Alexandra had lived all her life surrounded by servants, and it had seemed the normal thing. Tonight she would have traded the palace for a secluded cottage, a tent in the middle of the desert, or even a cave on the side of a mountain -- any place where she could be alone to shed the constrictions of royalty and weep and howl in her anguish. The palace, of course, had soundproofed walls, but guards patrolled outside and she wasn't sure about windows.
She paced the floor, struggling with her grief. And guilt. She should have stopped Farah from taking on the identity of Megan. It had seemed important at the time to keep their country from reverting to France. But would that be so terrible? Kingdoms (or principalities as in the case of Zhad) had become practically obsolete. Life under France's rule would go on much the same. But to confess their deception would be humiliating not only for her and Farah but for her country and for Nicky. So how could she entertain the thought?
There was also fear. Fear that the masquerade would eventually be discovered, or that Farah would break down under the burden of pretence, the necessity of living as a teenager, and the heartbreak of posing as the sister of her own son.
They would have to confess the truth. No matter how humiliating, she couldn't hold Farah to her bargain.
And what if Nicky didn't survive? Farah, as Megan, would be considered the only legitimate heir. Had Farah any inkling of what that would entail?
The thought of losing Nicky as well as both her sons and Megan, added to her worry about Farah, overwhelmed her, and she could no longer contain her grief. She threw herself across the bed, sobbing wildly.
If anyone heard her howl a little, it was, of course, never mentioned.
Farah woke early and called the hospital, remembering that Dr. Mornay had said he would be there all night. She told the girl at the switchboard that she was Princess Megan and asked to speak to him. He came on the line at once.
"He's doing quite well, Your Highness. He's sleeping, but conscious." He hesitated, and added in a different tone, "What shall I tell him if he wakes and begins to ask questions? I don't want to throw him into a relapse."
"I'll come as soon as I can get dressed," she said.
"I don't think it's that urgent. He's pretty heavily sedated."
"Then I'll wait awhile. I hadn't realized how early it is. Say in about two hours?"
"That would be fine."
She called the farm. "This is Megan," she said, recognizing the cook's voice. "May I speak to Germaine, please?"
"Oh, Miss Megan, she's at breakfast. I'll call her."
"Never mind. Just ask her when she's finished if she'll come over as soon as she can and bring me some appropriate clothes."
"Of course. Have you any news of Prince Nickolai?"
"I just talked with the doctor. He's very optimistic about Nicky's recovery."
"Oh, thank God. We're all just heartbroken about what happened. How is Princess Alexandra?"
"I haven't talked to her yet this morning, but yesterday she held up well."
"And you? Oh, Miss Megan, we're all so sorry." She was weeping.
Farah said through a lump in her throat, "I know, and thank you. We'll keep you informed."
Farah then called Alexandra on her private line and told her what the doctor had said. "I'm going to the hospital as soon as Germaine brings my clothes. I think I should be the one to tell Nicky the bad news."
"I wish I could go with you," Alexandra told her, "but there are so many arrangements to be made and I'd like to get them done as soon as possible. Call me back, won't you, after you've talked to the doctor?"
"Of course. And unless Nicky is fully conscious maybe I should come back and help you."
"No, you stay there, I just have to make some decisions. My secretary and the staff will take over from there."
"Okay. I'll keep in touch." Farah hesitated. "Are you going to be all right?"
"I'm coping. And you?"
"I'm hanging in there."
"There could be an alternative."
"No. The die is cast."
"It won't be easy."
By the time Germaine arrived Farah had showered. She asked the maid's opinion about what to wear and, although she knew that Megan also had preferred to do for herself, she let Germaine help her dress and arrange her hair. Just to get the hang of it. She knew she could take over from there.
The phone rang as she started to leave. "The Prime Minister called," Alexandra said when Farah answered. "Are you alone?"
"The prisoner talked. He said it was Andre."
"You think he's telling the truth?"
