Rain fell to the ground in torrents. The evening sky was dark and bleak, and the moon was covered by massive grey clouds. The king sat staring out his window, his stocky build silhouetted by the pale moonlight. He was a man of forty-five years, and his short, grey hair was covering all but the center of his head.
The king's expression was dark and troubled, reflecting his mood. The words of the prophecy echoed continuously throughout his mind:
Your firstborn child will be clumsy and stupid, and will bring sorrow and ruin to your kingdom. However, the second born will be a very intelligent leader, and will bring peace and prosperity.
Now, at this very moment, the king's first child was being born only two rooms away. He hoped the child would be born dead, so that he wouldn't have to kill it himself.
The king jumped, startled, as the door opened.
"King Alastair!" a young man called as he strode, out of breath from running, across the large room. The nineteen-year-old man was raised in this castle. He was now King Alastair's most trusted friend and Royal Advisor. He was a tall, handsome man, with light brown hair and dark blue eyes. He not only had good looks, but was intelligent, too.
"Sebastion!" the king said, walking towards his friend. "What news do you bring?"
Sebastion appeared reluctant to answer the king's question. "It was twins," he finally said. "Nobody can remember which was born first."
"What!" the king cried out in rage. "If I don't know which one is the firstborn, how can I stop the prophecy?"
The silence in the room was broken only by the claps of thunder outside. Each man contemplated the enormity of the situation.
"I have to go and see them," King Alastair stated.
The two men walked the short distance to the Queen's room. Inside, two people of medicine and two of the Queen's personal servants attended to the two children and their mother. They all turned towards the king as he and Sebastion walked in.
King Alastair and Sebastion went over to the twins. They both looked healthy and strong, and neither looked like they could definitely be the firstborn or second born.
"One is male and the other is female," one servant reported.
The king thought this piece of information over. Who would be more likely to bring sorrow to the kingdom but a woman?
"Listen to me," the King ordered. "You only saw one child born here tonight, the male. There were not two. Do you understand?"
Fear was reflected in the eyes of everyone in that room, and so they nodded their understanding of the king's order.
He took the girl in his arms, and carried her out of the room. He motioned Sebastion to follow.
They went back to the king's room, where nobody could overhear their conversation.
King Alastair turned to Sebastion. "Take this child secretly to the mountain, and leave her there to die. And don't tell anyone!"
That is how it came to pass that Sebastion rode along the roadway that night. He was mounted on a pitch black horse, and held the baby wrapped in his cloak. The rain poured down all around, and the black clouds filtered the moon's light.
He had been riding for an hour or more, all the while pondering the situation. By now, he had reached the top of the mountain.
He stopped his horse and looked down at the child's face. So young, so beautiful, so innocent. He couldn't just leave her to die. He decided to leave her at somebody's house. Maybe they could take care of the child. At least then she would have a chance.
After five more minutes of riding, they came to a modest farm. The house looked small but cozy, and from inside came the light of candles and the sound of laughter. He set the child on the doorstop, knocked, then rode away. Now the child had a home.
Later on that night, as the child was surrounded by a loving family, her mother died.
Outside, the sun was just rising over the mountain. It was a beautiful spring day, with all the birds and animals just waking up.
"Leigh, wake up!"
The sixteen-year-old girl was lying on her bed. She had shoulder length, dark brown hair, that hung in ringlets off of her head. Her dark blue eyes were closed, unwilling to open up when it was only five-thirty in the morning.
"Come on, wake up!"
Leigh reluctantly opened her eyes and looked at her sister. She was dressed in her best white lace dress. Her blonde hair hung straight down to her waist, and her hazel-colored eyes looked out from under her short, straight bangs.
"Hazel, leave me ALONE!" she snapped.
"Come one, Leigh, it's my birthday today, and we're going to the town. You have to get up!"
After much yanking and pulling, Hazel had her sister standing up.
Leigh, still sleepy-eyed, got dressed and then went downstairs. The kitchen was a cozy, warm, sunny country kitchen. Only four places were set around the huge wooden table today. The six other daughters had since moved away. April, Violet, Rosie, Robin, and Iris all lived in other villages now, all married and some with children of their own. Dawn had become a nun in a nearby church.
