The year of 1523

The Kingdom of Joplin

Chapter 1

The rain thundered against the tin roof of the castle, and the stained-glass window in Desiree's room loomed darkly against the pattern of thunderclouds outside. She sighed and continued to stitch crisscross patterns on the white baby outfit in her hands. The needle stabbed her viciously in the finger, though, and a red drop of blood appeared on the very sleeve of the article of clothing. Angry, she tossed the outfit onto the little table and just rocked in her chair.

So much haunted her mind lately! Her sister, Monica, had wedded a Prince, and now she would be Queen! Above all, she was happily pregnant with what was told by the psychics as a girl. It was too much, even for her, knowing how Monica always managed to look better, sing better, and do everything else better then her.

The soft squeaking of the rocking chair was a soothing sound, reminding her of how her Mother had rocked with her on it. Now he Mother was dead, and her Father, the King of Joplin, would surely marry another woman so that he could have a male child, the perfect successor to the throne. If not, he would force Desiree to marry a wealthy man and have this man become King, with Desiree the Queen at his side.

How Desiree despised the idea of marrying! If it wasn't enough that Monica had to make her look worse, her father wanted her to marry someone... someone who could have easily been twice her age! She wondered which was worse, having her father dishonor her mother and marry another woman, or having her father force her into marriage.

Desiree slowly picked up the baby outfit, feeling a bit upset with how she had taken out her anger on Monica's baby's undergarments, and tried to stitch a little pink rose over the drop of blood.

It was a custom, if a woman was pregnant, for her sister to make the first outfit the child would wear. It had to be a grand outfit, perfect and studded with jewels if possible. Desiree had gone through twelve yards of material and many discarded outfits before she had finally created something that looked all right. The outfit was of a very soft, white material, and she had made a lovely crisscross pattern around each sleeve and the collar. She tried to match the yarns she had used, with the pattern being four golden crosses, then four crimson crosses. She now had to add a little pink rose on each sleeve, as well.

Just as she finished the rose, the door to her chamber opened and she saw a man's shape in the doorway. She stood up immediately.

" Sorry to startle you, Desiree. It's just me, Blake." The man's shape moved in, and the soft features of her good friend Blake caught the light. Blake was very handsome, with rich brown hair that fell loosely over his forehead and then hung in strands from his neck, reaching about two centimeters below his earlobes. He smiled and added: " I thought I'd bring you some more candles, since it's quite hard to stitch in the dark."

Desiree smiled gratefully, for she could barely see in the flickering light of the lighted candle-lamp hanging from her wall. The candle in the lamp had melted down into barely a stump, with the wick sticking out awkwardly.

" Thank you." She managed to say, as Blake placed three more candles into the other lamps in her room. Soon the room had a warm glow to it.

" You're quite welcome." Blake looked at the garments in Desiree's hands, and sighed. " Still stitching those baby clothes, right?"

" Monica expects the finest clothing. But I'm sure she will discard the outfit the second her child dirties it. Everyone knows how unhandy I am with a needle." Desiree replied, showing Blake the garments. Indeed, the stitches were messy and some were larger then the others, and the rose she had stitched resembled more of a chamber pot. He only laughed and said:

" Don't worry. Whatever you create, I'm sure Monica will appreciate."

" I hope so. Is there any news as of Father's... decision?" Desiree looked down at the floor as she said this, knowing that Blake knew very well what she had meant: whether her Father would marry, or whether Desiree would be forced to marry.

" There's only so much that I can know. I'm only the stable hand, after all. It's a miracle that they let me help in the castle today, since there's little I can do with the horses with this weather, Princess." Blake looked at his hands as he said this.

" Oh, but you must know something! I can tell by your actions!" Desiree walked closer to Blake, and she noticed his cheek was scratched. She knew right away what had happened, without needing to ask. Blake had been rebuilding part of the stables himself, since he was the main caretaker of Desiree's beautiful imperial horse, and he wanted the horse to have the coziest segment of the stable to himself. But lately, the only results that came from Blake's hard work were numerous bumps and scratches all over Blake's body.

