It's late. I should be asleep, but it's so cold that my shivering is keeping me awake. I huddle deeper into my bed, and silently wish Elle would come back to re-light the fire.
The wind is howling through my window. It was shut, but the cold air succeeded in forcing it open, snuffing out my fire in its excitement. I would shut it, but I don't want to leave my bed.
As I draw my blankets over my face, I think of all the poor people living outside the castle walls. On a night like tonight, surely many people will die. I wish I could stop it, but I can't. At least, not until I am Queen.
I close my eyes and pray for their souls.
I spin on my heels and search for the face which belongs to the deep, melodious voice. Of course, he is standing with Father. As our eyes meet, he strolls over to where I am standing.
"Sir Albert. Good morning." Albert has been my best friend throughout my whole life. He's seven years older than me, but growing up in the palace, neither of us had any other friends.
He bows slightly out of duty and respect, even though I ask him not to every time.
"Your father and I have been assessing the damage of last night's storm. Can you believe there were only twenty-three deaths in total by morning?" He is genuinely pleased, and I must admit, it is a lower rate than I had expected.
"Albert, must I remind you again not to bow for me? I love you as an equal and I will not have you treat me as if I am above me. But I am pleased for the people. Not tremendously, though. That's still twenty-three less people alive than yesterday."
A half teasing, half serious smile dances on his lips. "Annise, must I remind you again that you are the Princess, and thus you are above me. And you worry too much for the people. King Frederick has already done much. We cannot do any more until we know what they need." His face turns solemn. "Yet I know you are right, as always. It saddens me also to learn of even one more death in our kingdom." His eyes turn glassy, as if he knows more than he told me. I choose not to press the matter. Experience has taught me that he will eventually let me know.
I stand, looking around the court. I have spent all my sixteen years here, yet I still do not know who everyone is. Of course, I know my father, King Frederick. He stands by the far window, entertaining a small crowd with his sharp wit and genius for storytelling. Any moment, the hall will erupt with raucous guffaws and my father's own rolling laughter.
I scan the room a little more. Women aren't supposed to be in court, but Father has always insisted I come, even from the day I started walking.
I waken out of my memories back to the present. Albert is still beside me. I look up at him and reminisce at the cheeky boy with an impish grin, always with a plan to scare the maids or get into mischief in Father's library. Father never did mind, but Mother would always respond, "You two will be the death of me." And she was right.
We were playing under the banqueting table after the guests left from a long feast. I was three. The maids had already cleared off the table, but they hadn't taken the table cloth out yet. Albert instructed me on the art of building a fort. We each took an end of the long stretch of fabric and began wrapping it around one end of the table. Once we were satisfied with our work, we squeezed in and hid for a time. I am not sure how long we waited, but after a while we heard screams from somewhere in the castle. I was terrified, but Albert helped me crawl out of our mess. After a while of running, we found Father. I will never forget the look on his face.
When he saw us, he started crying. I have never seen anyone cry as hard as he was at that moment. He grabbed us in his strong arms and held us to himself until we were crying as well.
No one knows how it started, but there was fire that began near mine and my mother's rooms. No one had seen us for hours, and Mother assumed we had started the fire. She didn't tell anyone her intentions. If she did, no one would have let her go into the scorching room. When they started cleaning up the mess, they found her body.
That day, plans were made for a new castle on the othe side of our kingdom.
"Are you okay?" Albert asks softly. I realise I have been silently crying for quite some time. Wiping the tears away, I look up at him and smile weakly.
"Yes," I answer. "Just remembering Mother."
He puts his arm around my shoulders in a tight, yet gentle embrace. "It wasn't your fault. You didn't know what was going to happen." He stares off into the distance for a while. There are tears in his eyes. "She was a good lady." He looks back down at me, smiles slightly with a quick squeeze, then lets go and makes for the stairs.
"Wait, Albert!" He stops three stairs up, looking down and waiting for me to explain my exclamation. I run up to him. "I do not wish to stay here anymore. I'm not feeling well."
He looks concerned, but doesn't ask any more questions. He takes my arm and escorts me up the stairs.
"I do not mean I am feeling ill. I am just overwhelmed with memories. I do not think I will be able to hold a normal conversation today." I begin crying again.
We reach the top of the stairs and stop simultaneously, though no words passed between us. He takes me in his arms and holds me until I'm calm. He strokes my hair, as I cry into his shoulder.
There is a knock on my door. I throw my silken blue robe around my shoulders, move toward the door, and rest my hand on the cold handle. Who would be visiting me now? The door hinge creaks as I open the door.
"Just checking to see if my baby girl is okay. Albert told me you were a smidge upset this morning." I fall into my father's embrace and let him dote over me, telling me over and over how much he loves me. I have lost my mother, and I miss her greatly, but I don't know what I'd do without Father.