Story: Royal Pains

    Episode 1

    The room was unbearably hot. Thick black curtains lined the walls and hid the windows; the doors to the room were clicked shut tightly. A fire simmered quietly in the corner.

    The woman in the bed groaned, her chest heaving as she twisted. She was naked from the waist down; beads of sweat gathered on her forehead and chest. Her thick, black hair was soaking with perspiration as she writhed in pain.
    “Your Majesty…”
    “Your Grace…”
    A lone woman hovered above her, wiping her forehead with cool clothes, whispering words of encouragement to her. The woman was the Queen’s best friend; they had been together since childhood. Upon her marriage, the Queen had brought Rebecca with her, to be her companion and Lady-in-waiting. She was the only woman the Queen would trust in the birth room, besides the mid-wife.

    The midwife was crouched beneath her thighs, muttering encouraging words. “Almost there, Your Grace, he’s almost here!” The Queen’s blue eyes were shut tight, turned away, her young body twisting and writhing in pain.

    The smooth skin of her face was contorted in pain as she screamed and screamed. It was turning out to be a difficult birth, unusual for one so young. But then again, it was her first time carrying a babe full term. She had miscarried her other pregnancies, all six of them.

    “Please God it’s a son,” the Queen thought desperately. “Please, God.”

    Outside the room, several of the ladies-in-waiting were gathered. The King had yet to be told his wife had finally gone into labor, as he was out hunting and could not be found. Several of the women clutched rosary beads in their hands, their heads bowed, praying for the safe delivery of Dokar’s next Prince, and its Queen.

    And a Prince it had better be. The King had openly threatened the Queen that if this child did not live, he would have no choice but to divorce her for a more fertile bride. No man in Dokar could blame him; he had to have an heir.

    Dead babies were not going to cut it. Nor would a girl-child, a Princess. A girl to him was as good as dead, he had declared, publicly at a banquet one night, as he passed the Queen a plate of fried sheep lungs, thought to ensure the child in the womb was a son. His black eyes, normally so friendly and open, were filled with hateful determination and spite.

    She was young, and beautiful. Jet black hair and dark blue eyes; smooth, white skin. Slim, but with child-bearing hips and generous curves. Perfect, really, for a Queen.

    And yet, and yet… she was twenty-four. She had been pregnant six times previously, married since she was fifteen. And not once had she been able to carry the babe to full term. Not once.

    This was her last chance. If the King divorced her, she would have to step aside graciously and go to a nunnery. A nunnery!

    She groaned, aloud, fire spreading through her stomach up her body. “Let this be over soon,” she prayed aloud, her voice dripping with fear and desperation. “Please, God, it’s a boy.”

    Down the hall, another similar scene was taking place. One of the Queen’s serving maid was also in the midst of giving birth.

    Her husband, his hands wrapped tightly around hers, whispered sweet words of encouragement to her. “My love, it’s almost over,” he murmured, leaning down and kissing her forehead.

    They were both young, only nineteen, but they had been married for over a year. Both worked at court; she as a maid to the Queen and he in the kitchens. They made good money and the court always provided them with food and a home; it wasn’t the perfect time for them to be extending their family, but it wasn’t a bad time, either.

    Justin was making enough money that Lucy could retire to her parent’s farm to raise the child, while Justin worked here at the court. He had never been a father before. And if it made their lives a little more difficult, then so what? This unexpected child was a blessing as all children were blessings.

    Of course, the Queen had gotten pregnant at the same time as Lucy seemed an omen of extraordinary luck, and they already decided if they had a girl, they would name her Natalie, after the Queen. If they had a boy, however,

    Justin wouldn’t mind naming him after his father; Richard. Boy or girl, it didn’t matter really.

    Lucy, bit down hard on her lip, as she writhed on the bed. She was trying not to scream, but it was so hard. She had never been pregnant before, never had a child and while everyone told her it would be painful, no one had told her how much.

    Her husband lovingly stroked her hair and forehead; Lucy wanted to punch him in his face. She raised her brown eyes to his. “Stop touching me!” she hissed violently and he shrank back. “Sorry,” he murmured immediately, taking a step back away from the bed. The midwife hid a smile.

    “Okay, sweating, here we go, this is the hard part now – we’re almost at the end”

    Episode 2

    By Elton Nana Amoah

    “Stop touching me!” she hissed violently and he shrank back. “Sorry,” he murmured immediately, taking a step back from the bed. The midwife hid a smile.

    “Okay, sweating, here we go, this is the hard part now – we’re almost at the end”

    Lucy’s panting and heaving intensified; she couldn’t help it, she cried out in pain. “I see the head,” the midwife encouraged “Just one last push, love”

    With an animalistic scream, Lucy’s body writhed and heaved and the midwife shouted in glee. “It’s a boy,” Justin’s heart stopped as he heard the cry of a babe. “A beautiful boy!”
    She held the babe up for Lucy to see; Lucy had fallen back on the pillows, exhausted. “A boy,” she thought dreamily, just before she fainted, her body deliriously exhausted. “A boy.”

    Back in the Queen’s labor room…
    “Just one last push, Your Majesty – I can see the head!”

    Natalie screamed outright, arms straining on the ropes, the bed sheets soaked in blood.

    Outside the room, the women looked up with a start. Many of them had their own children, had suffered through their own child birthing experiences, could recognize that scream. It was near the end now.

    “Mother of God, take pity on me” Natalie chanted, praying as the fire inside her intensified. “Mother of God”

    “It’s a girl!” the midwife exclaimed, breaking into the Queen’s prayers, as the baby slid into her arms, wailing. “A gorgeous little girl!”

    There was an extended of moment of dead silence; Natalie could hear her heartbeat roaring in her ears, her breathing labored and exhausted. The Rebecca silently raised a hand to her mouth, stunned.

    The midwife forced a cheerless smile on her face. Outside the door, Natalie could hear the muffled sounds of the ladies-in-waiting anxiously trying to keep themselves busy. Someone outside was singing. Inside the room, no one spoke. Natalie’s dead, blue eyes latched onto the midwife’s face. Silence.

    “A girl?” Natalie asked, her voice a horrified whisper, sure she must have heard wrong. Her body was shivering and shaking with exhaustion; she fell back against the cushions, her eyes shut tight. “You must be wrong.”

    She glanced at her friend, Rebecca, who looked equally horrified. A girl?

    The midwife shook her head, determinedly cheerful. “A healthy baby girl, Your Majesty.”

    She held the child up, still covered in blood, trying to inject cheer into her voice. “See?”

    Natalie thought she would faint. A girl. After everything, after nine-months of praying and eating nothing but asparagus, God had cursed her with a useless girl. The midwife held the babe out the Queen, tried to put her in her mother’s arms.

    “That girl is my death sentence,” the Queen hissed at the midwife, inching back away from the child. The child cried, loudly, and the midwife held the child closer to her body, ignoring the Queen. She began to clean the girl off, counting fingers and toes. Ten of each, two arms, two legs. Two eyes, she had yet to open. A perfect, beautiful little child. Perfect. Except she was a girl. The midwife’s hands were shaking.

    The Queen looked up at her longtime friend, desperation and fear written on her face. Her eyes were moist and sparkling with barely held back tears. All her dreams, all her hopes had come crashing down with the cry of that damned little girl. “Oh, Rebecca. A girl. What am I going to do?”

    Rebecca was older then Natalie and less idealistic. She had thought for a moment; they had one last option.

    Throughout the long months of Natalie’s pregnancy, when her and her friend would stare blankly at each other when the possibility of a girl was brought up, she had thought up a plan. It was not moral, and it may not even work. But she owed it to Natalie to try.
    She laid Natalie back down against the sheets, stroked her damp forehead.

    “Dearest Queen, I will fix this for you. But you must tell the midwife to announce to the King that the child is alive, and a boy. A Prince, for Dokar kingdom. Immediately.” She kept her voice slow, and even; the midwife glanced over at their whispering, and Rebecca lowered her voice even more.

    “Announce it to the noblewomen outside. Tell them, tell the King, no one is to enter yet for the midwife fears disease. Hopefully, I shall be back in quarter of an hour with the Prince.”
    Natalie glanced up at her, her young face smooth and innocently confused.

    “But…Rebecca…there is no Prince.”

    Rebecca smiled at her. “Not yet, your Grace. But I shall find you one.”

    Episode 3

    Natalie glanced up at her, her young face smooth and innocently confused.

    “But…Rebecca…there is no Prince.”

