“Fred!” Tess screamed, “It’s about time! You leave, just vanish without a trace, with these two huge dudes, claiming to be the princess of some strange ass, lost, ancient civilization, and that you are going to marry some hunky prince and then I don’t hear from you for weeks. I thought you were dead!”
“I know, I’m sorry,” I winced holding the phone away from my ear. “I meant to call but things have just been really busy. I don’t even have that long now. If it makes you feel better, I haven’t spoken to Alec either.”
“Then I am honored to be first,” my friend said, placated for now. “You know, I even tried to Google you and nothing! I thought the media would be all over this, American princess and all.”
“Illegal,” I sighed, pulling my legs up onto the couch in the living room. I needed to be comfy for this; it was going to take a while to reiterate everything that had happened. That’s part of what forced my hand to call, other than the guilt of being a bad friend, I needed to say it all out loud to process and wanted a second opinion from someone who wasn’t tangled up in this whole thing.
“What do you mean? Everyone can be Googled,” Tess stated all matter of fact.
“Nope, the Governors made it illegal to publish almost all information and press on the Royal Family when Hector started dating Rose.”
“Hector, aka Prince Henri, decided he wanted to renounce his claim on the throne so he could date a commoner, Rose. I am dating Leopold; he is the next heir and the one they need me to fulfill the accord with. So now I am in princess lessons, and dating a prince, and am going to be interviewed and photographed by the press for the first time today, and everyone is concerned about my virtue, and Leopold is leaving me!” I cried, everything coming out in a big rush. “And he smokes, and uses swords, and flies planes, and…”
“Is he hot?” interrupted Tess.
“You are missing the point,” I huffed, curling the phone line around my fingers.
“Answer the question, Fred,” Tess pressed, voice serious now.
“Well he is a prince, in the military and rides horses, so I think you can imagine.”
“So that’s a yes,” she said firmly. “And do you like him, has he done anything cruel or terrible?”
“No,” I frowned, “of course no, none of them have, they are perfect.”
“And….,” Tess urged.
“I like Leopold, I really do.”
“So then there is no problem. Take a deep breath, Fred. If you are happy you just need to sit back and let thing fall where they may. They are royalty for God sakes, do whatever they are telling you, I am sure they have it all figured out.”
“Anytime, babe. Now do you really have to go? I want an in depth description of everything you just said, and everything you missed, with breaths between sentences this time,” Tess said just as Leopold knocked and stuck his head through the door.
“Ya, sorry. I wasn’t supposed to call, I kind of snuck away from my maid and am now sitting here in a silk dress and pumps talking to you. Leopold actually just came to get me,” I explained, holding up my finger to Leopold.
“Hi Leopold!” Called Tess making me pull the phone from my ear again. Leopold looked at the phone, taken aback and slightly worried. I laughed.
“Okay, Fred, but call sooner next time or I will have to come over there and hunt you down. Just because you are queen now doesn’t mean you can forget the little people you came from.”
“Sure thing,” I rolled my eyes. “I will do my best. Bye.”
“See you,” Tess sang and then hung up.
I hung up too and stood, walking towards Leopold. He held the door open, then took my hand as we made our way though the halls.
“Sorry,” I told him. “that was one of my best friends, Tess.”
“She seems very enthusiastic,” Leopold replied, choosing his words carefully. His hand slid from mine as we came to the giant front doors.
“That she is,” I said as I followed him down the steps and, with a smile to M. Arsnault, into the back seat of the hearse and smoothed out the creases in the skirt of my pearly dress, “Where are we going exactly?”
“To the studio where we did our first interview et puis il y aura des photos.” (And then there will be photos.)
“With the press, right?” I checked.
“Oui, plus ou moins.” (Yes, more or less.)
“What do you mean ‘plus ou moins’? I don’t have to sign autographs or anything do I? I’ve never had to do that before, I don’t think I even have a signature.”
Leopold laughed, “Non, ma belle, just smile, say bonjour, shake hands if you like.” (Term of endearment=beautiful…hello.)
We pulled up to the back door of the studio and I felt my jaw drop open. There was a crowd of people, screaming and yelling and shaking signs at the hearse. A group of security guards filed out of the studio doors and began herding the people to either side, creating an aisle.
“Oh my god,” I managed, staring.
“Mmmhmm,” hummed Leopold, clucking his tongue disdainfully. “News travels fast. Rest proche a moi.” (Stay close to me.)
M. Arsnault opened the door and the shouts became deafening. Leopold played with his cufflinks and then pulled his glasses out of his breast pocket, putting them in place.
