(Continued from Part V)

Being a princess is not so bad, Brita told herself, admiring the elegant white gloves that reached above her elbows. She was riding in a royal carriage finer than any home she had ever entered, though she hoped it was for the last time in a while. The king – whom she now called “Father” automatically – sat across from her, pondering the board between them. It was his move. As he slid an ivory horseman toward Brita, he gushed about the marriage and what it would mean for the safety of his kingdom.

Her mind had wandered back to Jenna standing on the platform, the end of another Huntress. Who was leading them now?  Jill? She was too frightened.  Elian? She shook her head. She tried in vain to decide how they would vote, who would be strong enough to step up, who might be left.

“Father, have you decided what you’ll do with me? After the wedding, I mean…” Brita interrupted. She had heard enough about the princess’ wedding.

“Huh?” The king looked up, startled out of his monologue. “No, my dear, but don’t you worry. We’ll find something for you to do. I rather fancy having you around.” His attention wandered away from her again.

Brita was losing badly and wondered if the main reason the king liked traveling with her was so he had someone he could beat at board games. The soldiers let him win, but he always said that took the fun out of it. She pondered her next move as the sound of galloping horses rose ahead of them. The carriage slowed to a halt and a heavy hand banged on the door. The king opened it.

“Your Highness,” the royal messenger began as he burst into the carriage. “Your daughter has been poisoned.  She…” He paused when he saw Brita. His eyes jumped and his heavy breathing stopped momentarily.

“Go on!” the king shouted at him.

“Um…She lies near death. The doctors request your presence at the castle immediately,” he finished dubiously. His eyes were locked on the girl in the carriage.

The king pushed him aside and ordered his driver to make haste. His ashen face betrayed his concern. He sat motionless, fingers pressed together, occasionally and quietly urging the horses on as if his longing could drive them to greater speed. Even the bumps and rolls caused by the rough road did not seem to move him.

As they raced through the castle’s heavy gate, Brita’s teeth felt as loose as the game pieces which lay scattered about the carriage floor. The carriage jerked to a halt and they jumped up to leave.

“Stay here,” the king ordered Brita as he leapt out the door. The doctor was waiting.

“I’m sorry sire,” he began, “but we’ve done all we can do. We can only hope…”

He never finished; the king had burst into a sprint toward the castle.

(Continued in Part VII)