Angela woke me up early the next morning and stuffed me into a blouse and skirt.
“Where’s the fire?” I asked still a little dazed from sleep. She didn’t seem to understand and frowned at me, re-tucking my shirt into my waistline because I had apparently done it wrong. “What’s happening?” I tried again.
“Very busy today,” she told me, “much to do!”
“Can’t there be much to do at a more reasonable hour?” I asked hopefully but Angela didn’t respond, just thrust a pair if shoes in my direction. I took the black flats and hastily pulled them on.
“Tu vais manger le petit dejeuner avec la Princess,” she told me, shooing me in the direction of the door. Well at least there was food involved and Phillipa wasn’t so bad herself either. I just hoped she didn’t have some sort of crazy lesson like How-to-Carve-Leopold-out-of-Solisian-Chocolate-for-a-Tradition-which-also-Involves-Dangerous-Animals planned.
Angela led me to a library, similar to the one in Leopold’s wing of the castle with the piano and phone in it. There were two place settings at one of the desks, set with steaming plates of food that were taunting me. I didn’t have much time to consider the food, however, before the doors of the library were suddenly thrown open and Phillipa ran in.
“I can’t believe you broke Leopold!” she cried as she wrapped her tiny arms around me.
“Excuse me?” I asked confused.
The tiny princess pulled away, straightened her clothes and took a seat. “I have never seen him like this before. He just seems so happy.”
“Umm thanks,” I said with a frown but for some reason I was happy that I could cause such a change in him. “So what are we learning today, and where is Rose?” I said trying to divert the topic. I really didn’t think it would be fun to talk to Phillipa about dating her brother.
“There isn’t really a class for today I just wanted to give you a few rules for dating my brother. Rose isn’t here because she kind of already passed that class,” Phillipa explained bouncing in her seat. Great, so clearly there was no avoiding this.
“So,” she said clapping her hands together, “Now that you have agreed to proceed with a relationship with Leopold there are many decisions that need to be made. Essentially, you and Leopold should discuss these as they become of concern but many of them should be addressed in the meeting tonight.”
“There’s a meeting about Leopold and I?” I balked, blushing at the thought. Phillipa continued, ignoring my question.
“You have to realize that this is the turning point, Winifred. We are going to do whatever we can to make your transition into your new position with my brother as easy as possible, just as we have been doing until now, but it’s not going to be easy. Certain things will be expected from you and there will be many people trying to hurt you. I can assure you that we will do everything we can to keep you safe, especially Leopold. Which brings me to my first point: other than being a figurehead and representative of the Royal Family, your main role is to be support for Leopold as he ascends into his full role and duties. You have already been doing a pretty good job of this. Next, and probably the most imminent threat is the press. Now that you and Leopold have decided to officially date, it will eventually have to be announced to the public. This has to be done in a very strategic way so that you and he are photographed in the best possible light. We want to avoid as many drunken stupors and crotch shots on film as possible. I realize that Leopold does not exactly have the best track record for this but hopefully you can help clean that up.”
I raised my hand a little nervous, “I thought there where rules about me being photographed.”
“There are, but not for long, and you have to be ready to deal with it. You will get all the specifics later tonight”
“Okay, so the rules are different now? I mean, how do I have to act around Leopold?”
“I’m not really sure,” she admitted frowning. “Well, nothing changes really, all the rules still apply in terms of walking and talking and touching it’s just, I don’t know what Leopold will do.”
“I don’t understand.”
“If you were with Hector I could tell you that he is very physical and likes to joke around. He is a little impulsive but laid back. Hector may try to talk a lot with you in public or make jokes and that’s okay, you can go along with whatever you are comfortable with. With Leopold though, I have no idea, he’s never had a girlfriend before.”
“He’s never had a girlfriend?” I repeated surprised. “What about all those girls I hear about?”
“He fools around a little but nothing serious. Sometimes Leopold will kiss a girl when he gets drunk at a bar or goes on one of his rampages, but that’s about it. He is kind of a prude at times to tell you the truth. Just go with the flow.”
“Gee thanks,” I muttered not really feeling any better about this.
