That Derek had awoken mere minutes after Uberta had closed her eyes should have been a rather funny thing. But seeing how things played out, Uberta could find no energy to laugh.
Derek, once he woke up, had marched to the Captain of the Guard to join the search. Lord Rogers had forbidden it, of course; Uberta would have had his head if he hadn't. Not to be dissuaded, Derek had attempted to go off to search with only Bromley to accompany him. When Uberta had interviewed Bromley later, he reluctantly reported that it took Derek several tries to get on the horse. And that barely ten seconds after saying, "See, Brom? I told you I'm well enough to get on a horse," Derek had nearly fallen off of it, and his fever had returned from overexertion.
Enough, Uberta decided, was enough.
"It is settled," she declared, turning to her son. "Derek, you are hereby sentenced to house arrest. You are forbidden to leave this room until the royal physician has declared you well. Any objections?"
"Uberta," came Rogers' voice behind her. "Derek might be unable to answer because he is currently unconscious."
Uberta ignored him, whirling around to yell, "Bromley!" From where he was standing a few feet away, the boy jumped. And gulped rather audibly. "You are to be Derek's personal guard at this time, and make sure he follows his orders."
"Me?" Bromley echoed, looking delighted, honored, and very afraid, all at the same time. The sound of being the prince's personal guard sounded mighty impressive, but the responsibility was also rather heavy. Bromley looked like he was half-prepared to boast of his skills... or break down and admit that he was sure he couldn't do it.
"Yes, you," Uberta said, looking at him pointedly. "You are never to leave his side, and he is never to leave this room."
"Never to leave the room?" Bromley echoed again. "But how will he eat?"
"Food will be brought here. He is not to spend his energy, do you hear me? No climbing down the windows, no sneaking off to look for Odette, and absolutely no riding horses!"
"But, I'm not going to be able to stop him—"
"You are his best friend," Uberta reminded him, her voice rising. "Put that title to good use! Do you want to see him collapse again?"
"Now, Uberta," Rogers mediated, "let's just take a deep breath and calm down—"
"Calm down," Uberta echoed, whirling to face Rogers. "'Take a deep breath and calm down', Rogers? One of my dear friends is killed, his daughter that I have seen as my own is missing, and my son, my only son has fought a high fever the whole night only to succumb to it again, and you tell me to calm down?" Uberta paused, daring Rogers to reply. He did not. "NO, Rogers, I will NOT! I will not take a deep breath and calm down! I will— I will— I will YELL some more, let the pitch of my voice climb even HIGHER like so, and THEN calm down! THAT is what I will do! And no one—NO ONE—can stop me!"
From the corner of her furious eyes she saw a handful of dots—most likely to be birds—fly out of a tree somewhere in the horizon. Uberta doubted that her voice carried so far, but if it did, then she hoped that the two nitwits in front of her would finally get her point. Bromley, indeed, was likely to follow whatever Uberta commanded next, even if it was to jump out of the window—which she wouldn't command him to do, not really; she wasn't that angry with him—he was also as likely to faint in the very next second. Rogers, however, sported a deadpan look as usual, regardless of the fact that her voice had slightly blown through the ends of his white hair.
"Feel better?" Rogers asked.
"Much." Uberta answered.
From behind Rogers, Bromley let out a substantial sigh of relief. And even though Uberta's order for Derek's house arrest remained, he never voiced out an objection again.
The next week saw a continuous stream of people coming in and out of the castle. Search party after search party was sent. They were made of soldiers, the gentry, and the townspeople of different shapes, sizes and skill. There were lords, hunters, farmers, all striving to look for the dear young princess that they were all prepared to receive as future queen. People would go do their regular work before coming to the castle to join the search efforts. Those who were not as able-bodied came to offer their services in another manner, such as take turns cooking or helping in washing clothes and uniforms. Some went to the library to help Derek in his own search—the search in the library, that is, to find the "great animal" that King William was referring to.
But despite all the wholehearted work, no one, thus far, had been successful.
