The Kingdom's Secret

 Home  |  Submissions  |  U-Write-It Challenge  |  Author Survey  |  Reader Survey  |  Gift Shop  |  Fireworks

The Kingdom's Secret
© 1999 by Carolyn Ann Aish
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be copied or downloaded for profit.
Scripture quotes from King James Version

Book 1
Adventures in Armokand

Chapter 1


    King Conan glared at his daughter's slave-girl and shouted, "She should be whipped!"

     "I will see she is spoken to, Father," Princess Emerald said quickly, "but I shall not whip her, Father, it's too barbaric!"

     "What? Barbaric?" the king demanded, then laughed aloud. "At least you have a mind of your own; that's something I'm proud of, Daughter. Speak to her, if you must, but make it strong."

     "Words go deeper than stripes, Father," the princess said earnestly.

     "Ha!" the king exclaimed, "Therefore, a combination of words and stripes would be a better discipline. Can I trust you to do it?"

     "You know you can trust me--don't you?"

     "If I can't trust you, my daughter, who then can I trust?" the king replied.

     "'No one is to be trusted,' Father," she said, quoting him.

     "Good, my daughter, very good. Go then, and do your talking; and if you would please me, measure out some stripes as well."

     Princess Emerald lifted her dainty silk-slippered foot and touched her slave-girl on the back.

     Tina rose quickly to her feet and stood with her eyes turned downward.

     Curtsying, Princess Emerald turned and left the huge throne-room.

     With her downcast face toward the king, Tina collected the strawberries she had dropped and put them back on the silver tray. Bowing low, three times, she expertly backed to the door.

    When they were in the princess's quarters, Emerald sighed, saying, "That's a relief; what would we do if Father had demanded that I whip you right there in front of him?"

    "You'd just have to do it, Emerald," Tina replied.

    "It'd be much better if you were not so fumble-fingered as to drop the strawberries I wanted to give him. How did it happen? You're usually so good..."

    "I...I...you know, I'm always nervous in the throne room...with the king...when I knelt, and tried to support the strawberries at the same time, they...just rolled off. It wasn't a good idea for me to go with you."

     "Well I can't carry the strawberries myself, can I? Imagine what Father would say if I did that!"

    "Another slave could take them for you."

    "I don't want anyone else. I want you," the princess said, pouting. "And you're going to practice, because I want to give strawberries to my Father."

     Drawing a velvet robe around her, and placing her princess's crown on her long brown hair, Princess Emerald took up her own emerald tiara and stepped toward Tina. With a swift action, she pulled the dull brown cap off Tina's head, throwing it to slide across the shiny marble floor.

     Shaking her golden curls, Tina stepped backwards.

    "I don't ask much of you, my dear slave, but I'm asking this; now, kneel!" Emerald spoke firmly.

    Once the emerald tiara was positioned on Tina's head, the princess sat in a tall-backed chair.

    "Bring the strawberries as if I'm the king."

     Tina knelt quite successfully, holding the strawberries in a balanced way. Suddenly Silver-Sir, the cat, leaped under the tray, pouncing on the servant's cap as if it were a mouse. He gave Tina such a fright, that she dropped the tray. It clattered loudly on the marble floor. Strawberries scattered everywhere.

     The princess collapsed in a fit of giggles. "Just as well Silver-Sir wasn't in the throne room! I wonder if Father would have him whipped!"

     After they had practiced again, Tina said, "It's one thing to do it here...but those five dais steps up to the throne are another matter, Princess."

    Emerald jumped up from the chair and said, "I know what I shall do...then you'll only have to kneel with the strawberries and you'll not have to go right up on the dais. "Let's go and fetch fresh strawberries, and take them to Father...but first, if I would really please Father, we must find that red dye, and paint whip-marks on your arms. They have to look real."

     Complete with the raspberry-colored fake stripes on her arms, and the silver platter of fresh strawberries, Tina and the princess entered the throne-room.

     Inwardly trembling, Tina knelt down close to the dais. She carefully supported the tray of strawberries, lifting them as high as she could in her outstretched hands. It was a difficult feat, because she had to keep her head bowed. At least I don't have to climb the steps and put the silver tray in the king's hands, she told herself, trying to feel brave. King Conan could order a slave's death if he so wished.

     Taking the tray of strawberries from Tina, Princess Emerald elegantly rose up the five dais steps and stood close to her father.

    There was a smile in her eyes as she fed them one by one right into the king's mouth.

    "Hmm, rather delicious, aren't they?" he said, his eyes on his daughter's pretty face as she patted the edge of his lips with a lace napkin. "You have done very well, and I am pleased," he added.

    Emerald knew he referred to the marks on Tina's arms. It was always a great contention with the king that the slaves were treated too well. Smiling at him, the princess kissed his cheek.

    "And I love you too, Father," she said, meaning it with all her heart.

    "Then it is with great sadness that the king must make an important announcement," Queen Borann's voice sounded out harshly in the perfect acoustics of the large chamber. She sat on a matching throne, beside the king.

    "Sadness?" the king asked, then, looking at Emerald, he added, "The only sadness will be that I lose my daughter and do not gain a princely son...but we shall keep our daughter and gain a son as well, won't we?"

    "What do you mean, Father?" Emerald asked, feeling afraid, but not knowing why.

    "You, our dear daughter, are of age," he said, and paused.

     "Of age? For what?"

     The king laughed and all in the great chamber joined him. Emerald felt crushed.

     "What is so funny?" she asked, her rose-pink lips pouting. This caused the king to laugh again.

     Reaching out, he took her hand and drew her close to his throne.

     "You're almost sixteen years old, or had you forgotten?"

     "No Father...I had not forgotten. I'm almost sixteen…"

     "Your mother, the queen, and I, were married when she was sixteen," King Conan said, his usually hard voice, very soft. "You're of age...of marriageable age."

     Emerald's large green eyes widened. "Oh, I hadn't thought of it, Father. But not every girl wants to be married, at sixteen."

    "We wish you to be married as soon as possible," Queen Borann spoke impatiently, "Tell her, husband, tell her."

    "Why, Mother! Is it that you wish to be rid of me? Do you, Father?"

    The king laughed; it was a deep laugh, reverberating in the huge candle-lit chamber, causing the crystal in the chandeliers to quiver. "No, we plan to keep you, my dear, but with an addition to our family...a son-in-law who will be king, reigning with you…"

     "Oh no," she said, feeling breathless at the idea, "Do you mean you want me to...to marry...a man I don't even know yet?"

     Again the king laughed, and again the court joined him.

     Tina, keeping her head turned down, dared to smile. The thought: Princess Emerald married? It was humorous! She's not old enough, surely?

     The queen spoke, "Our dear Emerald, you're not that naive. You know what is expected of you, don't you? To marry and produce an heir. Your father is not getting any younger."

     "An heir?" Emerald repeated, feeling panicky. But her father kept hold of her hand and she could not move away without causing a scene.

     "My dearest daughter; our only daughter; have you not noticed? I do not walk as uprightly as I used to; I sleep longer and much deeper at night; I have to sleep for an hour each afternoon. Kingship is tiresome to me. Where I used to manage all that was expected of me, I no longer keep up with the schedule for the king's day."

     "But Father, you're not old; not old at all," the princess said, looking at his familiar face.

     "Youth is not health and strength, not always," King Conan said, and then sighed. "With the counsel of my advisers, we've decided that this kingdom needs younger blood."

     "What about Uncle Zogar?" Emerald asked, "Couldn't he be king, and then I wouldn't need to get married."

    The voicing of Zogar's name created a stir across the throne room. The queen gestured for the lady standing by her throne to fan her. The king withdrew his hand from his daughter's.

    "You've met your uncle, King Zogar, just the once, Daughter?" the king asked.

    "Yes Father," she replied, thinking back to the celebrations held when her Uncle Zogar had visited, "It was five years ago, Father. Uncle Zogar gave me my emerald tiara."

    "It's out of the question," Queen Borann said, "He's not a man we want for king of Armokand; he already has his own kingdom, anyway."

Chapter 2

    Taking his daughter's hand again, King Conan himself made the dreaded announcement, "On the night of the next full moon we will hold a ball. In fact, it will be the first of three balls. Two more will be held, one each night of the two nights following. Invitations have been sent to all the kingdoms of Europe. Every eligible young man, rich of course, and titled, has been invited to attend."

    He saw the disagreeable look on his daughter's face and his voice softened a little, as he spoke now for her benefit, "They will bring valuable gifts for Princess Emerald's birthday, which is on the third night; and she shall choose from among them...the young men, that is." Light laughter filled the chamber, dispelling the previous gloom.

    The king spoke softer, into Emerald's ear, and the court all craned forward to hear, "There will be at least one young man you'll fancy...perhaps more than one; but we do need one." Light laughter stirred the air.

    Pulling a face, Emerald turned her head away from her father. This was something no one else would dare do.

    "What then?" he asked, "What makes you disagreeable? Did you not say, just this morning, that the king can trust you?"

    "Of course you can, Father. I...I love you, and Mother, but I like things the way they are." She dared not look around at Tina, her dearest friend, but added, "Someone else joining our family would spoil it all."

    There was a solemn silence, and then Emerald attempted a smile, saying, "If it pleases you, Father, then have the balls. But I would hate to be the only girl who dances with these...these eligible...young men."

    "The only girl? You're not a girl," he said, "you're the princess! And we shall have other ladies from the court…"

    "All old and married," she retorted, but lightly.

    Still holding her hand, the king drew her aside and looked down toward the bottom of his dais. "Stand up!" he commanded.

    Tina did not know that the king spoke to her, so she did not move.

    "Do you mean Tina?" Emerald asked.

    "Is that her name? Yes, her. Stand up, slave!"

    Tina stood on feet that trembled.

    Releasing his daughter, he said, "Stand by her."

    Emerald obeyed.

    "Yes, that's good," said the king. "You're taller than your slave, and she will not be more striking than you at the balls. We do not want competition. Have her taught to mind her manners and to dance. She shall attend the three balls, with you. And do not tell me you do not want her, daughter; I know you're partial to her. But remember, it's only for the nights of the balls...after that she'll be a slave as before."