"Are we leaving soon?" Hazel questioned, with an excited note in her voice. "I can't wait to see the town!"
A visit to the town was a rare treat for the girls. They stayed mostly in their home and the surrounding countryside. The few trips they did take to town were full of wonder and excitement. The girls loved the crowds of people, the merchants selling their wares, and the chance at meeting some important nobleman or even the king himself.
"Sit down and have your breakfast, girls. You're not going anywhere on an empty stomach!" Their mother, Hilary, was busy dishing eggs and bacon onto four plates. She was a chubby sort of woman, with friendly features and an almost constant smile. Her graying hair was up in a bun, and she wore a faded, yellow-flowered dress.
The girls obediently sat down and started eating. Hilary was a good cook, so every meal was an enjoyable one.
"Good morning girls!" Duncan, their father, kissed Hilary good morning and then sat down at the table, too. "Are you both excited about going to town today?"
"Oh, yes, father. We just can't wait, can we Leigh?"
Leigh gave a little "hmm" of "I guess so, whatever you say."
"What, aren't you excited about going any more?" asked Hilary. "You've been looking forward to it for the past week! Aren't you feeling well? Are you coming down with something?"
Leigh sighed and rolled her eyes. "I'm not sick, mother. It's just that something doesn't quite feel right. It seems that something important is going to happen in town, and it is something dark leading to something good. I just don't know what it is, though."
Hilary and Duncan exchanged knowing looks, laced with worry. Leigh always seemed to know things she couldn't possibly know. She could always predict whether a niece or a nephew would be born. Whenever one of the animals was lost, she could find them. She always knew when a storm was coming, and she could see right through people's outer appearances. Each time, they wondered where this child had really come from.
They always told Leigh that she was their own daughter. They suspected she knew the truth.
One night, a stormy one in November, the family had heard a knock on their door. When they opened it up, all they saw was a baby lying there, wrapped in a black cloak. They took her in and raised her as their own. They never did find out who the baby, or the cloak, belonged to. There were always rumors going around that she was a child of the devil or some such thing. Hilary knew in her heart that it wasn't true.
"Cheer up, Leigh. It'll be fun!" Hazel never did believe her sister had special powers. She believed them to be coincidences.
In a few minutes, Duncan, Hazel and Leigh were all sitting in the wagon. Hilary had preferred to stay home.
The girls waved to their mother as they left on their way. Acorn, their golden-colored horse, pulled the wagon down the road and over the mountain.
As they rounded a curve in the road, their gaze drifted up the slope before them. There was the town, or maybe it was more like a city. It was surrounded by massive stone walls. Crowds of people streamed in and out through the gateway. At the center of all the shops and houses stood the Royal Palace. It was a huge building, with turrets and decorative architecture covering every surface.
Leigh stared in awe as Acorn pulled them through the city gate. Never before had she seen such a place or so many people, for this was her first visit to Kingscourt.
They stopped the wagon just inside the outer wall, paying somebody to watch it and the horse. They made their way through the crowded streets.
Leigh and Hazel looked at the merchandise in the merchants' shops. Duncan followed behind. The main reason they were here was for Hazel to pick out her birthday present.
They saw everything from rugs to dresses, exotic foods to soap, and even brightly colored children's toys.
When they got to the end of the shops, they found themselves just outside the castle walls. Crowds of people were standing there, for today the young prince was to make a speech. It was common knowledge by now that the old king was dying, and young Prince Richard would soon be king. It was also rumored that he was looking for someone to be his queen.
"Wouldn't you just die to live in a place like that?" Hazel asked her sister, eying the castle dreamily.
"I will live there someday," Leigh stated absently.
"Ha! Never!" Hazel laughed.
Duncan took that statement a little more seriously. Maybe it was his daughter's sixth sense working again.
"Maybe if Prince Richard saw me he would fall in love and take me away to be his queen," Hazel said, "Then I could sit around all day looking beautiful, and have servants at my beck and call at all hours. I could let you be one of my servants, Leigh, and then you would get to live in the castle!" Hazel laughed and Leigh gave her a dirty look.
"Servant, ha! More like the other way around!"
Duncan sighed. "Stop fighting, girls, or we're going home now."