"Who knows? He might be trying to divert attention from someone else. At any rate, they're keeping this information under wraps. We are not to discuss it with anyone. Not even Nicky if he's awake."
"Okay." Farah said. "I'll talk to you later."
She called for a car to be brought around and waited in the foyer until she heard the car pull up. Going outside, followed by the guard, she saw Hack getting luggage out of the trunk.
"Hack," she cried, and they ran to meet each other. Forgetting that she was not Farah any more, she said through tears. "I knew you'd come, Hack."
"I heard it on the news last night. I had to come. Oh, Megan, it's like the end of the world."
Jolted back into her identity as Megan, she said, "Gram will be glad to see you." Alexandra and Hack had been fast friends since their first meeting.
"How's she holding up?"
"She's been wonderful."
"And Nickolai? Is he going to be all right?"
"The doctor thinks so. I was just on my way to be with him."
"I don't suppose I'd be allowed to see him."
"He's in Intensive Care. But I'll ask."
"Is alexandra going with you?"
"No, she has things to take care of this morning, but she'll find time for you. It'll be good for her to see you."
"Okay, I'll see her and then I'll come to the hospital."
Her car arrived, complete with guards, and he helped her in. "Don't let anyone get near her," he said to the guards, and stood watching as they drove away.
The hospital staff was busy with their morning chores, bathing patients, bringing bedpans, changing linens, dispensing pills, listening to complaints and allaying the patients fears . . . most of this being done by that army of dedicated women who devote their lives to the sick and ailing.
Farah, with the guard who had accompanied her, found her way to the Intensive Care Unit and told the nurse at the desk that she was there to see Dr. Mornay.
"I'll let him know you're here, Your Highness," the nurse said.
"The prince is beggining to stir," the doctor said when he came. "Would you like to go in for awhile?"
"Yes, I would. Is he awake yet?"
"No, but don't be alarmed. Sleep is healing."
Nicky lay on his back, with bandages on his arm, his chest and his stomach, being fed intravenously. His dark hair was tousled, his long lashes lay like a fringe across his forehead and he smiled in his sleep.
"He know I'm here," she said.
The doctor looked skeptical, but all he said was, "It's a good sign."
"I'll sit here with him."
"All right, but don't stay too long. I'll be nearby. The nurse will call me if I'm needed."
"Thank you for all you've done for him, and for being so kind. I know you must be very tired."
"Did you get some rest?"
"And Princess Alexandra, how is she doing?"
"She's suffering, but she's keeping busy. I don't think she slept much last night."
"I'll give you a prescription for some sleeping pills. I'll leave it at the desk."
Farah sat beside Nicky in the unbroken stillness of the hospital room, trying to keep her mind from returning to the terrifying events of the previous day. I have to quit thinking about it, she told herself, and rose and went to stare unseeing out the window, wondering what she would say to Nicky if he should wake.
Returning to her chair, she said, "Why don't you wake up, Nicky?"
He stirred. "Are you awake?" she asked.
He moved his head, then opened unfocused eyes. "Where am I?"
he asked in a weak voice.
"You're in a hospital, Nicky, and you're going to be all right. Do you remember what happened?"
His eyes focused and he said, "Megan? I thought at first you were Mom. Where is she?"
He drifted into sleep again before she could answer.
Hack arrived just before noon, apologizing for being so late. "I had breakfast with Alexandra," he said. "Then I offered to help her and got so involved I forgot to notice the time. How's Nicky?"
"The doctor swwms to think it's a miracle he's still alive and that he's doing so well. I sat with him awhile, but he's under heavy sedation for the pain, and probably to keep him from hearing about what happened until he's strong enough to stand the shock."
"He doesn't know?"
"I don't think so. It was all so fast."
"Alexandra told me how you escaped notice. And how she lucked out by being in the house."
"Would you like to see Nicky?"
"After I take you to lunch. Aren't you hungry?"
"Well, I happen to know that neither you nor Alexandra had a decent meal since yesterday morning. Alexandra said she wasn't hungry, either, but once she got started you should have seen her put it away. I expect you to do the same."
