The Kiss that Saved Her (Chapter 8, page 1 of 1)


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Chapter 8

The General waited as long as he could before informing the Princess of the
hostile raids along the eastern border. He disliked discussing the trouble just a few
days before her coronation for he wanted it to be a happy time. He hoped the
attacks would die down but they were intensifying. He worried every day about an
outright war. He believed Duke William of the Duchy of Seine was testing them.
General Stuart was a seasoned leader and he had lived through war time before.
He recognized the signs. Joanna worked in the Green Room, preparing for the Ball.
“Princess Joanna, may I speak with you frankly?” Stuart said as he bowed.
“What other way do you speak to me?” Joanna answered.
She glanced at him as her ministers brought plans and asked for her choice of
colors and her signature on papers for the events. It was two days before the ball
and the castle was abuzz.
“Oh, all right, General.” She took him into her private study next door and shut
the door. She stood waiting for him to explain his interruption.
“Your Royal Highness, I must implore you to reconsider your decision not to
marry one of the princes. We need an ally to align with against your cousin, the
Duke of Seine,” Stuart implored.
“Please General, we discussed this. I will not hand over our kingdom to a distant
ruler. Or have you forgotten the Queen?” She folded her hands in front of her.
Joanna had grown confident in the past months.
“No, Princess,” the General answered.
“Speak to me as a friend, Stuart!”
“It's the army, Princess. It is too small. Duke William has a vastly larger army
and special units. Small units strike in the eastern forest even as we speak. The
northern border is at peace; that is the good news. But our eastern border is very
weak. I am afraid for our kingdom to be sure, but I am more afraid for you, Your
Highness.”
General Stuart stood tall but his inclination would be to treat her in a more
fatherly way and guide her. He missed her father’s wisdom.
She walked to the window which overlooked a garden patch where roses grew
and saw the pretty day waiting for her.
“Have you ever been in love, Stuart?”
Stuart wasn’t sure how to answer and if this question was even relevant in
regards to ruling. “Yes, Your Highness.”
“After that experience, would you ever wish to marry someone just out of a
sense of duty?”
“No, Princess. I would not.”
“I will not discuss this again,” Joanna said.
*
The Princess' Birthday Ball was held along with her upcoming coronation and
the ball introduced her to the other monarchs. Many royal dignitaries attended the
festivities. Starlight Castle was cleaned top to bottom and the best silver was
shined and polished. Fresh floral arrangements filled the tables and new red rugs
lined the entrance.
The ball was run like a military operation, with color coded blocks of rooms on
a map. The staff was exceptional and the guests seemed to be enjoying the
evening. Princess Joanna was nervous, however, as it was her first ball as a host.
Many of her guests came just to see the Princess once proclaimed to be dead.
Princess Joanna surpassed their expectations. She wore a golden dress made of fine
silk and a royal purple sash. Her crown was adorned with diamonds and rubies.
She agreed to a receiving line and didn't appear tired even when she had spent
several hours greeting guests.
She included her friends from Randele in her invitations and overruled any who
objected. She saw many of her relations for the first time since she was little. The
elderly monarchs were the most cordial and the younger cousins were lively.
Princess Joanna’s servants worked very long hours to ensure a proper party and
she followed their advice. She did reserve one privilege; she decided who would sit
next to her during the dinner. At most balls, the most powerful Royals would sit at
the table with those hosting. The Princess chose her dear friends from Randele as
her special guests. The seating arrangement was taken as a slight by some royal
dignitaries. Others discussed the trials Princess Joanna had undergone and saw it as
a tribute to the commoners for their kindness. Joanna did not care for protocol as
life and death never followed it.
The dinner included veal and venison and the chef had made a custard dessert
with a honey topping. The silver sparkled and the guests were made comfortable.
The servants were ready to clear the Dining Hall and the Director of Service
announced that the guests could make their way to the guest quarters or Great Hall
before the official Ball began. Some might retire for the hours between events, but
Princess Joanna had other plans.
