Rowena stood next to her father’s throne in the great hall, feeling very uncomfortable and out of place in her servant’s dress and apron. The members of the council drifted in dribs and drabs, until all seats but one were filled.
‘Where is Phedio?’ The King mumbled to himself. ‘He is always late.’
‘Don’t worry father,’ Rowena whispered in his ear. ‘There is no sign of the Prince or Damia yet and we cannot begin until they are here.’
A few moments later, a man Rowena didn’t recognize strode into the room. He was dressed in royal wedding robes, with the crest of his family, a sword crossed with an axe, on the front of the deep purple tunic. This must be my Prince, Rowena thought as he advanced on her and her father.
‘Your majesty,’ he said, sinking to one knee. ‘I came as soon as I was able.’
‘Rise your highness,’ the King said kindly. ‘We are still waiting for a few more people to arrive.’ The Prince rose from his knees and stood a little further away from the throne. Rowena didn’t think he was that bad looking. His hair was coal black and slicked against his head with the aid of some sort of hair product. His nose was a little too large for Rowena’s liking, making him look a little like a bird, and his eyes were a little too far apart, but he was strongly built. Even under the layers of clothes she could see the shape of his muscles. He’s nothing on Artem, she thought, letting out a small sigh.
‘Are you alright my dear?’ The King asked, hearing the sigh.
‘Yes Father, I am perfectly fine. A little tired but that is all.’ The entrance of the two missing members of the meeting, the King’s first minister, Phedio, and Damia ended their conversation. Rowena felt a shiver of anger pass through her as she saw her former maid wearing her mother’s wedding dress. You cannot have that, her thoughts hissed. You can take anything else but you cannot have my mother’s dress.
‘Your majesty,’ they both said, kneeling before the throne. Damia hadn’t even noticed the presence of the serving girl standing next to the King’s chair. It had not even crossed her mind to look.
‘Now you are both here we may begin,’ the King said. ‘Take your seat Phedio.’ The first minister did as he was told, taking the chair at the head of the group of ministers. ‘My dear, would you like to step forward.’ Damia took a step closer to the throne, head still bent. ‘I did not mean you Mistress Damia,’ the King said with a touch of venom in his voice. ‘Rowena.’
Damia’s head snapped up at the sound of her former mistress’s name. Her eyes widened as she laid eyes upon the familiar face she had abandoned.
The Crown Princess stepped forward, feeling the pressure of all the eyes in the room gazing at her. There were gasps from members of the council who realized who she was, and murmurs of confusion from others. ‘Would you like to speak?’ The King said encouragingly. Rowena nodded and swallowed hard, trying to keep her mouth from drying up.
‘My lords,’ she said addressing the council. ‘I must regrettably inform you that the woman you are about to give in marriage to Prince Felipe is a liar.’ More gasps and a few muttered objections. ‘I know this because she told a lie about me. A lie that meant the Prince was free to marry her and she would be able to take the throne of Fersere without any objections. She told you all that the Crown Princess Rowena was dead.’ There was a growl, a guttural, animal sound that came from Damia as she stared at her mistress. ‘And how do I know this? Because I am Crown Princess Rowena.’
‘My lords how can you believe this?’ Damia leapt to her feet, pushing Rowena aside to face the council. ‘This girl standing here before is a liar. Why would I lie about the death of my beloved Princess at the hands of a cruel, wicked fairy? Her royal highness, Crown Princess Rowena meant the world to me. She was my reason for being alive. And now this evil girl,’ she spun round a mixture of venom, murder and fake sadness in her eyes, ‘dares to come in here, dressed as a serving girl, and say that she is the heir to the throne of this mighty country.’
‘I only say that Damia, because it is the truth,’ Rowena fought back. ‘I do not need your approval to allow me to claim my birthright. I am the Crown Princess, you know that as well as I do, and there is nothing either of us can do to change that.’
‘Your highness, I must protest,’ Phedio said standing up. ‘How can you allow this cruel and unfounded attack on Mistress Damia to continue? She is about to marry his highness, Prince Felipe and I see no reason why this shouldn’t be discussed after the wedding.’
‘Because his highness needs to know the truth about the woman he is going to marry,’ Rowena almost shouted at the first minister.
‘The Crown Princess would never have spoken to anyone in that manner,’ Phedio said, his eyes narrowing.
‘Well maybe the Crown Princess you knew before she was imprisoned, and the Crown Princess you see now are completely different people.’
‘But you are completely different people,’ Damia said. ‘You are not the woman I left weeks ago. I saw her lying dead before my eyes so there is no way on this earth that you the same as the Crown Princess we all knew.’ She turned to the King. ‘Your majesty, I implore you to tell the council that this girl standing before us is a fake and should be dealt with accordingly.’
‘I’m afraid I cannot do that Damia. I believe that this girl is my daughter.’ There were a mixture of reactions, shock, horror, objection and support. But Phedio’s reaction was different to that of the rest of the room. He remained impassive, staring at Rowena, hatred in his eyes.
‘Can everyone be quiet please,’ the King ordered, and for the first time Rowena sensed a hint of control in his voice. ‘I know you think this is a bad idea-‘
‘It is a terrible idea your majesty,’ Phedio said. ‘This servant has clearly bewitched you into thinking that she is your daughter, when we all know she is not.’ There was an outburst from the members of the council who were taking Rowena’s side.
‘I have had this position for twenty years,’ one councilor, a man Rowena recognised as Sacha Ibera, one of her father’s closest friends, spoke out. ‘I have seen the Crown Princess born and was there when his majesty received the news of her disappearance. I know their family better than my own and I can tell you now that the girl standing before you now is the Crown Princess.’ Rowena felt like she was going to faint as she heard a cheer of approval from around the hall.
‘And what evidence do you have to support that claim Ibera?’ Phedio asked, already knowing the answer.
‘Any fool can see that this girl is the Princess, even dressed in the clothes of a servant.’
‘That is not evidence.’
‘Then I only have the knowledge in my heart that she is right and if you are to remove her from this palace then I will go with her.’ There was another round of agreement from Ibera’s supporters.‘Then so be it,’ Phedio said. ‘Guards! Remove the impostor from the hall.’