Chapter 4: Of Plots and Plans
The only way many people ever spoke of the Hall of Records wasn't by experience, no, it was by way of what they had heard from gossip. Hattie, from the time she was a little girl, had heard of the Hall of Records by her mother who heard about it from her friends who had heard about it from their friends, who knew people that was lucky enough to spend time regularly in the castle and knew a little bit more about it than most. All she had ever heard about it was that it was the biggest collection of books in all of the kingdom. It contained more knowledge than all the people of the kingdom combined. It was supposed to be over seven stories high and wide enough for one hundred people to stand shoulder to shoulder. The books in which the hall occupied were to be the oldest in the kingdom and inside the hall itself was to be the most splendidly decorated than all of the castle. The Hall was to have been the first thing that was built centuries ago when the castle was first being constructed and then the rest of the castle was built around it in a way that would accent the Hall.
Hattie had tried to prepare herself for when she entered the hall. She knew it would be bigger than anything she had ever seen and tried to formulate a plan that would help her find the book she needed the fastest. From the time she closed the door she was struck immobile by the mere sight of its vastness. Hattie had always been sure of who she was and where she was going in life. She never let anybody walk over her nor did she let them tell her what to do. She never felt like she didn't belong or that she was insignificant, but the moment the door shut behind her that's exactly what she felt like. The rows upon rows of books towering about her made her feel like the smallest thing in the world. For a moment she cowered against the door wondering how she was to find what she needed in the time she needed to do it all by herself. She starred, mouth agape, eyes wide, breath shallow, limbs limp. After several minutes she walked forward a couple of paces and slowly pivoted taking in all of the splendor that the hall harbored.
For a moment she forgot that she was on a mission. That she had a deadline to make and people that were counting on her to make it. It seemed that the very hall was drawing the life from her, making her take account and notice it. She didn't know what to look at first, everything demanded her attention. It begged for her to look at each and every title of every book, to run her hands along the carved intricate details, to breathe in the aroma the the books emitted. After making two complete turns Hattie came back to herself remembering who she was and why she was there. She quickly shook her head to clear her mind and got to work on what she was looking for. It seemed that even though it first appeared that there was no order to the collection after several minutes of study Hattie found that the books were first ordered by century, subject, then title, then age within its particular century. It took her two hours to locate the section for magical being of this century, then another thirty minutes to locate fairies and on top of that another hour to shift through all of the fairy orientated books to find a couple that she thought would be useful to help her locate Lucinda.
She carried the books over to the nearest table and started rifling through them. She had no time to waist as she had no way of knowing how much time had passed seeing as there were no clocks nor windows in which to tell the time. After an hour of searching through the books she cam upon a passage mentioning Lucinda in the location in which Hattie and Dame Olga had inquired into upon starting this dreaded vendetta. It said that she had moved from the retirement home and into the heart of the town. Hattie beamed triumphantly. As soon as they could escape from the castle getting to the heart of the town would be easy peesy. Hattie stayed only long enough to read a little bit more making sure that Lucinda hadn't moved yet again from town. When she was confident enough that she hadn't, Hattie quietly and quickly quit the hall and stealthily maneuvered her way back down to the castle lobby.
She only had to quickly find a hiding place twice before reaching her destination and was thanking her good luck as the tour group in which she had left her mother were just finishing up and were exiting the building. Hattie caught up with her mom and gave her a smile and a nod to communicate that they had gotten what they had came for. They left the palace without anyone being the wiser as to their presence or business within it's mighty walls. Hattie and Dame Olga retired to their rented room and quickly prepared for tomorrow when they would confront Lucinda in all her madness.
Char and Ella lay in bed after their love making taking comfort in each others arms. This was a rare moment that they get to spend the morning this way. They lay there cherishing every moment. Both had duties to attend to, but were very reluctant to get up and face what they must. Ella lay facing Char's chest, as she lay there she drew lazy random shapes on it, relishing the comfort and safety he provided her.
"Ella my love, they are going to start wondering where we are at."
"Then let them wonder, I'm enjoying some time with my husband after quite some shocking news and I need time to recover." Ella said with a tad bit of wine to her voice. Char chuckled.
"Yes, but we have been gone long enough. I may be your husband, but I am also their Prince and you are their Princess and we must do what is expected of us."
