Chapter 15 – Decisions
Chapter 15 – Decisions
“Servant!” Mistress Cathliene hollered from upstairs. “There is someone at the door. Answer it!”
“Right away, Lady Montego.” Noah responded as he hurried quickly towards the front door. Unfortunately he wasn’t fast enough for the person on the other side because, sure as the sky was blue, they knocked again.
“Must you do everything slowly, you useless pathetic servant?” He rolled his eyes at her comment, but hurriedly opened the door before a third knock could sound.
“May I help you sir?” he asked.
“His Royal Highness, King Edward, extends an invitation to members of the Montego house. It appears the Crowned Princess; Alexandria Maxine Georgiana Bell has chosen Lords Johnathon and Ronald Montego as suitable candidates for her hand. They are to return to the palace at their specified time, where they will spend a chaperoned afternoon with her Highness.” The steward completed with a nod.
“How many times have you had to say that?” Noah asked, handing Jim a shilling for his troubles.
Jim relaxed his stance. “Would you believe me if I told you that they made me repeat it to them fifty times before I was allowed to leave the palace?” Jim laughed. “There’s another letter addressed here,” he informed as he handed Noah three envelopes, “but I’m not sure what it means.”
“Really?” Noah asked perplexed, but Jim was unable to answer his question.
“Servant!” The apparently still intoxicated Lady Cathliene screeched. “Where are you with my breakfast?”
Jim laughed at Noah’s pain, and bid him a quick goodbye.
“Safe travels.” Noah called before closing the door.
He added the letters to the rest of the morning mail before sorting it into proper piles. Heaven forbid Lady Montego received a bill.
His suppressed a sigh as he glanced over the letters delivered by the Royal Steward. There, clear as day on top of the first two letters; To Lord Johnathon Montego (Mr. Bronze) of Durseman Peak, Alminia and To Lord Ronald Montego (Mr. Brass) of Durseman Peak, Alminia.
Well, it looked like the two managed to bully their way into the next round.
It was the third letter that made not only his eyes, but also his heart stop.
To the Terrafein Lord, residing at Durseman Peak, Alminia.
Did it mean him? It couldn’t have, he never danced with the Princess.
“I heard that the princess is masked at her own party.” The Nobleman’s words came crashing back into his memory.
Could he have met her?
Noah mentally slapped himself.
It was possible, but if so then it would open too many unanswered questions.
How could he have been so careless?
How had they found him?
“Servant, my breakfast!” Noah shoved the letter addressed to the Terrafein Lord into his vest pocket; he would have to figure out what to do about it later.
Lady Cathliene’s excitement about the Royal Invitations forced Noah spend the rest of the day tending to her sons’ every need.
Those two refused to leave their rooms, and would most likely spend at least three more days obtaining bedsores before returning to their leisurely lifestyle. This meant that Noah was rushing up and down the stairs all day bringing the Twin’s what ever they desired.
Lady Cathliene was already making plans to purchase her sons, brand new suits for the single day they would spend at the palace.
Unfortunately for her, those two were still working through their hangovers, and wouldn’t budge from their beds.
Unfortunately for Noah, she had a way around it.
He’d be leaving early the next morning to speak with Madam Pumberly about purchasing two finished suits. She believed that Cook’s daughters; Rosemary and Ginger, would be able to handle his duties for one day. Also because he was no longer impersonating a distant family member, he’d have to travel the four-hour trek on foot.
Lady Cathliene insisted that he arrive at Willaminia’s shop the moment it opened. He silently cursed at how early he’d have to wake up in the morning.
Noah sighed as he tried to relax on his small cot. The day was finished, his chores were done and the Twins were once again sleeping.
As he felt his eyes drop, the faint sound of paper crackling snapped him back to reality.
He had forgotten about the letter.
He sat up, pulled the slightly crumpled paper from his vest pocket, and smoothed it out on his bed. He paused for minute, debating on whether or not he should open it at all.
Realizing that he was getting nowhere, Noah closed his eyes, ripped open the seal.
A loose piece of paper slipped out.
He noticed how the handwriting on the attached invitation was different from the handwriting on the accompanying letter. The separate page was dotted with ink stains, and there were several locations where quill had run dry and the words had been rewritten. It looked rushed.
His heart stopped. It didn’t say Lord Jenkins. It said Noah, just Noah.
He glanced down at the bottom of the page and saw two words that he hadn’t expected to see.
Noah was even more confused. He didn’t know what to make of the clearly personal letter that he held in his hands. He imagined the lengths that she must have gone through to get the letter to him, and he couldn’t stop himself from reading the whole thing.
Forgive me for the way in which this message will reach you. I do not wish it to cause your household any distress. Just please know, this was the fastest way that I could reach you.
As you probably know by now the Masked Ball was a way for the Alminian King and Queen to introduce their daughter to suitors. The invitation that came with this letter informs you that you have been selected as one of the suitors. Although I wish to explain, I am not at liberties to divulge anything more.
Please know that you are one of the few people that I believe I can trust completely, and for that I ask your forgiveness. I have betrayed the trust that you have so freely given me, and I would like to justify my actions in person.