    Emerald's delight was obvious to all, particularly the king who knew he had pleased his daughter.

    He thought, So, it's true - my daughter does have a friendship with this slave-girl.

    King Conan wondered about the obvious red marks on the slave's arms; perhaps they were not whip marks at all? He frowned, hoping his daughter was not deceiving him. Then he smiled, wondering if it was bad if his daughter was kind to an obedient slave.

    As the smiling princess took her leave, he said, "Remember, it's just for the nights of the balls - after that, things will be as before." Frowning deeply, the king watched as the slave-girl, her eyes lowered, bowed three times and backed from the throne-room.

    "She's a pretty young thing - that slave," the queen said, speaking the king's own thoughts, "I wonder what color her hair is; under that brown cap? I do hope you're doing the right thing, Conan dear. We're getting softer all the time..."

    "I know, I know," he said, "that's what having unsurpassed power can do...we can afford to grow softer..."

***

    Back in the princess's chambers, Tina blurted, "How do you expect me to go to the ball? To three balls? To learn to dance? To...to...and what shall I wear? These slave clothes? It's impossible."

    "Nothing is impossible. I dance, even if I do think it to be a waste of time and energy. You, dear Tina, will learn from my tutor."

    "What will Beans say?" Tina asked.

    "Let's go and find him and tell him," Emerald said eagerly, "I can't wait to see his face. I'm sure he'll be jealous. He's never had anything to be jealous about before. He's always treated you like you belong to him."

     "Why do you say that?" Tina asked.

     "Think of how often he checks up on you; asks about you; he wants to know where you are all the time. Me - I'm only the princess. You - he's interested in you; all you do. Remember when you were ill? Beans was there about four times a day asking after you. He'll be so jealous about you attending my balls. Let's find him."

     Tina wondered as she had so often before, about Emerald's interest in Beans. Beans was interested in her, Tina; but Emerald was very interested in Beans - so interested, she wanted to know how he felt about everything. Tina sighed. Life was so complicated.

***
    Beans, with a group of slave-boys, was working in the palace gardens. His broad shoulders and rippling muscles glistened in the spring sunshine. As soon as they saw Emerald approaching, with Tina following, the young men stood and bowed low.

     "We wish to speak with you, Beans," Emerald said, turning down a garden path, walking on further towards a secluded place. Silver-Sir dived out at Emerald's feet and she scooped him into her arms. The cat purred loudly.

     Issuing instructions to the younger slaves, Beans obediently followed the princess and Tina.

     "There are to be three balls held in my honor, and, on the third night, on my sixteenth birthday, I'm to choose a husband," Emerald said, her eyes upon Beans' handsome face. She wished he would look at her, but knew he had been warned against daring to look upon a royal face. To her surprise, he did look up. She drew a deep breath as his dark blue eyes looked into hers; there was so much mystery in the deep blue pools that she felt forced to look away before she drowned. "Father said that the prince I choose would be King of Armokand."

     "It had to come," Beans said in his deep voice. "It's to be expected." Then his tone grew bitter, "Your father, the king, will want you to have many fine sons; then his throne will be secure...so he believes."

     Tina looked from Beans to Emerald. She shivered. Never before had she felt such an undertow, just from words.

     "But you haven't told Beans what your father commanded," Tina said to Emerald. Turning to Beans, she informed him, "King Conan said that I have to go to the balls...I have to learn to dance. I have to be there as a support...a...another younger lady...for Princess Emerald."

     Puzzlement and confusion twisted Bean's perfect clean-shaven face for a moment, and then he smiled his handsome smile. "That's the best news I've heard!" he said. Stepping towards Tina, he took her hands and twirled her around into the small clearing. She followed his footsteps, and together they danced in a full circle.

     "You...will not be jealous?" Emerald called. "Tina will have to dance with all the suitors, too. I thought you would be against that, Beans. I thought you loved Tina."

     Standing before the princess again, Beans bowed low, saying, "I do love Tina, Princess Emerald. I cannot find words to describe how much I love her. Tina's happiness is the most important thing in my life. Therefore, I'm happy she is going to learn to dance and she'll attend the balls. There will be princes...kings maybe...from countries all around. These balls may be the answer to all our problems. It has given me a wonderful idea! Perhaps God is able to answer my impossible prayers after all. Perhaps I can be like David and trust in God. Thank you for telling me about the balls." With that, he bowed again.

     Before walking off, he said, "Don't forget we changed the time of our book meet; two hours later now the sun sets so much later. Maybe we can find some books to read about etiquette and protocol at a ball." Whistling loudly, Beans strode along the path, in the opposite direction from the garden.

     Emerald and Tina frowned at each other.

     "I've never understood him, Tina, and I never will. He's so unpredictable! Do you think he really does love you...that when you're older, or as Father puts it, of age, he'll marry you? Father is not against slaves marrying slaves you know. Do you love him?"

     "I...I don't know, Princess. Beans has always been there for me. He does care about me...perhaps it could be love as you say; but I'm not sure...except that I always feel safe when he's near. He...Beans, is like...like...oh, I don't know...like the father I never had...he makes me feel really safe."

     "Well, I just hope there's a prince at the balls who is as handsome and dashing as Beans," Emerald said, sighing. "If there is, then I shall choose him."

Chapter 3

    One hour before sunset; the time when the king and queen bathed and dressed themselves for the evening feast and entertainment - when most slaves and servants in the palace were at their busiest; Princess Emerald, Tina and Beans, met together with a group of about 32 children. These were the sons and daughters of slaves and servants who worked in the palace. Aged between 3 and 7, they had little to do at this hour of the day.

    The book-meet was held in an indoor-outdoor chamber. With marble pillars around the outside, it was covered from the weather, but had no shutters or windows. The main benefit was a safe step-way from the outside up to this semi-circular balcony-type patio, named by Beans as "The Garden Alcove."

    Beautiful flowers grew in the garden-beds built into the outside wall. Pansies, all colors, lifted their pretty faces to the sun. White, pink and purple hues of clematis tumbled over the parapet. A profusion of spring bulbs were at their zenith. Fresh spring perfumes wafted from the gardens below, with a mixture of lavender and daphne.

    The children were restless and bored today; Beans had insisted on selecting the books explaining good manners and protocol. Keeping the littlest ones from climbing the outside wall had never been such a problem.

    "I don't need this stuff about etiquette!" Princess Emerald declared, "and Tina can work on it any time; it's a waste of the children's time!" Snatching the volume from Bean's hands, she took up another storybook and began to read. It was the story of David and Goliath. While Beans glowered at her for interrupting him, the children listened, enthralled.

    "Here, read a story, Tina. You need the practice," Emerald said.

    Pulling a face, because Beans was upset, Tina nevertheless obeyed. She chose to read about King Saul and David. Twice, David had the opportunity to kill King Saul, but spared his life.

    In her hesitating reading voice, Tina read, "David said, 'The LORD had delivered thee today into mine hand in the cave; and some bade me kill thee, but mine eye spared thee, and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the LORD's anointed. The LORD judge between me and thee, and the LORD avenge me of thee; but mine hand shall not be upon thee.' So are we entreated to trust God and choose to leave judgment in His hands."

    Tina noticed the littlest ones were fidgeting and she said quickly, "Look, here's a picture ... it's David with a spear and a cruse of water." While the children looked at the picture, Tina stole a glance at Beans. The anger had gone from his face and she felt glad.

    After all had viewed the picture, Tina concluded the story by reading the final sentences,

    "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves but rather, give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
(Romans 12:19-21)

Chapter 4

    The days of the next week were a flurry of preparations for the ball. The girls found little spare time and only by declaring how tired they were could they continue with their book-meet, before the evening meal.

    Dancing lessons were given every morning for both Tina and Emerald. The Princess had to brush up on her technique and learn new steps.

    Deportment and curtsying training for Tina became important. Her slave behavior had to be unlearned and she had to be taught to behave as a lady, or princess.

    "You must not bow, or kneel, or walk backwards," Emerald said in frustration, "you need to walk like me - and, you must look people in the face. Don't keep bowing your head; and never look at the floor!"

    While Tina despaired, the princess enjoyed teaching her friend to behave normally, rather than subserviently.

    To Tina's consternation, Beans was supportive of the new training. He was not in the least jealous, but the opposite. He checked on Tina's progress, offering encouragement and advice.

    "I'm pleased you're having these lessons; it's good that you're gaining confidence," Beans told her with a smile, "I can see you now, dressed as a princess and dancing in the golden ball-room with a prince..."

    Princess Emerald and Tina stared at him in bewilderment.

    Silk fabrics and laces were presented to the princess; measurements taken and dress designs decided upon.

    Princess Emerald wanted Tina's dress to be as elaborate as her own.

    "Who knows? - You may win a rich, titled husband. - That will serve Beans right!" the princess said brightly.

    "Someone may imagine you want Beans to be disappointed," Tina said with mischief in her voice. The change in her station in the light of the ball felt exhilarating. Though nervous, she was excited.

    "I'm used to being accepted as a friend by you, dear Princess ... it's just going to be different to be at the ball in a lovely dress, not downstairs, working as a slave…"

    "Oh, I wish things were different ... that you'd never been a slave at all. I also wish Beans were not a slave, but at the least, a count or a lord - perhaps a sir - but can you imagine if I fell in love with 'Sir Beans?' - My father would have all our heads!"

    Tina giggled, not just because what Emerald had said was funny; but out of nervousness and fear at the reminder of the king's position. She shuddered. King Conan could command someone's death! How terrifying it was to the tenderhearted slave.

    Six days before the first ball, Tina reported disconcerting news to Emerald, "Beans has bandages on his hands; both hands..."

    "What happened?" the princess asked.

    "He won't tell me; but I think he has bad blisters, or he must have cut himself..."

    "Let's find him and I'll command him to show me," the princess said, concerned. But Beans was nowhere to be found, not in the gardens, not in the kitchens, or in the stables. The girls gave up searching.

    "He'll show me at the book meet," Emerald said.

