The Kiss that Saved Her (Chapter 9, page 1 of 1)


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Chapter 9

The peace treaty was signed and part of the contract included provisions to carry
out joint military training. Prince Samuel and General Stuart set up an encampment
at the end of the summer months; both had overseen the five thousand strong
military exercise near the northeastern border of Ott and Bow.
General Stuart sought out Queen Joanna in the Blue Room because he believed
the soldiers would benefit from a morale boost. She was at her desk reading
through papers. He needed her to understand the life of a soldier was full of peril as
his life might be required of him at any moment. He pondered how to explain such
details. He greeted his Queen with a bow.
She looked up. “General! I have missed you. Has it really been three weeks
now?”
“At least. Queen Joanna, I am aware that this may not be the best time for my
suggestion, yet I will make it anyway if you permit me to speak,” Stuart said. He
glanced down at the floor for a moment.
“I approved your funding this morning. Do you need more money already?” She
folded her papers and put them in a book.
“No, the amount that you approved is fine,” he began again and she gave him
her full attention. “Your Royal Highness, I think that it would be a good thing for
the men to see their Queen. I was wondering if you would travel back to the camp
for a short visit. You'd be surprised how something so small can make a soldier
feel valued, Your Royal Highness.”
She thought over his suggestion.
“I will visit then.”
Joanna missed Prince Samuel and the trip would enable her to see him again. “I
must check my schedule to see if it can be arranged. In truth, I would like to see
what the Prince of Ott and you have done with our troops. I’m curious.”
*
The General made the arrangements for the Queen's surprise visit to the troops;
they left the following day, and because he worried over the safety of Queen
Joanna, he personally led the carriage with six of his trusted officers.
The carriage stopped by the headquarter building, which was a small log cabin in
the deep forest. Queen Joanna stepped out of the carriage and followed the six
soldiers, plus another three of Prince Samuel's men, through the woods.
The air reminded her of her year at the cave, with the woodsy smell of new
growth and decay creating a scent of life mixed with death.
For two weeks more, three hundred men would call a clearing to the south of the
building home. A small stream ran through the woods, cutting its path through the
hills like an arrow cut through the distance to the target. She saw the towering oaks
and missed David.
She walked past the archery range and the men stopped their practice to see the
beautiful queen pass by. The officers bowed and Joanna nodded but did not stop.
General Stuart almost smiled when he saw the young enlisted men view Joanna. If
they were a less disciplined group there may have been a stir.
General Stuart hoped they understood the new queen appreciated each man's
sacrifice. Stuart was at her side as they went down a hill, and they fell behind the
officers in their party. Joanna wore dainty new shoes that did not meet the terrain's
demands.
Prince Samuel was in the middle of a lesson and continued as the officers
approached. He refused to be distracted; he needed to press the men for the next
two weeks, yet he did not ask of them anything he himself was not committed to
do. He sensed their weariness as the camp dragged on. His manner of dress was
similar to what the men wore, comfortable dark green pants and shirt, made for the
tasks of military life.
“Now men, remember that height is an advantage that we must have when we
scout out locations for the troops, or when we need to see where the enemy is
located. The best means we have to take advantage of this simple fact is right
above us.” Prince Samuel pointed straight up.
“Let me demonstrate one of the most effective tools we have.” Samuel picked
up a rope and tied it to a large and sturdy arrow.
He took his bow and aimed for a high branch, and shot the arrow over the
branch, and it flew over and came down in the brush below the tree. Prince Samuel
tied the rope around the base of the tree and tugged on the rope.
“Now that the rope is secure, would any of you like to volunteer?”
A sturdy fellow stepped toward Prince Samuel.
“I am the best tree climber in my village, so I volunteer,” the red headed fellow
bragged.
“Good luck to you,” Samuel said.
The young man began the climb and the rest of his classmates cheered him. He
used his hands on the rope and his feet on the tree to climb high up. He made it
half way up the rope and rested and waited a few minutes before he continued. He
grew tired after taking a few more steps and then gave up the attempt and backed
down to the ground.