They stopped talking altogether, and so were left to their own thoughts. While Hazel dreamed of the castle and prince, Leigh pondered ways that she could live in the castle.
She thought maybe she would marry the prince. Although she had never seen him, she pictured him to be tall, dark and handsome.
And then she saw him and changed her mind.
Prince Richard was not exactly handsome. When he walked onto the Balcony of Address, he seemed to waddle. Excess weight hung off his short body. His jet black hair stuck up all over his head. He appeared to have more pimples on his face than all other teenagers put together. His whole image gave people the impression of laziness and carelessness. Even the rich velvet robes did not help his appearance.
"He may not be Prince Charming, but he is still the prince," stated Hazel, who still had her mind on the matter.
"Why, Prince Richard is the most horrible looking creature I have ever seen in my life!"
Unfortunately, as Leigh said this, the crowd had just gone silent to let the Prince speak. All eyes now rested on the bold young girl.
"Leigh!" both Duncan and Hazel exclaimed in shock. Duncan tried to lead his daughters away through the thick crowd, but it was too late. Prince Richard had heard Leigh's comments, and had sent the Royal Guards after her. Insulting a member of the Royal Family was against the law in Kingscourt.
The crowd watched as two guards grabbed Leigh by the arms. She struggled while Duncan and Hazel pleaded with the guards, but it was to no avail. Leigh was taken away into the castle.
"Go deal with that peasant brat!" Prince Richard ordered in a nasally voice.
The Royal Advisor and head of the Royal Guards left reluctantly to follow his orders. The public was not going to like Prince Richard for punishing this outspoken girl. It was one of the Prince's poor decisions, which were made too frequently.
Leigh found herself being pushed into a dungeon cell by the two guards. The air was cold, damp, and musty. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw that the cell was small. The stone walls and floor were covered in years of dirt and dust. A hole-covered, flea-infested blanket lay on the wooden board that served as a bed. The beady eyes of a rat stared at Leigh from the far corner. Leigh sat down on the floor and started to cry.
Presently, she heard voices from down the hall. One of them sounded familiar, but she could not quite place it.
"She is down this hall, sir," stated the stranger's voice. "Right here."
Two figures now stood right in front of Leigh. She felt as if she should know one of them, but she did not know how.
"Go now," the familiar voice said to the strange guard. "I will take her up to the Prince."
The other guard left, and the familiar person opened the cell door with a set of keys he had.
"Come on," he said pleasantly. "I have a feeling you will leave freely after your hearing, so don't try escaping."
Leigh obeyed, and searched her mind for the identity of this man. It was something about a storm and a man in black . . .
They went down halls and around winding corridors. They finally arrived at the Throne Room.
It was certainly the largest room that Leigh had ever seen. The marble floor was polished to a brilliant shine. The red carpet walkway stretched from the door to the king's throne. Prince Richard was seated on a less elaborate throne to the left, because he was not yet king.
As they walked in, the guard bowed to the Prince. Leigh, without thinking, bowed too. She was still concentrating on who this man was. She knew he was someone important somehow . . .
"I have brought the prisoner, Prince Richard." The tone with which the guard said this indicated that he had neither liking nor respect for this future king.
"Now," said the Prince in his nasally voice, "What was is you called me?"
Leigh thought for a moment. "It was something about you being a horrible looking creature, or something like that."
"Do you realize that this is a crime?"
"Is it a crime to speak the truth?"
This made the Prince angry. "How dare you say such a thing to the future king!"
The guard, who was the Royal Advisor, had now moved nearer the Prince. "Maybe if she just apologizes, you can let her go. The public will be more on your side, then."
"I will not apologize," Leigh stated stubbornly. "I have done nothing wrong."
"Well, then," said Prince Richard, "You can just stay in prison for a year."
This decision was final, Leigh could tell. She made her own decision to run for it.
She ran towards the doors behind her, with a couple of guards soon in pursuit. She ran past the door guards before they knew what was happening. She went down this hall and that, soon losing her sense of direction in the huge castle. The guards were just a few feet behind her now. She turned the corner and went through the nearest door.
She waited nervously behind the door. The sounds of the guards' footsteps soon passed by the door, and all was quiet. It was then that she turned around to see where she was.
This room, too, seemed familiar to her.
