“I don’t know how to be a queen.” Gwendolyn Muirfield stared into the mirror and adjusted her crooked crown as she imagined herself as the new Queen of Arcadia.
“You haven’t any choice now, have you?” her sister, Princess Sophia, asked as she fluffed Gwendolyn’s gown.
Gwendolyn sighed as a tear rolled down her cheek, and she absorbed the harsh reality of the image before her and tried to drown out the voices of self-doubt in her head. All she wanted was to live the life of a princess and a mostly regular girl again. As her mind wrestled with how this had happened to her, her eyes moved to the ribbon-tied letter that addressed to “Princess Gwen” and laid on her mirrored dresser waiting to be read. Her heart broke at the thought that what once was would never be again.
“They’re ready for you, Your Majesty,” the timid chambermaid spoke softly from the door as she bowed to the newly crowned Queen.
“I shall be right there.”
Just before Queen Gwendolyn stood from her dressing mirror and exited the room, another soft knock was at the door, this time a man’s voice whispered before entering.
“Gwen, it’s me. It’s Peter.”
She met him at the door, embracing him as their lips met, allowing passion to consume them.
“We can’t do this, not right now. I only came to say…”
“Shhh…” she said and held her finger to his lips, resuming their kissing, fervently. Peter held her face in his hands, giving in to her advances as she moved closer to her large bed that was only fit for a queen.
“As much as I want this, as much as I wish things were different, we cannot do this right now, my queen. We will surely be caught, and then I will be will most certainly be hanged,” he mumbled as she untucked his shirt from his waistcoat and began running her hands over his chest, grasping his chest hair between her fingers as she did.
She sat him on the bed, looking into his eyes, “Certainly not. No one who pleases the queen the way you do would ever be hanged.”
THREE YEARS PRIOR
Gwendolyn laid on her bed that spring morning just like any other. She listened to the birds chirping outside her window and watched the sunrise through the trees as it cast a shadow through the trees onto her bed. Gwen had always been one to wake early; she just preferred to lie in bed and enjoy the quiet of the morning where no one was there to disturb her.
“What a beautiful morning,” she said as she laid admiring the view. “Could life be any more perfect than this? What say you, little birds?”
“Gwendolyn!” Her mother banged on the door of her bedroom chambers.
“Ugh… leave it to my mother to ruin everything.” After tossing a pillow over her head and taking a deep breath, she replied, “Come in!”
The Duchess Muirfield took her time walking into Gwendolyn’s chambers as she glanced around and criticized everything her eyes took in. From the dress that had been laid out to wear that day, to the things Gwendolyn had been working on in her spare time, the Duchess had turned on her internal critic.
“You need to prepare yourself for the day. We have to dine with the
Viscount Bramwall and his son, Lord William.”
“Oh, Mother. Please tell me we aren’t traveling all that dreadful way just to see that terrible young man and his callous boring parents.”
Gwendolyn sat up and her wiped her face with her hands, her eyes pleading with her mother not to take the day’s travel across the county.
“That is precisely what I am telling you. Their nephew is in from the north country and it would be good of the King’s nieces to pay him a visit.”
Gwendolyn groaned. “Why? Who is he to us?” She flopped her legs over the side of the bed as her mother rang for a chambermaid.
“Who is he to you? You are a princess! It is time you start acting like one! You might not be immediately in line for the throne since your uncle now has plans to marry, but I will tell you, young lady, that you still have a reputation to uphold. If your father was still alive…”
“Well, he’s not.”
“The Duke of Florence is very important indeed and could be a good match for either you or your sister, though he is a tad bit older than both of you…”
“Whatever you say.”
The Duchess held her hand out to help Gwendolyn stand and looked her in the face, studying everything about her skin, eyes, hair, and lips.
“You are very beautiful, daughter. You have light hair that shimmers like the morning sun, and blue eyes that sparkle like the ocean. Your light, pale skin is so fair and delicate that I don’t know of any man who wouldn’t appreciate any glance or notice of you.” The Duchess held her hand up to her daughter’s face for a moment and said, “You are young and there will be many men who seek your hand. Do not let your heart guide you; it will lead you down the wrong road. The heart is foolish and confused. Listen to the settled thoughts of your mind.”
The Duchess left the chambers without another word and Gwendolyn felt confused at her mother’s addresses.
“The settled thoughts of my mind?” she wondered. “What on earth does she mean? I never know what my mother goes on and on about. I wish my father were here. He would have sound advice as I begin to choose a husband.”
Gwendolyn looked to herself in the reflective glass as the chambermaid was fixing her hair, and she thought on her mother’s words about her appearance. “I’ve just considered myself an average girl, not ugly, but certainly nothing men would stand in the corner and talk about.” She sighed. “Why does she go on the way she does? I’ll never understand her.”
“All finished, Your Royal Highness,” the chambermaid said, interrupting Gwendolyn’s thoughts.
“I’d better get going then.”
