Chapter 21 – The 10th Suitor
Chapter 21 – The 10th Suitor
Noah opened his eyes only to see a mess of curly red hair in his face. He blinked, trying to figure out if he was still asleep, or if he was simply seeing things. The curly red haired monster giggled and bolted out of his vision.
He sat up on the driver’s seat of the carriage, which had been his bed for the last few nights, and rubbed his eyes as a yawn escaped his lips. It was still rather early and with one master comatose and the other spending some time in reflection. Who was there to say that he couldn’t rest his eyes for a few more seconds?
The red headed monster released another high pitched giggled. Noah knew that giggle anywhere.
“Kimmie,” He groaned loudly. “What are you doing here?”
She laughed even louder and jumped in his lap with an extravagant thud. She was clearly too excited to speak.
Noah looked up at her as sternly as possible. “Kimmie, you shouldn’t be wondering about by yourself this early. You could get into trouble.”
She giggled again before calming down enough to say, “I didn’t come by myself, silly. Simon’s with me.”
Kimmie pointed towards the horses and sure enough, there was Simon contently petting a brown bay. Noah nodded towards Simon, and removed Kimmie from on top of him. “Do your mothers know where you are?” He asked them sternly.
Neither of them answered, instead Kimmie jumped up and grabbed Noah’s hand and pulled him, quite forcefully, behind her. “We have to hurry or we’re going to be late.”
“Kimmie,” He begged looking towards Simon for help, “What does she mean we’re going to be late?”
“It’s a surprise.” Simon answered cryptically.
“I’m working right now.” He pleaded weakly, knowing that he wouldn’t have anything to do until Ronald woke up.
The young girl just giggled at him as if he had said the most hilarious thing. “No you’re not.”
“I can’t just leave.” He tried, confused about what Kimmie and Simon were up to.
“Yes you can.” Simon informed his face rather serious for an eight (and a half) year old. “Now come on.”
Noah dug his heels into the ground and stared at Kimmie. If one of them were to tell him what was going on it would be her. Kimmie loved gossip so much, that Noah could almost be certain she already knew what he had done the other day.
“What do you know little one?” He asked directly.
Before Simon could stop her, Kimmie giggled and answered, “Everything.”
“I don’t understand.” He prompted.
She sighed dramatically before saying slyly, “Well I know that Lord Ronald won’t be waking up anytime soon, so there is no reason for you not to follow us.”
Noah looked worriedly at the entrance of the Rosen Inn and wondered what Kimmie’s words meant. He thought nothing of Ronald’s behavior the day before though truthfully the man had been quieter than usual. Noah had chalked it up to boredom at Johnathon’s absence.
But perhaps something else was the cause.
He glanced at Simon, who looked away suspiciously.
“Alright, I’ll come,” Noah said giving in to their demands, “but could you tell me where we are headed?”
“It’s a surprise.” Kimmie said mimicking Simon, although she pronounced the word as if it had four syllables.
“You honestly won’t tell me?” He pleaded astounded by Kimmie’s resilience.
“Well...” She began.
Simon cut her off, “We can’t tell you Noah.” He said firmly, but his words seem to be directed to Kimmie rather than Noah.
“Will someone eventually tell me what is going on?” He asked.
The two of them nodded and Noah allowed Kimmie to pull him towards wherever it was they were taking him.
~~~ Change Character Focus, Later
“You should try to sit still.” Valerie informed her daughter who fretfully paced about the parlor.
Alexandria was clearly anxious about her visitor and they still had an hour before he was scheduled to arrive.
Valerie knew what day it was, and she who was coming, but she wished that her daughter would stop wearing out the carpet with her nervous pacing.
Her husband had told her what had happened the day before and Valerie was appalled that such a man would dare try to assault her daughter. She knew that the law protected that vile man, but if Alexandria and that servant hadn’t acted sooner the Princess’s virtue could have been called into question.
She was glad that she had taken the necessary steps to allow her daughter to see this Noah. Still, Valerie didn’t want anyone else knowing that it had been the Alminian Queen actions that had allowed the Servant to court the Princess. The Advisors would be furious with her.
“I’m just so nervous, Mother.” Alexandria admitted.
“Don’t be.” She proposed.
Alexandria looked at her oddly, no doubt questioning her presence.
Valerie had shown little interest in her daughter’s other suitors, but had informed Alexandria that she had decided to chaperone this particular meeting personally. Then again Alexandria hadn’t gone through such lengths to be alone with the other suitors.
