The truth was, Suzanna’s Mother, Margaret, had no idea why she was being called to a visitation with the queen, especially not with the requested attendance of her daughter. By every account, neither of them should be allowed within a thousand yards of royalty. Margaret was the daughter of a basic shopkeeper. She had a yearlong secret romance with a man named Nicolas, a man she never even bothered to learn the last name of, which resulted in the birth of Suzanna. Nick had hung around long enough for Suzanna’s birth, helped to name her, and then vanished—just like that. Shunned by her father for her sandal, Margaret took Suzanna and moved to a little room at the back of a tailor shop. For the past seven and a half years, Margaret fed them both by earning pennies for the work she could find, often menial tasks for the tailor and the surrounding shops. She had no wealth to call her own and nothing to give her daughter. In fact, it was only by the kindness and friendship of the tailor that she and Suzanna had the appropriate wears to attend this summons. She had no idea what the queen wanted with her and her daughter—but to say she was nervous would be the greatest understatement of her life thus far.
Suzanna was actually behaving as they made their way through the main gates and were taken back to the room where they would have their meeting with the Queen, but from the way that she was clinging to Margaret’s hand, she figured that was more from nerves regarding their strange new situation rather than a sudden desire to stick to the manners she’d been taught. Still, Margaret was grateful for little miracles. Nerves or not, Suzanna would behave, and then be her normal trouble making self as soon as they were back on their familiar street near home.
The Council chambers were smaller than Margaret imagined, but still far beyond any elegance than Margaret could’ve tried to imagine. She curtsied low in front of the queen, and Suzanna wisely followed suit.
“Margaret Andrea Reese, I presume,” the queen said softly, but it carried easily through the room.
“Yes, Your Grace, if my father continues to permit me the use of his name.” Margaret kept her head down.
“And your daughter, Suzanna Marie.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“Your daughter was not presented with a surname. What is the reason for that, Madam Reese?”
“Her father’s surname is unknown. I know his name was Nicolas, but that is all I know. I am not a woman of honor, your grace.” Margaret bowed a bit lower, feeling the blush creep onto her face as people in the room started to whisper behind their hands.
Suzanna forgot about her promise to behave, they were whispering about her mother. She stomped her foot, and her little heel clicked loudly against the stone floor, echoing off the walls. The whispering came to a stop, and anyone who was willing to make eye contact with the child saw a stern and determined look that caused most of them to almost irrationally shrink back a little in their chairs.
Margaret panicked for a moment, sure the Queen was going to be displeased with the eight-year-old calling order in her waiting room, but then she laughed, “A stern child, Madam Reese, and protective of her mother. Congratulations, because not all woman can make such a claim.”
“Mother, if you needed any protection at all, I would be protective of you.” A boy of about thirteen years old spoke from the Queen’s right. The court laughed. It seemed like a back and forth between the Queen and Prince Thomas. Margaret was still unsure of what to do, so she waited until the Queen addressed her again. And hoped that Suzanna would remain quiet until then.
“Madam Reese.” The Queen smiled down to the two in the idle of the room again, “Is this your Nicolas?” She indicated to a painting that hung on the wall on the left side of the room. A footman had just pulled a curtain away from the painting to reveal, in fact, her Nick. Dressed much better than she’d ever seen him, and certainly looking more regal, but her Nick, Suzanna’s father, nonetheless.
Margaret’s stunned silence said it all.
Suzanna didn’t seem to have recovered her manners. She slipped her hand out of her mother’s grip and took several steps towards the painting. “That’s my father?”
The Queen rose from her chair and came to kneel at Suzanna’s eye level. She remembered herself for the moment and dipped into a quick curtsey. The Queen smiled kindly. “Miss Suzanna Marie. Did you meet your father?”
“No, your grace,” Suzanna said quickly.
“Not that she’d be able to recall,” Margaret amended. The Queen nodded an acknowledgment to Margaret then turned to Suzanna again.
“But you know about your father?”
“My mother has spoken of him, My Lady.”
“And what has she told you?”
“She told me that he was a good man, and kind. That he was beautiful, but that is not what I should focus on. She says he once called me perfect because that’s the way he saw me. And that he loved me. Most of all she told me that he loved me.”
“And what does she say of where your father is now?”
“She doesn’t. I know that he left, but I think that he’s probably dead.”
“Why do you say that?”
Suzanna shrugged. “I don’t know. I just feel it. My father left us, but I think he’s died since. I guess it’s a silly thing to just know—but it’s what I just know.” She curtseyed again. “Forgive me, your grace, I’ve been told I’m a silly girl.”
“You are many things, but I do not believe that you are a silly girl in any sense.” The Queen rose again and addressed both women again. “Your unwedded husband, Madam Reese, and your father, Miss Suzanna, was Sir Nicholas de Fitzgerald-Simms He was a knight and nobleman from the Kingdom of Krall. Miss Suzanna Marie is correct in believing that he is now dead, killed in action for his king two years ago. His last will and notices have just reached us, informing his king that he considered himself wedded to you, and Suzanna Marie to be his only legitimate heir. You’ve been brought here to test the validity of that statement. Madam Reese, did you consider yourself wedded to Sir Nicolas?”
All eyes in the room turned to look at Margaret.
The truth? Did she consider herself wedded to Nick? No, not really. She considered him in many ways to be her only love, the first and only man she’d ever laid with, and was likely to be the only one until her death. But wedded implied some permanence, that he’d always be there for her. They never spoke of marriage—because she never believed he’d stay with her until the end of either of their lives. For one reason or another, she always knew that Nick would leave, and that didn’t seem to really imply marriage.
But she was offered a chance and a legitimacy for her daughter. Nick did call her daughter perfect. Didn’t that entitle Suzanna to an inheritance, and entitle her to whatever Nick wanted to leave her, regardless of Margaret’s own feelings?
So, she curtsied politely and said softly, “Yes, your grace, I hoped to consider myself married to Sir Nicolas.”
The Queen needed and then swept into a curtsey in front of the eight-year-old. “In that case, all rise and recognize Suzanna Marie de Fitzgerald-Simms, the written and apparent heir to the throne of Krall.” Margaret stared at her daughter, and still for once, Suzanna stared back, identical looks of shock on their faces.
They had no idea what to do now.