His classmates laughed but Samuel told them, “If any of you think it is so easy, I
invite you to be the next volunteer.”
The crowd of men was silenced at once.
“I will try,” another man offered.
“Very well,” Samuel said. “Remember this task takes great upper body strength
as well as agility.”
The man took the rope and made it only a third of the way up before he jumped
back down.
“Anyone else?” asked Samuel.
Prince Samuel surveyed his disappointed men. He then took the rope into his
own hands and slowly began his climb. He kept his pace steady and did not stop
until he reached the top. He grabbed the branch and lifted himself over it and then
carefully stood up. He demonstrated how to survey the surrounding land. Then
Samuel wrapped his hands around the rope and descended. He was methodical
until he reached the bottom.
Queen Joanna was impressed with her friend, and she began to clap her hands.
The group turned toward her and Prince Samuel was taken aback that she was
standing there. The rest of the men also began to clap for the Prince from Ott.
General Stuart smiled. Prince Samuel tried to quiet the men but it was no use.
“We are honored with the presence of Queen Joanna of Bow, Her Royal
Highness, who has surprised us all by joining General Stuart on his return visit,”
Prince Samuel stated.
The men quickly bowed to their Queen.
“Please do not stop your training. I wanted to see for myself the great strides that
you have made in order to protect our people from outside threats and I do believe
you have done an outstanding job,” Joanna said to her troops. “I have also brought
with me some much needed supplies, which can be found in some crates with the
baggage on the carriage, if you all would be so kind as to retrieve them.”
The General looked at the Queen, and she smiled. He was unaware she had
brought them anything. Prince Samuel dismissed the troops, who then headed to
the carriage. Joanna nodded to them as they passed her. The General's hunch had
been correct; the visit was already a success.
Prince Samuel made his way to Joanna and Stuart. She took his arm as they
made the trip back up the hill towards the log cabin.
“Your Royal Highness, what on earth did you bring my men?” he asked.
“I arrived here with three barrels of ale for the men and some tarts that my chef
hastily made as the General persuaded me just yesterday that I should see my
troops.” She glanced back at Stuart who was following closely behind. “I decided
that I would not arrive here without some sort of gift.”
“So that is why the horses were slow on this journey?” Stuart asked.
Samuel was clearly amused. “How long will my troops enjoy your presence?”
“I will not distract you from your job any more than a day, as I know you have
so much work to do.”
“One day? It is too short for me, but I suppose it will have to do,” Samuel
replied.
They reached the carriage, which was next to the cabin.
“I apologize for the small and rustic quarters but this is the best we can do. This
will be yours for the duration of your stay,” Samuel told Joanna.
She turned to him and protested, “But these are your quarters, are they not? I
cannot take them from you.”
He smiled at her as his recollection of her vibrant nature paled compared to her
real presence.
“Your Royal Highness, I am content to sleep under the stars with my good men,
and I will have General Stuart for company.”
“It is true Your Royal Highness, and I don't even snore,” Stuart chimed in.
“We will camp on the porch for your protection, Queen Joanna, so you have
nothing to fear; we will take care of you.”
“Prince Samuel, you are always taking care of me and my people, and I am
grateful.”
She smiled back up at him as they faced each other.
“You give me far too much credit,” he said.
“I will settle in, and after, join the troops for dinner. What time will they begin?”
she asked as she turned towards General Stuart.
“Now,” General Stuart said.
“Queen Joanna, you do not need to eat with the men, but the officers would be
delighted if you would join them in half an hour. I will return to escort you,”
Samuel said.
“Whatever you think is best. I will see you soon.”
She closed the door and surveyed the room. She saw some of Prince Samuel’s
belongings. He had left his sturdy boots and some of his arrows. His shirts were
hung to dry by the fire and she remembered the cave.
*
The officers' tent was spacious. A long wooden table and stools took up most of
the space and seated the twelve officers plus Prince Samuel and General Stuart
comfortably. An oak chair with a back was found and brought for the Queen. The
dinner was sausage and vegetables, but after the long journey Joanna ate it without
complaint.
The ordinary men began the task of cleaning up after the dinner.
