I finish eating breakfast and go to find Lydia. I dread to see what she might have planned for me but am relieved to see that she's somewhat in her normal mood.
"I was thinking we should spend the next four days at the cove!" She beams.
"That sounds like a lovely idea Lydia; even though we already spend most of our time there." I laugh and take her arm.
"I've sent our bags there already. I knew you wouldn't refuse the cove."
I don't know how friendly her motive is but I suspect it would be to make Luke frantically search for me, and to no avail. I shake my head. The poor boy's going to have his heart running in circles for no reason if she doesn't stop planning these things.
"Now, this isn't just to get Luke…interested in me, is it?" I ask.
"I didn't even think of that!" She says dumbstruck. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"Oh dear. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything."
"Well, it's too late now." She smiles. "We're going."
"Okay then." I say, shaking my head. "Dear, dear Lydia. I think I've lost you again. You've gone into cupid mode." I think back to all the times she smelled a potential romance and tried to make it work. "Remember Gary and Millie?" I ask. "That didn't turn out too well. Now they dislike each other."
"Well, that was when I was a foolish little cupid." She argues. "This time I am more experienced. I did, after all, have a few successes. There's the William's and the Smith's and…"
"All right, so you have become a somewhat successful matchmaker, but can I ask that you leave this in God's hands?"
She thinks for a moment. "Yes, I will. I'm sorry, dearest. I didn't even consider your feelings."
"Or his." I add.
"Oh dear! Especially his." She frowns. "What am I to do with myself?"
I laugh. "Oh Lydia, darling. I forgive you. Don't think too low of yourself."
"I suppose I should go apologize to him as well."
"That would be best." I smile.
"Well, I shall go then. Where will you be?" She asks.
"Probably wandering the south garden."
"I'll find you afterwards." She gives me a hug and bounds down the hall.
I smile to myself as she disappears around the corner. Turning in the opposite direction, I make my way to my room and change into waterproof clothing. I grab my Bible from my vanity, and walk out into the south garden. It is not what you would think a normal garden to be. Being on the south side of the castle, it faces the sea; or rather, it is in the sea. Very little of it is on shore. Exotic corals, fish of many kinds and different colored sands occupy the blocked off water. It is much like a giant fish tank. On the shore Crocosmia, Calendulas, Hydrangea, and other salt tolerant plants grow in the diamond like sand. Statues of mermaids, dolphins, and sunken ships decorate the shore and water. Gold stones create paths among the flowing sea grasses and a small mound of rocks jut out of the water, creating the perfect place to sit.
Lifting my Bible over my head, I wade across the garden to the rocks and sit down. For the next thirty minutes, I immerse myself into God's word; praying and thinking. I lie down, close my eyes, and put my hands behind my head. I listen to the sounds of the sea for quite a long while. When I sit back up again, I look towards the shore and wonder why Lydia hasn't come out yet. I see why. She and Luke are some ways off. He is sitting on a bench and she is pacing back and forth in front of him. It's apparent that she has slowly led him here, but he hasn't seen me yet as his back is turned to me. I shake my head and close my Bible. She must have been keeping an eye on me because she acts surprised and sends me a wave.
I raise my eyebrows and wave back. I should have known. I wonder what she's been telling him. Luke turns his head, then focuses back to Lydia but does a double-take. I smile, hop down from the rocks and wade back to the shore. Well, this must look attractive, I think as they make their way over.
"Miss Anderson." Luke smiles. "What a pleasure to see you again."
"And you as well your Highness." I reply. "I assume that Lydia has made her apologies?"
"Ah yes." He looks her way. "She is quite forgiven although I am glad that she introduced you to me. Will I have the honor of considering you a friend?"
I nod my head and smile. "A friend indeed."
"If you are not too busy, may I ask that you accompany me on a ride through the forest at 7:30?"
"I…um…are we busy Lydia?" That was a big mistake.
"Oh no! Not at all!" Yep, big mistake. I should have made up my own mind first.
"Well, I shall see you then, Miss Anderson." He bows and strides out of the garden.
I watch him till he goes out of sight. Slowly, I turn my head to Lydia and smile.
"What?" She grins. "I didn't tell him to say that."
