Some Princes Don't Become Kings

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Royal funerals are spectacular. From midnight to midnight, no one in the city makes a sound—except to read my name, as if whispering it will breathe life back into the body they carry on their shoulders.

I watch the solemn procession from a colourful window, high above the dusty streets. My father leads them, clutching his heavy crown in front of his chest. Slow, heavy footsteps tremble through the sandstone buildings like a lethargic heartbeat as they carry someone like me to the cemetery. Like shadows, the mourners wear a uniform of floor-length black linen. Heavy lace shrouds their faces, so they cannot see me, and the midday summer sun cannot see them.

A creaking door makes my skin prickle with sweat. I hold my breath, fearing discovery this close to freedom.

"Matthew?"

I melt under a beam of sunlight and turn away from my funeral, smiling. George flips up his black veil and holds his hand out for me to take.

"Time to run," he says.

I lay my hand in his and dip my head, letting my heavy hood fall across my face. Concealed, and known to be dead, I leave my father's kingdom princeless.

Even draped in disfiguring black, the risk of being discovered overwhelms us. We drop hands before leaving the building and keep a respectable distance from one another, as if walking with our arms touching will alert the kingdom and ruin our plan.

Our horses are waiting. George has been spending excessive time with them under the guise of mourning and they're groomed, saddled, and ready for some long days and nights out of stable. By the time anyone realises George has left with two horses, we'll be over the horizon.

This dream has kept us alive for months.

Faking my death was the difficult part. A suitable body had to be found and, even now, I daren't ask George how he came to be in possession of a corpse the perfect height, colour and build. I don't need to.

I kiss his rough knuckles before they curl around well-worn reigns and then mount my own horse, letting the dark hood fall away from my eyes so I can see the road ahead. George's veil slips too, showing me his smile, and we take the first steps.

The clatter of horseshoes on cobbles echoes much louder through the empty streets of our city than we'd dreaded. My heart stutters, knowing we're too noticeable, and I bow low over my horse's neck. George's smile hardens.

We should have known that the stable keeper would not leave the horses unguarded.

He stumbles into the road and waves his arms, blocking our way in an attempt to make us stop. The horses falter but George pushes onwards and, wordless, the stable keeper sinks to the cobbles with blood spilling from his slit throat.

My head stays bowed until we pass under the city wall. George keeps his knife and, free of a crown, I keep him.


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