Chapter One

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25 December 2019

Meredith was up in the early morning before even the staff was. It was a special day as first Christmas she spent as a royal, specifically with the royal family. Over the last few days, it had been festivities with the family, and Harry wanted to get in as much family time as possible before the newlywed couple headed off on their world tour. For today, it was back to being spotted in front of cameras.

Of course, the cameras were now focusing on Meredith belly, not that Meredith was pregnant. Thanks to modern contraception, pregnancy wasn't happening any time soon, especially with a long and strenuous tour coming up. That didn't stop the media from focusing on it way too much.

Having never come to Sandringham House in Norfolk before, most of the time Meredith was just trying to find her way around. When she did have extra time like this morning, she went exploring. Where Balmoral Castle had the whole Highlands, it was relatively flat here without much coverage.

Meredith escaped the bed, and Harry didn't notice. She kept quiet while dressing, and she snuck out of the house. A few butlers and maids glanced her way, but Meredith knew they wouldn't stop her. Jessica, Bella or Bill weren't here to tell her no-- and neither was Harry.

The air was crisp this morning, and the grass crackled underneath her heavy booted footsteps. Disappointment did fill her since this was the first Christmas in her life where there wasn't snow on the ground. Harry explained snow usually came in January and February, maybe March. As for the snow now, it did snow sometimes, but none of it stuck. It was a true disappointment.

Meredith's American Christmases had been filled with brightly lit houses and snow piling up to her waist. Of course, Meredith was also from the north in the United States, specifically Minnesota. Snow lasted for almost six months every year. This was a hard adjustment.

Harry and her had traveled on a few of the paths over the last few days, when she finally made him come along or another family member came along. So far Charles had walked with her, but he liked to stay on the chosen path. Meredith wanted to explore.

This was the first Christmas for Meredith with the family, but for the family, this was the first Christmas without the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip. 

Meredith waded into the trees only glancing back to see that no one followed her. When she was in the trees, she didn't stay on the path as she made her own. Careful where she stepped, she tried to become silent. Nature was already around her, and out here, at least there were a few batches of snow. That gave her a throw back to old times.

Moving through the woods, she stopped to glance back at the way she came. It was a question if she knew how to find her way back. When Meredith went to Scotland for a study abroad, she was on the path, always; there were no questions about it. Then she met Harry, and then they dated, and then they were engaged, and then they were married. During this time, Meredith became Duchess of Windsor, and quite a bit changed. Some-- most-- of the independence Meredith had before was gone. Now, when she had the chance for independence and to go off the beaten path, she did just that.

A twig snapped, and immediately Meredith pulled to a halt, glancing around. It was just like Bodyguard Bella to follow Meredith, and Bella was highly trained after having served in the British Armed Forces. Meredith watched the trees, and none of them moved. She started walking again, paying special attention to the sound around her. However, there wasn't another broken twig.

Thinking about what was behind her, Meredith didn't think about what was in front of her, and this was how she came to almost trip over a corgi that ran around. Meredith regained her footing and watched as the corgi ran away, little butt shaking in the air. She rolled her eyes.

"That one is mental," said a soprano and clear voice, which made Meredith froze. "All he does is run around. He never cares. I am surprised if he returns."

Doing a mental check over herself, slowly she turned around to face Her Majesty, the Queen. Meredith smiled kindly and began to curtsy, but the Queen shook her head, like she always did. Now part of the family, Meredith hadn't gotten over the clearance yet. Rocking back on her heels, Meredith had the idea to run away, but she shook her head.

"Good morning," Meredith responded. "How are you on this fine morning?"

"Well. How are you?"

"I'm good. I'm good." Meredith glanced around.

"Were you trying to sneak off?"

"No. No. Um, I was just... um, going for a walk-- on this fine morning." Meredith took a step back. "I should probably let you get on with your walk."

"Come with me." The ninety-three year old queen walked on, and Meredith had no choice to keep up. "Are you enjoying Sandringham?"

"Yes, very much so. It's very nice-- and shiny."

The Queen glanced over. "I thought we were making progress."

"We were," Meredith admitted, but that didn't help that the Queen still managed to scare Meredith. The Queen had always been the Queen to her, and that was one lady no one messed with. "I just-- I feel like I've interrupted your walk this morning."

"I could always use the time with someone. Philip and I would go on these walks together. God save him," she said. "Nowadays, it all depends on who is up this early. William and Catherine had a late night last night with the children. I assumed you had a late night as well."

"Yes." Meredith didn't want to admit that aloud. "I mean, it wasn't really that late. It was just-- Harry and I were just-- it was nice." Meredith was willing to run back into the trees now, just to escape.

"Is Harry awake?"

"No."

"You decided to go on a walk by yourself?"

"You're by yourself."

The Queen stopped, and the small lady made Meredith look at her. "I'm the Queen. I'm never alone." Her blue eyes went to the right and then to the left. Meredith's green eyes followed, and she just needed to know where to look. The Queen was right: they weren't alone. Bodyguards followed Queen Elizabeth II wherever she went. "Let's go back to the house."

The Queen walked independently, and Meredith followed on the side, a position she wasn't usual with. The Queen chatted about the day's festivals, and Meredith listened. When they became closer to Sandringham House again, Meredith glanced back, and Bodyguard Bella was among the bodyguards.

Damn it, Meredith thought.

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