“My Queen, we should meet the rest of the officers,” Stuart suggested.
They walked through the flap which made a door for the tent, and formed a
receiving line. The commanders made small talk about the capital city while
Joanna asked each man where they were from and about their families.
A tall man with blond hair walked over to them. His eyes were fixed on Queen
Joanna. Prince Samuel bowed to the boy, who was no more than eighteen.
Prince Samuel said, “Your Royal Highness, Queen Joanna, I would like to
introduce to you my cousin, Prince Henry. He is the second son of my uncle, His
Royal Highness, the Excellent King of Ott.”
“I am pleased to finally make your acquaintance, Your Royal Highness. I am
happy that you are recovered from your illness,” Prince Henry began.
“Thank you, your Royal Highness. I am most delighted to meet you, Prince
Henry,” she said.
Joanna noticed him looking at her top to bottom, and she was uncomfortable.
Prince Henry said, “I see why my cousin has spent so much time at your palace,
much to my Father’s disappointment, as he relies heavily on his experience with
the troops.”
Queen Joanna said, “I am sure we would agree that without the necessary work
that has to be done, we would have no peace between our nations. I do not think
your Father, His Royal Highness, would disagree?”
“I am sure my cousin has served my Father honorably,” Prince Henry said.
“Thank you, Your Royal Highness,” Prince Samuel answered.
“Queen Joanna,” Prince Henry said, “have you seen the grounds?”
“I arrived late in the day.”
Prince Henry stepped toward her and said, “I apologize for my cousin if he has
not given you a tour.”
Joanna was tired and she did not like his tone when he mentioned Samuel. “I am
pleased with the progress with regard to the troops. I have no need for a tour.”
He moved close to her, almost pressing against her. Joanna did not want to
disrupt the harmony of the event and decided to ignore his behavior. He drew back
a bit which made her feel better. Perhaps she misjudged him.
“I do not believe you will fully understand the needs of the military without a
proper point of reference,” Prince Henry stated.
“Forgive me, Prince Henry, I do not think something as trivial as a walk around
the grounds will teach me anything of consequence,” she said in resistance.
“On the contrary, many peace accords have failed without proper attention. Too
many monarchs forget all accords depend on the personal relationships between
rulers. If two rulers find a way to reach an agreement then peace is assured. I insist
that you must have a tour.”
She was tired and wished for peace. She said, “If you will it, then I suppose I
may see the grounds with you.”
Prince Henry said, “Good. I think that we will begin with my tent.”
He placed his hand on the small of her back and she almost jumped. Her anger
rose inside of her.
“If I were to walk with you to that area,” she began, “my General, who is a most
loyal servant, would be close behind and in the darkness he may mistake you for a
wild animal. He may judge it prudent to take an arrow and shoot you through.”
The smile that had been on Prince Henry’s face left and instead his face flashed
anger.
He ignored her comment and said, “I see my man waiting for me.” Prince Henry
departed.
Joanna saw Samuel and Stuart grinning.
She said to Samuel, “I am rather tired and I need someone to escort me to my
quarters.”
Samuel remarked, “I think General Stuart should do the honor, Your Royal
Highness, as I do not wish to be shot through.”
“Fear does not suit you, Samuel,” she said, teasing him.
Samuel offered her his arm, and she took it.
“I am no chaperone,” General Stuart said, with a bemused smile on his face. He
bowed and left.
The sun was setting and camp fires began to light up the encampment. Men’s
voices flooded the grounds and the animals must have sensed their homes were
invaded for there were no calls between them.
They walked the path to the cabin as the full moon painted the sky with its light.
“Oh Samuel, do you see the moon? Is there nothing more right with the world
than the moon this time of year?”
“It is indeed lovely.” He looked at her, although she didn't notice because she
was looking at the sky.
“I have enjoyed witnessing the progress that you have made with the troops,
Samuel, especially the special units. You should feel a special satisfaction in all
that you’ve accomplished.”
“I am pleased that I have met your standards in this work, Joanna.”
She looked directly at him. “I will be leaving in the morning. Will you return to
my castle before the end of the summer?”
