The pair left Rowena’s bedroom, heading in the direction of the west staircase, which would lead them down towards the gardens. Everyone who passed along the corridors saw the regal, well-dressed, beautiful figure walking arm-in-arm with the visiting Prince and assumed it was their beloved Princess, dropping hastily into bows and curtseys as they swept towards the gardens.
Rowena was glad when they finally made it outside. There was only the odd gardener hanging around, and they were too absorbed in their work to notice the pair walking along the well-kept pathways. No one else was brave enough to face the almost icy wind that was coming from the northern border. Rowena was shocked by how uncomfortable seeing people bow to her made her feel. She had obviously not been a Princess for so long, having people drop, heads bowed, as she walked past was a little unnerving.
Rowena had pulled the hood of the cloak over her head to protect her from the cold wind. It also meant that anyone who might see them couldn’t see her face clearly.
‘Does it feel good to be home?’ Felipe asked, breaking the comfortable silence.
‘It does,’ she replied uncertainly.
‘Then why the hesitancy?’
‘I just thought that I would feel more… excited to be home again.’
‘I do. But after all that time spent locked away, longing to be back in my own country with my own people, I didn’t realise I would make some of the best friends I have ever had in foreign countries as I tried to get home.’
‘You mean Fialka and Ani?’ Rowena had told the Prince about some of her adventures, but had left out the time she had spent with Artem and his group of thieves. She didn’t know how much Felipe knew about how his country functioned, and about the criminal underworld, led by the King of Thieves, so she had been reluctant to tell him about Artem.
‘Yes,’ Rowena replied. ‘I had some of the best times of my life with those people and I’m starting to wonder if I was better off there with them.’
‘Well I’m glad you came back,’ the Prince said, taking hold of Rowena’s hand and squeezing it affectionately. ‘If you hadn’t I would be unhappily married to Damia by now.’
‘Would it have been an unhappy marriage if you didn’t know what Damia really was like?’
‘I find that people can’t hide their true nature forever. And from what I’ve heard from you, Damia had been hiding her true feelings for far too long,’ They continued walking along in silence. Rowena felt nervous, still waiting for Felipe to ask her his question.
What will I tell him when he asks me? Will I say yes? Questions flew around her head as they walked, but she maintained an unemotional expression on her face.
‘You know I had a question to ask you,’ Felipe said nervously. ‘Do you mind if I bring it up again?’
This is it, Rowena thought. He’s going to ask me to marry him.
‘Of course I don’t mind,’ she said calmly, not showing the panic that was flowing freely through her body. ‘We should be able to talk about anything. What is it you want to know?’
‘We get on, don’t we?’
‘Of course,’ Rowena replied, trying to reassure Felipe by putting her hand on his shoulder. He looked down at the small, delicate hand resting on his jacket, almost surprised to see it there.
‘I’m glad to hear that, because I am so happy I’ve had the chance to meet you. You are a wonderful, kind, caring and beautiful human being, and I have become very attached to you.’ He paused, building up the courage for the final part of his speech. ‘What I’m trying to say, very badly, is that I wish I had been able to rescue you from the tower. I wish I hadn’t been so easily persuaded by Damia to run and not go to the tower to check there was nothing more I could do. I wish everything had gone to plan and it was you I was meant to be marrying a few days ago. I wish I could have been the hero you needed.’
Throughout this speech, Rowena hadn’t been able to look at Felipe, scared of the face she might pull if he became too emotional and confessed his undying love for her, something they both knew wasn’t true. But now she felt one of the Prince’s cold hands on her cheek, turning her face so he was looking into her eyes. She could see he was nervous. For him, so much rested on her answer. It was almost painful to see the need in his eyes.
‘I want to have the ending we were meant to have. I want to stand at the altar in that cathedral and turn around to see you walking down the aisle towards me. I want you to be my wife.’ He waited, looking intently at Rowena’s face for an answer. His eyes wide with expectation and hope.
I’m going to say yes, Rowena told herself. We can live very happily together, and who knows, maybe one day I will grow to love him.
But what about Artem? A tiny voice in the corner of her head asked.
Artem is dead, the rational side of her brain insisted, harshly and forcefully. There is nothing anyone can do to bring him back so you night as well make the most of your life.
‘I’ve said something wrong haven’t I,’ Felipe said, backing away slightly from Rowena. ‘Or you’re going to reject me and are thinking up the nicest possible way to let me down gently.’
‘Do you think I would do that?’ Rowena asked earnestly, taking hold of Felipe’s hand. ‘I would never do anything that would hurt you.’
‘Then please put me out of my misery and say whether you will marry me or not.’ He looked so helpless, every inch of his being pleading with her to accept him. The word began to form on her lips but the little voice in the corner of her head was still saying, but what about Artem? You don’t love Felipe. Stay true to the man you love.
‘Yes Felipe, I will marry you.’