"I might as well go change then." I laugh.
Over the next few months, our trio becomes very tightly knit; morphing into a circle of friendship that will last forever. We talk about political issues, what God is doing in our personal lives, we paint together, help him with is assigned kingly duties, and ride horses together; we even show Luke the cove. He was very honored as he knows the cove is a treasured place to us.
He is a good friend and I enjoy his company greatly. Yet I constantly wrestle with my feelings and God's will; perhaps these feelings are God's will. I'm not sure. I have consulted with my father and Uncle George often over these past few weeks and I am still not sure; I even write Clyde about it. Of course, they all give me good advice, so I just bide my time; painfully.
"So what are you going to do, Veronica?" Amy asked.
Veronica paced violently back and forth in her room.
"I don't know yet. You can't just come up with a plan like that." She snapped her fingers in a rage.
"But we can't let Sarah get Luke." Monica squeaked. "That would be worse than if your nail chipped." She rubbed her fingernails as if imagining it happening.
Veronica stroked her chin, deep in thought. "I've got it!" She shouted. "Gather 'round girls. Have I got a plan for you!"
The girls leaned in and "Ooo-ed" and "Ahhh-ed" as Veronica revealed her plan.
"Oh that's too good!" Monica squealed.
"I know." Veronica agreed. She began to laugh, quite evilly.
"Daisy? Have you seen my letter from Clyde?" I ask, searching through my desk.
"No darling, I haven't."
"I wonder where it could be. I just had it…" I sigh, frustrated.
"Well, I'll keep looking for it and you go off with Lydia." She smiles.
"Thank you Daisy." I smile back.
I pick up my art supplies and meet Lydia on the south balcony to paint the sea.
"Where's Luke?" I inquire.
"Oh, he said he wouldn't be able to make it this morning because of kingly duties." Lydia says while swiping her canvas with blue. "He's going to join us later before we head to the cove."
"I see. Well, more girl time with you then!" I smile, creating waves just beginning to break with my paintbrush.
We chatted on about things only a girl would find pleasure in; what outfit we might wear at the next ball, what God was showing us about our feminine natures, and much more. I always cherished these moments. It reminded me of all the childhood memories we had shared. I remember the nights we spent sleeping in the barn, waiting for a foal to be born, the hours spent at the cove, the endless study nights, hiding behind the flower urns at balls, helping Millie in the kitchen, swimming in the south garden, chasing the geese, and so much more.
We sit here for quite a while, long after our paintings are complete, soaking in each other's presence.
Luke walks into the library with a stack of papers in his hands. He sets them down on his desk but not before he notices a small letter haphazardly placed on the mahogany wood. Picking it up, he unfolds the paper and begins to read. His eyes become concerned and his eyebrows knit together in anger. Throwing the letter on the desk, he rushes out of the room.
"Dearest Sarah," it reads.
"Nothing pleases me more than to inform you that I have become a First Lieutenant in the King's Royal Army. I love the position already and General Williams was very proud of my progression. I have enjoyed these years on the battlefield but I am very much anxious to come back to you. I love you dearest Sarah! Never forget it.
General Williams stared at the letter in his hand; bewildered. Kill Clyde? What had the newly christened lieutenant done? Surely Prince Luke hadn't met the lad before. The poor general had pondered what action to take for the past few hours. Clyde was one of his best soldiers. It would be a very big loss to the army, but a letter signed by the prince and sealed by the king's insignia had to be obeyed. How could he do it? He could pose an accident but then other soldiers would have to be in on it. Clyde was liked by everyone in the army and the general didn't want them to feel guilty for the rest of their lives. No, an accident would not work. If anyone was to feel guilty it would have to be himself. 'I'm old and may die soon anyway", he thought to himself.
He could put Clyde in the direct line of opposing fire, but that would mean placing him under the command of another general. No, that would not work either. He wanted to be completely responsible for the command from the prince. Perhaps, just perhaps, in all the chaos, he could find a way to personally wound Clyde and then somehow get him to a peasant's house to recover and say that he had die on the battlefield. It would be risky, very risky. Then there's the matter of the body. The family would obviously want a proper burial. Maybe he could use a soldier who had died in battle that had a similar body build to Clyde but whose face was distorted. He sighed disgusted at himself.
