They set off before the sun had risen the next day. Fialka had to force Rowena to wake up and get into her clean clothes, shoving some bread and water down her throat before they could set off. As the sun began to appear, Rowena began to wake up a little bit more.
‘So what’s your story then?’ Fialka asked. ‘Seeing as you’re travelling with me I feel I should know a little bit more about my passenger other than her name.’
‘I told a lie. A lie I thought wouldn’t hurt anyone, but in the end it ended up killing the man I loved and all his friends.’
‘Wow. I wasn’t expecting that. What was the lie?’
‘I lied about who I was and when someone else found out he realized he could play me, make me do what he wanted so he could destroy the man I loved. Luckily his plan backfired but when I finally got up the courage to tell Artem, it was too late. Erik was back to have his revenge on me and there was nothing I could do.’ It was surprising how much better telling a total stranger about her problems made Rowena feel.
‘So this Artem? He was the man you loved?’
‘I loved him so much.’
‘Then why did you lie to him?’ The question everyone had been asking her rang out in Rowena’s ears as they left Fialka’s mouth.
'I was scared I suppose. I thought that if he knew who I really was he would treat me differently and I would never have been able to tell him how much I loved him.’ There was a silence as Rowena remembered her brief moments of happiness and Fialka had no idea what to say.
‘You are a complicated young woman,’ Fialka finally said. ‘I thought you were a simple runaway case.’
‘I sort of am, but not in the way you’re thinking. I’m running away in order to get home.’
‘You’re not a criminal are you?’ Fialka’s eyebrows suddenly shot up her forehead. ‘Because if you are I don’t want any part in it, you can get off this cart and walk the rest of the way.’
‘No I’m not a criminal, although I did travel with some thieves for a while. But all I want is to get home.’
‘How do I know I can trust you?’
‘You can’t,’ Rowena said simply. There was no reply to that so Fialka didn’t even attempt to say anything, turning her attention back to the road. ‘So what’s your story?’ Rowena asked a few minutes later. ‘I’ve told you mine, now you tell me yours.’
‘It’s no where near as interesting as yours,’ Fialka said moodily. ‘I was born in Terin, a small farming village, forty-six years ago. My father was a local farmer and every month he took his produce to Peria to sell, as our family has done for generations. I grew up on the farm, helping my mother and sometimes working in the fields with my father if we were short of field hands. When I was seventeen I was married to a young man from our village.’
‘Seventeen is very young to be getting married.’
‘Not really, but I was a beauty and it would have been hard for my father to keep the suitors away for long. Don’t look at me like that young lady. It might be hard to believe now I’m getting old but I was beautiful once, as you are now. One day you’ll turn around and your life will have disappeared along with your looks and there will only be memories left.’ Fialka’s words shocked Rowena. She hadn’t thought about the future. The furthest ahead she had ever thought was to her father’s death, when she would take the throne. She had never thought of what would happen once she had been crowned.
‘Anyway,’ Fialka continued. ‘My father died and my husband and I inherited the farm and when my husband passed on a few years ago it was left to me to carry on the family business. So as you see, my life definitely hasn’t been as exciting as yours.’
‘But I would swap your life for mine in an instant,’ Rowena said wistfully. ‘Everything seems so simple for you. You can do what you want and not worry about what other people will think.’
‘You must come from a different planet if you think that’s true,’ Fialka snorted.
‘Did you love your husband?’
'Yes I believe I did, eventually.’ After a questioning look from Rowena she continued. ‘It wasn’t a match made for love. He was ten years older than me and his father owned the farm next to ours. He had no other children so the farm would pass to Jakem, and my father’s farm would pass to me, as I was his only child. It was a marriage to unite our two farms. It wasn’t the marriage I had hoped for as a young girl, where I would be swept off my feet by a handsome young man and I would fall desperately in love, but Jakem was always kind to me, and I suppose I did love him.’
Rowena didn’t ask any more questions, looking out at the passing countryside, growing increasingly more populated as they got closer towards Peria.
Was she in the right to marry Prince Felipe, the man about to marry her maid, her best friend? If that was what Damia wanted then why should Rowena ruin her happiness? And would it be fair on Felipe if Rowena knew she could never love him because her heart would always belong to Artem? There was no chance of her ever being with Artem now, he was dead and there was nothing anyone could do to change that. So was she right to try and make the best of her life while she still could? She might grow to love Felipe, just as Fialka had grown to love her husband, and if he was a good prince, then maybe he would become a great king who could rule by her side.
She was so lost in her thoughts she didn’t notice they were drawing closer towards Peria. The gates were in sight when Fialka nudged her, pointing at the city in the distance. Half an hour later, they were driving through the gates and into the capital city. As they drove down the busy streets, it started to remind Rowena of when she arrived in Amea with Artem and she had to look down at the ground to stop herself from crying.
It meant she missed the houses, brightly decorated with material in vibrant reds, blues, greens and yellows hanging from house to house. She missed the people walking past, all focused on where they were heading
‘We’ll be staying with an old friend of mine, she lives just down here.’ Fialka steered the cart expertly through the hoards of people walking towards her and down a narrow street. She stopped outside a house with bright red drapes hanging from the windows and began to climb down. Before she had reached the ground, the front door flew open and there was a squeal of delight as the owner of the house saw their visitor.
‘Fialka, it’s been so long!’ She almost ran down the path and hugged her tightly.
‘Yes alright, you know I’m not into sentimentalities,’ Fialka grumbled trying to free herself from the woman’s grip. ‘Ani, this is Ena, she will be helping me on the stall tomorrow.’ Ani came over and hugged a shocked Rowena.
‘How wonderful to meet you,’ she said smiling, not even batting an eyelid at what Rowena was wearing. ‘Come inside, both of you.’