“I’m serious, Lyric. It was insane.”
Since preparations for the wedding had already begun, Lyric and Alex were moved into a hotel room in San Myshuno until the end of the competition. It wasn’t a hardship, as the two had grown to be best friends over the course of the past few months.
Four days had passed since Alex left Stellan’s home, and the two girls had since fallen into a nightly routine. Alex baked a bunch of desserts and the girls gossiped about anything and everything.
“It’s just so hard to deal with,” Lyric admitted as she stepped out of the closet. She had been trying on a bunch of different pajamas they had been gifted. Alex was in the small kitchenette, whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
“I know,” Alex replied. “Here we had all thought Stellan was an only child!” She had to yell the last part, as Lyric had disappeared back into the closet.
Just as the cookies were done, Lyric emerged in a plush towel and a face mask smeared across her nose and cheeks. Alex rolled her eyes as she put together two plates.
“Where did you even get that mask?” She asked as she made her way to the patio.
“It’s homemade!” Lyric exclaimed, skipping along beside Alex.
“It smells like sunscreen,” Alex deadpanned.
Lyric touched her nose gently. “I think it’s supposed to be.”
Alex shook her head and laughed as she handed one of the plates to Lyric.
“Sunscreen aside, how are you feeling about this whole situation?” Alex asked, leaning back to bask in the evening sun. “Personally I’ve found the whole thing surreal.”
Lyric nodded in affirmation. “It’s hard to think about, honestly. I mean, one day you think you’re marrying into a small family and you’ll have an adorable Gramps-in-law. Then you find out the man you’re dating has an older brother trying to kill him and a younger brother who’s been locked away for Plum knows how long.”
“And I thought competing to be his wife was strange,” Alex quipped.
“Amen.” Lyric laughed, polishing off her dessert.
“What do you think he’s doing right now?” Alex asked, staring out towards the endless rows of buildings.
“Fixing things like he usually does,” Lyric answered. “Look,” She continued as she set her plate down, “I know it’s kind of weird that we’re dating the same man, but this entire thing has scared me completely. If he picks you, what would you do about it?”
Alex shook her head. “I don’t even know. It’s his family, so I guess I’d let him deal with the logistics of Kaden and Tucker and be there for him when he needs someone to lean on. But honestly? If it were up to me, I’d lock Tucker up the same way he did Kaden. The doctor too.”
Lyric pursed her lips and looked at the ground.
“What would you do?” Alex asked.
Lyric stayed silent for a moment. Alex had experience with politics – Lyric didn’t. This very well could be the first problem she’d have to deal with, and what kind of queen would she be if all she could say was ‘I don’t know’?
“Banish him, maybe.” Lyric answered, unsure. “Or community service?”
“Community service?” Alex mimicked. “Really?”
Alex took both their plates and headed inside as the night chill took over. Lyric followed behind, continuing to vocalize her thought process. “We don’t know he was trying to kill Stellan,” Lyric rationalized. “So what happens if he had other motives? Less damning ones? Then what do you do, knowing you locked him up when he was innocent?”
“You’ve got a point there,” Alex conceded as she washed the dishes. Lyric had went back to the closet to change. “But do you really think he wasn’t trying to kill Stellan? It makes sense, really. Here’s a young boy who by all accounts should have been king, but was passed up for the next kid. Heir to spare in a single breath.”
“And what better way to become the heir again than to kill the first-in-line?” Lyric added, coming out of the closet to flop on her bed. “Eliminate the possibility of the other brother coming into power by faking his death.”
“It’s devious,” Alex said. “And genius, in the worst possible way.”
Lyric sighed. “I wonder if he’s okay.”
Back at the Knight Homestead, Stellan paced along the ground of the graveyard. Night had fallen, giving him as much cover as possible. Earlier in the day, he had told Eugene that he and Alex had ate some bad fish, and she went home early because of it. Stellan stayed in his room all day under the guise that he too was sick, pretending to cough and retch when someone walked by.
But in actuality, he was planning.
“Stellan!” A hushed voice called. “Are you here?”
“Simcess!” He whispered back, bringing her in for a tight hug.
“I got your message.”
Yes, Stellan’s plan involved his oldest friend. The two had practically played in cribs together when they were babies, and Stellan knew Simcess would be up for anything.
“There’s not much time to explain,” Stellan warned.
“There never is,” Simcess smirked. “Just sum it all up and we’ll fix whatever needs fixing.”
“Okay.” Stellan took a deep breath and whistled a small note, sounding like a small bird. The bushes rustled and Kaden stepped out of the shadows.
Simcess took a step back in shock. “Well I wasn’t expecting that.”