“Just remember that all of your decisions will have consequences now. And Winifred, just so you know, no one will think less of you if it becomes too much. If you decide that this is not what you want, we will try to erase your time with us as painlessly as possible, try to keep the world from prying.”
A clock chimed somewhere in the room, making Phillipa stand. “I have to go and get ready for Governor Laurent’s arrival. I will see you in a little while. Please say bonjour to Mme. DuBeche from me.” With that she skipped from the room leaving me welded to my chair.
Suddenly my untouched plate wasn’t so appetizing. I felt frozen by my nerves. I hadn’t really thought about what dating Leopold would mean. Could I really pass up being normal to be with him? And how could the media be that bad. Surely they would go easy on me. Why should they care? It’s not like I’m anyone important.
Fifteen minutes later I was standing in front of a mirror, wearing a white lace sundress and fascinator, with Mme. DuBeche sticking pins into my side. M. Arsnault had come to get me and was now standing in the corner, quizzing me in French grammar, as the seamstress used me as a pincushion.
“What is this outfit for?” I asked, interrupting his passé compose speech.
“We have to go to the Royal Water Regatta today, Mademoiselle. It is being held to honor the arrival of Governor Richard,” he said.
“Who is Governor Richard?” I asked, following Mme. DuBeche direction and slowly spinning in circles. Phillipa had mentioned the name too.
“Governor Jean Richard is the Governor of the province of Arcadis in France. He has a good history with the DuMont Family and is loyal to the old accords and traditions. He is visiting to meet you and there will be a series of events to honor this. May I continue with the verbs now, Mademoiselle?”
“He wants to meet me?” I asked. Mme. DuBeche indicated for me to stop and began attacking part of the dress’s hem.
“Yes, many people wish to meet you, but he has a specific interest. Governor Richard is a very patriotic man, loyal to his country. He is a distant relative of the Family Sinclair,” said Mr. Arsnault. For some reason I didn’t think the country he was talking about was France. “It will be good for you, Mademoiselle. You will be able to see and learn some of the histories and customs of your country. Also, as he is the head of the Arcadian Government, he is to act on you behalf during the meeting that will take place regarding the recent advancements with you and le Prince.”
“I see,” I said not too pleased that another man was being invited in to debate my dating life.
Mme. DuBeche took a step back from me, examining her work carefully. She quickly exchanged a few words with Mr. Arsnault and then nodded.
“Mme. DuBeche has completed her work,” he told me. “If you will follow me, I will take you down to the limo that will be taking you and le Prince to le rivière.”
“Hold on, no one said anything about a river.”
I found myself standing, cross-armed, and staring down at Leopold who was in a small dingy boat below me.
“There is no way I’m getting into that boat,” I told him defiantly.
Leopold looked at me a little surprised. Either he had not been informed about my resistance towards water or he was surprised I was saying no to him. “Fred, it is the only way to get to the dock.”
I looked out across the wide river; there was an enormous dock in the center. It was where the water regatta was being held and apparently the only way to get out there was by rowboat. This was worse then the damn seaplane.
Leopold exchanged a few words with the rower and then turned back to me. “Je te promis, it is completely safe.”
“Sure, until it tips over. I grew up in a desert, Leopold, so I never really needed to learn to swim very well. Sure I can float and doggy paddle for a bit, but in this dress I’d just be dragged straight to the bottom.” I indicated the white lace sundress. Sure it was pretty but when in water I was sure it would be deadly.
“If the boat tips, I give you my word that I will save you myself.”
I looked towards the King and Queen’s and Hector and Phillipa’s boats, already half way out. “Fine”, I said and took Edwards out stretched hand, letting him help me into the dingy. He nodded at the rower and, slowly, we began to move away from dry land.
“See,” he said after a moment, “it’s not so bad.”
And to tell you the truth, it wasn’t. I was still a little on edge, holding Leopold’s hand in a death grip, but the swaying motion was almost soothing.
We arrived at the island of docks faster than I had expected and a flare of trumpets announced the arrival of the Royal family. We fell into formation and weaved through the crowds to a large table in the very center of the dock. Everyone sat with the exception of Leopold, who remained standing behind my chair, fidgeting with his cufflinks. I think he was nervous about something.
