To Live and Love

"His Majesty has taken ill. None may see him," one of the two footmen intoned routinely.

"I know he is ill. Which is why we must see him before it's too late." The speaker was a lady in her late forties. Her black hair and high cheek bones were the only similarities between her and the man standing patiently beside her. The man, who was in his twenties, rolled his eyes at the footman's boring figure.

"Look, call the King's secretary, Stephen Dean – unless he's retired or something – to let us in. I have to speak to the King before anything happens."

The young footman was growing impatient at the lady's insistence. "See here, ma'am, we can't allow anyone and everyone into the Palace. Please leave immediately or I will have to follow procedure."

Lennan Winston shook his head amusedly as he drawled, "Good God, man. All Mama wants is for you to tell Mr. Dean that we're here. Actually, just mention Mama's name, will you? It won't hurt."

The footman humped. "Fine. And if Mr. Dean doesn't acknowledge you, I won't be so kind either. Your name, ma'am?"

"Orla, Orla Winston."

"If you'll wait here, sir, ma'am." Giving a curt nod, the footman went to the internal telephone, leaving the other, up-till-now silent, footman looking over them.

Five minutes later, he came back, all traces of irritation replaced by humility. "Mr. Dean will be with you shortly. If you'll follow me to the reception area?" Lennan smiled as he bit back his "See? That wasn't too hard, was it?"

Stephen Dean appeared promptly five minutes later (and the footman melted away). Orla smiled as she gave him her hand. "Never a moment late, as always, Stephen."

Stephen bowed over her hand. "It's the only way with my duty, Orla, or William will have my head." They both laugh reminiscently. Stephen noticed Lennan beside his old friend and arched a brow inquiringly. Orla deftly made the introductions.

"My son, Lennan."

"Good to meet you at last, Mr. Dean. My Mama is always full of tales about you," Lennan said sincerely, smiling at his new acquaintance.

Stephen smiled back. If he noticed the shade of Lennan's eyes and the features in Lennan's face, he made no mention of it. "Call me Stephen, and I do hope that your telling me that doesn't give me reasons to be cautious." All three of them grinned. "Now, Orla, is there anything I can help you about?"

"Yes… I need to see William. Could you… I don't know. Is he able to receive visitors?"

Stephen's face clouded quickly. "I wish I could say yes. His Majesty's condition is… almost past hoping. And if it's you…" He considered quickly. "I don't know if…"

"Please, Stephen. Just this once. He needs to… I need to tell him something. Something important."

He glanced at Lennan briefly, then sighed deeply. "Very well. I'll see what I can do. Come."

He led them down corridor after corridor, some which were familiar to Orla, some which were not. Finally, outside a huge oak door, he halted. "Wait here. I'll announce you, and we'll see."

Orla and Lennan waited. An instant later, a young man, perhaps a few months younger than Lennan, stepped out of the room and, without noticing either Orla or Lennan, sweep down the corridor and out of sight. They were so consumed in the young man's appearance and disappearance that they didn't see Stephen walk out of the same room until he spoke, "He'll see you both." Lennan couldn't put his finger down on Stephen's expression, but Orla gave him a quick smile before striding into the room with Lennan at her heels.

It was a magnificent bedchamber, fit for a king. Yet Orla's attentions were only for the one lying in the bed, ill. "William…" she whispered, sinking into the chair beside his bed and taking his hand in hers. The man in his mid fifties smiled weakly.

"Orla. Finally. It's been twenty years. I was beginning to think that you have forgotten me."

Lennan took his place behind his mother as she shook her head, answering, "How can I possibly forget you? I thought about you every day in the last twenty years."

After a slight pause, William said regretfully, "I'm sorry we could not be." Orla smiled sadly and said softly, "I am too."

Another awkward pause ensued. Or rather, Lennan felt awkward, for his parents were clearly comfortable to stare in each other's eyes and say nothing. He wanted to edge towards the door, but he knew his mother needed him here for a reason, and so he stayed.

"I still love you, Orla… do you?"

Lennan shifted uncomfortably.

"How can I not? You were – are – my only. You know that. I have never loved anyone halfway. There has ever only been you and Lennan in my life," Orla replied, remembering her son for the first time since she saw William again.