“How can I not be nervous?” Alexandria wondered aloud.
Valerie smiled to herself. She remembered being just as nervous about a man, a servant. Perhaps Willaminia was right, perhaps she did know her daughter better that she realized. Although, if Valerie was being honest, Alexandria’s actions more closely mirrored Edward’s than her own.
But that was such a long time ago.
The circumstances that had lead up to her marrying Edward, had been unconventional to say the least, and yet she would never deny how much she loved her husband.
“I understand that you may be nervous about certain things, my dear, but don’t let them control the events in your life.” Valerie wished that someone had told her that.
Alexandria looked over at her for the first time. She looked at her as if trying to understand, but of course she wouldn’t. Not yet.
Ever since she married Edward, the Advisors had expressly forbid either of them to speak of their past.
“You like this boy don’t you?” Valerie stated plainly. Alexandria looked away, uncomfortable by her mother’s frankness. “Don’t play coy dear, it doesn’t suit you.”
Alexandria stared at her with shock clearly painted across her face.
“Mother.” She eventually stated perplexed, “There is something that I was hoping you could clarify.”
“What is it darling?” Valerie asked, concerned by her daughters sudden change of topic.
Alexandria released a sigh, “If I am engaged to Prince Philip, why didn’t you and Father simply insist on my marriage to him?”
Valerie stared blankly at her daughter, but Alexandria continued speaking. “You told me that it was because you and father were a love match, but surely the marriage between myself and Prince Philip is too advantageous to dismiss so lightly.”
She smiled at her daughter’s words. It appeared the Princess was finally starting to ask the questions that mattered.
“Terrafeuw was loosing the war with Rramnon.” She explained. “King Freddrick James Lyonal had barely ruled a year when the Terrafien shores were attacked. King Heralf on the other hand had commanded his armies for decades, and yet Terrafeuw managed to hold their own for five years before they asked for assistance.”
“I know all of this from my lessons.” Alexandria proclaimed. “Terrafeuw is the Trade Kingdom where as Rramnon is the Militant Kingdom. The advisors decided that an alliance with Terrafeuw would be more beneficial to Alminia. We would exclusively trade our metal ore with Terrafein ships in exchange for premium goods they acquired from the other Kingdoms.”
“Yes.” Valerie agreed, “But the decree would not be obligatory until the war was won. The Advisors however insisted that the Terrafein King bind the contract in blood.”
Realization dawned on Alexandria’s face, “Why didn’t you tell me that I was a commodity?”
“The contract merely stated that a child of Terrafein nobility should marry an Alminian royal.” Valerie looked at her daughter, unable to hide her sadness. “It was not planned for you to be an only child. King Freddrick himself was quite young when the war made him a widow, everyone expected him to remarry and father more heirs, but he never did.”
“Prince Philip and I are both crowned royals.” Alexandria said flatly. “If I were to marry him, then there at least one of our kingdoms would no longer have their successor.” She sighed as she finally sat down next to her mother.
Valerie watched her daughter closely, “We didn’t tell you at first because we hoped that it would be unnecessary to do so. Then the Advisors became nervous and once the war ended the contract was modified. If yourself or Philip found a worthy suitor prior to one year after your eligibility, there would be no need for a union between the two Kingdoms.”
“You’ve been planning this since that war ended?” Her daughter asked in disbelief. “Is that the real reason why Prince Philip didn’t come to the ball? Because he didn’t want to be one of my suitors?”
“It wouldn’t have been wise for you to fall in love with him.” Valerie answered smartly.
“Mother?” Alexandria asked again, some moments later, once she fully absorbed the information.
“Why did you want to chaperon my meeting with this particular suitor?”
Valerie wasn’t surprised in the least by her daughter’s question. “Oh it wasn’t just me dear.” She informed as if the fact were common knowledge.
Alexandria noticeably frowned, “I don’t understand.”
Just then, Jim walked in with a slight smile on his face. Valerie motioned that he could let the suitor in.
It wasn’t until the steward left the room that the Queen informed her daughter, “Your father wanted to officially meet this young man as well.”
~~~ Change Character Focus
Noah couldn’t believe he was standing in front of the parlor doors waiting for Jim to allow him entrance.
He felt idiotic, and out of place. Why was he standing there?
Kimmie and Simon had promised him answers, but most of his questions landed on closed ears.
Annie Byrns and Willaminia knew what was going on, but had refused to tell Noah much of anything.
That irked him.
Noah had promised himself that he wouldn’t lie to Annabell anymore, and he worried what the day ahead entailed.