It was a large enough bedroom for a king. The whole place was decorated in imported woods, red velvet, and gold. The curtains were drawn so that the room was dark. As her eyes adjusted, Leigh noticed that someone was lying in the bed in the middle of the room.
Curiosity got the better of her common sense. She walked slowly and quietly to the bed. She looked down at the sleeping figure.
He was an elderly man with grey hair and wrinkles. He looked feeble and frail, but proud like a member of the royal family.
Suddenly his eyes opened. Leigh was about to run, but then it hit her. As she looked into his eyes, she knew the truth.
This man was king. This man was her father. She remembered looking into his eyes and seeing anger and fear. She remembered the feeling that he did not want her. She remembered him saying she had to die.
When all these visions entered her mind, Leigh started to back away. Suddenly, the king reached up and grabbed her arm.
It was some sort of sixth sense that told each who the other was. They just looked at each other, silent words passing between them.
"Forgive me, please."
Leigh's mind was in a state of confusion. In just a few minutes' time, her whole past had been revealed to her. How could she forgive someone who had sent her away to die?
Yet somehow she could. It was not hatred or evil that made him do what he did, but rather fear. She could not hate somebody for being afraid. Besides, she had grown up in a better home than the castle would have been. She had a loving family to take care for her.
"It's o.k.," she said to the king. "I'm o.k."
Suddenly, the door opened and the Royal Advisor, the guard, walked in.
"What are you doing in here? Get out!"
He walked over to Leigh and the king. He stopped short. These two looked so much alike. But how was that possible?
Then, he understood. They all did. Leigh was the king's daughter, the same one that was sent away sixteen years ago!
Hazel and Duncan waited just outside the castle, trying to convince the guards to let them in. They could not go home and leave Leigh in prison.
Then, they saw Leigh coming towards them with Sebastion at her side. She explained to them everything that had happened, right from her birth to the present hour.
Both Hazel and Duncan could not believe what they were hearing. After the shock had worn off a bit, Hazel got excited about actually being sister to a member of the royal family. Duncan felt a little hurt. He had raised Leigh since she was only a little baby, and now she was being taken away from him to another family.
Leigh also informed them that she would be staying in the castle for a while. She sent them on their way, for Hilary would be getting worried. As Leigh waved good-bye, she felt so alone. She missed her adoptive family already.
Supper was eaten with the king in his bedroom. Leigh was there, and so were Prince Richard and Sebastion.
Prince Richard did not take the news well.
"Sister, ha! She is just an imposter, trying to get a high position and money, too. Just look at her! Some member of the Royal family she would make!"
Leigh shot him a dirty look. No wonder he repulsed her so - feelings like that could only exist between siblings.
"How can you be sure she is really my sister," he went on, "Can she prove it?"
"We know she is," said the king, "We know."
"Of course, I'm still next in line to the throne," said Prince Richard. He did not know about the prophecy.
The king compared his son and daughter. "Yes, Richard, you are the firstborn."
For the next few days, Leigh adjusted to life in the castle. Sebastion was always there to help her with some detail of etiquette, or to help her find her way around the vast building. Leigh was trying to get used to being treated like a Princess. It seemed so strange to her.
On the second day she was there, a formal announcement was made to the public. They took an instant liking to Leigh. She took an instant liking to them.
At midnight of the fourth day, the king died. During the customary two days of mourning, Prince Richard was already making plans for his coronation. He was in a hurry to become officially the new king.
At the coronation banquet, it was customary for the new King or Queen to talk for a while. King Richard knew just what he wanted to say. He started off with the regular speech about peace, wealth, and that sort of thing for the kingdom.
Then, King Richard said, "Of course, a king should have a queen to rule by his side. I would now like to ask Catherine to be my bride."
Startled gasps swept through the room, and all eyes turned to look at the young and beautiful daughter of Lord Stewart.
Everyone knew that Richard had had a crush on her for many years. They never expected him to propose to her. It was also known throughout the kingdom that she hated Richard and was deeply in love with someone else. Everybody in the room now held their breath, waiting for Catherine's reaction.
King Richard walked over to where she was seated and placed a huge diamond ring on her finger.
"Do you accept my proposal?" he asked.
Catherine looked troubled. "No," she stated, "I do not."