William felt a stab of jealousy. Even after the passage of so many years, he still was extremely possessive of Orla. She was his, no matter what. But he couldn't expect her not to marry if he did, for all that she said he was her only. Just like she was his only. "Lennan. Stephen mentioned something about that. Your… husband, is it? As far as I know, you have no brothers."

Lennan stepped forward, catching William's eye for the first time. "No… Papa. I'm yours as much as Mama's."

At this, William's eyes flew wide. He scrutinised Lennan's face carefully, finally seeing himself in the young man. In fact, it was strange that no one, bar perhaps Stephen, noticed the likeness between father and son. Perhaps, at first sight, it was difficult to see the similarities, but if they stood side by side, it was hard not to see the likeness.

"Lennan… my son?" William finally choked out. He turned to Orla with a tortured look. "You never told me… you were pregnant…"

"I didn't want you to be faced with the choice," she said gently yet sadly. "You knew how it was. Your family was so against me because of my lineage, because I am not one of them, but mostly because they knew, too, that your people would never accept me, an outsider, as queen. And I was so independent, so protective of my freedom. I couldn't force myself to conform to royal behaviour, let alone being harassed by the media." Orla took a deep breath, fighting to keep her tears back as they both remembered their past as if it were only yesterday. "You would have to give up your throne if you wanted to marry me, and I know I could never ask it of you to abdicate. I saw it in your eyes when you spoke of your kingdom. I couldn't bring myself to destroy that dream."

"So that's why you didn't tell me about our son when we made our decision." William closed his eyes painfully as he recalled that fateful meeting. He had loved her, more than anything, more than anyone, yet they both released each other, knowing that there was something more important than their love: William's honour to fulfil his duty as king. And part of his duty was to marry and procure an heir, so he married the woman his family appointed and welcomed with open arms. Yet he never stopped loving his beloved princess.

"But… over the years… why didn't you…"

Orla squeezed his hand, understanding his question. "You were married, with a son. I grew up in a loveless marriage, as you know. My parents hated each other, even without any external factors causing that hate. I didn't want to sabotage your marriage. I didn't want anyone going through the same thing I had. If anyone knew we had a child…" All of them knew what would happen. There'd be a scandal on a major scale, most probably ending in a messy royal divorce. And Lennan was so recognisable as William's if people looked hard enough that, if he had appeared, all hell would break lose.

"I wanted to convince myself that you've moved on, that you loved Amelia as you once loved me. So I kept quiet. I didn't want to hurt you. I thought that if she was what it took to make you and your family happy, then I would be happy too, knowing that you are cared for, and not always torn in two."

William stared into her brown eyes. "Orla, you know very well that Amelia, bless her departed soul, has only been a friend to me. She was never what you are to me, and she knew it too. But you were right. You did what you had to." He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "I don't blame you any more than I blame myself for what has happened. It's all in the past now, and nothing can change it, can it?" They had always understood each other.

"Now, Lennan, my son, let me see how well your dear Mama has taught you," he said, a rare twinkle lighting his tired eyes.

"Yes, Papa," Lennan replied dutifully. "When I was young, Mama always told me that she loved Papa, though she couldn't marry him. I never learnt why until I grew jealous of the other students at school, most of them who had fathers to look up to. Then Mama told me that although Papa couldn't be with us, she knew that he would love us in a special part of him. Better than those fathers who only thought of themselves, or those who didn't really love their children at all, but only thought they did. Often, when I had tantrums or is sad, Mama would entertain me with tales of her and Papa when they were together. They were my lullabies, my night time stories. I loved them. So I learnt to forgive Papa for his absence."

William smiled delightfully as he listened to his son, who spoke without a hint of resentment or, indeed, indifference. It was clear that Orla's love for him had infected their son as well, his angel.

"Then, as I grew older and understood more about the world, Mama started telling me the whole truth, bit by bit. Every time she spoke of Papa, her face glowed and her eyes shone in the most beautiful manner. She told me that, although I'm a love child, I shouldn't be ashamed of myself, because I was born of love, which is the best reason in the world. That she envied me, and often wished she was born so, instead of having grandpa shout at grandma ever so often, and in front of her too. Mama loved Papa, and if she couldn't marry him, she wouldn't accept second best, ever. And she said the reason why she couldn't tell me who my Papa is was because if I accidentally told anyone, someone might try kidnapping me or blackmailing Papa, which would sure as anything destroy Papa's reputation. No matter what happens, Papa loves me, and always will."

