Chapter 34 – Value
Chapter 34 – Value
When Queen Valerie finally found her daughter, she was sitting next to a sleeping Noah in The Lookout Inn. Both of Alexandria’s hands clasped firmly around one of his and she was rubbing the back of it with her thumb.
“How’s he doing?” Valerie asked softly.
Alexandria looked up at her, but never released her grasp from the man sleeping next to her.
“The doctor said that his upper arm had been broken, but it was set improperly while onboard. They had to break it again so that it could heal correctly.” She sighed and shook her head at him. “He also broke a wrist, has trouble breathing and a head inquiry that seems to be infected.”
Alexandria glanced at Noah disapprovingly, before looking back up at her, still keeping his hand clasped within hers. “He went for a walk this morning before we got in. How could he be so careless? He practically collapsed when he returned.”
Queen Valerie pulled up a chair and placed her hand on her daughter’s lap to offer her some comfort. “How are you holding out?”
Her daughter looked up at her in surprise, but Valerie noticed several tears escape Alexandria’s eyes. “I’ve been better.” It was all that she managed to say before Noah released a ragged breath and she was back to watching him.
Valerie closed her eyes and mentally prepared herself for what she was about to tell her daughter. She just hoped that at the very least it would take Alexandria’s mind off of the worry for at least a while.
“Alexandria dear, you do realize that Noah isn’t a noble, right?”
Valerie never expected the reaction that she got from her daughter. “It’s all King Heralf’s fault.” She answered bitterly.
“Darling,” She said startled, “I don’t understand. What’s King Heralf’s fault?”
Alexandria’s hazel eyes found her brown ones, “Noah and Philip are brothers.” Her response was so quiet that Valerie almost didn’t catch it.
“What do you mean they’re brothers?” She asked doubtfully.
A sigh escaped her daughter’s lips and her eyes focused once more on the person lying in the table next to her. “Terrafeuw’s Queen, Gwenwyn, wasn’t a casualty of the war all those years ago.” Alexandria began to explain. “She fled to Alminia after the Royal Sanctuary was burned. Apparently she had kept her pregnancy a secret, and it remained a secret until King Freddrick responded to the ransom note.”
Valerie stared at her daughter and then again at the man passed out on the table and couldn’t help but notice the similarities between him and Prince Philip.
“Why didn’t you tell us about Noah’s position when you and Prince Phillip arrived?” She asked.
Alexandria released a long sigh before saying. “King Freddrick is afraid that if Heralf found out about the existence of his second son that his attention would shift. As long as Noah’s identity remains a secret, he’s safe from Heralf’s tyranny.”
The story seemed too fantastic to believe, but something told Valerie that it was absolutely true. A distant memory, or perhaps something she had over heard long ago; it didn’t really matter what had convinced her, just that something had.
“You love him.” She stated easily, although she had known for quite some time.
Although Alexandria didn’t look at her, Valerie saw her face pale and then slowly turn scarlet.
She glanced at her mother, then at Noah, and then back to her. “Yes.” She whispered, her voice was soft, yet filled with resolve. “But- He’s not a Noble. He can’t be a Noble.”
“And?” She prompted.
Her daughter’s kept her voice calm, but her anger was apparent. “As a Crowned Princess I have responsibilities. I have a responsibility to my Kingdom, and to my people. As a future leader I must find someone that will share my responsibilities, and rule by my side.” She sighed and tenderly drew circles on the back of Noah’s hand.
“I know where my duties lie mother, and I can’t change the fact that his standing in Society must remain nonexistent. Still,” She paused but never took her eyes off of him. “I don’t care. I can’t stop thinking about him. I loved him long before I found out about his past. Even if I can’t have him, I will always love him.”
Valerie kept herself from smiling at the words that came out of her daughter’s mouth. It reminded her of another equally passionate speech that she had heard many years ago.
She placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder and waited until she looked at her. “Why can’t you have him?” She asked, managing to keep all emotion out of her voice.
Alexandria released a frustrated sigh, but she answered the question anyway. “He’s a former servant, mother.”
“Darling do you remember those bed time stories that I use to tell you when you were a child?” Valerie asked the question so suddenly that it took Alexandria a moment to realize what she had asked.
“Yes” She eventually answered.
“Do you remember the name of your favorite story?”
Alexandria’s confusion only deepened, and it took her another moment to respond. “The Stable Master’s Secret.”
“Remind me what it was about, please.” Valerie prompted.
“Mother,” Alexandria begged in frustration, “Now is not the time.”
Her daughter released Noah’s hands only to fiddle nervously with her skirts as she began to tell the story. “Long ago in a distant valley a stranger appeared. He was dirty, poor, and looking for work. He was pointed to the house of an evil duchess, were he was appointed the Stable Master. In time he made friends with the other servants of the house, he even fell in love with the Head Cook.”
“But what was his secret?” Valerie asked already knowing the story.
“He was a run away Prince.” Alexandria answered.
