Vincent prepared the Princess’s breakfast tray with his usual careful precision, making sure everything was right before he took it over to the tower. He hoped Rowena was feeling better than she had yesterday. From what Damia had said, she was feeling pretty ill.
Thankfully it was dry outside, the rain of the previous days having disappeared, and he was able to walk the distance to the tower without any problems. He reached the top of the final flight of stairs and balanced the tray carefully on his left arm, as he pulled at the heavy bolt on the door with his right hand. After a substantial amount of force was applied, the bolt slid back and Vincent was able to open the door. It swung outwards towards him, but he was stopped from crossing the threshold by the body that was lying in a heap on the floor. He saw the blonde hair, and immediately knew who it was.
‘Crown Princess? Are you alright?’ He received no response, not even some movement. He carefully stepped over Rowena’s body and put the tray on the small table inside the door. Kneeling down he examined the Princess’s body. He was concerned by the number of scrapes on her hands and the dry blood on her knuckles. Her face was still red and blotchy from crying and her hair was a bird’s nest. ‘Are you awake? Princess, please talk to me.’ He gently shook her shoulder and she rolled over, her eyes opening a fraction.
‘Vincent? Is that you?’ Her words were slurred, like her brain couldn’t keep up with her mouth.
‘Yes it is my lady. What are you doing sleeping on the floor? You should be in bed.’
‘I need to find Damia,’ she said, trying to sit up but falling back onto her arm. ‘She said she’d wake me up, but she never did. I need to find her.’ She scrambled to her feet, using Vincent as a stabilizer so she could stay on her feet. ‘Your mother has her, I know it.’
‘What would my mother want with your maid?’
‘She’s in trouble. There was this Prince you see, and he was coming to rescue me, but I was feeling tired so I lay down for a quick nap, I had to look my best you know, and Damia said she would wake me up when he’d arrived.’
‘But she never did.’ A thousand thoughts began to fly around Vincent’s head. What on earth was his mother up to? And why would she need a maid like Damia to help her out? ‘Let’s get you sat down,’ Vincent said softly, steering the Princess away from the door.
'But what about Damia? I need to find her before she gets hurt.’
‘I hate to tell you this Rowena, but I don’t think Damia has been totally honest with you.’
‘I don’t understand,’ Rowena shook her head, her brain still not quite awake yet. ‘Damia has been one of my closest and most trusted friends, why wouldn’t she be telling me the truth?’ Vincent forced Rowena to sit down at the main table, taking the seat next to her.
‘I think that my mother and Damia have been plotting something.’
‘Impossible,’ Rowena replied instantly. ‘Damia would never so such a thing.’
‘I’m not sure,’ Vincent said delicately. ‘Do you remember the time my mother called you in to ask you about your father’s letters? Don’t you think it was a little strange that she never called you in again, even though you told her nothing the first time?’
‘I just assumed she’d got bored of the idea or found her information another way.’
'I think she did find another way. Damia. After I’d taken you back, my mother asked me to go fetch Damia, she wanted to see if she would talk more easily. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but I do know that they were in there for some time. I think my mother made a deal with Damia’
‘It’s not true,’ Rowena said, her face showing an expression of utter disbelief. ‘It’s not possible. She would never do a thing like that.’
‘Think about it my lady. Damia has been lying to us all. She spoke to me yesterday morning saying you were gravely ill and were resting in bed so wouldn’t need any food all day.’ Realization was beginning to take hold of Rowena’s mind, but she tried to force it back. Damia was the only person she felt she could trust, and now her image of her was crashing down around her. ‘Think Crown Princess. Was there anything Damia did that could have made you sleep for so long?’
‘No there was nothing. She helped me to dress and made me drink some tea but that was all.’ Then she realized what she had just said. ‘The tea.’
‘She spiked your drink with something that would make you sleep.’
‘But why?’ Rowena rubbed her fingertips against her forehead as she began slowly rocking backwards and forwards. ‘Why would she do such a thing?’
‘To get you out of the way.’ Vincent realized he had spoken too bluntly as Rowena’s eyes immediately fixed themselves on his face. ‘Did it never occur to you that Damia might want to escape too?’ He said more softly.
‘I knew she wanted to get out, we both did, but she was coming with me when I was rescued.’
‘Maybe she wanted to be recued for once,’ Vincent said, trying to sound soothing. ‘You’re the one who has been in the spotlight all this time. Perhaps she wanted her own bit of fame.’
‘But I still don’t understand,’ Rowena said, her shoulders beginning to shake again and tears welling up in her eyes. ‘She was m-my b-best f-friend.’ She leant over and rested her head on Vincent’s scrawny chest. He was unsure what to do for a moment, never having been in this sort of situation before, but he decided to put his arm soothingly around the Princess’s shoulders. Unfortunately he looked rather awkward as he sat cradling the Princess but Rowena didn’t seem to notice. She was just glad for the human contact.
‘Sometimes people aren’t always what they seem,’ Vincent whispered, resting his head against the top of the Princess’s.