She would finally see her third cousin, Duke William. The last time she saw him
was over seven years ago. She had heard that he was a skilled debater and an
excellent swordsman. He was also rumored to collect girlfriends like others
collected coins.
Her ladies-in-waiting heard many stories of his adventures and Joanna heard one
or two. Anyone would have to be a fool to tangle with him, except she had no
choice tonight. It was his kingdom that threatened hers. This was the man who
ordered the attacks on her borders. She was furious with him but she knew that he
was a favorite great nephew of the Grand Duke of Cline, and Joanna was fond of
her great uncle. Her memories of the Grand Duke included memories of her Father
as the two were great friends. She received gifts from him as a child.
She had been told by her staff that the Duke was in the Red Room with perhaps
a dozen other men. Prince Samuel noticed the unescorted Princess leaving the
Grand Hall and decided to follow her.
The men gathered around the white marbled fireplace. Some stood while others
sat near marble-topped tables. Their glasses were filled and the semi-circle of men
interacted with loud voices rising and falling. They talked among themselves while
the ladies withdrew to their bed chambers before the start of the ball.
Princess Joanna appeared at the entrance with her feminine gown and soft, partly
upswept hair. The crowd grew quiet when she arrived. The monarchs stopped their
chatter to see the Princess. The young men peered at her while the older monarchs
pursed their lips into frowns or scowled. Then the moment of reaction passed and
she, their host, moved to the center of the room. Some took to snuffing out cigars
or putting down their glasses. Duke William did neither. He stared down at her
petite frame. His six feet towered over her five foot four inches. He last saw
Princess Joanna ten years ago when she was a girl.
Duke William heard the reports of Princess Joanna’s marriage and other
scandals. He was advised of her kingdom's potential wealth but not of her beauty,
and Duke William was acquainted with every known beauty in all the kingdoms.
“Please gentlemen, do not stop your talk of war just because a lady is present,”
Princess Joanna spoke.
“Princess Joanna! It is a refreshing change to see a lady interested in politics,”
said Count Ivanov, who stood near her.
“Is that what waging war on the outposts of a kingdom is called nowadays?”
replied Joanna as she turned toward him.
Her favorite uncle was beside the Count and he, unlike the other, had a more
pleasant look on his face as she drew near.
“My dear, you have grown into a woman, and after the trauma that you
experienced, we are delighted to have you safely back in your palace.” The Grand
Duke of Cline kissed her hand in greeting.
“I am much indebted to you, Great Uncle, for your kind words,” Joanna said.
Joanna began to feel the stares and she wondered if she had made a mistake in
addressing them but the only way to gauge the danger her kingdom faced was to
confront those gathered in order to flush out her enemies and find some friends.
Her resolve returned and her head rose ever so slightly.
She saw the Duke with a drink in his hand and a determined look on his face.
She continued, “The issue of war remains.”
Her stare rested on the Duke of Seine. He returned her gaze. She noted his broad
shoulders, slim waist and handsome face. She was inclined to find him
unsatisfactory just the same.
“I feel,” Duke William, the Duke of Seine, spoke carefully, “the problem that
many smaller kingdoms are facing these days is that they are ill-equipped to
protect themselves from their real enemies.”
“And those enemies would be?” asked the Prince of Ott, Samuel, who had just
arrived himself.
The Prince stood in the doorway, almost half in the room and half out. The eyes
of all those gathered rested on him and away from Joanna. Duke William had
heard the rumors about the Prince from Ott as he studied the past wars in many
kingdoms, including the Prince’s.
Princess Joanna glanced at Prince Samuel then back to her great uncle. The
reaction to him was mild compared to what it had been when she arrived.
The Duke addressed Prince Samuel. “I was just telling my young cousin,
Princess Joanna, that we are all family — well everyone except you — and we
would defend one another.”
“You still did not mention who the enemies are,” Joanna pressed him.
The Duke was a powerful man. He never liked being challenged, especially in a
room full of others who would be studying him for any signs of weakness. He took
two steps closer to Joanna. Her perfume contained rose petals and the Duke was so
close he became aware of the scent.