    When Tina and Emerald arrived in the Garden Alcove, only two slave children were there.

    "I didn't think we were early?" the princess said, questioning, "where's Beans?"

    "He's not coming; he called it off," the older slave-girl replied.

    "He says we's all too busy for gettin' ready for the balls," the other girl said, her eyes wide, "I hope I c'n see some of the princes who comes."

    "Where's Beans?" Tina asked, upset.

    "He's busy," the slave-girl replied.

    Although Tina and Emerald searched and searched and asked questions, Beans could not be found.

    "'We'll be in trouble with Abad if we keep asking," Tina said. Abad was the slave-master and all indiscretions were reported to him. Neither Beans nor Tina had ever been in trouble with Abad, nor did they wish to be. Abad had the authority to whip or imprison a disobedient slave.

Chapter 5

    The final fitting of the dresses was done three days before the first ball. During the fitting, Queen Borann arrived in her daughter's dressing room, announcing she wanted to see all of the ball-gowns.

    Princess Emerald's beautiful green dress had matching lace nets, and satin bows.

    "It's perfect my dear," the queen said, in a gushy tone, "and you'll wear your emerald tiara; it will be perfect for the third ball!"

    "Yes, Mother; I'm glad you like the dress," the princess said; "This is the one I've chosen for the first ball; I know you'll like the other two; but I wanted them to be a surprise for you..."

    "Show me the others," the queen commanded.

    The chief tailor clapped his hands and two servants rushed off to fetch the gowns.

    Queen Borann turned to look at Tina, who curtsied low. The trembling slave girl did not dare to look up, but kept her face turned to the floor.

    "Stand up slave; let me look at you."

    Tina obeyed. The blue dress she wore shimmered all around her like a cloud of blue forget-me-nots.

    "Turn around."

    As Tina turned, the queen said, "It's all wrong - her dress is too much like yours, Emerald; and blue? It makes me feel ill! Blue will never go with green. Look how sadly it clashes..."

    "But Tina won't be dancing with me, Mother..."

    "She shall not wear that dress! We'll choose another color ... a plainer color," the queen said firmly, walking to the window and staring out at the white clouds in the blue sky.

    "But Mother; there's not enough time left to make new ones! And look ... God made the blue sky to go with the lovely green hills and the trees..."

    "How dare you argue with me!" the queen said, her voice raised, "And don't talk about God making anything! God has nothing to do with it! What color are the others you have had made for her?"

    "One is pink and the other is white..."

    "Pink? - No! She shall not wear pink - or blue!"

    Turning to the curtsying dressmakers, the queen commanded, "Make her two plainer dresses, both white; she shall wear only white; it will complement the green and any other color the princess wears."

    The servants entered with Princess Emerald's two ball-gowns. One was a soft shade of pink, more elaborate than the green.

    "I shall give you my diamond set to wear with that," the queen said in a satisfied voice.

    The dress the princess was to wear on the night of her birthday was made of a beautiful gold satin that shimmered and shone with every ray of light.

    "You have your mother's good taste," the queen said, her voice happy. "Your father will be very pleased with you. But remember, the slave is to wear white."

    "But mother, the white dress she has is embroidered with silver and ... other embroidery..."

    "All right, all right ... she can wear the white one you've had made for her, but on the third night. With this gold dress, my dear, nothing shall outshine you. And you shall wear your grandmother's golden coronet; it shall be a gift for your sixteenth birthday."

    As was expected, Emerald thanked her mother and kissed her cheek.

    The queen turned back when she reached the door, asking, "What have you chosen for the slave to wear in her hair?"

    Princess Emerald knew her mother would be upset if she said she planned to lend Tina her pearl tiara, so she asked sweetly, "What do you think she should wear, Mother?"

    "Definitely no jewelry - perhaps a flower or two for the first nights; yes, and a floral garland, for the third." Looking across at Tina, she snapped, "And don't let us down, slave! You'll be there to support the princess; not to supplant her."

Chapter 6

    The day before the night of the full moon arrived. The palace was a bustle of activities. Hundreds of colored lanterns had been positioned in the formal gardens beyond the terrace at the south end of the ballroom.

    Beautiful potted plants were brought into the huge golden ballroom itself.

    Tina rushed here and there, achieving nothing in particular. Fetching cool drinks of lemon and orange for the princess seemed an endless task.

    She saw Beans striding along a corridor, toward the Garden Alcove and hurried after him. When she arrived in the alcove, there was no sign of Beans; the alcove was empty.

    Tina's feet flew to the small archway from which the outer steps descended. "Beans?" she called, "Beans!" There was no answer. Beans was nowhere in sight.

    Returning inside the alcove, Tina saw a dozen books lying in two piles on the low marble table. She looked at the top one; it contained information about kings and queens. Perusing the other books, she found them to be similar, all about royalty in European countries.

    Beans has been here, reading these books, she told herself. But why? Where else has he been over the past week? He hasn't been working in the gardens. He'll be getting into real trouble soon...

    Tina had no opportunity to talk with Emerald. The princess had been summoned to spend time with her father to discuss the type of prince that King Conan wished his daughter to choose.

    "Of course the final choice will be yours, Emerald; but there are certain men you're not to choose. And you must tell me who the man will be before you announce it on the third night. He must be a prince; but not have a throne of his own. Perhaps a third, or fourth, son of a king."

    When Emerald returned that last night before the ball, she was too tired to talk and just fell on her feather bed, saying, "I wish I'd never heard of a ball. I wish I were a slave like you, Tina, then I would marry Beans and live happily ever after."

Chapter 7

    The golden moon rose above the distant hills just as the first prince arrived at the doors of the golden ballroom.

    Tina, looking very beautiful in a brilliant white silk ball gown, with pink rosebuds in the back of her hair arrangement, stood to the side and a little back from Princess Emerald.

    Green emeralds faceted their brilliance from the princess's tiara. Her brown hair was arranged, like Tina's, in the fashion of the day, in shining ringlets.

    "Prince Eberhard, third son of the King of Denmark; aged 34."

    The prince strode over to Princess Emerald and was introduced again by another herald.

    Prince Eberhard kissed the back of the princess's hand, then turned to Tina.

    The herald announced, "Princess Emerald's companion, Tina."

    The prince was drawn along to a line of court officials, husbands and wives, being introduced to them, before being presented to the king and queen.

    "Prince Knud, fourth son of the King of Denmark; aged 32."

    "They are so old!" Princess Emerald whispered to Tina. In the massive ballroom, the princess knew they could converse softly and not be heard.

    "Prince Erik, fifth son of the King of Denmark; aged 29."

    "It's getting better now," Tina whispered back, and then both curtsied as Prince Erik arrived.

    "Prince Svend, sixth son of the King of Denmark; aged 25."

    "They are getting better looking, too," Emerald dared to send another whisper.

    "Prince Christopher, seventh son of the King of Denmark; aged 21."

    The girls could no longer whisper, as there was now a queue of princes waiting.

    "Prince Valdemar, eighth son of the King of Denmark; aged 19."

    After the sixth prince had passed the two girls, the princess said, "I hope they aren't all from Denmark! It's such a long way from here."

    As if in reply, the herald announced, "Prince Danton, brother of the King of Norran; aged 18."

    The queen commented, "Danton would be a good match; the Kingdom of Norran is very wealthy."

    "Is it my dear?" King Conan asked.

    "Yes, it is said they have seven palaces..."

    "Do they, my dear? Well, that young Prince Danton had better let go of that young slave's hand, or Princess Emerald shall not have the chance to see even one palace."

    "We don't want her to go and see them," the queen retaliated, "we want her to keep the young man here, remember, to reign when we are both gone."

    "I hope it isn't for a long while ... look, here comes another young prince..."

    The introductions went on and on, until over 20 princes, all wearing their princely coronets, stood in the ball-room, their eyes turned with looks of hope to the beautiful princess in the emerald ball-gown, that is, except Prince Danton, who stood beside Tina, a few feet away, still gazing at her.

    With no waiting arrivals, a herald stepped close to Prince Danton and whispered, "Your Highness, you must be presented to King Conan and Queen Borann."

    "Who?" he asked, his eyes still on Tina.

    "The Princess's parents..."

    "Oh, yes, I suppose I should meet them."

    As Prince Danton followed the herald, another announcement was made, "Prince Ivan Vladislav, nephew of the Emperor of Macedonia Empire, aged 28, twice widowed."

    "Oh no," Princess Emerald said, "I don't want a widower."

    "What's that?" Tina asked, "It sounds like a poisonous insect of some kind..."

    "It's a man who has been married..." Emerald began, but Tina interrupted ...

    "What's he doing here? If he's married?"

    "His wife is dead, actually, two of them; that is why they call him a widower."

    "Oh, sort of like a man widow?"

    But Princess Emerald could not reply, because Prince Ivan Vladislav arrived in front of her, bowing and taking her hand in his.

    "You look very lovely, Princess Emerald," he said. After he had kissed the back of her hand, he held it and did not move away.

    "Princess Emerald's companion, Tina," the herald announced as before.

    But Prince Ivan Vladislav still held the princess's hand.

    "I wish to tell you about my dear wives who have departed," the prince said, "because I do not want you to feel afraid of me." He looked deep into the princess's green eyes. "My first marriage was arranged when we were both seventeen years old. I loved her very much, but she died before we had been married a year. She caught a plague while visiting her parents."

    "Oh, that's sad," the princess said, wondering if she saw a tear glistening at the corner of his eye.

    "My second wife died in child-birth; we have a daughter; she is now three years old. I had thought, Princess, that I would never remarry; perhaps I won't ... but who can resist a royal ball? And you look very lovely, indeed." He again kissed the hand he held.

    Princess Emerald blushed pink and did not notice that when Prince Ivan Vladislav strode away, he did not even glance at Tina.

    Prince Danton walked away from the other princes who stood across the other side of the ballroom and he came back to stand beside Tina.

    Both Emerald and Tina lost count of the princes announced into the ballroom. There seemed so many.

    Then came the announcement by King Conan, "Let the ball begin."

    Tina almost giggled, her mind translated the king's words as, 'Let the battle begin.'

