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The soft creaking of the rocking chair filled the room. The night was quiet, the stars gleaming silently from an endless black sky. The moon was full, casting liquid silver onto the smooth wood floors. The young woman, no older than 25, anxiously alternated between clutching her gown with knuckles whiter than snow and smoothing the golden curls that rippled down her back. She rocked slowly, forward back, staring intently out of the small window by her side.
Three children sat on the floor on the opposite side of the room nearest the door, playing with plush dolls silently, as if afraid or reluctant to disturb the silence. There was something about the way their mother diligently watched the window that subdued their normal rambunctious behavior. Triplets they appeared to be, all with the same dark hair the color of polished oak; however, one girl had the same curls as her mother, the other with hair straighter than wooden planks. The boy’s was tousled in unruly waves, a combination of the two styles. They were perhaps a mere five years, at the oldest.
Suddenly, without any seeming provocation, the straight-haired girl stood up and approached the mother, and, tugging at her skirt, begged with her eyes for attention. The woman shook herself out of her vigil and looked at the child.
“Momma,” rang a soft, sweet voice that assumed complete and undivided attention, “when will Papa be home?”
A sad look crossed the woman’s face and her eyes clouded with worry. Somehow, she managed a small smile as she answered, “I don’t know, child,” and reached out her hand to stroke the girl’s hair. “He’ll be along soon, I’m sure,” She gave the girl a gentle encouraging push. “Go on and play.”
The girl looked intently at her mother, as if deciding whether to be satisfied with the answer, then turned and bounced back to her siblings. The woman resumed her vigil. She had stopped rocking and her foot was bouncing now, and her eyes flicked back and forth across the landscape outside the window. Charles, what is keeping you? She couldn’t stand to be calm for much longer, but the sight of her innocent children kept her anxiety well enough below the surface. She concentrated on keeping her breathing still and slow, knowing enough that panic would do no good.
Her breathing suddenly stopped. She hardly dared to hope but- yes, those were the sounds of hooves! Friend or foe she didn’t care, as long as they brought some sort of news. The smallest child, the one with curls, rushed to her mother’s side and clutched nervously to the folds of her gown. There were several horses by the sound, and the woman stood as they came close to the house, and then stopped. Hurried footsteps, then the door burst suddenly open…
The woman exhaled in relief, but it was short-lived. The strait-haired girl rushed to the man’s side and clutched happily at his leg. He glanced down for just a moment at his daughter and placed a hand on her head, the turned his eyes back to his wife. If her eyes had been clouded with worry, then his were completely covered in thunderheads.
“It’s happened, Chelise. They’ve murdered their Majesties in their sleep. He’s coming after the Riders next.”
She was shocked. They had hoped this day would never come, but… “Their children?” she asked, too afraid to completely finish the question.
“Safe, as far as I know. They have been hidden in the tunnels beneath the palace. But as for ours…” His voice trailed off as his gaze returned to the girl attached to his leg. He bent down and lifted her from the ground, squeezing her tight. “They have to leave. Now. Gather a few of their things and make your way to forest. Follow it south toward the coast. Abiathar will meet you there.”
“But where will they go, Charles?” She suspected the answer, but she didn’t want to hear…
“America.” She couldn’t help but shudder. “It’s the only place they’ll be safe, Chelise. You know that.”
“Yes, but I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this….” She closed her eyes tight against the flood threatening to pour out.
Charles placed the child back on the floor and made his way over to his wife. He took her right hand in his left and gently placed his other on her cheek. Her eyes slowly opened to match her husband’s gaze, and there passed between them a communication far deeper than words could ever show.
“I have to go back to lead the troops. Leave as soon as possible, Abiathar will give you more instruction.” He turned to leave, but before he had walked more than two steps, he spun back around and embraced Chelise, then each of the children, one by one, whispering the same three words into each of their ears. “I love you.”
Before his resolve broke and he abandoned his responsibility to his country, he spun and hurried out, shutting the door behind him. It was the last his family would ever see of him.