One last look at herself in the reflective glass before she headed out the door to meet her mother and sister to go to her uncle’s house to dine with the Viscount Bramwall, Lord William, and the Viscount’s nephew, Duke Whoever… certainly no one Gwendolyn wanted to meet.
The ride seemed longer than usual, and she stared out the glass, watching the rainfall for hours. Carriages in her day were far more equipped to withstand the long journeys than she’d remembered them being as a young child, but they certainly were nothing that she felt their modern society could produce.
“I feel the 19th century could produce something far more luxurious than what is practically medieval,” she whispered to herself as the carriage stopped in front of Gladwell House, Viscount Bramwall’s long-standing family home.
“What are you going on about back there?” Sophia asked as they walked up the long staircase to enter the house.
“Nothing. Just tired of life, really.”
“You’re only 20.”
“Yes, I know. I think I’m just bored with the same mundane things that we royals are always tasked with doing.”
“I rather like it,” Sophia said before picking up her pace and catching up to her mother.
They entered the beautiful home and were greeted by the footman, who showed them to the other guests.
“Welcome!” the Viscount called out as the Duchess and her daughters walked into the large parlor.
“Duchess Muirfield, let me introduce you to my nephew, The Duke of Florence, Peter Doltham.”
Peter bowed his head to the Duchess extending his hand to her, “It is a pleasure, Duchess.”
“Indeed it is,” she replied, noticing his handsome face, certain his green eyes and dark brown hair would surely catch the attention of one of her girls.
“Let me introduce to you my daughters, Princess Sophia,” she pointed to the younger of her two daughters.
“Nice to make your acquaintance,” he said, grasping the young 15 year old’s hand in his, but his gaze was immediately fixed upon the beauty that was Gwendolyn, and he said, “And this is?”
“My oldest daughter, Princess Gwendolyn Violette Konstantopoulos Mayweather Muirfield.”
A smirk appeared on Peter’s face as he bowed his head to Gwendolyn. “Honored, Princess.”
The Duchess noticed his smile and decided to give them some space. “There is no room for an old woman where young people are present. I take my leave.”
Gwendolyn watched her mother walk away and she said to Peter, “You laugh at me.”
“You have quite the name.”
“You are the kind of man who finds humor in things a person cannot control?”
“No. Your name is beautiful. I do, however, find humor in everyday pleasantries. You would deny someone of finding the pleasures in an everyday situation?”
Gwen smiled. “No. I admit I cannot deny you of that. I also admit that my given name is ridiculous. Royals aren’t known for being precise in our introductions.”
“Indeed, you are not. So, Princess…”
“Call me Gwen.”
“Okay, Gwen. May I escort you to get a drink?” He pointed to the wine tables.
“Yes, I would be delighted.”
Gwen hadn’t anticipated finding pleasure in meeting the Viscount’s nephew; she wasn’t even expecting to want to hold a conversation with him, but the evening passed with great delight and the two hardly left each other’s sides for more than a moment.
“I would hope that I would have the pleasure of receiving you to the north country soon.”
“Yes. It sounds lovely. Since the death of my father last year, my mother and sister and I have felt very cooped up in our home. We used to travel a lot with our father, but not anymore. A widow doesn’t get too many invitations to stay places alone with her two daughters if you know what I mean.”
“Well, you are welcome to visit Lampfort, I mean, your mother and sister as well, whenever you like. We have plenty of room and my sister would love the company. She is young and we have no other siblings.”
“I will be there as often as I am able. I would be delighted to visit your family home.”
“Come for a walk with me.”
Peter grasped her hand in his—to Gwendolyn’s delight—before he realized that he should’ve asked her permission.
“I apologize… my judgment was skewed.” He withdrew his hand from hers.
Looking down to where his hand was now rested on his hip, she reached hers out. “Apology unnecessary.”
Peter took her hand and led her to the closest hallway away from peering eyes, and he continued to hold her hand.
“I must say, Gwen, that I never imagined the King’s niece could be so…”
Peter smiled. “Yes. I would’ve said enjoyable, but you understand my point.”
“My uncle is certainly not known for his hospitality as King.”
“Certainly not. You are so opposite of what your uncle appears to be.” He sighed and tightened his grip on her hand, pulling her closer to his side. “Would you be opposed to somewhere a little more private?”
“Where are we going?” she whispered as he tugged on her arm, leading her further down the hall.
He stopped about halfway down the hallway and pulled her into another room, closing the door behind them.
Gwen blushed and giggled, “Peter! What are you doing?”
“Tomorrow, you will be gone from me, and who knows when I will see you again. I’m making the most of today.” He reached forward and held her face in his hands, pressing his lips against hers for only a moment before she pulled away. Blushing deeply, she looked at the floor, trying to compose herself.
“Am I in huge trouble?” he asked.
Gwen shook her head but was still looking away. She recuperated herself and took a deep breath, finally able to look Peter in the eyes, who stood there nervously anticipating her reaction as he ran his fingers through his hair.
“I’ve never kissed a man before.”
“You’ve never had a kiss?” he replied.