" I don't know if I have the liberty to say this. I have overheard the King saying this, but it was a private discussion of his, and something I wasn't to listen to..." Blake's eyes met with Desiree's, and she could tell he was a bit upset.

" Please tell me!" Desiree begged.

" There is news that you will marry some distinguished man who had once been the finest General in your Father's army." Blake spoke softly, then whispered: " I'm sorry. I knew you wouldn't want this."

Desiree's hand shot up to her mouth. " This cannot be! How old is this... this man? Father must surely know I'm too young! I'm only seventeen!"

" I don't know exactly, but I think he's in his early thirties. And I'm afraid seventeen is the marrying age..." Blake himself was eighteen, but he kept saying he hadn't met the right girl for himself. Desiree wondered if he would ever find someone, and she constantly introduced him to the maids and servant girls at the castle. Nothing seemed to appeal to him though. Now Desiree realized how annoying it must have been for someone to pressure another person into a relationship.

" Desiree, remember that you were not supposed to know of this. Please, keep this a secret." Blake said.

" Oh, I will!" Desiree said, between tears. Then, she sat down on the rocking chair and wept.


Desiree woke up the next day to find a rainbow of colors dancing through the stained glass window and unto the walls of the castle. The colors of the light cheered her spirits right away, and she began to dress into her finery. Today she would go riding her horse, to enjoy her freedom while she could before her father, the King, decides to marry her off.

As she stepped out of her room and into the hallway, she noticed how the rain had managed to leak through the roof and create streaks of muddy water on the brick walls. She must speak with someone about this, before the castle will smell of rot.

The winding staircase led her into the kitchen, where she greeted the cook cheerily: " Good morning, Miss Jane."

Miss Jane turned around, the familiar frown etched on her face. " Where are you off to at this time, Princess? You know how muddy it is outside now! You couldn't possibly want to take a stroll!"

" I want to take a breath of fresh air, maybe peek into the stables." Desiree smiled. " I'm sure it isn't all too muddy."

" You aren't going anywhere until you eat something! You are getting quite thin!" Miss Jane placed a sweet roll onto the long dining table, and a small cup of tea. Then, she asked if there was anything else Desiree would want.

" No thank you, Miss Jane." Desiree replied, and stuffed the sweet roll in her mouth. Desiree knew she wasn't skinny at all, in fact, she was quite overweight. The corset would hide whatever stomach she had, but in the privacy of her bedroom she had noted that without a corset her stomach would stick out as if she were in her third month of pregnancy. It was embarrassing to think of and she knew she had to diet, for no man sought an overweight woman... but just then, her thoughts took over: `No man would seek for me now anyway, for I am doomed to marry someone I do not know.' But what if Blake's news weren't the truth? Maybe he overheard wrong! Or maybe the King would change his mind!

She stood up and took a few sips of tea, then turned to Miss Jane and said: "I'm going out now."

" Be sure to return before noon! The King wants a word with you." Miss Jane's face showed it was a serious matter, and Desiree's stomach tied up in knots. But she just smiled, nodded, and walked out the double doors of the kitchen.

Her eyes adjusted to the light right away, and then she headed for the stables. As she opened the side door and stepped into the stable, though, she noticed her horse was gone. Desiree wondered if Blake had taken the horse for a walk, and she decided to sit down and wait.

After a couple of minutes, Blake walked into the stable, and seeing Desiree, he announced: " Good morning, Princess!"

" Same to you, Blake. I came to ride Snowy." Snowy was Desiree's horse, named appropriately for the horse was whiter then snow, even.

" Where is she?" Blake asked.

" What do you mean? I thought you had taken her for a walk!" Desiree said, her eyes widening with fear.

" Maybe she escaped! I had left the stable doors open this morning to freshen the air inside..." Blake looked just as frightened as she was. If he had lost Snowy, then he'd lose his job! And Desiree couldn't possibly stand losing Blake, he was the only good friend she had left in the castle!

" We must go look for him!" Desiree burst out.

" Then let's go!" Blake grasped her hand and pulled her out of the stables. There, they began to run around the fields, calling Snowy's name. The horse seemed to be gone.

