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Alexandra

Alexandra

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Alexandra

Bewertungen:
5/5 (1 Bewertung)
Länge:
1,173 Seiten
18 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Jan 28, 2014
ISBN:
9781310994531
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Queen Alexandra, barely seventeen, has married Genevieve, a princess of New Hope, from the Southern Continent. As they tour Alexandra's own lands and cities, dealing with petitions and meeting her subjects, word comes in that there has been an invasion from the East.

The couple rushes back to the capital, where all is chaos. They are separated when there is an assault on the beaches near the capital, and Alexandra finds herself begging for military aid from her Western neighbors, while Genevieve is put before the television cameras, to raise morale to resist the invasion. Alexandra and Genevieve remain separated for the duration of the war.

An ancient invention enables a lesbian couple to conceive a child. Before they parted, Alexandra and Genevieve had used the device, in one of the more pleasant episodes they had enjoyed, but it's Alexandra who unexpectedly finds herself pregnant. Instead of leading the war, as was the tradition in their island nation of strong women, Alexandra is sidelined, and finds herself in very un-warlike occupations, forced to watch Genny's television appearances from far away, and to admire her increasingly brilliant oratory, and her overwhelming charisma on the tube.

With the help of the beautiful Nevenka, a girl of the enemy people who falls in love first with one of Alexandra's agents, and then with the general of the enemy army, the war is brought to an end, after the loss of many thousands of lives. But it appears that Alexandra and Genevieve's marriage will not survive the war.

This novel is the second, historically, from this author, and the clumsiness of the writing in the earlier chapters gradually works itself out. A few episodes are unusually violent, but the story is relentlessly pacifist in spirit. Despite some of the technologically fantastic elements in the story, it may as well have taken place before WWI on Earth, or in the Flash Gordon universe (with a lot less flying involved!) For all intents and purposes it is not a Science Fiction novel at all. Like PERN, the world of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonrider novels, the knowledge of technology is mysteriously low, except for Medicine. And there aren't any dragons, either! And, except for a few strong men, the protagonists are all women.

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Jan 28, 2014
ISBN:
9781310994531
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Kay Hemlock Brown grew up in Western Pennsylvania, and was a part-time instructor at a small university in the northeast. She has been writing since she was in high school, and loves classical music, ballet, gymnastics, figure skating, the martial arts, tennis, and science fiction. (To be honest, she is an indifferent performer in any of these areas.) Presently she is a freelance writer.She also likes dogs, cats and birds, and hates spiders. Kay has been adopted by several pets (who belong to a friend), and she has become a slave to them! Okay, that's enough information for the present.


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Alexandra - Kay Hemlock Brown

Alexandra

by

Kay Brown

Copyright © Kay Brown 2013

Published at Smashwords

CHAPTER ONE

The Beach

Alexandra rode out to the beach in the gloomy evening. She had grabbed her weapons, just in case. It was a dark night, and it was hard to see much of anything; visibility was just about a mile.

When she got to the shore, it was clear that a large vessel was approaching. Seconds later, artillery was being emplaced, big guns. The main commercial docks were a short way up the river; it had been many years since cannon fire had been exchanged at the pier. The sea was still rough, but with the perversity of war weather, the winds were just beginning to calm.

The ship, as it approached, looming in the dark, looked menacing. Suddenly, there was cannon fire from a smaller vessel aimed at the approaching enemy. Evidently some frigates had been put out to defend the shore.

People were beginning to gather along the beach; in the dark, Alexandra could see knives and clubs, as well as swords and pikes, and the glint of the equipment of the army. Suddenly, there was a cry from a little to the west. Nothing could be seen from that far away. Finding herself alone, Alexandra felt an impulse to head out west along the shore road. Someone followed her on foot, calling her. It was a woman’s voice.

Highness! I mean—Your Majesty! Alexandra cursed whoever it was. She turned and asked whoever it was to shut up. Alexandra! Get back here! It was Miriam, Alexandra’s close friend, and a member of the Palace Guard. Miriam had taken a crossbow bolt to her shoulder just that afternoon. Poor Miriam had left her horse, but could not see Alexandra in the dark, and was soon left behind.

Alexandra was all alone on the shore road. The army was spread along the beach. She wondered why they did not light it up, so they could see better. She assumed that they didn’t want to make it any easier for the enemy. But wasn’t it the enemy who would be helped by stealth?

Suddenly there was bright light in the direction Alexandra was heading, and she saw a boat being beached, and a number of enemy soldiers rushing ashore, and a number of her own soldiers rushing to attack them. There were about a dozen coming off the boat, and just four facing them. She watched in awe as the four soldiers, all women, fought like maniacs. In mere seconds, twelve bodies lay on the beach. An involuntary cheer escaped her lips.

Alexandra dismounted, and led the horse off the road and tied it to the fence of a house. There was a great deal of poverty in this part of the country, and people lived in stone houses just within sight of the beach. Alexandra got out her crossbow, her pride and joy. It was the best kind available, with all sorts of machinery to make loading easier, and the range longer. Tonight, if she had to, she would kill.

She quickly tied her hair back, and looked out to sea. The light they had rigged only made it harder to see. Even as she wished they would turn it off, they did, only to reveal two more boats approaching as her vision adjusted, one further west, and one much further east.

Alexandra felt calm. She waited until her sight returned, and the nearer boat was just about fifty yards away. Aiming carefully, she shot at one of the enemy soldiers furthest at the back, at a distance of over sixty feet, in the dark, on a floating target, and the man fell into the water with a cry. They were all men; Bernians did not send women into battle, and these were seasoned troops. With a cry, another group of four defenders fell on the survivors. Carefully, Alexandra aimed at another. The problem was to avoid hitting her own fighters. It was almost impossible. But again, in seconds, the light was turned on, and the invaders were downed. One woman soldier had her arm hanging useless.

Boats were coming in all the time, now, up and down the beach, and Alexandra kept to her strategy of picking off the rearmost enemy soldiers, covered by the darkness. It was a cowardly thing to do, but it was a cowardly invasion in the first place.

It continued for almost an hour. Alexandra walked up the beach, heading steadily westwards, fearful that some boats may have gone so far west that they were beyond the army line. Suddenly she heard a gasp. She felt a tug on her tunic. In a flash she whirled round, her sword ready. All she saw was a tiny shadow—two shadows. Curse the lights! Then one of them scuttled forward, and she saw it was a child. The whites of its eyes were showing all round, and it was gesticulating towards the water. Look there! she heard an urgent whisper.

She turned back, and there, stealthily, a boat had landed, completely unseen. Soldiers were coming ashore even as she looked.