Silence echoed throughout the room. Then Baron Strathclyde, the man that Catherine was in love with, stood up.
"She will not marry you, King Richard, she will marry me."
The two faced each other, hate reflected in their eyes.
"Then we shall fight for her," Richard stated, "To the death."
Leigh could not stand to see a human being die uselessly, even if it was the hated Richard. She knew that the clumsy fool did not stand a chance against a skilled swordsman like Baron Strathclyde.
The men drew their swords, blade scraping against scabbard. Leigh stood up.
All eyes turned towards her now. She walked towards Richard and his enemy.
"Why do you fight?" she asked, "Should it not be Catherine's choice as to who she marries? Does a woman not have any rights? I have heard, as have most of you, of a new concept in other kingdoms. Chivalry."
Catherine stood up. "I choose to marry my true love, Baron Strathclyde, not some fool like the king."
"Come on," said her father, "We are leaving now."
Lord Stewart led Catherine, her true love, and various other family members and friends out of the room. Everyone else then left the gathering early and went home.
Leigh was lying down in her room. It was third largest in the castle, and decorated with gold, velvet, and imported carpeting. She was getting used to being second in line to the throne.
She was thinking then about Catherine. Of course, it should be the woman's choice of who to marry. If she were Queen, Leigh would give women better rights.
Leigh sighed. When would she find her true love?
There was a knock on the door just then.
"Who is it?"
"Come in!" she called. A visit from him was always welcome. If he was only not so much older than her . . .
"You'd better hurry," said Sebastion. "The king has called a meeting of the Royal council. Right now."
Leigh sighed and stood up. She was getting a little sick of her brother. For a moment, she thought maybe he was not her brother, but she knew deep inside that he was.
"Stupid, incompetent princeling," she muttered, "it's nearly midnight and he wants to talk politics? Some king he makes."
"Quiet," Sebastion warned. "You should keep your opinion of the king to yourself, even if you are a member of the Royal family."
The last word stuck in her mind - family. The king may be her blood relative, but her family was still on a small farm on the other side of the mountains. She suddenly felt homesick. She decided to visit them soon - or whenever her duties to the kingdom gave her some spare time. Leigh knew her family could not visit her - the farm was important and took a full day's hard work each day. Leigh sighed.
By now, Leigh and Sebastion had walked to the council room doors. Sebastion opened the door for her, smiling. She smiled back.
"Finally," said King Richard. "Maybe now we can start."
Twenty sleepy-eyed council members sat around a large table. The seats surrounding it in the huge room were empty.
Leigh sat next to the king, and Sebastion stood behind her. She was still getting accustomed to the way of politics. She needed Sebastion to remind her of how they worked.
"What is this meeting supposed to be about?" Leigh asked her brother irritably.
"You're speaking out of turn," Sebastion whispered.
"This meeting will now begin," said the king as he gave Leigh a dirty look. "And I will speak first."
"Today," he began, "I asked Catherine, daughter of Lord Stewart, to marry me. Although she is not engaged or wedded to another, she refused. I see this as treason towards the crown. I checked in the book of laws, and this is a suitable reason to wage a war."
The Royal council members looked at each other. Surely he would not be stupid enough . . .
"I'm declaring war against Lord Stewart and Baron Strathclyde."
Shocked silence filled the room. The king was declaring war because he loved a woman!
One council member stood up. "Your highness, please reconsider your decision. I am sure that the other council members agree that war is not a good idea. There are signs of war with other kingdoms. Why war with your own?"
"Because of love!"
"Because of a childish crush," Leigh corrected. "That is all it is."
Richard looked her in the eye. "And what do you know, False Royal? You are only a silly peasant girl. What do you know about politics?"
"I know about love," she said. "And I am learning politics from Sebastion."
"Sebastion. The two of you seem to be spending a lot of time together. Strange since he dropped you on a peasant's doorstep one night."
"Who are you calling peasant? My father was a better man than yours ever was. I sure turned out better than you, too."
They glared at each other, both running out of insults.
"Anyways," Richard said calmly, "I can wage a war without the council's consent. It says so in the laws."
Leigh looked at Sebastion. "Even I can't stop him?"
Sebastion shook his head, no.