The doors started to open, and Noah automatically dropped his eyes to the floor. It was a habit that he hadn’t realized he had. Besides, it wasn’t his place to be seen gazing upon royalty.
A delicate cough enticed him to look up.
He stilled as his eyes glanced pass Annabell, and towards the other person in the room. He had never actually seen the woman, but the resemblance between her and her daughter was uncanny. His eyes widened at the realization that he was in the presence of the Queen of Alminia.
Noah racked his memory for every lesson his mother had ever given him. He offered Queen Valerie a smile, and a half bow. “Your Majesty.” He said towards her before bowing in Annabell’s direction, “Your Highness.”
He knew that Alexandria hated people calling her Highness, but Noah couldn’t call her Annabell in front of her mother.
Queen Valerie returned his smile, but insisted. “There is no need for formality today Mr. Jenkins.” She informed happily, “Please do come in.”
“Thank you, your Majesty.” Noah wasn’t sure how to act after he sat in the chair that she had offered. He was use to being the one standing in the corner unnoticed, until something was needed.
“Do you mind if I call you by your given name?” Queen Valerie asked bluntly.
Noah blinked forcibly. He wondered why she had asked, but he realized that he was in no position to deny the Alminian Queen. “I don’t mind, Majesty.” She looked at him oddly and Noah nearly slapped himself. She had asked him to not be formal. “Madam?” He asked hoping she would allow the compromise.
She offered him a warm smile and corrected, “Ma’am, is perfectly adequate.”
“So Noah,” she stated frankly, “I understand that you have feelings for my daughter.”
Noah paled and looked towards Annabell for any shred of assistance.
Even under the current situation she looked beautiful. Both her and her mother were in brightly colored skirts, with their hair pulled back. But unlike her mother, Annabell had a dark pink blush on her cheeks. She had been just as shocked about her mother’s statement as he had.
“Your Majesty-” He tried unsure about how to respond. She hadn’t asked a question, she had stated the information as if a fact.
“Ma’am.” She reminded him sternly.
“Ma’am.” He corrected. “I-” Noah tried to remember everything that his mother had taught him, but nothing had prepared him for the situation he was currently in.
“I would have asked you to also call me by my given name,” the Queen admitted, “but I can tell by your demeanor that you would be unable to do so.”
Noah was completely baffled. He couldn’t think of a proper response. Thankfully it appeared that Annabell had found her tongue. “Mother,” She chided. “It isn’t polite for you to tease my guest.”
“I wasn’t teasing him.” She confessed. “Since I am acting as chaperon, rather than your etiquette tutor, I believe it is within my right to request the exclusion of titles for one afternoon.” The Queen reasoned.
Annabell smiled at her mother. Noah knew that she didn’t like to be called Princess, and not having to do so would put him at ease around her, but it shocked him that the Queen had requested it rather than the Princess.
“I will do my best to abide by your request Maj- ... Ma’am.” Noah forced himself to correct. It went against everything he knew.
Noah tried to grasp onto something that would convince him he wasn’t dreaming. He was in the middle of chaos searching for something familiar, when a pair of hazel eyes instantly calmed him.
He was pulled into her gaze by an unknown force. Noah did nothing to stop that pull. He didn’t feel powerless around her; no, it was just the opposite. Noah he felt like he was on fire, energy surged throughout him.
It was the same feeling he felt when he chanced a look at her the last two days. After Lord Ronald had been dismissed from the palace Noah had risked a glance towards Annabell. He did so again when Lord Johnathon ordered him to leave the gallery.
He could feel Annabell smile at him, and his heart ignited.
Again he was hit by a strangely possessive emotion that he knew he didn’t have a right to feel.
Noah tried to remind himself of all the boundaries that separated him from the woman that sat across from him.
“Are you two going to just stare at each other all day?” The Queen asked, her voice breaking the tension that had built between them.
Noah was confused about what had transpired between himself and Annabell, but he quickly recovered and asked. “Was there something that you wanted to do today?”
“I was thinking,” Annabell offered looking towards her mother for approval, “that we could enjoy a picnic on the Amani Shore.”
Noah had never heard of the place.
“It would be nearly lunch by the time we arrived.” The Queen informed apparently please with her daughter’s idea, “We shall have to have an escort though, I am unsure of the way.” She thought about it for a minute before proposing, “I shall invite my Tom to join us. He’ll be able to get us there. Yes.” She said happily, “I shall invite him personally. Marvelous idea darling.”