    As arranged, the king walked to the center of the ballroom, where Princess Emerald joined him and together they began the first dance.

    Other ladies of the court joined to dance with waiting princes.

    Prince Danton took Tina's hand and drew her on to the floor to dance. He looked deep into her eyes. She felt breathless.

    His black hair gleamed with light and life of its own. His handsome features were sun-tanned, proclaiming he spent time out-doors. Tina wondered where the Kingdom of Norran was?

    The king did not complete the first dance with his daughter, and staggered a little as he went to sit beside the queen. Prince Ivan Vladislav now partnered Princess Emerald.

    The second dance was one in which partners often changed, so that every lady had a turn dancing with every man.

    Tina could not understand what was happening in this second dance; Prince Danton partnered her for the whole dance; he would not let her go. Tina wondered if the sequence would be spoiled, but no one was left standing alone.

    After the second dance finished, the ladies were escorted back to their places. Prince Danton stood beside Tina. People began to converse. Just as the music began playing for the third dance, an announcement came, "Prince Kemble, youngest son of the late King of the Kingdom of Kandarmia; aged 18."

    Everyone stared in awe as this new prince descended the stairs, down into the ballroom.

    Dressed in the most elaborate suit that any man in the ballroom wore, with the most amazing crown on his head, Prince Kemble was introduced to Princess Emerald.

    Looking up into his dark blue eyes, she gasped; the drowning feeling was there again. As in a dream she saw the colors in the jewels of the amazing crown on his head. But Prince Kemble bowed his head lower, kissing her hand. His lips felt soft and warm, and her hand tingled in a strange manner.

    This was the prince that Princess Emerald had danced with in her dreams. Still holding her by the hand, he drew her on the ballroom floor where they merged with the brilliant reflections. The musicians began to play again.

    "They make such a striking couple," the queen said, "but who is he? He wears a king's crown!"

    Tina stared at the young man who had been announced as "Prince Kemble." She was reminded of someone, but could not imagine whom it was. Her mind seemed strangely blank.

    Prince Danton drew Tina into the dance and she told herself to enjoy it. Again partners changed. Before realizing what was happening, Tina found herself dancing with Prince Kemble. It was as though she had danced with him before. But how could I have? she asked herself.

    "Have I met you before?"

    "Yes," he replied.

    "I feel that I have," she said, frowning.

    "If you remember anything about me, promise you will tell no one," he whispered into her ear. "You look very pretty," he said, "Just like a princess ... I said you would..."

    "Beans!?!" she exclaimed, her thoughts racing, and her limbs stiffening in an alarming manner.

    "Keep dancing," he commanded.

Chapter 8

    After dancing with the young man who called himself Prince Kemble, Tina felt faint. She wished she could find somewhere to sit. Surely this was a terrible dream. How could it be Beans, wearing that prince's costume?

    She dared to steal another look at the crown worn by Prince Kemble. No one else in the ballroom had a crown as magnificent as this crown - not even King Conan! But this prince had the face and the voice of Beans, the slave!

    "Are you all right, Lady?" a deep voice asked.

    Looking up, Tina saw that Prince Danton stood close by her side.

    "I ... no, I'm not. I feel a little faint, actually."

    "Then perhaps we should walk, outside in the cool air," he suggested, taking her arm and drawing her around the tall marble pillar toward the formal gardens.

    Tina did not have the strength to resist. She noticed palace footmen standing along the edges of the garden paths, and as they passed them, many smiled and nodded at her.

    They know I'm a slave girl; and they also know Beans is a slave, she told herself. I'm just playing at being a lady; but at the King's command; but Beans ... oh dear, he'll be in big trouble when they find out he's just a slave who works in the gardens ... that must be why he wore bandages on his hands ... he didn't want them stained and work-worn ...

    Speaking to a footman, Prince Danton commanded, "Bring us cool drinks."

    The prince guided Tina to sit on a marble bench beside a sparkling fountain of water, sprinkling lightly into a pool of water lilies. The cooler air made Tina feel a little revived.

    Not knowing what to say, she asked, "Where is your kingdom? Norran, I heard the herald say..."

    "Norran is seventy miles south of Armokand; it would be a great pleasure to take you there, Lady Tina."

    "That's impossible," she said, looking around at the gardens, deserted other than the footmen who stood like statues. "But you should be indoors; you're supposed to be paying attention to Princess Emerald..."

    "I'd much rather pay my attentions to you, Lady Tina..."

    Standing, Tina blurted, "But that's where you are wrong, Prince Danton; I'm not a lady at all; I'm not even Princess Emerald's companion, not really - not officially," she said, thinking of how close she was to the princess.

    "I don't mind who you are, Lady Tina; you're the most beautiful lady I've ever seen."

    "You mustn't say that!" Tina said, stepping away from him. "I'm a slave-girl; nothing more. A slave."

    He lifted her hand to his lips, saying, "If you are indeed a slave girl, then I shall petition King Conan to buy you. I'll sell my palace and offer him all of the money."

    Tina stared at him as if he were crazy. Snatching her hand away, she ran back to the palace. Catching her breath for a few seconds, she stepped inside where there was music and hopefully people who were truthful.

    Her eyes found Prince Kemble; or was it Beans? - Dancing with Princess Emerald? This was like a nightmare!

    I'm going to be myself! she thought; I'm not going to play at being a lady when I'm not. Queen Borann commanded that I not supplant the Princess, and I must be careful that the princes look at her, not at me.

    "Lady Tina," a voice came to her ears; "I looked everywhere for you." It was Prince Eberhard. "May I have the next dance?"

    "If you don't mind dancing with a slave-girl," Tina said, and smiled at the surprise on the prince's face, "I'm not a lady at all, you see. I'm a slave."

    The prince opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

    Tina moved quickly back to the place she was supposed to stand.

    Prince Danton hurried in, followed by a waiter bearing a tray upon which sat two golden goblets.

    "I've brought you a cool drink of orange juice," he said, and added, "Or do you need something stronger?"

    Tina did not reply, but took the offered goblet. The juice was sweet and cool, and she hoped it would soothe the panicky feeling that threatened to engulf her.

    After drinking the juice, Prince Danton asked her to dance with him, but a line of princes waited for a dance with Tina.

    "If I begin the next dance with you, you must line up to dance with the princess," Tina told Prince Danton.

    "All right," he agreed, but again, as they danced, he would not let her go when it was time to change partners. This time, at the end of a line of ladies, Princess Emerald was left without a partner; that is, just for a few seconds. Prince Kemble hurried to her aid, leaving the young lady he had partnered without a prince. Within half a minute more, the whole dance sequence was ruined.

    The clock chimed eleven; time to go to the banquet hall where a great smorgasbord was awaiting.

    Tina had never seen so much wonderful food. She decided to forget Beans and turned her mind to sampling everything.

    "How are you finding the ball, Princess?" Prince Kemble asked.

    Recognizing the voice, Tina whirled around, saying, "Don't call me that, Beans!"

    Stepping close to her, so that he towered over her head, Beans said in a low voice, "And don't you call me Beans!"

    "Why are you dressed like this? - And where did you get that crown? Is it real?" she asked, again feeling faint at the thought of what would happen if he were recognized.

    "I am a real prince," he said seriously, "and you are my sister; a real princess." Having said these words, he turned and strode around the huge heavily laden table. Taking up a plate, he filled it with salad vegetables. With a smile on his face, he stabbed a long green salad bean with his fork and raised it to Tina before pushing it into his mouth.

Chapter 9

    Princess Emerald had noticed Tina missing for several minutes, then return, followed by the handsome Prince Danton. She felt pleased her friend had an admirer.

    The eligible princes flocked around the princess like bees around a honey pot.

    I wish Father had invited more young ladies, Emerald thought, it's embarrassing, ... these princes ... all here, just for me ...

    Princess Emerald found herself looking for one prince in particular, the prince who wore the magnificent crown.

    Princess Emerald had noticed both her father and mother asking questions of palace officials and she wondered if the questions were about the most handsome and best-dressed prince at the ball, Prince Kemble.

    After the buffet-style feast, there was more dancing and everyone seemed more relaxed.

    As her father had commanded, Princess Emerald tried to spend time talking to the different princes at the ball, her guests. Tomorrow morning, she would begin interviewing each. By then she was supposed to know their names and would learn more about each of them.

    Tina spent the rest of the night with Prince Danton always nearby; he was the only one who stayed close to her. She had noticed the princes from Denmark staring at her and whispering to each other. Looking at Prince Eberhard, she knew that he had told his brothers what she had said. The word was being spread that she was a slave; and they were avoiding her.

***

    The first ball was almost over when Prince Christopher whispered in Prince Kemble's ear, "She's very beautiful; but did you know she's only a slave?"

    "Who?" Prince Kemble asked.

    "That girl ... the one who stood by the princess; they call her 'Tina' - and you can tell that that's not a princess's name."

    "Oh; but how did you find out she was a slave?"

    "She told my brother herself," Prince Christopher said, "What a pity; so beautiful."

    "I happen to know the truth; she's a real princess. Her real name is 'Princess Anthea' - but she doesn't want someone to love her just because she's a princess..."

    "Why did she say she's a slave?"

    "Aren't we all slaves?" Prince Kemble asked, "in one way or another?"

    Prince Christopher looked at the magnificent crown on Prince Kemble's head, and said, "It's true ... we all have to serve, and work, to be and keep what we have and what we are..."

***

    Soon the word was circulating, "Lady Tina is not a slave at all ... she's a real princess."

    The princes turned towards Tina, wanting to question her, to be close to her and discover more about her.

***

    Prince Danton bowed low before King Conan and Queen Borann. "If it would not displease Your Majesties; I desire to speak with you."

    "Speak," the king said, leaning to look at the list held by the scribe who stood at his left. The scribe pointed to the prince's name, "Prince Danton," the king said, "oh yes, you come from Norran and your brother, the king, has seven palaces."

    "Indeed, but yes; we have seven and three more. Two belong to me, Your Majesty," the prince said proudly.

    "Then speak on," the king said, "you think our daughter to be beautiful?"