    Rebecca smiled at her. “Not yet, your Grace. But I shall find you one.”

    Rebecca swept from the Queen’s chambers, walking into the tiny, and candlelit corridor. Her heart was racing. She exited through the servant’s door, bypassing the hordes of people who had begun to gather outside the Queen’s bedchamber.

    The news of a live baby had begun to leak out not through anyone’s words, but through the shrill cries of the tiny child. Even as she discreetly swept from the room, Rebecca could hear the cry of the baby and knew it must have reached the ears of the Queen’s ladies. The soft beat of her slippers against the stone floor echoed in her ears as she hurried down the hallway.

    She left the corridor and reentered the main hallway of the palace; the bright light from the large, floor to ceiling windows hit her eyes and she winced. The birthing chamber was dark and quiet; it took her senses a moment to adjust to the loud, bright area of the palace.

    She ducked her head down, as she quickly walked past the open doors that led to the Queen’s receiving room; men and women were running past her, laughing and shouting, pushing her aside to get into the chamber, bottles of celebratory wine in their hand. The King, it seemed, had yet to arrive, but the rest of the palace knew of the birth and was prepared to celebrate.

    Rebecca and Natalie had been through a lot together. Rebecca’s mother and Natalie’s mother had been best of friends, despite their difference in stations. Natalie was the daughter of one of the noblest families in Dokar kingdom, who had their own claim of the throne; Rebecca’s family was noble, but nowhere near as important. Despite their differences, the two young girls, a few years apart in age, had become fast friends; as they grew, their friendship only deepened.

    Together, they had weathered their respective marriages, Natalie’s far more prestigious than Rebecca’s of course; Natalie’s miscarriages; the death of Rebecca’s husband. Much as Rebecca knew what she was about to do was wrong, horribly wrong, she knew Natalie would have done it for her. And what else could be done, really?

    Her heart was racing. She flew down the stairs, her pretty feet barely touching the steps. People were rushing past her towards the dining hall, readying the feast. She was the only one who was hurrying downstairs. She raced around the corridor.

    On her way, she met a young page, carrying a large jug of wine, who was walking merrily down the hallway; he was whistling, his mind preoccupied. He was wearing the red and gold livery of the King. His eyes landed on Rebecca; she held her breath. If he addressed her as Rebecca, if he knew who she was, there was no way she could continue with her plan.

    “Good day, Maame, is there anything I can help you with?”
    She exhaled slowly; “Yes, actually. I am looking for a midwife; I heard Justin had employed one.”

    The boy nodded. “Ah, yes, Maame. Justin’s quarters are just at the end of the hall.”
    She nodded a thanks and then hurried past him, the train of her gown sweeping around her ankles. She went to the door he indicated, and knocked just once.

    The scene that greeted her when she opened the door almost made her lose her resolve.

    The slash of light coming in from the small, open window highlighted the family in an almost heavenly glow. Lucy had her new baby wrapped tightly in her arms, and was cooing gently at him. Justin stood over them, beaming proudly.

    The small midwife was standing just behind the family; when she saw Rebecca, she raised her eyebrows and nodded. Rebecca breathed a sigh of relief.

    “It is a boy, then?”

    “Can I help you with something, Rebecca?”

    Lucy didn’t even glance up. She only had eyes for her baby, her brand new baby..
    Rebecca took a step into the room. She closed the door behind her; the lock clicked shut.

    “We have things to be discussed.”

    Justin blinked and shook his head slightly. He could not be hearing what he thought he was hearing. His eyes focused on the midwife, who was crossing the room. The old woman exchanged a quick word with Rebecca, and then Justin saw a flash of gold and the clink of coins and realized that for some reason, Rebecca had just paid his midwife. But why?

    “I’m sorry,” Justin began, taking a few steps so he stood between the midwife and Rebecca and his wife and child.

    “I don’t understand what is going on here.”

    Lucy finally glanced up, held the boy closer to her chest.

    Rebecca took a deep breath; at her side. This was going to be harder than she thought. “I’m sure you know the Queen is also expecting a child?”

    Episode 4

    Rebecca took a deep breath; at her side. This was going to be harder then she thought.

    “I’m sure you know the Queen is also expecting a child?”

    The couple nodded instantly. “Yes. Has something go wrong? Can we be of help?”
    Rebecca hesitated. “Well…actually, you can.”

    A few minutes later, Rebecca had finally finished explaining to them what she needed.
    There was dead silence. Lucy was holding the baby so tightly to her chest that Rebecca was beginning to worry that the woman would murder the Crown Prince before the King had a chance to see him.

    “Rebecca, I mean no disrespect – but are you out of your bloody mind?!”

    Rebecca seemed to be running out of time as her heart beat quickened. She turned to face the couple and said “Please. I beg of you. Take the Queen’s baby girl and raise her as your own. She’s a beautiful child, she will be a beautiful girl”

    “Then why does the Queen not want her?” Lucy asked, the first time she had spoken since the weird conversation begun.

    “If the King finds out the Queen has had a girl, he will divorce her. A nunnery is the best option; she might even be exiled. Exiled! Queen Natalie!”

    Lucy shook her head. “Please, Maame. I understand and I’m sorry for the Queen. But this is my son, this is my boy. I can’t just trade him in.”

    “You can still see him! You can name him even.”

    Rebecca fell to her knees. Her fingers twitched; she unconsciously leaned toward the baby.

    “Think of how selfish you are being. Think of what the Queen could give him. A life as a Prince. He will be King of Dokar Kingdom.

    Your boy, a King. You would be mother to the Prince. It would have to be a secret, of course, but think of the life we could give him. Education, wealth…a kingdom. You are holding him back. Think of the opportunity I am offering you!”

    “But he’s not a Prince, he’s my boy…”

    “You can make him a Prince,” Rebecca said persuasively. “Make him a King, Lucy.” She reached out and rested her hand on top of Justin’s, looking up at him.

    “There will be rewards in it for you. I know your history”

    “How?” Justin interrupted. “How did you even know my wife was pregnant?”

    “I have paid off every midwife within sixteen miles,” Rebecca answered immediately. “If they heard the Queen went into labor and any of their patients were in labor or just had recently given birth to a boy, they were to get as close to the palace as possible. I didn’t know you were having a boy; how could I? But you did. You had a boy. And this boy, this boy could be King. I know your history because I have made it my business to know.”

    “I am leaving here with the boy, whether you allow me to take him or not. I will give you the Queen’s girl as reparation for giving us your son.

    “I will give you a farm of your own, a good farm, with horses and livestock. I will give you money, jewels and clothes. Give him to me and I will make him King and I will make you rich. You will still have a child, you will have a daughter, a beautiful daughter, daughter of our beautiful Queen. She will entrust you to keep her safe and raise her well. Give him to me and I will do all of this for you.”

    She hesitated; Justin’s eyes were wide at the mention of a farm and riches, and she knew she had him.

    “Give him to me and I will make him a King, the greatest King that ever lived. King of Dokar. And you can visit him and talk to him and you will be given the best of everything. He will be married to a Princess, and their children will be Kings and Queens and you will be the makers of a great dynasty.

    “I will give you a princess to raise, you will still have a child. Give him to me and I will make you rich. I will give you a fifty acre farm and thousands of crowns. Gold and jewels beyond your wildest imagination.

    “You will have the thanks and favor of the Queen and of me, and that is no light thing. Give him to me and all of this is yours. If you want me to force you to surrender him as you know I can well do.

    “You will be thrown in the dungeons and we will take your son anyway; and for as long as your son lives, lives as a Prince of this kingdom, you will never again see the light of day. I’m sorry I must put this before you. I’m sorry it has to be this way. But it must. I’m sorry, but it must.”

    Justin and Lucy looked at each other; he reached out and took her trembling hand.

    “He is to be named Frederick Duncan,” Justin said in a trembling voice. “Frederick Duncan. After my father.”

    Rebecca breathed a sigh of relief she hadn’t known she’d been holding. Natalie would be okay.

    Lucy was crying; tears were dripping onto baby Duncan’s little face and he too began to cry.

    Rebecca held out her arms; “I’ll take him now.”

    “Lucy, I’ll take the boy now. The midwife will bring down the girl in a few minutes.”

    As Lucy placed the baby in Rebecca’s arms, she turn and fell into her husband’s.

    “It’ll be okay,” he whispered. “It’ll be alright.”

    Rebecca turned to leave the family alone when Justin’s voice stopped her.