Creeping around a pile of driftwood, Alexandra got off three quick shots, and got three of them. Still no Northern forces had seen the boat. There was confusion, since Alexandra could not be seen in the dark. The next shot got the leader in the face, but the direction of the bolt had been noted. The remaining men rushed in Alexandra’s direction, and she heard scuffling behind her. The confounded kids were dogging her.

Silently, Alexandra got up, her sword ready, and whirled into battle. They seemed to be moving too slowly; it was easy to get behind their guard and hack them down with short blows. In no time she had three more down, but there were several left. Ignoring all but one, she resumed fighting. One more down.

Then they began to surround her. Then everything happened at once. Alexandra gave up her silence, and began to yell. Her own guard heard the commotion, while she was engaging two of the enemy, and the lights were brought towards her, blinding her and the attackers equally.

It’s a girl, said one of them, and began to press her. There were four of them, and she stumbled. Picking up a handful of sand, she hurled it in their faces, and they backed off for just long enough for her to get her footing again. Suddenly her attackers were being pelted with stones, aimed expertly.

It was ugly fighting, but she was fighting for her life. She killed another one, and then she faced only one; the army had arrived. Then she made a vicious cut to the man’s neck, and he fell with a cry.

More boats landed, further towards the town, and the defenders headed towards them, taking the lights. Alexandra was alone again, with dead bodies all around her, in the dark. She checked herself; as far as she could tell, she had only a small cut on her thumb, and a sprained knee. She turned round, cursing.

Where are you? she demanded. What do you think you’re doing?

There was nobody. She stopped cursing, but insisted a little more politely that they should show themselves. Come here, I want to talk to you!

Cautiously, the two shadows approached. They were dressed in smocks. As they came closer, she could see them better. The moon was coming out.

One of them froze, and her eyes went wide.

Your Majesty! she gasped. I didn’t recognize you!

That doesn’t matter! Why did you interfere in the fighting?

I knew all along! said the other. I knew! I knew!

Try as she might, it was impossible to scold them. They were dancing around in excitement, as if they had done the fighting all by themselves. Suddenly they stopped.

Look, you’re bleeding! You’re hurt, you’re hurt! Oh, Megan, she’s hurt!

What? Where? Just my thumb . . .

No, your knee, look!

She suddenly realized that her leg had been nicked, and was bleeding into her breeches, a blot of stickiness behind her knee. It wasn’t a sprain. The muscle was still sound, but it was hard to walk.

Oh, shit, she swore. She had been wiping her sword, and now she put it away. Help me to my horse, she asked.

They came up to about her chest, and were really tiny little things. When she put her weight on their shoulders, clearly it was more than they could bear. She limped along, pretending that they were helping her, trying to forget that more boats were landing all the time.

Well, what are your names? I must remember my saviors, after all.

Majesty, you know us! I’m Sara, and that’s Megan! Remember?

CHAPTER TWO

The Arrival of Genevieve

The pier stretched almost a quarter mile out into the bay. The shore was crowded with horses and carriages, and people in their best clothing, and they were looking out to sea, awaiting the landing of three ships that were still a short distance from the pier. The ships had colorful sails and graceful lines; as they grew closer, the crowd on the shore swelled with latecomers, the ships began to furl their sails, coming in on their motors, each of which was driven by powerful men on treadmills. Gradually, the figures standing at the rails of the ship became visible, their colorful clothes, in contrast to the beiges, browns, greens and dull golds of those on the shore, were all the colors of the rainbow.

Look at all the colors! a young lady in her early teens remarked to her companion, her voice full of wonder. They’re all dressed up for her! It’s for the wedding, I suppose.

Every day’s a wedding for them, said Megan, disapprovingly.

Well, no need to get upset; we may as well get used to seeing some color during a feast!

Megan shook her head vehemently. All the time, she insisted. They don’t have any plain clothes over there, only this fancy stuff. I’ve been there.

Okay, okay, murmured Megan’s companion. She looked around her and up along the road from the city. She nudged her friend excitedly. Look, here she comes!

The sour face of her companion lit up with pleasure at the sight of a young rider, as everyone made way for her horse. She rode tall in the saddle, wearing only a brown quilted tunic with cap-sleeves that left her arms bare, the short riding-skirt of the royal guard, dark hose, and calf-boots. Not a hair was out of place, her face was serious. Megan gazed adoringly as she passed within a few feet of the two of them. She saw a thin line of what must be anxiety furrowing the rider’s forehead.

As the horse and rider reached the pier, there were many hands to take the reins of her horse, and the young rider joined a group of nobles that stood a little apart from the people. Among them was Lady Sophia Gutrunsdottir, a young noble a year or so junior to the young rider herself. They exchanged a few words, after which the new arrival turned to look once again at the approaching vessels. An elderly man who stood near the young rider seemed to be quietly remonstrating with her, but she shook her head.

The first of the ships was coasting slowly to the pier in a perfect approach.

I believe that’s her Highness, in blue, the old man said quietly.

Which one? The one near the gangway?

No, a little further astern. Standing near the girl in green.

Oh, yes. I see her.

Go now, Your Majesty! murmured the grey-haired gentleman who had stood at Alexandra’s right.

Alexandra took a deep breath, and marched regally forward.

There she goes, Megan said, excitedly. How beautifully she walks ...

Her friend sighed. I wish I could be Lady Sophie!

Sara, you’re so silly! dimpled Megan. Then she sighed too.

Sara giggled softly.

Genevieve watched from an upper deck as the gangway was lowered, and a line of honor guards went down and smartly assembled in two ranks on either side of the pier. On the further end of the pier, the Princess was striding down, her face grim and expressionless. She seemed to be wearing only a sleeveless vest and a short leather skirt, hardly fitting to welcome visiting royalty, Genevieve thought. But they were a Spartan folk, not given to pageantry and display.

The two girls had met when they were much younger, but Alexandra had changed almost beyond recognition. Genevieve breathed slowly and forced herself to relax. Her mother stood just behind her, making the occasional noise that Genevieve knew to express disappointment. The Queen, was not easily insulted, but the austerity of their welcome was pushing her tolerance to its limits.

The beach was filled with a vast throng, watching for a glimpse of their Princess Consort-to-be. They were quiet, only a soft murmur to be heard under the sound of the rustling of the few trees near the shore, the lap of the waves, and the noise of the two sets of guards positioning themselves. A small company of musicians stood ready. Higher on the beach there were many horses tethered, and on a side stood the horse guard, still mounted.