    "Very beautiful, Your Majesties," Prince Danton agreed. "It is said, Your Majesty, that the prince who marries your daughter shall, one day, of course, be crowned king of Armokand ..."

    "That is correct," the king agreed.

    "I am not inclined to being a king," the prince said; "I've had little training ..."

    "Nor had I," King Conan interjected.

    "Therefore," continued the prince, "I'd like to make an offer for the other one, is it Lady Tina; or is it Princess Tina?"

    After a short silence, the queen asked, "Why would you think she is a princess?"

    "It has been said she's a slave..."

    "Who said that?" the king asked.

    "Why, she told me herself, Sire..."

    "And if she were a slave, would you want her?" the queen said, her voice fierce. To imagine a prince wanting a slave before her own princess daughter was unthinkable!

    "Oh, I'd most certainly want her. I'll sell one of my palaces; and you may have all of the money."

    "For her? A slave?"

    "Oh, then, she is a slave? - That's wonderful!" he said, with joy.

    "Why would you want a slave and not a princess?" the queen persisted.

    "She would always look up to me. You see, I was betrothed to a princess, but she treated me as though I were a slave. She was most ill mannered, faithless. She spoke to her parents as though they were dirt! I'd never marry anyone like that."

    "Therefore you're no longer betrothed?" the king asked, "You're free?"

    "I was free ... before I met Tina ... but now she has stolen my heart. I'd give everything to find love and happiness with her..." His soft blue eyes looked at the king with a pleading note as he asked, "Please allow me to buy her from you, King Conan."

    "I'll consider it," the king said. "We'll talk about it after the third ball, when my daughter has made her decision."

Chapter 10

    Tina helped a servant-woman undress Princess Emerald. It was two o'clock in the morning and the princess could not stop talking.

    "Oh, wasn't he wonderful?"

    "You mean the ball," Tina said, knowing that Emerald was talking about Beans... or Prince Kemble. To Tina, the ball was like a dream, some parts good, and others, nightmarish.

    "No, silly; I meant HIM."

    "Prince Ivan Vladislav?"

    "No - Kemble; Prince Kemble. I wish he'd stayed till the end of the ball. I do hope he comes tomorrow night. I'll call him for the first interview; Father agreed. But of whom did Prince Kemble remind me?"

    "Beans?" Tina dared to suggest.

    "Beans?" the princess repeated; "Yes, Beans; he's like Beans dressed as a king... but it couldn't possibly have been Beans."

    "Not Beans, Princess Emerald. I saw Beans, just a'fore," the servant-woman said.

    "You saw Beans?" Tina asked, "how long ago?"

    "Oh, I couldn't say; I'm not much good at time...around midnight," she replied. Curtsying, she said, "Good night Princess; sleep well." Backing away, she left the room.

    Tina tried to remember what time Prince Kemble had disappeared. One moment, she had seen him standing watching Princess Emerald dance; then, after she had taken her eyes off him for several seconds, he was no longer there.

    "Well, on second thoughts, I don't think it was Beans...how could it be? Beans' hair is longer, and curly. Prince Kemble's was short and sleek."

    Tina and Emerald talked for over an hour, reliving the ball. Then both said their prayers and Tina tucked the princess into her bed before moving across to the alcove where she slept on a wooden bed.

    Oh dear, she thought, I can't unlace my ball-gown on my own. The maids helped me dress, but there's no one here now. I can't wake the princess...I'll have to go down to the servant's quarters and wake someone; I can't sleep in my dress ...

    Tina descended the stairs, feeling tired. Other than a flame from an odd cresset here and there, darkness bathed the palace walls.

    Completely at home because this was her home, the only one she had ever known, Tina walked confidently. Duty guards on the lower level leaned against the walls as if propping up the stonework.

    To descend to the servants' quarters, Tina had to walk across the terrace at the top of the Garden Alcove. The soft murmur of voices came to her ears. Wondering who could be in the Alcove at this hour, Tina found her feet changing direction to walk towards the Alcove door.

    Light from the full moon shone through the pillars, illuminating sections inside the Alcove. Tina saw a group of palace guards talking with Beans in the corner. Feeling uncertain because guards never spoke to slaves other than to scold them, Tina did not move. But then, a guard stepped away from Beans, revealing his face to her. She drew closer, her eyes on Beans; he looked different. His hair had been cut short, the same as Prince Kemble's. It HAD been Beans! Tina had hoped that Beans and Prince Kemble were two different people. She stepped even closer and at the same time, the voices grew a little louder.

    "We want to do it tonight," a guard said, "We shouldn't leave it another minute."

    "I don't want you to murder them," Beans spoke obstinately.

    "The king must die!" another guard said firmly.

    Tina turned to stone.

    "Did you not believe this, just last week?"

    "Yes ... I did, but not now. A ... a reading we had, from the Scriptures; it says how that God will avenge - vengeance is the Lord's. Also, I love Princess Emerald, and I want to marry her."

    "You can still marry her; we only need to deal with her parents," another guard said.

    "All this talking, and the dead time of night, which is now, will be gone in an hour, and we'll have to wait until tomorrow night."

    "I ... I need time to pray," Beans said, "I must ask God to show us another way, other than murder."

    The faint rustling of the full skirt of Tina's ball-gown caught the attention of a guard who stood back in the shadows, listening to the conversation, but also watching out for prowlers or eavesdroppers.

    The guard stepped quickly to her side, and before Tina realised what was happening, he took hold of her wrists and pulled her over to the others.

    She felt the eyes of the guards upon her, questioning eyes.

    "Tina!" hissed Beans, "what are you doing down here at this hour?"

    "I ... I ... you wouldn't understand..."

    "Tell us!" he commanded, "you're still wearing your ball-gown."

    "That's just it, Beans; I wanted to find a ... a woman-servant ... to help me ... I can't undo my dress ... it's laced down the back."

    "Did you hear us ... talking?" Beans asked.

    Tina could not look at him.

    "You did, didn't you?" he said, demanding, "How much did you hear?"

    "I ... I didn't want to hear ... it," she said.

    "Tell me what you heard!" he said fiercely.

    Tina told him all she had overheard.

    There was a deep silence after she had finished.

    "You ... need not tell me why, Beans, if you don't want to..."

    Tina felt sure she did not want to know why the guards wanted to kill the king. She hoped this was a bad dream.

    Taking her hand, Beans drew Tina to sit on a stone bench.

    "I am your brother, Tina; my name is Kemble," he paused, then said, "your name is Anthea. I am a prince; and you are a princess."

    "You ... you are my ... my brother?" Tina asked, and a glad glow shone from her eyes.

    "Before this kingdom was ruled by King Conan, our own parents sat on the thrones. We had six brothers and two sisters who were killed… with our parents, about ten years ago, at the orders of Zogar who calls himself, 'King of Gar.' The two kingdoms in Zogar's empire have been gained through destruction and murder. He did not hesitate to kill innocent people; women and children included. It was Zogar who gave King Conan the right to rule our country."

    Tina bowed her head.

    "Tina? Do you understand what I have told you?" Beans asked.

    She nodded and smiled weakly, but was unable to speak. It seemed too bizarre to be true, but she believed him; Beans, Kemble, was her brother.

    "Until a week ago, I believed there was no other way, than the destruction of both Conan, and Zogar. But, now, I'm not sure. I want God to show me what to do."

    "The story of David?" Tina asked softly.

    "Yes," Beans answered.

    Bowing her head again, Tina prayed silently to God for strength and courage; and for wisdom for them both.

    "We can't copy what God did in the Scriptures," one guard said, "this is an entirely different situation."

    "But God is the same," Tina said. "Don't you think, Beans, if you go to King Conan and ask if you can marry Emerald ... he will allow you to do this? He wants a king ... and yes, as the only prince left; you are the true king."

    Beans eyes showed that he was pleased with Tina's words. She was not accusing him, nor did she grow angry, or disbelieve him. She was a true princess!

    "I say we kill all three," a guard said with malice.

    "You can't do that!" Tina snapped; then inwardly cringed at her own boldness.

    "At least, kill Conan," another asserted.

    "If King Conan is killed at your orders, Beans, Emerald won't marry you. She loves her father!"

    Beans did not speak.

    "What does Princess Anthea advise?" a guard asked with sarcasm in his voice, "You know, if you are both discovered, Zogar will have no mercy for either of you..."

    "We don't have to worry about Zogar right now," Tina said, thinking, thank goodness for that! "We have enough to worry about. I think we should do what David did."

    "What's that?"

    "We should show King Conan and Queen Borann that we have power over them ... or rather, that God has the power of life. Like David, we should spare their lives, but let them know we could have taken them."

    "How can we do that?" Beans asked, wondering. He waited for Tina's answer.

    After bowing her head, she looked up into his eyes, saying, "I know of some indelible dyes; the servants used a yellow one on the golden velvet drapes in the ball-room; and then there's a dark crimson dye that was used to brighten the faded velvet drapes in the throne room. In both cases, the dye stayed on their hands for over a week. I will take some of the yellow, and paint it on the king and queen while they sleep. Tomorrow night, we will use the crimson dye, which will cover the yellow, and appear like blood. After the third ball, you will tell them, Beans, that their lives were in your hands, two nights in a row."

    "How ... how will you gain entrance into the king's bed-chambers?" Beans asked.

    "Oh, I go there all the time," Tina said, "if Silver-Sir goes missing in the night, I have to find him. He often sleeps on the king's bed. Queen Borann commanded that I fetch him before the king wakes; so, before dawn, if Silver-Sir is missing, I go and look. Silver-Sir likes the king; and that's why I don't believe he's an evil man."

    "What do you think about Tina's idea, Captain Justin?" Beans asked.

    "It ... it sounds feasible - and yes, it would bring your case to Conan with great merit, if you were to spare his life when actually you had it in your hands. But ... what if they wake up?"

    "They won't wake," Tina said, with certainty, "they both sleep deeply - they snore really loudly. But we'll have to take care; the guards in the corridor never sleep. But they know who I am and they let me pass..."

    "I'll come with you, Tina; I'll be the one to apply the dye. The guards here will make a distraction."