“Princess Joanna, some of us see enemies in our subjects,” offered King Van
Buren, a distant relation.
“While others marry them,” Duke William said.
Many of those assembled laughed.
“Some of us see enemies when they pretend to be friends,” Prince Samuel of Ott
said.
The Grand Duke waved his hand as if to clear the air.
“Now gentlemen, please. Enough talk of politics! Tonight we celebrate the
birthday of the lovely Princess Joanna, soon to be Queen. Let us toast her beloved
father. I am certain he would have been delighted to see her become Queen of
Bow,” declared the Grand Duke of Cline.
Everyone raised their glasses. Joanna felt better as they toasted her father. She
thought of the time and realized she must change her gown for the ball.
“Please excuse me, Your Royal Highnesses, I am withdrawing. I wish you a
joyous evening.”
“Very well, my dear niece,” said the Grand Duke of Cline, speaking for the
others.
Joanna rushed back to change into her gown for the ball. She had picked it out
herself, and she loved the indigo color. She had a glimpse of herself in a mirror and
saw that she looked glamorous. She was ready.
The Royal Ball began and the couples swirled around the room. The music made
the room full of life as the musicians of Bow were the finest of all the kingdoms.
The crowd contained young monarchs looking for a partner and older monarchs
dancing with their spouses.
The Grand Duke of Cline danced with Princess Joanna which made her pleased
as he was an excellent dancer. She continued to dance with a few other elderly
relations but she did not generally dance and instead sat on her throne.
The evening moved through the room like a dancer on the floor unaware the
dance was now finished. The late hour became apparent to the older attendees and
they retired.
At the end of the ball, Princess Joanna agreed to one more dance.
She danced with her sixteen year old cousin, Prince George. He was related to
her on her father’s side and would rule himself one day. The waltz was a slow
tempo and he danced in an ungraceful fashion, but Joanna was a patient partner
and she smiled as he looked down at his feet. He seemed uncomfortable to be at a
ball, but his mother and father were powerful rulers who insisted he learn to
mingle.
Duke William had danced at least a dozen dances and the ladies were always
welcoming his requests to dance. He watched Joanna with great interest as she
smiled at the silly boy with whom she danced.
The ball was in the last moments and Duke William touched one gloved hand to
the other and walked towards Princess Joanna. Joanna was surprised at the
interruption of the dance. She saw the Duke and her expression became serious.
“May I finish the dance with our gracious host?” he asked the boy, gazing at the
Princess all the while.
“You may.” The boy seemed happy to be sprung free from the dance.
Joanna’s straight lipped expression made William aware she did not welcome
the dance. He smiled and this annoyed her even more.
“You dance very well despite your time living in a cave, Princess,” Duke
William said.
“I am not sure how I should respond, so I will say nothing,” Princess Joanna
replied.
She saw Duke William was very handsome, with dark hair, dark eyes, and a
mustache. He was twenty-six, and expected to marry soon. She assumed he would
soon announce his engagement to the Queen of Kane. The Kingdom of Kane
suited his needs to expand. The rumors from her ladies-in-waiting mentioned Duke
William’s father being a greedy man, who longed for a marriage between William
and any lady worth more gold than himself. The advantage to marrying the Queen
of Kane was that her lands contained many resources. The problem with the Queen
of Kane was that she was a plain woman of twenty-eight and despite her country's
wealth, she had no gracefulness.
The pair moved together in step. Duke William held her respectfully and in a
regal manner.
He stated, “Has Your Highness heard reports of a few attacks on our border? It
appalls me. It should not be tolerated.”
Duke William was playing some sort of game, she realized. Everyone knew that
it was his special forces that were behind the attacks.
“Yes, and my Generals are working on ending all attacks. We both wish for a
peaceful border I believe,” Princess Joanna studied his response. He had very little
reaction.
“There is a way to ensure peaceful borders.”
“And how would that be possible? The area is far too large for a wall,” Princess
Joanna stated plainly. She stepped lightly as they danced. “Perhaps if their future
King would denounce the attacks, we would have that peace you speak about?”
