A few days later Rowena was shocked to receive a visit from her stepmother, Queen Jechia. She was finalising some details about the wedding when there was a knock at the door and the Queen floated in, looking incredibly regal and impressive with her pitch-black hair pinned back high on her head and the high collar on her dress emphasizing the elegant line of her neck.
‘Rowena my darling,’ she gushed, embracing her stepdaughter with real warmth. ‘I was wondering if you had a moment to spare so we could have a little chat?’
‘Of course,’ Rowena replied, smiling over her shoulder at the maid who had been helping Rowena decide on what flower arrangements to choose for the ceremony. ‘This can wait.’ Rowena invited the Queen to sit in the chair opposite her own as the maid silently left the room. ‘Was there anything in particular you wanted to talk to me about your majesty?’
‘Before I start,’ Jechia said carefully, ‘I just want you to understand that I’m not trying to be your mother. I never have and I certainly never will because no one will ever mean as much to you as your mother did and I respect that and hope you know that.’
‘Of course I do. I wouldn’t want you any other way.’
‘Then please don’t be offended by what I’m about to say, I just feel that I should talk to you before the wedding. Sometimes a young girl needs an older woman’s guidance at moments like these.
‘Are you sure you’re making the right decision Rowena?’ She asked, reaching over and clasping her stepdaughter’s hands. ‘And you can tell me the truth, I won’t speak a word to your father about it without your permission. I just don’t want you marrying the wrong man just to please your father. We all know he wanted this match. I just worry that it isn’t the right one for you.’
‘Of course it’s the right match. Think about it Jechia, years of fighting between your country and mine stopped by my marriage to Felipe. I couldn’t ask for more.’
‘That’s what I thought about my marriage to your father. I wasn’t a princess but I was still of noble birth. In my innocence I thought I would solve the problems between Madrimar and Fersere, but I was wrong. The war is still going on, even if there are no battles being fought. I fear we will never be at peace.’
‘But I have to try. And it’s not like I’m marrying a bad man. Felipe is so wonderful and kind. He’s not going to treat me badly.’
‘But do you love him?’
Jechia took Rowena’s silence as a no and the Queen sighed.
‘You shouldn’t listen to what anyone else tells you Rowena. Make your own decision. If you don’t love him then think seriously before going through with this wedding. Do you really think you can spend the rest of your life with a man you don’t love?’
‘It’s not that I don’t love him,’ Rowena protested. ‘I just don’t love him in the way a woman should love the man she is about to marry. I don’t feel pain when he’s not near me or get shivers when his hand brushes mine. My heart doesn’t ache for the sight of his face or the sound of his laugh.’
‘I think we’ve stopped talking about my nephew,’ Jechia said, her eyebrows raised questioningly. ‘Who is he?’
‘He doesn’t matter. I couldn’t marry him anyway, even if he was still alive.’
‘I’m so sorry Rowena.’ Jechia squeezed the Princess’s hand in sympathy. ‘I had no idea.’
‘I haven’t told anyone about him. I didn’t see a reason to now that he’s gone. I have to keep looking forward, not back on the past.’
‘But promise me this. Choose wisely. I’m not telling you to not marry Felipe; it would be wrong and unfair of me to do that to you. But make sure that the decision you make is your decision, not mine, not your father’s. Yours.’
‘I promise,’ Rowena said as Jechia pulled her into a hug. ‘It will be my decision,’