Princess Samantha strode through the halls of the castle for the first time in three years. Once in her rooms she sent for her servant Anne. She pulled off her fox wrap and laid it across her bed. Anne stepped inside her room. “My lady you’re back.”
“Anne would you be so kind as to send for Carolyn and ask her if I could borrow a black dress. Please have some dinner sent up for me then take the rest of the evening off I shall not need any help dressing.”
Carolyn stepped into Samantha’s room “Sam is it really you?”
“Carolyn I missed you.”
“You’re a woman. James will be relieved to see you. But where have you been?”
“Avoiding my destiny. God I’ve been so stupid.” Samantha said sitting on her bed. “I’ve messed everything up and now I did not even get to say good bye.” Sam sobbed.
Carolyn had two children now and Diana was pregnant with her first. Samantha barely recognized her two younger siblings and her father’s illness had wasted him away to a shell of a man. Even if she had made it home in time she would not have known him still she could have said goodbye. James yelled at her for over an hour about disappearing. Samantha didn’t care about that all she cared about was how deeply she knew she’d hurt her father. Every free moment she prayed for forgiveness somehow she hoped he would hear her.
Samantha was brought out of another silent prayer when James said King William and Prince Richard were already on their way. She was to be married in three months. She’d already resigned herself to give up Vincent but to do so, so quickly was too much. She was doubly over in mourning.
The funeral was a long drawn out affair. Samantha hadn’t seen Vincent in the crowd and was thankful she couldn’t bear seeing him so soon. She would have to face him eventually but not today. After arriving back at the castle she trudged up to her rooms wanting to be alone. She’d never been so sad in her life.
Anne waited for her but Samantha wanted nothing. When she said so Anne grew worried. “But you had no breakfast miss you must eat. I’ll get you tea and biscuits.” She offered.
“Thank you” Samantha was surprised by the change. The girl always hated her before she left. Of course Samantha was not very nice to her then. Anne returned quickly setting down her tray. “Anne,” Samantha waved her over. “Sorry for the way I treated you before. It was not right.”
“No need your highness.”
“I want you to have this.” She handed Anne a silk hair scarf the girl always admired.
“I know, but take it anyway, you always liked it.”
“Thank you my lady.”
“Anne I promise no more gifts but I will be nicer.”
“Thank you my lady,” Anne smiled and slipped out of the room. Sam looked to the fox wrap draped over a chair and smiled. A shadow slipped across her door and the door slammed shut, the key ground in the lock. She rushed to the door. “James? What are you doing? Let me out.”
“You’ll stay right there until the prince arrives and he can keep an eye on you. I won’t let you escape again.”
“I will not run, let me out.” He started to walk away. “James really where would I go? Why would I go now when I’m the one who came back?”
“The driver said he picked you up at a Count Vincent’s house. I don’t know who he is but you are not going back.”
“A man James?”
“Yes we all know how my sister feels about marriage; yet another reason to keep you here. But tell me Sam why fight so hard to get out if the man meant nothing to you?” He walked away.
“I just want to say goodbye.”
Carolyn came the next morning to let Anne in with their breakfast. She sat down across from Samantha at the breakfast table. And waited for Anne to leave. “What happened while you were gone Sam? James mentioned a count.” Samantha sighed and told Carolyn everything that happened as they ate breakfast. Carolyn looked to Samantha finally “I am sorry I can not let you out.”
“But all I want is to say good bye.”
I know Samantha but marriage is built on trust and James trusts me to keep you here. I will see that he gets a letter though.”
“Oh thank you Carolyn.”
“To say goodbye only no rescue attempts.”
“I came back for the good of my people.”
Carolyn got up from the table “I know it’s hard to do what is right but what you are doing will save countless lives.”
“Thank you Carolyn.”
Vincent received a letter from Meredith and went to the library to read it alone. He settled into his chair before opening it.
I am afraid I bring bad tidings. It is with a heavy heart that I must say we can not be together. I am afraid that even under other circumstances our relationship was doomed from the start. A very wise woman once told me that a marriage was built on trust and trust is built on honesty. I fear that neither of us were being very honest with the other. The time has come for me to tell you my secrets. I am Princess Samantha. I ran away before my 15th birthday because I did not wish to marry anyone let alone a man I never met. At that time I thought of only myself and what I wanted, or should I say did not want.