Uberta had to constantly remind herself that it was not entirely the fault of the Captain of the Guard. In the first days of the search, there were times when she would yell at him at push his troops to look better—"I don't care if you've already looked there! Look again! You might have missed a spot! And for goodness' sake, send people with better vision!"—but Uberta had soon realized that the Captain, along with all the volunteers, were doing all the best they could.
And amidst the flurry caused by the search for the missing princess, Uberta had other things to deal with. After all, Odette was not the only person of concern involved in all this. There was also her father. There was also their whole kingdom, left without their leader. Uberta had already sent a letter to them, saying that King William's ship shall soon return, along with their king, as well as Chamberg's queen. And that, if it was favorable to the council, she shall meet with them to discuss pressing matters.
It was not an easy letter to write. It being a royal correspondence about such a grave matter was one thing. It being about a grave matter about King William was another. Her eyes watered. Her hand shook. Somehow, putting the truth on paper made it feel more real—more than seeing King William's lifeless body ever did. Indeed, it was after she sent that letter that Uberta made her way to the library, and, upon finding Derek alone—"I sent everyone to go home for the night... Why aren't you in bed yet, Mother?"—the Queen allowed herself to fall to her knees and weep.
Usually, when Uberta would theatrically wail her despair over something, Derek would readily have smiling words that would get her back to her loud, exuberant self. But no such words came, this time. Quite fitting, because Uberta wasn't throwing theatrics, this time. She could barely speak, and for a long while her throat refused to let anything through except broken sobs.
Uberta, if she was to be honest with herself, was exhausted. The mental exertion—coordinating the search for Princess Odette and thinking of what to do with King William's country while ensuring that Chamberg still ran and maintained its strong relations with other countries—was one thing. The emotional exertion was truly quite another.
Thank goodness Derek was finally well. Uberta couldn't imagine going through this with him still fever-ridden. Or worse, out there looking for the "great animal" and very possibly getting himself killed.
Uberta chest constricted at the thought, and she felt another wave of tears coming. Instead, she held herself back, choosing instead to swallow her sobs.
She took a moment to ground herself. The next time she spoke, it was in a broken hiccup, but at least she finally managed to command her vocal chords to say, "I got your shirt all wet."
Derek shrugged. "Don't worry about it, Mother," he said, dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief. "You employed such good launderers."
"Yes, well," Uberta huffed, still a bit hoarsely from her crying, "only the best of the kingdom for the royal family, don't you think?— Oh, Derek, he was such a good friend! King William, I mean. It took no more than one look, you know. One look and we already knew what the other was thinking."
"Marrying me off to some girl at the tender age of 5, you mean?"
"Derek!" Uberta gasped, thwacking his arm as he laughed. "I wasn't talking about just that!— Well, alright, that was one of the things, I suppose, but I wasn't talking about just that!"
"Alright, alright!" Derek held his hands up in surrender, "Enough swatting, already!"
"And, please, it wasn't some girl; it was Odette. And you happened to fall in love with her."
Derek's laughter died.
"Hm." was his only reply.
Then he was pulling Uberta up to stand, and then he was smiling at her with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, and then he was escorting her back to her room and bidding her a "Good night, Mother."
Uberta could only sigh. Derek truly loved Odette, for him to be so affected at the mere mention of the princess' name. She wondered, not for the first time that week, what would happen if their search efforts continued to be unsuccessful. Or if they were successful but found that Odette was truly, utterly gone from the world. She wondered how long it would take for Derek to recover, if that was so. Uberta wished it wouldn't take too long. For his sake, and hers.
Because, truthfully, the Queen did not know how long she could hold the fort by herself.
Author's notes: One year of false starts, scrapped scenes, deleted dialogues, and complete rewrites, Chapter 3 is FINALLY published.
Goodness, that took a while. Also, it's a bit shorter than usual. And the ending isn't very...happy. Which kind of me pressuring myself to write a continuation. Ahahaha.
Still, it's nice to finally get some Uberta-Derek conversations in there. I'm hoping to write more, and I really can't wait until I get to writing Uberta as her fun, flamboyant self.
If anyone's still reading this, please let me know what you think!