    “Is there any name… any name the Queen especially wants for her daughter?”

    Rebecca paused, after a moment, she shook her head. “No, whatever you like. Whatever pleases you. I’m sure the Queen doesn’t care.” She shrugged again.

    “After all, she’s only a girl.”

    Episode 5

    Rebecca paused, after a moment, she shook her head. “No, whatever you like. Whatever pleases you. I’m sure the Queen doesn’t care.” She shrugged again. “After all, she’s only a girl.”

    King Richard was a grown man. He had been undisputed King of Dokar for a little over a decade.

    But on that day, as King Richard bundled up the steps of his palaces, the king had never looked more like a little boy.

    He stepped into the Queen’s rooms hoping that finally there was some good news from the Queen’s womb.

    The King took a few steps into the room and saw Rebecca who stepped out, shutting the door behind her.

    The King, who normally could not stand Rebecca, for reasons he did not care to examine, smiled at her. Rebecca could not help but smile back at him.

    The King took a step closer to his wife; Natalie. They had a child; a live son, and who cared if it was his, biologically or not?

    “Well?” “Is it a boy, my dear? Is it the Prince?”

    “You have a son,” she said, and King Richard fell to his knees.

    “Oh, thank God,” he whispered as he kissed the rosary beads he held in his hand. “Oh, thank God.”

    Natalie also silently thank Justin and Lucy for giving her their son.

    The King then gave orders that a feast should be made ready.” Let all people of Dokar share in our joy. A Prince was born.”

    King Richard felt ashamed as Natalie spoke out “I have done it. You threatened me and embarrassed me, but I have done it. I have given you a Prince.”

    This King, who had known nothing but absolute power from the time he was sixteen, had never had to apologize to anyone. He had never been wrong in his life. He was the King, he was infallible.

    “Oh, Natalie,” he said now,” If you refuse to be made straight when you are green, you will not be made straight when you are dry, I’m so sorry.”

    They had started off so promisingly, this young couple. Though they married at the advice of Richard’s father, who had been king then, so Natalie’s family would give up their claim to Dokar’s throne, the two had fallen in love. Richard was only a year older than her

    Through the first three miscarriages, Richard had been supportive. He had understood, he had nurtured her and cherished her and told her it was God’s will, that God would surely bless them with a son. He had to.

    And yet, when she continued to miscarry, Richard began to lose patience. He took a mistress, several mistresses, even attempting to sleep with Rebecca. Rebecca was perhaps the only woman in the world who the King would allow to say no to him, but it had been awkward between them since that day.

    And then, when she finally got pregnant again, there were no words of love, or devotion. Not even a kiss. Threats. Public embarrassments. Her family had been so ashamed. Her husband hadn’t kissed her since the day she felt the baby quicken in her stomach.

    But now, lying on the bed of Dokar with a child who wasn’t hers, Natalie could almost see the Richard she had fallen in love with.

    “I’m so sorry, Natalie. My love, my Queen. I’m so sorry.”

    Natalie could not stop crying. Thank you God, she just kept thinking. Thank you God, for this boy.

    She then thought of what would have happened if the King had been told she had given birth to a girl. Would he even want to see the child? Would she even ever see him again?

    “My lord, would you like to meet your son?” She said holding the baby out to him.

    “Hello, little Richard,” the King said.

    “He is to be Frederick Duncan, Your Grace. Frederick Duncan, Prince of Dokar.”

    The Queen did not even ask him what he wanted to name the child.

    But the King was so ashamed, and so grateful, that he just nodded. “Alright, my love. Frederick Duncan, he will be.”

    “Thank you, Natalie,” he whispered heartily.

    Thank you, Lucy, she thought silently.

    Downstairs, down the hall, the midwife entered Justin’s room, the infant girl under her arm.

    The old woman was slightly ashamed for her role in the scandal. But she had been well paid, and it wasn’t as if Lucy hadn’t received excellent medical care.

    “Here she is, sir,” the midwife said, after closing the door carefully behind her. “Here is the girl.”

    Justin remained sitting on the bed, but held out his arms. The midwife gently settled the Princess into his arms.

    “Now, go,” Justin said, his voice cold. “And just know that if I ever see you again, I will not hesitate to kill you.”

    Despite himself, he felt his heart melt. This poor girl, poor little princess. Wanted by no one, denied by her mother and a secret from her father. A plague upon her family.

    “Look at her, Lucy,” he whispered. “She’s beautiful.”

    “My son was beautiful,” Lucy snapped.

    “And so is your daughter,” he said steadily.

    “Oh, Lord, Justin,” she whispered. “What have we gotten ourselves into?”

    Outside the doors, he could hear the beginnings of the feast for the birth of his son. “Hurray!” someone was shouting. “Hurray for Prince Duncan!”

    Episode 6

    Outside the doors, he could hear the beginnings of the feast for the birth of his son. “Hurray!” someone was shouting. “Hurray for Prince Duncan!”

    …Five Years Later…
    In the tradition of Dokar royalty, as soon as the crown prince is a few years old, he has to be sent to live on his own, with his tutors and playmates. The King and Queen made frequent visits, and both were delighted with the boy.

    No amount of jewels or clothes or even kisses would make this Queen pregnant again. She was thirty-nine now, and soon her childbearing years would be over. And the hopes of the kingdom would rest on one little boy, a little boy who wasn’t even hers.

    Duncan beamed up at his mother, and went to throw himself in her open arms.” I have missed you, Duncan dear.”

    “I have missed you too, mother,” he replied obediently.

    “Is everything alright, Duncan? You seem very quiet.”

    “Mother…what’s a changeling?”

    There was a dead, extended silence as the full force of the words hit her in the stomach.

    “Duncan,” she said seriously. “Why do you ask me that?”

    “Somebody said it and I didn’t know what it was. I asked my tutor but he told me to forget it, that it was nonsense.”

    “Why did somebody say it, Duncan?” Natalie persisted. “Who said it? And to who?”

    “I don’t remember, mother. Someone said it to me.”

    “Mother!” Duncan exclaimed, seeing her pale and her eyes widen. “What is it? What has distressed you so?”

    “A changeling is when one baby is swapped for another, dearest. It is a terrible sin, terrible. I don’t want you ever mentioning it. Understand?”

    “But mother, why did it upset …”

    “Duncan, that’s enough,” she said, sharply. “It is just a terrible thing and I hate that someone said it to you. I hate it. It is an insult to me, which is nothing. But it is an insult to you, and it is an insult to your father, who will be sorely displeased should he ever catch wind of it. Do you understand?”

    “I didn’t realize it was an insult, mother. I’m sorry, truly.”

    “Forget it, my dear.”

    “Yes, mother,” Duncan replied meekly. But the idea was in his head, and he would not forget it, or the violent reaction it inspired in his mother.

    Justin was now a very wealthy man, and a very busy one. He had about a dozen boys working underneath him now.

    Justin was fast becoming very rich and his original twelve acres had become thirty.
    “Papa! Papa!” the little girl squealed delightedly, and Justin beamed, scooping up the tiny girl into his arms.

    “Hello there, my princess,” he said, tucking his arm under her so he cradled her in his embrace. “How was your day?”

    “Good, did you miss me?”

    “Yes, I did. And I wanted to come and see you and the boys but Mommy said I had to stay and help her feed the goats. We fed them, too.”

    “And I’m sure they appreciated it,” Justin said with a smile, as he headed toward the kitchen.

    Justin laughed with her, carefully examining the little girl in his arms for a moment, Elsie was the spitting image of her mother, her real mother, the Queen.

    He still couldn’t imagine why the Queen hadn’t wanted her. Who couldn’t help but love his little princess?

    Episode 7

    Elsie was the spitting image of her mother, her real mother, the Queen.

    He still couldn’t imagine why the Queen hadn’t wanted her. Who couldn’t help but love his little princess?
    And yet, every time he looked at her, Justin also couldn’t help but wonder if the little Prince Duncan looked like him. He hoped to God that he did.

    Lucy looked up at him from her place at the stove, giving him the special smile she reserved just for him.

    The big curve of her pregnant stomach protruded out from her simple dress, and Justin tenderly rested his hand atop it. “Hello, wife,” he said with a charming smile. “Hello, baby,” he said to her belly.

    Nixon had been chasing after Elsie for years, ever since she turned fifteen and suddenly had breasts and hips. She was still the friend he would always love, but now he loved different parts of her, if you know what he means and I think you do.