The band on the ship played the national anthem of New Hope, and everyone was looking at Genevieve. She headed down the gangway, holding her skirts carefully. A few yards away, the Princess watched her nervously. She was an inch or two taller than Genevieve, solidly built, and solemn-faced. Her grey eyes crinkled in a slight smile. She was trying to put Genevieve at ease.

The crowd on the shore spontaneously and unexpectedly began to cheer, and Genevieve smiled up at them, taken by surprise. And the princess’s face also relaxed in a warm smile. Genevieve held out her hand to Alexandra, who took it in her own and bent over it gracefully.

She turned next to greet Genevieve’s mother, Queen Anne, who murmured a few words of greeting to her daughter-in-law-to-be, and Alexandra replied in her clear, high voice. She turned and offered her arm to Genevieve, while the senior noble to her right offered the Queen his arm, and they slowly processed up the pier to the cheers of the warm-hearted children.

She’s pretty, Megan conceded, at least from a distance.

Yes, she is, Sara sighed. Well, she doesn’t have to do any work. All she has to do is smile, and have babies. No fighting, no riding, nothing ...

Megan shook her head as she led the way down to the water, in a direction opposite to the general flow. Sara and she had decided to go look at the ships up close. Sara wanted a good look at the foreigners, the next best thing to traveling South across the sea.

Finally, Genevieve and her party were in a coach by themselves, bound for the Palace. She seemed pretty tight for a bit, the Queen remarked softly to Genny. She’s had a rough time, the poor thing. She’s only got a bunch of men advising her. She could do so much better there...

I don’t understand that! I thought there’d be loads of women in the Palace!

There usually are, dear. But they were all older, and went into retirement at the same time. Beate wasn’t expected to die so young.

Could you stay a bit longer, Mother, please?

The Queen shook her head. Contact between the countries had been minimal until recently, when the late Queen Beate of Norsland, Alexandra’s mother, had begun the strengthening of economic and cultural ties with their neighbors to the south.

They looked about them. This was Genevieve’s first visit to the country. It was late Spring, and it was a warm spring this year. The coastal areas were home to fisher-folk, whose homes lined the seaward side of the shore road, while on the landward side, across from the strip of fisher homes, were small businesses and homes of more middle-class citizens. Further inland was a dense forest, sporadically interrupted by farms. Still further inland, mountains rose, blue in the distance.

The road turned inland parallel to the river, and they approached a modest city with a fortified central area. Within it rose the stone pile of the Palace, and by its side, other government buildings, by the look of them. As they drew nearer, it became clear that the buildings were larger than they appeared from a distance, though none of them were as tall as those of Genny’s home in New Hope.

As she stared out the window, feeling the strangeness of the place, her mother squeezed her arm. They weren’t really very close, but as Genny thought of her mother leaving, she realized that she was dearer to her than she had ever admitted to herself. She looked at her mother, whose face was turned to look out the other side.

The young Northlander Queen rode up next to the carriage window on her mare, as if by accident. By the way her face colored, Genny knew better. Alexandra turned and smiled awkwardly down at her.

How do you like it so far? she asked. Her high voice made her sound so young! She felt a surge of excitement go through her; she had no trouble smiling back.

CHAPTER THREE

Genevieve Enters the Palace

Alexandra studied the face of the young woman who was to be her consort. The girl smiled at her with no appearance of timidity. Alexandra felt her own smile becoming glassy. She was attracted to women; that had been known for a year or two. (In this time and place, unions between women and unions between men was somewhat more common than we are accustomed to. Still, society was generally conservative in other ways.) But aggressive girls turned her off. Some eight years earlier, Genevieve, the young princess in the coach, had been a quiet, solemn girl. It had been her shy, gentle nature that had drawn the young Alexandra. Since then, Genevieve had obviously matured into a confident young woman.

It’s lovely, Genevieve said in her warm contralto. At least she didn’t sound stuffy, Alexandra thought. She spoke beautifully, without affectation.

Did you have a good voyage here?

It was almost perfect, Genevieve said.

Shortly Genevieve, as well as the visiting Royal family and entourage, was made comfortable in her own suite in the guest wing of the Palace, far from Alexandra’s own quarters. Minimizing contact between the couple was supposed to heighten the excitement.

A large proportion of Norsfolk were lesbian or bisexual, though the society was not dominated by either sex. Fortunately, the entire planet had a far larger than usual percentage of people of alternate preference, and a royal bride was usually not hard to find if it so happened that the heir to the throne had an alternate preference.

Shortly after Queen Beate and her family had returned from visiting King Frederick of New Hope eight years ago, Alexandra had confided to her mother that she thought she was a lesbian. Beate had laughed, saying it was far too early to decide.

But you are, Mama, and I think I am, too!

Beate had only smiled. Alexandra was an only child, and Beate loved her. But being wise, and too level-headed to make careless decisions that could affect her child adversely, she encouraged Alexandra to make friends among both sexes, and had her train in the elite Palace Guard with a mixed group of young nobles at athletics and arms. She had attended school with many of them, and as Alexandra grew older, she made friends, yes, but not close ones. At dances, she partnered her girlfriends by preference, though she danced with boys, too. But she was reserved and quiet, a serious child, like Beate’s lover and consort Atlanta, who had died in a riding accident when Alexandra was a baby. Alexandra had inherited her second mother’s grave dignity, and her straight hair. Before Beate could see whether Alexandra had inherited more than just her grey eyes, Beate, too, had died of an incurable disease that had left the nation in shock. That had been just a few months ago.

The coronation would come first. Alexandra would be Queen, Genevieve would be Princess Consort, and their children would rule Norsland. New Hope, across the Southern Ocean, had a constitutional monarchy, and their succession would be decided by Parliament, from among the royal candidates available.

A week later, Alexandra and Genny would be married, and Genny would be crowned Queen consort. Until then, this strict chaperoning of the two girls would continue. Genny rolled her eyes when her Queen mother reminded her about the tradition.

Genny was kept entertained, though. She was taken, along with her lady-in-waiting, young fourteen-year-old Heather, escorted by the lovely and delightful Lady Sophie, a young Northern noble, to watch athletic events all day. There was riding, wrestling, fencing, running, and, of course, swimming. In the South, all these sports were held separately for women and for men, but here in the North, both sexes entered the same events. The Norsfolk were very physical. Alexandra was tops at swordsmanship and swimming, and was among the top three finishers in all events.

