I made my way to the small circle centered around the Queen, curious. Still I was hesitant, unsure of whether to approach or stay away. After all, I was only a farm-girl and she was the wife to the ruler of a large, powerful empire - an extraordinarily powerful woman herself. The distance between us was expansive as an endless ocean, only excluding the fact we were both Iberan "sisters". It was only made worse that I had the least idea of "royal etiquette" and if, and when, I was bridging it.
The Queen glanced to Alex, who had stormed in soon after her brother, as I made my inconspicuous approach. "Alexandra reminds me of myself when I was her age. I made some decisions that my brother didn't exactly approve of."
The James Newberry man perked up, turning to his Queen inquisitively, "... You ... have a brother?"
"Yes I do," the Queen answered. "It is not a very well-known fact."
As she failed to elaborate further, the subject was dropped, and, for a spare moment, there was silence. Hurst excused himself momentarily, busying himself with Sebastian. Somehow the group began to disband, excluding James at the side of the Queen, and myself. I began to feel extraordinarily awkward and thought of fading away on my own, but she caught my eye and held me in place.
She stepped forward, offering, "I don't believe I know your name - if we have been introduced, I am sorry."
"Katrina, Your Majesty." I curstied ever so slightly. "Katrina Elliot."
"Well, it is a pleasure, Miss. Elliot." The Queen smiled, a surprisingly warm, easy gesture that I did not expect. Her eyes flicked to Jon, who was still chatting with a frowning Alex. "Are ... you associated with Jon somehow?"
I blushed mildly, unsure of how to describe our relationship to the Queen of Handrin. "We have been friends for a while now," I said, the first suitable reply to come to my mind.
"Hm." She looked over me thoughtfully.
With nothing more to say, I pardoned myself in a way I saw appropriate and skittered over to my Father and brother. I wondered whether this was the right moment to tell them of my plans to stay with Jon, here in the dangers dungeons when I most likely presumed they were adamant on hauling me home.
I had to tell them at some point. It was just then the moment was forced upon me.
The queen, clapping her hands several times, quickly gathered the attention of everyone in the room. All turned and looked, offering an attentive, listening ear. She began with sharp bluntness, speaking at a volume so everyone could hear, “There seems to be some confusion as to who is staying and who is returning to Ibera. Let me make it simple for you. Everyone but Jon needs to return to Ibera. It will be safer this way.”
I took one glance at my family, who appeared relieved. There would be no argument against coming home, or so they thought. Father flicked his eyes from the Queen, looking to meet my own. The words in his eyes made me, for that moment, doubt my choice. But it was already decided. I had decided. I raised my voice, catching attention myself, “With all due respect, Your Majesty,” I started. “I am staying with Jon. We were separated once. I don’t want that to happen again.”
“Are the two of you married?” the Queen asked.
Her eyes shifted from me to Jon and back again. “This may complicate matters somewhat, but I suppose I can make arrangements. But," She turned from us, gazing over the still listening group gathered about her. "The rest of you will need to leave.”
Luke moved to my side, grabbing my arm with a firmess I did not expect. "Katrina, you can't stay. We came to bring you home. It's far too dangerous for you to stay." There was something pleading in his voice, a desperation mingled with the stern edge. "You can't stay."
Father joined us, putting a steadying hand at Luke's shoulder, though his eyes were all for me, cool and commanding. Both made the guilt well at my heart.
Before they could say anything more, I spoke, "I have to stay, Luke ... Father. I can't go home. Not now. I will only go home and worry - worry about Jon out here, worry about the both of you in the army. I ...," I glanced to Jon, standing off aways speaking with the other men. "I can't leave - I won't. I have already made my mind."
There was silence, the two of them unspeaking. To my amazement, my father nodded slowly, the silver shimmer of tears gathered in his eye. "Alright," he said quietly. "It seems we can't change your stubborn little head," Father smiled, taking my hands. "You're a big girl. And ... Jon, he'll look after you."
I smiled, unable to answer through the lump in my throat. He pulled me into a tight hug, kissing my hair. "Be careful. You understand? Be careful," he whispered in my ear.
Father finally pulled away, and I embraced my brother. The three of us held together until everyone was gathering to depart. I hugged Nellie, feeling as if I was saying good-bye to my sister as well, and Alex, embracing Father and Luke again twice over, tears flowing freely, before they finally left. Jon came to my side and took my hand. After a moment of quiet, as we simply stood at the mouth of the tunnel, watching them melt into darkness, James joined us, reminding us of the business ahead.