    "That's how it should be Beans," Tina agreed, "You are the rightful heir...

    "I'll have to change, and then I'll fetch the dye. As you are my brother, Beans, you can come and unlace the back of my dress for me, then wait outside our chamber while I change into my slave's dress."

Chapter 11

    Captain Justin set light to an oily rag, and threw it on a backless velvet sofa, beneath the corridor leading to the king's bedchamber. The rag quickly consumed, and the velvet on the sofa caught fire. Smoke wafted up the carpeted staircase.

     "What's that?" a guard asked sniffing the air, and then answered urgently, "smoke?-it's smoke!"

     The two hurried down the stairs to discover the source of the smoke.

    "Let's fetch a couple of buckets of water; that's all it'll take; don't make a fuss, you know what the king's like if he's wakened. Then we'll carry the thing outside."

***
     Tina crept into the king's bedchamber with Beans following. Loud snores greeted them; the king's were deeper than the queen's who slept in an adjoining room.

     Using a medium-sized paint-brush, and taking care not to spill the dye, Beans painted yellow on the king's hands, both back and front, on his wrists and arms, high on his brow, and finally, around his throat from ear to ear. Tina shivered. This could have been murder.

     Silently they stole to the queen's chamber, and repeated the process. Smiling, Beans dabbed a little on the queen's nose. Swinging her arms as if to brush away an insect, she turned over so suddenly that the dye was knocked from Bean's hand. Bright yellow spilt all over the bed-covers. A little splashed the back of one of Beans' hands.

     Leaving the brush and the pot where it lay on the bed, they crept from the room. Tina gave the small flask of crimson dye to Beans who took it away to hide.

    Tina fell asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.

***

     As the drapes were drawn from the windows, letting bright sunlight in, Queen Borann sat up in bed, preparing to take the tray containing her breakfast.

     The servant with the tray, backed away.

     "What is it?" the queen asked, peeved.

     "Oh, Your Majesty; you're not well. Shall I fetch a doctor?"

     "I'm perfectly all right!"

     "But, no, you're sick, and so is your bed!"

     The queen screamed loudly as she looked at her hands, her arms and her bed.

     The king strode into the queen's chamber.

     "So you've got it too," he said as he picked up the yellow brush and the empty pot.

     "Got what?"

     "I think we were both dyed in the night," he said, then turned to the servant-women, "don't just stand there gawking; fetch the Captain of my guards! And have them bring the guards that were on duty last night! Someone is playing a ridiculous practical joke; or is this the beginning of our end?"

     "What do you mean?" the queen asked, moving across to the bowl of washing water.

     "Don't waste your time, Borann. I tried, but it won't wash off. It's not meant to. We'll have to bear it until it wears off. At least you can put make up on your face."

     "My face?" she screamed, looking at his, "not my face!" She ran to her looking glass and gasped. "Oh no, my nose too! How could this have happened? Bright yellow! Why yellow? Who did it?" Turning to the king she demanded, "Tell me!"

     "Someone wanted to upset us, dear, and they came in the night and put yellow dye on us ... the best thing to do is to behave as if nothing extraordinary has happened.

     "I hope it wasn't one of our visiting princes ... perhaps one of them wants my throne, and they don't want us..." at the same time, the two said together, "Emerald!"

     While Princess Emerald and Tina still slept, a pair of guards quietly entered the chamber to check if the dye-painting person had visited here. They reported to the king, that no dye was to be seen.

     The girls were left to sleep later than usual. When Tina could sleep no more, she went to fetch their breakfast tray.

     A servant-woman came to announce that there was just an hour before the interviews began. To Tina's delight she was told she was to be there, in the interview room, with the princess.

          They were just finishing their breakfast when Abad stalked into the princess's dining room.

     "Show me your hands!" he demanded of Tina. When she extended her hands, he barked, "Turn them over." He strode around the princess's chamber and ordered the same of all the slaves present.

     Tina grew pale, thinking of Beans and the dye that had splashed on his hand.

     When Abed left the room, Emerald said, "I wonder what that was all about."

     Tina dreaded her friend's reaction when she learned the truth and Tina's part in it.

     Tonight they would paint the king and queen red. But, Tina thought, smiling, it's much better than murder!

     The reception hall outside the interview room was buzzing with the deep voices of the princes who hoped they would be chosen by the princess to have the first interview.

     A herald announced, "Prince Kemble, youngest son of the late King of the Kingdom of Kandarmia."

     But Prince Kemble did not step forward.

     "Prince Kemble, youngest son of the late King of the Kingdom of Kandarmia," the herald repeated; then asked, "Is Prince Kemble present?"

     There was no reply, but all the princes looked at each other, and around the reception hall with questioning faces.

     Everything went sour for Princess Emerald after she learned that Prince Kemble had not even bothered to send an apology for his absence.

     The princess, one by one, interviewed fourteen other princes; but Tina knew her friend had lost interest.

     It was with relief that the girls left the interview room to dine before preparing themselves for the second ball.

***

     Again, as the princes entered the ballroom for the second ball, they were introduced. There were three new names, and Princess Emerald tried hard to memorize the new faces.

     "Prince Harold from Holland ... both begin with H's; and he is large and rather square," she said, "and Prince Gustavas from Poland ... his hair is like a gust of wind."

     Tina smiled; this Prince had the longest, straightest hair she had ever seen on a man.

     "But how will I remember Prince ... see that one; the prince from Sweden ..."

     "You mean Prince Halsten?"

     "Yes ... that's his name. The only striking thing about him was that he has cold lips."

     "Cold lips?" Tina asked, trying not to look shocked. "How do you know?"

     "When he kissed my hand ... that's right; he walked right past you."

     "Like so many others have. That's because they think I'm a nobody; and the princes have all come here for you."

     "Except Prince Danton ; look; he's coming over."

     Prince Danton bowed to Tina, asking her if she would honor him with the first dance.

     "It would please me if you danced with Princess Emerald," Tina said, brightly.

     "Then I shall," he said, and asked the princess if he could have the first dance.

     "My father said that he heard, just last night, that it has become fashionable to make one's request through a steward. See that man over there, with the writing tablet? It's him you must ask; and before each dance, I'm to check with him..." Princess Emerald turned to look at the archway at the top of the stairs. She hoped to hear the announcement that Prince Kemble had arrived.

     Four dances passed before Prince Kemble arrived. He strode down the stairs, and every eye was turned to watch him. Tina noticed the lace cuffs of his sleeves were longer than usual, covering the backs of both hands.

     Moving quickly, he drew Princess Emerald on to the floor, leading her into a routine that proclaimed he would remain with her for the whole dance. The orchestra obliged and changed the music to suit.

     Prince Danton danced with Tina, whispering into her ear how much he loved her and that one day, he would marry her. Tina did not reply; she was still adjusting her mind to believing she truly was, in real life, a princess.

     "You shall be a slave no longer," Prince Danton said, "I'm going to buy you from King Conan and I will give you your freedom."

     If only you knew, she mused.

     "We shall be married, you and I, Tina."

     I'm not so sure, Tina said to herself, Everything is topsy-turvy; a slave-friend I have had all my life, is really my brother; and I'm not a slave, but a princess ... what a dangerous position Beans is in ... and so am I ... King Conan will have us killed if he discovers us. Not to imagine what King Zogar is going to do if he ever finds out ...

     "I will love and protect you, all my life," the prince whispered.

     I have someone Who has promised to do that; but for all eternity, Tina thought, remembering her faith in God.

     "How old are you, Tina?" the prince asked, bringing Tina's thoughts back to him.

     "Fourteen," she replied.

     "I thought you were at least fifteen," he said, his voice disappointed.

     "Does it make a difference?" she asked.

     "My brother, who is king, will not allow us to marry until you are sixteen."

     My brother may not let us marry at all ... Beans is really king of Armokand ... I wonder why he calls himself the youngest son of the late king of Kandarmia? Where is Kandarmia?

     Tina and Emerald found themselves standing together at the buffet-supper that night, but Tina's eyes stayed on Prince Danton, while Emerald had eyes only for Prince Kemble.

     "He wants to marry me," Emerald said, "and I want to marry him. I wonder where his kingdom is? Kandarmia. It sounds exotic. He told me that his parents had ten children; seven boys and three girls." She giggled and continued, "With six brothers, ahead of him, Kemble will never sit on his father's throne. I would be most happy for him to sit on ours. He's very wise too; he counts all his words."

     Tina's eyes were upon Prince Danton. Like her brother, he selected the raw vegetables and fresh fruit portions.

     "Prince Danton is in love with YOU, Tina. What will Beans say?" Emerald's eyes clouded, and she admitted, "I like Prince Kemble even more than I liked Beans; I feel sad for Beans, he won't have either of us..."

     Tina did not reply, but continued with her private thoughts, Beans already has me ... as his sister ... and I can see that he's quite determined to gain back what really is his ... I must support him all I can, and we must both pray. I'd like to ask him about my brothers and sisters; I don't remember anything about them. Ten years ago ... I was only four ...

     Tina had an opportunity to speak with her brother - while Emerald danced with those on the steward's list, Tina was snatched away by Prince Kemble.

     "Tell me about our brothers and sisters," Tina asked, feeling breathless. It was well past midnight.

     "What do you want to know?"

     "Their names; what they looked like; and our parents; what were they like?"

     "It would take us all night; ask something else."

     "How ... how did they die?"

     Kemble almost stumbled in his step. "Mercifully, it was quick," he muttered, guiding her to the side of the dance floor. "And you slept through it all.

     "When Princess Emerald is asleep, meet us in the Alcove."

     He strode away from her. She felt he was displeased, or was he angry?

     He's not angry with me, but with the murderers who took our family away. I can't remember any of my family, and I have nothing to commemorate them by ... I don't remember my mother or father ... they were king and queen ... a tear slipped down her cheek and she wished she could leave. But Prince Danton hurried to her side and she found herself dancing again with him. He was silent, and she was thankful. Feeling more relaxed, she realised how safe she felt with this prince ... the same way she felt when she was with Beans.

