If you missed a part, go to the "Stories in Progress" page and you'll find links to the published parts there. Otherwise I give you:
Chapter Twelve: More News
Alfred didn’t arrive until after our supper was finished. He swept off his horse, bowed stiffly, and presented Chrystal her letter from Malcolm with a thin smile.
“I hope your Highness is doing well?” he asked.
Chrystal returned his smile warmly and took the letter. “Yes, thank you.” She paused for a moment before continuing, “My father…is he still doing well?”
For a brief moment, so slight that I fancied it was my imagination, a shadow of a smile passed over the soldier’s grave face. “Your Highness,” he started slowly, “I dislike being a bearer of bad news…but your father is not doing very well. He caught a bad fever a few weeks ago, and we thought he made a turn for the better up until just after Flannigan left. That very night the fever returned and has been gradually getting worse.”
A small moan escaped the princess’s pale lips and she covered her mouth with a trembling hand. “Oh no…no, no, no.”
The soldier placed a hand on her shoulder and sighed. “I’m sorry I had to be the one to tell you this, but we don’t have much hope for him.”
Chrystal let out a choked cry and fled to her room. Alfred made a move as if he would follow her, but I stood between him and the fleeing girl in the effort to stop him.
“You must understand that she needs some time to take in this news, not to mention the time she’ll need to read my brother’s letter in peace.”
Alfred nodded slowly. “I wish there was something I could do to help.”
I smiled, any trace of suspicion gone when I saw his concern. “I’m afraid only time alone will help her right now. I will check on her in a little while. She may want more details from you after the first shock is over.”
“I’ll be here to give it,” Alfred answered. “If she needs me, I’ll be in Tumbler’s Tavern and Inn.”
“Thank you again, the princess will appreciate it.”
The soldier took his leave, and I began to walk to my chambers in order to await the princess’s inevitable request for my presence. Halfway down the hallway, William joined me with a deeply thoughtful frown knitted across his brow.
“I don’t trust him,” he said finally.
Puzzled, I waited for more, but when he only returned my silence with silence, I finally voiced the question in my mind, “Why do you say that?” I asked. “He seemed truly concerned about the king’s ill health, and sorry that he had to be the bearer of bad news. It was good of him to tell the princess the truth about her father, even if it wasn’t what she wanted to hear.”
“Malcolm said that the king was doing much better in his letter,” William said out loud, as if speaking his thoughts, “Why would Malcolm lie to his own sister…or the princess for that matter?”
“How do you know what my letter from Malcolm said?” I demanded.
“I asked the princess about it since I knew you probably wouldn’t tell me,” William answered matter-of-factly. “You and the princess aren’t the only ones hungry for news.”
“Well, anyways, Alfred didn’t lie,” I continued, determined not to let him win, and feeling a bit jilted by the fact that he thought I would not tell him news from my brother. “Malcolm’s letter came with Flannigan, and he said the king got worse after Flannigan left. And Malcolm himself mentioned that the king had gotten a fever, but thought he was on the mend, which matches Alfred’s story.”
William’s face stayed in a frown as we kept walking towards where I knew the princess would be, and he sighed heavily. “I don’t know exactly why I’m so suspicious of him…he just seems, oh I don’t know, false somehow. Call it a fancy if you like, but there’s something about him…” he trailed off into silence as we neared the princess’s chambers.
“I think you’re worrying too much over absolutely nothing,” I answered. “You’ve had a lot of stress recently, maybe you need a rest. Surely someone can replace you as the princess’s court advisor.”
William shook his head. “I don’t think so, though I appreciate your concerns for my health.” He gave me a cocky grin.
I felt my face heating into a blush, which only made things worse, so I turned to the door quickly. “Just stop all the useless worrying, nothing is going to happen.”
Just before closing the door, I heard William whisper a reply more to himself than to me: “I hope not.”
* * * * *
I found Chrystal lying on her bed, staring at its canopy with a blank look on her face. I saw traces of tears on her cheeks, but they were nearly dry.
“Chrystal?” I whispered, tiptoeing softly closer until her empty eyes met mine. “Do you need anything?”
“No.” The word seemed as dry and empty as the cupboards of the poorest families in her kingdom.
I sat on the bed, it creaked under my weight, but the princess turned her face away from me. “Chrystal,” I said again patiently, “you know you can talk to me freely.”
The drawbridge dropped across the vast moat that had been between us, and she crawled over to me, the tears once again streaming down her face. “I don’t want Father to die!” she wailed hysterically. “I can’t stand the thought that I may have to rule this kingdom by myself. I’d rather die,” she added dramatically.
