The princess was the kindest soul I had ever known. Goodness poured off her in waves. Our appearances were similar enough that with the right cloak or veil, we could switch places. And I could never find it in me to deny her, especially something as innocent and sweet as wanting to get to know her people, to explore her own land. It was the least I could do as her handmaiden, her close confidant.
Of course, the innocence had to end. Every princess had to find a husband. And my princess was to be a queen. A husband would come and take her away from me and give her a kingdom. Though she promised I would remain at her side, I knew things were going to change. There was a bad feeling building in my gut as we traveled to meet her new husband.
I hated being right. From the moment I saw him, I could feel the edge of a dominant streak in him. I knew that his nature would break the sweet girl that I had spent years coddling. I don’t mean dominant in the way a powerful ruler is, and by break, I didn’t think he’d mean to hurt her. I could tell that his tastes in more intimate settings were darker and closer to those of my own. And what I hated more was how it stirred things within me. The princess and I had been close since childhood. She often invited me to her bed, hating to be alone, and I had taught her pleasures of the flesh. But even in that, she was gentle and didn’t respond well to even a rough kiss. I never scorned her for it. I just accepted that our pleasures were different. But from the moment I saw the man that would be her husband, the widowed king, I knew he would be more my taste than hers. Where she shied from a rough touch or vigorous kiss, it drew me in. It made me weak and plead for more.
We shared a glance from behind our veils that made me believe she felt the same. I had often wondered if a day would come when she would want to change places permanently with me. Unlike others, I never wanted to be a royal. I had spent years at her side and saw what she had to endure. But as I stood behind her, watched his gaze rake over us, I knew I would do it for her. And I refused to acknowledge the little voice in my head that said that it was also for myself.
The wedding took place far sooner than I had thought, coming together quickly and taking place in a matter of days. The princess and I spent those days going over our plan because I would take her place, as I thought she might want me to. And since we would have eyes on us the entire day, from the ceremony all the way to the king’s chambers, I would be the one donning her wedding gown, marrying the king in her place. I couldn’t identify the feelings swirling within me as I walked down that aisle to him. Throughout the reception, I was moving without thought, mimicking her actions I had seen so often before. My nerves finally broke when the nobles and clergy escorted us to his bed, prayed over us, undressed us, and helped us beneath the blankets. That was when I felt my lips curl into a smile, my face losing the princess’s expression.
When the heat in his eyes mirrored my own, I couldn’t help a laugh falling free. For a moment, his expression warmed before his hand encircled my throat and he kissed me with a rough fervor I’d been craving for years. Each touch was rough and passionate. But his kisses lightened. His words were sweet as he encouraged me, praised me. And the look in his eyes when I told him he didn’t have to hold back anymore, I would remember that surprise and mirth for the rest of my days.
We grew closer, the real queen nearby as my handmaiden. But she seemed content to have her own bit of freedom and allowed me to be with the king as his wife. I was the one that spent those nights submitting to his darkest desires and reveling in his attentions. Perhaps she saw the similarities between him and me. When I told her we had conceived, she rejoiced at the news. News that I had only shared with her. She was happy for us, for me, even though I hadn’t been able to share her bed more than once or twice since the wedding.
Not even the king knew the news yet. We’d received word of a rebellion and he’d ridden off to battle. I loved that about him, his sense of honor. He knew that a true ruler fought with his men on the front lines. He didn’t hide behind his people and let them die for him. I just wish that I knew our last kiss had been just that. I would have pulled him from his horse and locked him in our room. My love would never know his son. He would never hold me immobile against our door. He would never again whisper praises and sinful requests into my ear as he made my body ache and sing with every touch. I didn’t care that I would no longer be queen. That was not what had hurt me when we received the news that the king had fallen, but we had won the war. It was that I would never see the one man that had taken my heart the way the queen had taken it years before. After all, I only took her place because she couldn’t be the wife that the king needed. Now, she would rule. And I would raise the child of the only man I would ever love in secret. I would miss both the loves of my life: a king, and a queen. But the company of my son would be enough. I would forever have a piece of my beloved king and memories of both royals I had loved to get me through my pain.