My excuse? Our power was out yesterday so I wasn't able to schedule it as I had hoped. :)
But now, before you erupt, spontaneously combust, or burst into flames of wrath: here's the next chapter I promised you. ;)
Chapter Seven: Worries and Plans
“Oh Meg, you were wonderful!” the princess gushed as soon as I stepped into her quarters. “I didn’t think it was possible for someone to beat Malcolm in fencing, but you did it! His own sister!”
I sat on the chair she offered me and shook my head at her praise. “But I didn’t Chrystal,” I answered.
The princess gave me a confused look. “I saw you do it though,” she said.
“Well, yes,” I replied, “but only because he got distracted. He was winning.”
“Distracted? How was he distracted? He fought you almost furiously!”
I smiled. “That was after he regained his focus. When you came out to watch, the bright color of your dress against the gray stone balcony threw him off.”
Princess Crystal frowned. “I am so very sorry. I knew I shouldn’t have come out to watch unannounced…” she trailed off. “I thought that I would be less of a distraction by slipping out to watch then by announcing my presence at the beginning. I thought it might make you or Malcolm nervous to have me watching.” She sighed. “I didn’t think that the color of my dress would distract poor Malcolm and make him lose!”
With a shrug, I waved away her apology. “It’s alright. I don’t think Malcolm minds very much.”
Suddenly, the princess let out a giggle. “How his poor pride must have suffered. To be beaten by his own sister!”
I grinned. “I think he knows that he would have beaten me had the distraction never occurred. That thought will keep his pride from being flattened too much.”
“Would he have?”
“Oh yes. He was well on his way to winning when he lost his focus for a few seconds.”
“And that’s all it took for you to turn the fight in your favor?” The princess shook her head in amazement. “I wish I were that good with the sword.”
Just then, sparing me from further embarrassment, there was a knock on our door. Princess Chrystal opened it to find Malcolm standing outside. She started to apologize for distracting him, but he held up a hand to stop her.
“I have no time for a friendly chat today Chris. Your father wishes both you and my sister to come with me to his council chamber.”
A line formed between the princess’s eyebrows. “What’s wrong?” she asked worriedly, forgetting to remind Malcolm to call her by her proper name.
“I think he wants to tell you.”
“So be it. I shall come right away.”
Together we walked behind Malcolm to the king’s counseling chamber, which was located behind a large door just down the hall from Chrystal’s chambers.
The king looked up as we entered and waved us in. “Chrystal, Lady Megan…I need to talk to both of you.” He turned to Malcolm first. “Close the door please.”
My brother did so, and the princess and I walked closer to the king and sat down in front of him on the bench to which he motioned.
A worried look had settled into the princess’s eyes, and she leaned forward to take her father’s hands in her own. Their eyes met.
“Father, what’s wrong?” she asked. “I know something is wrong. Please don’t keep me in suspense any longer!”
King Frederick gently stroked his daughter’s hands and glanced in my direction. “Malcolm told me that you know what I need you to do,” he said softly.
I shot a bewildered look towards my brother and answered, “I’m not sure I know what exactly you expect me to do Your Majesty.”
The king turned back to the princess. “The King of Akred finally stopped paying his tribute.”
Her frown deepened. “That scoundrel,” she hissed vehemently. Then suddenly, her eyes widened. “But Father, he knows your armies are greater than his! This king is a bad man, but not a fool…why would he stop paying tribute if he knew you could come and force him to pay it again on penalty of death?”
“Because he might have help,” my brother answered on the king’s behalf.
Princess Chrystal turned to him. “You think he has allies who would fight with him against Father?"
Malcolm nodded. “Yes,” he answered simply. “Your father, though he is a good man, one of the best in my opinion, does have enemies; enough enemies to build a dangerous army.”
The princess turned back to her father. “And you think the same as Malcolm on this matter?”
King Frederick nodded. “I do.”
Sudden understanding came to the princess and she gasped. “That means you’ll be going to war with him!” she exclaimed.
The king nodded sadly. “I had hoped to spare him, but the King of Akred has called this on himself. If I try to make peace quietly, other parts of my kingdom will also try to pull away. This is the only way I can keep my kingdom from falling to pieces around me.”
Tears sprang into the princess’s eyes. “Oh Father!” she moaned.
“Your Majesty?” I asked tentatively.
The king turned to me. “Speak Lady Megan.”
