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She must choose between love and duty...
A captivating tale of love and duty as the last princess of Meigen searches for her true purpose amidst conflict and betrayal.
It is 626AD, and the ancient Kingdom of Meigen is left vulnerable to neighboring Saxons. To unite the kingdoms and bring peace, Princess Alena must enter into a royal marital alliance. But when the handsome physician, Sherwin, befalls her, matters become complicated. Torn between obligations to her young son and country, she faces a difficult decision. Will Alena obey the king’s orders, or choose to follow her heart?
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Copyright 2015 © Rachel James
Alena dropped the pot and pressed her hand to her chest. The bowl shattered on the floor, and the kitchen grew silent.
She squinted hard to shut out the pain, but it was too intense.
“Just breathe, Alena. Try not to panic.”
That was the problem—she could not do either.
Strong arms picked her up and rushed her out of the smoky room and into her chamber. Gradually, her lungs filled with air, and the tightness eased. She opened her eyes and exhaled.
“Thank ye, Orvin,” she said to the manservant, “but I had it under control.” She pushed herself up with her elbows, only to be pushed back down again.
“Nay, Princess, rest here a while. Yer duties can wait.”
She frowned. The servants might understand, but the King did not. The Feast would commence shortly, and she needed to finish the table arrangements. “Tell ye what, fetch Tristan for me, he could assist.”
Orvin quirked an eyebrow. “Yer four-year-old laddie will not be able to help if ye have another attack.”
“Oh, he’s stronger than ye think. Now,” she rose to her feet and flashed him her sweetest smile, “off ye go.”
She gave him little time to protest, and shooed him out the door. She smiled to herself. The palace servants meant well even if they were overprotective at times.
She moved toward the window and inhaled the fresh air. Something wasn’t right. She sensed it. She’d have to be careful around the fires this eventide. Mayhap Tristan could fetch the items from the kitchen. Still, the Great Hall would not be much better with the meat roasting on spits.
“Mama, are ye well?”
She spun around at the sound of her son’s voice. “Oh, there ye are, laddie.” Alena took his tiny hand and placed in her own. “I wondered if ye’d help me this night. My chest is a wee bit troublesome.”
The little boy’s eyes grew wider. “Will it be a secret, like last time?”
She laughed. “Aye, ye’re not to inform the king or he might get cross.”
Tristan scratched his head. “How about Orvin—can we tell him?”
“I should think so…”
He let out a whistle. “Grand, I’m not verra good at keeping secrets from everybody.”
“Well then, shall we be going? I’ll need ye to help with flowers to begin with.”
“But that’s lassie work.”
Alena ruffled his hair. “The lifting is a man’s task, is it not?”
“Aye, I s’pose.”
They made their way down to the kitchen, now a hive of activity. The guests were to arrive shortly, and her father-in-law was sure to be worked-up.
“There ye are, Princess. The master is in a frightful mood. Ye’d best keep out of his way.”
Alena glanced up at the cook who was arm deep in bread dough. “Where is he?”
“Prowling the Great Hall as we speak.”
Dread filled her. “Is he angry with me?”
“I do not doubt it, although what about I’ve nay idea.”
She chewed her lip. Like it or not, she had to take the arrangements into the hall. If the King saw someone else doing her job, he’d be seething. But if she went in now.... She sighed. She’d have to face his wrath, either way.
She knelt down to Tristan’s level. “Ye stay here, do not let the King see you. Am I clear?”
Her hand trembling, she picked up a bough of holly and ivy and headed for the Great Hall. Just before reaching the large oak doors, she remembered her hair. Alena dropped the decorations and quickly pinned up her fair-rose locks and covered them with a delicate veil. That was close.
She had hoped for an inconspicuous entrance. However, the smoke coming from the central spits caused her coughing to return. She tugged the material down over her nose and mouth.
She sensed his presence even before she turned around. “Sire,” she sputtered in-between coughs.
The man, hunched over the fire, appeared far older than his years.
“Why are ye not ready?”
She shuddered at his cold demeanor. “I-I thought ye wanted me to attend to the decor...”
“’Tis too late,” he whispered.
She sucked in her breath. “I’m sorry, sire. I was delayed...”
The King rose slowly and turned to face her. “Get changed. Ye need to look yer best.”
Alena frowned. What was he up to? He usually wanted her to blend in the background, not dress to impress. “Aye, sire, of course.”
“Make certain the boy is present also.”
She froze. “Tristan? Surely ye do not wish him at the Feast?”
“Ye question yer king?”
“Nay, sire.” She lifted her skirts, bobbed a half-hearted curtsy, and fled the room. She passed by the traveling minstrels and other servants bringing food in for the banquet. She didn’t have much time to get herself prepared.
She popped her head round the kitchen door. “Tristan. Come with me, please.”
Orvin followed behind Tristan. “Worry not, Princess. I’ll see to the decorations.”
Alena patted the sturdy man’s shoulders. “Thank ye, Orvin. What would we do without ye?”
The manservant grinned, revealing a mouth with missing teeth. “I’d hate to think. Will ye want Elsha to assist ye?”
“If she can be spared—the King has requested I make an effort, for some reason or another.”
Orvin nodded. “Aye, because of our visitors from Angularem.”
Alena halted. “And, pray tell, what consequence am I to them?”
Orvin shifted his feet and gazed at the ground.
He glanced up at her. “I know not for sure, although I overheard something about an alliance…through marriage.”
Alena stood, dumbfounded. “But I have been a widow for not even a year. I still officially mourn.”
“Aye, as do we, Princess. But the Saxon’s threat to invade Meigen increases daily. Our Kingdom will do well with a strong alliance.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Ye side with the king on this?”
“Surely ye’d be happier elsewhere.”
She swallowed. Mayhap even an unhappy marriage would be better than the predicament she found herself in at the moment.