His true queen, p.41
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       His True Queen, p.41

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  His grin drops like a stone, and I quickly scold myself for unwittingly bringing up his less than happy childhood. “I’m sorry.”

  “Stop it.” He encourages me back into my place between his legs, wrapping me up tightly in his arms. “I wish there were pictures to show you, ’cause I’m damn sure I was cuter than you.”

  I nudge him playfully, eliciting a small chuckle and a nip of my earlobe. “With no evidence, I guess we’ll never know.” I press play and wish I hadn’t. “Urghhhh.”

  “Fuckin’ hell, what’s going on with your hair?”

  I immediately hit the fast-forward button with my thumb, looking at the screen through squinted eyes as it skips past the frightful sight of me. “Mother clearly hated me,” I mutter. Lord, I look like a boy. When the scene changes to the gardens of Claringdon, I resume playing. There’s me again, waddling around the legs of my nanny. “I can’t believe I have never seen all these before.” I’ve seen some photographs, yes, but never any footage. “Look, there’s Davenport.”

  “As happy as ever.” Josh laughs, though I don’t. The old stickler looks as stiff nearly thirty years ago as he does now, but now I know why. He’s watching Eddie, and my heart cracks a little as my brother zooms around on his little push-along bicycle. How much did he want to go to him? How much did he want to be the one to teach him how to ride it?

  Sadness crashes through me, even more so when Eddie falls off and starts wailing. I watch as Davenport’s body twitches, his instinct telling him to go to his son.

  “Fuck,” Josh breathes, telling me he is thinking the exact same thing as I am. I should show Eddie this. Would he want to see?

  I shake my head, so overcome as I watch the scenes playing before me. Scenes from a time gone by; scenes that are so very damaging. Truths that have been masked by lies for decades. “It’s all rather obvious now, don’t you think?”

  “Yeah.” Josh drops a chaste kiss on my cheek as I wonder if what I’m looking at now is the very reason these tapes haven’t seen daylight in nearly thirty years. Undoubtedly.

  I watch on, rapt, as a younger Davenport wrestles with his instinct, looking on while Mother goes to Eddie, collecting him up and brushing him down. My father is in the background with my grandfather, oblivious to his injured son. “If this is too hard to watch, you should stop,” Josh says, taking the remote control from my hand.

  “No.” I claim it back. All the lies playing out before me, seeing it first-hand, is like substantiation that what I am doing is the right thing to do. Mother looks thoroughly lost as she tends to her son, everyone around her ignorant to her turmoil. As she scoops Eddie up, she turns, seeing Davenport. There’s a moment between them, a few seconds of them both frozen and staring at each other. Then she hurries the other way, handing Eddie to our nanny. I look past her, seeing me, a toddler, waddling across the grass in the background. It’s my turn to have a fall, my little legs moving too fast for my little body as I chase a ball across the lawn, beyond the focus of the camera, which is still on Eddie wailing. I go down with a crash, my arms not strong enough to stop my face from hitting the ground. I wince.

  “Ouch,” Josh says, as my toddler-self starts to scream to high heaven. I’m utterly stunned when Davenport moves in and scoops me up from the grass, holding me tightly against his body and soothing me until I stop crying. Then he kneels and sits me on his knee, inspecting my hands. He’s talking to me as he dusts off my palms, his face soft and loving. My shoulders drop a little. The poor man. How much would he have loved to tend to Eddie like that? To pick him up when he fell and dust him off? Setting me on my feet, he sends me on my way and slowly rises, taking his place back on the outskirts of my family.

  “I feel terrible for him,” I whisper. “I’ve always loathed his intrusion on my life, and now I feel terrible.” He didn’t hate me like I thought. He could have, given I was born in some sick kind of revenge, but he didn’t.

  “You didn’t know.”

  Unable to bear watching anymore, I fast-forward again, skipping through the footage of Mother helping me open gifts and blow out the candles on my birthday cake. When my father comes back on the screen, I press play, grimacing when I see him with David Sampson. He hasn’t changed a bit. His face back then is as slap-worthy as it is now. They’re chatting, utterly uninvolved with the celebrations. As is my grandfather who is in the background with Sabina.

