an idea,” Leopold said.
I raised my eyebrow at the tiny blossoms and looked at Leopold, who had stopped to sip his tea. “They grow in the field behind the castle,” he explained.
I thought back to the huge field we rode through and the myriad of colorful flowers dotting the grass and nestled along the bases of the trees in the orchard. They were indeed beautiful.
“You think I could make a bouquet out of wild flowers!” I realized out loud, and smiled.
Leopold nodded. “Of course, why not? They are less formal, but grow naturally in Solisian soil.”
Most of the best memories I had with Leopold were on the DuMont estate, so it made more sense that I should carry Veronicas, than a fancy bouquet consisting of expensive exotic and imported flowers. “It’s perfect,” I told him, tossing the binder on the futon. “Shall I go find that nurse, since you’ve finished? Maybe we can get you some real food.”
“Please,” Leopold said. His eyes were getting heavy though, so I slid off of the bed, careful not to disturb him as he was pulled back into sleep.
I began to see a pattern in Leopold’s schedule, if you could call it that. He seemed to wake up three times a day, the late morning, the evening, and again in the middle of the night. Apparently, that was normal, at least that’s what the nurse said when I asked him.
“So when do you think he will be up next?” he asked, tapping at the screen of the IPad he carried.
“Around one or two in the morning,” I told him, thinking of the night before.
The nurse nodded. “Push the call button if he is still hungry and you can see if he is able to eat something more substantial. If he is at least able to keep enough fluids down, the doctor said we will unhook him from the IVs tomorrow. That way, it would be easier for him to move around.”
“Sure thing,” I told him.
“He just seems to fight you less,” the nurse smiled. “Do call if you need anything though,” he insisted, looking at me pointedly. He checked a few of the machines, typed a few more things into the computer and then left, bidding me goodnight.
I leaned back into the futon, bringing my knees up to my chest. I was going to stay alert until he woke up, so I was ready this time. It was Saturday night, so if everything went well tomorrow, Leopold would be going home in just over 24 hours. It seemed too good to be true, now that it was so close. I didn’t really understand how things were going to work once he got to the castle, though. He still slept most of the day, although the doctor had said he would gradually stay awake longer and longer but he would be on bed rest for a while, something that would not please Leopold. I also fretted about talking with him regarding the accident. Soon, we were going to have to ask Leopold if he remembered anything about it. So far, he had not mentioned anything that had happened and he had not asked for any more information about why he was here either. I didn’t want us to force him to remember something that he may be better off forgetting.
Then there was the whole mess with Antoine and Richard to sort out. If Leopold was going to be in the castle again, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t take him long to figure out if I wasn’t there. Did that mean that my mission would get called off? How were we supposed to prove anything?
I groaned, scrubbing at my eyes with the base of my hands. I was sure that the King, Hector, Remi, and M. Arsnault were making all kinds of plans at the castle but I had no idea what they were. Hopefully, after the next twenty-four hours or so, I would know what was happening.
“Ca va, ma belle?” Leopold asked, his voice thick, startling me from my thoughts.
“I’m fine,” I told him, smiling softly, “Just a little tired.”
“You shouldn’t have stayed up,” he said.
I shrugged, and pointed to the tray beside him. “I got you food.”
Excitement brightened Leopold’s face suddenly. “Thank God,” he said, reaching for the paper bag. I stood up and helped him pull out the Styrofoam containers.
M. Arnsult had sent someone to get it earlier in the evening. I figured if they wanted him to eat more, I could at least give him something he would enjoy. “It’s from M. Liu’s,” I said, plopping back down on the futon to watch.
“You are a goddess,” he smiled. Still not having much use of the fingers on his left hand, Leopold held his fork in his right fist and stabbed roughly into a piece of lemon chicken. “Mmmm,” he groaned, satisfied. “So much better than those terrible biscuits.”
I scooped up the fortune cookies before retreating to my seat. “Right or left?” I asked Leopold, holding a cookie out in each hand.
“Left,” he decided around a mouthful of rice.
I opened the package, cracked the cookie open, keeping the fortune for myself but placing the cookie next to Leopold.
I cleared my throat dramatically, trying not to laugh as I read Leopold’s fortune. “You will marry your lover,” I announced, smiling broadly. Leopold raised an eyebrow, smirking playfully.