“Smile and wave, we need to get inside. The rest will come after.” With that he stepped out of the car. I slid down the seat and with a final shaky breath, took Leopold’s offered hand and followed. The camera flashes were blinding as we began to make our way forward. Leopold’s hand slid from mine, making me feel even smaller, as he took the lead. I followed, always a step behind, with the Royal guards flanking us. I tried to plaster what I hoped was a smile on my face, waving hesitantly at the group.
It was a relief when we made it into the studio and the doors shut the world out. My heart was still racing and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding. The peace didn’t last long though because suddenly the director was there.
“Bonjour, bonjour!” he cried kissing my knuckles. “It is such an honor to have you back on the show, Princess. And of course you as well, your Highness,” he added as a second thought looking hesitantly up at Leopold.
“Bonjour,” I said, trying to suppress a giggle as I repossessed my hand.
“I have heard that you will be making an announcement. Such an honor, such an honor! You will wait in the same room as your last visit. We will start very shortly,” the director announced as he marched off.
Leopold clucked his tongue again, making me slap his arm. “Oh be nice, he is just excited.”
“Il est impoli,” Leopold said. (He is rude.)
“You are just jealous because he likes me better,” I joked pushing through the door to our waiting room.
“Everyone likes you better,” stated Leopold with a smile, “and I don’t blame them. I like you better too.”
I rolled my eyes, “Well, I am pretty great.”
We were standing face to face, smiling at each other. I looked over his shoulder, making sure we were alone in the room, before reaching up and pulling off Leopold’s aviators.
“Ca va?” he murmured holding my eyes. (Are you okay?)
“Everything is fine,” I assured him, “just different.”
“They are going to ask lots of questions. They do not have all the information correct, and do not need to know everything. They know that we brought you here because of your ancestry and they know of the old accord but that is all. I just need you to prepare for after this. Assumptions will be made, and things may get out of hand.”
There was a knock on the door, interrupting him.
“Understood?” Leopold pressed, ignoring it.
He barked something out in French in the direction of the door and then, “Alright, let’s go.” He took the aviators and shoved them in his breast pocket.
Leopold swung the door open to find a very nervous looking stage manager on the other side. The stage manager’s eyes got big as he took us in and then quickly bowed low before scurrying away.
Leopold raised an eyebrow and looked to M. Arsnault who said, “You are supposed to follow. He is the five minute warning.”
We could hear the audience as we stood just off stage, still yelling as loud as they had been outside. I could feel my hands shaking as we waited in silence for our cue. Leopold must have sensed my nerves because I suddenly felt the back of his hand brush against mine. I looked up at him and he smiled crookedly, a mischievous sparkle in his eye, and then shrugged out of his jacket.
“You looked cold,” he said, handing it to me.
I giggled and took the jacket, pulling it on. Leopold quickly rolled the sleeves.
We were pushed out onto the stage after that, waving and smiling and the crowd rose to their feet. We made our way over to the couch that had been set out for us beside the host’s chair. We shook hands with Claudette and then sat.
“It is wonderful to have you back on the show Your Highness and Mademoiselle Winifred,” she smiled sweetly. “Have you adjusted to the Country, Mademoiselle?”
“Yes, I have seen a bit more since I was last here. It is very beautiful,” I told her.
Claudette smiled, “Your French has improved.”
“Yes, they have been teaching me many things,” I replied.
“What is you favorite thing so far?” she asked carefully, trying not to speak too quickly for me.
“I really like the Canette games. I have gone to watch Leopold play, and found it very interesting,” I responded, because it was interesting and because I was trying to divert the attention to him.
“Yes, congratulations, Sir,” Claudette acknowledged. “I hear your team has made it into the championship.”
“Thank you very much,” Leopold said briskly. Well so much for that plan.
Luckily Claudette was not deterred by his gruffness and kept going. “Rumors have been flying around like mad about the two of you, and then we received a special report this morning regarding the media ban and that you have a special announcement. Would you like to elaborate?”
“Yes, like you said, the decision was made to lift the media ban within Solis,” Leopold said. “I can not say much further about it now, for specific reasons, but there will be a press conference early next month to discuss things further.”
“But we are allowed to take pictures now, right? And will see you in the newspaper again?” Claudette asked before taking a sip of water from a bottle she had beside her.
The crowed cheered.
“And, now what about this announcement? Are some of the rumors true?” the host continued.
“That would depend on what they are,” Leopold said coyly. “Winifred and I have decided to make our way into fulfilling the accord, following the footsteps of our ancestors.”
