"I hate to steal you away," the king said, poking his head. "I need you."
I was back in the tea room with the princess discussing politics, a topic she seemed genuinely interested in.
"Excuse me," I said, bowing to her and shyly kissing her knuckles. "I shall see you at dinner."
She smiled at me and I followed the king out.
"Is everything okay?" I asked as we descended a set of stone stairs.
The king's face was dark. "William is asking for you."
I frowned. William? Why in the world would William be asking for me? Was it because I was the one who stopped him? Did he want to try and bargain with me for his freedom? If he did, he was wasting his time. I knew what Hugo meant: it was hard to not come to care about the princess quickly.
The dungeons were cold and drafty. A guard opened the door for us and the king led me to the cell at the very back of the dungeons. I noticed it was the coldest one. I couldn't blame him for putting William as far away from the others as possible. The king lingered back but not too far. His eyes stayed mistrustfully on William.
"You're looking well," William said from the back of the cell.
He was sitting, leaning against the wall under the window. He had a thin blanket across his lap and his hair was dirty and greasy.
"What do you want?" I demanded.
He sighed heavily. "A man in my position has little choices for his life," he said. "I was presented with two: kidnap the princess or die. Which one would you choose?"
"Who threatened you?"I asked, not sure if I should believe him.
"It doesn't matter," he said with a shrug. "I'll be done in two weeks." He pointed at the walls. I saw a line of silver tracing the very top. "As soon as I transform, I assume those silver lines will activate and kill me."
I put my hands in my pockets. "So you really are a werewolf." He gave me a wicked grin. "Why tell me all of this?"
"Being locked up in a dirty, cold dungeon gives a man clarity," he answered, biting at his nails idly. "I know I can't bargain my way out of here so I'm not even going to try. I also know there's no way I'll survive that silver. However, I can tell you as much as I know about a little... uprising that's being planned."
"An uprising?" I repeated, sitting on a stool a guard brought over. I gestured for the king to join us. When William looked ready to object, I said, "It's his kingdom. He has more right to know that I do. Besides, I'll end up telling him anyway."
William glared but continued. "This kingdom has been at peace for much too long," he said and nodded to the king. "You may think that's a good thing, but it does prevent us werewolves from having an excuse to feed. We're having to resort to common wildlife of all things." He made a disgusted face. "Soldiers taste so much better. Anyway, the kidnap was supposed to spark a war between you and Ghent."
"Ghent?" the king asked.
"Yes. I wasn't supposed to be caught. I was supposed to be the one who reported the kidnapping. Obviously, things didn't go according to plan. Unfortunately, that's all I can tell you."
"You're lying," I said immediately and he cocked an eyebrow.
"Come now, David. We may not have known each other well in the village, but I know you're not stupid. You know I wouldn't lie if I knew it was pointless." He shifted into a more comfortable position and turned his attention to the king. "The wolves aren't stupid, either. They won't try another kidnapping. I'd keep my eyes open if I were you, though."
"Are you saying that the werewolves are going to declare war themselves?" the king demanded but William shrugged.
"I was not told what would happen should the plan fail." He yawned. "If you don't mind, I'd like to get some rest. Your daughter truly is a wonderful young woman," he added as we stood. "Of that, I was telling the truth."
We left, both of us consumed with our own thoughts. So werewolves were real after all. And there was a group of them ready to declare war. My head was pounding with the information.
"Why would they want us to go to war with Ghent?" I asked in an undertone as we returned above ground.
The king shook his head. "I do not know. They are our closest allies. Do not tell Miranda or Angel about this please," he added as we approached the dining room. It was nearly dinner time. "It will only terrify them."
I nodded. "I promise."
I walked the princess to her room that evening. She still held my arm and, even though I was constantly red in the face, it was starting to feel more natural.
"What did William want?" she asked.
"To chastise me for shooting his legs," I lied.
"Has he given anyone information?"
She frowned but didn't say anything until we reached her bedchambers. She smiled kindly at me. Her smile was very beautiful.