If I had been anywhere else, in any other situation, it would have been humorous how frantic the princess was not to rule…but as it was, I hugged Chrystal wordlessly. For a few moments, we simply sat there on her luxurious bed. Chrystal wept out her store of tears, and I received them, my dress soaking them up until I was as wet as if I had been out riding Duke in a rainstorm. The sobs died away gradually into hiccups, and I looked out the window only to shock myself at how late it was. I stood up and moved away from the bed, throwing more logs into her fireplace and hoping that the glowing embers were still hot enough to get the new wood on fire.
The princess came and joined me next to the warmth, hugging herself. I fought back the sudden shivers that racked my body, and gave her a tight-lipped smile that I hoped was convincingly warm in the firelight. “Hungry?” I questioned.
Chrystal nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
“I’ll get you some food,” I said, turning to go.
The princess detained me with a hand on my shoulder. “Meg,” she said softly. I met her gaze. “I-well, thank you for being here with me. I was acting childish I know. Your presence was such a comfort. Your shoulder to cry on meant more to me than a hundred words.”
I gave her a genuine smile. “That’s why I’m here. It’s what friends are for.” I headed towards the door again, but she stopped me.
“Send that messenger…what’s-his-name.” She frowned in concentration, trying to remember the soldier’s name.
“Alfred,” I helpfully offered.
Her brow cleared. “Yes, Alfred. Send Alfred up here please, along with my dinner. I would like to talk to him for a moment. Alone.”
It was my turn to frown. “Are you sure that is wise?” I asked.
Chrystal nodded. “Alfred is a trusted soldier of my Father; he wouldn’t harm me for the world. But if it makes you feel any better, you can have a few of my men guard outside my door.”
She no longer held me back, and so I walked down to the kitchen to retrieve her some food. I saw William talking with the cook, and waved to him with a smile. He returned the gesture and came over to where I stood.
“How is the princess?” he asked gently.
I sighed. “Well enough, considering she practically got told that her father was dying,” I answered ruefully.
He motioned to my damp clothes. “Much help you’ll be to the princess if you get sick. You should change out of those wet things and into something dry and warm before you catch your death.”
“I’m here to get her food, she hasn’t had dinner.”
“Neither have you, I’ll wager. Sit down; Samuel can bring Chrystal the food.”
I sank into the offered chair with a grateful sigh. Almost immediately, my stomach growled loudly, much to my embarrassment and William’s glee. The cook’s assistant, Samuel, came over at William’s beckon and looked at him respectfully with his hands folded carefully in front of him.
“Sir?” he asked like the polished servant he was.
“Princess Chrystal would like dinner served in her room tonight,” William said. I was impressed by his ability to make an order sound so nice. “I was hoping you could bring it to her?” It was not really a question, but Samuel nodded eagerly.
“To be sure, I’d be honored sir.”
I caught the man’s sleeve as he turned to obey William’s orders. “Oh, and Samuel?”
“She wishes to have a talk with Alfred, the soldier and messenger from our king. If you wouldn’t mind fetching him as well?”
A shadow stole over William’s face and a frown darkened his brow. “Did you tell the princess how unwise that would be?”
I nodded. “But, have no fear; I’m having two of her guards watch outside her door while they’re in conference.”
That seemed to lessen his worries some, but not much. “I just hope she knows what she’s doing.”
Samuel filled a tray with food and started on his way to executing his orders. William gave me a tray and then proceeded to watch me eat it, much to my chagrin. Finally, after choking down a few mouthfuls, I looked up at the half-smile tucked around my teacher’s face and decided I had had enough.
“Could you please go somewhere else while I’m eating?” I asked.
“Am I making you nervous?” he asked as if he rather fancied the idea. A twinkle appeared in his eyes and he grinned. “Sorry.” He did not fool me in the slightest. The man was not sorry at all.
“I just don’t like people watching me eat,” I mumbled. The truth was he did make me nervous, and I was furious at my nerves for betraying me so. Inwardly, I rolled my eyes. Next thing I will be blushing, I thought with a grimace and hastily took another bite to cover my mistake. Too late. He had noticed.
“Are you unwell?” William was all chivalry the next moment. How a man could change that quickly baffled me. “I warned you about those wet clothes of yours.”
“I’m fine,” I began quickly trying to think up an excuse. “I only-”
Suddenly, Steven burst into the kitchen, his face red from exertion, and his eyes wild. They flew over the room and finally rested on me. Relief mixed with the panic and he ran towards me, upsetting several dishes and people in the process.
“M’Lady!” he said in a hoarse whisper once he dropped breathless at my feet. He gulped air into his lungs and swallowed frantically. “M’Lady, Alfred is planning on stealing the princess!”