Char hugged Ella a little tighter to himself forcing Ella to look up at him. When she did, he captured her lips in a heated, slow burning kiss. She smiled at him when the kiss was over and sat up allowing him to sit up as well. Char quickly dressed himself and helped Ella into her troublesome garments. Ella fixed her hair once more and washed her face. Char did the same and they made their way out into the castle to do what was expected of them.
Char went to the training grounds, where he would spend the rest of his day and Ella went to find the Queen. As she walked through the halls she was thinking of what would come next. She tried to imagine what life would be like if she and Char decided to get a divorce and couldn't imagine her life without him and found that she was a little mad that she would even have to try. When she turned the corner she could have sworn she saw someone disappear really fast into one of the rooms, but when she listened she could not hear a rustle of feet, nor the sounding click of the door as it shut. Ella shrugged her shoulders and continued on her way. As she passed the part of the hall she thought she had seen the non existent person she smelled a very familiar scent.
Ella stopped dead in her tracks and sniffed the air. There she smelled it again, but of course her brain must have been playing tricks on her because the owner of the scent had not been in Ella's life for some time now. It was an overpowering of different flowers all clinging together to make the air very heavy. It was a scent Hattie insisted upon wearing every day, claiming that she smelled like a garden and garden made people clam. Ella instinctively looked behind her and found nothing but hallway. She sniffed again, but could smell nothing out of place, once more and she convinced herself that she had been imagining the smell the whole time.
Ella continued on her way to the Queen without any further distractions. She made it to the Queen's personal lounge room and told the doorman to announce her presence to the Queen. He did as he was asked and soon was gesturing her way inside. She came into the main lounge area and found the Queen sitting at a table working on a complicated puzzle, with her lady in waiting sitting slightly behind her embroidering.
"Good Morning your Majesty." Ella said politely with a little curtsey.
The Queen chuckled in good humor and beckoned for Ella to sit down across from her. Ella did so and waited for the queen to speak.
"Good Morning to you too, dearest Ella, but I'm must inform you that it is well into the afternoon by now and that you have missed your morning studies."
Ella studied the Queen's face and found that she wasn't angry or disappointed, in fact she looked like she was trying to smile and make light of the situation, but instead she just looked kind of sad.
"I'm so sorry about that your Majesty, but when I awoke this morning I gained the knowledge of King Richard and his daughter were guests come to call. I also found out the intent of their visit and Char and I spent the morning discussing the matter."
"Yes, I Figured as much. It's such a terrible thing to see; a young couple, especially, a couple such as Char and yourself, go through such hardships so early on in a relationship, even more so since it would seem there are those trying to end your marriage."
In a sudden desperate need to be reassured, to be told straight out, from someone other than Char, that everything will be okay, Ella grabbed the Queen's hand as she went to fit into a puzzle piece and held onto it for dear life.
"How can they do this to us your Majesty? How can they be so cruel as to break up a marriage? Promise me that you won't let that happen. Tell me that Char and I will come out of this without blemish, and without remorse?"
The Queen was shocked at Ella's outburst. She usually always stayed calmed and never really showed dramatic emotions. The Queen, after a moment to compose herself, looked into Ella's eyes and saw the fear she had for the uncertainty of what her future held, the deep rooted love she had for her son. The Queen smiled, what was meant to be a reassuring smile, but instead she smiled a sad watery eyed smile that only made Ella's heart clench tighter to her chest and made the pain do nothing but intensify. She clasped Ella's hand with as vigor as Ella had clasped hers.
"My dear girl," the Queen said sweetly, "I don't know what the future holds for yourself and Charmont and I don't know how someone can come to someone else home and threaten to break up a home, a marriage, but I promise that I will do my best to make sure that everything turns out as best as they can." again the Queen smiled sweetly holding back the tears that were threatening to fall.
It wasn't the promise that Ella was hoping for, nor was it anything near what she had wanted to hear, but it was better than nothing and she took it. She nodded her head to show that she understood, not trusting her voice enough to speak for if she were to speak she would truly break down and cry, something she hadn't even done when Char had told her what was going on. The Queen saw this and let go of Ella's hand to return to her puzzle and wait for when Ella was ready to speak again.
After a minute Ella picked up a puzzle piece and started to help the Queen on this immense puzzle that, even now as they worked on it together ,it seemed it would never get finished. They worked on the puzzle together in silence for a while until Ella thought she would be okay enough to speak.
"I really don't fully understand your Majesty. Prince Charmont explained it to me a little this morning, but what I guess I don't understand it how it is going to be played out. What will happen next?"
