His footsteps echoed throughout the cavern hall. A faint glow emanated from his brown, hooded robe, but still all he could see was a seemingly endless, pitch black tunnel. He cringed at the nerve-wracking passage that he had to embark on every time he needed to speak to him, but he didn’t dare voice his complaint out loud. His master would have condemned him as unfit for his job, and nothing would tempt him into losing that! He understood why he deemed it necessary to do it this way, but he wished he had a fraction of his courage to do this constantly! Perhaps he had a better grasp of how long it took to reach the entrance and knew what to expect, he thought. It felt never ending to him, and each passing second just built up his anxiety! Just when he thought he couldn’t take it anymore, he finally saw a light flickering in the distance! He breathed a sigh of relief as he rushed towards the illumination that was seeping out of a wooden door. He knocked, and a cold, booming voice responded, “Who is it?”
“It’s Simeon, your majesty!” he replied. The door opened on its own, and Simeon entered.
The source of the small bit of shine turned out to come from the fire that heated a cauldron, which had a nearly translucent liquid simmering inside of it. Curious, Simeon asked, “Were you able to see anything?”
The other person in the room answered, “Psh! Are you kidding me? That castle has the highest protection guarding it; there’s no way I’d have a chance to keep an eye on that so called queen! I’m reduced to finding out what she’s up to through those bloodhounds who relentlessly hunt information, which doesn’t help me much since most of them are on her side! Just look at this headline!” He waved his hands over the cauldron to show a a headline that read: Xavier Ryder Still at Large. After Simeon had a chance to see it, Xavier quickly took it away from view. Xavien then grouched, “When I’m king, they’ll be sorry for disparaging my name like that!” After he growled from frustration, he eyed Simeon in annoyance and probed, “Why did you ask me that? Do you dare question my judgment? What I do in my private quarters is no business of yours!”
“I agree, your majesty!” Simeon timidly jumped in. “I’m sorry if my intentions weren’t clearer. I only wanted to know if our newest recruit managed to break down a barrier.”
“New recruit?” Xavier’s attention peaked when he heard that. “Did you do a better job vetting this one?”
Simeon shifted uncomfortably at that reference. “We most certainly did, your majesty! We wouldn’t make that mistake twice! And this one won’t even need to come here! We found someone who works at the castle that’s willing to help us!”
Xavier raised his eyebrows in an impressed expression. “So, they’re willing to sneak in the…?”
Simeon nodded. “Yes, your majesty!”
“Wow!” Xavier reacted in relief. “Finally, some good news!” He waved his hands over the cauldron to convey a distant view of the royal castle. “They’ve been lulled into a false sense of security for far too long! Soon, they’ll see that it doesn’t pay to double cross me!” He cackled delightfully as he made the image of the castle disappear.
“Order! Order!” Emily banged her gavel on the small podium in front of her seat in a large room, and several people in professional attire stopped bickering and reluctantly took a seat. When they were all facing her, Emily calmly addressed them, “I appreciate the passion that you all put inot this cause, but please remember that no one will buy into your argument if you try to force them into it! At the end of the day, we all want what’s best for Amouraq, we just have different ways on how to get there. Please try to keep that in mind before you jump down each other’s throats!” The parliament murmured in a begrudged agreement. Emily sighed, and then she concluded, “Look, we all want this thing passed, but I can’t sign something that doesn’t exist yet. Why don’t we call it a night, refresh ourselves for a while, and come back on Monday with some compromises so we can get this thing done? You’re dismissed.”
After she banged her gavel, a balding man with small glasses and a thin body that emitted an aura of ardent enthusiasm for the academia announced, “Parliament will resume again Monday at nine!”
“Thank you, Hugo!” Emily acknowledged him.
“My pleasure, Madame Queen,” he replied courteously.
Emily reminded him, “I told you, you can call me Emily.”
Hugo very cordially disagreed, “No, I don’t think I can!” He gave her a small grin, and she chuckled in response.
Outside of the parliament doors, three people stood in a circle chatting. One was a plump, very genial-looking woman in a maid’s uniform, one was a gaunt, lanky young man in a custodian’s uniform, and the other was a stocky, middle-aged man with a bushy mustache and a chef’s hat. When they saw Emily emerge, the woman in the maid’s uniform commented, “Boy, you look like you’ve had a rough day!”
“I do? Oh no!” Emily rushed to a decorative mirror hanging on a nearby wall. She could see bags under her normally shiny, golden brown eyes, and her coffee brown hair seemed a bit frayed. She thought that her skirt suit flattered her well in the morning, but now she questioned it. She felt like it accentuated her thick, hourglass figure, but now she wondered if it actually complimented her like she thought.
The man in the custodian’s uniform reassured her, “Yvette didn’t mean that you looked anything less than your usual, lovely self. You’ve just been here long enough where we can tell when you’ve had a long day without you having to tell us, that’s all!”
“Oh!” Emily seemed a little relieved to hear him say that. “Thanks, Oscar! Sorry if I’m a little on edge! I’m just trying really hard to get something accomplished soon! Everyone keeps pointing out how little I’ve done since I’ve gotten here.”
“Not everyone,” Yvette differed. “Just a few reporters who don’t have anything nice to say about anyone! I actually just read an article about how well you’ve assimilated into your role; I’ll send it to you.” She pulled out her cellphone and proceeded to text her the link.