“Well, no. I kissed a boy once when I was little. But as for a man and experiencing my first real kiss? No. This is it. I’m a princess and they keep me locked up as though I’m in a tower, waiting for prince charming to come and rescue me or something.”
“Hm. Should we have another go?”
Gwen smiled widely at the idea and nodded, leading him further into the corner.
PRESENT DAY- August 1812
“I better get going,” Gwen said as she pulled away from Peter, trying to recuperate herself.
“No, not yet. When you go out there, you’re the queen and we can’t be alone together. I can’t call you Gwen. We can’t be friendly. I have to bow in your presence. It’s terrible. Just stay.”
She sighed. “It’s like a nightmare. Never would I have imagined this would happen… what were the chances?”
“Yeah. It’s like he wanted it to happen.”
“What?” Gwen asked and sat down on her bed once more.
“Nothing. Pay no attention to me.”
Gwen pulled at Peter’s arm, urging him to sit on the bed with her and give her more information. “Please tell me what you were going to say.”
“Your uncle, he wasn’t meant to be at war when he died. Because he was the sole heir to his throne… well, besides you and your sister; he was not to go to war. Parliament wouldn’t allow it. I was there the day they made the ruling.”
Gwen gasped at his words, almost falling off the bed.
Peter took her in his arms, steadying her. “Someone murdered him. Someone set him up…me up.”
Peter nodded. “I’m going to protect you. Whoever it is, they’ll be after your life too.”
She laid her head against his chest for a moment just soaking in his words and wishing she could turn back time until another knock was at the door.
“Your Majesty,” her head advisor, Lord John DeWalt knocked.
“Uh oh… reality knocks,” she said to Peter.
“I will be out in a moment!”
“The carriage is ready for you,” the advisor replied.
Gwen glanced up to Peter, tightened her grip around his hand and said, “If I could do anything with my life as queen, I would make a clock that had magic.”
“And what would you do with it?” Peter asked as he stood and walked her to the door.
A tear fell as she said, “I would become a princess again so I could marry you.”
Peter used his finger to lift her chin and looked into her eyes as he said, “I am only one man. You are the Queen of Paruda. Think of all the good things you can do for us, your people. My love will always be with you.” He kissed her forehead and opened the heavy door to lead her out.
Peter watched from her window as she got into her lavish carriage and rode away, and the Queen’s lady’s maid—who was quite accustomed to seeing him in there—entered and said, “Your Grace, pardon my forwardness, but why is it you don’t marry the new queen? She is very lovely and you seem to like her… a lot. You hold a place in the royal court.”
Peter smiled at the innocent young lady’s maid and replied, “If only things were that simple when it came to marrying a queen.”
“I’m sure you’re right. Pardon my rudeness. Be assured your secret is safe with me.”
Peter walked over to the maid where she was gathering Gwen’s dirty clothing, and he handed her some spare change. “Keep quiet. No harm will come to the new queen. Do not ask for more, if you know what is good for you.”
The lady’s maid gulped and took the change, dropping it into her apron pocket. “Your Grace, I care for the Queen. She might be new to the throne, but it’s a much better choice than King Phillip, who raped and beat me when I was a kitchen maid not that long ago. Now, I’m promoted to Lady’s maid and other servants want to be me. She respects me and treats me with kindness. Why would I bring harm to her?”
“If you truly mean what you say, I shall hire you.”
“Yes. I have suspicions that someone is out to hurt our Queen…”
The servant gasped. “Oh my! Who would do such a terrible thing to such a kind person?”
“I’m not sure yet. What is your name?”
“Cara. You will be responsible for looking after anyone suspicious.”
She giggled. “You mean, other than you sir?”
“Very funny. You are a pleasant young lady. How old are you?”
“Princess Sophia’s age.”
“You’re intimidated by me?”
She nodded once more.
“Why is that? Speak freely.”
“You are a man of high rank who comes into the Queen’s room and…”
“I might be young, but I know what you do with her.”
“Why would that intimidate you?”
Cara moved her shoulders and tilted her head, biting her lip.
“I wasn’t raised up with a father. Therefore, I know the ways of men and their cruelty towards woman like me, Your Grace.”
Peter was taught to be a gentleman; his father grew him up to be a courteous and highly esteemed nobleman. He often took for granted that not everyone’s life was that way and he realized he needed to take pity on the lack of innocence in the young woman in front of him.
“I can assure you, child, that you are in no danger in my presence. My intentions are only with the Queen. Move along and see to your duties.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
She curtsied and walked out of Her Majesty’s bedroom chambers.
Peter waited a few moments before exiting to be sure no one would notice his leave.
“Your Grace,” Princess Sophia said as she saw him leaving. “My sister is not at the palace at present.”
“Yes…I…” he stumbled over his words.
“Is there a matter that I or one of the advisors could assist you with?”
“No! No… The matter for which I needed to see the Queen could only be solved by her at present.” He smirked to himself and walked away.
© 2019 Meg Sechrest.
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