“Why don’t you show Winifred around, Leopold,” suggested Beatrice, taking in her son’s discomfort. “Don’t you think that is a good idea, Felip?”
“As long as they are back for the arrival of Governor Richard,” Felip said.
“Winifred?” Leopold said, offering me his arm. I smiled and stood, wrapping my arm through his.
He led me through the decorated tables and impeccably dressed people. The men where all wearing morning suits, the women in sundresses and extravagant hats. They watched us as we walked by, zeroing in on our linked arms, nodding their heads in recognition.
We stopped at the edge of the dock directly in front of a pole which had a ribbon tied to it, running all the way to the tree line on the other side of the river.
“This is the finish line,” said Leopold. “The racers left from here this morning and are traveling all the way around the island before returning. They should arrive shortly,” he said, pointing towards the horizon. Sure enough, I could just make out a few brightly colored smudges that were the rowboats.
“And then what?” I asked.
“Felip and I will present the awards and I will make a speech welcoming Richard.”
“Sounds like a blast.”
“I am nerveuse about my speech.”
“I know you will do amazing, just say it right to me,” I said.
A man in a dark suit came up to us then, mumbling something to Leopold, who sighed.
“I have to go see to some documentation. Stay if you like, I can find you when I’m finished.”
“Sure.” He disappeared along with the man in the suit.
I wasn’t alone a minute before I felt another presence beside me. I turned to come face to face with a boy, about my age, with features almost too severely sharp and dark, slick hair. He was handsome but almost in a trying too hard way. There was something too perfect and pristine about him, something cold and untouchable.
“Bonjour,” he purred kissing my hand sloppily. I had to resist the urge to whip it off on my dress. Phillipa would not be pleased with him. “I do not believe we have had the pleasure of meeting yet. I am Antoine DuBlaise and you are Winifred Sinclair.”
Ahh, well that cleared things up. My disdain for him grew even greater when I realized that the creepy man was Antoine. I hadn’t recognized him so close up. “Pleasure to meet you,” I lied.
“You are far more beautiful than your reputation, Winifred. Leopold is a lucky man. You must be weary of him though, he is known to keep the company of many women,” said Antoine, taking another step closer to me. His sickeningly sweet scent surrounded me and I had to hold my breath.
“I appreciate the warning,” I said and tried to take a step back, but my foot was stuck on something. “I think I will be fine.”
Antoine took another step towards me. “Either way, I think it would be beneficial for the two of us to spend some time together, Winifred. I would love to get to know you better. You see, I think that we could do great things together.”
“Is that so?” I said pulling harder in an attempt to free myself. I glanced down. One of my heels had gotten wedged between two planks of the damn dock. I cranked my neck to search the crowd. Where the hell was Leopold? “I’m sure that would be interesting but I’m afraid that I am terribly busy right now. Maybe another time?”
Antoine stepped closer, tracing his fingers across my arm. “You know, there is something about me that women just find irresistible. I can tell you are feeling it right now, my very presence is drawing you in.”
I jerked my arm way, and gave a final pull at my shoe. Apparently it was too much though because my foot flew out of the shoe and I lost my balance, falling back and straight into the river.
The dark water surrounded me instantly, reaching up to swallow me before I even had the chance to scream. I spun in the water, scrambling to right myself but only sank deeper, the fabric of my dress pulling me down. My lungs burned for air, but just as I thought they might burst, there was another splash beside me and a pair of strong arms wrapped tightly around my waist, dragging me upwards. I coughed and sputtered when my head finally broke the surface, gasping for air.
The arms pulled me up onto the dock and, still coughing, I opened my eyes to find a very wet, and very angry looking Leopold above me.
People in black suites, like the man who had retrieved Leopold earlier, rushed forward. They formed a circle around us, holding back the crowds, but no one dared come closer because of the look on Leopold’s face.
“Are you hurt?” Leopold asked, looking me up and down nervously. His voice was concerned and heavily accented due to stress. Rivulets of water were running from his hair which was plastered to his damp skin. The thin material of his shirt was sticking to his torso and arms, beige pants now brown from the water.