“I am not sure, as my uncle is unpredictable in his plans.”
The pair reached the front door. It seemed as if time stopped for a moment and
let the night whisper its secrets to them.
“Will you be comfortable out here?”
“Do not worry; it is a perfect night to be outdoors. Thank you for coming to see
the troops. I’d forgotten how nice it is to see you, Joanna.”
“I confess that I have missed you.” She lingered and held on to his arm still. “It
is not the same without your thoughts and opinions. I have relied on your
knowledge for so many things.”
“I have missed you too,” Samuel said.
“I am afraid that there is so much to be tended to back at Pantor that I cannot
stay here as long as I would have liked.”
“Perhaps I will be able convince the King of the necessity of the visit. I will try.”
“Then I am satisfied that you will be returning soon to Starlight Castle. I could
not return there with any real joy unless I thought that you would visit me shortly.
As the day has exhausted me, I feel that I must bid you a good night, Prince
Samuel,” she said. She let go of his arm.
“Good night, Queen Joanna.”
She opened the door and went inside. Samuel sat down on the stone step outside
the door. He watched the moon rise high in the sky.
*
Queen Joanna arrived at Starlight Castle to find her new lady-in-waiting had
arrived. Maria Laroque was her third cousin who grew up in Seine and was
eighteen years old, lively and pretty. Joanna recalled the many summers they
played together as children. After her father married her stepmother, she rarely saw
her as they were related on her mother’s side.
Queen Joanna met her in the private garden. Maria ate her breakfast early before
the summer heat made being outdoors unbearable. A bumble bee floated through
the air like an ice skater gliding over a pond. It landed on one flower and indulged,
then flew to another. Maria stood up to avoid the bee and turned to see her Queen
as she darted away from the flowers. A servant took her tray off of the table.
“I see the bee disturbed you. I will apologize,” Joanna said, clearly amused.
“Your Royal Highness!” Maria’s lively voice almost sung out.
Queen Joanna smiled and replied, “My dearest cousin! It has been too long!”
“Yes, almost five years.” Maria said.
The servant stiffened his back. “You are dismissed,” Joanna told him.
The servant bowed and carried the tray back to the castle.
“Now, I will give you a proper greeting,” Joanna said. She hugged Maria and the
girl laughed as she returned her embrace.
“I did not think a Queen hugged anyone!” Maria said.
“Well, let’s pretend I am only your favorite cousin, and not a Queen!”
The two walked together in the garden as Maria went on about their relatives’
adventures.
*
General Stuart was convinced the reports would be better written if Prince
Samuel would take a few weeks to join him in Pantor; he asked Prince Samuel to
return to the castle. Queen Joanna was pleased he returned so soon. General Stuart
took every moment of his visit to improve the special units, therefore, Joanna only
saw Samuel at dinner, and afterwards they were back to work.
Maria was homesick, Joanna allowed her to return to Seine for a visit. Joanna
thought maybe Maria was too young to be away from her family.
The late summer heat reminded Joanna of David and their swims at the pond.
She wondered how Dom, Frank, George, and Louis went on without him. At least
they had each other she thought. She had no family. She wiped her eyes as she had
a meeting soon. She thought of Samuel. Her meeting would take only an hour. She
sent a note asking if their work had progressed enough to release Prince Samuel for
a morning tour of the stables.
Once he read her note, Prince Samuel walked out of the Blue Room and
interrupted her morning meeting with a knock on the door.
She looked up and her four advisers grew quiet. She smiled at him as she had
never expected such a quick response in the affirmative.
Joanna said, “Gentlemen, I see my next appointment has arrived, and I am
ending this meeting.”
“We haven’t gone over — ” stammered her budget director.
Prince Samuel spoke up, “Count Blake, I believe the Queen and I have urgent
business to discuss and this is the only possible time as General Stuart would like
to work through lunch.”
*
In the morning hours, the stalls in the royal stable were busy with activity. The
wooden barn was rustic and sturdy. The hay was tossed about by the stable boys
that worked there. The lads had boundless energy and the horses came and went in
and out of the barn. The pasture allowed the horses to gallop.