“Well, I am glad the cookie thinks so,” I said, “because I was really worried that the centuries old decree wouldn’t have much hold if it didn’t.”
He shrugged matter-of-factly, popping half of his cookie into his mouth. “What does yours say?”
I shattered my cookie and read: “Trust your intuition.”
Leopold snorted indelicately, “M. Liu is losing his touch.”
I wasn’t so sure about that, but I wasn’t about to tell Leopold otherwise. I yawned, and passed my cookie pieces over to Leopold.
“Sleep, Fred,” he said, “I will be fine. Besides, I am sure that it will not be long before I join you.”
I would have protested but all those late nights treasure hunting seemed to be catching up with me, so I did as I was told.
The doctors arrived early the next morning, headed by Dr. Fleurion herself. “Good morning, Mademoiselle,” she acknowledged, ducking her head slightly. Nurses filed in after her, grabbing various implements or waiting for instructions.
“I hear the Prince has eaten,” she said, pulling up something on the iPad she held.
I nodded, “Yes, everything that the nurse brought to him yesterday, as well as some Chinese food last night.”
“Chinese food?” the doctor inquired, pursing her lips.
“Yes,” I confirmed hesitantly.
“Harsh foods cannot-” she started to explain, then thought better of it. “Please notify hospital staff next time; we want food introduced carefully. There were not complications as far as you could tell? He had no complaints? Stomach upset, pain?”
“None that I know of,” I confirmed.
“Good. His stats have all remained stable,” she slid the iPad into her lab coat pocket. “Mademoiselle, I am now comfortable with removing Prince Leopold from the remaining support he has been on. We will remove the IVs, catheters, and monitors that he is still attached to. It is a big step. We would like to do this before he wakes up next as it will be more comfortable for him.”
“That’s fantastic!” I said, a little too excitedly.
The nurses seemed to hesitate for a moment, watching me as they awkwardly stood around Leopold’s bed.
Dr. Fleurion cleared her throat. “Mademoiselle, this may not be comfortable for you to watch.”
I jumped up, gathering what everyone was waiting for. “Here, I’ll go grab some coffee so you guys have more room.”
I slipped out, making the guard at the door stand a little straighter, and headed down the hall.
“Hello, Mademoiselle,” M. Arsnault bowed, as I moved toward him and M. Lefevre.
“Coffee?” I asked pleasantly, offering a hopeful smile. It was funny how I had hated the stuff just a few months ago and now I practically lived on it.
“I would be happy to join you,” my guard conceded, falling into step behind me. “Is everything alright?” he pressed softly after a few paces.
“Fine,” I told him, “Good actually. They want to remove all the tubes and stuff. They figured I probably wouldn’t want to see.”
“Very good,” the guard replied, calling up the elevator. We traveled the rest of the way in silence, cautious of all of the open spaces, watching eyes, and unknown ears.
“So what did Remi and the King have to say?” I asked him quietly, once we were huddled over paper cups at a table in the cafeteria. M. Arsnault and I hadn’t had the chance to talk much since I had been back. I knew that he had gone to give the report of what had happened in Arcadis to the head of security and the King, but I wasn’t sure if things had progressed farther than that. I was curious to know whether he had any insight into what everyone thought about our trip, or what we were supposed to do next.
“We definitely gave them a lot to think about,” M. Arsnault said. “They were obviously extremely displeased about the situation, especially regarding how you were treated during your stay.”
I waved dismissively, “I am more concerned about what Richard and Antoine are doing and how we are going to stop them.” I took a sip of my cup, stopping myself from saying anything more.
“It will all be sorted out,” he assured me. “The best thing would be if Leopold has information that we do not, if he heard or saw anything around the time of the accident. However -”
“We don’t want to push him too hard and slow down recovery,” I finished. I wasn’t going to find anything out now then. All this cloak and dagger stuff was starting to get to me.
There was silence as we both sipped the rich, piping hot brew. Then, after a few moments, M. Arsnault quietly asked, “How is he?”
I sighed, “Awake, but still very fragile.”
“Do not worry, Mademoiselle,” my guard said, “le Prince will be back to his stubborn self shortly. I am sure of that.” He glanced at his phone, checking the time. “I would think that everything should be sorted up there.”