If you are able to, I ask that you meet me the day after this letter reaches you. I hope to see you before the city wakes at the place we first met.
Noah didn’t know what to make of her declaration.
She had betrayed his trust?
If anything it was the other way around. He had lied to her from the start.
Noah glanced at the invitation that had accompanied the letter and noticed the royal seal, a time, and a date. Ten days from tomorrow, at ten in the morning, he was supposed to meet the Alminian Princess as Lord Jenkins.
Would he have to lie to her as well?
Would he even go?
His life was slowly spiraling out of control, and Noah had no way of knowing if he could bring things back to normal.
He did know for certain that he would be meeting Lady Annabell Tompson tomorrow. He had no way of avoiding her at Madame Pumberly’s. Also, he still needed to return the suit that Willaminia lent him the last time he had gone to market.
He didn’t even contemplate wearing it again.
He was done lying.
Noah didn’t know how she’d react, after knowing what he had done.
It was likely that Lady Annabell Tompson would be highly upset at his betrayal.
Would she yell at him?
Demand that he be removed from her sight?
The thought of her hating him pained Noah more than he could have imagined. Still, he remembered the decision he had made at the ball when he held her in his arms. He could take the blame. He could be the fool.
But could he let her go?
~~~ The next day, Change Character Focus
Alexandria fidgeted with the skirts of her dress. She was beyond nervous. It was only a quarter till eight, but she couldn’t shake the foreboding that had entered her thoughts.
What had she done?
What had she been thinking?
She glared at her hand again. She had been unable to remove the ink stains that had soaked into her skin while she hastily wrote draft after draft of that letter to Lord Jenkins. She rubbed hopelessly at one of the black marks on her right hand, and silently cursed her rash behavior.
“Please,” his haunted voice had asked after he saved her from the two brothers, “just please stay away from them.”
But she hadn’t.
After the trumpets had announced her as the Princess, she became the center of everyone’s attention. Even without their obnoxious masks on, Alexandria easily remembered Montego Twins as Mr. Bronze and Mr. Brass.
They were either too ignorant or too inebriated to recognize her as the woman that they had berated earlier. That was the only reason that she had taken such a risk.
She had wanted so desperately to comprehend Noah’s message. His letter to Madam Pumberly had been short, but she didn’t understand it.
I had to get back. They got too close.
What did he mean by having to get back, get back to what?
Who were they?
And, Why had he signed the note with only his first name?
Alexandria couldn’t help herself. She had to know.
As the night carried on and the crowd began to wane, her curiosity had only grown. She had to speak with Noah, and only one method popped into her head. It had been insane for her to give both Mr. Bronze and Brass a favor, but she silently feared what might happen if only one had received and invitation to return.
Alexandria remembered how she had insisted on walking the Lords to the door once they finally decided to leave. She stared at their carriage and idiotically waited for him to join his family, only to be disappointed when he hadn’t surfaced.
Why had she been so stupid?
He had already left. Given his cousin’s reactions when he rescued her from him, it was highly likely that they hadn’t even known who he was.
She stared at her ink-stained hands again and recalled the countless times that she had written and rewritten that letter to him. She didn’t know what to say, or where to start. And then there came the problem of how to close the letter. She couldn’t bid him farewell as Lady Tompson. Neither could she sign her own name.
She had made up her mind to tell him the truth, but she wanted to do it in person. Alexandria knew that she was only torturing herself.
Why did she have to see his reaction as she told him that she had been lying?
Why couldn’t she explain everything in that letter?
Why wasn’t she a coward?
Things would have been easier if she had just let Lord Jenkins return to Terrafeuw, and she would never see him again. Yes, things would have been easier.
“Your Highness, it’s almost eight.” Tilly’s voice pulled her out of the mental rant she was having with herself.
Alexandria looked at her escort, and tried to offer a reassuring smile. “I know.”
“Are you sure about this, your Highness?” The girl asked giving Alexandria one last chance to back out.
“I’m sure.” She decided.
“I can’t believe that her Majesty approved of this.” Tilly remarked, surprising Alexandria with her frankness.
The Princess smiled at her escort, delighted by the subject change. “My mother said that she wanted to personally give an announcement in town today. I’m not sure what business she may have, but luckily for us, her appearance will keep the citizens preoccupied for a while.”
As if on cue the town clock rang and precisely on the eighth chime, the Queen’s carriage rolled into town and trumpets signaled a royal arrival.
“Right on time.” Tilly gasped in awe, her excited nature momentarily banishing her usually timid one.
Alexandria watched her mother’s carriage circle around the fountain, a block away, in the exact center of the city. The trumpets called the merchants and other city folk from their dwellings. She watched as the people gathered and she began to grow worried at the number of people that started to pool into the streets.
Sky forbid what might happen if someone recognized her.
She grew nervous, and began to fiddle with her skirts again. The crowd was starting to overflow towards her, and Alexandria was contemplating leaving when a recognizable voice called out above the din.
“I’m sorry I’m late.”