So saying, Lennan planted a kiss on his father's forehead, showing him that he, in turn, would always love him too. Smiling broadly now, William turned to Orla.

"I believe, my dear, that you have finally found someone to compete my affections with, because I do love our son very much. I'm sorry, Lennan," he turned back to speak to his son, "that I couldn't be with you in your childhood or youth."

"It's all right, Papa. I understand." Quiet understanding, quiet empathy.

"Amelia… she was also a victim of the horrible social circles. It is all a façade. I can't stand it anymore. You were right, Orla. I was happy with doing my duty. It was all I had left after you were gone, but it isn't enough any longer. I want a life… with you. And Lennan. I wish I could love James as much, but we have never been particularly close. Now he's close to attaining his majority…" His grip on Orla's hand tightened, as if coming to a decision. "Orla, I…"

But he never got to finish his sentence, for a strong knock on the door heralded Stephen back into the room.

"Your apologies, King William, but the royal physician's here for his routine inspection." He pulled a face. "Are you disposable?"

"It makes no difference, does it Stephen? He'll come in and poke at me anyway. And for God's sake, lay off the title when you're talking to me, will you?"

Hiding her laugh, Orla stood and kissed William, something she had not done but dreamt of doing for the past twenty years. "We'll be outside, William. I love you." Lennan kissed his father's forehead again, echoing his mother as he said, "I love you, too, Papa."

The royal physician, Gerald, was one who recognised Orla from twenty years past.

"Ah, how good to see you again, Miss Winston… or is it missus something?" he asked politely when Orla and Lennan exited the royal bedchamber.

"Just Miss Winston, Gerald, and nice to meet you too," Orla returned equally politely. Gerald nodded, but was fingering his bag nervously. "Anything amiss, Gerald?"

"No, Miss Winston. That is, it's time for His Majesty's check-up. If you'll… ah… wait here…"

Orla knew the man wasn't nervous without reason. Doctors weren't usually nervous unless there was something seriously wrong. "What is it, Gerald? Tell me."

"It's just… I don't know how long His Majesty will still… that is… he's been ill for a long time, ever since you left him, Miss Winston… But it's culminated only recently, and I'm afraid… what with Queen Amelia's death and all…"

Orla paled slightly. Lennan, sensing his mother's tumultuous feelings, quickly interjected, "Well, my good man, please tell us how His Majesty is faring after you've checked him. Maybe… he could still…"

Gerald shook his head. "I've been hoping for that for ages, lad. Yet it kept getting worse. Not blaming you in the least, Miss Winston, but my skills don't extend to curing heartaches. If you'll both excuse me…"

He slipped into the room as Stephen came out of it, having stayed in for some orders from William.

"Well, we can't do anything but hope for the best. He's got Prince James all set to go anyway. If he doesn't make it…"

"Stephen, please…" Lennan muttered quietly as he watched his mother's face cloud with worry. "Mama's upset already as it is."

"Sorry," Stephen muttered back. They were silent for a moment as Stephen regarded Orla. Then he told Lennan, "William really did love your mother deeply, as she did him. More than anyone, and I've been his secretary way before he met your mother. I've seen him infatuated with other girls before, but Orla was the only woman he cared for deeply." He shrugged. "Pity society doesn't look kindly on women who know what they want. Especially not when she is of another nationality and background. And Orla is too independent to be shackled into a position she could barely breathe in."

"I know. Regardless of whatever that's happened, she never stopped loving Papa. She speaks of him everyday. I should know. Once or twice, I even wondered if I should be jealous of Papa, because he could claim her devotion even without being physically there."

Both men grinned, but quickly sobered as they thought of the gravity of the situation at hand. They were spared any further thoughts as the door creaked open again. Orla was on her feet before either man realised.

The doctor exited the chamber wearing a broad grin, one he had not, so far, worn every time he quitted the room. His nervousness was gone as he announced to Orla and Lennan:

"He lives."

Finis –