I hear she excels in unarmed combat, the Queen told Genny in their rooms on the second day when she returned from having watched a wrestling meet. Genny had seen Alexandra wrestle a muscular young man, who eventually went on to win the weight class. It had been acutely disconcerting for Genny to see her prospective mate in a clinch with a young man. But, by Gordon, Alexandra was superbly muscled. (You must be proud, Lady Sophie had murmured, her eyes devouring Alexandra, as had been Genny’s own eyes.)

Well, she was beaten by a fellow called Nicholas, Genny said now, pretending not to be excited.

Oh, not wrestling. This is different. It’s real fighting. They don’t show that kind of thing in public.

What kind of thing?

Fighting, child. It’s an old, old art. You’ll hear all about it, I expect. Eventually.

Genny frowned. Unarmed combat that was not wrestling?

The evenings were devoted to theater and music. A troupe of actors had come with the royal party on their ship, and their play was received with great applause. Then musicians of both countries had performed at a concert.

The next morning, Genny, Heather and Sophie turned to smile at each other after Alexandra won the swimming relay for her team. Gordon, she was beautiful in the water.

Are you having a good visit? Sophie asked, eyes wide, anxious that Genny should enjoy herself.

Yes, thank you very much! Genny smiled winningly at Sophie and looked to Heather for her reply.

Heather was very definitely into the opposite sex. She sighed and blushed, and the other two giggled. I can’t stand another minute of looking at half-naked boys, she said under her breath.

Sophie’s eyes twinkled, but surprisingly she agreed. It’s hard, I know. She looked at Genny through the corner of her eye. It must be hard on you, too!

Genny only shook her head and looked away. The guard who was assigned to them was heading their way. He had initially stuck close to them, but Sophie had talked him into giving them a little space. Now she went up to him and talked for a little while, and he gave them a worried look and backed away.

What did you tell him? Genny asked.

I said we were going exploring a little. She led the way out of the pool area, through the maze of little streets around the athletics complex, into an older part of town. It’s quite safe, she said. We can get lunch out here.

They explored the street, and met up with a group of young people who were, like them, looking for a snack. Luckily, Genny and Heather had not dressed too flamboyantly, and Sophie introduced them as members of Princess Genevieve’s entourage.

Hello, I’m Heather, and this is ...

Claire! I’m Claire, said Genny at once. It was a favorite name of hers. Sophie gave her own name as Susie. The others introduced themselves, and quizzed the visitors about their home city. Sophie watched and listened, as ‘Claire’ and Heather graciously described their home, without comparing it with Stefansberg to its detriment.

The food was wonderful, and Genny ate vast quantities of it. She had money with her —which Sophie did not, to her embarrassment— and the whole group left the eatery together.

Where do you go now? they asked the group of three girls. Come with us, we will show you more of the town!

No, we have to be back, said Sophie quickly, steering her charges back towards the Palace.

You’re so quiet, Princess, Sophie said, as they settled on a park bench where their guard could see them from the guard-tent, but not overhear them.

Genny sighed, hunched over, staring at the ground. Heather put her arm around Genny’s shoulder protectively. They had never been very close, but they had gotten to know each other on the boat.

It’s a little boring at night, Heather admitted. We’re with the older courtiers, and ...

...It’s terrible, Genny finished for her.

You don’t get to sit with Princess Alexandra? Lady Sophie had not attended the evening entertainments.

Genny’s head hung lower. Heather leaned across her to shake her head sadly at Sophie, who looked indignant.

Why not? I’d have thought they would encourage your — er, your ... bonding?

Heather shook her head. It’s against tradition. Didn’t you know?

Sophie rolled her eyes. That’s so silly! Gordon help us! Sophie was exasperated and amused at the same time. Well, I’ll try and sit with you both tonight, she said. Genny raised her head to look at Sophie hopefully. I’ll try to think of something, promised Sophie.

CHAPTER FOUR

A Risky Meeting

What does she say? Alexandra asked Sophie. The young noble had quietly slipped up into the Palace and hunted Alexandra down in her rooms.

Oh, she’s ... she’s enjoying the games. The evenings are a little dull, though, I expect!

Alexandra smothered a sigh. Sophie could see she was very tight.

I saw her last evening; she seemed to be enjoying the concert, Alexandra remarked slowly.

Can’t you arrange to sit with her?

Alexandra blushed.

It’s against tradition, apparently.

How are you going to get comfortable with her, if you never get to talk to her?

Is there a problem? asked Lord Horvald, Alexandra’s senior advisor and secretary of the treasury, walking up.

Just ... girl-talk, Lord Horvald, Alexandra said quietly. But there was steel in her eye, and Sophie cheered silently. Horvald smiled kindly, and Sophie almost forgave him all his glares at her in the last few months.

I’m glad Lady Sophie has a chance to talk with you in private, he said pointedly.

What’s the harm in Princess Alexandra sitting with Princess Genevieve, Lord Horvald? Sophie asked.

Horvald made an expressive gesture that indicated that it was a matter he preferred not to go into. Very soon she’ll have all the female company she needs, Sophie!

Do you need to see me now, Horvald? Alexandra asked politely.

No, Your Majesty, Horvald said, smiling rather gravely, as he bowed and walked away.

There was a long silence after Horvald left.

I’d like to see her, Alexandra said, so quietly that Sophie could barely hear her.

Thinking furiously, Sophie got an idea.

Shall I bring her out to the cemetery after the concert?

Alexandra’s eyes were so full of gratitude Sophie laughed. Alexandra kissed her cheek shyly and hurried away. Sophie was surprised by the unexpected expression of affection. Alexandra and Sophie had never been really close; Sophie had decided to be more friendly with the young queen-elect rather on impulse.

Genevieve enjoyed the concert that evening. Alexandra’s court, anxious to show that their monarch was a woman of culture, had Alexandra singing a short aria at the beginning of the second half of the concert. It was a traditional love song, in which Alexandra accompanied herself on the harp. She had an unaffected, pure mezzo-soprano, and her singing was accurate, expressive enough, the kind of voice that singing coaches would have loved to get their hands on. Alexandra had kept her eyes firmly on her music, until she had acknowledged the applause with a gracious smile and nod, and taken her seat. Her eyes met Genevieve’s for a second, but it was too brief.

The rest of the concert consisted of music in praise of Alexandra and Genevieve, composed for the occasion, as well as patriotic choral pieces praising the two nations, sung by special choirs.

Afterwards, Genevieve and her mother were the center of attention. Alexandra was nowhere to be seen, and Heather was fading. Genevieve found herself being simpered at by a horde of tall, blonde North-women, exclaiming how charming she was, asking her if she was enjoying her stay, in their awkward northern accents. Genevieve managed to reply graciously, but only her mother’s presence kept her calm. Her mother seemed to know a surprising number of the old ladies.

