As Arthur entered the room, I thought about what Charlotte’s secret could be. For the rest of the afternoon, I paid little attention to the goings-on of the Palace, until even my mother noticed that I had my head in the clouds.
‘Ana!’ mother hissed at me, as we walked through the art gallery with my siblings, ‘Look where you’re going!’
I flushed. I’d been exchanging glances with Charlotte, trying to pry anything from her, and had nearly run into an expensive vase.
Finally, Charlotte and I were able to get away from everyone else, and slipped together into the empty library. She stood before me, secrets playing in her eyes. I could feel myself leaning forward, ready to catch anything she said.
‘I’m getting married!’ she exclaimed, the words bursting from her lips.
I took a step back, stunned. Her radiant expression darkened, and drew back into itself. She bit her lip, and reached out to touch my arm.
‘Is that ok?’
I nodded, too quickly.
‘Of course it’s ok, ‘Lotta. I want you to be happy,’ I said, trying to smile back.
Shyly, as if still gauging my reaction, she reached for her necklace. The end of the chain had been hidden beneath her shirt, but she pulled it out to reveal a glimmering diamond ring.
‘Seth gave this to me. It was his grandmother’s.’
‘Seth? You mean Prince Seth of Tortelli?’ I asked.
She nodded, smiling once again, and said,
‘Aren’t I so lucky?’
‘Lucky? That’s incredible news!’
For the first time in a long time, headstrong Charlotte seemed like my little sister, like she was younger than me. When we left the library, she practically bounced out the door. In the hall, she turned and gave me a crushing hug. I squeezed her tight and imagined that she knew the truth about me.
She ran upstairs to change into dinner clothes, and I returned to the library, sitting down in my favorite comfy chair.
Charlotte did well for herself by snagging the Crown Prince of Tortelli, better than anyone would expect. Persina is a beautiful country, but it is rather small. Tortelli is everything that Persina is not. The men of Tortelli are said to be hard and rugged, nothing like the easygoing men of Persina. Mountains dominate their land, and their giant military dominates every other country around. It’s been said that their King sent his wife away because she could not bear him children.
No, that couldn’t be true. But the huge country is shrouded in such mystery, and I only knew the rumors I’d heard from my mother and the cold facts I read in my history book.
Charlotte had certainly found power, in Seth of Tortelli, but I couldn’t imagine her wanting power. She’d always been bold, but respectful and kind. At the end of the day, though, she was still a Princess of Persina, and princesses were taught that they must marry at their father’s will. Did she really love that prince?
The door of the library suddenly burst open, interrupting my thoughts. I looked up to see Natasha, my nursemaid, with a familiar look in her eye.
‘Time for dinner, young lady,’ she said. ‘Hurry up hurry up! How many times do I have to hunt you down? You’d think that I was your mother.’
Her eyes twinkled at our little joke.
‘Yeah,’ I complained, ‘You’d think you were my mother, you nag so well.’
‘Oh, get in there before I get real motherly.’
I laughed and went to dinner. I sat down across from Arthur; Charlotte wasn’t at the table yet.
‘Your food’s getting cold, Ana,’ my mother said, a stern note in her voice.
I looked up at Arthur, trying to keep the edges of my mouth from twitching. He grinned back at me, eyes dancing.
Suddenly, a loud, high-pitched barking came from down the hall. I dropped my fork and scooted up from the table.
‘Chester!’ I called.
I heard the sound of nails scraping against tile, and winced. Then, he scrambled through the door and my little spaniel was in my arms, wriggling like a maniac, licking my face all over. I picked him up and carried him back to the table, and put him in my lap. He panted happily and stared at my food.
My mother stared at Chester, then put her fork down on her plate and stood up.
‘Do what you like, but I’m not eating in the same room as a dog.’
‘Your dog is a character,’ Arthur said once she was gone, but he was looking at me. Something about his eyes made me uncomfortable.
‘Yep, he really is,’ I said, mumbling. It wasn’t like Arthur hadn’t met Chester before. He’d been here when I’d gotten the dog three years ago.
‘Ana. Ana, look at me.’
I looked up at my brother, and saw the most frightening expression, one that most girls would love to receive from a prince.
‘Ana, you are beautiful.’
My blood tensed up. Like a bolt of lightning, everything came together. My brain stopped working; I thought about everything at once. I could not move. My breath went in and out, too fast. No, not this.
Arthur reached out a hand to touch my face, and I knew what was coming.
‘Arthur, I’m your sister!’