Once her ladies were caught up amongst the many demands of the presence chamber, she silently continued on without them, passing through the heavy wooden doors and closing them behind her. She slid down the door in exhaustion, tilting back her head and closing her eyes, breathing a deep sigh of relief as she slowly collapsed into the pillow of her massive skirts. The coolness of the stone floor felt good as the discomfort of the summer months had only seemed to compound her misery. She cherished the distinction of actually being alone instead of just feeling alone amid hundreds of people who all wanted something from her but did not actually want her. Not like he did.
Her heart sank as she allowed the thought of him to surface from the bottom of the sea. Their hidden marriage. Their joy without obligation. Those few short months last summer before she was called into a life of duty she never wanted. Walking along the river, napping in the midst of the orchard, knowing that time could be snatched away any moment.
She opened her eyes and began to rise to her feet, hurrying to straighten her hood before someone came into see the leader of the country in a moment of disregard. She stopped cold as it caught her eye.
That basket of apples was not there this morning. She rushed over, tearing the scrawled note from the top, and gasped in shock as she read, “I never left you.”