“That story was perhaps one of the saddest stories that I ever told you.” She reminded, “And yet you begged for it nearly every night for years. Why?”
Her daughter shrugged slightly, “I guess, because in the end, the Stable Master was allowed to marry the woman that he had fallen in love with. They lived happily ever after.”
Valerie smiled at Alexandria’s words, “What do you think the lesson of that story was?”
She sighed in annoyance. “The story’s lesson was to never give up on love, but it’s just a story mother. It doesn’t matter it you change the names to people we know, it won’t make the story true. Do I love Noah? Yes. But this isn’t some far off land. The Alminian Advisors would never allow a Royal to marry a servant.”
“That didn’t stop your father.”
~~~ Change Character Focus
“That didn’t stop your father.”
Alexandria’s heart stopped.
A full minute passed before she could fully grasp what had her mother had said.
She focused on the woman across from her. It was like she was seeing her for the first time.
It all made a strange sort of sense. Her mother had been present at all of Alexandria’s childhood lessons, she showed complete disdain towards the Servant Discipline law, and no matter how often she asked Alexandria had never learned the story of how her parents had met.
Or had she?
The woman in front of her gave her a sad smile. “I grew up deep within the Wrinery Mountains in a town called Ridit Valley.” She explained. “I worked in the kitchens under the employment Duchess Mildrid and her three daughters. By the time I was sixteen I had become the Head Cook. When your father and I first met he was running away from an arranged marriage. I’ll spare you the details, but you should know that your father planned to give up his crown for me. He almost did.”
“What happened?” Alexandria asked wondering how close the story was to her parents’ past.
“King Edwin became ill, and the council didn’t want an empty throne. After nearly two years of deliberations, rumors, tests and controversy, we were finally allowed to be together.”
She knew the story, but it seemed too fantastic to believe. “Why didn’t you tell me,” she found herself asking, “that it was true?”
“Your father and I were sworn to secrecy by the Advisors. They feared how the people might react if they had known about my past.”
Alexandria couldn’t help but remember all of the struggles that the characters Ann and Tom faced in The Stable Master’s Secret. “Tom.” She realized, remembering the name that her mother sometimes called her father when no one was around. “How did I never make the connection?”
Her mother smiled. “He went by Tompson then.”
Her persona at market day.
Not being forced into an arrange marriage.
Her mother’s masked name at the Ball.
Her parents’ easy acceptance of Noah.
The way Madam Pumberly spoke with her mother.
The nights her mother changed the names of the characters in the stories.
The silent agreement between the three of them to never use titles when they were alone.
Even the fact that her father knew every servant in the palace by name.
Everything pointed out the truth that that Alexandria had once been too blind to see. Her Mother had been a servant.
Realization caused her to blink several times, and it took her a moment to finally speak. “Was it difficult?” She asked remembering what she once thought was an old bedtime story.
Sadness momentarily found its way into her mother’s eyes, but she brushed it aside and answered. “It was worth it.”
~~~ Some Time Later, Change Character Focus
Noah woke up sweating, he was slightly nauseous, and his head felt like it had been cracked open. A warm pressure radiated from his chest. He slowly forced his eyes open and noticed that someone had fallen asleep on top of him.
Not just any someone.
Even though she slept, he could see exhaustion stained under her eyes.
She hadn’t left him.
He found himself smiling at her as he cautiously lifted his good arm, placed his hand on her back, and started drawing circles across her shoulders.
A sigh escaped her. Still sleeping, she placed an arm around him and she snuggled closer. He couldn’t help the groan that escaped him as pain shot though his injured arm.
Her eyes instantly popped open at the sound.
“Noah?” She called as worried eyes met his. “You’re awake.”
He winced as the volume of her voice caused his head to thud in pain, but he couldn’t help the smile that the very sight of her brought to his face.
“Where am I?” He asked when he noticed that the he was no longer on a table in The Lookout Inn, but on an actual bed in a large room.
Alexandria ignored his question and brought a hand to his forehead. She released a sigh that he believed she had been holding for far too long, and smiled. “Your fever has finally broken.” She informed happily. “You should be feeling better soon.”
Noah struggled to sit up, but she placed a hand firmly on top of his chest.
“Rest.” She implored. “Please.”
The worry he saw in her eyes forced him to lie back down without arguing. “Where am I?” He asked again, still confused by his surroundings.
“You’re in one of the guest’s rooms at the Palace.” She finally answered, “Freddrick and Philip are right across the hall. I should go inform them that you have woken up.”
“Not yet.” He said grabbing ahold of her wrist before she tried to leave the room.
She remained in her half sitting, half standing position for a moment before she finally sat back down in her chair.
The sight of snow falling outside caught his attention. “How long have I been out?”
“Not long.” She answered much too quickly.
“Alexandria?” He asked flatly, “How long?”
She looked away and then her eyes returned to him. “Four days,” she finally answered, “but you should really try to rest more. Your fever has only just broken. The doctors were surprised that you hadn’t collapsed from the fever prior to the Kettu docking in the harbor.”