I nodded stiffly, head brushing the wooden planks. “I’m fine, fine. Just a little water logged. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to, it was just Antoine, and then my shoe, and then the stupid dress-”
Mr. Arsnault arrived suddenly, ducking down to our level. “Sir, a boat has arrived,” he said.
Leopold stood and M. Arsnault handed him back his discarded jacket. Leopold must have pulled it off before he jumped in after me. Now he wrapped it around my shoulders before standing and lifting me into his arms again. “It’s okay Leopold, I can walk,” I assured him squirming, blushing furiously at the audience.
Leopold’s grip tightened. “I won’t let you,” he growled.
I sighed but stopped my escape attempts. There was no point in fighting him and I was tired from my near death experience. “Thank you,” I whispered.
We crossed the tent, weaving between the tables until we were back at the boat ramp. M. Lefevre was behind the wheel of a massive black speed boat. At least we had a motor this time. The downside was that there was another boat behind ours topped with sirens. We had a police escort; ain’t that just peachy.
Leopold put me down in one of the cold leather seats, wrapping a think wool blanket around me while speaking with our guards. I was shivering now, teeth chattering so I didn’t really concentrate on their words until the word hopital, caught my attention.
I squirmed uselessly, trying to escape from my mummy wrappings. “No, no hospital,” I stated firmly. “Really, it’s just a little water, I will be perfectly fine.”
They conversed conspiratorially again for a moment before Leopold dropped into the seat behind me and the boat roared to life. We took off across the water, darting between rocks and islands, the wind whipping at my hair. The police boat was on our tail.
The trees and shrubbery turned into buildings and soon we were in the river that cut through the middle of the square in front of the palace. Leopold picked me up and carried me across the square to the foyer of the castle.
There was a group of people there to meet us. I was passed off to a worried Angela, as Leopold was swallowed by a mass of handmaids and butlers, all trying to hand him towels or chasing him with blow dryers. They rushed him upstairs and Angela and I followed slowly.
Once in my room, Angela helped me peel off my soaked clothes and climb into a hot bath. The whole thing was a little excessive, if you ask me, but over all I felt much better once I was warm and dry.
“I think I may have screwed up royally, this time, Angela,” I said to my maid from where I was lying on my bed a while later. She didn’t answer, probably didn’t understand. “Leopold seemed really mad. I guess I did kind of screw things up. The party was for this guy I am supposed to meet, and Leopold didn’t get to say his speech. I think it’s hardly fair for him to be so upset though, I mean, it was an accident, and Antoine should get part of the blame, he was being creepy.” I sighed and pushed myself up from the bed. “I suppose I should go and apologize. It’s probably a better thing if we are on good terms tonight for the meeting considering all these old guys are coming just to talk about Leopold and I. Plus, I feel kind of bad for making him so upset.”
Everyone was still at the regatta though, and I wasn’t really sure how to find Leopold. I was allowed, right? I mean we were dating, plus I wanted to apologize. It just felt so strange to go seeking him out. Usually he just appeared. Where does one go looking for a prince, anyway? There were far too many rooms, so I figured I should just start with the most obvious.
I left the safety of my bed and ventured down the hall to the big, carved, black door at the very end. Hesitantly, I knocked. Rapid French responded. The good news was, it was Leopold, the bad news was that I had no idea what he said. “Ahh, it’s Fred,” I tried.
There was a pause. “Come in.”
I pushed through the door and into his bedroom. The doors were wide open, leading to a balcony over the gardens. Warm air fluttered into the room. My eyes landed on Leopold who was sitting on the balcony’s railing. He had a cigarette in the fingers of his left hand. Smiling, he took a long drag.
I crossed the room between us, indicating the cigarette pointedly, “That’s bad for you, you know?”
Leopold pursed his lips and then flicked what was left of the cigarette into the bushes below. Well, at least that explained the smell of smoke that seemed to always cling to him.
I stopped in front of him and Leopold lifted his hands, gently cradling my jaw. He placed the softest of kisses on my forehead. “Je te demande pardon,” he murmured.