The tall grass was wet from the rain, and as Desiree walked, the whole bottom of her dress was muddied. Blake's breeches, which were white like her dress, were also spattered with mud. If not for the fearful situation they were in, Desiree would have laughed.

An hour passed, then two. The sun was high at noon now, and they had wandered far from the castle. Desiree called to Blake: " I think we should give up." Her voice was quivering.

" No. We'll find Snowy." He smiled at her reassuringly. But they slowly began to head back to the castle, and all of a sudden, they saw a white horse gallop by them.

" Snowy!" Desiree shouted, and Blake jumped at the horse. Blake pulled out the extra pair of reins he always had in his pants pocket and skillfully put them onto the horse. Then, he led Snowy back to Desiree.

She was so overjoyed, she leaped into Blake's arms and embraced him tightly, whispering: " Oh, thank you so much! Father would have dismissed you for sure if you hadn't have found Snowy!"

Then, she realized how intimately close she was embracing Blake, and pulled away. But his blue eyes sparkled happily at her and she knew he wasn't angered by her impulsive action. In fact, he looked happy. The way his eyes looked at her, in fact... he loved her.

The thought surprised her and she quickly forgot it, knowing it was silly of her to feel that way. Blake was only the stable hand, and her dear friend. Besides, she was to be married soon so he surely wouldn't attach himself so much to her... or would he?

Just then, she remembered something. " Blake, what time is it!"

" Judging from the sun, I'd say it's about three in the afternoon." He replied, with an awkward grin on his face. " Why?"

" Oh, I forgot I was to meet with Father at noon!" She cried out, and then hopped onto Snowy's back. " Is it alright if I gallop back to the castle without you? My father gets angrier by the minute if I don't show up on time to a requested meeting!"

" Go ahead." He said, and she galloped away, taking a final glimpse of Blake. His blue eyes still had that mysterious sparkle in them, but it seemed to fade as she rode away.

Chapter 2

" You are late."

" Yes, Father." Desiree replied, as she kneeled down before the King. His stern eyes bore into her, she could almost feel his angry glare. " I forgot." She added, hoping it was a good excuse.

" Forgot?" He thundered. " Forgot means nothing to me! Forgetfulness in not a good virtue in women, and you know that I want you to be clean with only the greatest virtues."

" I deeply apologize for my foolishness." Desiree bowed her head, and wondered if it would be all right to get off her knees. The cold stone floor was making her already-muddied white dress turn even dirtier. She knew she looked something awful.

" Apologies will not clear up what had already happened, my dear." He said, his voice a bit calmer now. " I'm sure you know what I asked you to come here for."

Deciding to play dumb, Desiree looked up at her father with wide-eyed innocence and asked: " No, Father, I do not."

" How old are you, Desiree?"

" Seventeen as of last month." She replied, without even the bat of an eye. She knew it was no use lying of her age, her father had written the date of her birth is large letters on the cover of the Book of Records. Their kingdom, Joplin, kept a Book of Records of all their citizens. When a child was born, they had to be reported to the King or Queen. That way, when war came, no men would be omitted in the emergency draft.

" Has it crossed your mind to marry?" The King rubbed his chin, which was covered with a dark-colored beard. White streaks of hair lined his beard, though, which showed he was getting quite old.

" Yes, it had, Father." Desiree replied. She had often thought of how she would look in a bride's gown, and how wonderful it must have felt to find a wonderful male kindred spirit and then join with him in marriage.

" You know what our entire nation's religion says, that seventeen is the marrying age." Her father continued. He lifted a little leaf from his desk. " Do you know what this is, Desiree?"

She blinked, clearing tears out of her eyes, so that her father would not see her fear. Then, she said: " It is a Chuva leaf, is it not?" Chuva leaves were sacred leaves, growing on the Chuva plant. Chuva plants were all over their world, being the only plant that could heal like medicine, provide a delicious and nutritious food, and store water in its thick stalk so that a weary traveler would be able to snap its stalk in half and drink some life-giving liquid.

" Chuva leaves are the symbol of our religion." Her father went on. Desiree only nodded. The Royal Family was always expected to be overly religious, so that they were an example for the rest of their kingdom.