“Hello, Stanley,” Queen Joanna addressed a stable boy.
The boy bowed to her. Prince Samuel followed her out of the barn and into the
pasture. The fields were muddy after the rain that fell overnight and she carefully
avoided the ruts that the parade of horses made. Queen Joanna wore her sturdy
boots, gloves and pants. Two horses leaned their heads over the fence.
“No apples today,” Joanna said as she petted the white horse. “These two are
loyal companions, Madeline is the brown mare and Vera is the white. Horses
attach themselves to another horse as they are very social animals.”
“I suppose people are similar to horses then.” He stood lower on the hill which
made his height match hers.
The grass swayed as the breeze blew across the pasture. A pungent smell blew
past them and then disappeared when the wind stopped. The gray clouds reminded
her of when she longed for David.
“Maybe, but I see plenty of people that disregard others, if there is any love at
all.”
He did not understand why she spoke this way but wondered if another marriage
proposal had been made to her.
“Queen Joanna, are you cynical this morning, perhaps in regards to the enduring
love that some enjoy in marriage?”
“Oh no. I believe in that love, yet there are so many who do not, Samuel,
especially other Royals. It seems they are interested only in what is to be gained
rather than what is required to attain such riches.”
His mouth opened in surprise.
She felt sorry that she had been so candid. As she thought of his marriage to his
late wife, she said, “I did not mean to give offense.”
“No,” he said, “it did not offend me, but I am curious; your attitude is direct, and
you speak so plainly. I have never encountered such frankness before. Do you
speak of a particular or a general experience?”
“I speak in general. Forgive me, Your Highness, I seem to forget my manners
this morning.” She turned away in order to hide her hurt feelings.
He broke protocol and took her hand and she reacted with a mixture of mild
surprise and joy at his touch even through their gloved hands.
“I do not wish to quarrel,” he said. His hand held hers until he remembered his
action was too familiar and let go.
Joanna asked, “Will you ride this morning?”
“Yes, I think it a splendid idea.”
“Good. Which one should I have the stable boy fetch?” Joanna asked.
Samuel looked at the various horses in the pasture. He spotted a horse with a
metallic coat. “I would love to ride that brown one; is it a Turk?”
“Yes, I believe it is. He is named Thunder and he finds it difficult to listen to
commands. Is this acceptable?”
Prince Samuel looked at Queen Joanna, smiled, and said, “I am rather good with
horses, even stubborn ones. He looks fast which would be ideal.”
“So you would like to race today?” she said.
“Only if you would ride.”
“I will, but you may race the wind as I do not race, Samuel.”
“I would certainly lose then.”
They instructed the stable boy, Stanley, to bring them the horse named Thunder
and the pretty white one named Vera.
Samuel mounted the horse and took off across the field ahead of Joanna. Joanna
rode at a slow walk. She watched Samuel race across the field in a reckless
manner. He returned.
“I think that you did win the race,” she said. The horse turned into the other
horse and their heads nudged until she pulled on the reins.
“What race?”
“The one that you had in your mind!”
“I suppose that I did envision a race and it would be invigorating to win even a
pretend one.”
“You travel so much I suppose you tire of all the activity.”
“Yes. But to test a horse's limits is a greater joy than to travel countless miles
through snow and rain.”
The brown horse’s leg rose up then down with elegance and discipline. Samuel
patted the horse. “I better let him rest for a while.”
“Thank you for the enjoyable morning,” she said.
“I should offer you thanks. I am enjoying my stay here as you spoil me and I
almost feel like a prince again instead of a soldier.” He loosened the reins.
“You are certainly a prince, Samuel. I am happy to be the one to bring you
peace.”
*
Joanna had an errand in town and she did not want her guest, Prince Samuel, to
be left behind, so she asked him if he would join her. Samuel agreed to go along
and the carriage dropped them off near the main fountain. She took Samuel’s arm
as they made their way through the town square.
The Prince and Queen walked through the square. The capital city contained
many shops with clothing stores on one end and butchers, tanneries, and
blacksmiths on the other end. The bakery stood in the middle next to the jeweler
and other artisans. The red and yellow brick storefronts were swept clean.
