Over the next few days, Rowena’s mood worried Vincent deeply. She was withdrawn, almost sullen, saying nothing, eating only when she was forced and spending the majority of her day sitting by the window, staring into the distance. Vincent had no idea how to deal with this. He couldn’t force the Princess to cheer up, but he could not bear to see her in such pain.
Then, one day when he was bringing up her breakfast, instead of leaving as soon as he’d put the tray down, he stayed, watching the Crown Princess pick at her food.
‘What is it you’re so scared of?’ The question came out of thin air, surprising both Vincent and Rowena. ‘You can’t spend the rest of your life in silence, not talking to anyone and not eating. I want to help you Princess, but you have to tell me what is wrong.’
'There is nothing you can do to help me,’ she replied flatly. ‘My chance has gone. I have been betrayed by the person I thought was my best friend and have been left here to rot. My Prince came and Damia escaped in my place, leaving me stranded here. If I’m thinking correctly then Damia will have made up an elaborate story about why I haven’t returned, probably involving my death and my father will give up hope. If he thinks I am no longer in this world then he’s not going to send more people out to find me.’ Vincent looked down at the floor, made uncomfortable by Rowena’s flat and emotionless speech. ‘Now if you don’t mind I’d like to spend the rest of my life in peace. It’s the only thing I’ve got left.’
‘You’re still young,’ Vincent protested. ‘You’re what? Eighteen? You should not be wasting your life away in here.’
‘Well it doesn’t look like I have much choice about that does it.’ Rowena turned her back on Vincent, walking over to her bed and lying down. ‘I’d like you to go now. Please.’ Realizing that the Princess meant what she said, Vincent left the room slowly and quietly.
He knew what he wanted to do, what was the right thing to do, but he could not bring himself to say it out loud. Busting Rowena out of the tower would land him in serious hot water with his mother, whose career had received a big boost once word had got out that she was holding captive the heir to the throne of one of the most powerful nations in the Known World. She was receiving so much more respect from the people she did business with, and there were many people who congratulated her on her success. Even though he knew his mother could be a bit of a witch at times, he didn’t want to take that away from her.
No, he told himself internally. I’ll have to find some other way of helping Rowena. If I leave her in here much longer she’ll die.
He thought hard as he walked back home, screwing up his face to stop his head from hurting because of all the thinking. Rowena wanted to get out, she wanted to go home, but he couldn’t help her with that without getting himself into deep trouble with his mother. For him, it was a losing situation whichever way he turned.
He stamped off the dry mud from his boots as he entered the house. As he stopped to hang his coat up on the rack by the front door, Vincent noticed a jacket he’d never seen before. The material was black and not anything special, but the cut of the jacket was clearly fashionable and not something anyone from the surrounding towns, villages or even cities would own. He walked deeper into the house on tiptoe so he didn’t disturb any conversations that might be going on. He paused outside the living room door, where he heard lowered voices. When he was sure it was his mother and the unknown guest in the room, Vincent pressed his ear up against to wood to see if he could hear better.
‘I’ve told you time and again Phedio, the boy is so politically ignorant he won’t be able to rule alone. You’ll still have control.’
‘It’s not that which worries me Narcissa,’ a stranger’s voice, male, deep and rumbling. ‘What worries me most is the fact that the Princess is still alive.’
‘Unless you haven’t noticed,’ Narcissa said irritably, ‘the Princess is locked away in a tower over ten feet high, with bolted doors everywhere. There is no way she can escape from that prison.’
‘But she is no longer of any use to us, so why do you insist on keeping her?’
‘She may become… useful.’
‘How so Narcissa? You have already made a mistake by making a deal with the maid. She could open her mouth at any time and let the whole world know what we’ve been up to.’
‘She wouldn’t do that,’ Narcissa said positively. ‘She has too much to lose, just as much as us.’
‘I’m not sure that will be enough.’ The man sounded genuinely concerned. ‘And what if she tells the King? Or accidentally lets it slip? He still has the power to execute people, even if it isn’t used very often anymore.’
‘Yes but if she tells the King who was really behind the kidnapping of his eldest daughter, then she would be standing in the dock with us for lying about the whereabouts of the Crown Princess and conspiring to keep her imprisoned. As I said,’ she said, knowing she’d made her point, ‘she has just as much to lose as us.’
‘I hope you’re right,’ the man said.
Vincent’s jaw had almost hit the ground as he listened into his mother’s conversation, suddenly putting everything together. This was far more serious than he could have ever imagined. He heard footsteps approaching from the other side of the door and managed to hide behind a corner, out of sight, before the living room door opened.
‘Let me know if there are any developments,’ the man said. Vincent was so tempted to look to see who the man was, but didn’t want to risk getting caught eavesdropping on his mother.
‘Don’t worry, nothing will go wrong.’
‘Just remember, if the maid blabs, get rid of the Princess. We can’t have any evidence of what has happened here.’
The voices died away as they walked out of the room and towards the front door. Vincent’s heart was pounding. He had no idea what to believe now. His mother was plotting along with some mystery man, and was willing to kill Rowena if things got too shaky. It was a side to his mother he had never seen fully before, but now it scared him.
He thought about Rowena, locked up in the tower, and about the people who wanted to keep her there and he felt a wave of sympathy pass through him towards the sad Princess. He now knew he had to help her, no matter what it took.