‘And how are you qualified to judge that Damia? Tell me that because I would love to know what you think makes someone worthy of calling themselves a princess.’
‘Not someone like you who has never had to work hard for a single day in her life, lounging around making everyone else do things for her. You are so out of touch with the people you claim to be loyal to, so how can you expect to be accepted as their ruler.’
‘Why is that my fault? I have been brought up inside the walls of this palace, not allowed out unless accompanied by an armed guard. The people are told when I am coming so they can look happy. Of course I’m not going to see the real Fersere.
‘And even now I can’t claim to know what it’s really like in the slums or for people who have nothing to live on, but I now know what it feels like to have nothing and no hope in the world of ever getting out of the hole I seemed to be trapped in. And I have you to thank for that Damia. I thank you for leaving me abandoned in that tower because I’ve learnt a lot because of that.’
‘You think because you now know something of hardship that you are better qualified to rule?’
‘Of course not, but I do know that a lot of work needs to be done to help people who feel as helpless as I did.’
‘Well aren’t you the hero of the people,’ Damia said, sarcasm dripping from her voice. ‘You understand them, you know how bad their little lives are.’
‘Damia please stop,’ the Prince said, looking bewildered as his fiancée struggled against him.
‘No I won’t stop.’ Damia spun around in his arms to face him. ‘She is threatening to take everything I have and you just want me to lie down and take it. Well I’m sorry but that’s not in my nature.’
‘Then what were you doing for the years that you served me?’ Rowena said, drawing Damia’s gaze away from the Prince. ‘Was that you standing up to protect what you believed?’
‘I was biding my time. I knew that one day I would be able to rise up and claim what is rightfully mine.’
‘Just because you believe that I do not deserve to be on the throne doesn’t mean it is rightfully yours.’
‘My family has given everything for this household. Both my parents died in service and what thanks did they get?’ Tears of anger trickled down Damia’s cheeks. ‘Nothing. My father couldn’t even afford to give my mother a decent burial because he couldn’t pay the fees.’
‘I’m sorry that you feel wronged Damia,’ Rowena said sincerely. ‘But did your father come to us for help? I know both my father and my mother and they wouldn’t have let a thing like that happen.’
‘You didn’t know your mother, not really. All you know are the good things everyone says about her. But the truth is, they’re only being polite. Your mother was cold and unfeeling. She treated people less fortunate than her like dirt, including my mother.’
‘You are a liar!’ Anger boiled up inside Rowena and she advanced on Damia, who was still being restrained by Felipe.
‘No, you just don’t want to know the truth.’
‘Then you’re just a sad little girl who wants to dress up and play princess when she doesn’t know what it means.’ Rowena was shocked by the cruelty of her words. She had never spoken to anyone like that before. What was going on?
‘Felipe let me go,’ Damia hissed.
‘I’m not going to let go,’ Felipe said, trying to be strong but beginning to struggle.
‘I said let me go!’ Damia threw all her weight forward, knocking Felipe off balance and staggering backwards. He lost his grip on Damia and she flew at Rowena.
Despite watching the thieves when they had been fighting off Erik and his cronies, Rowena hadn’t learnt anything and was knocked to the ground by a wild Damia. She grabbed hold of Rowena’s hair, tugging at it as if she was trying to pull it out by the roots. Rowena fought back, hitting Damia blindly again and again until she finally landed a punch on her jaw, sending her flying backwards. Rowena’s plait was falling out now; strands of hair were hanging down around her face.
Rowena didn’t want to fight; she remembered all too vividly what had happened last time, so she ran. She headed for the now open door, but Damia was too quick. She was after her in a matter of moments, grabbing her ankles and pulling her to the ground. Damia’s body pinned Rowena to the floor, making her unable to move. She hit Rowena hard across the face, sending the Princess’s body reeling from the power of the blow.
‘I hate you,’ Damia yelled, hitting her again. ‘Why did you have to ruin everything?’ Rowena thought the blows would never cease; that Damia would beat her to death and that would be it. At least it would mean she would be with Artem in whatever afterlife there might be. She resigned herself to her fate, ceasing to fight back and letting the blows fall. She felt the world slipping away, her chest crushed by Damia’s weight on top of it, and she didn’t fight it. She floated away into the darkness.
The weight on her chest was removed with a jolt and Rowena gasped, pulling in as much oxygen as she could. She heard lots of people milling around her and the screaming of Damia dying away. A hand slipped under her head and lifted her up from the floor.
‘Is she alright?’ The Prince’s voice drifted into Rowena’s mind. She didn’t hear the reply but felt herself being lifted from the ground and carried away. Her eyes flickered open for a moment and she saw Felipe’s face, looking grim, looking down at her. ‘Can you hear me?’ Rowena’s mouth was so dry she couldn’t speak so had to nod. ‘Good.’
He carried her along many corridors, Rowena drifting in and out of consciousness until they stopped in front of a door and the Prince opened the door without any difficulty. This is my room, Rowena thought as she was put down on the bed.
‘You should rest,’ the Prince said. ‘Your father has called for a physician and he will be here as soon as he can. Now just close your eyes.’ Rowena did as she was told and lost all grip on reality, slipping into the world of dreams.