Joanna looked at the dresses and gloves that lined the front window of a fine
ladies’ clothing store. Prince Samuel patiently waited outside as she entered the
shop. She reappeared with a bag. He smiled to himself; it had been a long while
since he had shopped with a lady.
“I suppose that I must finish the business that I came for as I must get back
soon.”
Prince Samuel followed her into the store. It was a small shop and only a few
people could comfortably stand in front of the glass cases. The jewelry in the cases
attracted Joanna’s eyes as they infused color and light that contrasted with the
black velvet cloth that was placed behind them.
A shopkeeper approached her and Samuel.
“Good day.” He bowed slightly and said, “You are here to pick up the package
then?”
“Yes, we are,” Joanna said.
The shopkeeper went to the back room and looked through some shelves. He
returned and handed her a small blue bag.
“Congratulations! And may I wish you happiness!” he said in a jolly manner.
“Thank you,” Samuel spoke carefully.
Joanna opened the small bag. “I think you have given me the wrong bag.” She
poured out the contents onto the counter and a gold ring spun like a spinning top. It
came to rest shortly and Joanna and Samuel looked at the ring.
“I do believe the Queen is right,” Prince Samuel stated plainly.
“Your Royal Highness! Forgive me! I did not recognize you!” the man said.
“It is quite all right, I should have been clear about which package I came for
today,” Joanna said.
“I will retrieve the palace box!” The flustered shopkeeper went back to the back
room and looked for the box.
Samuel moved next to Joanna and picked up the gold ring. He studied it and
then put it back into the bag.
“I think someone is in need of this,” he glanced at Joanna, “and he wouldn’t
want a delay I suppose.” He set the bag down.
The pudgy man returned. He moved boxes off the counter and tried to bring
order to his shop. He found the royal box tied in a red ribbon and handed it to her.
“Here are the jewels for the palace, Your Royal Highness, I thank you so
much!” The man bowed.
“I thank you, and I wish you a good day,” Joanna told him.
They exited the small shop and walked back to the carriage in silence, the ring
still fresh on each one’s mind — Samuel for what it could be, Joanna for what it
was when David lived.
The ride back to the castle was a short one. Joanna sat across from Samuel and
noticed he was preoccupied. He was looking out the window at the scenery.
“Prince Samuel, I would like to give you a present, I found something at the
shops and I thought of you.”
Samuel looked at her. “You are too generous; you did not need to do that for
me.”
“Perhaps not, but I still wanted to give you a gift.”
She moved from sitting across from him to sitting next to him. She took out a
pair of riding gloves from her bag and gave them to him. He sat straight up then
looked at the gift.
“These are excellent, Joanna. Thank you so much.” Samuel tried one on.
“I am well pleased that you came along today as I know most gentlemen would
not think it an ideal way to spend the day.”
“I did enjoy the day. I was reminded of a similar outing that my late wife and I
took in Candon.”
“I hope your memory was a happy one,” she said.
“Yes, it was a most happy memory, I assure you.”
Joanna thought of Samuel and his Sarah and how difficult it was when a
husband or wife died. There wasn’t a day that passed that she didn’t think of
David. Samuel had not mentioned Sarah for weeks. She wondered if this was how
it would be for her eventually and David would pass from her conscious daily
thoughts to a memory. She could not imagine forgetting his face as she saw it in
her mind clearly.
Samuel seemed mournful despite his claim that it was a happy memory.
They pulled up to the castle. She climbed down from the carriage while the
summer heat slapped her face with no relief from the breeze that refused to blow.
The outer gardens of the castle greeted them and the rows of boxwoods and blue
cornflowers and pink carnations made her sadness more acute. When they arrived
in the Great Hall, a messenger came up to Prince Samuel and bowed.
“A letter for you, Your Highness,” the man said.
“Thank you.” Samuel turned to Joanna. “I will retire to my chamber now in
order to read my letter, as it is from my uncle. Thank you for a lovely morning,
Queen Joanna.”
“Yes, of course,” she said in reply.

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