" Yes, that is true." Desiree replied.

" Do you think highly of our religion?"

" Yes, Father." Desiree replied, shifting around so that her weight rested on her left knee. Kneeling for such a long time was hard, even for her. She didn't know what to look at, since staring at her father would be uncomfortable to him and to her. So she stared blankly at his throne, which was pure gold and studded with diamonds and rubies.

" If so, then you would not object to marriage at your age, since it is our God's wish to marry one's daughter's away at seventeen. Your sister Monica wed at seventeen last year, as well. I am sure you remember." The King stood, and took Desiree's hand, pulling her up off her knees. Then, he led her to his desk and showed her a piece of paper. " What do you think of this?" He asked her.

Desiree took the paper and read:

To the King of Joplin

From Samuel Questing

I write this letter as your humblest, most loyal

subject. I am quite sure you remember the ten years I spent

serving your army with honor and grace. I had been the finest

of the Generals your army had ever had. Now I ask of something

in return. I had been visiting you castle a year ago, at your

older daughter's wedding. I had seen your younger daughter,

Desiree, and was astounded by her beauty and grace. I will

be honored if you grant me the honor of taking her hand in

marriage. I assure you that together we shall provide you with

a grandson, which will become the King one day. He will be

created in God's vision and in your honor. I know that

you are seeking for someone honorable for your daughter to

marry. I grant a request that it is I, for I know you trust

me and you know I will be loyal to Joplin until my very end.

With deepest sincerity,

Samuel Questing

" Oh, Father..." Desiree whispered, frightened beyond belief with the letter. The horrid old man who wrote this already had plans for children, and she hadn't even seen him! It made her feel weak inside.

" Desiree, I am sure you know how important it is to uphold our family's honor. Your mother also had me chosen as her husband, and in the end it had proven to be a happy marriage, despite that it was an arranged one." He sniffled. "Do you know what I'm trying to say?"

" That you're trying to marry me off." Desiree sighed.

" Please do not be upset with me. I cannot let you wither away as an old maid, and I find Sir Questing absolutely acceptable as a husband." The King took the letter from Desiree's hands and placed it tenderly on his desk again.

" Father, I don't even know him. And he's too old!" Desiree protested.

" How do you know how old he is if I hadn't told you?" The King's eyes gleamed with sudden interest.

Desiree felt her throat tighten, and since she didn't want to get Blake in trouble, she said: " I am just guessing. Since he served ten years in your army as General, and to become a General he must at least have been seventeen and spent three years in training as a knight and soldier, then he should at least be over thirty."

" That's very good deducting." The King was mildly surprised. " I think you have quite a head there, to handle such math puzzles. Especially since you're only a woman."

Only a woman. The words hurt her deep inside, since she felt that women were just as wonderful and amazing as men. They were God's creation, too, after all. Desiree always hoped that one day, maybe in a hundred years or so, women will mean more to people.

" Can't you choose someone else to be my husband? At least someone younger?" Desiree begged.

" I'm afraid not. I am very fond of sir Questing, because he is a loyal and generous man. And I think he will be a very good man for you to marry. And besides, a month had passed since you turned seventeen. We had delayed your marriage for a long time anyway, and no other man came to be your suitor." The King twisted uncomfortably in his seat.

Desiree knew why nobody wanted to be her suitor. She was rather ugly, to her opinion. And Monica, with her red hair and dark brown eyes, was the ultimate beauty of the kingdom. That only made Desiree look worse. Only an older man would fall for her.

" Father... I can't! I do not wish to marry Sir Questing!" Desiree spoke firmly.

" Silence! How dare you defy me! You will marry him, and you will appreciate him! Now go!" The King's voice rose sharply, and he motioned to the door. Desiree knew she was dismissed, so she kissed the ring on his hand, and with tears streaming down her cheeks, she raced out and down the hall, up the winding stairs, and finally fell on top of her bed, sobbing her eyes out into her pillow.


Knock Knock.

The sound rattled through Desiree's room, and she wondered who could possibly be trying to come into her room at this hour. It was almost nine at night! She looked at the door of her room and said:

" Who is it?"

