The room was just as Rowena remembered it. The same bedspread on the enormous gilt four-poster bed that stood in the centre of the room, the same deep red curtains hanging by the windows, the same clutter of paper on her father’s desk. She had forgotten quite how luxurious the rooms in the palace were. Gold leaf covered almost every available surface, and the stone fireplace had intricate carvings up and down either side and across the mantelpiece. It was nothing like the plain, functional rooms she had been staying in as she made her journey back home.
She shut the door quietly, trying not to make a sound, but the floor in her father’s room was wooden and Artem’s boots made loud thumps as she walked across the room.
‘Is there someone there?’ Rowena’s heart skipped a beat as she heard the familiar voice coming from the next room. Her throat was dry and she couldn’t speak. ‘Hello?’ She heard the tapping of a stick and the soft pad of slippers, followed by the appearance of her father in the doorway. He looked even older than she remembered. His hair, which used to only have the odd streak of grey, was now completely white and his face was looking pale and thin. He looked like he hadn’t eaten in days and wasn’t sleeping well. It almost made Rowena cry.
‘Well?’ He said briskly. ‘What do you want?’ Rowena’s heart sank as she realized he didn’t recognize who she was. ‘Hurry up with it, I have a wedding to get ready for.’ He hobbled over and sat at the desk by the window, his back to Rowena. ‘Has something gone wrong in the kitchens? Because if it has I don’t want to know about it. I’m sure you will be able to cope without me.’
‘No, it’s nothing like that your majesty,’ Rowena said, finally finding her voice.
‘Well then? Why have you come up here?’
‘I have news of your daughter.’ The King froze and Rowena wondered if she had spoken too soon.
‘Do you mock me?’ He whispered. ‘My daughter is dead.’ His voice cracked and Rowena had to suppress the urge to run to him and throw her arms around him.
‘Of course not sire. I would never do such a thing.’
‘Then why are you telling me these lies?’ He shouted at her, turning around with tears in his eyes. ‘Do you think I haven’t suffered enough already? Having to give away my country, my people, my future, to a foreigner and a serving girl. Do you not think that is enough?’
‘Please my lord, do not take offense,’ Rowena pleaded, tears springing to her own eyes. ‘I only say this because it is true. Your daughter is not dead, she is alive.’
‘Do not torture an ill man any longer,’ he turned away from her, looking back out the window. ‘Leave me alone.’
‘But your majesty-‘
‘I said leave me alone.’
‘Let me finish,’ she said firmly, making the King sit up and notice her. ‘I know she is alive because I am her. I’m Rowena.’ She looked at her father, praying for some recognition in his eyes. ‘I’m not dead.’ There was silence. Rowena had never felt so nervous in her life, desperate for her father to say something, anything. She took a step forward and his eyes were instantly upon her.
‘Don’t move,’ he said. ‘I don’t know if I can trust you.’
‘But it’s me father. My hair, my voice, my manner, my mother’s eyes.’ Those eyes were looking down at him, pleading with him to see that she wasn’t lying. He stood up, awkwardly, and hobbled towards her.
‘Look at me.’ He reached his hand up to her face, tilting it to look down at him. He was now nearly a head shorter than Rowena. How long have I been away if I’ve grown this much? Rowena thought as she looked into her father’s sad eyes. ‘You have her eyes,’ he breathed. He reached up and brushed a stray strand of hair out of Rowena’s face. ‘Is it you?’
‘Yes it is father. I’ve made it home.’ Tears began to fall down the King’s cheeks, which made Rowena cry too.
‘I can’t believe it. You’re still alive and you’re here. My baby daughter.’ He pulled her into a hug, clinging tightly to her and letting his tears flow freely. ‘Thank you God. I have no idea how I will repay you for this but I will find a way. Thank you.’ He pulled away looking once again at Rowena’s face, almost pinching himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. ‘My darling Rowena, where have you been? What have you been doing that has meant you have to dress as a servant?’
‘It’s a very long story, and one that I don’t think you will like very much.’ She then proceeded to tell him her story, leaving out the parts where she travelled with Artem, and making it very clear that it was Damia’s fault that everyone thought their Crown Princess was dead.
‘Well that was very enlightening,’ the King said when Rowena had finished.
‘We need to do something about the wedding father.’ Rowena said, kneeling down beside her father’s chair and clasping his hand. ‘It’s not fair to let the Prince marry her if he has no idea who Damia really is.’
‘I agree my daughter, Felipe must know what is going on before the wedding is allowed to continue.’
‘What do you mean continue? The wedding can’t continue because then Damia will have won. She’ll have got what she wanted, my happily ever after.’
‘We must take this one step at a time daughter,’ the King said softly. ‘If Felipe hears the truth and decides he doesn’t want to marry the girl then that is his decision, but I fear he is so infatuated with her that nothing will change his mind now.’
‘But we must try, for everyone’s sake.’
‘Of course we must,’ the King said, stroking Rowena’s hair. ‘I will call a meeting in the great hall and we shall discuss what happens now.’
‘Thank you Father,’ Rowena said, kissing his hand.