The Maiden's Request (Part 8 - Finale)

The shock of this proclamation spread to all who were in the room. Lady Nevena smiled and said, “Emperor, these men speak the truth and are men of honor, as I stated before.”   “Honorable men are not caught in my daughter’s chambers!” yelled the emperor. A stern look from Lady Nevena and an increase in the glow of her aura forced him to compose himself. “Explain,” he growled at Prince Frederik.   “Your Excellency and court of Chienhu, last year my brother and I were traveling through our kingdom and came upon a gang of thieves stealing from a royal outpost. As I led the charge against them, I was transformed into a toad by an evil fae in their number. My brother returned us home, seeking a means to restore me to human form. Those who wished to usurp our family’s reign claimed that Henrik murdered me and concocted a fantastical tale to claim the throne for himself. We both had to flee the country until I could be restored. My faithful brother knew I could not survive a winter near our native land, so he brought me here, cared for me, and secured service with Your Majesty.”   “That does not explain why you committed this treachery against my daughter.”   Lady Naveen interrupted. “Breaking a curse, such as this one your Majesty, varies depending on who casts the spell. It appears the fae intended to sow additional harm to Rikenvatten by requiring an outburst of royal anger to break this curse.”   Frederik nodded and continued. “We meant no harm to Your Highness, your family, or your empire. We believed many times that the curse was about to be broken. I alone entered your daughter’s chamber in a desperate attempt to anger her. My brother was too late to stop me.” Frederik bowed before the Emperor. “I humbly beg your forgiveness, Your Majesty. We only request that you allow us passage that we may return to our family in Rikenvatten and clear my brother of the false murder charges.”   Jing whimpered. Her eyes met with Henrik’s, and they shared a long gaze.   The emperor pointed to the princess. “You think I could so easily forgive you when my daughter is in such a state?”   “No, Father,” Jing said. “That is not what I meant. Please do not harm them.” She pointed at Henrik. “I . . . I love him.”   The emperor stared at his daughter. “He tends the horses. How could you fall in love with a servant?”   “He’s a prince from a foreign land,” Jing said.   The Emperor’s eyes narrowed at his daughter. “Did you know?”   “No,” Jing looked at Henrik. “He never told me who he was, but there always was something more about him that I could not ignore.”   Henrik stepped forward. “If it pleases Your Majesty, may I speak?”   The emperor slumped back. “This is madness.” He waved his hand granting permission.   “We are truly sorry for the harm and distress that we have caused. I hid this from Your Majesty and Highnesses so that those who sought our demise would not hear rumors of our location and put your subjects in danger if they followed us here. Our kingdom is in peril from those who would destroy our family. It is imperative that we leave and restore my brother’s claim to the throne.”   Henrik turned to Jing. “I am sorry that I could never tell you who I was. Your kindness sustained me through this trial. If my kingdom were not in peril, I would ask your father for your hand.” Henrik stared deeply into the eyes he had long cherished. “I love you, Jing.”   Jing clasped her hands to her mouth and laughed through new tears. She cautiously looked at both of her parents and then leaped from her throne. Henrik almost lost his footing as she threw her arms around his neck. “I will come with you.”   “You will do no such thing!” bellowed the emperor.   The empress reached out and placed her hand on the emperor’s. With the faintest touch, his protest was silenced.   Henrik, still in chains, moved so that he could look into Jing’s eyes. “Your father is right. You must stay here.”   “I don’t care,” she whispered.   “I care.”   “Will you ever return?”   “Henrik the horse master needs to leave. But I will return as Prince Henrik of Rikenvatten and court you properly.”   “I don’t care what you’re called. Just promise you’ll come back to me.”   “I promise.”