Twenty minutes later, Detlef clasped his hands behind his back and gazed up the grand staircase. Ilona would be coming down those stairs any minute. And she would likely dance the first dance with Emil, since he won the fencing. Emil was right – any attempts to expose him would be dismissed. But with his smooth, practiced flattery, would Ilona be able to see through him for herself?
“I should have known I would find my little brother mooning about for the princess.” The voice of his older brother, Matthias, was fondly mocking. “You were always sentimental about her.”
“As opposed to you, who thinks a king should have no heart.” Detlef’s voice was tinged with bitterness. This was a long-standing argument between them.
“It’s not that a king has no heart. It’s that he cannot listen to it. If I were as sentimental as you, it would throw the entire kingdom into disarray.”
Detlef swung his leg, banging his foot against the bottom step of the staircase in a mournful rhythm. “Really? How?”
Matthias shifted his weight uneasily. “If you will keep your mouth shut, I shall tell you a secret that no man knows.”
Detlef paused his rhythm and turned his head to read his brother’s face.
Weariness covered Matthias and he sighed. “There’s a girl I like. Back home. Her name is Gretal.” He caught Detlef’s expression and shook his head. “No you don’t know her.” He sucked air between his teeth. “She’s a…peasant.” He rubbed his hand vigorously across the top of his head, rumpling his hair. “You know Father wouldn’t accept her, and neither would the people. If I marry her, the kingdom will be in uproar.” He smiled, but it was a sad smile. “So you see why princes cannot have hearts. And why I am here to woo a girl of royal blood.”
Detlef beat his foot against the steps again, thinking over his brother’s words. “That’s not the kind of prince I want to be.” He clenched his jaw as if taking a vow. “It’s not that I want my kingdom in uproar…but if a king cannot set a precedent of integrity, justice, mercy, and true love, then from where can we expect the change to come?”
A piercing scream filled the air. And another. And another.
“Danger is in the air, little brother!” Matthias pulled a sword from his belt.
Detlef’s heart leapt into his throat. “Ilona!” He raced up the stairs and through the halls, bursting into Ilona’s room. “Ilona!”
But Ilona wasn’t there. The room was empty except for one crumpled woman in the middle of the floor. Her elegant robes billowed around her, mocking her sorrow. The woman screamed again – a horrifyingly agonized sound – and looked up at Detlef. It was Queen Amalia, her face marred with tears.
And she was clutching a small wooden spindle.