The crowd let out a collective gasp and then began to cheer. Claudette allowed it for a few minutes and then stuck her hand up to quiet them.
“That is quite the announcement. So you are going to get married?”
“No, not yet. We are not even engaged,” Leopold said.
“Yes, I suppose you could call it that.”
“Well congratulations. We wish you all the best and a happier ending than your predecessors.”
After the interview, I returned his jacket before we were taken to a room filled with photographers. We were ushered over to stand in front of a large white canvas tarp hung in the middle of the room. Leopold and I stood awkwardly in front of it, smiling as they clicked away. I was seeing stars by the end of the five minutes and was very glad I just had to stand still. If there had been poses thrown into the mix, it may have been disastrous.
After that, security snuck us out the back through another human tunnel, and we returned to the safety of the fortified castle.
I didn’t see Leopold very much for the few days afterward. He was holed up in meetings with the governors that had been urgently rushed because of the media thing and because he was leaving. I stayed in my room, mostly, studying the verb packages with Mr. Arsnault. Sometimes Angela would bring me a newspaper or put me in front of a TV and make me read or watch myself in French for practice.
I was getting worried the night before he left that I wasn’t going to see him again before his departure. As I was getting ready for bed though, there was a light knock on the door. I told the person to enter, thinking it was going to be Angela having discovered some internet blog with me on it, but was pleasantly surprised when Leopold slipped into my room.
He looked around my bedroom for a moment, holding his finger to his lips. I shook my head, signalling that I was alone. Edwards body relaxed instantly and he crossed the room, collapsing onto the bed beside me. I looked him over, slightly concerned, as he lay there perfectly still, eyes closed.
Leopold was in his usual white shirt, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, and dark pants. His auburn hair was messier that usual and there were dark bruises under his eyes. I began to run my hand through the tangled locks, trying to make some sense of it.
“Don’t tell anyone I have been here,” Leopold said after a moment. “I am hiding.”
I repressed a laugh. “Are the meetings that bad?”
“I am excited to be going back to the base, just for a break.”
I did laugh that time.
“That feel so nice,” he hummed sleepily and then his lips fell in to a pout as my hands slid from his hair and down to his throat. I unbuttoned the colour of his shirt and undid his tie, dropping it off the side of the bed, then scooted down to the foot and pulled off his shoes. I crawled back up to the top, sitting against the head board and Leopold rearranged himself so that his head was in my lad.
“I miss wearing normal clothes. They are so much more comfortable,” he said.
“I agree with you there. Are you all packed?” I asked as my fingers subconsciously returned to his hair.
“Yes. I do not have to take much but it is all in my rucksack.”
“What time are you leaving?”
“Six in the morning,” he said grimacing.
“I will get up to see you off,” I told him.
“No, sleep. You do not have to do that,” Edwards eyes flicked open, almost glowing in the dark room. He took hold of the hand that was in his hair and kissed my wrist.
“I want to, really,” I insisted.
“Then, by all means, I will not stop you,” Leopold smiled as he propped himself up on his arm. He put his hand on on jaw, thumb caressing my cheek. He was very close now, his spicy smell making me dizzy.
“I am glad that you aren’t going to stop me, because I don’t how you really can, and, I mean, I really want to say goodbye because I will not see you for-“
“Fred,” Leopold said and then he kissed me.
He pulled away after a moment and stood, collecting his things from around the room. “I will see you at six,” he said and then left, leaving me sitting on the bed, breathless.
As it turns out, I was the only one that was there to see Leopold off in the morning. Whether the rest of his family was used to it, whether they were busy or just wanted to sleep in, I wasn’t sure. What I did know was, that if someone I was related to was going off to war camp, I would be saying goodbye.
So Leopold stood there, all geared up, as I clung to him in my polka doted pyjamas. M. Lefever, who was taking him to the base, had gone to get the car, leaving us alone in the foyer.
“Everything will be fine. I will be back in a few days, I promise,” Leopold assured, as he soothed my hair.
“I know,” I said pulling away.
Leopold kissed my forehead and then looked me up and down. “You may not want to come outside though. There are photographers at the gate.”
“Really? Wow, they are determined. Have fun, be safe,” I told him.
Leopold smiled and put his aviators on and then left, just gone. I stood there a moment longer, watching the door.
“Worried?” said a voice suddenly, making me jump. I turned quickly and found Governor Richard standing at the top of the stairs.
“Sorry,” I said, hand over my racing heart. “I didn’t realise you were there.”