I frowned slightly, “Why? I’m the one who fell in the river.”
“I shouldn’t have left you alone; I should have come over when Antoine approached you. I did not see, I am sorry.”
“Yeah, he was kind of...rude,” I decided choosing my words carefully.
Leopold’s hands slid from my face, tightening into fists, “What did he say to you?”
“Nothing important,” I assured him, not wanting to encourage Leopold’s anger. “I promise, I’m perfectly fine.”
“If you are certain,” Leopold said, holding my eyes, “you just scared me, Fred, which is a feeling I do not experience very often. Please don’t do it again.”
“I’ll do my best,” I told him.
My breath caught in my throat as he leaned forward, pressing his lips gently to mine. It surprised me for a moment but my hands found their way to his neck and he deepened the kiss.
There was a knock on the door, interrupting us. Leopold growled, resting our foreheads together, not moving away. “Qui est la?” he demanded running his lips across my jaw. I shivered.
“It is Michael, mon Seigneur, it is time for the meeting,” said the voice from the other side, Michael, apparently.
“J’arrive,” replied Leopold. “Merde,” he swore under his breath. “I’m sorry, but we have to go and speak with the Governors. I told my parent’s about our decision and there are certain steps that must be followed and concerns that must be addressed.”
“I think I can manage,” I told him, standing on my toes to kiss him once more. Leopold smiled, sliding off the railing, and leading me by the hand out of his room and through the halls.
We stopped somewhere in the center of the castle, in front of two giant wooden doors. Leopold put his hand on my cheek, gently lifting my chin so that our eyes met. His strange gaze was heavy as he examined my own. “I promise everything will be fine. I will be with you the entire time; they just need to make sure you understand a few things. I think it will be good, I was kind of wondering about a few things myself.”
“Couldn’t they just give me a brochure or text book or something?” I grumbled.
Leopold laughed and kissed the top of my head. “Come on.”
It was the conference room I had been taken to when I had first arrived in Solis. Once again, the long table was surrounded by old men who stood when Leopold and I entered. Felip was sitting at the head, glasses on as he read over some paperwork, but he smiled at us when he heard the commotion. “Leopold, Winifred, I am glad to see that you are safe and dry.”
Leopold lead me to a seat second to Felip’s right and held out my chair for me before sitting down between his father and I. Cups of coffee were placed in front of us by kitchen staff. I had no intention of drinking the coffee but poured some cream in it just to do something and not have to see all of the Governor’s curious faces.
“I have some news, gentlemen,” continued Felip, addressing the room now. “My son has notified me that he and Winifred Sinclair have decided to have a relationship with one another.” To my utter horror the entire room broke out into a round of applause. Felip raised his hand to quiet them.
“Yes, it is splendid news, but there are some matters that must be discussed surrounding this. Governor Jean Richard is joining us to assure that Winifred is treated fairly.” He pointed to a small, balding man in a green suit that was sitting next to him. The King shuffled through the pile in front of him, pulling out a file. They had a freaking file about this? “We need to make sure that we have all of our bases covered, that everyone understands the circumstances, and that we have a plan should the worst happen. Would anyone like to start?”
I balked. My relationship was being put into the hands of old men to debate over. If I ever got to be queen, this government was definitely going to have a defiant make over. I mean, could they really have nothing better to do then this? I felt like world hunger or the fact that their prince partakes in questionably legal activities may be of greater concern then Leopold’s and my relationship which, really, hasn’t happened yet. I don’t think the Governors shared my ideas though, because one of them stood and started to speak.
“First,” he said, making his handlebar moustache quiver, “I would like to congratulate the couple as well the Family DuMont. It is a great thing to see the DuMont and Sinclair families united once again after so long.”
Felip and Leopold nodded their thanks and the man continued. “What I am concerned about is the media and the press. We will have to lift the media ban and once the news gets out it will attract much attention, not only in our country by also globally. Are we ready to deal with this? Once the news is out that they are dating, all of the other information will be soon to follow. How much are we willing to tell?”
The man sat down and Felip quickly scrawled down a few notes in the file before the next Governor stood.