Suddenly, Sophie was there at her side, her cool fingers squeezing her arm.

Oh, you’ve made a friend, I see! Lady Sophia Gutrunsdottir, how nice to see you, my dear!

Lady Lena! Sophie murmured, a polite acknowledgement as the other women greeted her. They were old, old; some in their eighties, or even nineties. But Sophie smiled at them, and turned to smile at the visiting Queen, Genevieve’s mother.

May I take her Highness to visit some friends, Your Majesty?

The Queen was quite agreeable, but Lady Lena looked doubtful.

Outside the Palace?

No, right here, in the Palace, Lady Lena!

I don’t know ... began one of Lady Lena’s friends, but Lena decided it could do no harm, and at the Queen’s nod, Sophie and Genevieve made their escape, with Heather dragging along behind them.

Where are we going? demanded Genevieve.

To the cemetery. Hurry!

The cemetery? Yikes! said Heather.

Keep it down, Ladies Sophie hissed at them, as they hurried past tables filled with refreshments which Genevieve eyed longingly; she had not eaten a proper supper. Heather snatched a plateful for her and hurried after the others.

This way! Sophie slipped into the small private library of the royal family, and out a back hallway. It was poorly lit, and Heather looked about her nervously. Then another hall, with large portraits on either side, then a room full of ceremonial clothes, and another dark room, and out through a creaky door. There, in the light of the moon still low on the horizon, was Alexandra, with two of her friends.

Through the Chapel!

How else? demanded Sophie.

Good thinking, murmured Alexandra.

Alexandra and Genevieve were suddenly face to face. They looked at each other a moment, at a loss for words.

Hello, your Highness, and welcome to Stefansberg! I’m Judit, sergeant-at-arms, and this is Miriam, of the Royal Guards!

Genevieve’s practiced charm came to her aid, and she dimpled at the two young women, both of them about the same age as Alexandra and herself, and a year or so older than Sophie and Heather. Both girls held her hand a trifle longer than necessary, and Genevieve encouraged their flirting. Through the corner of her eye she saw Heather sneaking one of the canapes, and Genevieve was reminded of her duty.

You must know Lady Sophia, she said graciously, as Sophie murmured something, and the hungry one is my compatriot, Lady Heather Ogilvie! The girls laughed. Would you pass those round, Heather, if there are any left?

The snacks were duly passed round, and the ice was broken. The soldier girls had a rough humor that encouraged Genevieve. They began to talk about the games of the mornings, and Judit slyly suggested that the sight of their Princess engaged in athletics must be strongly stimulating to Genevieve’s eyes. Nobody has our Princess’s musculature, she declared.

A pity your skirt is so long tonight, Genevieve remarked, looking slyly at Alexandra’s formal attire. The girls laughed uproariously. Alexandra could be seen to blush even by moonlight.

Did you enjoy the song, Princess Genevieve? asked Miriam. Her Highness put a lot into it on your behalf!

Mimi, be quiet, Alexandra said, quietly, embarrassed.

Can she be truly as modest as she appears? Genevieve asked, as Alexandra’s friends chuckled, but Heather looked surprised. Genevieve was not a smart-mouthed girl, as a rule.

Don’t say that, Genevieve, Sophie exclaimed. The guards are having fun with the Princess, that’s all!

But Heather, don’t you think it must take some gumption to roll around on the ground with a young man, clad only in a singlet and briefs?

The guards exclaimed that that was quite different.

That’s the way it’s done, you Highness, they hastened to assure her. It is an ancient sport, and always conducted that way. You surely have it in the South?

Genevieve ignored them, looking firmly at Alexandra.

I would like to learn, she said. It looks like a lot more fun than staying in my room with my mother!

They all laughed at that.

We can certainly do a lot better, Alexandra admitted. Perhaps all this chaperoning is a little overdone.

There was a pause in the conversation. Then the irrepressible Judit grinned, and suggested that Alexandra at least give Genevieve a kiss. Soon they were all clamoring for it.

There will be time enough for that, Alexandra said, blushing. Sophie giggled nervously.

What’s the harm in it? Heather asked with a smile, rather bravely, Sophie thought.

See, said Sophie, Heather won’t tell!

Genevieve took a step closer to Alexandra, and boldly raised her lips for a kiss. Alexandra shyly obliged.

And there it is! The South leads the way! crowed Judit. To Sophie’s consternation, before she could react, the two guards had taunted the Consort-to-be into kissing them both, as well as young Heather.

Genevieve’s kiss had taken Alexandra by surprise. The brush of her breasts on hers, the warm softness of her lips had burned into her. The girl’s very forwardness was startling.

You must be tired, Alexandra murmured, sensing Genevieve’s mood. As she reached out to gently guide Genevieve back into the building, Genevieve gripped Alexandra’s arm, feeling the strength of the woman who would be her lover. Alexandra stood still, smiling, until Genevieve let go.

Hungry, and sleepy, Genevieve admitted.

I’ll get you more to eat, Sophie promised. Come on.

True to her word, Sophie led Genevieve and Heather down to the pantry, and found more food for her. The servants smiled shyly, but warmly at their future Princess Consort, offering her all sorts of things to eat. What a charming girl, they all agreed, murmuring among themselves.

Genny put her head in to tell her mother that she was back. Oh it was lovely, mother! Thank you for letting me go with Lady Sophie! The Queen smiled, and said she was glad Genny was beginning to enjoy herself, and wished her good night.

Come on! Genny said to Sophie. Come see my room!

I’ve got to go, said Sophie uncertainly.

Please! begged Genny. Heather was asleep on her feet. Spend a little while with me!

All right, said Sophie.

CHAPTER FIVE

The Coronation

The minute they were alone in Genny’s room, she pulled Sophie close, and kissed her repeatedly until they were both breathless.

Princess ... Sophie gasped, trembling, it has been hard for you, hasn’t it? Her heart was still beating like crazy at the suddenness of Genevieve’s attack.

I’m so sorry! said Genny, aghast at what she had done.

It’s all right, Sophie murmured, her hand on Genny’s cheek.

Genny was breathing hard. She got off the bed and undressed, as Sophie sat up and watched. She stripped down to her shift, and climbed into bed, her face quite red.

#

The Coronation was a splendid ceremony. There was a procession into the Hall of State, and after prayers of dedication, the crown was placed on Alexandra’s head, and she was named Queen Alexandra II. She was led to the throne by the elder statesmen of the land, including Sophie’s father, John Gustafson. The symbols of office were placed in her hands, after which the nobility approached the throne to swear their loyalty.