The Queen stopped midway of placing down a puzzle piece. She looked up at Ella and sighed. She set aside the puzzle piece she had been about to play and sat up straighter. She had hoped not to have this conversation with her so soon, but she should have known Ella wouldn't wait to ask.
"The only things that have happened so far is the threat to take their case to parliament. They will not do that however, until it is their last and only option. When Princess Julia and Prince Charmont were younger, King Richard and Prince Charmont's father traveled back and forth from each other's kingdoms on business. Princess Julia and Charmont became really good friends. They instantly got along well and we never had any problems with them. As they grew older, it stayed the same way. King Richard and my husband had an unspoken agreement that when the time came and a binding relationship was necessary, Princess Julia and Charmont would have to marry to insure the stability of both kingdoms. Their need has arrived for just that and they traveled all this way to see that they got it. So you can understand their surprise when they arrived to find Charmont already married."
"Well, if they are in need of binding political stability then why not just write up a legal document saying that we will be there to defend them if they are ever in need of the occasion?"
The Queen sighed sadly, "I'm afraid it doesn't work like that Ella. If we were to draw up a legal contract, what's there to stop us from breaking it? A marriage between two kingdoms is the only thing to insure that those kingdoms stay allies. It's harder to break up that kind of marriage, then it is to burn a piece of paper."
"They don't seem to be having too hard of trouble breaking up my marriage." Ella said with bitterness.
"I've known King Richard and his daughter for a long time. I understand how their mind works, Ella. It's not always straight forward logical, but it's logic to them, it's just how they were raised, or rather what they were raised around."
"What do you mean?" Ella asked curious in spite of herself.
"Well, dear, I'm sorry, but that is something you are going to have to bring up with either King Richard or Princess Julia and it is a tender subject for the pair of them."
"Can they not be talked into a legal contract at all? There has to be something more we can do."
"Anything and everything we can think of to insure that Char keeps his crown and you is being done. Until this thing blows over we just have to make sure we don't do anything drastic and keep peace."
"Char and I were talking this morning and I came up with the thought of giving in,"
"What, Ella, no you can't do that! Think…" the Queen cut in with hysterics.
"Your Majesty, please let me finish," Ella cut back in hurriedly, "As we were talking this morning and he was filling me in on everything I came up with the idea to give him a divorce and that way he could keep his crown and in the mean time you guys could refuse a wedding between Prince Charmont and Princess Julia. I thought that if I was out of the way and not the main focus then they would see that there was no way they were going to get what they wanted and would be more open to other alternatives to insure their political safety, and after something else was agreed upon they would go home and Char and I would be free to marry again, but Char wouldn't even comprehend the plan and told me not to bring it up. But I had to see what you thought of it." Ella finished hopefully.
The Queen sat in silence mulling over what Ella had proposed. She went over every scenario she could think of and how that plan might go wrong. Unfortunately, there were several ways that plan could go wrong. On the other hand, there were several ways it could go the way they wanted them to as well. It was something to think about later in any case if they no longer had any other option.
"Ella, you know doing that would be a big risk. Even if it were to work out where King Richard and his daughter went home and you were again free to marry Charmont, it could cause and unforeseen rift between the two of you. Would you be able to live with that, knowing that your marriage may never go back to what it was?" the Queen pointed out sadly.
"I know that and so does Charmont. It was just an idea I had, but he would never let it happen. He would sooner give up his crown then see us divorce."
With that said Ella saw how the Queen's eyes hardened and she swallowed hard, almost like she was swallowing something very unpleasant. Ella could tell that it was unacceptable for Char to give up the crown no matter what, even loving Ella as much as she did, it wasn't an option, and frankly Ella agreed and she told the Queen what she told Char that morning.
"Don't worry your Majesty, I made Charmont promise me that if it ever came down to choosing me or his crown he would choose the crown. The kingdom is far more important than any one marriage."
In that moment the Queen gained a new found respect for her daughter-in-law and found herself hoping that it would never come down to Char choosing Ella or the crown, it would be a sad day indeed to see Ella go.
"Have you talked to Princess Julia at all?" inquired the queen.
"Only this morning when I awoke and she was having breakfast with Charmont."
"Well you should get her alone and talk to her. She's not afraid to speak her mind and if you ask the right questions and word them correctly she'll tell you things she wouldn't have meant to."