I stood in silent agreement. “Hopefully they didn’t wake him up with all of it.” Coffee in hand, we headed out of the cafeteria and back toward the elevator.
“Shall I get some more food for le Prince?” M. Arsnault suggested.
“Probably not. I don’t think that they were too keen on the Chinese food thing.”
M. Arsnault chuckled, shrugging, “That is too bad.”
“Good morning,” I smiled at Leopold as he woke up. He hummed, running a hand across his face, then startled, holding it out from him. “They unhooked you from everything,” I said, explaining the lack of tubes and wires attached to the back of his hand.
Leopold grinned, wiggling the fingers of his right hand.
“You have to take those now, though,” I told him, pointing to a little plastic cup with pain pills in it. “They said you are probably going to want them for a while yet.”
“At least these are more portable,” he said, placing the pills between his lips and swallowing. “What else did I miss?”
“Well, you see, with great freedom comes great responsibility,” I paraphrased. Leopold didn’t seem to get the joke though, so I just repeated what the doctor had told me when I had returned to the room about an hour ago. “They want you to go for a walk with me. It is the last test you have to pass to get cleared to leave,” I explained. “Just to make sure that everything is in working order, and to verify that you can get up and about by yourself when necessary.”
Doctor Fleurion had decided it would be okay if I took Leopold out by myself. She figured he would handle it better that way. Besides, we were just walking down the hall and there were plenty of guards to get help if necessary.
“Do you want something to eat or drink?” I asked him, “We do not have to take the walk right away.”
“No,” Leopold said, “I want to get this done so we can go home.”
“Alright,” I agreed, pushing myself up. I went around to the other side of the bed, the one closer to the door. “Just be careful,” I told him.
Leopold nodded and carefully pushed the blankets off. He braced his arms to spin himself, then winced, pulling his left arm in close. “Left side is not so good, huh?”
“No,” I said simply. Leopold nodded once, biting his lip. Using his right arm for balance, he turned until his feet dangled off the edge of the hospital bed. There was a bruised line across the tops of his feet. He looked at it curiously for a moment, frowning slightly. I grabbed the scratchy hospital blanket off the bed behind him, wrapping it over his shoulders since he had nothing but the hospital gown on. Phillipa or Beatrice had sent a robe for him, but I wasn’t sure if he would be willing or able to wrestle himself into it. When I held out my hand in silent question, Leopold grasped my arm, using it to steady himself as his feet met the cold, hard tile floor and he slowly stood upright.
Leopold raised an eyebrow, looking down at me. I smiled, “Okay?”
“Fantastic,” he replied. I spun around so that I was on his right side, our arms linked together, and we slowly stepped out of the room and into the hall. The guards came to attention as we exited, saluting as Leopold passed. They were on their best behavior, probably happy and surprised to see him out.
Leopold took a few steps, adjusting to his vertical position, before continuing on sure and strong, standing straight as always. He gave me a smug glance, “We could be home by tonight.”
“What will you do first?” I asked, playing along. We headed down towards the big window at the end of the hall.
“Have a proper shower,” Leopold groaned. He ran a hand along the stubble of his jaw, “I am sure it has been far too long. After that, I will undoubtedly be wanted by the Council.”
“Let them wait,” I told him. “You deserve some time to yourself.”
“Unfortunately, I am fairly certain that is what I have just had,” he said, taking in the empty rooms that lined our hall.
“I will fight them off if they try to summon you,” I promised.
Leopold chuckled slightly, then winced.
“You need at least a few days,” I continued.
“It will be fine,” Leopold said. “I will just sit at the table and pretend to listen. Promise. No actual work will be done.”
“Well the Council will be happy if you make an appearance. I don’t think they are enjoying their move to the War Room.” We had reached the end of the hall and started turning back. Though his pace had slowed, Leopold was pressing on. He held his left arm close to his chest, simultaneously keeping his shoulder from moving and protecting his ribs.
“Honestly, I am surprised that they did not just hold their meetings in my hospital room,” he replied. He was quiet for a moment, concentrating, then asked, “What is the plan for tomorrow?”
“Dunno,” I shrugged. “Everyone is kind of waiting on you to decide.”
“I will call Felip,” Leopold stated. “I want to know what I am walking into before it is too late to change the plan.”