From an enclosed space high on the side of the ancient hall, Genevieve and her mother and Lady Sophie watched, with the latter murmuring the significance of each part of the ceremony. Sophie was pretty as a flower in a pink gown, and Genevieve resplendent in royal blue. The Queen wore cream edged with purple, and sat quietly watching, neither aloof nor excited. Genevieve looked at her mother with admiration, wondering if she would ever attain that degree of serenity in her lifetime.

Alexandra was regal in an ankle-length deep burgundy gown, her hair pulled back in a tight braid, as always. Her eyebrows had been neatened, and she looked less rough, more distinguished. The maroon cloak she wore covered her arms, and she wore shoes, not boots. At the end of the ceremony, Alexandra addressed her people from the steps of the Hall of State. She promised to work hard, be just, and protect the land and its people. And she said that she looked forward to the day, very near, when she could present to her people a consort who would help her with her duties. There were rousing cheers.

#

It was a troubling day for Genevieve. It was as though that last tantalizing meeting with Alexandra tormented her. Suddenly it was no longer possible to meet with Alexandra in cemeteries, in the quiet of the night. Just as Genny was coming into herself, feeling the urges of her womanhood raging through her, she had nobody to share them with.

She went into Heather’s room and forced a kiss on her, but Heather was plainly unhappy with that. Ask Sophie, she begged, scowling. She’d probably enjoy that stuff. She’s Northern, after all.

I’m sorry, Heather! I don’t know what’s come over me! said Genny, red-faced, almost in tears.

Heather punched her arm. It’s okay, she said.

Genevieve begged Sophie, when she next saw her in private, to come into her room.

Oh, please, not today! Sophie pleaded, and ran off.

#

And what did she do? Alexandra asked Sophie.

Alexandra had appointed Sophie as her Lady-in-Waiting. Sophie was flustered at the end result of her involvement in Alexandra’s personal affairs. Until recently, she had been studying to join the legal profession, in her father’s footsteps. Nothing could possibly have been further from Sophie’s mind than to be the personal aide to the Queen. But she had discovered that the young Queen simply had no one else she could rely on, certainly no girls her own age. It would have been inaccurate to say that Alexandra clung to Sophie; but the new Lady-In-Waiting found herself Alexandra’s chief consultant on matters of the heart.

We just kissed, Your Majesty, Sophie said, blushing in acute embarrassment.

"What do you mean, kissed?"

Sophie looked up, her face screwed up in a frown. Alexandra knew Sophie well enough to be able to tell an angry frown from this particular one. Sophie was worried and unhappy.

That’s all it was, Your Majesty.

What was it ... just a little peck? Sophie nodded. On the cheek? Sophie shook her head, avoiding the Queen’s eyes. Was she rough? Sophie nodded. The young Queen was getting red in the face. Sophie finally met her eyes. I don’t like her forcing her attentions on you, Sophie! she said, and Sophie’s heart sank.

The younger girl heaved a long heavy sigh.

I told her it was all right, your m...

Just Alexandra is enough, Sophie. Get on with it!

She—she’s a lusty girl, Alexandra; she ... she kissed me ... real deep ... several times ... with her tongue and everything ... and then she was all upset. I feel so sorry for her!

Lusty!

She begged me again, this evening!

Alexandra looked miserable.

Sophie felt her body tightening with the frustration she was feeling on Genny’s behalf. Some women did crazy things when the need got into them, she knew. Sophie had not led so sheltered a life as to be ignorant of the needs of women. The young Queen, Sophie knew, had no lovers at all. It would have been easier if she had. Still, in these days before the marriage ceremony, it was in poor taste to be too obvious about things.

I’d like you to move into the Palace, Alexandra had told her, when she had appointed her Lady in Waiting. Come on, let’s talk to Lady Elizabeth.

Sophie had followed her to the royal housekeeper, and they had discussed where to put Sophie.

I’d like her as close to my room as possible, Alexandra had said firmly.

Well, there’s a room adjoining yours, my Lady, Elizabeth had said. (Alexandra had just moved into the Royal bedroom.)

Alexandra turned to Sophie. Until the Princess decides otherwise, that’s where you’ll sleep. Sophie smiled politely and thanked them both. After Elizabeth had taken her leave, Sophie had said she was humbled by Alexandra’s trust in her. The young Queen smiled. After talking a while, they had walked slowly upstairs to the Royal Suite, and found the room. It was already being made ready for Sophie. The maids curtsied and left, leaving them alone. It was then that the discussion had turned to Genevieve’s feelings and behavior. It was most uncomfortable for Sophie to understand the passions both the Queen and her consort-to-be were feeling.

They looked at each other, and something passed between them. Impulsively, Sophie held out her arms to Alexandra, and the young Queen slowly came into them. It felt strange to be held so close by her; she was so big and strong, and she exuded an almost physical sensation of power, young as she was, and Sophie knew it was all in her head. Still, Alexandra was one of the most solid young seventeen-year-old girls alive, Sophie was sure.

It’s going to be all right, Alexandra said, as if to convince herself. I’m so glad you’re here, Sophie!

CHAPTER SIX

Trying to Sleep

Alexandra lay in her bed, sweating. She had been a child of eleven, when they visited New Hope. She remembered clearly, the Princess Genevieve, all golden curls and soft, delicate lips, and large hazel eyes.

They had hit it off famously together, and Genevieve had lavished the affection on Alexandra that the only child had craved. Genny’s adoring eyes had captivated her, and released the instinct that had lain latent inside her. One night, she had crept into Genny’s room, as children often do, and found her fast asleep. As she slipped into bed beside her, Genny’s soft lips, her budding breasts, and all the secrets of her sleeping body were revealed in the bright moonlight. As Alexandra worshiped Genny with her adoring eyes, the sleeping girl had sighed, opening herself to Alexandra in her sleep.

It was a night that had haunted them both ever since. For Alexandra, her obsession had eventually led her to realize her nature, and her desire for Genny had never faded. For Genny, it was a recurring dream, a memory of a lover who was mysteriously associated in her mind with Alexandra, because Alexandra, athletic and beautiful even then, had been her hero at that time. She had not quite realized that Alexandra was in fact her dream lover.

Alexandra paced up and down the bedroom. As much as Alexandra longed to have that soft, sweet eleven-year-old beauty in her arms, the beauty in that room at the other end of the Palace had blossomed into a startlingly mature young woman.

