‘I’m not sure I should,’ Rowena said, suddenly embarrassed and hiding behind her hair. ‘I mean he only told me he loved me once and I don’t know if I can call him mine.’
‘Once is all it takes, Ena. And if a man makes the effort to confess his feelings for you, then he is yours.’
‘Well, his name is Artem,’ Rowena said tentatively. ‘He was from here, Peria I mean. He looked like a God, high cheekbones and sharp chiseled features. His hair was always so messy; I couldn’t get it to lie down flat and I’m pretty sure he would mess it up again after I’d tried just to annoy me.
‘But he was kind to me. One of the first people ever to have been kind to me without knowing who I really am. It was so nice to know that he liked me for me and not because of my name. He treated me like his equal, which makes the fact that I lied to him even worse. He trusted me but I didn’t want to trust him with my secret.
‘I suppose it was because if I told him then I knew he would treat me differently, he would be too scared to tell me how he felt because our relationship would never work.’
‘What is this secret you keep talking about? What is it that’s so bad you can’t tell anyone?’
‘I don’t know if I could tell you.’
‘Why not? I’m not going to see you differently because of who you are. You’ll always be Ena to me.’
‘But that’s just it. Up until a few weeks ago I had never been called Ena before in my life.’
‘Then what’s your real name? Who are you?’
‘My real name is Rowena and I’m not from Madrimar. I’m from Fersere.’
‘That’s not so bad,’ Ani cut in before Rowena had time to finish. ‘If you think he won’t love you just because you’re from our rival country then you’re wrong. People from Madrimar marry Ferserian’s all the time, it’s not a big deal.’
‘You haven’t heard all of it yet. I’m not just plain old Rowena, a country girl from Fersere, I’m Crown Princess Rowena, heir to the throne.’ The words came out much easier than they had when she’d confessed to Artem, but it didn’t make the reaction any easier to deal with.
‘Right,’ Ani breathed, not quite sure what she had just been told. ‘Has Fialka put you up to this to make me feel better? Because if she has it really isn’t working.’
‘I am being deadly serious. And to make my situation even more unbelievable, everyone at home thinks I am dead.’
‘You are far more complicated than I thought it was possible to be,’ Ani said, gob smacked.
‘You’re telling me,’ Rowena said flippantly. ‘So you see why I couldn’t tell Artem. He was a thief and I am a princess. Stories like that never work out in real life.’
‘Artem was a thief?’ Ani’s expression suddenly became a lot more serious.
‘Yes, he was, the King of Thieves.’ She laughed at the memory of him telling her. How stupid she’d thought he was.
‘Artem Novak is dead?’ Ani’s eyes widened in shock, scaring Rowena slightly.
‘You knew him?’
‘Of course I did. Everyone in the lower town knew who Artem Novak, King of Thieves was. Who killed him?’
‘One of his accomplices, Erik Leon. He said he had a friend in the city who wanted to get rid of Artem so he could win the next election and take Artem’s place.’ Ani had her hand clasped to her mouth, her eyes wide in horror.
‘It can’t be,’ she whispered.
‘I’m so sorry; I didn’t know he was that high profile. From what he told me it was all cloak and dagger type of stuff.’
‘You are going to have to come to the court and tell Bledri what has happened.’
‘I can’t go there. All of my allies among Artem’s group of friends are dead and Erik will have his supporters among the court. No one is going to believe me over a trusted ally of the King.’
‘But we have to try. Artem was the best thing to happen to this city. He kept everyone in line and made sure everyone kept the peace. If someone wanted to kill him to get to the throne, I am sure he will be no good. Please Ena, let this be your thank you to me. It will mean so much to everyone.’ Ani’s big eyes staring pleadingly up at her almost made Rowena’s heart melt.
‘I can’t. My father is dying and Damia is marrying Felipe in three days. It will take me at least that time to walk to Geneta, and if I arrive too late then my father could have signed away my rightful inheritance. I will have lost literally everything.’
‘If you do this for me I can promise you I will find you a horse to take you home. That way you will be home in two days maximum and you’ll be able to save your country. But please, help me save mine first.’
‘I’ll tell them what happened and then I’m leaving. I have to sort out my life before it’s too late.’
‘Thank you Ena,’ Ani said, hugging the Princess. ‘You have no idea what this means to me.’