" It's Madeline." The voice replied. Madeline had been Desiree's teacher and caretaker over the years, teaching her everything from manners to mathematics. Now that Desiree was older, she saw less and less of Madeline.

" Come in."

Madeline stepped into the room. She was a willowy, tall woman with a long thin nose and very curly brown hair. Her eyes were the color of the night sky, a very dark blue. A thin net of wrinkles was all over Madeline's face, but her voice was young as she spoke: " I heard the news."

" So I suppose my father is broadcasting my misfortune." Desiree's forlorn voice showed how upset she felt. Madeline patted her hand gently.

" Desiree, you must learn that there are some things in life you cannot change. Marriage is something that is rarely done on your own. You have to understand that your father would only make the finest choices for you, and I think that Sir Questing is a very admirable man." Madeline looked at Desiree's puffy, red eyes and continued: " There is no reason to upset yourself over the unavoidable."

" Oh, Madeline, you don't understand! You never will understand!" Desiree spoke feverishly, even though she knew Madeline did understand. Madeline herself was a `victim' of an arranged marriage. Her husband had died a few years after she wed him, though, and Madeline had chosen not to marry since then.

Madeline realized there was little comfort she could add to the despaired Princess, but just as she was leaving, she said: " Tomorrow you are to have dinner with Sir Questing. Please keep a good conduct and be polite, despite your true feelings. You mustn't dishonor your family."

Desiree nodded slowly, and when Madeline was gone, she walked up to her stained glass window and pushed it open with all her might. The force of it sent a small pane of colorful glass down to the ground, and she watched it shatter into a thousand pieces. From up above, the little flecks and shards of glass caught the glowing light of the torches the castle workers lit when it was dark out.

Just then, she saw Blake rush by with her horse. He looked up, and seeing Desiree leaning out the window, he called:

" Why, good evening, Princess! Shouldn't you be asleep already?"

She smiled, seeing her old friend, and just watched the light of the torch fires dancing on his face and clothing. Realizing he was waiting for a reply, she shouted to him:

" I cannot sleep... my father had decided to marry me off."

He looked real upset, but before he could say anything, the main man servant raced up to Blake and shouted: " Get a move on! Don't bother the Princess!"

Then, Desiree watched Blake, her only comfort that day, fade away into the dark of night. Once she saw he was gone, she went to her rocking chair and completed Monica's baby's outfit, and started off on a matching bonnet when sleep finally claimed her.


The next morning, Desiree slept until nearly noon. Just as she woke, at least a dozen servant girls raced into her room, tugging her from her bed and undressing her from her nightgown. Then, they brought in a large wash basin and, bringing water by the bucketful, they filled it to the brim. Desiree was to sit down in it while they washed and did her hair.

Afterwards, she was pulled out of the water, dried, and wrapped in a snug corset, a set of white pantaloons, and a slip over them. Then, they placed a white undershirt over her corset, over which they put a beautiful red dress made of crushed velvet. On her head they placed a diamond-studded crown, and then added a touch of rouge to each cheek.

Still half-asleep, Desiree felt herself being nearly pushed down the stairs and then into the large dining room. There, she was stuffed with buns and rolls until she could barely eat anything else. She knew what this was all about: making her look very presentable to Sir Questing. The servant girls even remembered to fill her with food until she burst, just so she'd appear to have a small appetite before her suitor.
Next, she was instructed to stand up while the servant girls combed her hair and arranged it in a bun, with a cascade of curls coming from the center of it. Then, her crown was placed onto her head again.

Desiree managed to think straight from the rush of the first hour of that day, and she asked Miss Jane in the kitchen:

" When is Sir Questing coming, anyhow?"

" He is in the throne room, waiting for you for the last three hours. It's about time you awoke!" Miss Jane was frowning, as always. " You go in there right now and be at your best, mind you!"

Desiree nodded dumbly, and then felt herself being pulled into the throne room. There, she stood, trembling, and saw a tall, rather fat-looking man before the throne. He turned around, and seeing Desiree, he whispered:

" So this is Desiree!"

She looked at his face. He was rather handsome, but had already gotten wrinkles in the corners of his eyes and small creases where his lips met in a smile, but below the mane of black hair were shining eyes like two drops of black oil, tranquil but sublime.