The long, soft, wheat-gold hair had become a little shorter, and warmer-colored, more honey and less wheat, the waves more pronounced. The large hazel eyes were no longer the enormous orbs, the pools in which Alexandra had drowned, yet they were indeed large, beautiful and compelling. The little nubs of breasts, the tender, translucent skin, the slim gazelle-like limbs were gone. Her breasts were full and firm, her skin was flawless, with that alabaster quality that was so highly priced in women. She was all curves; her walk was a seduction. She was a bold, flirtatious coquette, impeccable though her manners were. She could drive anyone mad with desire. But all that she seemed to have gained in sensuality seemed to have been stolen from the innocent girl Alexandra had desired half her life.

She found herself in the doorway to Sophie’s room, staring at Sophie in bed. Sophie was still childlike in her body; her translucent skin, her large eyes, her slim body reminded Alexandra of that child-Genevieve, the angel who haunted her dreams. Alexandra sank onto the edge of the bed.

Sophie was awake instantly, slowly twisting to look up into Alexandra’s face, her eyes half-closed. The night was warm, and she wore a thin shift, and her breast slowly rose and fell with her breath. Lady Alexandra ...

Shh, Alexandra said.

You’re falling in love with her, Sophie said, a smile in her voice, inexplicably wise in the ways of love.

Alexandra laughed unhappily.

I fell in love with her a long time ago!

Sophie was disbelieving. You only saw her the other day!

Oh no. She stroked Sara’s arm. Long, long ago.

How old were you?

Eleven. ... I was crazy about her, Sophie!

Sophie smiled. It was an angelic smile.

I thought you’d have to learn to love each other!

But the young Queen only shook her head.

Genny grew withdrawn and preoccupied. Alexandra found herself busy with matters of state of whose existence she had never suspected. Sophie began to help the young Queen with her personal correspondence. New Hope wanted a regular mail service between the two countries, and envoys began to arrive from the other neighboring states, all wanting friendly relations with Norsland. The running of the city itself, the maintenance of the army and the Palace guard, the process of finding a cabinet of advisors and ministers, all these took the young Queen’s time and attention, and Sophie helped tirelessly.

On the third day, late in the evening, Sophie approached the wing that contained Princess Genevieve’s bedroom. The guard at the entrance to the hallway bowed politely; favorable opinions about Lady Sophie were spreading through the ranks of the Royal Guards. She was dressed in a mid-calf-length grey gown caught at the waist with the maroon and gold cord the Queen had asked her to wear in the Palace. It obviously signified some authority; no one ever stopped her any more. She hurried silently to Genevieve’s door, avoiding being seen by the entourage of the visiting royal party, which had swelled greatly with more visitors from New Hope as the wedding approached. Some of them had met with Alexandra in the afternoon, in Sophie’s presence, at Alexandra’s request. They were planning to establish a large cultural mission in the city. So far, Alexandra had not thought of inviting her future consort to participate in the planning, which, Sophie had thought privately, was a grave mistake. But Sophie was yet not confident enough to interfere with matters such as that.

She knocked on the door softly, and waited. She looked anxiously up and down the hall, but it remained deserted. She bit her lip. She had every right to be here; she had been accepted by the Novaspirian royal party as Genevieve’s friend and liaison. She leaned close to the door, but could hear nothing. She knocked again, louder. After a pause, the door opened.

What are you doing here? Genny demanded. She was dressed in a robe, ready for sleeping.

Sophie dropped her eyes. I took the night off, in case you wanted to talk, she said softly. She looked up into the thoughtful hazel eyes that peered at her through the half-open door. She must have sounded rather strange, Sophie thought, her composure eroding away.

The princess silently opened the door wider and stood aside to let Sophie in. Sophie curtsied and entered.

Where have you been all this while, Sophie? Genny struggled for some vestige of her normal graciousness, and found that it hadn’t completely left her. I’m sorry, she said at once, hearing the rudeness in her own voice.

Sophie replied with her eyes and her hand. Her eyes told the suffering Princess that her harshness had been forgiven, all in silence. Then, in words, she told Genny that she, Sophie, had become the Queen’s lady-in-waiting and her personal aide, all rolled into one. And at night, she added, looking into Genny’s eyes, I have to listen to her talk about you!

Genny was wide awake now. Sophie noted the intenseness in her eyes. She gestured for Sophie to be seated.

She mentioned that you had met when you were both eleven. Do you remember? Sophie asked.

Genny’s eyes widened. Did she tell you ... about that visit? Sophie nodded, smiling. What did she say?

Sophie studied Genny’s face a long time. The signs of Genevieve’s awakening were clear to read. What seduction could she have possibly exerted over Alexandra when she was eleven?

Whatever you did to her, you made her your captive!

Genny stared at her thoughtfully. They were seated on the bed.

Did she question you about me — did you tell her ... anything?

Sophie nodded, not avoiding the eyes of the young woman before her, but carefully showing no arrogance, no defiance. I told her all, your Highness. She suffers too—try to understand!

Genevieve shook her head, her lips showing her determination.

I forbid you to tell her anything more. Promise me! Promise me, or leave now!

She spoke quietly, but all her rank and imperiousness was behind her words. Oh, she was a Queen, all right! She was born to it, in spite of her easy manner with Sophie in the past. She was waiting impatiently, her eyes wide and intense.

It was the first time that Sophie’s loyalty to the two girls had been in conflict. A look at Genevieve told her that the Southern Princess’s nerves were so frayed that she needed comfort desperately. A royal princess, brought up to her duties, should be up to a mere week of anxiety. What was that to lifetimes of suffering that royal consorts often endured? But the bride Alexandra had chosen was not the royal vegetable that a consort should be. She was passionate, more passionate than Alexandra, more passionate than anyone Sophie knew.

The clouds drifting across the face of one of the moons drifted across the drop of light on the floor. Sophie saw the golden-brown head bend to watch it.

Will you stay the night? Genny asked, in a near whisper.

At least a part of it, Sophie replied. A goodly part, she added, as Genevieve turned her anguished eyes to her. Gordon! The girl had Sophie eating out of her hand. What an amazing personality!

Did she send you to me?

I asked to come. Sophie watched Genny think about that a while. Get into bed, Highness, it is too cold for standing about, she urged, softly.

Genny nodded and climbed in under the sheets, and Sophie slipped in beside her. The princess pulled the sheets over them both. It was getting cooler, and the girls instinctively drew together for warmth.

CHAPTER SEVEN

A Phone Call

The Queen had settled down to read, when the ancient instrument next to her began to chime. It was hardly audible, like the chimes of a clock, but she recognized it for what it was, a telephone, such as her husband King Frederick had on his desk, only beautifully executed in ornate style. Reaching out, she lifted the receiver and placed it to her ear.

