Coerced

"How do you know this?" Alexander demanded, though not rudely. "How do you know she didn't write this?"

"Well, yes, she wrote it," Imelda said, voice slow as she deliberated the circumstances. "But I don't think she wanted to. Look at the way she wrote. It looks strained, doesn't it? My sister's handwriting is usually meticulously neat."

Alexander snatched the note from Imelda and studied it. "You think she was coerced?"

"Yes, I do."

"What are the implications of that?" Alexander murmured, more to himself than to Imelda. "If she was coerced..." His voice trailed off, and he met Imelda's eyes. "What does that mean for her?"

"Someone clearly wants to trap you, Alexander. Perhaps for ransom money? I don't know. But it's no good."

Beginning to pace, Alexander waved the note in the air as he spoke the next words. "But what if she wasn't forced to write this, Imelda? What if she honestly wants to return under...under...those circumstances?" Would I be able to resist if she really did mean what she wrote? The thought was troubling, and Alexander shoved it from his mind.

"Alexander," Imelda said, standing in Alexander's path and stopping his pacing. "Would the Zahra we know offer herself like this?"

"No," Alexander said, emphatic. "No."

"Then we've got to come to terms with the fact that Zahra is in danger. We've got to save her somehow, Alexander. We can't let her get hurt."

Alexander was stricken. "I can't just up and leave, Imelda. Adrian is dying. The kingdom needs someone to rule. There are decisions that must be made. I want to save Zahra, but there are other factors to take into consideration."

"Take into consideration that the woman you've fallen in love with could be dying even as we speak!"

Those words hit Alexander's heart like a knife, and they twisted and twisted the blade until Alexander could no longer stand the thought of leaving Zahra to fend for herself. "You're right. But who will be here while I'm gone?"

"I will." The voice came from behind Alexander and Imelda.

Annalise.

"I'll stay here, Alexander. You know I am a wise person. My husband is a man who governs. I know far more about how to run a kingdom than most people would. I will stay behind. You won't be gone for long, anyways."

Imelda placed her hand on Alexander's shoulder. The gesture seemed almost...friendly. "What are you waiting for?"

The End

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