Her lady-like instincts prevailed, and cursing her fate silently in her mind, she raised her hand for the man to kiss, saying: " It surely is, Sir Questing."

Sir Questing took her hand and pressed it to his lips, then let go. " I have heard marvelous things about you from your father. Has he spoken to you of me, as well?"

" Yes, he had. Father speaks grandly of you, sir." Desiree replied, her eyes darting to her feet so that she wouldn't have to look Sir Questing in the eyes.

" I'm quite flattered, then. Has he told you of my intentions?" He smiled as he said this, and Desiree couldn't help but look up at him. Sir Questing was indeed charming in a way, but she suddenly felt like turning around and running far away, so that she wouldn't have to marry...

" I am aware of your intentions. I would be... honored... if you were to be my husband." Desiree sputtered out, biting her tongue so hard she worried she'd bite straight through it. She needed to keep from crying.

" Then I suppose it's all set. You look even finer and more appealing up close, my dear." He held her hands in his, and she kept her eyes locked with his, searching for compassion or a kindred spirit somewhere in him but found nothing. This man would not understand her, and might not even truly love her!

" Thank you. I think we should eat our early dinner now. It might get cold." Desiree spoke barely above a whisper; her voice wavering with an obvious pain she couldn't describe.

" Marvelous idea. Let's go." He let go of her hands and waited for him to lead him to the dining area. She walked quickly, and soon they were sitting at a table, set with a delicious-smelling dinner. The cooks had prepared three courses, each with five dishes.

Desiree ate in silence, but Sir Questing led a happy conversation, telling of his hunting exploits, and one he finished that, he started speaking of his adventures as a General. Desiree barely had time to add an "Yes, sir" or a "Sounds interesting" from time to time, to show she was listening. The rest of the time she just gave deep nods and kept firm eye contact. It was only the greatest politeness, after all.

Finally, after barely eating anything at all, and watching Sir Questing devour meal after meal, Desiree heard him saying:

" That was quite a satisfying meal."

Desiree hadn't even expected a horde of trolls to eat as much food as Sir Questing had. Even the dragons her father raised in a far-away farm in a town called Mariolett ate less. At this was just an early dinner... the real dinner would soon follow in a couple of hours. Her father had invited a couple hundred noblemen and gentlewomen to attend this grand feast, for that was where Sir Questing would propose to Desiree.

" I am glad you had liked it. Our cooks are surely holding great gratitude to your kind words and actions. Just the fact you had relished so much in eating the meal was a great compliment." Desiree realized it sounded more like an insult near the end, so she quickly added: " I hope you will eat heartily and enjoy the meal at the... the proposal dinner as well."

" I sure will. I think I should retreat to my room now and prepare for the dinner. I'm sure you'd like some time alone to say good-bye to your friends here." Sir Questing said, patting his protruding stomach.

" Good-bye?" Desiree blurted out. " What do you mean?"

" After the proposal, I intend to take you to my mansion in Serrington. It's just a few miles away, and we would be able to wed and have a honeymoon there. When we return to claim the throne for you we might be blessed with child." He smiled. " You will not be taking any servants with you but your nearest Governess."

" But I'll need Madeline, and Blake..." Desiree cried out. She didn't even have a Governess, anyway, so she'd end up taking no one at all!

" I'm sorry for the inconvenience. But I'm sure you will find many good friends in Serrington." Sir Questing stood, and kissed her cheek. " I must go now, but I want to say I would be delighted to have a few of your dances at dinner tonight."

Desiree nodded, and watched him walk away. Once he was gone, she stood and offered to help Miss Jane take the empty dishes to the sink. Miss Jane told her that it wouldn't be proper for a Princess to do this, though, so Desiree walked to her room in a slight daze. There, she sat on her rocking chair and stared at her hands, where an engagement ring would soon shine. Her eyes filled with tears and soon she could barely see her hands through them.