    “Come on,” Nixon shouted now, continuing their conversation. “We could run away to Roshen kingdom, I hear it’s a nice place.

    “My father would shoot you!’ said Elsie.

    “I’m supposed to be checking on the sheep, Nixon Reuben,” Elsie said.

    “Elsie, you must stop teasing me. If you’re going to smile pretty at me like that, at least come and give me a kiss.”

    Another wave of laughter from Elsie. “Why, Mr. Reuben I am a young lady. I don’t even know what a kiss is!”

    “Don’t even know what a kiss is? Why, Elsie, no man in his right mind would take a woman who doesn’t even know what a kiss is!

    Knowledge is like a garden; if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested. Perhaps I should show you what a kiss is,” Nixon continued, his voice getting lower and deeper and his face moving closer.

    “Can I kiss you now?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but gently bent his head to hers. His lips softly brushed against hers and she hesitated as his tongue slowly slid in her mouth, gently coaxing her mouth open, encouraging her to do the same.

    Suddenly, they broke apart; bells were ringing, loud, violently, filling the air.

    “What’s going?” she asked as the pair hurry to their feet. They heard cheering coming on from the center of town. “Long live the King!” someone nearby shouted and Elsie and Nixon looked at each other.

    “Has the King died?” Nixon asked. Elsie looked blankly at Nixon, annoyed only that the King interrupted their kiss…

    King Richard has passed on last night and the message has ran throughout the kingdom. Prince Duncan will be crowned king within the next few hours.

    Today was the day Prince Duncan became king of Dokar after the death of his father King Richard. People in the town square threw their hats up in sorrow as they mourned the dead king and at the same time hailed the new boy King!

    Justin had known from the moment he had heard the news that he would attend the coronation. He could go to see his son crowned King of Dokar.

    According to the customs and traditions of Dokar kingdom, should a king die whilst in reign either by sickness or in battle, a new king is enthroned within the next twenty four hours.

    Justin intended to go alone, by himself. He did not want any of the children to go with him; he wanted to keep them as far away from the palace as possible. But Elsie wanted to go.

    Elsie, of all the children, was the only one who wanted to go. Of course.

    How could he tell her, his little princess, no? He never said no to her about anything. And now, this? The greatest celebration in Dokar in fifty years, and he was to refuse her? Knowing truly who she was, and should rightfully be?

    Episode 8

    The greatest celebration in Dokar in fifty years, and he was to refuse her? Knowing truly who she was, and should rightfully be?

    Justin could never tell her no. They could hear the roar of the crowd as the King’s procession came down the streets. Justin could just see the King’s white horse, coming their way.

    Flag bearers, carrying colorful pieces of cloth and dancing in the streets soon appeared.
    And then he was riding past them, tall atop his proud white horse, his eyes shining. The boy King had his hat tiled merrily to the side.

    He looks like a King, Justin thought. But he still looks like me.The familiarity was there.

    The King was moving on, and behind him, on a black horse, rode the Queen. She too was smiling, but time had not been as sweet to her as she has lost her husband the king.

    The Queen was smiling and waving to the crowd; but she had grown so thin that one of the rings on her fingers slid off, tossed into the crowd. “Oh!”. She glanced down at her fingers, flexing them, checking to see which ring was lost.

    Elsie, who had been staring so intently at the Queen, had seen the ring arch and drop into the crowd right near her. She dropped to the floor, crouching on her knees. Through the legs and pants of the people, she could see the horse’s black legs as the Queen rode past.

    “Elsie!” Justin hissed. “What in the blazes do you think you’re doing?”

    “I saw her ring drop!” She called back. “I have to get it for her!”

    “Elsie, leave it you’ll never find it!” her brother Caleb called.

    “Very good, Elsie. That’ll make a lovely ring to wear on your wedding day.”

    “But Papa, I can’t keep this. I have to bring it back to the Queen. Did you see her expression when she lost it?”

    “No. Absolutely not, Elsie.” Said Justin. “Why not?” Elsie asked

    “Because I said so, Elsie. Don’t make me reprimand you here.”

    “Why not?” she asked again. “They’ll be having the coronation feast, that’s another thing, how are we to get in?

    There are guards for sure and tons of people like us who want to see the Queen” Justin said.

    “Oh, but Papa, you used to work at the palace. Surely one of your friends might still be working there, and let us in?”

    “On two conditions,” Justin said, “One, I give the ring back to the Queen. I will tell her my daughter found it, but I shall give it to her myself. Understand?”

    “But why?” Elsie said.

    “Either I give it to her or we don’t go.”

    Elsie hesitated, but finally shrugged. “As you wish, father.”

    “What’s the second, condition, Father?’ John asked,

    “No one tells your mother.” he said.

    They all set to the palace in the next few hours.

    On their way to the palace, her father asked her, “We don’t need to return the ring to her, Elsie because the ring is rightfully yours.”

    Elsie shook her head. “No, Papa. I really feel I must give it back. It would be too wrong to keep it, I can’t.”

    Within a few minutes of walking through the gardens, they arrived at a small, discreet door. Justin knocked twice.

    The man who opened the door stared blankly at Justin. He addressed Justin. “Can I help you, sir?’

    Justin paused, a small smile on his lips. “Don’t you remember me, Caleb?” Caleb’s eyes narrowed further and his brow creased.

    “Holy Ghost,” Caleb said with a smile. “It’s Justin!”

    Justin let out a laugh and the two men shook hands, Caleb rambling about what a long time it had been and how good it was too see him.

    “These your kids?” he asked. Justin nodded, putting a hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “Yep. This here is Caleb, my son, and this is Elsie, my daughter.”

    “Pleased to meet you, but what are you doing here?” Caleb asked.

    Justin sighed. “We’re here to see the Queen.”

    “And you think the Queen will see the likes of you?”Justin frowned grimly. “Trust me. She will.”

    Caleb showed Justin and his children up to the banquet halls, where the court was feasting.

    Caleb waved to several guards as they passed and no one stopped the odd looking trio that accompanied him.

    Justin approached the Queen on a bent knee, having made his way past the guards. The Queen smiled graciously at him, extending her hand for him to kiss

    “Justin,” the Queen said, “I shouldn’t have expected to see you here on this day.”

    “I wouldn’t have been here if it was my choice, Your Majesty. A long silence passed where they regarded each other, knowing exactly what the other was thinking.

    Natalie knew Justin was thinking of the sins she had committed. “Well?” The Queen said, breaking the silence. “Why are you here then? After all these years, is there something you wish to tell me?”

    The simple farmer having such an intimate discussion with the Queen was beginning to draw looks. Several people noted that.

    “My daughter found it.” Justin said, forcing himself to speak. “She insisted we return it to you.”
    “Your daughter?” The Queen repeated, her hands were shaking. “Y-your…firstborn ?”

    Episode 9

    “My daughter found it.” Justin said, forcing himself to speak. “She insisted we return it to you.”

    “Your daughter?” The Queen repeated, her hands were shaking. “Y-your…firstborn ?”

    The Queen put a hand to her heart and closed her eyes; “Is she here?”

    Justin nodded, silently. “Can I see her, Justin?”With all due respect, Your Majesty,” he hissed, “You did not have such curiosity as to her future when you and I last lived under the same roof.

    Then you did not wonder what would happen to her. Then you did not ‘endlessly’ worry over her future. For Gods’ sake, you didn’t even care what we named her!”

    From her corner, Elsie took an alarmed step forward. Was her father yelling at the Queen of Dokar?! They were too far away to hear the whispers, heated words but the expression on the Queen’s face and on her father’s, but it was a clear declaration that the meeting was not going smoothly. John exchanged a glance with his sister. “What in the name of God are they talking about?”

    “What choice did you think I had? I did what I had to ensure my own survival and to ensure Dokar’s survival! I was young and stupid and I admit that it was sinful and thoughtless and when the time comes, I will face God with it and I will stand his judgment. But I am Queen of Dokar, sir, and I will take no judgment from you.” Her voice was low and severe.

    Several of the bystanders tried to take a step closer to hear what they were conversing about, but they were blocked by the Guards. “You, as a man,” she continued darkly, “cannot imagine the helplessness, the heartache, the feeling of rushing towards your own doom without being able to stop it. I did what I had to. And I will not apologize to you for it – indeed, I do not think you made out much the worse for it!”

    “As if land and gold could make up for the loss!” Justin fired back. “You will never understand because you were not in my shoes.