He would need to at least tell the other generals' about the letter; a few witnesses, you might say. If he was the only one who knew about it, the whole thing could be a potential lawsuit against him for attempted unlawful murder. 'How ironic', he thought. 'That's exactly what the prince wants me to do.'
"Ah, General Williams!" A voice met his ears. "Exactly the man I need to see." The owner of the voice lifted the burlap flap and stepped through it.
"General Rand. Please come in. I have to confess you are exactly the man I need to see as well." Williams smiled strenuously.
"Well then! Tell on. Mine can wait and judging by your rigidness it is of great importance."
Williams nodded and waited a moment to catch his wits.
"Rand," he paused; deciding what to say. Finally he gave up and said, "Read this and see what you make of it." Flinging the letter towards Rand, he turned away and paced the room. Rand squinted in the flickering lantern light and quietly read the letter.
"I see…" He said slowly. "Hmmm…"
"What should we do?"
Rand stroked his beard and pursed his lips in thought. "Maybe we don't have to think of ways to kill Clyde, perhaps he should."
"Have a man kill his own self; not even knowing why he's supposed to die?" Williams said with a snort. "That would be very cruel."
"Well, plotting to kill a man for unknown reasons is cruel too." Rand countered. "I think he should have a say in his death. Maybe, just maybe we could save him too." He leaned forward in his seat. "Perhaps he could injure himself in some way and then act dead. When the battle is over we'll come back to get him and leave him in the hands of a humble peasant."
"I had similar thoughts." Williams said grimly. "But what about the body?"
"Simple," Rand said. "We tell the prince and the family that we suspect he is dead but cannot find his body, and so declare him missing in action."
"Hmmm…." Williams holds his head in thought. "It could work, but I would hate to do such a thing to that boy. He's always been such a good lad."
Rand nodded his head in agreement. "We'd have to give him a new name and identity."
"This whole thing is terribly wrong. Prince Luke has never once met him, I believe. Why would he need to dispose of a young soldier like Clyde?"
Rand stared into space. "I don't know, Williams. I don't know."
They sat there in silence for what amount of time they were unaware of. Finally, Rand stood up abruptly and lifted the burlap flap.
"Franklin!" He shouted. "Find Anderson. Tell him report to Williams immediately."
Franklin saluted. "Sir! Yes Sir!" He yelled and went to complete his command.
A few minutes later, he was back with Clyde trailing behind him. The young man was still dressed handsomely in his uniform with his new position's symbol placed proudly upon his chest.
"Lieutenant Anderson reporting, sir!" He said cheerfully, and then sobered a bit when he sensed the mood his generals' were in.
"Anderson," Rand began. "Some…unexpected commands from Prince Luke have been issued. For what reasons…we do not know." The general looked at Williams and motioned for the letter. "There are no words to present this information to you. So you should read it."
Rand unfolded the letter and gave it to Clyde. Both generals waited anxiously as he read it. When he finally looked up, they searched his face for hurt or anger but found only a contemplative stare.
"There are no given reasons whatsoever?" He asked in a surprisingly gentle tone.
"None that we know of." Rand said factually. "Unless your relationship with the prince is not a friendly one."
Clyde shook his head. "I have never had the honor of meeting Prince Luke personally."
They all fell into momentary lapse of silence.
"Why are you informing me of this?" Clyde asked, uneasily.
Williams and Rand looked at each other.
"Because we have a plan that…might save you." Williams croaked.
Clyde spent the next few days milling over his generals' words. He was completely baffled by the whole situation. He prayed constantly and read his Bible in between his duties, preparing himself for what might happen. He wrote letters to his parents and siblings', asking the generals' to make sure they got to each person after his 'death'. His friends asked him what could possibly be the matter but he refused to answer them. If Prince Luke wanted him dead for reasons he could not make out, then telling others would not help the situation.