"I had asked her to take a walk with me later today, but then Charmont and I got busy talking and now I'm with you. But I will take your advice and talk to her soon."
"Ella, they are going to pressure you and Charmont to your limits. Don't be surprised if you and Charmont start bickering don't let it get to you. If you find Charmont and Princess Julia in a compromising situation don't get mad. Stand up beside Charmont and show her that you are always on his side no matter what and try not to let it get to you, it will not have been his idea, if you feel the need to say something to him about it do so in the privacy of your own chambers. They are going to try and cause a rift between the two of you and get you to split, making it seem like the divorce was your idea and not theirs."
"Ella, this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. We just have to ride it out."
"What I don't understand, Your Majesty, is if none of us want this why can't we just tell them that all of these shenanigans will do nothing but cause a rift between the two kingdoms and if they do not back off then they will lose our support indefinitely?"
"That is not a risk we're willing to take, Ella."
"And my marriage is? My happiness, Charmont's happiness, the crown, the future well being of the kingdom you are willing to risk, but not a relationship between us and one other country when we have several countries behind us? That your Majesty I do not understand. Excuse me, I have other business to attend to today." Ella stood abruptly and gave the Queen a stiff and quick curtsey before exiting the room.
Ella rarely got worked up and angry. She rarely ever held in her anger or kept it for very long. This time however, Ella didn't know how to get rid of it, nor did she know what was still causing it. Yes, sure, the Queen had been careless with her words, but Ella respected her a lot and even though Ella had disagreed with the way the Queen wanted to do things Ella never had stayed mad at her this long. Ella walked out into the east gardens enjoying the breeze and taking in the smell of all the flowers, letting the aroma calm her nerves.
She just didn't understand how everything could spiral out of control so fast. Last night she had gone to bed a happily married woman. She was taking lessons to help rule the kingdom and she was happier than she had ever been in her entire life. She and Char had fallen asleep laughing and talking and then this morning she had woken up with her world she had come to love so much being threatened. Everything was falling apart so fast and even though they all put on a brave face Char didn't know how to help, nor did the King or Queen. It seemed nobody would be able to stop this downward spiral that her life was falling into. Ella felt that if they couldn't do anything soon, she would be forced out of Char life, thrown away never to be thought about again. Once she was rid of, nothing, not even Char, could stop his marriage to Julia. Ella felt helpless. Just when she was feeling too drained from the days events, an unwelcome voice spoke from behind her.
"Princess Ella, would you cared to take a walk with me?"
"Ella turned around to come face to face with Julia. She was smiling sincerely and didn't seem to have any ulterior motives. As Ella stared at her she didn't understand how someone so pretty, and smart could do this to another person. She claimed to be Char's friend, but she was doing him no justice as to put him through this.
"I would love to, Princess Julia."
Ella stood where she was and after a moments confusion Princess Julia walked over to her and they continued on the path that Ella had been going.
"Princess Ella, I know it may seem that we have come so expectantly. I don't want you to get the wrong impression,"
Ella had to clench her teeth closed for fear of saying something she would later regret. Julia was using that overly sweet voice again and it was grating on Ella's nerves. She let Julia continue.
"Ella, you don't mind if I call you Ella, well Charmont's marriage to me has been planned since we were kids. You really aren't fit to rule over anything and I'm sure that your still just caught up in the fantasy of it all, but in a few years your going to get tired of the life and of Charmont, so really I'm doing,"
"I don't care what you believe Princess Julia and no you may not call me Ella. You shall address me proper seeing as you are no friend of mine. And trust me when I say I don't have the wrong impression. I know what you are after and what means you will go to get it. I wouldn't be surprised if she did something short of killing me. I wouldn't expect you to understand the love Charmont and I have for each other seeing as you've never loved anybody like that in your life. The only person you look out for is yourself. If you're looking for a fight Princess Julia, you're going to get one. Now please take your leave of me, I find that I would much rather walk alone this afternoon."
Ella made sure she stood straight and tall not taking her eyes off of Princess Julia whom was letting her shock come through like a homing beacon. She stuttered for a moment but couldn't find her words. She gave a curtsey and walked off quickly in the other direction. When she was out of sight, Ella let her composer drop. If possible she was even more tired and decided to head up to her chambers to relax.
