‘Ana,' I heard Natasha say softly from outside my door. ‘You have a visitor.' I knew it was my mother by the butterflies that were beginning to appear in my stomach.
‘Come in,' I said, putting Chester down and composing myself, wiping the tears from my face. Natasha let my mother in before shutting the door, leaving just the two of us in the room.
‘Anastasia,' my mother said.
‘Your highness,' I responded, dropping into a curtsy.
‘Natasha told me you wanted to see me,' she said after a few moments pause.
‘Yes,' I replied. I couldn't think of anything else to say. I didn't want to bring up the incident with Arthur with my mother. It was too awkward.
The room was tense, as neither of us knew what to say. I could feel the palms of my hands sweating and my breath becoming shallow.
‘Would you like to sit down?' I offered, indicating a small chair on the other side of the room.
‘Thank you,' the Queen said, sitting regally on the edge of the seat. I sat next to her and began to build up confidence to say something.
But my mother beat me to it.
‘Natasha told me about Arthur.'
‘I don't think you and Arthur should see each other anymore,' she said bluntly. ‘He should be marrying a princess, not an illegitimate child of a runaway and a servant. I'm sure you understand my position. I want the best for my son and I don't feel you are the best option for him.'
I was stunned by her words, not expecting her to be so blunt. I'd thought she would be able to find a solution where Arthur and I could still be friends, something I desperately wanted. But instead I was going to be forbidden from seeing him.
‘I will take your silence to mean that you understand me. This conversation is at an end.' She stood up and walked towards the door without even a goodbye.
‘Wait,' I called, making the Queen stop in her tracks and turn around, shock on her face.
‘I'm not happy with that. Arthur is my best friend and he means so much to me. The thought of never seeing him again makes me feel sick. I need to find a solution where we can both still see each other.'
‘That will be impossible,' my mother insisted, her head held high.
‘You know that's not true,' I said, my confidence building as my frustration began to build inside me.
‘You have no idea how my family works,' the Queen said, trying to regain control of the situation. ‘I do not appreciate you telling me what I can and can't do. You shall not see my son anymore and that is final.'
‘I know the truth,' I shouted, my mouth out of control, my brain screaming at me to stop. ‘I know about who I am. I know that I'm not the illegitimate child of a servant and a princess. I know you are my mother.' I stopped, breathing heavily, not believing what I had just said.
‘What?' The Queen said, stunned. Her face had turned a deathly shade of pale and her eyes were staring at me wildly. ‘Who told you that?'
‘Natasha,' I replied.
‘How long have you known?' My mother breathed.
‘Three years,' she murmured, collapsing on the end of my bed and resting her head in her hands. When she raised her head again her eyes were glistening with tears. ‘I'm so sorry. You have to understand that I felt I had no other choice. It was either this or having you killed and I couldn't live with myself if you died because of my orders.'
‘But you thought it would be a good idea to lie to me about who I was? You have no idea how humiliating it was for me when Arthur, my full-blood brother, confessed his undying love for me. What was I meant to do?' I was crying again now, tears of years of pent up frustration and anger bursting out.
‘I know and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have put you in that position.'
‘But you did and now I'm not going to be able to see my own brother again because he thinks he is in love with me.' I collapsed into a heap on the floor, my legs suddenly unable to hold me up any longer. ‘It's breaking my heart.'
‘My darling,' the Queen suddenly advanced on me, sinking to her knees beside me and hugging me as tightly as she could.
‘I don't want your sympathy,' I said, trying to push her away, but my efforts were in vain. She would not let go.
‘I want to make this right,' she whispered in my ear. ‘I want us to be a family and for you to come back with us to court.'
‘No,' was my gut reaction. ‘I can't.'
‘You don't have to be a princess, you don't even have to be seen by the public, I just want us to be together.'
‘You think that is going to make this alright? Things will never be the same between Arthur and me. I've lost my best friend because of your secret.'
‘I can fix it. We can tell Arthur the truth and he'll understand-‘
‘You can't fix this just like that. I can't even begin to imagine how Arthur will feel when he finds out.'
‘So what do you want me to do?'
‘Just go. Leave now so Arthur can forget about me. All I can hope for is that he finds a woman he can truly love and will realise that his feelings for me are just those of a friend.'
‘That's not going to solve things,' the Queen said, taking my hands in hers and clasping them as tightly as she could. ‘We have to work through this and-‘
‘It's better for Arthur to think I don't love him than to know the truth. It would kill him to know that I'm his sister.'
‘I don't want to lose you,' my mother said, her eyes fixed on my face.
‘I'll still be here. You're never going to lose me.' This time I was the one who hugged my mother, stroking her hair as she buried her head against my neck.
‘My baby girl,' she sobbed.
‘We'll tell them one day,' I promised. ‘Just not now.'
Two hours later I was standing in the entrance hall of my home, my face now clear of tears and looking pristine.
Arthur didn't even look at me as he left, walking straight out the door. Charlotte gave me a kiss on the cheek and promised she would write soon.
The Queen stood in front of me, her head high, looking at me with her usual disdain, a look she had clearly perfected over the years. But this time I saw a glimpse of love at the corners of her eyes and I knew that beneath the hard exterior there was the woman who had begged me to come home with her and make things right. One day I would go home with her. Now just wasn't the right time.
They all climbed into their carriage and I waved until I could no longer see them. It broke my heart to see them go, but I would endure the pain and loneliness. It was what I was good at.