“We have not had to deal with a Royal Relationship like this before. These are modern times and since this is not a traditional arrangement or betrothal we will not have the same control over the matter. The couple will be free to split, if they so desire, but this will affect our outstanding laws on marriage and virtue.” My face turned scarlet on that last one.
“And what if they are to break up, or Winifred decides to return home,” said another man, throwing in his two cents. “Will this be permitted and will we have to provide measures to keep her safe afterward? Or perhaps she will need to be paid off for silence or be added to the DuMont payroll or would like to assume possession of the items her ancestors left for us.”
“Et il y a le problème avec son titre,” said a man in the corner. I had no idea what he said but it seemed ominous as everyone in the room fell silent.
I looked to Leopold for some indication of what was going on but he, like Felip, was busy taking notes. It was strange to see him taking this so seriously, good I suppose, just different from the Leopold I was used to.
“Alright,” said Felip, “thank you for your contributions. I have some suggestions that I would like to make to resolve these issues. Regarding the media, I agree that the ban will have to be lifted eventually and that security measures will have to be taken because of this. Leopold’s guard will remain with he and Winifred but arrangements for bigger events will be made.”
“I think, if we could postpone the ban for a while it would be best,” said Leopold, speaking for the first time.
Felip frowned, “what do you mean?”
“Well I am concerned that if we lift it suddenly that it will be too much to handle all at once, especially for Winifred who has never had to deal with the press before. I think it would be better if we released the limitations and information slowly so that there is time to adjust for everyone. Maybe we could just lift it for Solis first and then hold a press conference later for the rest of the world.” Leopold looked awkward as his words hung in the air, the Governors contemplating them.
“I think that that is a good idea. We could also control the information that way rather than having people wrongly informed or twisting the story.” He smiled at Leopold, “Would you like to continue?”
“In terms of the laws surrounding marriage and virtue, I believe that they are outdated and should be changed to suit the world today. This being said, I realize that it is impossible to do this overnight and will respect the old ways as much as possible and will come to you should any conflicts arise. I can personally say that I am well within the regulations set but, as Winifred was asked here and unaware of the entire situation, it would not be fair to expect the same or to put her through old traditions. As I have said though, I will keep you informed.” Leopold looked around the room seeming confident and calm but I saw though the faint blush to his cheeks and the way he was bouncing his leg. He was nervous. I figured I could at least help him out. I think I understood enough to get what they were hinting at.
Cautiously, I raised my hand, not really sure how to go about saying something.
“Yes, Winifred?” said Felip making all the attention fall onto me. I felt my cheeks heat up. Leopold looked at me slightly surprised and frowned in concern.
“I just wanted to say, if it helps, that I have never been in a relationship before,” I said.
The Governor’s began to murmur between themselves in French until Felip raised his hand, silencing them again. “Thank you, Winifred, that does help but,” he said, redirecting his attention to Leopold, “This means that we should continue to follow the traditions and laws, when appropriate, so that we do not have any problems that could have been avoidable.”
“As for the other matters,” said Felip, “Leopold and Winifred have only just begun and I think we should not think about a break up. We can have papers drawn up, should it happen, that both parties agree to. As we invited her here, I think we do owe Winifred some sort of compensation should the worst happen but nothing outrageous.”
Richard spoke then for the first time. “I would love to help you with those papers, Felip, as I am working with France right now to do much the same. As for her title, I am attempting to pull a few strings to avoid complications with the old arrangement and will notify you of any progress.”
“Much appreciated, Richard,” said Felip making a note. “Any other questions?”
“Is le Prince not returning to the army base soon?” said the man with the handlebar moustache.
“Oui,” confirmed Leopold, “a la fin de la semaine.”
I knocked over the bowl of sugar cubes in surprise and a maid rushed over to clean them up. I apologized profusely to the young girl. The date had just shocked me. I hadn’t realized that Leopold was going away so soon. What would I do without him? How could we be dating if he wasn’t even here?
“Will this not complicate things?” said moustache man.
“He will be returning as much as possible,” replied Felip with a tone of finality, shutting the file in front of him. “Do we all agree on the conclusions we have come to?”
The Governors all agreed.