     Prince Kemble strode to the dais where King Conan and Queen Borann had sat, unmoving, all evening. They had not even risen for supper, but trays of food had been taken to them for their selection.

     Both wore gloves that had not been removed all evening, even to eat, and the queen's heavy make-up made her look as if she wore a mask. A rebel hint of yellow showed on the tip of her long nose. Beneath the king's crown, a yellow tinge had been masked with an application of flesh-colored cream and finishing powder.

     "May I speak with Your Majesty?" Prince Kemble asked.

     "Speak," the king allowed.

     "I want it to be known, I wish to marry your daughter, Princess Emerald. I shall reign with her in Armokand."

     "You shall, shall you?" the king asked, amused. "Tell us, Prince Kemble; where is Kandarmia? Is it far from here?"

     "It's very close, Your Majesty. If you find a map that is over nine years old, you will see it very plainly." He stepped backward and bowed, saying, "I bid you good night!"

     Before either the king or queen could speak, Prince Kemble strode away. They watched him as he crossed the ballroom floor and went up the wide stairway, disappearing through the archway.

     "Kandarmia? It sounds familiar," Queen Borann said.

     "I've heard of it too; can't think where on earth it is though," the king said, frowning. "We'll look at a map, first thing in the morning."

Chapter 12

    Tina asked Emerald to help her out of the ball-gown and changed into her slave's costume, before praying with the princess and making sure she was asleep.

    She entered the Garden Alcove. By the murmur of voices and the dim light, she knew that others were there ahead of her.

    More than 50 guards crowded the area, and Tina felt worried. Someone could tell the king what was happening under his very nose. It would be worth a great reward to report 'Prince Kemble' to the king.

    But Tina's brother was not worried at all. Just as Tina entered the Alcove, he asked everyone to kneel and pray for God's protection on their venture to gain his kingdom back without bloodshed.

***
    Tina, followed by Beans, walked around the corner and along the corridor to the entrance to the king's quarters. Instead of 2 guards, there were 6. It was as Captain Justin said, the king had trebled the guard. Both Beans and Tina smiled, but from nervousness.

    The six guards turned to look at the pair. Captain Justin opened the door. These men were all loyal to Prince Kemble.

    It was just after three in the morning.

    Tina and Beans waited, listening to hear whether there was a duet of snores or just a solo. There was only a solo snore. The deep snore came from the king's bedchamber. As arranged, Tina walked to the queen's door and looked in. The bed was empty; it had not been slept in.

    Tina looked across at Beans who stood by the archway into the king's bedchamber. He beckoned to her and she tiptoed to him.

    Queen Borann was sleeping beside her husband, in the king's large 4-poster bed. Tina smiled, relieved. The queen was fast asleep, lying on her side.

    Beans made a more thorough job of painting the king and the queen with the dye. Crimson covered their whole faces and all around their necks. Taking his time, he painted their hands and arms. Carefully lifting the bed-cover from the bottom, he painted their legs and then poured the rest over their feet, saving just a little in the bottom of the flask. The red color seeped into the bedclothes.

    To Tina's horror, Silver-Sir leapt up on the bed. "Shoo," she said softly, waving her hand at him. He ran across the bottom of the bed and leapt off. As he walked away, he left a trail of red paw-prints.

    "Here, here," Tina called, following him, snatching him up into her arms.

    They crept from the king's bedchamber, breathing a sigh of relief that the royal pair had not awakened.

    Taking the gray cat from Tina's arms, Beans said, "I want you to fetch the ball-gown you're to wear tomorrow night, and I want you to bring it to the Garden Alcove."

    "Now?" Tina asked. She felt so weary, she was faint.

    "Now."

    When Tina arrived in the Alcove, carrying her dress, Captain Justin drew her along to the far end. To her surprise, a section of the inner wall was open, like a door. She stepped into a brilliantly lit chamber, and the captain pressed a knob. The wall slid closed.

    "Go down those steps. Your brother waits for you."

    As in a dream, Tina obeyed. A strange sensation flooded her; she had been in this chamber before. It was a memory from years past. She stepped down into an amazing room filled with open treasure-chests.

    Beans took the dress from her and hung it on a wooden fixture upon which were the clothes he had been wearing to the balls.

    "This is where I hid with you, over ten years ago, while our parents and brothers and sisters were taken from the palace and killed."

    "Did they not know two were missing?" Tina asked.

    "They also took every man, woman and child over the age of 10," Beans said. "They must have believed that all were accounted for. When Zogar and his army returned, you were with the remaining children and me; we were dressed as slaves, No one guessed who we were; they believed we were slave children.

    "It ... it was dreadful; chaotic. It ... it was then that I decided, one day, to kill anyone who sat on my father's throne, and those who had murdered our parents. I believed that would avenge their deaths."

    "But God has shown us a better way," Tina said.

    "Yes," Beans agreed, "I'm praying that we do what God wants us to do." Taking the pot of crimson dye and the brush, he said, "Hold out your hands, Tina."

    Beans painted Tina's palms with the dye.

    "Hold them near the flame of the candle to dry," he urged. She obeyed.

    "Now, I want you to paint mine."

    When Bean's palms were dry, he led her to a curtain near the wall. Behind the curtain was a thick mattress covered with a thin bed-cover, made up on a stone ledge.

    "Go to sleep, my dear sister, and sleep as long as you can. You'll not leave here as a slave. You'll go to the ball tomorrow night, as a princess ... Princess Anthea."

Chapter 13

    Tina woke, wondering where she was. The truth washed over to her. This is the secret room. Beans is my brother, a prince-Prince Kemble! I am a princess.

     She sat on the edge of the stone bed. Drawing the curtain back, she saw Beans across the other side of the dim room. Kneeling beside a large closed chest, he was praying. She waited, but still Beans prayed.

     Lying down on the mattress again, Tina fell asleep. Silver-Sir slept at her feet.

***
     Two servant women, bearing breakfast trays, entered the king's bedchamber, placed the trays on a sideboard and opened the drapes, pushing the shutters wide. Sunshine streamed in the large palace window. Turning, they approached the royal bed. It was their duty to wake the royal pair.

     Together the servant women screamed. At the foot of the bed, entangled in the bedclothes, crimson red spoke of the presence of blood.

     Queen Borann and King Conan, shocked out of their sleep by the screams, woke at the same time. Sitting up together to see where the screaming was coming from, their blood-red faces caused the two women to scream louder. One fled from the chamber, while the other fell to her knees, crying.

     The king and queen stared at each other; together they responded; the queen screamed and the king yelled. They jumped out of their respective sides of the bed and rushed to the large oval looking glass, peering in, shouting, looking at each other and exclaiming their shock.

     Six guards rushed in and stared at the royal pair, dressed in their night attire, with what appeared to be blood on their faces, their hands, their feet, legs and arms.

     "We've been dyed again!" the queen cried.

     "I thought you had both been killed; I thought you were both dead!" cried the servant woman, still kneeling. She had received a dreadful shock.      The six guards stared at their monarchs. Before he could stop himself, Captain Justin, who had been on duty all night, began to laugh. Soon all six men were laughing. In spite of her tears, the kneeling servant began to laugh. The king, looking at his wife, started to chuckle; soon he could not stop and he fell into uncontrolled mirth.

     "Stop it, oh, stop it!" the queen cried, "we could be dead! We could be dead, and you are laughing!"

     "That's just it!" the king said, through his chortles, "we're not dead; we're alive; why should we not laugh?"

     "But the ball tonight; what shall we do?"

     "I'll think of something, my dear; we shall not go down in tears; we shall not!"

     The paw-prints caught the king's eyes, which followed the short track from the bed to end on the marble floor.

     Turning to Captain Justin, who was still smiling, the king spoke with dire warning, "Find that cat! That fluffed up thing that belongs to my daughter! You must discover who did this, Captain; you have until noon, and after that, heads will roll! Yours will be the first; you allowed that prankster to enter our bed-chamber; you shall be the first to pay, followed by these five; you have until noon!"

***
     Captain Justin joined Beans and Tina in the secret room, telling them all about the scene in the king's bedchamber. He laughed until he cried.

     "You must stay here with us," Tina said. She did not find the matter in the least funny. If King Conan kept his word, he would command the captain's death.

     "Don't fear, Princess Anthea, the king cannot have me executed; every man in the king's army is on Prince Kemble's side. Even the slave-master, Abad, said he supports us."

     "Abad?" Tina asked, fearfully. She imagined Abad, of all people, to be a traitor.

     "Abad has much more to gain by joining Prince Kemble," Captain Justin said, "Abad is a slave himself, although he is master - he has been offered his freedom."

     "Today, I'm meeting with King Conan's lawyers, scribes and advisers to lay before them, my claim to the throne ..." Beans began.

     "Oh, Beans; is that wise?" Tina asked, "Won't they go and warn the king?"

     "I'm trusting God. I have prayed all night, and believe it's right ..."

     "I'll pray too, Beans, all day," Tina said earnestly, knowing that she had not prayed enough.

     "You shall not call me Beans again, Anthea; you shall, from this moment on, call me, Kemble." Stepping over to a chest, he lifted the lid and drew out a tiara of diamonds and sapphires. "This is the tiara that the eldest princess wore; your sister, Margaret. You shall wear it to the ball tonight, with its matching necklace."

***
     Princess Emerald turned over in bed, wondering why Tina had not brought her breakfast. She had awakened three times and had gone back into a doze. Where was her breakfast tray? She felt very thirsty.

     "Tina?" there was no reply. Tina was not to be found; and no one could tell her when she had last been seen.

     "It's my sixteenth birthday today. Where's Tina? I have to choose a husband. I can't manage without Tina!"

     Princess Emerald was devastated by the absence of her slave-girl. She went to the interview room with a heavy heart and tearstains on her cheeks.

Chapter 14

    "The ball will go on!" the king declared. "We shall order a costume party, and I'll wear a mask. You, my dear, can wear a veil."

    Both the king and the queen had used every soap preparation on the stains on their hands and faces, but still the crimson dye remained, making their skin look like blood. Then an old woman, sure that she had the 'cure,' brought an oil preparation that she rubbed into the dyed skin, and the brightness of the dye increased.