His eyes watched hers for a moment in an apparent reaction.
“In such cases, I believe a monarch would marry to make attacks impossible. I
do believe marriage would solve your present dangerous situation.”
This address shocked her.
“I will never marry unless the marriage involves love!” Princess Joanna insisted.
Duke William was not deterred.
“You are too passionate, and young. There are many reasons for marriage, and
while love is well and good, you need to think of the larger picture,” William
said.
“I have no intention of enslaving my people to satisfy a larger kingdom's
whims,” she stated.
“Yours of course is not the most desirable nation.” His eyes moved over her.
He continued, “Yours is not the wealthiest kingdom, and your large borders
make it difficult to defend. It would be mostly to your advantage to marry and have
an ally to defend it.”
Princess Joanna was bothered that he insulted her with impunity yet she realized
he made his point in a way that frightened her. She doubted she could protect her
people without the help of another kingdom, but even if she was afraid, she surely
would not give this boor his due.
“How would I find anyone that would marry me, and commit to align with my
small and vulnerable nation?”
“This is a point not in your favor. However, there are some benefits that you
offer any partner. You do have many resources, especially in your mines. As well,
you are a beautiful woman that would attract a certain type of man.”
The Duke made her feel uncomfortable with his last remark.
“There are rumors that a certain gentleman from Ott has fallen under your
enchanting spell. I must say that I could not blame him. Still, he is not a commoner
to make you pity him.”
Joanna could feel her face flush with anger. She dare not reply. The last thing
she could afford was to show him any weakness.
“It would be an advantage to marry someday, yet there is no hurry,” she said.
“There is danger in delay. I warn you that a marriage to the Prince from Ott
would be a foolish move. He is of no consequence to his family, and while he was
a war hero, he is far too old to be a threat in battle. He does possess vast amounts
of wealth from his mines, except he would not suit your present danger.”
His serious manner of address continued as she stayed silent.
“You see, your stepmother had alliances from the southern territories that gave
her support and a port city. She wasted none of these. You are now very much
alone in this world and in need of a friendly kingdom to align with yours.”
“So you are to propose a solution to my present danger?” she said.
“You could marry me.”
William smiled a sly smile.
“I told you, I will only marry for love,” she said.
“As you wish, Princess. I warn you, I only spare those I conquer if there is a
reason to, and only if necessary.” Duke William bowed.
“Thank you for the dance.” Princess Joanna knew that she was in deep trouble.
Princess Joanna left the dance and went into one of the bathrooms. She took a
seat to brush her hair in front of the large mirror when she overheard the ladies in
the adjoining room.
“Oh yes, she is so pretty, but what does she really have to offer? She married a
common man. Who would take her as a bride now?” Joanna overheard someone
state.
She slipped quietly out and made her way to her private residence.
Joanna saw Dom reading in the library. Stacks of books were lined up next to
him and the lantern was close to his chair. He jumped when he saw her, stood up,
and bowed.
“Oh, not you Dom!” Joanna sat down. “Until a year ago, I was ignored and
didn't attend any social events. Now I am the one running the entire kingdom!
These people, they are mostly bad. I miss the warmth of the cave.”
“It is natural to be overwhelmed. If we look back at all that you have been
through, it is amazing that you are able to do all that you have done.”
“I don't know what to do. When David was alive, I knew he always gave me an
honest answer. I am in this realm with people who dislike me and some who would
threaten me.”
“Someone threatened you?” Dom asked.
“Duke William, he is ruthless. But he had a point. Our kingdom is in danger of
attack and I am not sure we could stop it. He offered to marry me to protect the
kingdom.”
“You mean he wants to take all your wealth.”
“Yes, I am sure that is part of it. I do fear he will attack us, and then I will be
powerless.” Joanna continued, her head in her hands, “I suppose this may be how
Father felt. Perhaps it is why he married my stepmother.”
“You cannot marry for protection; you will only enslave the kingdom.”