    They were suddenly interrupted by the King who smiled merrily at his mother. “Ah, Mother! On this great day of joy, why are you not smiling?”

    Justin stepped back, ready to leave, understanding that he was dismissed. He still had the ring in his hand, but he could not take his eyes off Duncan.

    The resemblance was there. Justin was surprised it was evident to everyone in the palace. For the love of God, they were even the same exact height!

    “My dear Duncan,” Natalie said with a forced smile, “if it would please you, I would like to introduce you to a dear old friend. His name is Justin”

    “It is an honor to meet you, Your Highness,” Justin said. “You said your name is Justin, eh?” Justin smiled.

    “A good, strong name. After my grandfather, Your Highness.”

    “How do you know the Queen, Justin?” the King asked curiously, and Justin glanced at Natalie.

    “I used to work in the palace, Your Highness,” he said briefly. “He left the palace to raise his family,” Natalie added. “A strong family, I believe. How many children did you say you have now?”

    “Five, Your Majesty,” Justin replied. “Three boys and two girls.”

    “Three boys,” she said softly. “Five children. You and your wife are truly blessed.”

    She smiled at her son, who looked appropriately bewildered by the strangeness between this farmer and his mother. “His eldest daughter is the same age as you, my son.”

    “Your eldest daughter is here with you, at the palace, you said, sir?” Natalie persisted.

    “Yes, she is here,” Justin bit out.

    Natalie smiled pleasantly, “May I meet her, sir? The last time I saw her, she was a tiny babe.” Justin didn’t want to honor the request of the Queen.

    “Sir? I believe my mother asked you a question.” Said the king. Justin knew he was trapped in yet another web of the Queen’s manipulations.

    “Of course, Your Highness,” Justin finally said, with the air of someone being forced to swallow poison. He looked around and caught his children’s wide.

    Natalie’s eyes were locked on Elsie as the pair slowly and fearfully came forward.
    Natalie, held out her hand, her face like ice

    Episode 10

    Natalie’s eyes were locked on Elsie as the pair slowly and fearfully came forward. Natalie, held out her hand, her face like ice

    Justin’s teeth were clenched. “Y- yes.”

    “What is your name, my dear?”

    “Elsie,” the girl replied.

    “That was very kind of you to bring my ring back to me, Elsie.”

    “She brought back your ring?” the King questioned in confusion, and Natalie quietly explained.

    “Ah, but that deserves a reward!” The  King exclaimed, pleased with this pretty girl’s generosity. “How about a dance?” he suggested. “No, my son,” Natalie said smiling. “Something else.”

    Natalie slipped two more rings off of her fingers; one silver, one gold. She held them out to Elsie. “For your kindness,” she said simply.

    “Thank you,” she said simply, and Natalie smiled. “It is my greatest pleasure,” she assured her.
    Elsie stretched her hands above her head, yawning and feeling her muscles ache. It was early in the morning; But Elsie could not get the meeting with the Queen out of her head; or, really, her father’s strange behavior that day in the palace.

    There was a secret somewhere in this story, but Elsie just couldn’t figure out what it was.
    Morning was Elsie’s favorite time on the farm. She headed downstairs, into the kitchen, where her mother and father sat, each contently sipping a cup of tea in silence. Neither of them looked up as Elsie entered the tiny room. She murmured “Good morning”.

    Lately, things had been very strained between her and her parents and she didn’t know why. Anytime she asked them a question, their replies were anxious, edgy. Her father rarely looked her in the eye anymore.

    “There is someone here to see you, and he won’t go away until you talk to him.” Said John
    “What?” Elsie asked, confused, stumbling after her brother. “John, what are you talking about ”

    She suddenly took a glance from the window and saw things for herself. “Why is the royal carriage in front of our house?”

    John’s face was grim. “Come on, Elsie.”

    Who was this guy? Elsie asked her father as John led them in.

    “Elsie, my name is Arnold. I am a dear friend of the King, and a trusted confidante of Queen Natalie.”

    “I assume you’re wondering why I’m here.”

    “Well…yes, actually” Elsie said, when it seemed he was waiting for a response. She caught her father’s eye, who merely raised his head.

    The man coughed, delicately. “Well, Elsie, when you and your family returned the Queen’s ring to her last week, she was greatly impressed with your manors and your honesty. That was a very kind thing you did.”

    “It was nothing, really” said Elsie

    “It was something, my dear. Not every young girl would have brought a jewel like that ring back to the Queen. She was greatly impressed with you; the King, too, was startled by the generosity of your gesture. As a thank you, the Queen would like to invite you to be a lady-in-waiting at court for a few months.

    Nothing long” he added hastily, just as a thank you. A chance for you to get some pretty dresses, dance with some pretty men…just get a taste of court life.”

    He smiled at her. “Consider it a strongly worded invitation.”

    “Sir, am sorry, my wife and I need Elsie here on the farm. We have no wish for her to go to the palace, we appreciate the

    Queen’s kind offer, but surely, there are other girls who could go. It does not have to be Elsie. We need her here.”

    “Justin,” Tutu began, “I have been at your farm. You have more stable hands, I find it very hard to believe your farm will suffer so terribly with the absence of one more set of hands, and a girl’s hands, at that.”

    “Elsie is a great contributor around the farm” Justin replied immediately. “She is a great help to my wife. Sir, she is to be married soon. We can’t just send her off to the palace. We have no wish of it.”

    The mention of marriage had Elsie’s face flushing, and she raised her eyes to her father’s, who wouldn’t meet her gaze. Justin’s eyes were locked with Arnold’s, in a battle of wills that didn’t seem to have a resolution.

    “Sir,” he said shortly, “I have tried to come here and do this the right way. And I understand your reluctance to part with your daughter. But it is not forever, and she will come back much the richer for it.”

    “Mr. Justin, if you believe I am going back to the palace without her, then you are sadly mistaken. A hunter who has only one arrow does not shoot with careless aim.”

    Episode 11

    “Norman Justin, if you believe I am going back to the palace without her, then you are sadly mistaken. A hunter who has only one arrow does not shoot with careless aim.”

    Justin realized he couldn’t win this one so he turned to his daughter and convinced her to go with the Queen’s messenger. He assured her that she would be okay, he told her was going to make sure of it.

    Elsie trusted her father so even though she did not understand what was going on, she packed up her bags and returned to the palace with Arnold. On getting there, she was immediately brought before the Queen, who seemed delighted to see her.

    “We have much to talk about,” Natalie said. “But perhaps now is not the time. It is a celebration, it is always a celebration.” She gleamed at Elsie, who smiled weakly back. “It is time to dance.”

    Elsie glanced automatically at Arnold, who took a self-preserving step back. “Her Majesty knows I am not blessed in that manner,” he said dryly, and Natalie laughed. “Oh, no. Not Arnold. This is your first dance at the palace, Elsie, dear. Your first dance is something special.”

    Just then, the King turned towards them.

    “Oh, it’s you again!” the young king remarked delightedly upon seeing Elsie. “The ring bearer, if I’m correct?”

    “And are you to dance with me, little ring bearer?” he asked, holding out his hand.

    “Oh, Your Majesty, I couldn’t” Elsie immediately replied “I’m afraid I don’t know the steps.”

    King Duncan let out a bark of a laugh. “Why, that’s adorable,” he exclaimed. “I’ll teach you.”

    “Oh, Your Majesty,” Elsie protested, her hand to her heart. “I couldn’t.”

    “Little Ring bearer, I see you are new to the palace, but there’s one thing you should know, when the King asks you to dance, he’s not so much asking you as telling you.”

    “Don’t be afraid, Just turn like this, and turn like that..” he narrated, as they twisted around each other, now holding their other hands against each other.

    Despite herself, Elsie laughed. “Thank you for your instructions. “I’m always happy to instruct pretty girls,” he confessed and she tossed back her head and laughed. “What’s your name again, little ring bearer?”

    “Elsie,” she replied.

    “Elsie,” he repeated, savoring the word in his mouth.

    “I’m pleased, Your Majesty,” Elsie said modestly. She couldn’t believe that this was the King – the King – that she was dancing with. He had such a carefree, easy going, fun loving.

    “Who’s that girl?” someone asked, standing near Tutu.

    “Just some nobody,” a jealous woman snapped back and Tutu smiled.

    Elsie wasn’t doing so badly after all.

    She was still in the palace, and it was a few days later. A startled maid stood in the doorway the next morning.

