“This had better be a part of some plan!” Alexandra rushed to change into my old set of clothes.
I chuckled as I watched her step into a torn pair of pants and an old tunic. “Don’t worry, no one should question two staff members on a delivery run. I hope.”
She tugged at the ragged clothes, smoothing them out. “How could you wear these old things, let alone work in them?”
“I couldn’t afford to be picky. As long as they keep me warm and dry, they’re good enough for me.”
She paused. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me.” Alexandra touched my shoulder. “I should’ve realized.”
“No, no, it’s okay. I like that I don’t look like a beggar anymore, really. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”
She embraced me. “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do.”
I nodded, releasing her and taking a step back. “Do you have a cape or scarf we could use?”
“I’m sure I have one somewhere, why?”
I grinned. “Your face is far too recognizable. We can’t have people from the village gossiping about how their queen snuck out, can we?”
“Good point. I’ll fetch it.” She froze in the doorway as the maid handed her the packed food and a black scarf. “You’re a godsend, Helena. Thank you.”
The maid poked her head in, smiling. “Keep this one out of trouble, you hear?”
I patted left breast pocket. “With my life, miss.”
She nodded to me, curtsied to the queen, and left. Alexandra laughed, shaking her head. She held the food as I wrapped the scarf around her, flattening some of her curls down as I tied it. I rounded her and nodded.
“No one should suspect a thing.”
“That’s great, but how do we get out?”
I gestured to the corridor. “Same way I do, through the garden and all the way around.”
“Lead the way.”
I led her out the door, keeping her in front of me as she hurried with the food. We passed through the barren garden and out the gate. She ducked her head down whenever she spied a guard, and I started talking.
“What’s it like? You know, being the queen?”
Her head popped up as we made it around the front of the castle, nearing the gates. She ducked one last time to avoid the watchmen in the towers above us.
When we were out of sight of the guards, she looked at me. “Chaotic and lonely. Since my parents died, the advisors have been kind enough to handle the work as I learn how to run the kingdom properly.”
“I’m so sorry. I remember hearing about the shipwreck. If there’s anything I can do-”
“Thank you, Zinnia. I’ll be alright. I have to be.”
I stopped her, wrapping my arm around her shoulders. “Just because you’re the queen doesn’t mean you can’t cry.”
She sighed, hanging her head. “Thank you. I needed that.”
I guided her into another hug. “If you need to talk, you know where to find me.”
She wiped a stray tear, holding up the package of food. “We can talk after we deliver this.”
“We’ll take that off your hands, ladies.” A hooded figure laughed as he and three other men surrounded us.
Alexandra clutched the package to her chest. “This is going to the people who need it.”
“Why give the best food to a bunch of poor children when we can take it for ourselves?” The man behind us grabbed her arm. “Now, hand it over.”
“Get your hands off her!” I shoved him away, pulling a blade from my chest pocket.
The four men revealed knives of their own. I swept Alexandra behind me as they crept closer. Alexandra screamed as one of them lunged, arching his blade. I twisted his arm, wrenching the knife from his grip as he tumbled to the ground. I wielded one knife in each hand as two of the others charged at me. I pushed Alexandra away as they swung at me. One blade slashed my shoulder and the other caught my right arm.
“Stop! Please, we-”
“Won’t be giving you a damn thing, run!” I scrambled up, pushing her forward.
Alexandra stumbled into a sprint, freezing as two of the men grabbed by each arm. I threw my weight down, bringing them to their knees. I yanked out of their grasp as I flailed. I broke away, taking hold of her as we ran.
“Zinnia, are you okay?”
I gripped her arm, leading her to the shelter. We barged in, slamming and locking the door behind us. I slumped in front of the door as Alexandra crouched in front of me. She gasped as she revealed my injuries. I waved her away as she tried to stop the bleeding.
“I’ll be fine, just remind me to find another route back when we leave.” I gestured to the food.
“That’s what you’re worried about, but-”
“It’s what we came to do. Don’t worry, I’ve suffered through worse than a few cuts.”
The head of the shelter approached us. “Do I always have to clean you up?”
I chuckled as I held up the package. “Fair trade?”
She took the food, leading us to the kitchen. “What am I going to do with you?”
Alexandra’s eyes widened. Before she could speak, I put my hand up.
“Alexandra, meet the house mother, Marion. Marion, Alexandra.”
Marion froze, dropping the first aid kit as the queen unwrapped her scarf.