He smiled slightly at her rant, but soon frowned at the dark circles that stained her eyes. “You never left.”
It wasn’t a question, but she nodded anyway as she combed her hair with her fingertips. She glanced down at her dress and frowned at its appearance. “You promised to rest.” She reminded as she tried to smooth the skirts of her dress out.
“Only if you promise to do the same.” He chided.
She sent him a worried glance, but he reassured her by pulling one of her hands away from the folds of her skirt and giving it a light squeeze.
“Go, sleep.” He commanded. “I won’t be able to rest easy if I know that you aren’t.”
Alexandria seemed to accept his threat. “I’ll make sure that you aren’t disturbed.” She said as she stood up and headed towards the door.
Noah forced himself to smile as she left him alone in the room. For a moment he heard the voices of others outside of the room, but they disappeared as he drifted off into a sleep that hadn’t been induced by fever.
~~~ Several Days Later
“Noah?” He heard a familiar voice ask.
“Yes?” He called back as he opened his eyes. He had regained most of his energy in the last few days, but Alexandria still insisted that he remained in the guest room that he had woken up in five days ago.
He smiled up at her, realizing that he was very quickly becoming use to hearing her voice in the morning.
“You look stunning.” He said as he pushed himself up with only one arm. It had been nearly three weeks since the hurricane, but the doctor insisted that he not use the injured one until the New Year. His breathing had returned to normal the day after his fever broke, and the bandage that had been covering the cut on his forehead had been removed the night before.
Alexandria blushed at his compliment, but he wouldn’t take it back.
It was true.
The dark circles underneath her eyes had completely vanished, and crease of worry had lifted from her brows. She sat on the edge of the windowsill and sent him a genuinely relaxed smile.
Noah was suddenly possessed with the intense desire to hold her.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed and used the headboard to haul himself to his feet. He wore a tunic fell to his knees, along with a loose pair of trousers, but he was still considered indecent.
She gasped slightly at his movement, but her surprise soon morphed into scolding. “Noah what are you doing? Get back in bed.” He smiled at her but he didn’t listen. “Noah!” He heard her chide again and he released the headboard and took an unsure, but steady, step in her direction.
Alexandria only allowed him to take two more steps before he felt her small hands stopping him.
“I need to tell you something.” He explained as he looked into her eyes.
“You could have told me without standing.” She informed as she tried to steer him back towards the bed.
“No,” he said as he wrapped a hand behind her waist, “I couldn’t have.” Before she could anything else, Noah pulled her towards him. “I love you.” He whispered into her ear prior to kissing her.
It was a slow and gentle kiss, but it told her everything that he’d been hiding inside since they first met. This wasn’t about ridding him of his fear, or filling his senses with her. This was softer; it was gentler.
He was giving her his heart.
A heart that despite whatever might happen later, no longer belonged to him.
“Noah?” She moaned breathlessly when he pulled away, “I need to ask you something.”
“Anything.” He said as he sat down on the edge of the bed and tried to regain some composure.
“It’s actually something that I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while.” She babbled nervously. “Would you ever... possibly... think about considering?” She sat beside him, and continued to struggle with what to say. “It’s a great deal to ask, and it would require sacrifices, and...time, and if you don’t want...I would perfectly understand.”
“What are you asking me?” He asked interrupting her .
Alexandria took a deep breath and then quickly asked. “Would you ever consider being my husband?”
Noah’s heart stopped, had he heard her correctly?
“I’m not a Nobleman.” He reminded.
She looked away and returned to fiddling with the folds of her skirt. “Is that a no?” She asked defeated.
Noah stroked the side of her face with his good hand and then enticed her to look at him. “In the few months that I’ve known you I’ve been a servant, a Lord, a Prince, a guard, and sailor. I’ve dressed above my station, I’ve lied, and I’ve snuck into a Ball that I had no right to be at. I’ve been beaten, tied up, knocked unconscious, kidnapped, and held for ransom, only to then be rescued by my royal double that turned out to be my long-lost brother.”
“You wouldn’t have gone through any of that if I had never met you.” She said glumly.
Noah shook his head and looked at her seriously, “I wouldn’t have gotten through any of that if I had never met you.” He corrected.
“What are you saying?” She asked.
He smiled softly at her confusion. “I’m saying that if I had known, about everything, every single solitary thing, before it all happened, I’d still do it again.”
Alexandria frowned, unconvinced. “But some terrible things happened.” She reminded. “Why would you do it all over again?”
His intertwined the fingers of his good hand with hers. “You’re worth it.”
“You always will be.”
Her hazel eyes focused on his in contemplation. “So, Noah, will you rule by my side, and marry me?”
“This isn’t going to be easy.” He said, and she nodded seriously.
“So?” She asked a moment later.
Noah tried to hide the smirk from his face as he gently squeezed their intertwined hands, “Of course I will.”