"I'll do my best," she said.
Over lunch she asked him how his wife liked working with him at the dig.
"Oh, didn't you know?" he asked. "Stacie and I have called it quits."
"Oh, Hack, I thought you were so good together. What happened?"
"She gave me an ultimatum. Either I gave up the digs and settled down in one place or she was through. After thinking it over I chose to stay with my digs."
"You haven't regretted it?"
"I'm really happier this way. I guess I'm a loner."
"Maybe you just didn't find the right girl."
"Oh, I found her all right, but she wasn't available."
Hemeans me, Farah thought. I was bad luck for HIM, too. She looked at his tanned face under the thatch of red hair and thought how much easier life would have been if she could have returned his love.
Before she could think of anything to say, he changed the subject. "Alexandra told me one of the gunmen survived and had named a suspect. I hope they find the son of a bitch, whoever he is ...." He broke off and looked at Farah apologetically. "I'm sorry, Megan, I'm just so stunned by what happened."
"Can you stay with us awhile?"
"As long as you need me."
"That may be a long time."
"I'll manage it. Now eat your food. And don't tell me you're on a diet; you're too thin now. I likewomen with a few curves."
She laughed, and they talked about lighter things. The food was good and FArah found herself eating with a coming appetite, as her father used to say. It had been ages since she thought of her father.
Back at the hospital, Dr. Mornay said he would allow Hack as well as the Princess to sit with Nicky for a time. When Alexandra arrived, Hack exited in her favor and sat in the waiting room with the guards. As Nicky showed no signs of waking, they didn't tarry long.
"You're staying with us while you're here, of course," Alexandra said to Hack.
"If you wish. And thanks."
Back at the palace, Alexandra learned that the Prime Minister wanted her to get in touch with him as soon as possible. She called him on her private line and got through to him at once.
"I thought you would like to know," he said, "that soon after we talked this morning, Andre was traced through airline reservations to Honolulu. It just happened that two of my men were in California, so they have been dispatched to pick him up. I'll let you know the outcome as soon as I hear."
"I'll be waiting," Alexandra told him.
They learned later that someone had leaked to the press that the prisoner had talked, although the name of the suspect had not been revealed. Immediately, the small principality of Zhad started making headlines all over the world. TV news channels picked it up, and rumors were rampant.
The excitement this piece of news engendered, lifted for awhile the gloom that had engulfed the palace since the death of their Prince and other members of the family. Boris, a popular head of state, commanded also the affection of the palace staff by his kindness and generosity, and they grieved for him.
This dodnot keep them from their duties, and there was much to be done. Messages of condolence had been arriving at the palace all day and had to be sorted and filed for later acknowledgment. Friends, acquaintances and townpeople left calling cards. The body of Prince Boris was to lie in state at the cathedral for public viewing. After some discussion it was decided that the bodies of Michael and "Farah" would lie in state with Boris, also.
The two princes would be dressed in uniforms, with sashes and medals as befit royalty, and a new gown was selected for the Princess. To hide the damage done to the top of her head, she would wear a special wig with a diamond tiara to hold it in place. Visitation would start the following morning and continue for two days. The funeral would be held on the third day.
After a late dinner, Hack and Farah were sitting with Alexandra in her apartment, the Prime Minister was announced.
"He must have found out something important to be calling this late," Alexandra said, and asked that he be shown in.
He came in looking weary but bursting with news. "My agants located Andre in Honolulu," he bagan, "and went to his hotel to arrest him. They found him dead of a bullet wound, apparently self-inflicted."
"He killed himself?" Alexandra asked in astonishment.
"We'll probably never know. His fingerprints were on the gun, but that can be faked. So we have a choice: either he feared he had been or would be identified by the prisoner, or he was the pawn of some terrorist group who killed him for their own protection."
"Have you questioned the prisoner again?"