“I know,” Stellan said in an attempt to placate her. Simcess was younger than Stellan but older than Kaden, and so had grown up friends with both of them. She had been crestfallen when Kaden died, and spent months mourning with Stellan and Eugene. But now that fair-haired, dimpled boy was back, breathing and standing like a live human being.
“Tucker locked Kaden up in the basement for years and faked his death.”
“So the cliff and the rocks-”
“None of it happened,” Kaden assured her. “It was a good story, I’ll give him that. Kaden meets the same fate as his poor grandmother. But it’s not true.”
“We think he wanted to lure me back from my meeting with the army to kill me,” Stellan whispered. “So he could take over the throne.”
Simcess’s eyes welled up with tears. “This is awful.”
Kaden patted her back reassuringly. “It’s a lot to take in, but we don’t have the time for tears right now.”
Stellan nodded solemnly. “He’s right. I have a plan, but we’ll need your help.”
Simcess sniffled and wiped her tears. “Alright. What’s the plan?”
Stellan looked around before leaning in closer. “I’m going to go unlock a window on the third floor. Kaden will stay outside, keeping watch. It’s late, so Tucker and Gramps should be in their rooms. I need you to distract Tucker while I slip past his room and get Grandpa. The door is made of stained glass, so you’ll have to get him to face away from it. I’ll knock on the door when I’ve got Gramps, and then you need to leave as quickly as possible. I think Tucker has his own army somewhere, so we have to be sneaky. I’ve got Mark hiding, and he’ll grab Tucker as we leave.”
Simcess nodded. “Got it.”
“Kaden,” Stellan said, turning to his brother. “If I whistle through the window, we need help. Come as fast as you can.”
“And I’ll whistle if I need you guys,” Kaden finished.
“Good.” Stellan gave his brother a brief hug before sneaking away, Simcess right behind.
Simcess peaked through the glass door and opened it, looking each way before proceeding forward. She had spent much of her childhood in Knight Palace, and it was almost a second home to her. Simcess sneaked forward, checking rooms before entering and making sure she stayed out of the light, just in case. She could feel Stellan hovering close behind, and the two made it to the third floor with little trouble.
Stellan tucked himself into a small corner as Simcess peaked through the door. Tucker was at his bar, mixing a drink. Simcess watched as Stellan opened a window and then gave her a thumbs up.
Simcess knocked lightly on the door, watching Tucker as he looked up.
“Come in!” He yelled. Simcess cringed at the noise level – even behind a thick door, his voice reverberated.
She opened the door and peeked her head in. “Hey!”
Tucker froze. “Simcess?”
Simcess smiled and shut the door. “The one and only. I heard you were back in town and had to come say hi before you left again!”
Tucker pursed his lips. “I’m here to stay, actually.”
“Oh! Even better,” Simcess said cheerfully. “It’s been far too long!”
As the two continued to chat, Simcess began to fidget. She needed him to face away from the door so Stellan could pass undetected, and she definitely had to mask the sound of his footsteps.
If only we could crawl, she thought to herself.
“Want a drink?” Tucker asked.
“Oh, no thanks. I just drank…water.”
“Uh, okay then,” Tucker said, sitting down on the bed. Simcess joined him and cringed again when she realized he could see the door perfectly. She clutched her stomach and leaned forward.
“Is something wrong?” Tucker asked.
“I must have had too much water. Can you show me to your ensuite?”
Tucker pointed to a door at the other end of his bedroom. Simcess sighed – why couldn’t he just get up and show her?
Still, she continued to clutch her stomach and hobbled to the door. She reached for the doorknob and gripped it. “It’s locked.”
Tucker narrowed his eyes. “Locked? No one’s in there. It’s impossible.”
Simcess pretended to try and open it again. “Locked. Or maybe it’s jammed?”
Tucker groaned and got up. He shouldered Simcess out of the way and swung open the door. He turned to her. “Ta da.”
Simcess giggled. “How silly of me! I have weak wrists, you know. Too much writing, not enough exercise!” She rambled, moving her wrists spastically.
“So are you going to go in, or what?”
Simcess paused, realizing she had totally dropped the charade. “It’s…too late?”
Tucker scrunched his nose and folded his arms across his chest. “Why are you really here?”
“I wanted to say hi!” She blurted, backing away nervously.
“That’s plum, and you know it. You never liked me, never wanted to even stand by my side.”
“You were a monster!” Simcess shouted, angry now. “Always have been, too. You shoved me in the mud right before my own coronation ceremony!”
“Shut up!” He yelled. “Just tell me why you’re here. Don’t make me ask again.”
Outside, Stellan could hear the huge fight between Tucker and Simcess. He felt cold dread coil in his stomach as Tucker got louder and angrier. He could see Tucker through the window, jabbing an accusatory finger at Simcess, getting in her personal space.