The chef shared her sentiment, “don’t let your critics get you down! You’ll never be universally popular, but most people really like you. King Patrick always said he’s doing his best, and if that’s not good enough for someone, then screw ’em!”
Emily smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Dagan! You’re right, I’m gonna spend the rest of the weekend relaxing so I can just forget about it!”
“How about I whip you up some nice comfort food for dinner?” Dagan suggested.
“That sounds great! Thanks for the support, guys! You’ve been really helpful to me this past month!” Emily appreciatively told them.
Oscar affably responded, “Anytime!” She gave them a gracious look as she walked away.
Later that day, Emily sat on a cushy couch in a posh but comfortable-looking living room while she watched a kooky-sounding show in her pajamas. She rested her head in her hand with a despondent expression. All of a sudden, the channel changed to a station playing a more serious show! Emily blew up, “Hey! I was watching that! Why would you-?” She turned to see who had committed that offense against her, expecting to argue with them, and instead, to her delight, she saw a handsome man with copper-colored hair, deep blue eyes, a strong jawline, and a nicely toned physique! “Oh, hello stranger!”
With a very toothy grin, he greeted her, “Stranger, huh? I guess that means you didn’t miss me much!”
“Obviously not!” Emily joked. They both laughed, and then Emily noted, “Usually, I just get a text message or a phone call from you, so you must be here for a more substantial message.” She paused and added, “Please don’t be bad news!”
“Well…” He sat down on the couch with a hand behind his back. “I heard you were having a rough day, so I brought you something.” He revealed that he had gotten her a small, white box with a chocolatier’s logo on it, and Emily’s face lit up to see that! “I hope it’s good! I had to rely on the sales person ’cause of the allergy.”
Emily beamed as he handed it to her. “I’m sure it’s delicious! You are so sweet! Thank you, Stephen!”
Stephen’s heart skipped a beat as she threw her arms around him to give him a hug. He had been so busy working on his case that he had almost forgotten how warm her body felt! He didn’t want to let go, but he certainly didn’t want to create an awkward moment for her either. After they broke apart, he playfully informed her, “I hope you didn’t get too comfortable with me being a stranger ’cause it’s my turn to bodyguard you this week!”
“Oh, that’s…” Emily trailed off as something on the television caught her attention.
A middle-aged woman with an outdated hairstyle and an ample amount of make up that failed to make her look younger boisterously told the camera, “I’m Penny Melrose, and this is Celebrity Tonight! We’ve got the latest on the reality show spat that has the whole world talking, but first, let’s go to Bernard Andrew for his exclusive interview with one of Queen Emily’s old flames.”
The camera panned to a good looking, well dressed man who eagerly spoke, “That’s right, Penny! Emily came to power as a single woman, but everyone wants to know who might join her on the throne! My next guest says she won’t stay single for long! Please say hello to her ex boyfriend from-!”
“Ugh, turn it off!” Emily stared at the the television in disgust.
As Stephen complied with her request, Emily’s sour mood prompted her to open up the chocolate he had gotten her. Her annoyance instantly melted away as she ate the candy, and Stephen felt pleased to see his gesture generated his intended effect. Before either of them could say anything else, an elderly woman with an elegant, gray bun and a knitted shawl over her dress entered the room and pleasantly remarked, “Oh, Judith wasn’t lying, you are here!”
“Yup!” Stephen grinned at her. ‘Nice to see you again, Amelia! Tell me, how’s castle life treating you?”
“It’s a lot different than Hartwood!” Amelia sat down in a chair by them and began regaling him with her experiences in this new environment.
The next morning, an older woman in a maid’s uniform carried a stack of towels down the hall. Despite her age, she had a shrewd visage that gave off plenty of energy. She saw Stephen waiting outside of Emily’s chambers, so she queried, “What are you doing?”
“Oh, hi Judith!” Stephen requested, “Would you mind watching over Emily for a little while so I can go for a jog?”
“Not at all!” she obliged. “Enjoy your jog!”
“Thanks!’ Stephen left as she assumed his position.
Stephen could see his breath as he jogged through the cobblestone streets around the castle. He loved how going through Ovelstrofe felt like stepping into a time machine! The medieval buildings were still artfully in tact, and he didn’t see very many people with cars. He knew most people in the area would use a teleportation spell and didn’t need them, but regardless of the reason, he enjoyed how fresh the air felt without a bunch of exhaust hovering over the town! He was glad that Emily finally got a chance to sleep in, but he woke up early because couldn’t sleep at all the previous night. He had the same dread he usually faced before embarking on a new assignment, which was strange since he still hadn’t closed his case with Xavier yet. He didn’t understand it but theorized that perhaps it just stemmed from his general anxiety at the moment. He still hadn’t decided if he wanted to take over Alastair’s position at the International Crime Investigation headquarters or if he wanted to stay with the FBI.. He didn’t know which way his instincts were pulling him since all of his thoughts were preoccupied with his imagination going into overdrive from having Emily in the next room! His mind revisited a few of his enticing fantasies as he reminded himself of her curvaceous silhouette…
All of a sudden, a small, green creature with pointy ears and sharp claws jumped out of someone’s yard and snarled at him!