Noah stared in wonder at the royal woman in front of him. She wasn’t anything like he had imagined her to be.
The woman stood to leave, and Noah stood as well. “While I am away,” she informed seriously, “I’ll have Mr. Thurston act as a temporary chaperon. If I receive any disheartening reports, Noah must leave immediately.”
Before either Noah or Annabell could reply, Queen Valerie lightly curtsied and left the room.
There was a comfortable silence while they waited for her return.
“Who is Tom?” Noah eventually asked.
Annabell seemed startled at his question, but then giggled slightly when she understood why he asked it, “Tom is my mother’s nick name for Father.” she clarified. “She only calls him ′my Tom’ when Society Members aren’t around. I’ve never actually been curious enough to ask her why she calls him that.”
She offered him small shrug as Noah processed what she had told him.
Queen Valerie didn’t call her husband that around members of Society. Did that mean she knew? Why wouldn’t she know, Noah practically made himself known as a servant the day before with his actions in the Royal Gallery.
Was that why she had insisted that he not use titles? So that he didn’t have to lie to her.
Queen Valerie’s Tom was Annabell’s father.
“So your father, the King,” Noah emphasized, “will be joining us?”
Noah stilled as he contemplated every possible scenario about meeting Annabell’s father, King Edward.
~~~ Change Character Focus, Same Scene
Alexandria watched her mother leave the room.
She glanced over at Noah, and was able to appreciate his attire for the first time since he walked in. He wasn’t wearing a suit, but neither was he wearing the garb of a servant. He wore a pair of dark brown pants and a loose cream-colored shirt. The way he held himself hinted that he was important, and yet he also looked extremely confortable.
Noah clearly didn’t realize how different he was from anyone she knew. She couldn’t stop thinking about him. Even when he was in his formal servant attire constantly ten steps behind her, she had been aware of him.
He was constantly on her mind and she realized that she had fallen for him.
She barely knew him.
“Who is Tom?” Noah asked, pulling her from her thoughts.
Annabell was startled at first by his question, but then giggled slightly when she remembered why he asked it, “Tom is my mother’s nick name for Father.” she clarified. “She only calls him ′my Tom’ when Society Members aren’t around. I’ve never actually been curious enough to ask her why she calls him that.”
It took him a moment to process what she had just said, “So your father, the King,” he emphasized, “will be joining us?”
Alexandria watched as worry slow made its way across Noah’s face.
“Are you alright?” She asked a short time later.
Her words broke the trance that Noah had put himself in. “I’m sorry?” He asked, having not heard her question.
“Are you alright?” Alexandria reiterated.
“Are you?” He countered.
She smiled at his jest, glad that his spirit had returned. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“You don’t need to do this, you know.” He said flatly.
Alexandria couldn’t understand what he meant. “I don’t have to do what exactly?”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not a member of Society.” Although his words were barely auditable, Alexandria was able to sense desperation in them. “I’m a servant. I...open the door, I...make baths, I...heat water, run to market, clean out stalls, I...help people get dressed. I...I’m not... I can’t ... be.” he stuttered as if his tongue couldn’t keep up with everything going on in his head, “I’m not... a knight in shining armor.”
She had yet to see this side of Noah. He was scared, and confused; and it pained her heart to see. She wasn’t sure what had caused such a reaction from him, but she knew that his words had a great deal of truth in them.
Alexandria fidgeted with her skirts. “Noah,” She began, feeling nervous for some reason. “It’s not...like that. I know how very different we are, but you wouldn’t be here if...”
The words got lost in the back of her throat. She hadn’t said it yet because there had always been uncertainty. What if he didn’t feel the same way?
What if he did?
What would happen after she told him?
If she told him?
Why was she thinking about it so much?
“If... what?” He asked softly.
Alexandria glanced nervously towards the Steward that was chaperoning them. She was glad at how far away Mr. Thurston stood from them. He clearly couldn’t hear a word they said and it didn’t seem to bother him one bit.
“You wouldn’t be here...” She restated. “If I didn’t want you to be.”
The silence was tangible. She could see Noah contemplating her words. A look of realization dawned in his eyes, but before he could respond Mr. Thurston released a cough.
They both turned swiftly, startled by the noise.
“Yes?” She asked noticing a small note in his hands.
“Your parents, Highness, would like for you and your guest to join them at the east entrance.” He conveyed. “I am to escort you there.”
“I see.” She acknowledged. She stood quickly looked at Noah who was also standing, “Shall we leave then?”