After crying a bit, Desiree went to see Blake and to say goodbye. He was shocked to hear that she was leaving, and hugged her. Then, Desiree was astounded to feel him gently kissing the tears on her cheeks away. She knew it was wrong, but she suddenly realized how much she would miss him. With all her strength, she let him wrap her with his kisses. Then, she pulled away, and told him she must go. He watched longingly as she walked away, crying once more.


The dinner had gone uneventful, and soon the dancing began. Desiree was swept around the dancing floor, with dozens of men wishing to dance with her. Then, the last dance traditionally went to Sir Questing, and afterwards he proclaimed his proposal.

His proposal went something like this:

" Tonight was a magical night, and I shall have my magical bride. I wish to proclaim to all that I will love and honor her dearly, and she will bear only the finest children under my watch and care. I am not only honored but delighted to become part of the Royal Family."

All the women wept with joy, but Desiree suddenly wept with pain. Nobody noticed though, and when Sir Questing kissed her formally, she barely felt it for her lips were numb. And in her mind she remembered kissing Blake instead, and imagined him there instead.


Late that night, Desiree was sent to her room to pack. Once she stepped out to get into the carriage that would take her to Sir Questing's estate, she suddenly saw Madeline rush up to her. She whispered into her ear:

" Play along."

Then, she pushed a person before her, wrapped tightly in a long brown robe and hood. Madeline said: " Here's your Governess, Princess."

Desiree looked into the hood, and saw the familiar gleam of Blake's eyes. Madeline knew about Blake! Or had he begged her to let him go? It was so awful and unjust, what they were doing, but she suddenly thought of nothing more but of having Blake with her. A friend, a kindred spirit! She will not be lonely at Serrington!

" Thank you, Madeline." Desiree managed to say, then made up from the top of her head: " Come, Governess... Stacey."

Blake laughed lightly inside the hood and stepped into the carriage, and once he and Desiree were inside, he pulled the curtains closed (he didn't want anyone to notice him), and then he pulled his hood off.

Desiree hugged him and asked:

" How in the world did you manage to pull this off? Won't Questing notice? This is so unright..."

" I don't care! I have to come with you. I can't let some horrid old man take you away from everything you once had. Who cares if I'm just a stable hand..." Blake watched Desiree's face flush, and he added: " ... I have a plan. Once the time comes, I'll take you away somewhere safe. I know you aren't ready to marry... so don't worry."

" But..." Desiree's eyes widened with fear. " We can't do this!"

" Who says?" Blake had a point. Desiree was forced into this all, she could just as easily escape from it. " Besides, we still have time until you marry him in church. I know this is happening so fast, but listen..."

Then he began to explain how he had told Madeline that she shouldn't let you go off without anyone. He told of how he begged her and pleaded until she dressed him as the Governess. "Madeline knew you'd die if you'd marry Sir Questing. He'd keep you locked up in that castle until you die. You have to be free, like a bird." Blake finished.

" But... everyone will notice if I will run away. And what shall my father do then?" Desiree was shivering with excitement.

" He can remarry. He's only thirty-seven, and he can bear another child to take the throne. We still have a lot of time to plan the escape until the actual wedding day." Blake's eyes looked deep inside hers, and he whispered: " I guess I never told you how much you meant to me until it was almost too late."

" Oh, Blake..." Desiree whispered. Then, she regained her composure and said: " How will I hide you? Surely everyone will notice you're not my Governess."

" You can act as if you don't have a Governess. And I'll blend in with the kitchen help or something, and visit you everyday to plot our little escape plan. I suppose I'll go with you, since you'll need someone to watch for you. You will lead a happier life hiding in a peasant village, where you'll be free to choose a husband of your wishes." He turned a bit red.

Desiree wondered if their plan would work. It seemed too unreal that they'd be able to pull it all off that she wondered if they'd be able to even do it. What if they were caught and ended up being executed for treason against the King's orders?

Blake took her cold, trembling hands in his, though, and she immediately felt calm. She knew that if she had Blake with her then she'd be fine. He was her sole protector, and her dear friend now. And she knew he was right, she'd wither away to nothing if she were to be kept in a castle for the rest of her life with a man she did not love, leading a life she did not want.

Running away was the only choice, and Blake was the only man with the mind to pull something off like that.