  My attention diverts to them, seeing Sabina’s arms flail a little, as if frustrated. My grandfather pulls her aside, looking around. What for? Listening ears? They’re hardly noticeable in the distance now, but I can see them. Are they arguing?

  Josh’s phone starts ringing, and he disappears from my peripheral vision to answer it. I’m aware of him talking, to whom I don’t know. My focus is on the small bodies of my grandfather and Sabina at the back of the television. They’re definitely having words, and my thoughts are only confirmed when my grandfather walks away, forcing his stressed expression into something close to calm as he takes himself back into the celebrations, and closer to the camera. He approaches my father and David Sampson. He looks to my father first, and then to David, resting his palm on his shoulder and giving it a light squeeze. I’m not the only one to find my grandfather’s move odd, my father and David both frowning. I pause the tape, freezing the screen. The still image is haunting. It speaks a thousand words. Or secrets. Leaving Josh talking on the phone, I scramble across to the file full of photographs and flick though them urgently, looking for . . . something. Years of pictures, but the focus of the shots isn’t what I’m interested in. It’s the photographs with backgrounds, pictures snapped catching people unaware.

  There are endless, ones of my mother always looking so absent in the background, of Davenport appearing his usual blank self. I pause when I find a picture of my father holding me, and David Sampson holding Haydon. I look past them, seeing my grandfather on the edge of the scene. With Sabina. His hand on her arm. Her hand on his. I move to the next picture. It’s the same scene, but there’s another person captured in this one. Someone watching the King and Sabina. His expression couldn’t be mistaken as anything less than angry. Dr. Goodridge. I flick through a few more, finding a black and white picture of my grandfather and Dr. Goodridge. I drop every other picture from my hands and stare down. Dr. Goodridge has his arm around my grandfather. They’re both standing in front of a helicopter. Smiling.

  No.

  I rummage through some more pictures and find one of Sabina, Dr. Goodridge, and my grandfather. Sabina is in the middle of them. The two men have their arms around her. Dr. Goodridge is looking at Sabina fondly. But Sabina is unaware, as she is staring fondly at my grandfather. Oh my God.

  “Adeline?” Josh says, pulling my face up from the pictures. He visibly recoils. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

  “I think I have,” I murmur, dropping the damaging pictures like the poison they are.

  “What’s—” His phone rings, and he curses. “Bates, I’ll call you ba . . .” Josh fades off, and I look at him. “Send it through.” He hangs up and goes straight to his messages, opening it up. “Bates has a visual of someone talking to a member of staff of The Ritz at the delivery entrance.”

  I stare at Josh as he opens the picture that Bates sent him, his forehead creased. “Hey, I recognize him.”

  “Overweight?” I ask.

  “Yeah.” His frown deepens.

  “A tweed suit two sizes too small? Silver hair?”

  His phone slowly lowers. “Yeah.”

  “A slight hump on the right side of his back? A black leather bag?”

  “For fuck’s sake, Adeline. What’s going on?”

  “Am I right?”

  “Yes!”

  I jump up, grab the pictures, and run to the door, yanking it open. “Kim,” I yell, wandering out, looking around, waiting for her to appear. When she does, she looks alarmed by my agitation. “Tell Davenport we’re holding off on the announcement,” I say, marching across the
foyer and taking the stairs quickly. “And send him to my office.”

  “What’s going on?” Josh yells after me, his feet thundering up the stairs behind me. “Why are we stalling the announcement?”

  “Because it might change.”

  “No, Adeline.” He overtakes me and blocks the door to my office. “No more waiting. We agreed.”

  “I’m not waiting,” I assure him, muscling my way past him. I look up at the picture of my father hanging over the fireplace, and just as quickly look away.

  “Will you please tell me what the fuck is going on?”

  I pace up and down in front of the window. “I can’t believe I have been so stupid.”

  “Adeline,” Josh yells, his impatience growing. “Tell me what—”

  “Your Majesty?” Davenport presents himself at the doorway of my office, taking in the scene of Josh looking irate, and me looking what I can only assume is haunted.

  “I need to see Dr. Goodridge.”

  “Are you ill?”

  “Yes,” I confirm, sitting down and rubbing at my turning stomach. I could honestly throw up at any moment. “Has Sir Don and Sampson left yet?”