“I know. I thought of that. I suppose I could call for more men to join the
military. I fear the wealth of our kingdom may be adversely affected.”
“You have time, my dear. It is not as if you are alone. We all are with you,”
Dom assured her.
*
Joanna's coronation arrived within the week of the birthday ball. The festivities
lasted days. She was crowned on a beautiful summer-like day, and her kingdom
was at peace for the moment.
The cathedral where she was crowned had many stained glass windows and her
favorite one was the circular main window. The blue waters and white dove made
her wish her David would have been by her side, but perhaps he was in spirit.
She retreated to her bed chamber to rest after the coronation, and in the quiet she
could think. She thought of her father. She never imagined that she would rule an
entire kingdom. She slept soundly after the week's events were finally over.
Joanna ate breakfast on the patio near her gardens as the flowers were beginning
to bloom, and the air smelled fresh with their scents blended together. In the
middle of the table was a vase full of white roses at the peak of their bloom and the
fruity fragrance filled Joanna’s nose as she reflected on the sweet victory of
becoming Queen.
A maid appeared with a note from Prince Samuel asking to speak with her in
private as soon as possible. She told the maid to bring the Prince to the gardens. He
was in the northern wing guest quarters. She was curious as to why he would want
to speak with her. Most of the other Royals had left the day before, after the
closing ceremony that took place late morning. A few monarchs spent the night
and were leaving soon. She already said good-bye to her guests and planned for a
restful day.
Joanna felt that the Prince of Ott must have something special to say. She liked
the Prince; Samuel was different than the other Royals.
Prince Samuel approached her. She thought he looked very well in his morning
suit. She was happy to see him and her smile grew wide.
“Good morning, Princess Joanna — I should say Queen Joanna,” Prince Samuel
greeted her. “Forgive me; it takes some getting used to calling you Queen.”
He stood before her, tall, strong, and smiling.
“It is hard even for me to remember that I am now Queen. Please sit down. Have
you eaten breakfast?” She motioned with her hand to offer him a seat.
“Yes, I did. I do not wish to trouble you. I am here on a matter of business.”
“Oh?”
“Yes, I am proposing that we form an alliance,” Samuel looked at the new
Queen and said, “You see, Joanna — may I call you Joanna?”
“Yes, I would like that, as we are friends.”
“I think that if we align our two kingdoms we could thwart any advances on
your eastern front, especially if we conducted some military training exercises.”
Joanna looked at him, shocked that he knew about the attacks.
“I have heard from General Stuart about your present situation. You see, I am a
military man. In fact, I am the commander of my uncle's troops, and I have
authority to make the peace accords we would need in order to proceed.”
“When you speak of an alliance, how would this be binding?”
“We would have a special agreement that basically states that our two nations
should be like one. This would make it unfeasible for Duke William to attack you.
He fears my army.”
Joanna looked at Prince Samuel and thought he was a powerful man. She could
see Duke William fearing him.
“So what do you say? Yes or no?” he said.
He leaned in towards her as he waited for an answer. She grew troubled and
crossed her arms as if a chilly air descended and she forgot her wrap.
“Prince Samuel, I do not plan on marrying you,” Joanna blurted out her feelings.
Samuel laughed.
“This is not a marriage proposal. I should hope that I could do better at one than
that!” he said.
Joanna saw that he was telling the truth, and then she said, “This is a treaty?”
“Yes, it is. And it is a good one. We want peace too. I was thankful that your
stepmother died. She was the one who was attacking my kingdom. She had her
special forces undermine the border, near Randele. She wanted control of the
mines. She planned on annexing the lands adjacent to that border to get our mines.
I owe your David a great debt.”
This information explained the soldiers at the border that led to David’s death.
She grew sad but pushed aside her feelings like a Queen would.
Samuel looked at Joanna and said, “This is a business proposition. That is all.
Are you interested?”
“You must know how much I am interested. We are just a small kingdom, and
while we have a good army, it is not large enough to stop a full out affront. Your
military could have just swallowed up my kingdom; you don't need me to sign an
accord.”