The old man shrugged, “Quite the man, your prince. He will be fine you know, he practically grew up at the base.”
“It’s just this feeling I have, I dunno. I’m sure it will be okay.”
“I was actually hoping to talk to you, if that is okay, Princess,” Richard indicated over his shoulder, down the hall.
“Absolutely,” I said and climbed the stairs to meet him.
“You know, Princess, that I have been in communications for years with France?” Richard said, looping my arm through his.
“Oh, really?” I replied, trying to sound interested.
He nodded. “I wish to make Arcadis free again, independent from France, just as Solis has done. You see, we are related. A long, long time ago, my family was a part of your families court. Distant relatives, but my family has always remembered and dreamt of the old days. Now that you are here, I think this will be much easier. The Arcadians will remember their old kings and queens and soon long for the same things I do. You will add that extra push that we need.”
“Glad I can help,” I replied still unsure about where this was headed.
“The matter of your title will help as well. See, the accord states that the heirs of both countries should wed, but you do not have a title or a crown or a country. These are necessary to fulfill the conditions on the document. I am in discussion with France so that they will allow these things. It is in their best interest, after all, if they with to keep their allegiances with Solis. The thing is, Princess, that if my plan works, you will become the leader of the parliament of Arcadis.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. “You’re kidding.”
Richard laughed and shook his head, “No, it is true.”
“I can’t rule a country!” I practically yelled.
“Oh but you can. You will have my help as well as the help of the entire DuMont family. You would have been doing this with Leopold in the first place, should the two of you get married. You will be more of a figure head, really.”
“But I have had no training!” I stuttered.
Richard patted my hand and then began to lead me forward again. “Do not worry, Princess. These are all merely possibilities. My plan may not work at all. Then we would be, as the Americans put it, ‘screwed’.”
Richard took me through a pair of ornately carved wooden doors and into a room covered in paintings. There was a row of lavish benches running down the center.
“This is part of the castle open to the public. It is a gallery of the portraits of all of the Kings and Queens of Solis and those they were able to rescue from Arcadis. I wanted to show you one in particular.”
We stopped in the middle of the hall in font of a painting that was probably about six feet tall and framed in gold. There was a man in a blue and white military uniform, sword at his waist. He was handsome with square feature and dark hair. At first I thought that something was wrong with his eyes, until I realized that they were just they were painted different colors, the same colors as Leopold’s. He was standing beside a beautiful woman, in an emerald gown, with a giant sapphire pendant at her neck and one on her ring finger. Her skin was pale, eyes were dark and she had beautiful black waves. Like him, she had a sword at her waist.
“Who are they?” I asked, amazed.
These are King Leopold of Solis and Princess Winifred of Arcadis,” Richard replied.
“You’re kidding,” I balked.
“No,” Richard assured shaking his head. “This is why everyone is so amazed. You and Leopold are very similar to The Great King and Princess Winifred. You see, just like your Leopold, the King was a very dark and angry man. His country was in trouble, as France was planning to invade Arcadis, and he knew that Solis would be next. He was head of the army and was sent over to Arcadis by his brother, King Bellamy V, to make plans with King Charles. While Leopold was there, he and King Charles’s sister, Princess Winifred, fell in love. Winifred was a charming and beautiful young girl with lots of spirit. She was trained in the army along with her brother so she was there to assist with the plans. The problem was that King Charles had planned to marry Winifred to the King of France to prevent the invasion.
“To escape this fate, Winifred ran away with Leopold back to Solis. They were married in secret, the necklace a wedding gift from Leopold. When the King of France discovered this, he attacked Arcadis and vowed only to stop if Leopold and Winifred surrendered themselves. Leopold would not let Winifred go but she could not let her country be destroyed, so she snuck away. The King of France killed her at his feet and then continued on to Solis to hunt down Leopold. The invasion was halted though; Solis won the battle. Leopold mourned Winifred the rest of his life.”
“That is so sad,” I said, staring up at the painting.
“Sad but great. This is why Leopold is Leopold, it is the eyes. He will be King Leopold II if my plans are successful, and you Queen Winifred III. You already have him, Princess, just do not do anything to lose him.” Richard pulled a black velvet bag from his pocket and pressed it into my hand. “Keep his heart safe, Princess,” Richard said as left me standing alone in the room.
I fell back onto one of the benches and pulled my polka dotted knees up to my chest, my mind running over everything he had said. Carefully, I undid the tassel of the bag and shook the contents into my hand. A giant, tear shaped sapphire fell into my palm, a silver chain running after it.