I heard the news that morning. More than half the nation was in mourning because the King of Xavia had passed away in the night. In other words, my father passed away.
The king's guards had arrived at our door at around six. They took me into the kitchen and told me what happened. It had been in his sleep. The doctors were called and tried to do everything they could but it was too late. His heart had stopped. They offered their condolences and allowed Ma Osa, her daughters, and David who had arrived from the next room to come in and see me. Ma Osa took me in her arms holding me, Judith and Winter held my hands and stroked my hair while David, my personal guard, talked silently to the other guards who were looking nervously in my direction.
In all of this, I didn't seem to feel anything. Sure there were a few tears in my eyes from the shock of it all but they quickly disappeared. I suppose you can't feel that much about a person who you haven't seen in almost ten years.
"Your mother wished to come and tell you", said one of the guards fiddling with a letter in his hand, "But she realized the danger."
I nodded in understanding. These were dangerous times. Even more so now after what has happened. He handed the card to me his eyes filled with sympathy. Now the tears began to surface.
"I want to read it alone please", I breathed holding the letter to my chest.
"Of course your highness", replied the guard bowing and nodded to his partner to leave with him. Your Highness. I hadn't heard that in ages but I recognized the writing on the card instantly. I'd seen it so many times before. I turned around and saw that I was alone. They were all in the sitting room.
I heaved in a breath and sat down on a stool. I traced the cursive writing on the envelope, tore it open then pulled out the letter...
To my dearest Imotenya,
By the time you get this, you will have probably heard the news about your father. I'm so sorry you couldn't be at his side during his final moments but you know how the situation is. Why you couldn't be with us in the first place. He spoke of nothing but you. I know from your letters that Ma Osa is treating you very well and that David is keeping a firm eye on you but it's time for you to come home now. I wish I could put it off but the advisers said that we demonstrate a show a power to the rebels.
I froze at the mention of the rebels. The reason why I couldn't be with my family. The reason why this kingdom was in turmoil. I swallowed then continued with the letter…
They need to see that the kingdoms new hope is unafraid. I'm so worried though. They were as far as the city just last week and if they breach the palace, God knows what could happen. But I hope for the best and count my blessings. I will get to see you again. I suppose you've grown so beautiful. Will you still recognize your dear mama? I've entrusted you to the king's own guards for protection and of course, you have David, for your journey to the palace. Have a safe journey home my love and I'll see you soon. I love you.
That's when the floodgates broke out.I pushed it clumsily back into the envelope for fear that my tears would wash off the ink. I loved my mother and from what I read from her letters, she loved me too but did she know me. I hadn't seen her or the palace in almost 10 years, not counting the time Ma Osa took us to Beni City for the annual parade near the palace.
Ma Osa, Judith, Winter, David. They were the only real family I'd known for most of my life. This was the only life I'd known. Now I'd have to leave it for some palace under threat to take a role that I wasn't even sure I was prepared to take.
"Aria?" I turned to see David peering round the door. "We need to speak with you." I certainly did not want to speak to them. I already knew what they were about to say.
"We have to leave now", I said, "Don't we." My guard's silence spoke volumes. "Well tell them we're not going."
"Ria, we have to …"
"No, we don't !", I snapped locking eyes with him. He made a few steps towards me and reached for my shoulders. A gesture that always seemed to quell me out of my foulest of moods but not today. I jerked back almost falling off my stool. "Have you not heard of the threats in and around the palace and you all want to throw me into all that!"
"Aria, the kingdom needs you!", David yelled back. Then he backed away slightly. I was a little stunned at that outburst. Not because technically I outranked him but because there were only two times when he really yelled at me. Once was when I lay down in the middle of the road and tried to see how quickly I could get up before I got ran over. The second time was when I almost stabbed myself while fiddling with his ceremonial sword. The things those two had in common was that I was doing something really stupid.
He took a breath and ran a hand quickly through his short hair. "I'm sorry your highness", he said calmly, "But people everywhere are worried. Right now nobody is sure who is the heir. Many believe you're dead."
I shivered. And many more want me dead.
"They need to see that stability can resume for the kingdom. They need to see that there's hope for us still." Hope. New hope. That's what my mother had called me in her letter. That's what I had to be. It was my duty. Whether I wanted it or not.
I sighed and got up. "Okay. We'll go."