We made it back to Leopold’s room. He eased himself back onto his cot, blanket now tangled around him, while I fetched my phone from the futon. Leopold made room for me beside him so we could squeeze together on the bed. With the phone balanced on my bent knee, I quickly selected the correct number and hit speakerphone.
“Fred,” Felip answered on the first ring, “is everything alright?” I could hear the tension in his voice; worry and anxiety tumbling from his lips.
I smiled encouragingly at Leopold, nodding towards the phone.
“Everything is fine, Father,” he assured. “Besides the food, at least.”
“Leopold,” Felip sighed, his relief evident. “It is very good to hear your voice. How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” Leopold dismissed. “We wanted to talk to you about tomorrow, the plans for leaving.”
“Everything is going well then?” The King asked.
“Yes, of course,” Leopold clipped.
Felip didn’t respond, letting the line fall silent for a moment. Then he said, “Is Fred with you?”
“Here,” I confirmed.
“Good,” Felip said. “We want to do this as quickly and quietly as possible.” He put emphasis on the word ‘quietly’. Not enough to tip off Leopold but enough for me to understand what he meant. I was not to tell Leopold anything that would make him suspicious that we were hiding things from him. I was not to give him any information about the necessity of keeping his status a secret.
“Got it,” I said. Making Leopold frown slightly as he suddenly became aware that this conversation was doing much more for me than for him.
“We will come over tomorrow morning to speak with Dr. Fleurion and sign the paperwork,” Felip decided.
“I hardly think it is necessary for everyone to come,” Leopold interjected. He was irritatedly picking at some of the medical tape around his broken fingers. “You could just send a car. I am sure the papers can be settled later.”
“Everyone is excited to see you,” Felip told his son. “Besides, it will make for some good photographs for the press.”
Leopold’s frown deepened but he didn’t say anything.
“What time would be best?”
This one was for me again. “He will be up around ten.”
“We will see you in the morning then.”
“This is worse than the biscuits,” Leopold said, swallowing the grayish lump of scrambled egg that jiggled on the end of his fork. He grimaced, reaching for the cup of milk that resided next to the plate on the tray.
There was a knock at the door. I gave him a pointed look before giving permission for the visitor to come in. Hector’s head slowly appeared through a crack in the door. “Good morning,” he whispered, giving me a tiny smile. He look toward the bed, his smile growing as he saw that Leopold was awake. Assured that he wasn’t being disruptive, Hector stepped fully into the room. He had a tray of coffee on one hand, a paper sack in the other, and a duffle bag slung over his shoulder.
“Thank God,” Leopold murmured, dropping his fork and pushing the plastic tray of food away from him. He accepted a cup of coffee and the paper bag from his brother.
“Good morning,” I told Hector, taking one of the other cups as the large prince came up beside me. He dropped the bag he carried onto the futon. “Everyone is getting organized in the lobby,” Hector told me.
“Great,” I replied, understanding my queue. I looked between the two brothers, Hector, who was already rummaging through his bag and Leopold, who had already managed to eat half of the chocolate croissant Hector had handed him. “A nurse should be here in a moment to help. Call if you need anything.”
Coffee in hand I walked to the lobby at the end of the hall. Felip, Beatrice, and Phillipa, along with a few of the security guards and Dr. Fleurion, were standing around the nurse station. They made room for me as I approached, sliding in next to Phillipa. Felip was signing some papers, release paper most likely.
“Hello, dear,” Beatrice said, kissing me on the cheek.
“Morning,” I replied, brightly. “Hector sent me down to see you.”
“Very good,” Felip replied, still looking at the papers. He signed the bottom of another page before placing the pen down and pocketing his reading glasses. “There,” he said, handing the papers to the Doctor.
“Thank you, Sir,” she replied. “I will just go and check on the Prince now.” She stepped out from behind the counter, heels clacking down the hall to Leopold’s room.
“I thought we would just quickly go over the plan with you while Leopold gets ready,” Felip said, addressing me now. He directed us to the vinyl hospital benches on our right, as the guards took their positions at the exit points.
“We are going to sneak Leopold out of the hospital,” the King began. I couldn’t help the look of disbelief that must have been evident on my face, as Felip quickly began to explain. “We came to the decision that we will have the most options if it is believed that Leopold’s status continues unchanged. As long as his condition is static, so is everything else.”