"Send for the head army people, whoever they are," said the king. A couple of servants left to follow the order.
Sebastion led Leigh and Richard aside. "The two of you should not really fight in public," he instructed. "It looks better if the royal family agree with each other."
"Who are you to tell me what to do?" asked Richard.
"I am the Royal advisor and head of the Royal Guard, your highness."
"Well not anymore," said Richard, "you are fired!"
This came as a shock to Sebastion. He had been a part of the Royal household for so long. He had been Royal Advisor since he was seventeen, and head of the Royal Guard for three years. Now, he was nothing.
"You really are a stupid idiot," Leigh stated. "Fine, then. If he can not be your advisor, he can still be mine. There is nothing you can do about that."
"Isn't he a little old for you?" Richard asked suggestively.
Leigh cast him a dirty look and stalked out of the room. Sebastion, with nowhere else to go, followed. Everyone else started plans for the unpopular war.
When the war was announced the next day, the moods of the commoners sunk. War against another part of the same kingdom? This would be civil war.
It must have been the quickest war ever to be planned. By the next morning, the soldiers of Kingscourt Major were ready to march. These were the finest soldiers of the kingdom. The few knights of Lord Stewart's lands did not stand a chance. It seemed that Catherine surely would be stolen away to be Richard's bride. Sympathy went out to her.
Richard, Leigh, and Sebastion were going also.
It had been a couple of weeks since Leigh's psychic powers had revealed themselves. Now, dozing in the Royal Carriage, they came in the form of a dream.
She saw first what everyone knew lay ahead. Brother fought against brother, hating and killing each other. Dead bodies lay on the blood red ground. Then, Leigh killed her brother. Everyone rushed towards her as she tried to fend off the attacks . . .
She woke up with a start, remembering every detail. Maybe it was only just a regular dream. She would never kill anyone, especially if he only acted out of stupidity.
She did have to try and convince Richard again that this was not a good idea. Why should so many men die needlessly?
The army stopped for a few minutes to rest the horses. Leigh climbed out of the carriage and went to talk to Richard. He rode his horse at the head of the army. Leigh had insisted on a carriage for herself to slow down the army.
"You have to reconsider, Richard. This is stupid."
"Why did you have to come along to nag me, anyways? And that boyfriend of yours."
"He is not my boyfriend, he is my advisor." Leigh was getting sick of Richard. "Maybe I shouldn't even warn you that you're going to die soon."
"Going to die?" He laughed. "What are you, a prophet?"
Leigh laughed too. "Yes I am."
With that she turned and walked away. The king was left to think that statement over.
Leigh and Sebastion were eating a quick snack a few minutes later when Richard came over to them. All but the two stood and bowed to the king.
"If what you say is true," the king said hesitantly, "you should prove it."
Leigh thought for a moment. How was she going to do that? It was not as if she could ask to know something specific. Her knowledge just came to her whenever if felt like it.
"All things of the future should not be known," she stated to try and get rid of the king. He still pursued the topic.
"Tell me something of the future."
Leigh sighed. "Very well. My carriage will break soon and slow us down farther."
She did not actually know this, but she wanted Richard to leave. Maybe she could make the carriage fall apart . . .
"Come on." the king called, signaling everyone to leave. "No time to break the carriage now. Oh well."
A few minutes down the road, the carriage wheel suddenly fell off.
"It has to be quite a coincidence," Leigh said to herself.
Richard came riding back, eying the carriage suspiciously.
"We will have to wait until it gets repaired," Leigh stated smugly.
"Oh, no," said King Richard. "You and a few others can wait. I have a war to fight."
"You are not getting rid of me that easily. I will take a horse and ride with you. We can leave about fifty of your best soldiers behind to guard the Royal Carriage."
"There is a lot of gold on the carriage. We wouldn't want it to be stolen."
"Very well," said Richard. "Ten soldiers to guard the carriage." He then left to give the orders. Leigh sighed.
It was nearly midnight when the army reached Lord Stewart's castle. The king decided to set up camp there and surprise Lord Stewart in the morning. The army was tired from the long day's march, anyways.
As the tents were being set up, two messengers from Lord Stewart approached King Richard.
"Lord Stewart wishes to speak to you, just outside the castle walls. You may bring five guards with you."
