The king made most of the guests leave the room, but Detlef and his older brother stayed as Amalia revealed her Derwald identity.
“I kept my people a secret from you,” Queen Amalia wept.
The king faltered for a minute and then knelt down, wrapping his arms around her. “It never mattered, my love. It’s you I love, be you peasant or princess.”
“I know you think the Derwalds are a myth, but we are a real as you are…as you see me…” She leaned her head against her husband. “My family has always led the clan – my uncle was their king when I left.”
Matthias crossed his arms, his eyes narrowing as he listened. What he was thinking, Detlef couldn’t guess.
“I fell in love with you from the first day,” Amalia confessed. “My family came to visit me at your castle – secretly (for the Derwalds have learned to travel without detection). And I convinced them of our love.” She took a deep breath. “On the night before our wedding, I slipped away and returned to my forest home. They held a celebration for me, but made me promise that they would have the honor of choosing the spouse of my firstborn.”
Shock rippled through the room, and the king gripped his wife’s shoulders.
“When I was with them, it seemed so easy. They were making a great sacrifice to let me go, and it seemed only right to give them a part in our future. But then…” she faltered. “I came back here. And I was ashamed to say what I had promised. After all, my baby is your baby, too. How could I have promised such a thing without you? And the longer I kept silent, the easier it was to reason it away. I need not tell you every lie I told myself. I only beg your forgiveness.”
“The old spindle woman at Ilona’s naming ceremony?” The pieces began to fall together in the king’s mind.
Queen Amalia nodded. “And I almost told you then, too. It has nagged at the back of my mind for sixteen years. And this week, with our ball to find our own husband for Ilona, I have been so terrified. Every moment. So frightened.” She buried her face in Adalbert’s shoulder and cried. “What will they do to her if I have angered them?”
A desperate look came over the king’s face as he held his wife’s grief-stricken form.
“They won’t hurt her.” Detlef addressed the queen. “Surely you have not been away from them so long as to forget their character. They will keep their promise. They only want to find a husband for Ilona.”
Amalia lifted her head, hope rising in her eyes. “Then…” She grasped the front of her husband’s robe. “Send the suitors after her. Please.” Her eyes shifted to Detlef’s face. “It just might work to bring her back.”
(by Esther Brooksmith)