William stared at the cold stones in front of him, wishing that he did not have to return home.  For the past year, he had been hiding from his future.  It had been nice, staying with his friends, who always treated him as if he were just William, not the prince who would rule the kingdom in years to come. 

“Do you not think it is time to be who you are meant to be?” his father asked.  The voice the older man used was still strong, but William could hear the strain in each word, as if he were trying to hide how worn and tired he truly was.

Without turning to his father, William shrugged.  “I do not wish to rule, father.  Is this not the reason why you allowed me to stay with Cassandra and her husband?  You thought I would soil whichever wild oats I choose and return home wanting to be king.”

“I thought that it would allow you to see how much you are needed,” his father defended.  The man let out a sigh, and William could practically see him shaking his head.  “That is a lie.  I hoped, nay wished, that you would come to your senses.  We need you, William; your country needs you.”

“What will become of me?” he whispered, knowing his question to be selfish.  “When I become ruler, when I am forced to lead my people, what will become of me?”

“William,” his father whispered in a soothing tone, “look at me.”

Not willing to deny his father, William turned to look at an older version of himself.  Even if he wished to deny his heritage, William could not.  He was an exact replica of his father in a younger age.  “Yes?”

Walking towards him, the King placed his hands on his son’s shoulders.  A deep, saddening look entered his eyes.  “If there were another way, I would allow you your freedom.  You are my only child William, we have no choice.”

“I thought it was you who said one always has a choice.”

His father smiled at the words, most likely remembering the tale he had told William as a lad.  A tale that depicted just how far the King would go for someone he loved.  “If it were about a woman,” his father said with a hearty chuckle, “I would tell you to marry the chit and live happily, despite what others say.”  His expression sobered as the grip on William’s shoulders tightened.  “This is not simply a woman, nor is it what society deems you to be.  This is your birthright, William.  This is who you were meant to be.”

Reluctantly, a smile formed on William’s face.  “If you make one vow, in return, I will promise to learn my duties as the future king.”

Being a smart man, the King’s eyes narrowed in contemplation.  As his hands slipped from William’s shoulders to cross over his chest, William knew that the man was thinking over his request.  It was his father’s tell, something he never would have known if it were not for his childhood friend.  Longing hit him hard.  He wished he were back at the Eskdale manor, a place where not only his childhood friend lived, but friends he had come to cherish as family.  It was not meant to be though.  His father was right; it was time William began acting like the Prince he was.

“Tell me what this vow is that you wish for me to make.”

William smiled at his father.  Even without the added promise of William becoming the man he should be, he knew that his father would agree.  The man was happy in his own marriage, had been able to marry the woman he loved despite the hardships it had cost him.  Therefore, as William made his demand, he knew his father would not deny it.

“I choose my own wife,” William said as a smile spread across his father’s face.  “No matter how lowly her status is, or how powerful she may be, I choose her as my own.”

The King held his hand out for William to grip.  “As if I could deny you,” the man said with the same, loving smile he always bestowed on his loved ones.  “You are my only child.”

William shook his father’s hand with a laugh.  “Aye, mayhap if you and Mother would have had more children, we would not be in this predicament.”

“Mayhap,” his father agreed with a mumbled, “or mayhap this has always been your destiny.  You were meant to rule, William; I can see it in your eyes.  I just hope that one day, you will see it too.”

***Thanks to Platypus1987 for the book cover!***

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