Chapter 18.3

‘Artem Novak?’  Felipe said thoughtfully.  ‘Have we met before?  Your name seems very familiar.’

‘I don’t believe we have your highness.  I think I would remember meeting a prince.’

‘But the name Novak,’ Felipe pushed.  ‘I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere before.  Where are you from?’

‘Madrimar,’ Artem replied simply.

‘The capital?  Peria?’

‘Since I was sixteen, yes.’

‘And you have never been at the royal court?’

‘Never your highness.’

‘That is strange,’ Felipe said, scrunching up his face in confusion.  ‘I could have sworn I know your name.’

‘I sometimes do business with the King, maybe he’s mentioned me, although I can’t think why he would do that.’

‘Have you been back to Peria?’  Rowena asked, moving closer to Artem.  ‘Have you seen Ani?’

‘He knows Ani too?’  Felipe asked, confused by the intricate web of acquaintances and friends.

‘Yes, Ani is a good friend of mine, but I knew her before I met Ena.’

‘Ena?  Her name is Rowena.’

‘But when I met her she introduced herself as Ena.  That is how I have known her and I don’t think that’s going to change now.’

‘How do you know this man?’  Felipe asked, turning to Rowena because he couldn’t get a straight answer from Artem.  ‘You have never spoken of him.’

‘You didn’t tell him about me?’  Now both men were looking at Rowena, Felipe in desperation, not believing this was happening now, Artem with a slightly smug look on his face.

‘I thought you were dead,’ Rowena said defensively.  ‘What was I meant to tell him?’

‘I think the fact that you love another man might be a topic of conversation before you agree to marry someone else.’  The congregation, which up until now had been watching in stunned silence, now erupted into a rumble of whisperings and mutterings.

‘You think a lot of yourself if you thought that I would just sit around mourning your death all my life.  I am the Crown Princess, I will be Queen one day, I have a duty to my people to show them I can make the right decision.’

‘And marrying him is the right decision?’

‘You love him?’  Felipe’s quite voice was hardly heard over the commotion.  ‘Look at me Rowena.’  He grabbed her arm, twisting her round to look at him.  ‘Do you love this man?’

‘I do,’ she breathed, so quietly only Felipe heard her.

‘Rowena what is going on?’  The King pulled Felipe away from his daughter.  Rowena couldn’t read the look on her father’s face, but she could tell he wasn’t happy, and neither were the faces of the member of the council standing behind him.  ‘Why haven’t the guards removed this man?’

‘Because I don’t want them to,’ Rowena said, trying to remain strong.

‘I don’t understand Rowena.  This man crashes into the cathedral, ruins your wedding and you will not order his removal.  Look at him.  He’s a peasant.  What can he be to you that makes him so important?’

‘I’ll have you know I am royalty,’ Artem said, standing next to Rowena and towering over the King.

‘Of which family?’

‘Not one that you would recognise.  The sort of royalty I am is not the same as yours.’

‘If you are royalty than how are you so different to me?’

‘Because unlike you and the rest of the officials in this room, I am elected by the people.’  Rowena’s father took a step forwards, looking up at Artem.

‘Alright then King of Thieves,’ he whispered.  ‘I don’t know how you met my daughter or what sort of spell you have put on her, but I think you should know that you have no right to come in here, claiming that my daughter loves you.’

‘Not even if it’s true?’

‘But it isn’t and therefore your argument is invalid.’  The King’s voice rang out around the massive space, sending the rest of the room into silence.  ‘I never want to see your face here again.  Come on Rowena,’ he said, taking his daughter’s arm.  ‘Let’s continue.’  He turned around to take Rowena back up the aisle but she stood her ground.

‘Father I don’t want to marry Felipe.’  With Artem standing beside her she felt strong, able to speak what she truly felt and not be scared of the consequences.  ‘I don’t love him.’

‘Don’t be stupid Rowena,’ the King said, not hearing his daughter’s protests.  ‘You’re about to get married.’

‘No I’m not.  I can’t marry Felipe when I love Artem.’  Her father turned on her unable to believe what she had just said.

‘Stop lying to me,’ the King said.  ‘You told me you loved Felipe and you can’t change your mind just like that.  Guards, remove these intruders from the building.’  Men in armor, reinforcements from the palace, marched inside and seized both Hans and Artem.  ‘And this one too,’ he said, pointing at Vincent.  ‘His services are no longer required.’

‘Father, please don’t do this.’  Rowena grabbed Artem’s hand trying to stop the guards from taking him away, but the gesture wasn’t strong enough to keep them from pulling him away from her.  ‘Stop,’ she said as her father walked away, his hand still firmly in hers.  Rowena didn’t want to fight him, he was fragile as things were and she didn’t want to hurt him.  ‘Call them off and tell them to let Artem go.  I’m begging you.’  But her pleas fell on deaf ears.  Her father continued to march forwards, not taking any notice of his daughter.

‘Don’t let them do this,’ Artem said, struggling against the two guards who were holding his arms behind his back.  ‘Don’t marry him Rowena.  I won’t be able to live with myself if I can’t stop you from doing this.  I love you.’

There was the ringing sound of a sword being drawn from it’s sheath and the room let out a gasp.

‘Release him,’ Felipe said, pointing his sword at one of the guard’s throats.  ‘I order you to release him.’

‘Felipe, what are you doing?’  Phedio stepped forward, out of the cluster of councilors.

‘The right thing,’ Felipe said calmly.  ‘I can’t lie to myself and I can’t lie to Rowena.  She’s a good person and she deserves to marry the man she loves, a man who clearly loves her in return.’  He turned towards the King, lowering his sword.  ‘I’m sorry your highness, I don’t love your daughter.’  There was another low rumble around the cathedral as people whispered to their neighbors.  ‘And I think it’s unfair you and her if I pretend I do.’

‘Remember what I said to you-’ Phedio warned.

‘I remember very clearly what you said to me.  I just wish I hadn’t been stupid enough allow you to convince me it was the best course of action.’  He turned back towards the guards holding Artem and raised his sword once more.  ‘Now please release him.’  The guards looked at each other, unsure of whose orders they should be following, but with no one telling them to anything different and a sword pointed threateningly at them, they loosened their grip on Artem.

‘Thank you,’ Artem said, holding out his hand to Felipe.  The Prince looked at the hand for a moment, and then took it, shaking it heartily.

The End

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