“Okay,” I said understanding. This way Leopold would be kept safe; no one else would try to hurt him. This would maintain the illusion that Leopold may not wake up, the question of my marriage to him unresolved, and all of the political options would still appear viable. There were two parts to this plan that I was having difficulties with though. Mainly: “How are you explaining this to Leopold?”
Felip sighed knowingly. “Hector is going over it with him. For now, we are just telling him that it is for his security, that we want him to have more time to heal before he has to go before the press.”
That wasn’t going to work, Leopold would see through it immediately. We both knew that though, so I moved on to the next question. “How are we going to do this?”
“That is why we all came,” Phillipa said. “We are going to be a distraction.”
“Leopold is being dressed as a member of the guard right now,” Felip added. “He will go unnoticed with all of the others surrounding us. Just act as you normally would if he were not there.”
It made sense. The amount of security guards did go up when all of the Royal Family was present; one more would likely go unnoticed. We all knew how good Leopold could be at going unnoticed. Hopefully, our distraction was big enough that nobody put together what we were doing.
Clacking sounded through the hall again, halting our conversation. Dr. Fleurion reappeared, coming towards our little group. “The Prince’s dressings have been changed over his burns, and the one’s around his head have now been removed.” She held out a paper bag which one of the guards quickly stepped forward to grab. “He is not wearing a sling right now but he should have one on whenever he is not asleep. There are more bandages in there, along with antibiotics, pain medication, and ointment, as well as further aftercare and treatment instructions and contact information.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Felip said, as he stood to shake her hand. We all rose with him. Dr. Fleurion blushed, withdrawing her hand. “He is ready now,” she confirmed before making her exit.
The guards around us dispersed, presumably moving into position. Felip nodded down the hall, giving me leave to collect Leopold. Hector was adjusting the cuffs on the black uniform jacket Leopold was wearing when I returned. They pivoted to look at me as I entered, Hector stepping back, eyebrow raised in silent question. Fully dressed, Leopold looked nearly perfect. His clothes hid the worst of the scars and injuries. The scar along his eyebrow and the row of stitches on his head were the only signs that something had happened at all.
“What do you think? How does he look?” Hector asked as he placed a large hat that some on the officers wore, on Leopold’s head.
‘Livid’, I wanted to say. Leopold indeed looked livid and irate, only just managing to keep himself composed. He had to be uncomfortable right now and he had to be frustrated with not being told what was really happening. That wasn’t what Hector was asking though. It was a good disguise. With the stubble that was now on his jaw and the much shorter hair, he wouldn’t be recognizable as himself at first glance.
“You look good,” I assured both of them. “Ready?”
“Almost,” Hector replied. He reached into his bag one more time, pulling out a pair of sunglasses that he unfolded and passed to Leopold. “There.”
I took my spot at Leopold’s right side and linked my arm through his, steadying him. The others fell into position around us as we came to the lobby. Everyone, including MM. Lefevre and Arsnault piled into the elevator and silently descended, anxious to have this over with. I released Leopold when we reached our floor, looking up at M. Lefevre who gave me a nod of reassurance and inched closer to his charge.
The flashes started going off the second the elevator doors opened, as the photographers tried to take pictures through the huge windows of the hospital’s atrium. We moved toward the doors, Felip and Beatrice in front, Hector and Phillipa behind. I was sandwiched in the middle, trying to keep an eye on Leopold without looking suspicious. He soon fell into my periphery though, disappearing among the other black suits that formed a wall of protection around us. Two guards pulled the main doors open and we stepped out onto the front steps. The five of us paused briefly in a line on the top of the stairs, letting the cameras capture a few shots. The questions started, but we didn’t acknowledge hearing them, instead continuing on our way down the steps, towards the three waiting cars. I aimed for the middle one with the guard already there and holding the door open expectantly. It wasn’t until I was side by side with him that I realized that it was Leopold who was holding the door. I slide into the Mercedes, with him following stiffly after. The door shut with a thud, muffling the shouting crowd. Safe from the cameras, behind the tinted windows, Leopold pulled his sunglasses off, pinching the bridge of his nose. He was pale, his body coiled tight with tension.
“Okay?” I checked, watching him carefully. We were on the main streets now, slowly making our way through the morning traffic.
Leopold gave me an exasperated glance, but nudged the back of my hand with his before twisting our fingers together.