    “Oh! Miss! I’m so sorry, I didn’t think you were still abed”

    “No, it’s fine. You can come in, please. I’m desperate to hear another voice. I don’t think the other maids like me very much,” Elsie confided.

    “Well, begging with me, pardon me miss, but you don’t act much like a court lady, so ’tis no wonder.”

    “Why, what do you mean by that?” “No offense, miss, please. Just, not many ladies would be having a conversation with a maid, is all.”

    “Well, it’s just that, I don’t know how to do any of this. I don’t know how to bow proper, and to flirt behind a fan or how to do the dances. I shouldn’t even be at the palace! So why shouldn’t I talk to a maid? After all, I’m really only a farm girl.”

    “A farm girl, eh?” “Yes, that’s me. I’m Elsie, by the way.” “And your name is…?” “Owusuaa,” the maid replied.

    “Mirabel” Elsie repeated, “I’m only here as a sign of favor to my father. I think but he wasn’t very pleased about it. I’m not sure why I’m here, really. The Queen said she would explain it to me, but she hasn’t yet.”

    Elsie seemed to realize that the conversation was heading into dangerous territory, so she changed topics. “Have you worked long in the palace?”

    Mirabel answered. “I’m twenty-one, and I’ve worked here since I was twelve. My mother works here too as a maid. It’s a good job really,” she explained conversationally. “My grandmother used to work here too, as a midwife.”

    “A midwife? That’s interesting,” Elsie said idly. “Did she work for the Queen?”

    “Oh yes,” Mirabel replied, “Actually, she was in the birthing room when the Queen gave birth to King Duncan.”

    “That’s quite a story,” she said after a moment, and Mirabel was heading towards the door.
    Mirabel paused for a moment. “It’s some story indeed,” she agreed quietly. “What did you say your name was?”

    “Elsie,” she said, surprised. “Daughter of Norman Justin?”
    Mirabel’s eyes narrowed even further, but she smiled slightly. “It was good to meet you, Miss Elsie,” she said. “Maybe one day, I’ll tell you all about my grandmother’s stories.”

    Episode 12

    Mirabel’s eyes narrowed even further, but she smiled slightly. “It was good to meet you, Miss Elsie,” she said. “Maybe one day, I’ll tell you all about my grandmother’s stories.”

    A few days later, the king decided to visit Elsie inher bedchamber. “I guess you really enjoyed your sleep?”

    “Yes your highness” “Can I tell you something?” Elsie asked
    “Anything.” The king responded

    “You don’t actually act like a king.”

    Duncan let out another of his barking laughs. “No? And how should a king act, my little farm girl?”

    “A King should act well…distant. Cold. Aloof. And you are just irrepressibly…fun.”

    “That’s a wonderful compliment. Say it again.”

    “I always wanted to be fun,” he confessed after a moment. “My father was a great man and a great king but he was always very…distant with me. Very aloof with his subjects. Cold, as you said. I didn’t want to be that way. I wanted to be approachable; I want to have my sons be able to hug me without bowing first.”

    Elsie stared at him and he gave her a smile. “Do you find this terribly boring?”

    “Not at all, my lord. It’s just…I wouldn’t expect you to tell me something like that.”

    “And why not you?” asked the king

    “Well, I mean I shouldn’t really be here, Your Grace.”

    “That’s nonsense,” he said, his voice quiet. “You should of course be here because I want you here. And you are the type of woman to invite confidences.”

    Elsie laughed softly. “How do you know what kind of woman I am?” She teased.

    “I don’t know what kind of woman you are, really,” Duncan admitted. “But I should like to know.” He smiled. “Ah, now I’ve gone and embarrassed you,” he said, only half joking.
    “Tell me about your home.

    Elsie  immediately replied. “It started off as just a little farm on the other side of this kingdom, but my father is doing wonderfully well. The farm has almost tripled in size and there will be enough to satisfy all of my brothers and my sister and me for a long time.”

    The king waved a hand. “Yes, yes, but tell me about it,” he said. “Tell me what your favorite place is, where you used to play hide and seek. Do you miss it?”

    “I’ve only been away a few days,” Elsie said after a moment, “but yes, I miss it. I am the firstborn and have always loved the farm.

    “Do you have any suitors?” Elsie looked away. “There is one,” she said honestly. “His name is Nixon. He’s a good lad, and his land is adjacent to ours. It would be a prosperous marriage for my family, and I like him well enough. Almost every day, he comes over to the farm, looking for me.”

    “Do you like him?” asked the king

    “Well enough as a friend,” she said after a moment.

    “Do you love him?”

    “No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, I don’t think so.” After a moment, she laughed.

    “Why all these questions about me, my lord? What about you? Tell me of your home and your favorite place and your future bride.”

    Duncan chuckled. “But we are in my home. I want to hear about yours. I have never been there.”

    She smiled softly. “Perhaps one day you can come with me.”

    “Perhaps,” he said, and suddenly their faces were very close.

    “Perhaps,” he said again, in that same soft voice, and suddenly he leaned closer and kissed her.

    It was nothing like kissing Nixon. Their lips pressed hard against each other. The kiss deepened and suddenly, Duncan pulled away. Elsie almost murmured in objection; but then he leaned closer and gently kissed her cheek, then her neck.

    She turned her face towards his and he was kissing her again, his mouth moving against her slowly, tasting her. Tentatively, she raised her hand to his face, rested it on his cheek and his kiss intensified.

    After a long moment, they finally broke apart. Elsie’s face was flushed and she bit her lip, tasting him as she dropped her gaze. Suddenly, she wasn’t sure if that kiss had been such a good idea.

    “Please don’t fret. I don’t think any less of you after that.”

    She stared at him, unsure. “I’m not sure it was such a clever idea,” she said honestly after a moment and he smiled at her.

    “Then I am glad you didn’t stop to think about it before. You are a wonderful kisser,” he whispered.

    “Thank you, my lord,” she responded weakly.

    The king then left to his bedchamber.

    Later in the evening, the Queen met with Elsie for a chat.

    “Have you found the palace to your liking, Elsie?”

    “Yes, Your Grace. I’m sorry if I never properly thanked you for bringing me…”

    “I’m not looking for your gratitude,” the Queen interrupted. “I asked you a question, dear girl. Are you enjoying yourself?”

    Elsie was at a loss. “Yes, Your Grace…I am very pleased to be at the palace.”

    “I’m glad, Elsie. Truly, I’m glad you are here as well.”

    “Have you wondered, dear girl, why perhaps I have brought you here?”

    “Your Grace, I do appreciate you bringing me here. But I have wondered…”

    “Elsie,” she said, “Elsie,” she repeated hesitantly, “there is something we need to discuss.”

    “Is something amiss, Your Majesty?”
    “Elsie…what I am about to tell you. It may be difficult for you to understand. I must beg you not to judge. I must beg you to let me explain.”

    Beg? The Queen of Dokar was begging her, Elsie, a farm girl?

    She smiled slightly at the Queen, attempting to reassure her. “I will listen, Your Grace. I’m sure whatever it is you have to tell me…I am sure I will understand.”

    “Yes,” she said slowly, “perhaps…”

    “Elsie,” she began, “you were told I brought you here because I feared for my son, the king. Well, that is true. I do fear for Duncan. I fear for his innocence, for his ability, for his soul, Elsie.  He is a very young man, and without a father to guide him. I fear…well, I fear he will become so distracted by the pleasures of royalty, pleasures he has not been able to enjoy until now, that he will neglect matters of state.”

    She lean closer to Elsie. “Oh, there are councilors, of course. But Duncan has been raised to be King, and it is my greatest wish that he be a great King, and I feel he will be.”

    “Your Grace, I’m sorry… I don’t understand…” asked Elsie.

    “I brought you here because I know your father, and I know you have been raised as a good girl,” the Queen plundered on. “I thought you would be a good influence on him, and I thought once he took a fancy to you the rest of the courtiers would try to imitate you…”

    “Elsie,” the Queen said gently, “my part in this saga is already that of the evil, selfish Queen. But even I cannot let you persist in this course of befriending the King without you knowing everything.”

    Elsie suddenly stilled. She sat up a little straighter and something inside her stirred. She knew unconditionally that she did not want to hear whatever it is the Queen was about to say.

    “Perhaps,” the Queen said, “I am not the one who should tell you this. Perhaps your father and mother should…Or perhaps it is fitting that it is me, that it is here. I know I am taking forever to reach my point,” the Queen added, “but do appreciate how difficult this is for me.”