Yes?

The nervous voice of a young man sounded in her ear. A call from King Frederick, Your Majesty! He was sure you would be awake!

Yes, I was awake, young man. Where should I go?

Just stay on the line, Your Majesty! I will connect you. Speak now, please.

Anne? It was the voice of her husband, the King.

Yes, Frederick, I can hear you!

How is everything going? How are you? How is Genny?

Everyone is well, and ... things are proceeding as well as can be expected!

Good, good. What do you mean, as well as can be expected?

Well, they’re keeping the girls apart. It’s tradition. Genny is very tight, Fred. I think she’s ... how secure is this line, do you think?

There was a slight pause.

Not very, I imagine. Be careful.

Maybe you should come, or at least talk to Alexandra.

I have. But what can I say? Tell her to take Genny on a walk?

You know Genny, dear. I don’t know how much help a walk will be, but it would be a start, I suppose. I spoke to Alexandra, but her people are all around her, like l— well, she’s kept very busy.

That’s not good. There was a pause. I’m coming over.

Hundreds of miles away, King Frederick stared at his desk moodily, his ear to the phone. Genny was a late bloomer. Finally things were kicking in, but the timing was all wrong.

Have you talked to her, Anne?

The Queen squirmed. She had left the birds and bees to her husband. She had planned a final discussion on the eve of the marriage ceremony, but she saw now that it had been a foolish idea to leave it so late. No, dear. You know how I hate that sort of thing!

Anne! his voice was full of reproach. Can you get her to the phone?

She has one in her room, the Queen said. How do we get their attention?

I’ll call again, the king said, frowning. Goodbye, dear, and don’t get too anxious.

I apologize, Frederick, and good night.

When the phone began to chime, Genny gasped and froze. She buried her head in Sophie’s breast, and they held each other tight and trembled together.

Genny was the first to recover.

It’s only a telephone, she declared. It must be for you?

Sophie frowned. No one knows I’m here! She sat up, as Genny let her up.

Genny frowned. She shook her head. The phone began to chime again.

She settled herself against the bedstead and cautiously picked up the receiver, and spoke into it as she had done years ago in her father’s office. Sophie was lighting a lamp.

Yes?

Genny! It’s me, your father!

Papa!

Are you surprised? I thought I’d call you and talk for a bit. Are you awake? Are you alone?

Y-yes! Genny looked at Sophie, her eyes wide. In the near-dark, they could just make out each other’s faces. I’ll go, Sophie breathed into her ear. No, wait! Genny commanded her, equally silently, emphasizing it with a stern gesture. Let me put on something warm, she mumbled to her father.

Good heavens, he exclaimed. It’s probably cold as heck, isn’t it!

Yes, Genny agreed, and laid the handset carefully on the night stand.

She turned to her companion, eyes wide, her hands in her mouth.

What shall I do? she breathed, leaning close to Sophie. Please stay, while I talk to him!

But you need privacy! Sophie exclaimed, almost soundlessly.

No, no, no; please wait, Genny pleaded. They stared at each other a long moment, and Genny leaned close and softly pressed a kiss onto Sophie’s startled lips. She drew away slowly, and mouthed, Please wait once more. Sophie nodded.

As Genny got comfortable, Sophie settled beside her, and Genny, who leaned back against her and picked up the phone again.

All right, Papa, I’m comfortable.

I spoke to your mother. She says you’re lonely and nervous, darling. She was her father’s favorite, and they had a special connection. And I hear they’re keeping you away from Alexandra.

Genny leaned back against Sophie, giving a soft sigh of pleasure.

Yes, yes ... she’s told you most of it.

Made any friends?

Yes, answered Genny softly. A wonderful girl ... her name is Sophie.

"Sophie—what’s her family name?’

Sophie ... Sophie ...

What? demanded Sophie, in her other ear in an urgent whisper.

What’s your surname? demanded Genny, covering the receiver.

"Gutrunsdottir!"

Sophie Gutrunsdottir. I had almost forgotten!

Sophia Gutrunsdottir. Trudy’s girl.

I suppose. I haven’t met her family. I haven’t met any families here!

Sophie was holding her close. So many things were being done ineptly. Genny felt sorry for the girl who doubtless took the blame on herself. The masculine culture of the place was ironically maintained and sustained by women, and there was no one who could take care of the more nurturing, caring aspects of hospitality. All this Genny realized now, cradled in Sophie’s loving arms.

Your mother has been too restrained, I can tell.

We’ve both been sort of paralyzed, I suppose, Genny murmured. Now that I’ve talked to you, I know I should have thought of ... more creative ways to keep sane!

Ask Mama to insist that young Sophie takes you out. Tell her to ask Senator Horvald to arrange an excuse to visit the university. Or the hospital. Ask Mama to call for Sophie’s parents.

Oh yes! Good idea! Oh thank you, Dad! She sniffed. It was frustrating to think that her lack of imagination had imprisoned her. She and Mama had acted like a pair of chickens. I feel so stupid!

You have to learn how circumstances work on your mind, sweetheart. This has been a dangerous lesson to you both. I’ll be there soon. Until then, take charge!

I will! Good night, Papa!

Good night, love. Give your Sophie a hug for me.

I will!

CHAPTER EIGHT

Genny Explores

He said to give you a hug.

He knew I was here!

Genny relaxed into Sophie’s arms. I think he has a sense that ... you will become a good friend. I need all the friends I can find in this place, Sophie. She raised her lips to Sophie, and Sophie kissed her.

In the morning, Sophie rose early, and having changed, began to plan. It was an excellent idea to introduce the Princess Genevieve to Sophie’s mother. They were close relatives of the royal family, and eminently respectable, even if her parents had kept away from Palace politics with determination. Queen Beate had visited their home on several occasions, in disguise, and spent time with her mother; they had been close friends.

There you are! The young Queen burst into Sophie’s room, where she had been seated at her little table.

Sophie got to her feet and curtsied, and Alexandra came to her and hauled her up. Sophie was allowed one curtsey for a day in private, but no more.

How is she?

Pretty bad when I found her, My Lady. I left her much improved.

Can you tell me?

Sophie dropped her eyes. She made me promise to keep silent.

Alexandra sighed. It was only to be expected. Her curiosity about all matters relating to Genevieve was impossible to bear, but Genevieve’s peace of mind came first. She put her arms round Sophie and hugged her. Sophie’s arms crept round her in answer. You are a treasure, Sophie.

You have to make things easier for her, My Lady.

Alexandra drew back, to stare at her.

What can I do?

"She needs to get out! She

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