"Unfortunately, it wasn't possible. We sent for him to be questioned again, but he had hanged himself in his cell." The Prime Minister's usually benign countenance took on a grim look. "Either way," he said, "he knew he was a goner."
"Poor Andre," said Alexandra, "he wanted so much to be accepted but he was a victim of his own warped nature. Or of his grandfather's peccadillos. Or both."
They looked at her with astonishment. "You can feel sorry for him?" Farah asked.
"I feel sorry for all mankind," she said.
Hack had been quiet throughout this exchange. Now he said, "Did Andre have any relatives besides your family?"
"His mother, but they were never on good terms. His father died quite young, a not unusual occurrence in the family. But never before," she added, her lip quivering, "in such a brutal way. Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering who would be responsible for his burial. There will be speculation about his reason for killing himself, of course, but if the truth never comes out it might be better to profess your belief in his innocence and see to it that he has a decent funeral."
The Prime Minister looked at him in surprise. "You should have been a diplomat," he said. "You know, Your Highness, he may be right. As far as I know the press hasn't got wind of his death, and we can probably arrange for him to have had a heart attack or something. Given the incidence of early deaths among the males of the family, it might not even be questioned."
Alexandra didn't hesitate. "Get in touch with your people at once and see if they think it's possible."
"Do you have a closed line?"
"Yes. Come with me."
"For double protection, we always speak in code," he was assuring Alexandra as they left the room.
Watching them leave, Farah said to Hack, "Everybody is sure full of surprises tonight. First Alexandra turns out to be a bleeding heart, and you speak with the tongue of a diplomat."
"And you are getting to be more like your mother every day."
"You think so?" Farah felt threatened. She must never let down her guard with Hack, he knew her so well. But it was difficult to think and act like a teenager.
"I guess a tragedy like this is bound to mature a person," he said. "I'm glad to see you and Alexandra are such good friends. She's quite a lady."
"I couldn't agree more."
To change the subject, she asked him about his present work, and they were deep in discussion when Alexandra and the Prime Minister returned.
"It's all taken care of," the Prime Minister said. "No one at the hotel had learned about it yet. Our men contacted a doctor, a former citizen of Zhad, who, under the circumstances, agreed to compromise his integrity by certifying that Andre died of a heart attack. He knows a mortician who will prepare the body for burial, no questions asked. Fortunely, the bullet was fired into Andre's heart instead of his head."
"How can we thank you, Hack?" Alexandra asked. "You've saved us from an embarrassing situation."
"I'm glad if I was of any help to you. But the real hero of this tragedy, ironically enough, was the prisoner. First he contributed the information about Andre, then he killed himself so that the knowledge died with him."
"We'll have statues erected to both of you," Farah said, wondering if that sounded like a remark a teenager might make.
In the same vein, Alexandra said to Hack, "Would you consider letting us adopt you?"
The viewing started at ten o'clock the next morning, with a constant stream of mourners, many weeping, filing past the open caskets. It lasted throughout the day and early evening, until the cathedral closed for the night, and continued the following day.
Alexandra and Farah, accompanied by the Prime Minister and Hack, made an appearance in midmorning, at which time the other viewers stood aside to let them mourn in relative privacy. There were many "God bless yous" as they entered and left, and much sobbing.
The funeral was attended by close friends of the family, Zhad government officials, and representatives of other countries. Both Alexandra and Farah, flanked by the Prime Minister and Hack, wore black dresses and sheer black veils. Alexandra sat whitefaced and dry-eyed throughout the ceremony, as befitting the daughter of a Russian Grand Duke. But Farah couldn't hold back her tears. Alexandra held her hand on one side and Hack on the other, for it couldn't be expected that a young girl who had lost both her parents would be able to maintain a stoic demeanor like Alexandra's. The public wept with her for her loss and for their own.
At the gravesite even Alexandra could no longer hold back her tears, and she and Farah clung together as the Archbishop prayed for the souls of the departed.
But finally it was over, and a new life began for Farah.
Farah was dead. Long live Megan.