    Episode 13

    I know I am taking forever to reach my point,” the Queen added, “but do appreciate how difficult this is for me.
    “Elsie, seventeen years ago I was pregnant. Relations between my husband the King and myself were strained, very strained. It was not the first time I had been with child. Six other times I felt the babe quicken, six other times I lost the child in miscarriage.”

    “The King, though he loved me, was under a lot of stress to produce an heir. I knew it in my heart of hearts, that if I lost the child, or the child was not a Prince, that would be the end for me as Queen, and I would be forced to step aside and retire to a nunnery.”

    Elsie listened, horribly still, consciously wondering what all this had to do with her. Yet somewhere, deep within her, Elsie felt the beginnings of a dawning understanding.

    “The labor was hard. I struggled and I cried and yet at the end of it…” The Queen’s voice trailed off.

    “The child,” the Queen continued, “was a girl.”

    Elsie stared at her, certain she could not be hearing what she was hearing. “There was a maid downs the hall,” the Queen choked out and Elsie snatched her hand out of the Queen’s desperate grasp.

    “No,” Elsie said, clearly, simply. The fact, the simple truth of it, was shut out by her mind but still she began to shake. “No.”

    “The maid was pregnant… she gave birth the same day…within minutes of me. The maid…her name was Lucy…she had a boy, Elsie.”

    Tears were pooling in the Queen’s eyes; Elsie stared at her in horror.

    “Tell me this is not true,” Elsie whispered, “Tell me you did not do this.”

    “That boy,” the Queen said, choking back tears, yet determined to have this secret, this terrible choking secret that had been pressing on her soul, out in the open, “they named him Duncan. Today, they call him King Duncan the Fourth, His Royal Highness, King of Dokar. And that girl…”

    “No,” Elsie repeated, more violently now.

    “No,” Elsie repeated again, shouting, shaking her head, standing up and taking a step back.

    The Queen reached for her, tears pouring down her cheeks. Elsie jerked her arm out of reach.

    “That girl…” the Queen continued, as Elsie turned, blinded by tears and headed for the door. The door swung open at Elsie’s horrified tug. Elsie ran, leaving the Queen sitting alone, crying in her chambers, just as the heavens opened up outside.

    “Elsie,” the Queen whispered, heartbroken at her daughter’s reaction, “that girl is you.”
    Elsie ran down the corridor. She tore past the guards stationed at the end of each hallway. One called out to her in confusion but she wouldn’t even stop to look at him.

    That conversation, all that talk. That could not have happened, it simply was impossible.

    What the Queen had told her, had insinuated, it was simply and inherently not possible.

    Elsie repeated these phrases over and over in her head as she ran through the deserted corridors. Not possible.

    And yet, and yet… deep inside, she knew that this was the truth. This was the answer to so many questions; this was missing piece to her heart. Deep in the back of her mind, she knew that this could only be true.

    Not possible, Elsie’s mind screamed. Not possible, not possible. Was the Queen her mother?! Simple, innocent face flashed in her mind. The strength of her father’s hand. Was he her father? All those Christmas’s spent with her brothers and sisters. Were they even her family?

    As far away from that sad, old woman who tells lies, lies that stuck in the back of Elsie’s throat and in the corner of her mind.

    And yet, Elsie’s mind ran around in circles. Was that why her mother and father always stopped and said a special prayer for the  king? Elsie had always attributed to the quiet prayer between her parents to especial devotion to their King. But perhaps, was it something more…?

    Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, something caught her gaze.

    It was a portrait of the Queen, commissioned by her husband, the King after the birth of their son. It stood just outside the King’s chambers

    For the woman in the picture was her. So it was true. How could she not have seen it? Their likenesses were so similar.

    “Lady, are you…” One of the guards outside the king’s door began, a worried look on his face, but suddenly, Elsie couldn’t stand it.
    She broke into a run once more, heading down out of the corridor towards the stairs that lead to the gardens. Outside, rain began to steadily beat against the thick glass.

    But Elsie didn’t care. She had to get out of here. In this palace of a thousand windows, of hundreds of rooms, she was suffocating, and she needed to get out.

    The portrait she has just seen flashed in her mind’s eye again. The Queen’s half smiles… her emerald eyes…
    Standing at the foot of the stairs was the King, and three of his friends,
    “Miss Benewah,” Duncan remarked in pleased surprised, “What is wrong?”
    “Please, my lord,” she said, “Just let me be…”

    Episode 14

    Standing at the foot of the stairs was the King, and three of his friends, “Elsie,” Duncan remarked in pleased surprised, “What is wrong?”

    “Please, my lord,” she said, “Just let me be…”

    “My lady,” he said, his concern increasing. “Elsie?” he asked, trying to make her catch his eye. “Elsie, what is it? What has happened?”

    “Please, sir, I was just on my way to the stables and I..”

    “I shall come with you,” he decided immediately. He gestured to his friends and though two of them stifled laughter, they moved away and left them standing there alone.

    “I will come with you to the stables,” Duncan said. “And then you will tell me what is wrong, and I will put it right.”

    Elsie shook her head, but for some reason, she could not explain “Oh, Your Highness,” she said, “I would not know where to begin.”

    “Why not at the beginning?” the king said “I tell you, Your Highness; all I can say right now is that I have heard grave news of my family.”

    “Yes, but what is this grave news?” Duncan replied.
    “Please, stop with the ‘your Majesty’… It’s Duncan,” he corrected her.

    But his demanding tone and the use of the name Duncan were only sharp reminders of her father… or…whoever he was.

    She shook her head. “Please, Your Majesty,” she repeated once more. “I am very appreciative of your kindness, but…right now…” she took a deep breath. “I just want to go home.”

    She did not want to be there anymore.
    “Home?” Duncan echoed. “You mean, back to your parent’s house?”

    “It’s not that I don’t appreciate being here, and all of your kindness, Your Majesty…it is just that I need to be home now. I do like the palace, but… it is too constricting for me right now. I need to be able to breathe.”

    I understand, Elsie. Perhaps… We will go together, and I will help you sort out this family crisis.”

    Elsie’s head shot up, her swollen eyes widened in surprise. Was this just a terrible idea that would come back to haunt her? Or was it the King’s right to be there when Elsie confronted her parents? But was it Elsie’s place to tell him? Would he believe her, or would he hate her?

    Instinctively, she shook her head. “Oh, no sir, I couldn’t ask you to do that – I can find my way home”

    “I’ll confess, Elsie, my intentions are not all so noble. Really, I myself just wish to get out of the palace for a little while. As you say, it is so constricting. “

    “I believe my head would be cleared by some time out in the country… And if I can help you while I am at it, so much the better, yes?”

    “To have you with me when I see my family would be wonderful,” she told him. “But I think perhaps you should speak with your mother, the Queen, before joining me.”

    “Pardon me, miss, but I am King of Dokar and need ask no one’s permission”

    Elsie gently shook her head. “I know, my lord. You misunderstand. I just think your mother might have things to tell you before you accompany me.”

    “Things? What things? Speak not in riddles, Elsie.”

    “Please, my Lord,” she said. “Talk to the Queen.”

    His eyes adjusted to the darkness as he entered the Queen’s chamber. He stepped into the chamber, and nodded to the maid to leave them.

    “My son?” said the Queen

    “Mother?” Duncan said “Are you ill?”

    The Queen struggled to sit up.

    “Are you ill, Mother?” Duncan asked again after a moment when she didn’t respond.

    “Yes, I suddenly have a fever.” the Queen said

    “I will send for the physicians,” Duncan said immediately, but the Queen waved a hand.

    “No, no…it is merely a passing cold, darling. Now, tell me, what it is you came to speak with me about?”

    “I just wanted to let you know that I am planning on accompanying Elsie to her house. She has received urgent family news and wishes to go at once; and I would like to go with her.”

    The Queen inhaled slowly, “Are you going to be her knight in shining armor, my boy? Are you looking for a damsel in distress?”

    “I thought we would travel as peasants, so I would not need guards. She wants to go see her family, and of course I will accompany her.. but mother, you know as well as I that I am no city boy

    “Yes, my son,” she whispered, “I know, perhaps more so than anyone, that you are not a city boy.”

    “Mother, are you sure it’s just a fever – perhaps I best stay close, you seem very…”

    Again, she raised a hand and mustered a weak smile for him. “Go on, my boy. Go and accompany her. Have your adventure, though I doubt Elsie will be a very merry companion. And you’d best take a maid as a companion for her. She’s a young woman, you two cannot go running around the countryside alone.”