    "Thorry, y'majithteeth; but it'll thade in time, y' know - a week or tho and it'll thade. Nothin' c'n thtay on the thkin f'rever, 'y know." The old lady smiled, showing her toothless gums.

     "Out! Out!" the queen yelled. All this had taken so much time; it was almost noon.

     "Command everyone to wear dress-up costumes!" the king said; "I'll wear a mask, as will our court; and we'll find a pretty one for you, dear, as well as the veil; and one for Emerald."

     "Ohhh!" the queen burst into tears.

     "Think, my dear; use your imagination; we could go as anything..."

     "But I have my gown for tonight; it will take me a week to find something else."

     "You don't have a week. Look!" and he wrapped the bed-cover around himself. Snatching up a linen towel, he made a head covering and said, "I'm an Arabian Sheik!"

     "Yes, with blood-stains all over you!" she said, again bursting into tears, "You should go as Caesar - after he was murdered!"

     In the haste to choose costumes and have fittings, the king forgot his threat to Captain Justin. The urgency of the changes for the third ball took everyone's attention. Both the king and the queen had forgotten it was their daughter's sixteenth birthday!

     The king had also forgotten to look up the kingdom of Kandarmia on a map. Just whom the princess would marry, was not a primary matter right now.

     All they could think of was the stain on their hands, their faces and their necks.

     Both the king and queen had one thing in mind, to get this third ball over and have everything return to normal.

***

     It was time for the ball to begin.

     The king and queen, both wearing masks, ascended the dais to sit on their throne-like chairs.

     The king, wearing a straight black wig, was dressed as an Egyptian Pharaoh. Around his eyes was a brown mask, and his face had been colored dark brown to match. However, the red showed through, making his skin reddish-brown in color. On his head, he wore the crown he always wore. Zogar had given it to him.

     The queen was dressed as Cleopatra, and wore a piece of fine net fixed beneath her coronet on her black wig and right down to the top of the Egyptian-style dress that had been sewn together in great haste. Under the veil she wore a mask. The queen was not going to allow anyone to see her bright red face!

     The court and guests, dressed in diverse silks, satins, costumes and masks, took their places in the ballroom.

     Princess Emerald was announced. She wore a dazzling pinkish-white gown, with delicate pale-blue wings at her back, and a silver-gray wig of glowing ringlets crowning her head. It was obvious that she was an angel, although her face was sad; she struggled to prevent tears from flowing.

     No one had any news of Tina. The last-moment search and choice of a costume had not taken Emerald's mind off her slave's disappearance, and she was extremely anxious.

     Not a person in the palace could give her a sensible answer when she asked about Tina. Even Abad had replied, "Tina? Who's Tina?"

     The princes entered the ballroom, one by one, all wearing costumes and masks. Emerald listened to the herald, waiting for Prince Kemble to be announced but the announcement did not come.

     The ball began, and the king and queen stepped down to dance together, leading the way.

     Emerald could not see the steward who was supposed to list her partners; then she found herself drawn into the waltz by a prince she could not recognize. He was dressed as a clown and on his painted face, he wore a huge cherry-colored nose.

     "Do you know where Lady Tina is?" he asked.

     "Prince Danton? You came as a clown?"

     "I've always wanted to play the clown, Princess Emerald, but I've never been allowed."

     "I know what you mean," she said, then, "Tina? ... I'm not even sure if she's coming tonight. Everything has been so strange, all day."

     "I noticed there was much ... anticipation ... in the palace today," he began.

     "My father and mother wouldn't let me in their room; all the secrecy; I don't understand. They're wearing Egyptian costumes. I wasn't allowed in; and they didn't move from their quarters. Father was supposed to speak with me about my choice of a husband."

     "You've made a choice?"

     "I ... I really like Prince Kemble," Emerald said, then wondered why she was confiding in this prince. "You seem very interested in Tina ..."

     "Would you mind my asking ... is Tina a slave?"

     "I ... yes ... but she has been my closest friend, for as long as I can remember ... that is, since I came to Armokand with my parents..."

     "I do like Tina ... very much. I intend to buy her from your father. No price would be too great."

     "You want her ... as a slave?"

     "No, I'll give her freedom; but I'm hoping she loves me, and will stay with me ... I read a quotation once; it said, 'If you love someone, set them free; if they stay, they belong; if they leave, they never were yours'."

     "Oh ... that's lovely," Emerald said, thinking of Tina.

Chapter 15

     Princess Emerald and Prince Danton stood together, selecting food from the amazing assortment upon the groaning tables.

     The prince chose only raw vegetables and fresh fruit; while the princess selected the lovely pastries loaded with custard and cream, the sweetmeats and rich cakes.

     King Conan and Queen Borann had tired of the ball. The wonderful festival had turned sour for them. Each prince at the ball seemed to have guilt engraved on his face; they imagined every eligible young man somehow bribing the guards and creeping into their bedchamber in the night to paint them with blood-colored dye.

     Supper was over, and another dance began. The king noticed his daughter danced with Prince Danton again. He sat forward in his chair. Where was the slave-girl?

     "Where is that girl ... Tina?" he asked.

     "Tina?" the queen replied, her eyes then roving the ballroom. "Is she not here? No, I've not seen her."

     Then came the announcement: "Prince Kemble; youngest son of the late king of Kandarmia. "Kandarmia?" the king repeated, alarmed ... "Isn't that…?" and, looking at each other, both said together, "ARMOKAND!"

     Prince Kemble descended the stairs like a king; except, instead of wearing the crown on his head, he carried it in hands that were crimson red!

     Both King Conan and Queen Borann stood.

     Prince Kemble stopped at the bottom of the stairs, pivoted on his heels and looked upward.

     Everyone in the ball-room turned and stood still, looking up at the figure at the top of the stairs, dressed in a beautiful gown of glistening white satin, embroidered with metallic threads of silver, gold, pink and blue. On her head was a brilliant tiara of diamonds and sapphires. Around her neck, she wore a matching necklace.

     Tina looked so very beautiful, everyone wondered if she were real.

     "Princess Anthea, youngest princess of the late king of Kandarmia," the herald announced.

     Tina began the long walk down the stairs.

     "It's Tina!" Princess Emerald exclaimed, "how ... how can they say ... she is Princess Anthea? Oh, I know ... it must be ... part of the costume ball..."

     Tina carried a magnificent crown, counterpart to the one worn by Prince Kemble. People murmured; the beautiful princess had bright red hands!

     Silver-Sir followed Tina down the stairs. He sat at the bottom, licking his bright red paws.

     Placing her hand on her brother's arm, Tina walked with him, across the ballroom floor to the dais. She curtsied low, while her brother bowed.

     The king's counselors, his lawyers and his scribes, followed them, forming a semi-circle behind.

     Captain Justin strode close to the king's throne, and his most loyal men stood with him. The air was charged with an electric feeling of anticipation. What was going to happen next?

     King Conan's eyes circled the ballroom walls. His own royal guards, moved to stand shoulder to shoulder around the large chamber.

     It dawned on the king; he was going to die; and his wife; he was sure of it!

     "You ... you ... your hands...?" the queen stammered. It was still a mystery to her.

     "You are Prince Kemble ...youngest son of King William - of Kandarmia?" the king asked.

     "I am," he replied in his deep voice.

     "And you are Princess Anthea, youngest daughter of King William?" he asked.

     "Prince Kemble says so," she replied, "I was only very young, you see..."

     "And you both escaped Zogar?" he asked.

     "It's impossible!" the queen cried, falling back into her chair. "Fan me..." she commanded faintly, signaling to the women attendants.

     "What are you going to do, Prince Kemble?" the king asked, "You have had us in your hands, two nights in a row; and here we are..." his eyes moved to the many guards, their hands upon their sword hilts.

     Kemble lifted the crown above his head, saying in a loud voice; "This is the crown of the king of the Kingdom of Kandarmia, which was renamed 'Armokand' - ten years ago. I claim this crown, as rightful heir."

     Nodding to his sister, Kemble said, "My sister, Princess Anthea, holds the queen's crown. It was last worn by Queen Charlotte of Kandarmia, now known as Armokand," he smiled and spoke directly to King Conan, "If King Conan, retiring king of Armokand would descend and crown me, then I shall in turn, crown his daughter, Queen Emerald."

     The king looked so astounded that Tina thought he might faint.

     "With King Conan's permission, I shall marry Queen Emerald tomorrow. Together we shall rule Armokand. You shall be the proud grandparents of our children."

     Turning to take his wife's hand, King Conan drew Queen Borann down the five dais steps to Prince Kemble. Taking the crown in his hands, he held it up and said, "Prince Kemble, by the powers that were invested in me by Zogar, King of Gar, and at your own invitation tonight, I hereby crown you King of all Armokand." Reaching up, he placed the crown on Kemble's head.

     A great cheer sounded out, and everyone joined in. The applause lasted a full five minutes.

     Queen Borann knelt before the new king and took his hands in her own. Looking up at him, she asked, "You had the power of death over us, why did you not use it?"

     "Human life is too precious," Kemble said, drawing her to her feet, "I believe in the Living God, Who is the Author of Life. And ... I want our new Queen, Emerald, to be happy. She loves you, and, with her help, I will come to love you too."

     To everyone's surprise, Queen Borann burst into tears, and hugged Kemble, kissing him on both cheeks.

     Princess Emerald stepped to Tina, saying, "I always knew you were very special."

     Then Kemble stood between them, taking the crown from Tina, commanding, "Kneel, Princess Emerald." After she obeyed, he placed the queen's crown on her head, saying, "Rise, Queen Emerald. Tomorrow, you shall be my wife."

     Deafening cheers rang out as Queen Emerald stood and the new King, Kemble, kissed her.

    Then, a young clown pushed his way forward. Pulling off his red nose, he did not hug Princess Anthea, but kissed her.

The end - of this part of the story.

Tomorrow, the wedding takes place.

Tomorrow, Zogar and his army arrive at the palace.

Read the next book, if you dare ...


Back to Theatre Entrance