Then I met you and you changed that. Suddenly I cared about more than myself. It was innocent at first, I merely wanted to make you happy. Then we became friends. I was happy when I found out you were getting married and rearranged the room I’d started. But one night as I lay in bed thinking I found myself picturing the two of us entering the room together. I tried to avoid you then but you were persistent.
I came to realize I loved you but did not want to cause another woman to lose such a fine husband. I threw myself into my work then hoping only to finish the room before you could do something rash. Then it was too late and I found myself hopelessly in love and lost in dreams of you. Your marriage proposal woke me most frightfully, pulling reality back down around me and you witnessed my horrid reaction. For that I am truly sorry. The next day I decided to run away with you. When I went to market I intended to buy supplies to ready our escape. I’m afraid my selfish ways had returned. But as I walked that long road I heard the peasants speak of their troubles: their illness and hurts, their children’s hunger and husband’s hard work. I heard also of many who’d moved here from the border towns to escape the strife and struggle my marriage was to end. An old woman sat in a rocker still moping over a long dead son lost in a border dispute some ten years ago. Ten years and she still greaves. I could prevent such sorrows. I could return home and help my future husband make the world a better place. So you see my love, I have learned my most valuable lesson too late to spare you grief but just in time to save so many others.
I will always cherish the love we had and can only hope Prince Richard is as good a man as you. Go to your bride and be happy always. I will keep you in my prayers for a long and happy life.
Vincent sighed as he ran his hand over the royal seal at the bottom of the letter. There was no question it was her handwriting and it certainly explained a lot. He went to the desk in the corner and immediate wrote a reply.
Carolyn knocked on Samantha’s door and waited for a reply. She answered drying a few tears. “There is someone here to see you.” Samantha looked confused as Carolyn opened the door wider.
Samantha brightened when she saw Henry behind her “Henry, but what are you doing here?”
“My lord asked me to deliver this message your highness.” He smiled at her as he handed her the letter.
“Thank you Henry would you like to have a seat?”
“Thank you highness but I do not think you will be so happy to see me once you read what my master has written.”
“I can not hold you responsible for Vincent’s actions besides I already know it says farewell.” She said sitting down.
“My lady will make a fine queen, its no wonder my master tried to steal you away. Goodbye Miss Meredith I hope I will see you again soon.”
Samantha smiled “I would like that Henry.”
“Your majesty” he bowed to Carolyn as he left. Carolyn closed the door as Samantha opened her letter.
How I long to call you Meredith and yet that is not your name. Please forgive me when I say that is always how I will think of you. I understand why you have left but admit it does not make it any easier. You are a better person than you give yourself credit for and will make a fine queen. I pray Prince Richard is worthy of such a noble woman. I want you to know that I will always love you first and foremost but will comply with your request. I will try to be as loving a husband to my unknown bride as I would have been to you.
Samantha let the letter fall to her lap numb. She knew what it would say but had not expected to feel the emotion it contained. It hit her again as it had the first night: he was gone. Soon he would be replaced by a man she’d never met. A man she’d never met by no one’s fault but her own. She started to cry but didn’t really care. She flinched when Carolyn touched her hand. Samantha had forgotten she was there. “I can see why you fell in love with him.”
“Oh Carolyn,” Samantha sobbed.
Less than a week later the castle was in an uproar. Prince Richard arrived earlier than anyone even James expected. Samantha didn’t really care what she wore but Carolyn insisted she wear a fine blue gown to bring out her eyes. She chattered on and on about how certain aspects of their marriage would be better if they found one another attractive. Samantha was suddenly worried, somehow that aspect of married life had been forgotten. It was one thing to be the man’s queen and right hand; at his beck and call during the day. That she could submit to but would the marriage bed be so easy. Samantha turned to Anne who had brought the news of his arrival. “Have you seen him Anne?”
“The prince my lady? No but the others said he was quite dashing.”
“Now you’re worried?” Carolyn asked.
“I’d forgotten certain things.” Samantha admitted.
Carolyn smiled at her “I’ll talk to James and see if we can slow things a bit. Just get through this first meeting things will get easier from there.”
“Thank you Carolyn.” Samantha said turning back to her mirror.