"I will not meet with him," said Richard, "just to have him murder me when my army is not with me. Tell him Catherine will be mine - or he will be dead."
The messengers scurried away, back inside the castle walls.
"That was stupid," Leigh criticized. "You could have stopped the war and gained a bit in the process."
"Catherine will be mine!" he yelled. "No matter what it takes!"
Leigh knew something had to be done. The war had to stop, but what could she do?
Later on, in the dead of night, a lone figure snuck towards the castle walls. The moon was covered by clouds, so the darkness hid their identity. As they approached the gate, two guards jumped out at them.
"Stop! Who goes there?"
Leigh stepped into the torchlight and extended her right hand. "I am Princess Leigh of Kingscourt. Nice to meet you!"
The guards looked at her like she had gone mad.
"Please tell Lord Stewart, Baron Strathclyde, and Catherine I wish to speak to them. And, please, apologize for the hour at which I come here. It is a matter of urgency."
The guards looked at each other for a moment, and then one of them left.
"Cold weather we are having now, isn't it? Very unusual for this time of year. I maybe should have worn something warmer. Mind if I step in here for the moment out of the wind?"
As Leigh took a step towards the gate, the guard grabbed her arm and drew his sword.
"O.k., o.k., no need for that. I'll stay here and catch pneumonia, but that's o.k."
Just then, the other guard reappeared. "Come with me," he said to Leigh.
He led her through the gate and courtyard, and into the Stewart Castle. It was half the size of the Kingscourt Castle but sill very big.
Leigh was led to a conference room. Seated around the table were the sleepy-eyed Catherine, Baron Strathclyde, Lord Stewart, and a couple of nobles Leigh did not know.
"Hello!" she said brightly. The others eyed her suspiciously.
"What do you want?" asked Lord Stewart.
"Well," began Leigh, "I figured since Richard would not talk to you, someone should. However, I have very different reasons. I have wanted this war to stop all along, and have tried everything I could think of to do so. Nothing has worked. If none of you have any ideas, I have one of my own I will have to use."
"Why do you want to stop the war?" asked Catherine. "That is treason."
"I don't want innocent soldiers being killed," she answered. "I also want you and Baron Strathclyde to be together. I can see you are in love."
Catherine and Baron Strathclyde looked at each other and smiled.
"But what do you plan to do?" Lord Stewart asked Leigh.
"Well," she said, "Drastic problems call for drastic measures - I plan to kill him."
There was a shocked gasp from everyone in the room.
"I have thought it over, and it is better to end one life to save many."
"You can't be serious," said Baron Strathclyde.
"I am." Leigh stated. "But now for your role in all of this. Once he is dead, we will call for an end to the war. I then need you to support me if they find out who the murderer was. You also have to forget this conversation ever happened."
Everyone in the room but Leigh looked at each other nervously. She sat there looking calm and determined.
"Leave, please," said Lord Stewart. "I don't want to hear any more."
Leigh did as she was told, and made her way back to the gate. By now, a storm was over the land. It was dark, raining, and miserable. Leigh ran back to the camp, crying and shaking.
"What am I doing?" she asked herself. "Murder? Did my parents not teach me any moral values? But, of course, I am a member of the royal family now. They are not honest like my parents are. And, this has to be done. I know it. Yes, I would rot in Hell to save this land."
Leigh took a deep breath and walked towards her tent.
Sebastion came up to her then. "Where were you in this weather?"
"I took a walk," she said calmly.
"In this weather? You will catch pneumonia!"
"What are you, my mother?" she snapped and went inside.
"I have to have a plan," she told herself. She changed into drier, but still dark clothes as she thought her plan through. "I will have to use Richard's knife. I can't use my own. I have to do it soon tonight. I can not let anyone see me. He must die quietly. I will have to pretend I am innocent so I can still rule the country. No innocent, undeserving person can be punished for this. Now, to go and save the peace I must be brave. Death, go with me and help me out tonight."
She walked out of her tent and looked around. Everyone was in out of the rain. The coast was clear.
Leigh walked toward's Richard's tent. She did not notice anyone following her.
She walked over slowly. The guard was slumped over, fast asleep. What luck!
