‘You cannot do this,’ Phedio yelled, ‘ we had a deal.’
‘Well I’m sorry but the deal is off,’ Felipe said. ‘I’m not willing to compromise the happiness of Rowena just to save my own skin.’
‘Then you are of no further use to me.’ Phedio grabbed the sword hanging from the King’s uniform and ran down the aisle, ready to swing at Felipe. The whole room screamed as Phedio’s sword came down hard on Felipe’s with an almighty crash.
‘Guards,’ Artem shouted, jumping away from the swinging swords. ‘Stop him.’
‘No,’ Felipe said, holding Phedio at bay with his sword. ‘I can deal with him. Stand down.’ The guards, who had instinctively drawn their swords on Artem’s orders, lowered them, not wanting to attack and accidentally hurt either the Prince or Phedio.
‘Well stuff this,’ Artem said, taking a sword from one of the guards, just in time to block a blow from Phedio that would have landed on Felipe’s side, cutting into the fabric of his clothes and possibly drawing blood.
‘Thanks,’ Felipe said, recovering and blocking the next blow. Phedio, despite his age was a highly skilled swordsman and light on his feet, dodging the swords of both Felipe and Artem. The blades flashed in the light and every clash of metal sent shudders down the spines of everyone present.
When Artem saw a gap in Phedio’s defense, the instincts he had picked up as a thief kicked in and he lunged for the kill. Felipe saw what he was about to do and stuck his foot out, tripping his new ally so he went sprawling across the floor. Rowena tore herself free from the hands that were keeping her by the altar and ran to where Artem lay on the ground. He had hit the ground hard, his head crashing into the side of one of the pews and knocking him unconscious, but he was still alive.
Phedio took no notice of him, his eyes focused on the Prince, who had lost his footing as he tripped Artem, staggering backwards as his opponent’s sword swung at his neck. He tried to step backwards but he stood on his own foot, unable to stay upright and falling backwards onto the stone floor. There were more screams and exclamations of horror and disgust as Phedio put his blade to Felipe’s neck. Both men were breathing heavily from the effort of fighting, but Phedio was smiling in triumph.
‘You’ve failed Phedio,’ Felipe shouted over the din that was reverberating around the walls of the room. ‘Everyone can see you for what you really are now, a bully who will throw a tantrum if he doesn’t get his own way.’
‘I might have failed,’ Phedio replied calmly. ‘I might have lost all my credibility and my position on the King’s council, but at least I can take you down with me.’
‘If you even scratch him I will push this sword through your chest.’ Rowena stood, Artem’s fallen sword in her hand, the tip pressed firmly against Phedio’s back.
‘Your highness,’ he simpered. ‘Please be reasonable. I’m only getting rid of the enemy.’
‘Don’t speak,’ she said, putting a little more pressure on the blade. ‘I know all about what you’ve been up to. Your little war against Madrimar that you haven’t told anyone about for fear they would stop you. The fact that you forced Felipe to propose to me in return for protection so you could keep me in line.’
‘Whoever told you that is a liar your highness. None of it is true.’
‘Oh really? Then how can you explain the fact that I heard it from you?’ There were gasps from all around the room and Rowena stood taller, triumphant. ‘I heard your little conversation on the day Felipe proposed to me. You said that if Felipe didn’t marry me, then when the war with Madrimar was made public, he would be hunted down and killed for his nationality, but if he were married to the future Queen then everything would be alright. Is this true Felipe?’
‘Yes it is,’ I agreed, still lying on his back on the floor, looking up at Phedio.
‘But what use is that to me? I don’t benefit from having a Madrimian married to our Crown Princess.’
‘No you don’t. But the truth is, you are scared. You think that when my father dies and I take the throne, you and your followers will be kicked out and replaced by different people, radical, wanting to change this country for the better rather than keep it stuck in the dark ages so people like you can make a nice little profit.
‘But if I married Felipe then he would keep me in line. He would take orders from you and pass them on to me. I would be a puppet, controlled by men. I’m very sorry to tell you that I will not be manipulated.’ Anger was rising up inside Rowena so fast that she forgot about the hundreds of pairs of eyes watching her. ‘I have been a doll for too long, allowed myself to be pushed around by Damia and my father and you. I’m not going to allow that to happen any more. Give me your sword.’ She held out her hand and Phedio reluctantly handed his sword over to her. Felipe scrambled to his feet, standing well back from both Rowena and Phedio. ‘It’s over,’ she hissed in his face.
‘Ena.’ The soothing voice and hand on her shoulder brought her back down to earth. ‘Drop the sword.’
‘Guards!’ She called. ‘Arrest him and make sure he is locked away somewhere he can’t escape.’ The soldiers swarmed around the figure of the King’s disgraced head councilor, who allowed himself to be dragged outside. The sword in Rowena’s hand clattered to the floor and she collapsed against Artem’s chest. He wrapped his arms around her, glad to feel the shape of her body against him once more.
‘Are you alright?’ He whispered in her ear.
‘I am now,’ she replied.
‘Rowena,’ Felipe said softly. ‘Come with me.’ He held out his hand and Rowena took it, leaving her other hand in Artem’s. The three of them walked up to the altar where the remaining members of the council, the King and the priest stood, stunned by what had just happened. ‘Can you ask me the question again?’ He asked the priest.
‘The question. Do you take this woman…?’
‘Oh…um… yes.’ The priest flicked through his book trying to find the right place.
‘What is he doing?’ Artem whispered in Rowena’s ear.
‘The right thing,’ she whispered back.
‘Felipe, do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?’‘No,’ he said simply. ‘I do not.’