  “They’re still collecting their belongings.”

  “Good. I want to see them. And please summon Sabina and Haydon Sampson.”

  Davenport takes a brisk walk off, and Josh comes to my chair, turning it by the arms until I’m facing him. He bends, his barely contained temper cutting his handsome face. “What the fuck is going on?”

  “It’s all a lie,” I whisper raggedly. “Every single thing about my life is a lie.”

  His forehead furrows deeply. “What did you see in those pictures?”

  “The truth,” I breathe, my head set to explode. “For the first time, I think I saw the whole truth.”

  ALTHOUGH AGITATED, JOSH BACKS OFF and leaves me to think once I’ve begged for a little space, my mind swirling, as I break down everything hurting my head and rebuild it again, making the picture clearer. Uglier. I rewind through time, finding clues everywhere. It’s frighteningly clear.

  I get up, I pace, I sit back down, and I drop my head in my hands a few times when more of the picture I build becomes frighteningly real.

  “Just tell me everything is going to be okay,” Josh says quietly from his place on the couch, disturbing me. I glance up, hating to see him looking so lost and helpless.

  My intention to assure him as best I can is halted when I hear a knock on the door. We both swing our stares to the wood, my heart rate rocketing. “Come in.” I can hardly talk through my apprehension.

  Entering gingerly, Davenport finds me and runs a quick eye over my seated form. “Dr. Goodridge, ma’am,” he announces, opening the way for my private physician. The short, round man who has served us for decades, enters, his suit as ill-fitted as always, the buttons pulled taut over his potbelly. I flick my eyes to Josh when I hear him inhale. He’s clicked. He recognizes him now.

  “Your Majesty.” Dr. Goodridge approaches and sets his leather bag on my desk, assessing me.

  “Sit down, Doctor,” I say, ignoring his frown and stopping Davenport as he backs out of my office. “You should stay, Major.”

  He stalls, unsure, before slowly closing the door. “As you wish.” Rather than join Dr. Goodridge on the other side of my desk, he takes a seat beside Josh on the couch, their wary expressions colliding.

  “How can I help you, ma’am?” Dr. Goodridge asks, undoing his buttons before they give in and pop off.

  “Tell me, Doctor. What did you do before you took the position of private doctor to the Sovereign?”

  He frowns on a smile, a little bemused. “I was in the RAF, ma’am.”

  “A doctor in the RAF?”

  “Indeed.” He smiles as if reliving fond memories.

  “So you spent a lot of time around helicopters, yes?”

  “They’re a passion second only to medicine.” He shifts his old body in the seat. “Did you summon me to discuss my military career, ma’am?”

  I smile sweetly. “Of course not. I was just curious.”

  “Then I’m glad I’ve curbed that curiosity. Now, what can I help with?”

  Oh, doctor, you’ve helped with more than you know. “I’m feeling a little under the weather,”

  “And what are your symptoms?” He reaches forward and undoes his bag, taking a thermometer from inside.

  “Nausea, mainly.”

  “Shall we take your temperature?”

  “I don’t think that is necessary,” I say, keeping my eyes closely on him. “Maybe a blood test will reveal what is wrong with me.” I don’t miss the slight falter of his hand as he places a protective wrapper on the end of the thermometer, no matter how hard he tries to disguise it.

  His nervous laugh only confirms my suspicions. “A little extreme at the moment, ma’am.”

  “Hmm,” I hum, standing from my seat and rounding the desk. I sit myself on the edge and offer my arm to Dr. Goodridge. “Better safe than sorry, though, yes?”

  He stills, his old eyes creeping up to mine. “I’m afraid I don’t have the correct equipment with me.”

  “Dr. Goodridge, you have been the royal doctor for decades. You and I both know the equipment you require to draw my bloods are in that bag.” His reluctance is only strengthening another part of this awful puzzle.

  “Adeline, what are you doing?” Josh asks, sounding more worried than he should.

  “I’m asking my doctor to do a blood test, except this time I would like him to give me the correct results.” I tilt my head as Dr. Goodridge’s eyes widen. And there it is. Guilt. I almost lose my breath with the confirmation that I’m not losing my mind.

  Davenport stands from the sofa. “What?”