“Have you ever been to war?”
“No.” She studied him for a moment and thought him a different sort of man.
“War is terrible. It robs children of their parents, and parents of their children. It
causes hunger. It leads to death and destruction. Twelve years ago, my own
kingdom was at war and it was a horrible time. I feel every nation must defend
itself if it is attacked. However, I do not want war.”
“I fear war every day.” Her head bent down as she spoke.
“Every monarch does, Joanna.”
She looked back at him and thought his voice contained tenderness when he said
her name.
“I have even considered marrying in order to avoid it. I cannot bring myself to
do it,” she confided.
Prince Samuel was a little surprised that she told him this and wondered who she
thought to marry.
“I do not wish to marry again.” Prince Samuel said and folded his arms.
“Truly?”
“It may surprise you to hear this, but I am not the marrying kind. I like my life in
the military. I married my wife because it helped my uncle and my kingdom. It was
a difficult first year, but we grew to love each other. I truly miss her. It is very
difficult to carry on sometimes…”
“It is indeed, Prince Samuel,” Joanna said with a hint of sorrow in her own
voice. Tears filled her eyes and she wiped them away.
“Oh, I have made you cry. I am sorry,” Samuel reached in his front pocket and
offered her his handkerchief. She took it and wiped her eyes.
“It is a good sort of crying. It is a beautiful thought.”
“I remember my wife too and I am saddened that she is not with me. She would
have liked you.”
“I would have liked to have known her.”
“I am expected back to report to my uncle on whether or not we have a deal.”
His put his hands together.
“Yes, we have a deal.”
“Do I have your permission to draw up the contract?”
“Yes. Thank you!”
“For what?”
“For your protection.”
“You act as if you have no alternative.”
“I do not.”
“Queen Joanna, do you know you have less to fear than you realize? You should
get better intelligence. I see the kingdom to your south suffering yet another year
of drought, and they are far too weak to attack you. There is a mountain range to
your west that protects you. Your biggest threat from the East, Duke William, has
been neutralized by our agreement.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I listen. My spies help me, but these balls and gatherings are the best source for
information.” Samuel studied her and thought she seemed too young to be a Queen
who must deal with the worries of a kingdom.
Prince Samuel continued, “I also have heard a report that I hadn't planned to
bring up to you, but it has been gossiped that Duke William staged those attacks to
force a marriage with you. I fear he may attack my kingdom. If you marry him,
you may be forced into a war.”
“That is why he offered to marry me at my birthday party.” She tilted her head
to better see the Prince because the sun was blocking her view.
“He did what?”
“He told me the attacks would stop if I married him. Of course he did not use
those exact words, but I knew that was his proposal.”
Queen Joanna felt she may have said too much and she paused.
“Perhaps I should not have asked you for a treaty because it would make it more
difficult for you to marry a certain gentleman.” He raised his eyes to stare into
hers.
She thought perhaps he did not know what to believe among the rumors of the
other Royals.
“What do you mean?” she said with heightened emotion. “I do not wish to marry
someone I barely know in order to stop him from attacking my kingdom. What sort
of marriage would that be?”
“I do not think the Royals worry about something as trivial as what sort of
marriage they would bring upon themselves,” Samuel said.
Joanna didn’t know how to react to this statement. “I have considered increasing
the size of the army, but —”
“It would mean less money to help your people,” he finished her thought. “Have
you considered increasing the mining to gain more wealth?”
“Yes, but that would mean less of a harvest. But sometimes we have no other
means to stop war…”
Samuel mourned the entrapment they both knew and the wind blew through the
distant trees which sounded like a rustle of a wedding gown.
“Is that why you considered marrying someone whom you thought would help
you avoid a war?” he asked.
“I did not want to hand over my country to a cruel dictator, yet to leave a
country in ruins — perhaps it is better for one person to suffer rather than the
whole kingdom.”
“I hope that you will never marry again, unless it is for love.”
She looked again at Samuel. He no longer seemed so much older than her.
“And I hope the same for you,” she said. “I will sign your treaty.”

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