“When will this war be? How long are you planning to be away from this castle? What will happen to the kingdom if you never return? How can I be the most help to you? What…” King Frederick held up his hand to stop my questions that would have continued to flow from my mouth as I tried to sort out what was happening around me.
“Lady Megan,” he said, “let me answer these questions one at a time.” A glimmer of a smile came to his face and he continued, “Now, please repeat the first one.”
I took a deep breath. “When will this inevitable war be?”
“Soon. I cannot wait much longer. My armies should be marching within the month.”
“And you’ll be with them?”
“They need me,” the king answered simply.
Princess Chrystal gasped. “You-you’re leaving the castle Father?” she cried.
“I have to Chrystal; the men need me beside them. I’m their leader, and I can’t lead them when I’m here.”
“But if you’re gone, and Malcolm with you, I’ll be here—” her breath caught for a moment before she finished whispering, “—alone.”
The king smiled at me while patting his daughter’s shaking shoulders. “You won’t be here alone,” he promised.
“Th-the servants d-don’t c-count!” Princess Chrystal sobbed out from behind her hands.
“I wasn’t speaking of the servants,” he answered calmly.
The princess lifted a tear-stained, confused face from her hands. “Who are speaking of then?” she asked.
“Lady Megan has agreed to stay with you in the castle while I am away,” the king said finally. “Since I was worried about you being all alone in the castle while I lead my army, I came up with a plan that Malcolm and I both think will keep you and Megan both safer while we are away fighting.”
Future sobs died away before escaping the princess’s lips. “Meg is going to stay with me?” she asked in wonder. “She’s going to stay with me while you’re gone?”
“Yes,” the king replied simply.
“Oh!” The princess was astonished…so astonished that she could find no better word than “oh” to say. I was impressed.
Malcolm spoke again. “Then you’re willing to have her stay here in the castle with you?”
Chrystal found her tongue at last. “Oh, yes! I would love to have her stay!”
My brother gave a sigh of relief. “I can’t thank you enough…this takes quite a load from my mind.”
The king chuckled. “Well then, that’s settled. Lady Megan, you had another question?”
I nodded. “How long are going to be away from the castle?”
He sighed. “I can’t be sure. Especially since the Duke seems to have allies. This war could drag on for quite a while. If all goes well and we have an easy victory, we will be back within a couple months. Otherwise, it may stretch into a year.”
“What will we do if…” I shuddered at the possibility, “if you don’t come back?”
The princess shot my brother, the king, and me a look of horror. “That would never happen!” she exclaimed. “Would it?” Her eyes pleaded silently with the king.
He placed a hand around her shoulder and drew her into an embrace. “We have to prepare for the worst while hoping, and praying, for the best,” he said solemnly. “If the worst does happen, you will become the queen and rule in my place.”
“I don’t want to rule Father!” the princess protested. “Surely someone else could instead!”
“We will all hope that things don’t come to that, but if they do, you need to prepare yourself to rule.” The king placed his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “I think, should the need arise, that you will do a very good job. Even so, while I am away with my army, you will have to be in charge temporarily. There will be people who need to be judged, and persons who will need advice.”
The princess looked frightened. “I don’t think I can do it Father!"
“I think you can.”
I waited for a moment while the princess processed this before adding, “I’ll be here to help you whenever you need it as well Chrystal. You won’t be alone.”
She smiled at me. “Thank you. That means a lot.”
The king let out a deep breath and smiled, though his smile was touched with sadness. “Lady Megan, you will want to bring the things you think you might need to the castle within a week so you can be ready to move into the chamber we will prepare for you as soon as the need arises.”
I nodded. “I’ll be ready Your Majesty.”
“Now that that’s settled,” Malcolm said grinning like his old self, “Meg and I really should be getting home. I will be back here early tomorrow morning to discuss more of the strategy details and planning. Meg can come with me or come by herself later, but either way we’ll start moving her into the castle so she can be safer and closer to the princess.”
I stood up, as did the king and the princess. “I look forward to seeing you both tomorrow then,” King Frederick said.
“As will I,” the princess added wiping away her drying tears. “You are both such good friends. I don’t know what I would have done without you!”
“Something I’m sure,” Malcolm replied laughingly. “Try to get some sleep tonight Chris.”
“Chrystal,” the princess corrected, arching her eyebrow in reproof.
“Of course,” Malcolm answered with a sweeping bow.
With that, the laughs of the king and princess still ringing in our ears, we rode home on our horses.