* XI *

"Why can't you run this place then?" Emrald asked coolly. I could almost see the sparks of dislike fizzling off him.

Ralph looked confused for a minute but then seemed to understand. "Oh, I'm not your direct cousin. Only blood relatives of the previous ruler can be the next monarch. If our parents had been siblings rather than cousins, I would have definitely been the next king since I'm older than you and my sister."

Emrald still looked cold. "I really don't like it here."

Ralph gave a wry smile. "Me neither. Too many stupid rules."

"Oh you mean like the one that says I can't continue to be Anna's boyfriend? That's not just stupid: that's unfair and cruel."

Ralph looked instantly sympathetic. "She's your girlfriend? I'm so sorry."

"Will I be allowed to stay in the Palace?" I asked anxiously.

Ralph looked grim. "Not unless you're a maid unfortunately."

"What?!" Emrald asked, horrified. "Anna is NOT becoming a maid! I love her! How could I look her in the eye if she was forced to serve me?"

"Darling, if that's the only way...," I started.

"No," Emrald said with finality.

I sighed. "You're not going to let me sleep in the city with some stranger, are you?"

Emrald looked pained. "I can't let you be a maid. I don't believe in having servants at all if I'm quite honest."

"Wait," Ralph said slowly.

"Yes?" I asked as I looked up at the same time as Emrald.

Ralph shook his head and quickly said "No, that's even worse." 

"What?" I asked.

Ralph looked uncomfortable. He looked at Emrald, avoiding my gaze, and replied "If she was in a relationship with someone who lived at the Palace, she could stay too."

"Well, I'm going to live here, aren't I?" Emrald asked, looking confused.

"Other than you," Ralph said. He looked away.

Comprehension dawned gradually on Emrald's face. "No," he whispered, looking terrifying. "You did not just suggest what I think you did."

"It wouldn't have to be real!" Ralph said, looking at Emrald again. "I was just thinking that if your girlfriend couldn't be your maid..."

"She wouldn't be my girlfriend if she did that, would she?" Emrald interrupted angrily.

"What is it?" I asked. "What did Ralph suggest?"

"You becoming my girlfriend," Ralph replied unhappily.

The End

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