"Well, I enjoyed myself today," she said quietly. "I look forward to tomorrow."
"As do I. Where shall I meet you?"
"In the atrium at 8:30," she answered. "That is where we will eat our breakfast."
I nodded and, holding my breath, kissed her cheek. I felt her freeze for a second and I rushed off. I couldn't believe how bold I had just been! When I got back to my bedroom, I took my boots off and stowed the portrait in the closet where it couldn't be damaged.
It was only nine in the evening but I was exhausted from all that had happened.
Octavius woke me at 8, hurrying me to get dressed. I had been up late, tossing and turning, and I was still yawning as I made my way to the atrium. It was a nice morning; warm with a cool breeze. Angel was already at the table in a green dress and a plate with a scone and a cup of tea. The same thing was set for me.
"Good morning," I said with a bow and she beamed at me.
We ate our breakfast in comfortable silence. I looked around while we ate. The atrium wasn't very big but the floor was entirely stone. The table and chairs were crafted from wrought iron and sat under an awning supported by stone columns. A fountain bubbled cheerily and an arched hedge led the way to the castle gardens. It was a shame I hadn't found this sooner; it would be the perfect place to sketch and paint.
"Did you sleep well?" she asked after we were finished eating and I dabbed at my mouth.
"Yes, thank you. The beds here are astonishing."
She nodded. "Will you join me for a walk?"
"I'd love to."
She stood and pulled a white parasol out from under the table. She opened it and rested it on her left shoulder, taking my arm. This time, it was her leading the way. We passed by the fountain which I saw was in the shape of a silly cupid figure. Water spurted out of the locks of hair and the tip of the heart shaped arrow.
The castle gardens were large and Angel liked to stop and smell a few.
"Do you come here often?" I asked and she nodded.
"It's my favorite place. It's where I get the inspiration for my poems."
"How long have you written poetry?"
She thought for a few moments and I watched her. Her lips would pucker ever so slightly and her nose would wrinkle when she was in deep thought.
"Probably nearly 12 years," she replied.
"How old are you?" I asked, suddenly realizing I didn't know.
"I will be 22 in one week's time."
I stopped walking for a second. "Your birthday is that soon?"
She smiled and nodded, pulling me along. "There's to be a grand celebration and you and Hugo will certainly be there."
"Are you excited?"
She hesitated before nodding again. "I've never really enjoyed parties that much, to be frank. They're pleasant and it's nice to see everyone having fun, but I'd be just as happy with a nice dinner with those I love."
I wish I could have related with her but she didn't seem to expect me to. We continued on in silence. Spring would soon be coming to an end and summer would descend in a wave of heat. I hoped it wouldn't kill the crops like it did last year.
After we walked the length of half of the gardens, we turned back, having our lunch once again on the atrium. To my slight displeasure, conversation turned to me again.
"So, you're an artist, a farmer, and a hunter," she said. "What else do you do?"
"I can cook but that's about it."
"What do you like to cook?"
"I do best with breakfast," I answered and the most embarrassing thing happened.
I was taking a bite of the chicken salad only to have it fall in my lap. I groaned and quickly tried to clean it while the princess watched. Finally, she erupted into laughter.
"What's so funny?" I demanded.
"You are," she laughed. "You're so serious! Why?"
"It's the only way I know how to be," I whispered as I dabbed up the rest of the dressing.
She stopped laughing but there was still a smile on her face.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, it's taking me all of my effort to keep my food off my lap."
"You're just saying that," I muttered.
"No, I promise I'm not. I'm the clumsiest person on this earth. My parents used to joke that one day I'd trip on air."
I smiled and laughed. The air around us lightened and I didn't feel so embarrassed. I took a sip of the water provided and met her eyes. They were curious but I couldn't think about what. Her smile was gone but her lips were parted and her head tilted again. It was like she was trying to find or read something in my face.
She put her fork down and leaned forward.
"You are an enigma, David," she said quietly.