When he woke up that fateful day, he stifled tears as he prayed for guidance and strength. He knew what he had to do and it was approaching fast. As he dressed and got ready, he went through all of his childhood memories. Wooden sword fighting in the front lawn with his brothers while Sarah teetered around on her toddler legs. Horseback rides through the forest. Family pick-nicks. Trips to the sea side. Helping Sarah in her studies. Visiting the village folk. He sighed. Now he would have to leave all those memories behind. He fell in line with the rest of the regiment and they marched to the battlefield. As soon as his feet walked onto it, he would be Darrin Smith. Clyde Anderson would exist no more.
General Williams turned around and faced them. Saying a few words of encouragement, they charged into battle. Chaos ensued and Clyde held his gun shakily in his hands. He fired, reloaded, and fired again at the opposing side. It had been agreed upon that he would fight until General Williams signaled that the time was right.
Four long hours of fighting passed before the signal came. Clyde squared his shoulders and saluted his general and friend. Tears hung in Williams' eyes as Clyde reloaded his gun for the last time. He bowed his head and prayed a short prayer then held his gun backwards, the butt pressed against where his arm met his chest.
Just as he fired a cannon ball shrieked through the air and landed close by; throwing the limp Clyde to the ground.
The next four days are so wonderful. Lydia and I spend the time swimming, painting, laughing, riding the horses up and down the beach, praying, reading, thinking, and much more. I always love this time of the year. The water is coolest and most refreshing, the wind is calm, and the temperature is reviving. We are both in good spirits when we arrive back at the castle.
As soon as we come into the stable yard, though, I sense something is wrong. Dismounting, we lead our horses into the barn. The stable hands go about rather solemnly and there is not the usual chatter among them. I look at Lydia and we hurriedly hand them our horses. Turning around, we rush out of the barn and into the castle.
Bursting into the throne room, we stop abruptly at the sight in front of us. Nearly everyone has gathered; maids, butlers, gardeners, members of parliament, and the rest of the royal family. It is very quiet, no one speaks. They all wear sad expressions and some have tears on their cheeks. Lydia and I look at each other. What could possibly have happened?
I hear my name called. Turning towards the throne, I see my father. I gasp. He is a complete mess. Running across the room, I throw my arms around him and hold tight.
"What's happened?" I say quietly.
"Clyde." He gasps.
Uncle George clasps father on the shoulder. "He is most likely dead but they cannot find his body, so he is declared missing in action."
I stare at him in disbelief. Clyde gone? My big brother? My best friend? No. He can't be gone. He just can't. Tears gather in my eyes and spill over onto my cheeks. I cry into my father's shoulder for a while then Daisy takes me to my room.
I sit on my bed crying for a good three hours while Daisy comforts me and strokes my hair. Finally, I wash my face and dress in a plain black dress. Anna comes in and brushes my hair back into a simple braid. I feel like I'm in a daze, or dreaming. Lord, please say I'm dreaming.
I will never leave you or forsake you, my love.
So, this is not a dream. It is real. What will happen now, Lord? What will happen now?
I know the plans I have for you, plans to help you and not hurt you.
"I will put my faith in you, Lord." I say out loud, hugging myself as I rock back and forth.
"Oh Sarah!" Lydia says as she enters the room. Tear stains are on her face too. I give a weak smile and fall into her open arms.
"Let's go take a walk." She sooths, taking my hand.
I nod my head and follow her. As we leave, I realize I didn't see Luke in the throne room. Another pang shoots through my heart.
Luke paced back and forth in the library. Clyde was presumably dead. What would this mean for him? She would morn Clyde. Yes, she would morn him a long time before she would ever think of loving a man again. He shook his head. Sarah was more complicated than he thought. Why had she not told him that she was already seeing someone? Why had she blushed so much at the ball and every time he saw her? Had he read her motives wrong? Thoughts such as this ran through his head as he paced the floor. He needed to talk to her about it, but not at the moment. No, bringing up Clyde would not be a wise thing.
"I need a walk." He told the books. Grabbing his cape, he slung it over his shoulders and walked out of the room.
He made his way down the hall but stopped when he heard Sarah's voice.
"Oh my Clyde, dear Clyde. I loved him so." She sobbed. He heard Lydia comfort her.
Narrowing his eyes in anger, he stomped off down the hall. He rounded the corner, not hearing her last sentence.
"My dear brother."