He shook his head and tried to force himself forward – she had done her job, and now he had to continue on.
But he couldn’t.
For just as he was about to move, Tucker tackled Simcess. Stellan watched for a moment, stunned.
He ran to the open window and whistled frantically, practically begging Kaden to run and help.
A few moments had passed before Kaden appeared at the top of the stairs. Stellan’s heart was thumping wildly with worry and adrenaline.
“Kaden! Go get grandpa,” Stellan ordered. “I have to help Simcess. Mark will be here soon too, so take grandpa and get him out of here. Now!”
Kaden nodded and sprinted down the hallway, disappearing instantly. Stellan flung Tucker’s door open just as Simcess stood up, wobbling deliriously.
“What the plum do you think you’re doing?” Stellan asked angrily.
“What is all of this?” Tucker demanded, putting a hand to his cheek. Simcess had scratched him, leaving four bloody welts like a tiger’s claw.
Stellan shoved Tucker against the wall. “Back up! Simcess, get out of here.”
Simcess hobbled behind Stellan but couldn’t make it any farther. The world spun, forcing her to stop dead in her tracks.
“I know what you’re doing here now,” Stellan said angrily.
“You know absolutely nothing!”
“I know you had Kaden locked up in the basement as bait!”
Tucker’s eyes widened and his lips parted in shock.
“You were willing to tell the entire kingdom that Kaden killed himself just to get me to come home so you could kill me. Do you realize how psychotic that sounds?”
“You can’t prove anything!”
“I think you’re little doctor will talk for the right price,” Stellan threatened. “You want to take that risk?”
On the other side of the hall, Kaden burst through the door. “Grandpa!”
Eugene looked up from the foosball he’d been playing. “Stel-”
“It’s me, grandpa. Kaden.”
“We don’t have time for explanations!” Kaden shouted, rushing forward to grab his grandpa’s wrist.
“Tucker faked my death and locked me up. Stellan is with Simcess right now. We all have to get out of here!”
“Let’s go!” Kaden yelled, giving up. He pulled Eugene all the way to the door.
“Stellan!” Kaden screamed. “Simcess! Let’s go!”
Stellan burst out of Tucker’s door with Simcess in his arms.
“She fainted. We have to go.”
And so the four of them raced down the stairs, going as fast as their legs could carry them. Mark met them on the main floor, and Stellan merely pointed up the stairs.
“Tucker’s knocked out. Get him locked up.”
Mark nodded and flew up the stairs, leaving the others. The car that Mark had arrived in was empty save for the chauffeur, who opened the door for them. Stellan gestured for Eugene and Kaden to go in first and then slid in with Simcess.
“Where are we going?” Eugene asked.
“To my hotel.”
Back at Stellan’s hotel, he laid Simcess on the bed before joining his family on the couch. Kaden had already begun to explain the situation to Eugene.
“I’m so sorry,” Eugene said, feeling tears slide down his cheeks. “I don’t know what to say.”
“The important thing is that we’re all safe. Mark contacted me – Tucker is in custody, and so is the doctor.”
“Under my own roof!” Eugene cried miserably. “How could I be so blind?”
“Tucker must have paid off certain maids to keep his secret.”
“They’re all fired, then.” Eugene muttered indignantly. “Every last one of them. And we’re going to destroy that basement.”
“I can help,” Kaden added.
Eugene got up and hugged Kaden, gesturing Stellan to come forward too. The three Knight men were reunited, finally. Eugene knew as he wrapped his arms around his two biggest accomplishments and last surviving family that he would never let them out of his sight again.
“Why don’t we just move?” Eugene mumbled.
“In with me.” Stellan said. “I won’t take no for an answer. It’s time we become a proper family again.”
The boys broke apart to find Simcess sliding off the bed. “Truly. But you’ll have to consult your Queen first, Stellan. It’ll be her palace too.”
Stellan smiled. “Feeling better?”
Simcess joined them on the couch. “Yep. But enough about me – you need to make a choice.”
Stellan inhaled deeply. “Right.”
“Who are these girls again?” Kaden asked.
“First, there’s Lyric. She’s so talented, and so kind. When I’m with her, I forget about everything else. Mountains become molehills.” Stellan said, picturing Lyric in his mind’s eye. “She’s ready to tackle anything.”
Kaden nodded. “And the other?”
“Alex, the one you met.” Stellan said. “She’s intelligent beyond belief, and her sense of humor is unlike any other. She’s royal, and knows how to carry herself. Even if she was just a normal woman, she’d be a princess to me.”
Simcess smiled. “So? Who are you going to choose?”
This is it, everyone! Who will Stellan marry?