Just as she was rounding the corner to the corridor that led to her chambers She saw something that shocked her to her very core. Char and Julia were lip locked in a heated kiss. Char's hands came from her hips up her arms and slowly they broke the kiss. Char's head came up with his brows knitted together like he was seriously trying to put a troubling puzzle set together. He looked up and saw Ella over the top of Julia's head and his face adopted the same look of shock Ella's had just seconds before. Julia turned, still in Char's embrace to face Ella with a little smirk on her face. Once Ella saw the smirk she knew what Julia was playing at. It was the very thing the Queen had warned her about. Char quickly let go of Julia when he realized his hands were still on her. He walked up to Ella searching her eyes for something anything. He was just about to say something when Julia spoke.
"You see Princess Ella, that your views about all this may not have been entirely correct. Charmont and I have always had something and we still do. He has already told me that he knows it will come down to a divorce, he just doesn't know how to tell you that he wants one."
Char was in outrage, he was about to say something vulgar to Julia about the allegations against him when Ella did something shocking. She came to stand beside him and interlocked their hands. Char looked down at Ella, but she was glaring at Julia.
"You keep playing your little games, it will get you no closer to the crown, or to Char. I know what he thinks of you and trust me when I say none of it is any good. You think you have all of this figured out and your plan will work. You are playing nothing but a spoiled childish games that will end with you on your ass. I would suggest you stay off of this floor and keep your hands to yourself lest you be thrown in the dungeons for outside party adultery and that my dear Princess is something even your father will not be able to protect you from. For that law at least is written in stone." Ella was seeping with anger. She was surprised that she had blown up like that, but if felt good to do so and it felt good to see the shock and doubt on Julia's face as she listened to Ella's little speech and looked and their intertwined hands. She stormed off and out of site.
Ella let go of Char's hand roughly and briskly walked to their rooms not bothering to look at him. Char followed with unease wondering exactly what was about to be said to him. Upon entering the room Ella walked over to the pitcher of water and poured herself a glass. She heard the shuffle of Char's feet and the closing of the door behind him. She took her time sipping the glass and it was a good thing, she thought, that Char didn't interrupt her thoughts at the moment. She set the glass down and went to sit on the couch, letting herself only perch on the edge. Char brought a chair over in front of her and sat in it, knowing better than to sit beside her. When Ella decided to look up at him Char was surprised to see tears running silently down her face and hurt to know they were because of him.
"Was it like you remembered?" Ella asked with a strong voice even she was surprised she could still muster up at the moment.
"I don't understand what you mean, Ella." Char said confused.
"Kissing her, was it like you remembered. I know you both spent a lot of time together. You both grew up together. She had to have been your first kiss. Was it like you remembered?"
Char didn't know how to approach the situation, but he thought anything sort of the truth and he would be in deeper trouble.
"It was a lot like I remembered, yes."
Ella bit her lip and looked down again. Her body started shaking and Char's heart hurt to know that she was really crying. He quickly got off the chair and knelt in front of her boldly placing his hands on the side of her legs. He lifted her chin and made her look at him. She looked so hurt and doubtful that Char had trouble speaking around his own tears.
"Ella, you have to know that the kiss was not my idea. She found me in the hallway and started rambling about something you had said to her in the garden. I was just trying to calm her down and I placed my hand on her shoulder. That's when she kissed me. I was so shocked. My mind went blank,it was such and odd feeling, sight, to see her like that, to feel her. It took me a moment to understand what was really happening. She broke the kiss before I could do anything."
"I know, I know," Ella cried pulling at Char's arm. He got up from the floor and sat beside her. "I know what she is trying to do. She's trying to split us apart and I won't allow it. It was just such a shock to see what the Queen had warned me might happen. When I saw that she was kissing you, that your hands were on her, I didn't know what to think. Char all of this is messing with my head and I don't know how much more I'm going to be able to endure."
"Ella, just know that I love you above anything and that I'm never going to let you go. Trust that I will stand by you. Don't listen to them or even my parents. Listen to me and only to me and we can get through this. Love conquers all Ella. Can you do that?"
Ella nodded her head furiously and pulled Char in for a kiss. She wanted to wipe all residue from him that that bitch had the audacity leave. Char pulled her close and deepened the kiss. Ella moved where she was straddling him. She broke the kiss out of breath. She leaned her forehead on Char's and she starred into his eyes deeply, both of them breathing hard. She could see nothing in them but love and passion. They spent the rest of the afternoon talking over things and took dinner in their chambers. That night Ella went to bed still afraid what new developments might bring, but this time she knew without any smidgen of doubt that they would get through this together.