  “Can you do that?” I ask the doctor. “Share the correct results of my blood test?”

  “I’m not sure what you are suggesting, ma’am.”

  I sigh. “It seems you are struggling with that question, so let us try another. When I was born, you were there for my birth, yes?”

  “Of course. I have been present for every royal birth during my service.”

  “Indeed. And tell me, Doctor, did my brother John have a blood test at birth?”

  “No, ma’am.”

  “Did Eddie?”

  He coughs his throat clear. “Yes.”

  Of course he did. My father only stopped Mother and Davenport’s affair the year before. “And you took those results straight to my father, yes?”

  He nods.

  I hear Davenport breathe out, obviously finding this hard to hear. I’m afraid he is going to have to hear more. “And when I was born, did I have a blood test?”

  A swallow. “Yes.”

  Naturally. “But you didn’t take those results straight to my father, did you? You didn’t take them to the King.” He doesn’t answer, leaving me to continue dictating what happened on the day I came into this world. “You took them to someone else before you took them to the King. Someone who told you to tell the King I was his blood, and not that of another man.”

  “What the fuck?” Josh is up now, though Davenport drops back to the couch heavily in a state of shock. He knows who that other man is, just the same as I do. After the scandal of Eddie’s illegitimacy, when I was born, my father demanded a blood test to check I was his. I wasn’t. But someone didn’t want him to know.

  “You lied to the King,” I state it as a fact, since it is. “Why would you?”

  Dr. Goodridge’s head drops. “I loved her.”

  “Who, Dr. Goodridge?”

  “Sabina Sampson,” he sighs.

  His answer cements everything. “She told you to tell the King I was his blood.”

  He just nods, shame rife in his meek action. I stand and walk away. “So when a blood test was demanded by my council before my recent succession, you had no choice but to lie again or have your secret discovered.” I can’t even bring myself to be mad. I don’t feel like Eddie did when he discovered h
e wasn’t who he thought he was. I don’t feel betrayed and lost. I feel only relief.

  Davenport stands, looking a little stunned. “I don’t understand.”

  “I didn’t either,” I admit. But those photographs brought too many things together, and now it is crystal clear. I go to the door and open it, finding all three members of the Sampson family–David, Sabina, and Haydon—sitting on a roll-top couch across the landing, as well as Sir Don. I force a smile, one that I hope seems genuine. “Please,” I say, turning and wandering back to my desk.

  They file in and tentatively sit, the atmosphere thickening by the second. “What’s going on?” Sabina asks, her eyes on Dr. Goodridge, obviously surprised to see him.

  “I know everything, Sabina.” I don’t beat around the bush. I cut straight to the chase. Too much of my life has been wasted on these lies already. “Why?”

  Her eyes shoot to me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  I throw one of the pictures on the desk before her, and she glances down. “Every picture tells a story, Sabina. Dr. Goodridge was in love with you. But you were in love with my grandfather,” I say, not taking any pleasure from the flinch my declaration draws from her. The pictures tell a story. Perhaps seeing the photographs of Josh and me on the dance floor of the White House has helped me—photographs of two people who have so clearly got something to hide. And I remember finding her in the maze on the day of my father’s funeral, staring at the statue of my grandfather. She was looking at the memorial of the man she loved. I cast my eyes to David. “You’re not who you think you are.” He says nothing, just stares at me. “You are my grandfather’s first born son, David. The true heir to the throne. Everything that has happened is because of your mother’s bitterness. She has slowly but surely worked her way through my family, all the way down to me. But you won’t get rid of me, will you, Sabina? Because I am your last chance to get back the throne you believe your family should have. By marrying your grandson.” She’s been so calculating. So scheming and manipulative. Every single thing that has happened has been because Sabina made it happen. “You knew Eddie was illegitimate. You knew John was infertile, but you made sure Dr. Goodridge declared him otherwise when he and Helen were to marry.” It was Sabina who told my mother the unborn child wasn’t Royal. “So when Helen eventually fell pregnant, you knew it wasn’t my brother’s child.” I breathe in, shivering at the sound of my words. “And Eddie’s incident in the countryside was no accident. It was you who fired at him while he was riding that day.” Her eyes widen. I’m smarter than she thought. “Why not just expose his identity?”

 
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