    “Mother, if you are ill, I should want to be by your side”

    “No, my dear. Go with her and meet Norman Justin.” She inhaled slowly. “Perhaps they will teach you something.”

    Episode 15

    “Mother, if you are ill, I should want to be by your side”

    “No, my dear. Go with her and meet Norman Justin.” She inhaled slowly. “Perhaps they will teach you something.”

    “God keep you well, mother,” He said as he took his leave and Natalie inhaled slowly. “God help me.”

    Dawn broke early the next morning. Duncan woke early and headed down to the stables to find Elsie already waiting for him.

    “You are awake very early this morning, my lady.”

    “I couldn’t sleep,” she said simply. She was dressed in the clothes she had come in.

    The king was dressed in his plainest black breeches and loose gray shirt. He borrowed a boy’s cap from his steward.

    It was early still, the palace was still asleep, the only movement by that of stewards and gardeners, going about their work.

    “Beautiful day, eh, Miss Elsie?”

    Elsie didn’t turn her head to look at him, but dropped her eyes to the dusty road ahead. “It is indeed, my lord.”

    She had been so busy focusing on who she was not, she hadn’t stopped to think about who she should have been.

    She should have been a Princess.

    Heir to the Dokar throne. Princess Elsie! She was the one, who by right, should have been raised in a royal palace, taught the art of statecraft! Instead of having the half of a farm on the other side of the town. She should have had the whole of Dokar kingdom!

    She closed her eyes in weariness. This was too much to take. Her eyes wandered to the man, the king, at her side. He shouldn’t even be King, Elsie thought viciously. He should be a farmer, learning how to plant crops and how to slaughter the Sheep. It should be me on the throne of Dokar.

    This should have been mine.

    The little party arrived at the farm just as the sun was setting, and Elsie inhaled deeply as she first step foot on the farm, as if to rejuvenate herself.

    Duncan looked around at everything curiously, but let Elsie take the lead. As they walked up the little path that led to the house, he suddenly grabbed her hand, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. “Elsie,” he said, “It will be alright.”

    Elsie smiled back at him, because why he may not yet be much of a King, and a changeling King at that, he was still a good man. “Thank you, Your Highness,” she said quietly, “but I don’t think so.”

    Yells of surprise and joy were released as soon as Elsie entered the Justins house.
    “God’s blood!” Lucy gasped, and Elsie’s careful gaze noticed the way her eyes flickered feverishly between Elsie and Duncan. She went to Elsie first, her arms open, “Elsie, darling, what are you doing here?”

    “Mother, this is…”

    “The King,” Lucy breathed in shock.

    Duncan seemed uncomfortable, and Lucy began to fuss, offering food and drink and room to sleep and everything, but Elsie cut her off.

    “Mother…I need to speak with you, and I need to speak with father. Is he here?”

    As the words left her mouth, Elsie heard the door behind her open. She turned around to stand face to face with her father, and her younger brother Caleb.

    But her father wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were transfixed on the man that stood in his hallway.

    Norman Justin and Duncan, King of Dokar, stood side by side.

    Their likeness was striking, especially with Duncan dressed in peasant’s clothes and dirty from a day on the road.

    “Your Majesty,” Justin managed, dropping to a bow.

    “Mr. Justin,” Duncan replied politely, beginning to sincerely regret his coming here.

    As King, he was used to everyone staring at him but as he scanned the room, taking in the eyes of the entire Justin family latched onto him, he reflected that this was ridiculous.

    My princess. Her father had always called her that, it had always been his special name for her. And now she knew why.

    I should have been a Princess.

    The thought came, unbidden, into her mind and she took a step back.

    “Father,” she said, formally, her voice shaking, “we need to talk.”

    Episode 16 (Final)

    I should have been a Princess.

    The thought came, unbidden, into her mind and she took a step back.

    “Father,” she said, formally, her voice shaking, “we need to talk.”

    “Talk? Talk about what Elsie?” Justin asked.

    “Dad, I had a talk with the Queen, she told me you weren’t my biological parents, can you please tell me the truth about this?”

    Justin’s face instantly turned red, his hands were shaking. He knew that the time had come for him to reveal the truth to the innocent girl.

    “I don’t seem to understand what’s going on here. What are you talking about Elsie?” the king asked.

    Lucy put her hand to her heart and closed her eyes in shock. “Please, God. Not again.” She was thinking how to explain things to the children.

    “My father knows exactly what I am talking about. Go on dad, we are listening.” Elsie prodded.

    “Elsie, seventeen years ago the Queen got pregnant. It was not the first time she had been with child. Six other times she has lost the child in miscarriage.” Said Justin. The king inhaled swiftly but kept listening.

    “The Queen gave birth to a girl and at about the same time my wife also gave birth to a boy. He choked back in tears, “that boy is you your highness, and that girl is you Elsie.”

    “What! This can’t be. I can’t believe any of this” said the king.

    “So, it means all what the Queen told me was true,” Elsie said.

    “Yes my daughter. That is exactly what happened. We promised the Queen to keep it a secret.”

    The king angrily interrupted, “you call this bullshit secret? What evidence do you have?” asked by the king.

    “Go and ask your mother, she might be in the good position to give you all the necessary evidence” replied Justin.

    The king headed for the door, the door swung open at his angry tug. He swiftly made his way back to the palace. What Elsie’s father had told him, had insinuated, it was simply and inherently not possible. Did that mean he had to vacate the throne, if what he heard was true?

    “Elsie, we are sorry for hiding the truth from you. They threatened to throw us in the dungeons if we ever disclosed this secret to anybody.” Lucy pleaded. “Please forgive us.”

    “So I should have been a Princess?” Elsie asked.

    “Yes my daughter.”

    King Duncan nodded to the maid to leave him and his mother alone as he entered the room.

    “My son, you don’t look cheerful, what’s the matter with you?” asked the Queen.

    “You don’t except me to look cheerful after you’ve hidden the truth about my life from me for the past 18 years. How could you do that mother?” said the king.

    “What choice do you think I had? I did what I had to ensure my own survival.” The Queen replied.

    “Did you just say your own survival? That’s selfish of you! Did you think about the consequences of your actions, and the people who would suffer as a result of the choices you made? For God sake, you acted so childish mother!” Said the king.

    “I will take no judgment from you little boy. Remember, I made you. I clothed and sheltered and made you a king of this great kingdom; I gave you a throne your lineage was far from.” The Queen replied.

    “You clothed and sheltered me with lies and made me king out of your own selfish interest. May the gods forgive you, mother. You have to apologize to the whole kingdom for deceiving them.” The king said. He was angry and disappointed.

    “I did what I had to. And far be it from me to apologize to you or anybody in this kingdom. Remember, the very day you disclose this secret to any council member, you will forever lose the throne.” Said the Queen.

    “I don’t care mother, you have to pay for your actions. I will make sure the law takes it course” said the king.

    “How dare you talk to me in that way, have you forgotten I am still the Queen?” Asked the Queen.

    “Have you also forgotten that am still the king?” Duncan asked.

    “I made you that king, boy!” She fired back

    “You dont have to remind me woman. I will make sure you get punished for that act since you didn’t consider the consequences of your actions. You will be banished from this kingdom as custom demands.” said the king.

    “Don’t you dare! Or else…”

    She was interrupted by the king, “else what?! Tell me, what?” The king angrily left her presence.

    Duncan met Elsie the next day for a talk. “I’m really sorry for this misfortune, I promise to return the throne back to you as soon as possible.” He said.

    For once, joy covered Elsie’s face. “There is no need your highness. You have really shown me great love and support, keep the throne,” she said.

    “Elsie, will you marry me and be my queen?” The king then asked.

    “Yes your Highness, I will marry you,” replied Elsie.

    The next morning, the King summoned all the council of elders to announce that Queen Natalie was to be dethroned and banished from the kingdom.

    Bridget Noah who happened to be the nurse present during the time of the scandal was called before the council to testify.

    “Per the customs and tradition of our kingdom, I hereby dethrone you Natalie as Queen and banish you from the Kingdom of Dokar for deceiving the entire kingdom. King Duncan will retain his throne since he has decided to make Elsie, the true princess and heir his Queen”. Said the chief elder.

    Thus, the Queen and her accomplice Rebecca were banished from the kingdom. Elsie and Duncan got married and together, they ruled the Kingdom of Dokar.

    ……………………………… THE END …………………………………….

    Post a Comment