James had Prince Richard tied up with business when Samantha finished so she decided to wait in the small garden behind what used to be their father’s apartments. Her lute was tucked inside its brass trunk before the door just where she’d left it. It needed tuning but was all right. She strummed up a few notes but could not bring herself to sing. The playing was enough to soothe her nerves though. In a short time her troubles were forgotten. “You play so beautifully.” She glanced up and glimpsed a young man she assumed was the prince.
“I’m sorry the maid was supposed to send for me when you were finished.” Samantha apologized as she set the instrument aside. She stood to greet him and saw a familiar face. “Vincent? What are you doing here?” she eyed his clothes. “And pretending to be the prince my brother will have your head.”
He smiled easily ignoring her comment “You look beautiful Samantha.”
“This is hardly the time. You may be able to fool my brother but what happens when Prince Richard arrives?”
“Samantha I am Richard.” She stared at him. James came into the garden with King William beside him.
“Ah Richard I see you’ve finally met my sister.”
“Richard?” Samantha asked.
King William leaned over to James “She’s not slow is she?” James shook his head confused. Samantha was never slow witted. Her tongue was usually quicker than was good for her.
“Its true then?” she whispered to Richard and he nodded. She threw her arms around him without thinking.
“Well now she seems an affectionate girl.” King William commented.
“Thank you for putting it so delicately.” James said staring at his sister. Samantha let Richard go a little embarrassed.
“Would you excuse us?” Richard asked. King William pulled James away by one arm finding some excuse.
When they were alone Samantha smacked him on the arm. “What was that for?”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Instead you let me think I lost you forever.”
“You lost Vincent.” He said as he escorted her to a seat. “Besides your letter arrived opened I could only assume mine would too and I did not want anything to jeopardize the treaty especially now that I knew you would be my bride. The only person of importance I met as the count was your father and confessed it to him after your birthday. He understood my concern and I told him of the home I’d purchased for you. He said you still did not want to meet me which I guess was true since you ran away but that he would send you when you were ready.”
“What about the men you brought there?”
“They would not have jeopardized the treaty so it did not matter.” He took her hand “You put me to shame the day I got your letter. I really was ready to give up everything. I didn’t care, even after I heard the king was dead. I actually thought James might let me out of the treaty. Then your letter came and I realized I was half a man and you dear lady made me whole.”
“But how did your father get here so fast?”
“He was already on his way to press my marriage. I sent Henry to slow him down.” Richard grinned at her. “Samantha will you marry me?”
“What would that be?”
“No more secrets.”
“I do have a surprise for you.”
“You always have the best surprises.” She agreed.
Richard escorted Samantha into the main hall where their families were waiting. He introduced her to his father before addressing James. “We wish to marry by the end of the month.”
James was astonished “Sam?” she nodded happily “All right we’ll start the preparations at once.” He said before looking to his wife.
Church bells rang as they rushed from the church and climbed into the waiting coach. Samantha took Richard’s arm and snuggled into his shoulder for the long ride back to the summer house; her house. The home she’d lovingly decorated for another woman or at least she thought she had. Her only regret was that the bridal chamber would not be finished. At least Richard swore he had not peeked.
The scene at home was very different now. The staff had tripled in size and banners adorned the front walls. The door was opened for her and the hall was as she remembered. Henry greeted them warmly and led them to dinner. Heddy had outdone herself with eight courses of fine French food. That and the wine were making Samantha sleepy yet she did not want to sleep.
She and Richard walked arm in arm to the bridal chamber and her heart pounded in her ears. “We’ll open it together.” He said to her with his most charming smile. She nodded and placed a hand on the door. Inside the candelabras were lit and everything was just as she left it, except the curtains were finished and hung. Heddy must have seen to it after she left. Then she noticed the bed the shears she so tediously stitched gold vines on were finished and hung as well. The covers too had been stitched to match. Across the room hung the guilt mirror she’d bought the first time Richard proposed. It hung exactly where it should. “Heddy and Henry saw to its completion. I must say this is my favorite room.”
“Mine too.” She smiled.
“Is this why you switched my bed?”
“Well, you did pick it out,” She put her arms around him “and now you have it back.” They kissed a long moment before Richard crossed the room and shut the door.