She walked through the entrance. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. After a couple minutes, she could faintly see a sleeping form on the bed.
Leigh walked over silently. Richard's dagger was lying on the floor beside his bed. Leigh tried to calm herself down as she picked the dagger up. Hands shaking, she pulled it out of it's sheath. Moonlight glinted off the blade as she raised it above Richard's body . . .
A hand grabbed her arm and pulled it back down. "What are you doing?" Sebastion's voice asked in a desperate whisper.
"Leave me alone!" she whispered back. "I have to kill him to stop the war!"
"I won't let you ruin your life like this!" Sebastion wrenched the dagger from her hand and swung it down at Richard. He woke up just then and moved away. In his haste, he tripped over something on the floor, fell, and landed on his unsheathed sword. He lay there, blood seeping out of his wound and onto the ground.
Leigh and Sebastion paused for a moment, shocked. Then, Leigh went over to Richard.
"He's dead," she announced after a quick observation. "Leave it to Richard to leave his weapons in the wrong place."
Leigh turned to Sebastion. "Why did you try and stop me, and then try to kill him yourself?"
"Because I love you and I don't want you to be punished for an unnecessary crime."
The first four words were still sinking into Leigh's mind. He loved her? She realized then that she loved him too. They could be happy together. He could help her run the country. After all, she had no idea how to go about it. She moved towards him. "And I l-"
"What's goin' on in here?" a guard questioned as he came in. "Where is the king?"
As a couple more guards came in, the first one saw the king on the floor. He went over to the body.
"He is dead. You killed him! Seize these two murderers!"
Two guards did as they were told, while Leigh and Sebastion protested.
"We did not kill him. He fell on his sword. Please believe us," Leigh protested.
The guards did not believe them. Sebastion and Leigh were taken prisoner.
"Quiet everyone!" The council members, observers, and the prisoners did so at the new Royal Advisor's request. He was not well liked, but was in charge of the kingdom. The king was dead, the next in line was prisoner, and the family's distant cousin and only other relative was in a distant town.
"We are here to decide who will be the next leader, and what will happen to our two prisoners here. We will let Lord Stewart speak first."
Lord Stewart stood up and told of Leigh's murder plot. Baron Strathclyde then added a few missed points. Then, Catherine stood up.
"I do believe Leigh was serious about killing the king, but her intentions were good. He was ruining our country, so something had to be done. I also believe she did not actually kill him."
Various other people spoke either for or against Leigh or Sebastion. A team of crime experts stood up and said Richard died by falling on his sword. The last witnesses were Leigh and Sebastion. They stood up together and told their story. Leigh then added a few words.
"I admit that I meant to kill Richard, but then I had doubts. He ended up dying by accident. I honestly do not know if I would have killed him, but I guess I will never know. You now have to decide between having me rule the country, or having a known criminal who is only distantly related rule the country. Decide well."
The council discussed their course of action behind closed doors. After nearly forty-five minutes, they came back.
"We have made a decision," said the advisor. He did not look very happy. "The majority of the council has decided that the accused are not guilty of Murder Royal. They are, however, guilty of plotting murder against a member of royalty. Since this was done in the best interests of the country, there will be no punishment. Leigh is now queen of our country."
A few people did not look very happy, but most people in the room were smiling. Leigh looked like the happiest person in the world.
"Congratulations," said Sebastion. "You're now the new Queen."
"And you're the Royal Advisor again."
"You know what I would really like to be, though?"
"Are you proposing or something?"
Sebastion just smiled.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. It seemed as if all the flowers bloomed and all the birds started singing just for that day. Kingscourt was all cleaned and decorated for the big event. This was the biggest celebration the town had seen in generations.
The crowning of the Queen was combined with the two wedding ceremonies. Everyone commented on how beautiful the ceremonies were. It was a day to remember.
At the great feast later on in the day, Leigh, Sebastion, Catherine, and Baron Strathclyde all sat at a table together.
"Here's to the new Queen," Sebastion said, raising his champagne glass.
"Here's to a better kingdom," said Baron Strathclyde.
"Here's to peace and prosperity," Catherine said.
Leigh now raised her glass. "Here's to family," she said, smiling at her parents, sisters, nieces and, nephews. "Here's to our former king for being so stupid. And here's to fate."